Sunday, January 31, 2010

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Sharing the wealth

I am fortunate, even though I am in a (now) trainer dense area that I have my own niche. My dog training focus for clients is on behavior problems and basic pet manners. I do this by providing private sessions in the clients home. The other trainers in my area do group classes, agility, competitive obedience, puppy classes and board and trains. This means I have other trainers to refer people to if I do not provide what those potential clients are looking for. It is also nice that I have personally met and know all of those other trainers. This helps me be able to know who to specifically refer a client to. I also only refer to other trainers I trust. Trust is a very important component in dog training. The ones I most commonly refer others to in and around my area are:

Sumac Grant-Johnson at (Lincolnville)
Mary Majchrowski at (Rockport)
Lane Fisher at (Belfast)
Marcia Lindsey Welch at (Edgecomb)
My list of trainers I like and refer to is actually longer than the above, these are just the ones in my own area. (If you are outside my area and looking for a reputable trainer check out the trainer search at )
Of course dog training for me is about helping people and their dogs. Maybe I should be more competitive but I feel there are plenty of dogs for all of us to train. And I honestly think some trainers are better at certain skills than others. I would hope they refer to me in return but I don't expect it. I know not everyone wants to give up any business they might be looking at and I can understand that. I have been told I am to nice when it comes to business matters. My lack of "competitive spirit" annoys my husband. Of course he is our families banker so he likes to see profits whenever possible. I see it as more about playing well with others.
Another thing I like to know about is other dog businesses in the area. There is more to dogs then just training after all. Vet care and supplies, bathing and boarding are also constants. For supplies my favorite local store is The Loyal Biscuit. They have the best selection of quality food and treats in my opinion. Check them out for the addition of a self serve dog wash in the future.
For boarding I personally use Perry Greene Kennel in Waldoboro. I know the owners and used to work there part time long long ago. (1994-97ish) I do not take the trust in the care of my dogs lightly!
For grooming I use Yankee Clipper in Rockport. Jack had an appointment just last week. He loves it there and I have known the owner since 1992 when I got my first akita. She used to show and breed akitas herself which is a nice bonus. She has also been very generous to rescues over the years as well.
Another business I love and refer people to is Boneheads dog walking and pet sitting service. Candace has attended dog behavior seminars and really knows her stuff.
Recently our area welcomed an addition of a doggy daycare: Harbor Hounds LLC I met the owner Clara a couple weeks ago and was very relieved to learn she is a real dog person who knows what she is doing and has lots of experience. I feel very comfortable referring clients to her if they need a doggy daycare service. There are way to many people who think they can simply throw a group of dogs together to play and make money at it. Doggy Daycare is MUCH more complicated than that.
Everyone becomes a trainer for different reasons beyond loving dogs. Maybe they lived with a problem dog and had to get good at dealing with behavior issues. Maybe they fell in love with a dog sport. Or maybe they just wanted to help dogs and their people learn how to communicate with each other better. Few trainers with longevity in this business jumped in to make lots of money. It is usually a labor of love.
I do lack the drive that some trainers have to build a big business. Being self employed is tough. It is one reason I have stayed small. Of course being small also means I can control every aspect of my business. A good thing for my control freak issues. Having other trainers to share the wealth with also keeps me from burning out. A burnt out trainer is no good to anyone, especially the dogs they work with. And having a second job takes the weight of earning off my shoulders. I can do what I love simply because I can, not because I have to.
The super cute Boston Terrier above is Poppy. She belongs to my boss at the vet clinic. While he was away at a vet conference recently I taught her how to ring a bell on cue. She was a super quick study. I wasn't sure she would do it for him when he took her home (with only a weeks worth of once daily short sessions under her belt) but he reported that she had no problems with it once he got her home. Good Girl!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Happy Birthday Jenny!!

