Record Keeping

I’ve had a post about “record keeping” in the back of my mind for some time now.  I’ve been through several iterations in that time, mostly because I’ve been trying to find something that really works for me.  I’ve revised my methods at least three times but now I think I’m on to a winner, so will share what I do, in the hopes that it helps some of you with your record keeping.  First, I want to share why I keep records for my dog training.  It’s something that completely passed me by for the first few years I owned dogs, even when I was interested in training them to a high standard (not that I’m not now, but different dogs mean different priorities).  Then I read Susan Garrett’s book “Ruff Love”, in which Susan suggests we should keep records of our dog training to help us be better trainers.  I didn’t immediately decide to start keeping records, but that comment planted a seed in my mind, and the more I thought about it the more I realised that was an accurate statement.

In 2010, when I (technically) didn’t have a dog to call my own, I had some “surrogate dogs” that I would train in classes or one-on-one, and I would write down what had been trained in each session so that I could remember from session-to-session what we’d done, and how well we’d done it.  I also made notes when I spent some time working with the dogs in a local rescue kennels, as then I could refresh my memory about an individual dog’s problems and successes, as well as keep in mind how the “quiet kennel” protocol was progressing.

So, on to how I keep my dog training records now, but remember: just because this system works for me, it doesn’t necessarily mean it will work for anyone else!  There’s no hard-and-fast rule for record keeping, except that you should definitely do what works for you!

I’ve already shared part of my record keeping with you here, it’s where I note Starr’s brand new and/or amazing progressions, and absolutely nothing more.  The one thing I will say about this is I wish I’d started it sooner, as I’ve probably missed out some things, or added some things that happened before the BoW came to fruition.  Nonetheless I’m glad I have it now, as it helps me to see her progress in areas I wouldn’t necessarily write down in our ‘normal’ records.

For our more every day record keeping, I start off with my Filofax.  The Filofax/diary-in-a-binder system is totally new to me this year, and I only started using it because I couldn’t find a “regular” diary I liked for 2014, and after struggling last year I realised I could make my life much easier if all I needed to do each year was but new sheets of paper to fill a diary/binder I already owned and liked.  If you decide to follow my footsteps, you don’t need a Filofax, just a regular binder would be more than adequate, I was simply trying to make things easy for myself and cut-down the amount of ‘stuff’ I might need to carry around to organise myself.

I set up my Filofax to have a ‘dog training’ section, which I’ve sub-divided into three more sections: long-term training plans; short-term training plans; and temporary training journals.

The long-term sheets are for my longer-term plans, at the moment they cover 2014, you can see Starr’s is really simple, and the most important thing I want us to have “improved” upon this year is Starr’s joy and attitude.  Hopefully in a year or two I’ll be more bothered about her heeling in distracting environments, but let’s not run before we can crawl!

I mainly use my short-term plans for specific activities: response to doorbell is the one I have now, but I want to write one out for ‘hold’, ‘play retrieve’, and ‘formal retrieve’, among other things.

The main section is my temporary training journal sheets: here I make notes on every training session we have during the day.  These (eventually!) get written up into my “proper” training journal.  Alongside this, I also have a “tracker sheet”, on which a sticker is placed over each date we’ve had a day where I’ve recorded a training session.  Not all dates get covered, but that doesn’t mean we did no training, it just means we didn’t have any form of session; I’m a firm believer that every interaction with your dog is training, but what I want to capture in my journal are specific behaviours or activities, rather than every-day-well-behaved-ness.

Overall, I think that keeping records, like this, helps me – helps us – in our training journey, and as time progresses it will be a nice record to look back on, if not a good warning on how to go less wrong with future dogs!

What about you, do you record keep for your dog training, or do you want to record keep and haven’t yet had the right inspiration?

Dog Training New Years Resolutions – 2014

In my last post, I looked at the dog training resolutions I made at the start of 2013. I tend not to make resolutions, so I think I did pretty well with them.

So, “what are my dog training resolutions for 2014” you ask? Well, let’s see: –
* Improve my record-keeping
In Recallers Susan suggests that record keeping is a good habit to get into, and I wholly agree! I now see a lot of value in record keeping, and will dedicate a post to my record keeping shortly. I’ve also come up with a good way to plan my training too, I’ll give that a try and might include that in my journalling post, or a future one.

