Dog Training New Years Resolutions – 2013 Review

This is later than I intended, but I’ve been busy helping a collie get a rescue space.  Thankfully, everything’s sorted now, barr her having a little sleepover at my house before being picked up this weekend.

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Last January, I posted a list of things I wanted to accomplish with Inka and Starr; I called them my “dog training New Years resolutions“.  Before I look at my intentions for the coming year, I want to take a moment to look at how I did with those resolutions.

To review, last year I resolved to:
* Train my dogs more!
* Train because it’s fun!
* Not waste breath and energy on cruel, pushy, aggressive, and ignorant people that rely on those same behaviours to bully animals and other people.
* Do my coursework!
* Be open to new and different things

So, how did I do?  Well, starting on the negative – I didn’t finish my coursework.  Technically, I didn’t even start it, although I do have a lot of notes and plans for what I want to look at for each question, and I do now feel capable of starting it.

However, the good news is that I stuck to everything else!  I didn’t waste my energy on people who don’t want to know, and I did train both dogs more often, maybe not as much as I’d like to, but certainly more than I’d trained Inka in the past year.

Now that we’re starting to get past Starr’s demons, and I’ve been able to give Inka a break (which I feel that he needs as he still holds quite a lot of demons about learning in general from his early days, before he came to us), we’re concentrating on the fun things – Inka’s training has involved things I know he can do, and just having fun with those; Starr’s training has also been fun (like when we played with this box (below)), but she enjoys the learning process, so we’ve also done some more serious things together (like starting to work on her loose lead walking).

I will say, however, that I think part of the reason why I didn’t train more is because I felt a little bit overwhelmed.  I completed Pamela Dennison’s online course, and when the chance arose I signed up to Susan Garrett’s Recallers course – as part of that we got a whole second course for free, I also signed up for Denise Fenzi’s precision heeling course, and then her heelwork games class, and I then got the chance to become a member of Susan’s “inner circle” – so, of course, I jumped at it, and then Puppy Peaks came along, which I wanted in on as well!

Pam’s course had a small amount of material, and a DVD, so that was fine.  Recallers would release one five minute game every weekday for six weeks, and there was *a lot* of accompanying information (I filled a lever-arch ring binder!), Shaping a Difference was time-sensitive, and Puppy Peaks and the Inner Circle both are an amazing resource, plus both of Denise’s courses are full of information; I’ve then been back and forward to the vets a fair amount, alongside work, running a house, and all the regular exercising and bonding with my dogs.

I know, I know – I took too much on.  I’ve learnt my lesson, and (hopefully!) won’t do it again.  Starr & I are re-doing the Recallers games, but at a slower pace; once I get the mechanics down for the really fun ones, I’ll do those with Inka, leaving the “less fun”/more precise ones to later, or not at all if he would prefer not to; and it’ll be the same for Puppy Peaks, and anything that comes up in the IC (I’m desperately saving so that I may renew my membership, after a couple of surprise expenses in December).

Going forward, at least for the moment, I feel that the Say Yes!/Susan Garrett way is a really good fit for Starr, Inka, and myself; it also fits nicely with the ethos of our training instructor and her classes, plus there’s enough information held within it to help me teach many, many behaviours, and to equip me for figuring out almost anything it doesn’t contain specific information for.

So, what are my goals for this year?  Find out in my next post…

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Shouting Does Not Modify Behaviour

I can’t believe I’ve actually just typed that, but after last week I feel that it needs saying – and sharing!

I was on leave last week, and with the weather the way it was, any time I spent at home all the windows were wide open.  Early in the week, a neighbour was having some work done on their house; and during the first day I heard one of the workers shout at Starr.  She’d been barking at all the strange, new noises the workers were making, and while it was a little annoying, as far as she was concerned she had good reason to be anxious and try to make the scary stuff go away and/or alert me.

That’s why, when I first heard her being shouted at to “shut up”, I responded in kind and shouted back “don’t shout at my dog”.  Aside from the fact that it’s not the job of a complete stranger to attempt to change my dog’s behaviour, it certainly is not up to anyone else but me how their behaviour will be modified; not to mention that with that one action the worker showed how little he knows about dogs and behaviour modification (yes – I know – pot/kettle!)

‘Shout!!!’ by Maciek Łempicki

The next day, when a similar thing occurred, I was otherwise occupied attempting to make pizza dough (and failing horribly!), once I’d washed my hands and had moved on to other – less involved – tasks, I kept an ear out for the man coming to get tools out of his van.  That was the problem today – he was to-ing and fro-ing between his van and his work, and every time he slid open the door to his van, that set Starr on edge and she would bark until he went away again.

This time, I did better – for Starr, for the workers, and for myself.  The next time I heard someone at the van, I went and spoke to him.  It turned out that I’d missed a second worker arriving, and it was actually him I spoke to – but I asked him to pass the message on, that shouting at my dog was doing her no favours; she was barking because the strange noises outside made her nervous, and the best way for them to help me help her was to ignore her and not respond in kind to her frantic shouting.