Our sweet Jenny is 4 years old today. Her AKC PAL/ILP request papers went in the mail just this morning. She was named by my son after Forrest Gumps girlfriend. Because of that we went with the registered name of "PRoNE's That's My Girl". I thought adding PRoNE as a prefix would help get some PR for pug rescue. I also printed off the APDT registration request last night and will send that in next. This way we will be covered to do Rally in either venue if we like. (I'll send Jack's APDT request in as well.) Since it is currently only 1 degree outside, (which translates to her as Ouch my feet are cold!) I have a feeling she will be spending most of her day in this position. Lucky girl!

(My husband gifted her (ok me) with a Dyson vacume last night to help combat the presence of dust mites. It is the "for homes with pets" version. I LOVE it!)

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Looking for a new home

Meet Bessie, a bluetick/walker hound cross. I have had the pleasure of meeting her and she is super sweet and very smart. She is an active dog that loves to learn new things.

This 7 month old beauty is available for adoption to the right family. She is already spayed and up to date on vaccinations. While she does play with some dogs, she prefers to be the only dog in her home. If you want to know more about her e-mail me directly at for contact information. She is located in Mid-Coast Maine.

The results are in!

Jenny's allergy results finally came back today.

She is not allergic to trees, weeds, or grass. This is great news when it comes to tracking and other outdoor activities. (Her highest number for trees was 18, highest for weeds was 23, highest number for grass was 18. The scoring chart is below.)
Negative also for all insects including fleas. Her only reading was a 15 MAU for the German Cockroach. Yeah, I don't know what that is either.
Only one semi high number in the fungas (29 MAU) for aspergillus. Which may mean a sensitivity. (But I will do alittle more research on this possibility.) Next highest number was only a 15.
She only had one high reading on the food chart which was for Liver. (46 MAU) The next number down was a 14. So much for trying all those different diets. And liver is one of the ingredients in the raw diet I was preparing. All the stuff I have been avoiding? They came up zero's. How ironic.
What she is allergic to with readings in the 50's (50, 50, 57, and 58) are 2 types of dust mites (common house dust) and 2 types of grain mites. (flour mites and the like)
So this means more frequent washing of her bedding, more vacuming/dusting the house and more baths. I will also need to avoid liver and stop giving her the pro-biotics I have been using. The good news is that is all easily do-able. I do also have the option of doing immunotherapy for the mites as that is what Greer recommended. I think for now I will hold off though and first try managing it with good old fashioned elbow grease. And even though she had those numbers in mites, they aren't nearly as bad as they could be. She's already had her first bath and bedding is in the wash as I type this. I've also already checked her treats and bought some new ones sans liver.
It is a relief to have this info. No more worry about giving table scraps or trying to "figure it out" though trial and error. Even though testing is pricey, even with my discount, for me it was definatly worth it.
From the paperwork - Greer allergy scoring is as follows:
0 to 39 Scores in this range indicate that no circulating allergen specific IgE was detected for the allergens tested.
40 to 59 Scores in this range should be considered significant if the allergens are found in the pet's environment and they relate to the clinical history.
60 to 100 Scores in this range are considered significant. Immunotherapy for these allergens should be considered if they are found in the pet's environment and they relate to the clinical hstory.
MAU = Modified Absorbable Units, MAU's indicate the level of allergen specific IgE detected. The magnitude of the signal does not necessarily correlate with the severity of the disease but reflects the pet's immune system response to allergens.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Happy 1st Birthday Minos!!

Minos with his siblings. (he's the dangler) This kind of cute should be illegal.

A very scary story with a happy ending.

So yesterday I gave in and took Jack to the groomer. Though I like my chiropractor, (alot actually) I don't much like dealing with the screaming back pain bathing him myself gets me afterwards. He loves his spa days and they love having him. He is all beautiful and fluffy now and has that fresh groomed dog smell that I love.