* Keep training fun!
Although I try not to take myself too seriously during training sessions, sometimes it can be difficult. Luckily I have some great role models from whom I can learn to keep myself relaxed (or copy them until it carries over for me!) and keep things fun

1507811_10152545257319112_434110237_n

Starr & I, having fun with her baseball cap

* Keep up our Recallers games
As much as I was overwhelmed last year, I feel I’ve made a good start already at incorporating some of the early Recallers games into everyday life; I know if we keep working through the games at our own pace Starr and I will build a truly amazing bond, and I will be able to trust that she will always come back when she’s off the lead (and I shouldn’t need our long line any more!).  That is my number one priority for this year – to have two dogs who can go off lead everywhere it’s safe for that to happen.

* Puppy Peaks
I’ve had a look at the Puppy Peaks information, and am starting to formulate a plan in my head of what I can make use of now and what can wait, but I need to start incorporating that into our lives too.

1231688_10152143636324112_1438782635_n

Inka, enjoying life

* Coursework!
I know I said this last year, but I really want to get moving with my coursework so that I can progress, not just for my own dogs but also so I can start moving towards more learning, professional registration and helping other people and their dogs.

Do you think I’ll manage to keep to all my resolutions this year?  What about you, have you made any resolutions – either for you and your dogs (or whatever animal you’re training), or for yourself?

Dogs on Drugs & The Book of Wonder

Starr started taking behavioural medication (AKA her “drugs”) during the second to last week in August of this year.  Since then she’s been both a wonderful brat, and a stressed little girlie; but I like to think that we’re starting to get somewhere with it all.

After she’d been on drugs for a week or so, I took a problem discussion point to the Facebook Recallers group and got so many wonderful, and brilliantly supportive comments from all around the Facebook Say Yes community.

I had used her tugging as an example of the way she seemed to be “losing drive” – she’d gone from a tugging maniac to a dog who could take it or leave it, even at home.

I got lots of great suggestions, and resources posted on my thread but most of all I was reminded to take it easy.

Starr, taking it easy (on the coffee table!)

I love my dogs, and would never push them into something they couldn’t cope with, but in wanting to unlock all that I know Starr can be, I wasn’t giving her the time she needs before she can give me her all and work alongside me.

I was rushing her, I realised, like a pushy-pageant-mom.

This did not make me happy, so we stopped.  I’ve stopped worrying that she’s mostly “untrained”, and I’ve stopped worrying that she doesn’t really enjoy training (yet – hopefully!), and we’re just going to play, have fun, and worry about all that other stuff later.

One thing that’s helping me with this is writing down all the little things that Starr does, all her little “personal” wins.  Of course, I’ve noticed these things since last December, and I’ve been happy when she’s won at something new or difficult, but I’ve not been recording them, and that means I’ve been forgetting things, or mis-remembering them.  So I decided that I should start writing  down all the great things Starr does, so that I have a record of how brilliant she is that I can look back on – either when she’s having a “bad” day (to remind myself it’s not her “normal”); or when she’s winning lots of ribbons and trophies (to remind myself how far she’s come).

Enter “The Book of Wonder”.  This is a special notebook just for writing down all the things that Starr either does, or doesn’t do that make me proud, or help me to know know that she’s becoming less anxious/more confident.  Things like “didn’t bark at a delivery man”, or “willingly approached auntie June and didn’t flinch when she moved her hand towards Starr”.

I try and find something to write each day, but the nature of life means I might not always get the opportunity, although I know that doesn’t necessarily mean she’s not progressing (sometimes quite the opposite!).

This past couple of weeks, I’ve been thankful for having a such a wonderful support network – whether that’s people I see every day, or every week, or even just a couple of times a year, or if I may never actually see them in real life!  I’m also thankful for Susan Garrett, her brilliant courses and all the wonderful people they attract!

Why is Recall So Important Anyway?

I know I’ve posted about recall before, but I love it! Whether I’m training, practising, or using that one special word; recalls are fantastic and they’re also one of my ‘markers’ as to whether I’m comfortable allowing an individual dog off lead in any given situation.

Even with my first dog, I knew that teaching a reliable recall was a very important thing, but it was only when I happened across Susan Garrett’s take on recall – as a way to evaluate your relationship with your dog – that it fell into place in my mind.

* If I’m going to allow my dog to have some off lead freedom, I must trust him 100% to come back to me when I ask
* That means that he must want to come back to me, even if I’m asking him to move away from something “really interesting” such as a rotting sheep carcass (yak!), or kids playing football
* If I want a reliable recall, then I need to define both ‘reliable’, and ‘recall’.
* I also must set specific criteria, and stick to them – what will my cue be, how many times will I say it, will I use a visual signal as well, what specific behaviour(s) will it elicit, and so on

So, first things first – define what I’m training, and set criteria:
Reliable: dependable, consistent, unfailing, steadfast, certain.
Recall: often used in terms of memory – remind, recollect, evoke; also used when quality control issues affect one or more of a company’s products – e.g. “there was a recall on yoghurts”. In dog training, recall is the set of behaviours the dog performs when you call him or her to you. Exactly how fast, how close, and so on are part of your criteria.

