Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Virtual Agility League

I am a member of the APDT. (Association of Pet Dog Trainers) One of the benefits of that is I receive a subscription to The APDT Chronicle of the Dog. It is a nice magazine with lots of dog behavior and training articles. They also have ads for different dog related prducts and info about dog related sports and trials. In the latest issue there was a small ad for something that I thought I had to share. It is an agility skills recognition program called The Valor Project. Basicly it is a way for people to participate in agility trials that might not be able to otherwise. It is a virtual agility league.

From the website, what it is:

· An opportunity for reactive, or highly distracted dogs to demonstrate their agility skills

· An organization that welcomes all dogs, regardless of breed or mix of breeds

· An organization that welcomes dogs with disabilities, including deaf dogs, vision-impaired (but not completely blind) dogs, and dogs with three limbs

· An organization that places emphasis on skills and achievement recognition, rather than on speed and competition

· A possible starting point for dogs who may one day progress far enough to enter sanctioned agility trials with more training

· A possible option for people experiencing public appearance anxiety

· A possible option for people who live long a long distance away from trial sites

And what it isn't:

· A substitute or replacement for traditional agility competitions or sanctioning organizations
· An organization that offers placements within a class based on speed
· An organization that “labels” a dog! The virtual Agility League is not mutually exclusive with other agility organizations. You and your dog can compete in the Virtual Agility League without any particular reason for doing so, and also be simultaneously competing in sanctioned agility events, if you choose!

As soon as I read it I thought it was a fabulous idea. What a great way for people with dogs who might not be able to do something in a public venue to still participate!! This can be for many reasons. In this economy traveling to a trial isn't an option for some people who live far away from them. Or maybe public performing isn't your thing, or you have a dog that doesn't do well with a crowd around. Or maybe your dog isn't welcome in a regular trial for some reason. Disabled dogs and ALL breeds are welcome! You still need to get some training from a professional or at least find one with the equipment you can use for your video. But what a fantastic idea. I couldn't wait to help get the word out. If you go to youtube and type in Virtual Agility League you can see some participants. (when I tried linking, blogger wouldn't save the post for some reason)

What so you think? Is this something you would consider doing with your dogs? Why or why not?

Saturday, August 20, 2011

K-9 Corrections ~ The rest of the story

Well the story has hit the papers already. On the front page of the weekend edition no less! Here is the link to the online version complete with video:

I'm going to be a little nit-picky and add my corrections to the article:

While we are using marker training (both clicker and verbal) we also use the lure and reward method. It depends on the skill we are teaching in some cases. Asking Andy Pratt to help with Scuppers bell training was just about that specific demo for the reporter because he was more familiar with that exercise. I teach the "ring the bell" trick as a way to show the handlers how marker training works, step by step. It is also a great cue to teach the dog to ask to go outside for a potty break. Teaching this to the dog varies in the amount of time based on the individual dog and handler. I am unsure where the "It only takes 30 minutes to get it." quote came from. Perhaps that was the amount of time his dog Sadie learned it. The way it was described was also slightly wrong. When the dog looked at the bell first there was a click (or a verbal yes!) and then the treat was given. This way the dog understands what it was exactly that earned them the reward. (because we mark the behavior with a sound ~ hence the term marker training) They learn what they get "paid for" and what they don't.

I did not suspect Scupper of being a lab/rottie/boxer mix. That is what his paperwork from the shelter said he was. I would have just said lab mix if I were attempting to identify his breed with no other info. If he ever grows into his ears we are in trouble because they look like Great Dane ears to me!

But overall I am very pleased with how the article turned out. It certainly helps to have good press to get the word out for support. There are so many negative dog stories out there in the media so the good ones are always welcome.

For anyone wondering the videos and books we use on the program include the following.
Books: The thinking dog ~ Crossover to clicker training by Gail Tamases Fisher, How to teach a new dog old tricks by Ian Dunbar, Click your way to Rally Obedience by Pamela Dennison
Videos: The power of marker training by Leerburg, The language of dogs by Sarah Kalnajas, Ready to Rally by Clarrisa Bergeman
There are more but those are the major ones I can think of for now.