This morning I wake to the sound of the plow truck in our driveway and a few Jack woofs outside. (we got LOTS of snow these past two days) My husband gets up before me and typically takes him out for his morning potty time. It's "the boys bonding time". I figured they were outside together and didn't think much about it. I rolled over to catch a few more minutes of Z's. I have never been much of a morning person.

I get up a short while later and don't hear Jack or my husband. OK so they are still outside. Maybe he is shoveling the steps or something. I look out my front door and see that my husbands truck is gone. He is gone and Jack is not inside. Mmmmm okaaayyy. Jack is NOT in the house, I double check. I then open the door and look to see if Jack is in the yard. Yes he is. He is still in the yard even though THE GATE IS WIDE OPEN. Holy crap!!!

I call Jack inside and he comes running, "Hey mom, look there's snow! I love snow! Didja see the snow?!"

God love him he is such a goofball!

I call my husband and say: "You are SO lucky."
"What do you mean?"
"You left Jack in the yard, WITH THE GATE OPEN."
"Ohhhhh nooooo"
"It's ok, he was still there."
"I'm so sorry. I was brushing off the truck and needed to get to work early and must have totally forgotten him."

I'm lucky my head didn't explode. I was actually pretty calm on the phone at that point because Jack was safe and none of the horrible possibilities that could have been came true. And I knew it was an accident. I have a very good husband who is normally very responsible. I only wish I had thought to re-phrase the first thing I said to him to "Where's Jack?" so he could have gotten the full "Oh My God!" rush that I did. (but I guess that would have been kinda mean)

To make this even scarier, because he had gone to the groomer yesterday he wasn't wearing his normal collar and tags. I had taken them off to wash and forgot to put them back on. Something I am normally fanatical about. It was the perfect storm of how things can go very bad. Fortunately due to repetition and training Jack knows to stay in the yard with the gate opened until we call him out. He isn't normally in the yard with the gate open either unless we are outside with him, usually because we are in the driveway or side yard ourselves.

But in all honesty I have to say we also got VERY lucky. He is a dog after all and dogs behave like dogs. It is luck that nothing caught his attention enough to make him want to leave his yard. He loves playing in the snow and eating it so I imagine, aside from barking at the plow guy, that is what he spent his time doing. Who knows what he thought when his dad drove away. I guess he knew I would let him in eventually.

Nothing like an adrenaline rush to get my morning started!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Missy Report

Missy has been doing very well lately. So good in fact she hasn't needed to wear her diaper hardly at all and we are considering lowering the dose of one of her medications. She is almost competely normal acting. Playing with or fussing at the other dogs, chewing her bones and hoarding her toys. Just like old times. I almost forget she has this diagnoses looming over her head. But then she does something last night that jolted me firmly back to reality. I watched her walk into her crate, squat, and pee. WTH?? That is certainly the first time I have ever seen THAT before. Oh yeah, brain tumors make for interesting decision making. In the realm of problems though this is a minor one that we can live with. At least she is comfortable and happy.

An un-tapped resource

As a dog trainer I regularly see people who have chosen to add a dog to their home that isn’t always the best match for them. My job is to teach them how to live together in spite of the challenges a mismatch may bring with it. Most of the time I can help, but sometimes sadly the dog ends up in rescue instead, despite my best efforts.

What I don’t understand is why more people don’t ask trainers their opinion in finding the right dog for them. Dog trainers see and work with more breeds and shelter dogs regularly than the average person will ever meet in a lifetime. Some of us even live with multiple breeds in our own homes. Not to mention the fact that dog trainers know about dog behavior and breed traits because it is our job to know this information.

I know some people end up with a puppy because they are cute and people can be impulsive, but that isn’t everyone. There are also people who go to shelters, or try to find breeders, that do have an idea what they want. Unfortunatly looking at a dog in a shelter can bring up emotional responses and people can then make a bad choice based on that emotion.