This did the trick, and while they unsettled Starr as they continued to work, they didn’t shout at her any more.

Result!

However, I can’t help but find it sad that in general people think shouting will stop or change a behaviour.

Here’s the deal: it won’t, at least not permanently.  If you’re lucky, you might come across as so terribly, horribly, scary that whoever you’re shouting at doesn’t want to be anywhere near you, and will just do nothing whenever you’re around.  More likely, however is that (to stick with the example), the dog will think you’re joining in – either on their side, or against them.  Whatever the reason the dog is barking is now secondary to the support or opposition the dog is barking along to.

As a stranger, it’s never your job to modify a dogs behaviour – unless you’re being paid as a professional to do so, in which case you wouldn’t be a stranger.  As an owner, it’s generally up to you to find out why your dog is barking, and mitigate that in an appropriate way, unless you’ve employed a professional to help you.

In our house, we use classical conditioning: scary noise outside = yummy treat.  We also have cues: a cue to bark, and one to stop.  These have worked wonderfully for Inka, and while he still barks at some things, he’s generally pretty cool with external noises, or being quiet when he’s asked to be.  Starr, on the other hand, isn’t doing so well with these, but that’s part of the story of why I’m considering behavioural drugs for her, which is an entirely different post!

How do you deal with excessive barking in your house?

 

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?

Are You Bribing Your Dog?

There seems to be a fallacy in the world of dog training, and indeed even outside of the world of dog training, and dogs in general.

I’ve had knowing looks on the street, overheard strangers commenting at the beach or lake, had comments directed towards me in person and online, even my mother has (once again!) chided me for my seemingly “poor choices”.

If you train your dog with treats, you’re bribing her.

Bribing – Craige Moore

There I said it.

Anyone who’s anyone knows that all dogs love and respect all humans, and will do as we say because it makes them feel all warm and fuzzy inside when they make us happy by doing as they’re told; so it follows that anyone who’s anyone also knows that dogs don’t need treats, or any form of reward, for working for humans. And if you choose to use treats, you’re bribing your dog to do whatever it is you want him to do, because he wont do it out of “love and respect”, or for the joy it brings him in knowing you’re happy with him, he’ll only do it for the food in your hand.

Clearly, all the people making such comments are amazing, wonderful even. They may have spent their whole life working, but they have never once taken a penny – or anything else – in recompense; or if they have they’ve given it all away again.

They have no need of reward or recognition from their employer (or customers, if they’re self-employed), they do the work because they like the fuzzy warm feeling it gives them to help others, and that’s all the payment they need.

Oh, wait…

That’s not true.

While some people can, and do, volunteer their time; the majority of people in gainful employment need to take home a pay cheque every month (heck, even people who are not in gainful employment still have to find a way to get the money they need!).

I don’t know about you, but if my employer decided to stop paying for my time I’d certainly be looking for another job – let’s face it, for humans, money is a very powerful secondary reinforcer.

Money gives us roofs over our heads, various methods of travel, the ability to buy food, books, clothes, music, tickets to the cinema, theatre, or concerts, and even the ability to have and appropriately care for our animals.

Animals see no value in money (aside from the ones who may see value in eating it). They tend not to have pockets to keep it in, or places to keep a lot of it safe, and they don’t have bills to pay, so money as a form of payment is as meaningless to them as hotdog slices as a form of payment is to you and I.

But just because they don’t see value in money doesn’t mean they don’t see value in being “paid”.

Especially when training new behaviours, your dog (or human, horse, goat, lamb, cow, chicken…or any animal) needs paid. They need to feel value in their work (learning), and this value comes from rewards – not only food and toys, but also other things they enjoy doing – digging, barking, running around, sniffing…whatever floats their boat.

These rewards do a number of things: * firstly they help the animal to learn that the rewarded behaviour is worth repeating;
* it adds “money to the bank” for the behaviour, meaning that at some future time when you need to ask for the behaviour and only have dry, biscuit treats (or, worse, nothing at all) your dog is more likely to do as you ask, and not mind too much that you didn’t have some liver or a favourite tug toy handy (however, after this type of situation it would be worth “refreshing” the behaviour in your dog’s mind – and increasing your “bank balance” – by training the behaviour with one or more of your dog’s desired rewards, especially if you made a large withdrawal – such as recalling your dog away from unexpected livestock or wild animals;
* additionally, training using the rewards your dog wants (rather than the ones you think he should want) also has the added bonus of teaching your dog that you’re worth listening to;
* and it’s great for building a strong relationship with your dog.

Looking at that list, I wonder why we aren’t all training with rewards. For me, it all comes back to working: I want my dog to want to be with me, and to not only want to interact with me; but to enjoy interacting with me – whether we’re playing tug, or whether I’m training a drop on recall.