My criteria
My dog’s recall behaviour will involve:
* Responding as soon as I say his cue, on the first time I say it (that quick response may one day save his life)
* Turning and moving away from whatever he is engaged or interested in
* Locating me, usually visually – though if he’s out of sight I will encourage him without using his recall cue again (and then work on him keeping better track of me, and me of him)
* Running back to me as fast as he is able
* Returning right to me, and staying close to me – no staying out of grabbing distance, or coming back and immediately going somewhere else

What I would add to that list now: –
* Now that I use a release cue, I would also add that he stay with me while I leash him up and we walk on, or until he is verbally released.
* I would also list the dog’s distractions and reinforcers, and rate them so that when the time comes I can pair a distraction with a reinforcer of equal or higher value. This list would need updated as we worked our recall, so it will need to be kept safe!

“Wait a minute!” You say, “I have a husky – who should never be off lead anyway – and we generally walk in the city, where it’s not safe or legal for any dog to be off lead, I don’t need to teach her recall, do I?”

Well – no, and yes.  If you’re 100% certain that her lead, flat collar, and/or static harness will never, ever break; and you can be completely certain that you will never, ever, ever let go of the lead, no matter what’s going on around you, then maybe I can let you off.  For the rest of us that are fallible: even if you don’t intend to ever have your dog off lead, it’s a good idea to train a recall anyway, that way if something ever does go wrong, you have at least a chance of having your dog come back to you rather than disappearing over the horizon.

So now that we know our criteria (to come straight back to me the first time I call, and stick around), how do I go about training?  Technically, I guess recall could be shaped, but that would likely be a slow process!  Since recall is so important, I think it’s much better to train it.

Obviously since I signed up to Recallers, the way I teach recall is changing; but since I paid good money to be a ‘Recaller’, and I respect Susan and her propriety information I won’t/can’t share it with you in that way (though I’m sure there’ll be lots of videos of various bits and pieces in the future).

However, I can share this video of Starr and I again.  This is one way I teach recall – I have my dog “chase” a thrown piece of kibble, I mark when she turns around, and when she returns to me she gets three or four tasty treats.

As with all good training, we start off somewhere not distracting (in this case, we started indoors), and slowly work up to very distracting environments, using a lead or long line as appropriate (in our enclosed garden, she’s fine off lead).  I help her to make the right choices – by marking the turn; and I make the right choices achievable – I don’t take her to the beach on a sunny Sunday afternoon, take off her lead and expect her to stick around, much less come when I call her, without plenty of practice of what I do want first.

After all, practice makes perfect and if she practices ignoring me, or having me chase her for twenty minutes before I can get her back on the lead (after calling her repeatedly) then that will become her “recall” behaviour – and that is not what I want!

What about you – is recall important for your dog(s)? Do you have a special way of teaching it?

Crating – A Life Skill

Crating is one of those things that divides people.  Some people say it’s wrong, some people say it’s necessary; some people call them cages, and use them only for house-training their puppy, some people call them crates, kennels, or dens, and use them throughout their dog’s life.

I saw a comment from someone recently who refused to use a crate for their dog because he’d been a stray in Romania, and then was in rescue kennels for about 12 months.  I wonder what they think of me, having crate trained Inka even though he spent up to eight months of his life in a shed full of other dogs?

I love crates, I really, really do.  They’re amazingly useful tools (we have five, in a house with two dogs!); and the thing is, regardless of what anyone thinks, or wants to believe, being crated really is a life-skill for dogs.  Whether we’re crating them at home, or other locations (class, trials, and so on); or if they’re spending the day at the vets having surgery or x-rays; or if they’re in kennels while you’re on holiday, or they’ve been picked up as a lost dog; or in even, in some cases, if your dog has a serious accident or injury and needs to be on crate rest for a number of weeks; and the simplest of all – in the car, being comfortable in a crate is important (I know many dogs travel wearing a doggy seatbelt, but the majority travel in the boot, which is basically a giant, moving crate).

A lot of people say that they don’t like crating their dog because their dog doesn’t like it – but given how necessary it is, even if it’s only on the occasional time when your dog’s away from home, then surely you should work on your dog thinking his or her crate is a super-fun, super-awesome place to be.  Lets face it, for many dogs being away from home is stressful enough – why would you want to make it worse by not acquainting your dog with a crate beforehand?