Or maybe people don’t know how to find a reputable breeder that will tell them the truth about any negative traits of the breed they choose to share their life with. Those breeders also conviently say nothing of the health issues that their breed may be prone to. Non-reputable breeders, who don’t do any health testing nor care about temperment, only care about making a sale.

My favorite adoption technique comes from large volume breed rescues. They typically show potential adopters only 3 dogs that they have pulled as the best match for the home in question after an interview with the whole family. This keeps the potential for mismatches at a minimum. I’ve seen this done with greyhound rescues and a pitbull group. Breed specific rescue groups are also very good at letting adopters know before hand all the breed traits and health issues their dogs can have.

Considering a purebred dog from a breeder? Visit the breeds rescue website first for lots of valuable information on the breed of your choice. If you are looking at mixed breed dogs at a shelter, sometimes knowing what breeds are in the mix can also be helpful for knowing some of the future behavior traits you might expect from that dog.

Slumber parties, or “trial period” adoptions, can also be helpful to see if a specific shelter dog is the right match for your family. Be forwarned though that some dogs take a few weeks to settle in and really show some of their true behavior. We call that the honeymoon period.

This started me wondering, that we can do as trainers to help make people more aware that we ARE a valuable resource in their search? Should we advertise this as a free service? I know I am happy to help people find the right dog at a shelter, or even find a reputable breeder to keep them out of pet stores. Sometimes just a discussion about breed traits is enough information for them to make a much more informed decision.

If you are considering adding a canine companion to your family, or know someone who is, consider talking to some of your local trainers for their opinion. Talk to as many as you can to get as much information as possible. Trainers love to talk about dogs, we love to help dogs, and we love to help the people who also love dogs. Educating yourself before adding your next family member is a great way to make the best start, for all of you.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Seminars and paperwork and photos, oh my!

I am very excited to have signed up for a two day seminar in June with Pamela Dennison at Wag It on "Positive reinforcement training for the obedience and rally ring". I am fortunate to have such a great seminar coming to my own area. No long distance travel and no hotel fees! I'm also excited because it is a "hands on work with my dog" seminar. Something I rarely get to attend.

I have dabbled in obedience showing in the past and I have to admit it isn't my favorite activity. I am not very competitive and never saw the point if it wasn't fun for both me and my dogs. I have however started some training in Rally O and think this might be much more challenging (the course changes every time!) and interesting for us. I also think it is much more realistic in day to day life and training since you get to talk to your dogs during the course. The dogs are expected to be dogs in Rally.

This means I have to get Jenny's PAL/ILP from AKC since she came from rescue with no pedigree if I want to ever compete with her in any AKC events. I already have Jack's paperwork since he came from a breeder. (a fabulous breeder that is) I filled out her paperwork last night. I also need to send in her spay certificate and two good photos of her, side and front view. I tried getting a couple tonight with my daughters help. As you can see it didn't all go quite as planned.

Even though I am not always a fan of things the AKC does, (or doesn't do) I am a member in the local kennel club and know that to compete in obedience, or persue her tracking certification, I need to get this done. I live to far out in the boonies to rely on UKC events. (Oh yeah, another part of competing I hate is the travel. The older I get the more I worry about car accidents and prefer to stay close to home. If I die attending a dog event my kids will never forgive me. Anyone else paranoid like that?)

I am also looking forward to the grand opening of in Saco next month. I know they are going to host some great seminars too. I am thinking about trying weight pulling with Jack. I also keep my eyes on for upcoming seminars too. That have hosted some great ones in the past. (As did My Wonderful Dog which sadly closed it's doors.)

It looks like I'll be trying again for those photos tomorrow. I know, she's so abused!

