Dog Training as a lifestyle

I became a dog trainer because I want to help people with their dog’s behavior problems.

Originally, I was seeing so many doggo’s being surrendered to shelters or rescue groups because of frustrating behaviors that can easily be fixed. I started trying to help these people and well, the rest his history.

Today, I love training. I love all things behavior, all things dog. Where the two meet, I am in heaven! (Note: I try very hard to not get really nerdy with my clients. Most of them do not care at all about Pavlov, operant conditioning or contrafreeloading. They just want me to fix their dog.)

Summertime for me means dog sports. I spend my weekends off getting up at 5:30am and driving sometimes a few hours, to a large fairground or other training facility where I hang out in my car until I get to throw a toy in a pool or have a dog hunt some rats for about 5 minutes at a time.

I train dogs all day long, why do I want to train more dogs?

First, training is important for your dog’s overall mental health.

I want my dogs to be as healthy as they can be for as long as they can be and training is a huge part of that. (read again, training is a necessity not a luxury) Does Cargo need to know how to run around a cone or follow a toy into a pool? No. Does it make me unnaturally happy to be doing these things with my dog? Yes. The small amount of time that I spend with my dogs, teaching them to do these silly things, improves their relationship with me. I become their safe space and when things go wrong, they look to me for information on how to make it right. Training is how we communicate with each other.

Second, I enjoy watching my dogs figure things out.

They like being successful. I get to watch your dogs figure things out every day, why wouldn’t I want my own dogs experiencing that joy? My dogs love working with me, and we have a good enough relationship that they agree to do these silly things that make me happy. In turn I agree to only do the things that make them happy. This is why Pixie stays at home. She is not happy in the show environment and I owe it to her to listen to that request. The other two love their jobs and they are happy to comply when I ask Opie to find the rats, or Cargo to do anything at all.

Lastly, the mental challenge helps me help you.

As I grow as a dog trainer for my own dogs, I develop better ways to relate to your dog, which helps you reach your goals faster. If my dog’s didn’t challenge me as a dog owner, I would not know half the stuff I do now! (I’m looking at you, Pixie!) I used to think that dog sports had nothing to do with being a good dog trainer, but over the years I have seen that the trainers who can relate to their clients the best, are always pushing themselves to learn new techniques and try new things with their dog. Dog sports give that parameter for the pushing to do new things.

When the day comes and I am all that is left of our team, each of those ribbons that we win together will bring with it a memory. A memory that I will forever cherish.

Practically Perfect “Pixie” RN CGC Dock Diving Big Air PB 19’6″  SR 4.998

Stephen’s “Opie” RATI RATS

Whiplash’s All The Places You’ll Go “Cargo” RATI RATO

Communication is key!

We hear that communication is important in every aspect of our lives. With our spouse, our co-workers, our family, communicating effectively is the topic of a very large self-help section of the internet.

I’ll let you in on a little secret. It’s the same with our dogs.

Teaching people to communicate with their dogs is the #1 thing that I do. Those of you who have met with me, know that I am constantly reading your dog’s body language, and interpreting what I see, so we can help them (and you) the most effective way possible. By teaching you how to read these signals, you can adjust your approach to help your dog cope with the situation and get through it successfully.

A lesson in Dog

Dogs are incredibly visual animals. They see details fairly well, and use those visual signals to communicate with each other. Kinda like sign language for deaf people. Here is a handout by Lili Chin (look up her illustrations, they are amazing!) These are the signals that dogs give to each other when they are feeling uncomfortable in a situation. Watch your dog on their next walk. Are they displaying any of these signals? What has happened right before the signal? As you walk, do you notice more of these signals? What happens if you give them a cookie during this event?

These are your dog’s whispers that they are not okay. If you listen to these whispers, then you don’t have to worry about yelling when something big happens.  Do you have a dog who suddenly starts to bark at seemingly nothing? What about a dog who barks at other dogs? Start paying attention to the signals above while you are out.

It’s listening to those whispers that are going to make you a great dog owner. It teaches your dog to trust that you are not going to put them in a situation they can’t handle, and if they are struggling you are going to help them through it like a friend.

They are our best friends, are we taking time to listen?

I dropped the ball! and not while playing fetch…

Life snuck away from me and I forgot my blog posting schedule. Sorry about that. We all drop the ball sometimes, I will do my best to be a better blogger for you guys!

You know what else snuck away from me?

My own dog training schedule. 

“you gonna get up anytime soon?”

That one I can’t let slide because my dogs depend on me for their training schedule, just like they depend on me for their food, hikes, snacks, potty breaks, and peanut butter bones. (that list could go on forever but you get the idea)

I realized I had been slipping on my own dog’s training when their behavior started to deteriorate. Opie and Pixie started barking at nothing, Cargo started getting bitey with me when I told her the couch blanket was not for biting. In my house these are very minor things in the grand scheme but still gives me valuable information to how they are feeling.

Here in Hampton Roads it rained pretty much the whole month of February. I don’t let Cargo play fetch or agility in the mud because she slips and slides all over the backyard and it’s not good for her joints and muscles. That paired with her general lack of self preservation would send us to the vets office pretty quick! I have big plans for her this year, so I’d rather not break her.  That being said, I only have so much brain bandwidth to dedicate to coming up with things for my dogs to learn, and a whole month of rain had me pretty bored with the stuff we were doing. The reinforcement wasn’t there for me, so we stopped.

..and the barking started… 

It took me a little bit to figure out what was happening. The dogs who walk still got their walks, they were getting their enrichment toys, and our schedules didn’t change all that much. The only thing that changed was the training time.  So I made a point to add it back in to our schedule.