I'm also very pleased with how well the handlers conducted themselves with the reporters and how well they handled the pressure. Public speaking doesn't phase me anymore but I know it can be hard for other people. Especially those in the public eye in a potentially negative way. I thank them and all the previous handlers for their hard work on the program. I am only one spoke in the wheel towards our success. We have to work together to get the job done properly.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Boatyard Dog Trial fun

On Sunday I went with a friend (Prudence's mom) to watch a couple other friends and their dogs compete in the Boatyard Dog Trials at the Maine Boats, Homes & Harbors show in Rockland. I was fortunate enough to have been a part of the trials a few years ago. Being part of it is nerve wracking, it was much more relaxing to cheer other people on. The contest has rules like: cheating is not only tolerated it is encouraged, and bribery will get you everywhere. The only "real" rule is that at least one of the team, dog or handler, MUST get completely wet. There is even an obstacle of getting in and then out of a tippy dingy to help make that happen.

The exciting part was that one of my friends won this year! Joel and Fenway, a rescue dog from our own local shelter, walked away with this years Pup Cup. Or swam was more like it. Here is the official news release here. And here is a super cute video showing a few of the participants. You can see more video and pics of their performance on their Loyal Biscuit facebook page. Or check out Fenways page. She is now even more of a local celebrity than before!

It was very exciting and it is one of those events that is always fun to watch. Congrats to Fenway and all the partcipants for putting on a great show.

(The above photo is Fenway with the rest of her family. Left to right: Buffy, Izzy, Chuck and Fenway. Aren't they a great looking crew?)

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Got stress?

This morning was supposed to be easy. Sure I had a reporter coming to the prison to see the K-9 Corrections program and ask questions, but that wasn't a problem. I'm not shy and I think I'm ok with public speaking. I was also confident in my handers skills. I like to think I am good winging it and didn't really have a plan beyond letting my handlers show off what they know with their dogs. It was raining but that was ok because we were going to use the gym to work. I wasn't worried about anything.

That was my first mistake. 

It started with a phone call. "Marie, did you know they took Sadie back to the shelter this morning?" "No what for?" "She has a vet appointment." Now I knew she needed to go get checked out for a possible urinary tract infection but I had told them about the reporter coming so they could schedule around it. "OK I'll give them a call and see whats up." I try calling the shelter. No answer. I call again. No answer. OK no problem. I'll go over to the shelter, thankfully I got an early start, and see if she is there so maybe I can pick her up on my way. (My stress had started to rise the moment I got off the phone.)

I get there and they said her appointment wasn't til 11:00. "Didn't so and so call you?" "Um no. I got no call." If I had gotten a call I could have told them I'd drop her off after the interview. Let me have her and I'll bring her back when we are done. Problem solved, so I think.

So I race us over to the prison. I tell the officer I am headed to the gym and he says, "You can't, they (the corrections officers) are training down there." "WHAT??" "Yeah I know, they told me there was no training this morning yet someone was wrong because they all showed up." Now I'm sure there is panic on my face. I head to the offices to see Sue. "Um do you know we can't use the gym for the interview?" "Why?" "Because they are having training and no one knew to tell us."  Now I get to see the panic on someone elses face. I am sharing my panic. There are many things people like you to share, panic is not one of them.

OK what area can we use? Hmmmm How about the library? With no other options the library it is. This means no rally course signs, there is NO room, which also means a new format for what we are going to do. I'm not sure what that will be exactly. Good thing I can wing it. (sigh) I go back to the front office and have him call over the handlers. Two of them didn't know they needed to show up because they had sent their dog back to the shelter that morning so they were late arriving. Then I had to send them back for their gear because they didn't know why they were called. (double sigh) Of course in the meantime the reporter and her photographer has shown up so we had to wait with them. I'm trying to look like everything is great. The surprise of the day was the photographer also took alot of video. I wasn't really prepared for that. Not that I would have done much different but I might have checked my hair a little closer. (curly hair and rain aren't a great mix, yeah I dread watching that!) I am praying they use video of the dogs and handlers instead of my mug. The dogs are way cuter anyway.