A walk in the woods

Today was a beautiful day to take the boys in the woods for a walk. They LOVE to run together. It's funny to watch them because they make such an strange pair. We call them the odd couple. It was a much nicer walk with no loose dogs pestering us this time.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Searching for the itch

Jenny came to live with us on September 3, 2007. We adopted her from from Pug Rescue of New England. It is hard to believe it was that long ago already. Her 4th birthday is coming up and it is making me a little reflective. I don't know anything about her breeder or her second home. (If you count the breeder as home number 1.) She came into her third home with lots of GI upset, from what I can tell from her vet records, and was already a stool eater. Her third home didn't work out because she was a resource guarder of food and would start fights with the other dogs in the home. Finding a home with a trainer to adopt her turned out to be just the thing she needed.
My son was so excited to get his very own dog. He had begged for a pug for years. None of our attempts at swaying him towards a french bulldog deterred him. And we sure tried. (having contacts in a breed already is helpful when trying to find another after all) He even collected stuffed pugs and photos of them. When he started saving his own money to get a real one we knew we had to make it happen.
I am grateful that my children let me borrow "their" dogs for my own amusement. Of course it works out for them since I also "borrow" them when it is time to feed and walk them most of the time too. They help out alot with them of course, a family with 3 dogs to take care of ensures there is always something dog related for someone to do after all. And I may be a control freak but I can't be everywhere at once either.
I got a handle on her resource guarding pretty quickly. She just needed to learn how to relax and realize that no one was going to deny her a meal. She still dives after food if it falls on the floor if you don't get a "leave it" out fast enough, but she doesn't attack the other dogs or even get snarky if they go near her anymore when she is eating. She has also learned to share food off the plates we give them to lick when we are finished with dinner. (What, you think dog trainers don't spoil their dogs too? VBG)
I think a big part of her guarding came from treatment she received in her second home. Based on her vet records when she went into her third home she was underweight. The stool eating may have been a response to not getting enough food on her own. Some dogs will learn to resort to "recycling" their food if they are not getting enough. Or if they aren't getting enough nutrients from what they are getting in their diet. I once saw a shelter dog that had been severely neglected, not fed or given water regularly, drinking his own urine AS he was peeing. (And yes it WAS shocking!)
Monday at work we drew some blood for a Greer allergy testing panel on Jenny. She gets these itchy spells that so far is easily managed with over the counter Benedryl. I have also been trying different diets to see if it may be related to food. Proper food trials are tough to do though because you have to be very strict with them. I admit my memory usually fails me here. If she has food allergies this may explain why she had such GI trouble as a puppy. I requested the works, environmental, insect, and food testing. It isn't an absolute as I understand it but I am interested to see if she has any high numbers. This can help me know what to avoid with her. Is it certain foods? Or is it something in the environment? Fortunately she isn't nearly as bad as some of the clients we see at the hospital. But being itchy is no fun for anyone. Hopefully I will learn something that can help her. Until then I thank my stars we have benedryl.
(For proper dosing and to make sure Benedryl is safe for your itchy dog please call your veterinarian.)

Sunday, January 10, 2010

More video progress to share, and a blooper too.

It's been a busy past few days. I intended to do more training sooner but sometimes the planets just don't align to give me the time. I went out and got not one but two mini tripods to help me with my video taping. One is a simple 6 inch tripod and the other is a neat flexible 7 inch job. Each for under 10 bucks too.

The first video is Jenny learning how to ring a bell. I probably should have decided if I wanted her to ring it with her nose or her paw before I began. I was thinking paw when I started but then she used her nose so I adapted to do either. I think I will go just to paw next time. Excuse the mumbling. I was trying to explain what I was doing but I didn't want to disturb her working and I was concentrating on her as well. I think I was saying something about raising criteria. (they are shown in the order that I took them earlier today)

None of the videos are perfect, but I think it's important to show that training is a process that doesn't always go as planned. The goal is to communicate clearly to your dog and have fun while teaching them skills. I think the videos do show that. Missy was in the next room with my son watching us through the baby gate. You might hear her in the background. I had him feed her treats so she wouldn't whine to join us, which is what she has started to do. It might be interesting to see what she would do given the opportunity but I'm not sure that is fair given her condition. (tho I guess I could try.)

