Monday, February 29, 2016

Increasing Difficulty and Handling Mistakes

When training your dog, you want to vary the challenges you give her. Sometimes, it will be hard and sometimes it will be easy. And sometimes, you'll hit that sweet spot where it's hard enough for the dog to feel challenged and easy enough for the dog to win, over and over again.  Challenge and mistakes are a natural part of training, especially once you get into the more advanced stages of your training. When laying down foundations, you want the learning to be as errorless as possible.

I started the training session by combining two well-known behaviors in a training session, matwork and platformwork. I expected her to make a few mistakes, but she did it perfectly from the get-go, even with the cookies on the floor. She didn't even look at the cookies on the floor. I finished this set (I train so that the short sets contain only a few reps) and continued with the session. Some sets were easier than this one and some were much harder. And it's okay if the dog makes some mistakes on the harder ones. It just all depends on how the mistakes are handled and what the team learns from them.

Here are some of the mistakes Pip made in this session. I picked out the two reps that I think show some good ways to teach your dog about how the team will handle mistakes. In the first rep, I show Pip she's allowed to take alternative routes if the temptation is too great. She follows my direction and hops onto the mat when asked. After she finished that, I asked her to hop onto the platform. It is obviously hard for her to make that choice, but in the end, she made it and didn't need to take the alternative route. I reward her not just with treats, but with a couple easy reps.

After a few easy sets, I ask for another which is too difficult for her. I try to make it easy by calling her away from the food, but the temptation is too great and she runs over and starts eating the food on the floor. I don't chase her or move her or rush her. Instead, I hurry to save the rest of the treats and then I put away the props so that it's very obvious that the consequence for deciding "Well, now it's too hard, I'll just do what I want" is that the training session ends. You can see how she begs to try again. When I set up the props, she tries them both in turn.

However, this time, notice that I make it only slightly easier for her because I understand I pushed her way too hard in that rep and I knew I did (bad trainer). I didn't want to make it too easy (which would teach her that if she doesn't feel like doing something, she should mess up and then I'll make it easy for her) so I put the treats not between the two props but alongside the path she would take. On the way to the mat, she slows down for a second to look at the treats. She knows it's too tempting when I ask her to go to the platform, so notice that she makes a slight arc away from the treats (perfectly OK) and makes it to the platform. I end the set and the session there.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Pip Progress: Bathtub Progress, Replacing Fear with Joy

A lot of people don't realize how much anxiety, worry, fear quashes confidence and joy. I remember when I first brought her home, Piper was a quiet and shut down dog. Most people who met her thought she was polite and sweet. I find it very sad that most people prefer a shut down dog over one who is bursting with confidence and joy. But once a dog can stay calm and keep that confidence and joy, they really notice.

Some of you may know that Pip used to be deathly afraid of taking a bath in the tub. Nowadays, she's actually excited to hear the word "tub" because it means we are going to play her favorite training games using highly valued treats in the tub.

Watch how, in the beginning of the video, she perks up at the word and hurries to the bathroom. She is so excited that she forgets to use the green platform to climb into the tub. Once she puts her brain back inside her head, she uses the path I showed her. I want to replace her fear with joy.

You can't just feed the dog their favorite treats in the scariest place in the world to them. Even if they get used to it, there is a lot more involved in dissolving fears. You need the dog to understand that, at any moment, they could leave the situation. Teach your dog she has choices. Build a system of consent. Empower them

One of the most important games we play in the tub are in and out games which she accomplishes on her own volition. I give her a path to safely hop in and safely hop out. I play a lot of impulse control games in situations where I want my dog to stay calm in. Remember that dogs do not learn only by consequence, but by association. Most impulse control training creates a calmer, more focused dog and if the tub = calm and focused, it's easier to work on things like water and bubbles in the tub.

I'm also taking the online course for cooperative canine care, as showing an animal how to be an active participant in her care is something I am passionate about and wanted to expand my knowledge on. 

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Think about Sets and Reps! Building Intense Focus and Love of Learning.

I get a lot of compliments about how much attention my pets give me when I train them. There's a lot of reasons for this. I carefully build a love of learning and today I'm going to share a huge tip that I use all the time.

When training a dog, a very common mistake is to go on and on and on in a training session until a dog checks out. This is very easy to do, especially when your dog is doing awesome! However, it's important to remember that dogs don't just learn through consequences, but also through associations and the habits they build. In addition, training in sets helps nervous or high-strung dogs stay calm enough to learn and gives them much-needed relief from the pressure of learning and thinking.

Here, I use short sets to work on making Pip's downs nicer and quicker. Note how short I keep the sets. Note the small breaks between sets to keep her from getting overstimulated (and for nervous dogs, from getting too overwhelmed). 

With short sets, it's easy to keep the dog's motivation throughout that small moment. Thus, the dog associates training with focusing on you and trying her best. She'll build a habit of trying and working hard instead of walking away and ignoring you. With this method, you'll have a dog who begs for more training at the end of a session!