But the good news is that with all the stress before hand I think the interviews all went well. My handlers were very well spoken and didn't seem to be nervous. (I'll find out later if they were.) The reporter and photographer might be back on Saturday to get some more video of the actual Rally Course and the handlers in action with the dogs. (I really hope they do.) Well see how it all turns out. I'll be sure to share the link when the article is finished. I believe the time line is for the end of the month.

So the moral of the story is: Make sure EVERYONE knows when and where an interview is going to be so there are no fun surprises. Oh and always double check your hair, just in case.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

What do YOU expect?

I read an article recently over at Ruffly Speaking that has been percolating in my head awhile. That happens alot. I read something and it gets stuck in my head and drifts around gathering other thoughts to go along with it. Then I need to regurgitate it so I can be free again. Lucky you gets to read the result. It was about our expectations of dogs. What do we now consider a well trained dog? With the face of training having changed so much in the last few years has this affected our expectations at all? Do we expect more or less from our dogs? I thought I would go through the questions from the post and answer them here. A) Because they are great questions and B) Because I couldn't seem to get my comments to post there. (which was frustrating)

1) Is it in fact normal for dogs to endlessly tolerate everything? No. That is not normal behavior and I do think some people expect dogs to tolerate far to much. They are not stuffed animals for kids to poke and prod as they like. They are living creatures with their own language, which humans ignore far to often out of ignorance. Growling is good! It means the dog is uncomfortable so get away from it. People need to STOP punishing this behavior in dogs! I raised both of my kids with the sentence "If the dog bites you it's your fault, so leave them alone." I also used baby gates to give the dogs an area away from the kids when I felt it was needed. (and taught the dog to jump it to get away when they wanted to as well)

2) Are we insisting that dogs be perfect when they’re not in fact perfect? Where is the place for the dog who’s just plain grouchy, and it’s not a training error but personality? I think some people are expecting that perfection, yes. I think there is a place for grouchy dogs but hopefully it is in a home where the owner knows the dogs personality so they can keep them safe. Grumpy dogs don't want to be social so don't force them to be.

3) Are we doing justice to owners by implying that this new expectation of behavior is valid for all dogs? (To use a specific example, saying that we can “help” their terrier not chase cats, or “help” their chow not react to other dogs.) I think a trainers job is to explain to owners how dogs communicate and teach them why dogs do what they do so they understand their dog better. That is more helpful to the dog in the long run. Giving the dog some skills can help make living with their issues easier OR teach the owners some management skills. No, we are not doing anyone justice with a blanket statement about what we can teach all dogs. It is a case by case issue because all dogs are individuals. Every owner has certain expectations. Sometimes we as trainers need to readjust them slightly to meet with the reality of the dog they actually have.

4) Why exposure and not avoidance? That is, if you have a dog who lunges at other dogs, why is the answer to “helping” that dog (and yes, I do keep putting helping in quotes because that’s how I ALWAYS hear it used now – it’s not training, it’s “helping,” implying that the dog WANTS this help and is incomplete without this help) going out and finding 40 other dogs to expose the dog to (whether in a class or in a park or whatever) and not avoiding other dogs? Why is one right and one wrong? I think this depends on the dog and owner. Does the owner need or want to be able to walk their dog without the lunging at other dogs issue? Management with avoidance is fine if that is what the owner wants to do. I also think some owners do use avoidance. Is it right or wrong? I dunno, to bad we can't ask the dogs. I think it's referred to as helping because in many cases its a fearful reaction which is stressful. If we can teach the dog they have noting to fear then there is less stress. We want to help our dogs by not being stressed. It also isn't training as much as behavior modification. Training to me means teaching specifics like sit, down, come, and stay. Specific body positions or maybe tricks. Things that are on a verbal cue. To teach a dog not to lunge (if its fear for instance) is done by changing the emotion of the event. (but in reality it might not be fear so figuring out the "why" for the lunging can be important)