The reason I think she was successful so quickly with getting a sound is because we have been doing paw work with the nail trimmers. She has been slapping her paw into my hand with the trimmers in them as well. If you were to work with a dog that doesn't offer any touching at first simply start with a look towards the item and work from there. You gradually increase the criteria after the dog "gets" the game. Make sure to keep your rate of reinforcement high in the beginning to keep the dog interested. (reinforce for every good thing) I do not have that problem with Jenny.

This next video is my first session with the metal dumbbell. This is actually a scent article used in obedience showing. It is longer than the other dumbbell I was using which seemed uncomfortable for her to hold for any length of time. I also have the leather ones but wanted her to learn to pick them up without mouthing them that she did in the last video so I chose the metal one. I wasn't sure she would want to pick it up at all with it being metal. I did buy some wood pieces and dowels to make a longer wooden dumbbell but didn't have time to assemble it. Since it was a different dumbbell I went back a few steps in training when I started today's session.

I thought it was funny that she went over to the camera. "What happens if I touch this." Of course I learned my lesson and put the camera up on a chair for the next try.

Like I said they aren't perfect. We are a work in progress. I welcome all constructive criticism. I've been thinking about coming up with a routine to entertain residents in the local nursing homes. I've never had the urge for therapy dog work, I would feel awkward, but this I think I could do. My hat goes off to anyone who can do therapy work. I think it is amazing stuff.

I also have a confession to make, I used a clicker with a client today. (and have found a lovely easy on the ears version that has a strap for my finger made by premier) The verbal marker just wasn't cutting it for one of her two dogs so for clarity I bought it out of "the box". It worked like a charm. She won't use it herself, so we paired it with the verbal marker. It was just enough to make it clearer for the dog though and that is the important bit.

**A big shout out to my grandmother (Nanny) who turned 87 today. She is one of the lights of my life and I seriously do not know where I would be today without her. She still makes me strawberry jam and quilts and mows her own lawn. I wish I had a quarter of her talents and hope to be half as active at her age. She makes quilts for aids babies, care kits for veterans AND works in our local food pantry. She just received a presidential volunteerism award as well as one from the state. I am super proud of her and just wanted to brag. (It's my blog so I can do that!) Happy Birthday Nanny!!**

Saturday, January 9, 2010

It's about the nose

Missy has typical old bulldog nose. Something that is common in the short faced breeds. This means her nose grows these bizarre little extensions on it. Some bulldogs get dry or cracked noses. I tried to get a photo to show but this is the best my camera would give me. The extensions gather dog food and other crud in them so not only is it yucky is is probably unhealthy too. It is simply not fitting for a diva at all. To treat this I use a product specificly made for frenchies called "Nose Butter" from I bought this tub of it years ago (literally) and it is still like new, and not even half gone. I've even given some to my sister AND a friend for their dogs! So if you order some, the big tub should last you quite awhile.

Here is some in the tin, and on Missy's nose. This softens the nose and in a day or two I simply rub her nose and all those little extensions/pieces fall right off and looks normal again. It's like magic. Missy loves the taste of the stuff but isn't thrilled with the application process. I think she finds it undignified. Given the opportunity she would gladly eat it directly out of the tin instead. What can I say, the girl knows what she likes!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Life with a big hairy dog & dumbell session #2

Jack is overdue for a grooming. He is shedding and I have many dog hair dust bunnies that look big enough to take over should they ever come alive due to a power surge and a glitch in the hollodeck. (Ok I made that first part up, we'll never have a power surge.) Normally I bite the bullet and take him to his groomer who he loves. ( P.S. They have a new website: Yankee clipper pet grooming )But I am still recovering from the holidays and into the "hoarding of the money" phase of winter. Translation, I am being cheap. So I thought I would take him to work and do him there myself. (We have a tub!) But after seeing two clients and doing various errands on my "day off" I only managed to get the pre-bath grooming done. By then I was exhausted and in no shape for all the work a bath would involve.