When I thought I might need to send Inka to the vets to have x-rays last year, I was worried how he would be.  He had a crate at home, but wasn’t ecstatic about it, and lets face it – he was going to be in a strange place, that would smell pretty funky too, and getting poked and prodded to boot!

But, thanks to Susan Garrett and Crate Games, I have a dog who loves his crate.  He sleeps in it, relaxes in it, runs at top speed when I ask him to go to it, I really don’t know what I’d do without his “crate love”, he thinks it’s one of the best ever places to be!

Here’s a clip of him & I having a run-through of his Crate Games in the back garden earlier this week.

Of course, there’s more than Crate Games to help you get your dog comfortable in their crate, but I like that Susan finds the dog’s joy so important, and works to make each exercise fun – that’s what I wanted for Inka, not a resigned “oh, OK then”, but a happiness and a sureness in what he was doing, and enjoyment in the activity.

And I can safely say that Inka was fab when he was at the vets for x-rays last year, and he was just as fab when he had his operation earlier this year too.

Over to you, readers: what do you think of crating dogs?  If you do crate your dogs, what’s your preferred method of crate training?

Recallers

Why of course – how could I talk about anything else!  This is our training, and it’s easily becoming our lives.

I’ve started to realise that in everything we do, be it training, walking, playing, tugging, waiting, we must all be happy and joyful.  Yes, I know how bizarre that sounds – I knew that already!  But I think I’d become so focused on Inka and what he could and couldn’t do and how to manage him so we can do what’s needed, and some of what I’d like to do, I think I’d lost sight of what it’s really all about – fun!
Thanks to Starr and Recallers though, it’s starting to come back for me, and I hope I can bring it to Inka too.

We’re all starting to train in a more effective, and efficient way; I’m learning to actually record-keep for our training sessions, rather than just having a pretty training journal which is more ornament than use, and make ‘mental notes’, which I promptly forget; and I no longer bumble through training sessions, jolting from one exercise to another.  I have a plan (the critical core) and I stick to it!

For someone with OCD in being organised, I sure wasn’t applying it to my dog training!

Recallers proper only started yesterday, but between settling into the community, the pre-course and critical core games, and being excited to begin “real training”, the two weeks since I signed up have flown by.

Here’s a few clips I put together from a video I took this the weekend of Inka & I playing one of the games.  Inka already had a sort-of recall (we’ve not worked on it much lately) so we progressed this quickly from our garden, to the street in front of our house (on a long line), and I thought this would be a good third location for us, as this is somewhere Inka & I have worked before and he has a history of paying attention here.

You can see the speed he’s coming back to me with already, and as I’ve said on the Recallers forum, I’m starting to have the sort of problem I like having, see if you can spot it!

And yes, this is even before the course has really started!  So to the person who found my blog by Googling “do you get money worth susan garrett recallers” – my answer is: absolutely!

To Shape, or to Train?

I read a comment recently from a lady who “didn’t have time for positive reinforcement” because, she couldn’t “stand around in the park waiting for her dog to come back to her so she could reinforce his recall”.

I think this could be another (common) misconception about reward-based training.

Yes, shaping is a wonderful tool in the toolbox of a competent positive reinforcement trainer, but it’s not the only tool, and any trainer worth their salt will know when to shape a behaviour and when shaping is better left in favour of other tools.

I’m going to make the assumption that the commenter did actually realise they were referencing free-shaping, that is waiting for the subject to offer the desired behaviour – or a close approximation of it – before offering a reward. No luring or prompting involved, simply sit back and wait.

However, is this really the best way to teach your dog a reliable recall – take them to the park, take off their lead, and turn them loose? I think not!