5) Do we need a revival in an understanding of “dogginess”? (A celebration of Jungian dog archetypes, if you want to get fancy-dancy?) Can we re-find the validity of the warrior dog, messenger dog, defender dog, hunting dog in our own backyards? Yes to the first part. We need to educate people in what is normal dog behavior. That is tough tho given there is SO many myths and wives tales still kicking around and moving faster these days over the internet. Not to mention the questionable trainers and slick methods for sale out there. There are no magic wands. (Sometimes it takes time to change a dogs behavior.) Some of us are TRYING hence the many blogs and websites about dog behavior. Sadly only those who want to learn more are looking for the info, and not all of the average pet owners. I can't count how many times I have heard "Well my friend said....." or "My hairdresser did this....." and "I saw it on this show......." When our car breaks down we don't ask our hairdresser to fix it, so why are we listening to them for dog behavior advice???

The second part of this is trickier. I think yes we have need for some of the breeds to retain their original design and job description. However, we can't regulate who owns those working breeds and that's why they end up in inappropriate homes so often. So do we water down all breeds to make dogs easier for the average owner to own for that reason? I dunno. When I mentioned (years ago on an e-mail list back when those were popular) changing akitas so they weren't so tough on other dogs (aggressive to other dogs is written IN their breed standard) I was told if I wanted a Golden Retriever temperament I should get a GR. But does out society have a place for dogs who want to kill other dogs on sight? Shouldn't we breed away from that? Is there any reason to keep that particular trait? Would it really change the breed for the negative to take that one thing out of the breed? You would be surprised at how many people say don't change the breed. (I am not one of them for the record hence the reason Jack is probably my last akita after almost 20 years in the breed.) Sadly many people tend to choose dogs based on looks and don't look for a dog that fits their lifestyle. Maybe we need a new search engine for dog adopters. Example: Do you want a couch potato or hiking companion?
What is a well trained dog to me? That is easier. I think depends on what you want to live with. For me it is some of the following:
No jumping on visitors.
No yanking me around on leash when walking.
One that can be in public and be calm.
No darting through the door. 
Coming when called.
Leaving something alone when I tell them to.
Staying when told to.
House and crate trained.

Those are things I prefer my dogs to do to make my life easier. But I also expect my dogs to act like dogs. If they are meeting a strange dog and they get snarky because the other dog gets in their face to quick that is ok. They are being a normal dog. If Jack chases a bike down his fence and barks that is ok. He is being a dog. If they don't do something the first time I ask, that is ok too. They are dogs! They don't always jump to our whim just because we want them to! Motivation is key and distractions come into play.

What defines "well trained" is a matter of personal opinion. I know there are other trainers who don't think my dogs are well trained because I don't compete in traditional obedience to show off those specific skills. Jack doesn't know a proper heel position for instance. Yet I can walk him without being dragged down the road. To me he is well trained, to others not so much.

Here is another question: When is well trained a detriment? Is there such a thing? For example, the photo above is Jenny and her friend Prudence from a beach walk earlier this evening. Walking on the beach is a new thing for me and Jenny. I have walked my dogs off leash in the past sporadically. It is usually somewhere private and only with other dogs I know are good in groups. I am very careful for my dogs safety. It has been awhile since Jenny has had this sort of off leash outing however. It was very apparent because once the leash was unhooked she heeled along with me alot. It took encouragement and lots of running by of Prudence before she would venture away from me at all. It made me a little sad that she wouldn't run and play like a normal dog. But it is my fault for taking her for walks and reinforcing her heeling so much. It has become her default position. The good news is that she will get the hang of running away with practice. (How ironic of a sentence is that?) By the end of the outing she was wading in the scary ocean (why is the water chasing me??) and sniffing lots of seaweed.

So what is your defination of a well trained dog? Do you think our expectations of dog behavior has changed over the years? Is the average owner to intolerant as a whole of normal dog behavior? What do you see?

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

My new logo is HERE!!