Seriously, it wasn't us.

He definately looks much better after a brush out. I even managed to trim his foot hair and do his nail trim too. Does anyone else have a dog that eats the nail cuttings?(It was Jenny of course. She will eat anything.) I love this photo I snapped afterwards. Missy looks pretty happy. I'm sure it was because I didn't clip her nails. If the planets stay aligned I plan on taking him to a handling class tonight. (Yes he is neutered and no I don't show, it is just a way to get him out and work him around other dogs.)

Then I decided to continue Jenny's dumbell training. I am doing it in stages with the goal of her picking it up and carrying it to me and releasing on cue. I think I might need a slightly longer dumbell though. While she can physically pick this one up it looks uncomfortable to me when she holds it. Maybe I will dig my other ones out next time.

I managed to stop saying "good girl" to much this time but I did start pointing towards the end of the session which I didn't mean to do. I also think I need to invest in a tri-pod if I am going to keep videoing my progress. (Which I totally am!) I think she did a fabulous job once again.


Missing French Bulldog-Urgent Help Needed

Missing French Bulldog – Urgent Help Needed Chicago Area, PLEASE pass this on!!!

Monday, January 4, 2010

A helpful night time tip

OK I'm sure I am probably one of the last people to try this, and everyone will laugh at how silly this post is because of that fact. But I have to share one of my favorite dog related Christmas gifts this year. It is............drumroll please..........a head lamp. Yup one of those dorky flashlights you wear on your head. As shown on this lovely model here:

My sister uses one and got me my very own as a gift. I have to say I really love it. Since I refuse to put up flood lights at our temporary home this is a far less expensive way to get the same results. I can see my dogs no matter where they are in my yard at night and I have my hands free while doing it. I know, it isn't exactly inventing the wheel but what can I say? When I find a useful product I like to pass the info along. Anything to make life easier with dogs is always nice to have.

This is Missy Moo outside in the light of the lamp with NO flash on the camera. Pretty good huh? I believe mine came from L.L.Bean. (where else?) It can be found in the camping and outdoor section. I hope someone else out there thinks this is as great an idea that I did. Even if I was a little slow in finding it. (My other helpful tip is to keep it near the door so you don't forget to use it.)

Sunday, January 3, 2010

A snow day marker training session

So today we are shoveling out from quite a bit if snow here in Mid-Coast Maine. Yesterday it was all beautiful and lightweight and easy to shovel. This morning gave us high drifts and heavy harder to shovel snow. Not my favorite. I hate driving in slushy snow after having a couple of accidents in it over the years so I rescheduled the client I was going to see today. Fortunately this worked out in her favor as well. As much as I love my work I'm not into risking life and limb to get there.
To give you an idea how much we got this is Jack standing in the part of the yard that didn't get any drifting this morning. Poor Missy got stuck in a drift twice trying to get outside to pee. She was not impressed.

I also spent last night reading more of "The Thinking Dog" again and it clarified some things for me with the marker training I already do. For anyone thinking of clicker work or marker training I can already say BUY THIS BOOK! It is fabulous and is so clearly written it will only sharpen your skills if you already use the principles. If you don't do any type of marker training it will certainly make you reconsider.

This combined with having a free day to myself and my own dogs gave me the urge to work with Jenny for fun. Back in July I had gotten a fabulous deal on some dumbbells and scent article dumbbells. Even though I don't currently show in obedience venues I thought they would be fun to work with. Plus teaching her to pick up stuff will come in handy for our tracking training. (scent article on the track have to be clearly found, either by the dog sitting, going into a down or picked up and brought to the handler)

Here is a short video of after our 20 minute session. (Next time I will try to remember to get a before video.)