When teaching a dog to recall on cue, there are a number of important points to remember: –
1) always keep your dog on a lead or long line.  This ensures the safety of your dog, as he can only move as far away as the lead or line allows.  A dog on a line can, if needs be, gently “reeled in”, and of course just because you have a 50ft line, it doesn’t mean you have to give your dog the full fifty feet, if twenty would be more appropriate, just carry the rest.  It should be noted that everything your dog can do off-lead can be done on a long line too, Inka stayed on a line until I was quite sure he’d come back when called, but we still played fetch and tug, and ran around.  It just required some hand/eye/foot coordination from me (which is easier said than done!)  Additionally, it should go without saying that a long line should never be attached to your dog’s collar (always use a harness), and that you have to hold the end that is not attached to your dog (it’s not a magic recall device!!)
2) If you take your dog somewhere she needs to be on the long line, don’t use her recall cue.  You may have a particularly friendly dog who enjoys trips to busy parks or fields, but if you’re keeping your dog safe by having her on the long line, it’s a pretty safe bet that if you call her, she’ll ignore your request and continue to interact with the environment.  That is, of course, unless you’ve worked up to the level of distraction that the park is currently providing and you’ve taken her there specifically to train recall, rather than to walk or play.
3) you need to actually train a recall.  Your dog needs to be taught how to recall, as well as on what signal, and in what situations to come back to you.  That means you need to have one specific cue for recall (a word, a whistle sound, a hand/body signal for deaf dogs, or a scent signal for blind dogs).  You need to teach your dog the value of this signal in a quiet environment and in a controlled fashion, and you need to gradually work from a quiet, controlled environment (such as your kitchen) up to a chaotic, uncontrolled environment (such as the park).
4) You need to be certain of what you want your dogs recall behaviour to be.  Do you want your dog to recall and sit in front?  Recall to heel?  Recall and present his neck/back so you can re-attach his lead?  Or recall and play “keep just out of catching distance”?  Decide, and then stick to it.  Once you’ve got one trained you can – of course – train another type of recall, but only train one type at a time to avoid confusion!

Below is a video of me teaching Starr the beginnings of off-leash recall in our enclosed back garden.  We’ve already done some recall in the house (in the kitchen, utility, front room, and upstairs), and we’ve done a little bit at the training centre too.

I should note that this is how I’ve been taught to teach recall, and so far it’s done me really well.  Anyone who knows me will be aware I’m hoping to sign up to Susan Garrett’s Recallers course when it opens (very soon!); not because I think there’s anything wrong with how I teach recall (or indeed have been taught to teach it), but because of the way Susan sees recall as a barometer of the relationship you and your dog have.

Even before I’d heard of Susan Garrett and Say Yes! I felt the same way about recall.  Your dog has to want to be with you before he or she will recall to you, and I think Susan’s way of teaching will help me learn to build a strong relationship with both of my dogs, who – because of their individual histories – sometimes need reminding that people (yes, even mom) are good.

Dog Training New Year’s Resolutions

One of my Facebook friends posted her “dog training New Year’s resolutions” earlier this week.  I thought it was a great idea, and borrowed it for myself.  I initially posted these on my Facebook account, but wanted to put a copy here so they’re easier to find, and then if I remember I can come back to them at the end of the year and see how well I did…or didn’t do (but let’s stay positive!)

‘New Year’s Resolutions’ by DawnRitchie
http://www.flickr.com/photos/dawn_ritchie/5313167219/

* Train my dogs more!
I want to help them overcome and outshine their challenges – whatever they may be.  I’d like to build a stronger bond with Inka through things he enjoys doing; and build a strong foundation with Starr by finding out what she enjoys (besides barking!).  I want to be all I can be, so that I can help them both to be all they can be, without pushing or over-facing them.

* Train because it’s fun!
And because I love to do it.  Nobody will die if we don’t train, but training will build and strengthen our bonds, teach me the strengths and weaknesses of myself and each of my dogs, and besides, it’s fun!

* Don’t waste breath and energy on cruel, pushy, aggressive, and ignorant people that rely on those same behaviours to bully animals and other people.
If anyone truly wants to change their ways they will, and I’ll be as present for them as I am to my own education.  It’s not my job to do anything more or less than train my dogs using methods that I find appropriate, and to learn how to teach others to train their dogs using the same methods.  It’s not my job to constantly show merit in my methods to naysayers.  Constructive criticism, alternative routes, and new or innovative applications of good science are welcomed warmly, but I will only help those who are willing to help themselves.

‘Resolution’ by Orrin Anderson
http://www.flickr.com/photos/orrin/80445075/

* Do my coursework!
I have three months in which to do five questions, which is massively achievable if I can stop ruminating on the fact that getting up at stupid o’clock five mornings a week is horrid, and that currently the only way to stop having to do that is to win the lottery.  Or maybe by being part of an awesome agility/flyball/heelwork to music team…a girl can dream!

* Be open to new and different things
Susan Garrett is due to be running her ‘Recallers’ on-line course early this year, and that’s definitely something I want to do (I love training, practising, and using my dog’s recall – there’s little better than your dog turning on a sixpence and running towards you full-tilt); I’ve also signed up to one of Pamela Dennison’s on-line courses which is due to start in a week or so.  However, I won’t focus on on-line courses to the detriment of my coursework.

What about you, have you made any resolutions – either for you and your dogs (or whatever animal you’re training), or for yourself?