It is located on the top right on the sidebar. Isn't it fabulous?? It was designed by me and created by Rebecca Aube of My original used the akita outline (that I drew) but was plain. I wanted a puzzle effect and she did a great job with my concept. I am very excited at how it turned out! Now I just need to order new cards, new window decals, and get some shirts made up. I am planning on using this company: They are earth friendly AND local. I will be sure to keep you posted on my progress. Now I have to decide how I want the shirt to look! Do I want the logo on the back or front? Color of the shirt? Color of the logo on the shirt? Decisions, decisions!!!

Wordless Wednesday ~ Border Collie edition

Monday, August 1, 2011

An interview with ............

This blog is also what I use for my training business website. I forget that sometimes. I write about dogs because I am obsessed with my own dogs and I do alot with dogs. And I like to share info with everyone, not just potential clients. Besides my info is all there in the sidebar for anyone looking. I admit I'm not the best at self selling. I give a lot of advicee away and don't do much in the way of marketing. I am working on getting my logo re-vamped however because I want to have some t-shirts to celebrate my 10 year anniversary coming up.

I was reading my APDT Chronicle recently and had this idea. Every month they profile a different member trainer to spotlight them. So I thought that I might do the same thing with their interview questions to post a little bit of info about me. Hopefully this isn't to cheesy. I will keep it simple and use the questions they used this month:

What services do you provide? I offer private in home training and behavior counseling. I also do phone consults for some of the rescue groups I am involved with.

How did you get started? The kennel club I was a member of needed to find a trainer to teach their group classes. I knew I didn't know quite enough to teach other peoples dogs so I found a trainer to apprentice with. It was a year long hands on course of work. I was fortunate in that I found a trainer who was one of the first of his kind (traditional trainers) to work with Dr. Ian Dunbar in this country. I came from a purely traditional background so positive training was new for me. While I learned how to properly use traditional methods (timing is everything in order to be fair to the dog) we worked mainly with the positive lure reward methods. I will always be grateful for that fabulous start in my training journey.

Are you involved with any dog sports or activities? I do AKC tracking for fun mostly with my pug. I think about trying for a title on occasion but haven't put in the time to be really serious about it. I have shown a couple times in traditional obedience with our frenchie but got bitten by the Rally O bug more recently. I find it much more relaxed, realistic and fun for me. I also have a new interest in Treibball that I plan on pursuing.

How do you get your business, and what is your relationship like with the veterinarians in your community? Well I currently work for 1 vet full time so I have a great relationship with them! LOL Most of the area vets know me pretty well since I have worked for 2 others in the past and am very involved with my local shelter. I get lots of great referrals from them. Most of my business is word of mouth or they see me on the local cable access channel. I appear on occasion answering training and behavior questions on the humane societies show "Reigning Cats and Dogs".

Do you belong to a networking group, or otherwise consult with/refer to trainers in your area? Yes to both. I actually started a group on facebook for dog trainers of ALL methods as a way to share information in a positive setting. It is a group dedicated to promoting positive methods but in a way that isn't condescending or negative. I think trainers need to be able to share information and help educate others AND continue their own education. None of us knows everything after all. I have no problem referring to other trainers in the area. I don't offer group classes so I like to know where to best send those people looking for that service. I also know what sports other trainers teach and their methods. Because I specialize in serious behavior problems and do private training only I do not feel I am in direct competition with the other trainers. We are different in what we offer which I think is very helpful.

What is your community's perspective in regard to positive training? I find most people who call are looking for a positive method trainer. I think we have the TV shows "It's me or the dog" with Victoria Stilwell and  "The Greatest American Dog" to thank for that. They really put the spotlight on the different methods and helped teach people that they do have a choice! It's not all choking and alpha rolls out there.

What do you believe are the three most important things to teach a dog? This is sort of a trick question because every dog needs different skills to live peacefully in it's own home. A 100lb dog who jumps on people would need to learn "off" while the 5lb dog could get away with that for instance. But in general it would be: Leave it, wait (going out the door, jumping out of car, etc) and the recall.

What cases do you find most challenging? What techniques or philosophies have you found helpful in dealing with them? The cases where people feel at their wits end. They have tried everything and want me to come in and fix everything in one quick session. I find that simply teaching them how to communicate effectively with their dog, and how dogs learn, is a huge help. Once they understand that part of the lesson it is much smoother sailing.