Things for me to work on are: keeping my verbal "yes" reward marker more consistent and to stop saying good dog so much. "Take it" will be my verbal cue in the future so I attach it now.

How cute is she??

Friday, January 1, 2010

Photo Friday

In recollection of another snowy day here are some photos of my first two akitas with my children. (Who are now 12 and 14 and no longer fit together in that sled.)

Shimo is on the left, and Kuma is on the right. I just love these photos of them together. It was a very fun day for us all and a great memory.

Some thoughts on dog training

Before I went to sleep last night I was reading Gail Tamases Fishers book "The Thinking Dog" as part of my New Year plan to catch up on said dog related reading. Of course this sparked a dream involving training and left me with some interesting thoughts when I woke up. Funny how that sometimes works.
I have to say I am loving the book so far. While it is not my goal to become a clicker trainer per say, it has some really great info and things I will be trying with my own dogs. For the record I use a combination of lure/reward and marker training without a clicker. The first tidbit I came away with is a much clearer understanding of the whole positive and negative punishment and positive and negative reinforcement terminology. Of course time will tell if it sticks in my brain. I know I have learned about it before (several times in fact) but it just never quite stays with me. I'm not sure knowing the terms are important as long as my training follows the principles of how dogs learn.
What has been a sticking point with me over the years is how so many positive trainers write articles using these terms for other trainers or even the average person. I will be the first to say it confuses the hell out of me and I am a positive trainer! I read an article recently in a breed magazine whose target audience is the average owner that was way over the top with it. I think they need to stop doing it or perhaps writing in plain english and using the terms as a sidebar. Example: (in parenthesis -this means positive punishment) I've read "Excel-erated learning" by Pamela Reid which explained and used the terms and all it did was confuse me further. (but it is still an EXCELLENT book on how dogs learn regardless of training methods BTW) If people can't understand the articles, how can they implement the training plan that is laid out in them?
I also liked how Gail mentions that with the rising popularity of positive methods some people have gone to far and now don't believe in saying no to their dogs for anything now. Positive does not equal permissive. At least it's not supposed to. This is a great point and may be why some compulsion trainers do not want to make a crossover. Not all positive trainers are good trainers either. There is a right way and a wrong way to use any method. We humans are masters at messing stuff up. Why else would there be warning labels like: "Don't use this hairdryer in the water". Seriously?
I also liked the history of dog training as she explained it. Check it out if you get a chance. It is quite enlightening.
My theory is that there are people who are compulsion trainers who resist the more positive training methods (proper compulsion uses praise which is positive) because mainly positive training takes more thought and can be harder for some people to do. Compulsion training is a mechanical thing with sort of a recipe. Recipes are easy to follow. If you do A and B and you get C. Compulsion training does work after all. I know when I made the switch it was tough. personally I see it as a "let's make the dog do it" vs "Let's make the dog want to do it". Yes compulsion can make them want to do it, but to me working to avoid a physical correction is not my first choice of motivation. I don't want to suppress my dog, I want to work with my dog. Besides, compulsion training isn't going to work on every dog. That method was originally designed for working dogs who were mentally tough after all.
For the record I have used the compulsion methods myself and still do on the rare occasion. Training is about the dog you have in front of you after all and you need to use the tools to best do the job. To me using compulsion isn't evil, it is just most times unnecessary if you know how to use the alternative. I think our knowledge of dogs has evolved and so should our methods. Unfortunately not all trainers have the desire to know about learning theory in dogs. They find following the recipe easier. To me knowing how dogs learn helps make my job easier. But that is just my opinion based on what I see in the training world. I say use what you know but continue to learn more. No matter what your method of choice you may be surprised at what you find out. If you choose compulsion make sure you are at least using it as fairly for the dog as possible. They are living breathing beings after all. Recipes don't always turn out as planned, especially if the ingredients resist the assimilation.
My person of the year award for continuing education goes to Ed Frawley. Even he admitted he learned something new. BraVO!!