I am happy to report the barking at nothing has stopped, and right now I have a malinois asleep on the couch. (that is a huge accomplishment right there!) 

So what did we do? Cargo started a sports foundations class at a local dog club. Opie started doing some conditioning exercises, and working on his position changes. Pixie has been reviewing some of the stuff she used to be really good at. She’s had quite a bit of time off so we are brushing off the dust. It takes me 15 minutes to work all 3 dogs, and we are now on a pretty good 3 times a week schedule.

What can you do?

The easy answer is figure out what your dog does that annoys you and work on that for your 5 minutes a day. If you are like most of the people who read this and your dog “is really good” then teach them something fun to show your friends. Spinning in a circle, nose touches, jumping over your leg, putting their feet on a book are all great examples of silly things that help your dog use their brain and keep the annoying behaviors at bay.

Need some help coming up with something to train? Drop me a message here on facebook or Insta! Make me do another facebook live to help you out! ha!

When the reinforcement is not with you

Going to a bed is an easily reinforced alternate behavior for almost anything!

We all have those “how did that happen” moments when working with our dog. Sometimes it is a negative conditioned emotional response, sometimes it’s a behavior we have inadvertently reinforced enough to create a problem. Sometimes it’s the environment and we have no idea what happened.

Let’s look at the sock example

If you didn’t read my last post, go do it now. The link is here. How many different ways could that have gone differently?

I mentioned chasing her for the sock, which for Cargo, that would mean I now had zero socks in my house because a game of tug and chase is very reinforcing. Because that game is so reinforcing for her, even if I only played that game one time, the amount of time it would take me to extinguish that one reinforcing moment, would be insane.

What if I did not reinforce anything with snacks but grabbed her and wrestled the sock out of her mouth? For my bitey, herding breed, that would be a great game and again, very reinforcing. I’m sure that she would be hell bent on stealing every sock she saw and I would have no socks. For most of your pet dogs, this would probably result in a dog who hides when they steal a sock. Also not helping the survival of the socks.

What does it all mean?

Best reinforcement ever!

As those moments of “ugh, why does my dog do this” pop up, take a look at how its being reinforced. Every behavior serves a function, and dogs do what works.

If your dog is jumping up on people coming in the door, take a look at what is happening. Does every person pet her when she jumps up?

Do you chase her around when she steals something?

Does barking and whining eventually get a snack from the table?

Those intermittent reinforcement schedules can actually reinforce behavior better than a snack every time. Think about gambling, and the intermittent reinforcement that is going on. You don’t win every time, but when you do, it’s a pretty great feeling! Your dog is thinking the same thing.

“man all that jumping finally got me some pets! I gotta try harder next time!”

What to do?

Make sure you are reinforcing the things you like to see! Don’t wait until it has gotten out of hand and you have to call me! ( you can always call me!) Treat your dog for laying on the mat in the kitchen before he starts counter surfing. Treat your dog while on a walk when nothing is happening to help him understand that flailing at the end of the leash does not allow him to say hello to friends.

What have you accidently reinforced? Tell me about it on the facebook page and I’ll try to help you out!

 

May the Reinforce be with you

Ice cream is always reinforcing!

I think that was a title from a class I took recently.

Reinforcement is a big word for a very easy concept. But one that is usually overlooked. Reinforcement in dog training simply means pay your dog.

Dog does something, reinforce it.

If your dog sits during a training session, you would absolutely give him a cookie. But what are you doing the other 167 hours of the week? Has your dog figured out the game? Do they only listen in class, or when you have the bucket of cookies and the clicker in hand?

Dogs do what works for them. Does it work for you? A kibble is a small price to pay for making sure your dog is being rewarded for the things you like.

Follow this example

This is a common one in my house. Dog steals sock. Dog takes off running with sock. Human chases dog all over the house and out the dog door in the rain, to get said sock back. In my house, we reinforced bringing sock to human to trade for a cookie. Now, “can I have that” means spit out sock to get cookie.  Maybe one day I will teach her to bring the sock to me. (life goals)

Let’s discuss

Many many reinforcement strategies in this situation. To Cargo, the sock is a fun toy. It’s stinky, and it flops around when she bites it.

I don’t want holes chewed in my socks, so early on we taught a “trade” for food. Food is a better reinforcement than the sock, so it worked. If I were to chase Cargo around the house to wrestle her for the sock, then sock would become an even better reinforcement because Malinois love to tug, and I would lose a sock everytime. (Not reinforcing for me!) For a reinforcement strategy to work it has to benefit all the parties involved. Because food is the better reinforcer in this situation, I have food in small containers stashed all over my house.

Dogs do what works for them

If I had chased Cargo all over the house to get the sock back, I would be reinforcing the “stealing sock” behavior.  Chasing and tug is also a reinforcer, but since I set up her options as drop the sock for food or have her collar held until she drops the sock. Food is the only reinforcing option. She’s going to choose the food. Now, she brings the sock to me to show me she’s found it, I reinforce her bringing it to me, and we do not have (many) eaten socks.

In the kitchen, I only give her food when she is laying on the rug in front of the sink. Now, thats where she lays when I am in the kitchen. She gets a Kong or Peanut butter bone when I ask her to kennel, so she happily runs to her kennel when I ask.

This is especially important for new adult dogs in the house, or brand new puppies who are learning how to live in our world for the first time. Putting some forethought into the behaviors you want to see in the future will help you to prevent the unwanted behaviors later on.

Have any questions on this concept? Chat with us on Facebook. The next post will discuss what happens when this strategy goes wrong!