What advice would you give other trainers about working with dogs and their owners? Be patient! We make things look easy because we have been doing it for years. We understand how timing works. The client needs time to learn it and practice it. And, never ask a client to do something with their dog you wouldn't do with/to your own dog.

Can you offer a specific tip or trick for working with dogs or owners? My favorite trick to show clients is to teach a dog how to ring a desk bell. I find this is the best way to show how marker training works. It is also a great thing to teach a dog of an owner who wants their dog to have a clear signal for potty time. Win/Win!

What was your scariest moment with a dog? It was a second session with an aggressive shepherd. For some reason the clients did not have the dog on a leash when I arrived (tho they usually did) and he grabbed my arm as I came in the door. Fortunately he released me quickly and did not break the skin. I always remember to remind clients of aggressive dogs to leash them before my arrival now.

What are the top three things you have learned as a trainer? Never be afraid to ask for help if you are stumped. Always admit if you don't have an answer and then get the answer for the client. You need to take time for yourself or you will burn out.

What was the last training-related seminar you have attended?  Self Control and Focus Games with Dee Ganley CPDT/CABC/CDBC 

Are there any specific books, authors, DVD's, or seminars that have influenced you as a trainer?  There are SO MANY great books and videos out there now! For books: "The other end of the leash" by Patricia McConnell Phd is a top fav. "The thinking dog" by Gail Fisher is a brilliant explanation of clicker training and has great historical info on traditional training. "How to teach a new dog old tricks" by Dr. Ian Dunbar is great. I love his lure reward training for deaf dogs too. "Aggression in dogs" By Brenda Aloff has alot of great info. For videos: I love "The power of marker training" by Leerburg. One of my favorite parts though is Ed Frawly admitting he was wrong about clicker training. "The language of dogs" by Sarah Kalnajs is a must have for anyone who works with dogs. Nowadays you also have websites and youtube videos that are excellent. My favorite website is and for youtube training videos none are better than the Kikopup channel.

I think everything you read and watch influences you as a trainer in some way. And I have been to some fabulous seminars over the years, all of which has helped me in my training journey. I say read as much as you can and watch as many training videos as you can and attend as many seminars as you can. I think it all helps when it comes to becoming a better trainer. No matter how many years someone has been working with dogs, there is always more to learn!!

Any other questions??

EASY homemade dog cookies!

OK it's no secret that I don't cook much. I'm not very good at it when I do, and it isn't something I particularly enjoy. Thankfully I married a man who can cook and IS good at it. But here is a super easy dog cookie recipe I made up on my own. I decided to experiment abit with the honest kitchen Zeal formula. I hydrated 1/2 cup of the dry Zeal with just under a half cup of warm water. After letting it set (to properly hydrate) I stirred it and realized it needed a little more to hold it together so I added 1 egg. (shell included ~ they are great for the calcium but wash the egg first) Spoon onto a cookie sheet in the size you want them to be. (they did not change size other than to flatten slightly) Then I baked them for about 30 minutes on 350, til the edges started turning brown. I used a no-burn cookie sheet and did not grease it. Once they were done I let them cool on the sheet. Ta da!!

That small amount made 6 good size cookies. (about 2 and 1/2 to 3 inches across) I figure they can be broken up into smaller pieces easier than trying to make them small to begin with. You do not want the mix to be to soupy so if you think you've added to much water just add a little more of the food to even it back out and make it thicker. Refrigerate (or freeze) after baking to keep fresh. You can probably use something other than an egg to thicken the mix for baking as well. The egg was just the thing that I thought of at that moment.

I think that this is a great idea for anyone who wants to try keeping their dog in a limited diet for any reason. Just use the food your dog eats (if it's an Honest Kitchen formula) to make their treats as well! They even passed Jack's test and he is my fussy eater! I can't wait to try this with some of the other formulas too. I'm sure you could add meat if you wanted as well. Your imagination is the limit.

Happy baking!!