It pains me to see a dog who wants to be nowhere near his human, after all, dogs are social creatures and should have the strongest bond with their ‘family’; but to think that some people actively dislike despise “treat training”, well…I don’t want to think about what they do to their dog in the name of training

Sheep

‘Name That Sheep’ – Alan Cleaver

Well, this has certainly been an interesting week!  I found out through a friend that a local rescue organisation had hired an electric shock collar trainer for a dog that was chasing sheep.  I posted on my Facebook page that: “Currently I’m feeling shocked and saddened that a local rescue organisation has hired an electric shock collar trainer to “cure” a dog of his sheep chasing.

I feel very sad for the dog, but also lucky that I will never have to resort to such dangerous and barbaric practises – in fact I currently have just the same problem with Starr, she would love to chase sheep if given the opportunity, so she’s not getting it!  Or at least not until I can take her up to my friend’s farm and start teaching her to play with sheep appropriately.”

‘Loweswater Sheep’ – mPascalj

And I mean every word of it. Starr has about 10% of the recall she needs to be off-lead, and about 1% of the recall I’d like her to have before I “let her loose”; and I’d never ever let her off lead anywhere near sheep that she was not working.  Why would I?  If a farmer thinks that a dog is worrying his sheep, he can shoot it dead on the spot, and to many farmers a dog being off lead near his sheep is more than plenty reason to shoot it…

This then brought to mind that a little while ago I was chided in the comments section of another blog.  The post was about dog training and the apparent lies therein.  The reproach came as I’d said I never had and never will use anything except a flat collar & static (i.e. fixed) harness on any of my dogs, and I have no need of telling them “no” (as in “don’t do that”).

I was told I had “so much to learn”, including “the four ways to deal with a behaviour” and “what to do with a confirmed sheep worrier”.  I did have to wonder where the common sense was – if one has a confirmed sheep worrier why would you take it anywhere near sheep?  That’s just asking for trouble, and certainly not something I would ever advise to any future potential client I may have, unless they were under the tutelage of the person who owned the sheep, and they were either a) teaching the dog to herd the sheep; or b) teaching the dog enough that he could leave the sheep entirely alone on one cue.  Note also that both of these would take more than one short lesson!

It was then that I was curtly told that I “know nothing”, and should “go out and learn” as well as “shut up” because my “lack of knowledge won’t impress anyone”.  Hmmm, yes – clearly I lack knowledge because I’m not going to take a dog who may worry livestock near the livestock, nor will I let said dog (or any dog, for that matter) off lead unless they’re working the livestock, and I certainly would never electrocute my dog for showing an interest in livestock!  Oh, how much I must have left to learn to get these sensible ideas out of my head!

‘Sheep’ mPascalj’

I then had someone else telling me that I “don’t live in the real world”, and “would rather keep a dog on lead than give any form of ‘no’ command”.  According to this second commenter, I’m not alone in living in cloud cuckoo land, as I’m an “example of many UK trainers”.  This coming from someone who allowed her dog to kill a sheep (meaning it was off lead and/or under no control around them), and then used an electric shock collar, rather than walk her dog somewhere beside sheep-covered moors.  Of course, she’s otherwise a totally positive trainer, and had “exhausted every other positive option”.

I’m sorry, but I really fail to see what is so bizarre about being responsible enough to keep your dog on lead around sheep that don’t belong to you and/that your dog isn’t actively working; not to mention keeping your dog who you know is, or is likely to be, overtly interested in sheep away from them.  It really isn’t that difficult – I did it for over twelve months while living up the road from a farm; not to mention having done it with my previous two dogs!

It’s common sense – if you don’t want to see your dog shot by a farmer, you need to make sure he or she can see you have control over your dog around livestock and that means using a lead – something that is visible and obvious; not just hoping that you have enough verbal control over your dog that you can call your dog away in the split second before the farmer reaches for their gun…

‘Sheep’ – mPascalj

 

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.

Stay or Wait?

One thing I’ve noticed from being a member of several Yahoo! and Facebook groups, as well as attending training classes, is that many people seem to get confused between the cues (or commands, if you prefer) ‘stay’ and ‘wait’.

Many people think they’re one and the same, or that there’s only a difference in competition obedience; but to me, even for dogs who are “just pet dogs”, they’re different exercises, and the distinction could one day make the difference between a healthy dog, and one who’s run out in traffic and gotten injured, or is about to get shot for worrying sheep.

Below are my definitions of each exercise, though this is for fully trained & proofed waits and stays, training must occur so your dog knows what you want, and of course until training is complete/complete up to the current level of distance, distractions, and duration you’d do well not to ask your dog for too much.

Stay – for me, asking a dog to “stay” means that you expect them to keep both the the position and location they’re currently in, not getting up, moving around, and/or creeping forward, until you go back to them and release them from the stay.

Inka doesn’t yet have a good enough ‘stay’ to use in the real world, but if he did I might use it to keep him behind me while trying to fend off a friendly dog (think a MDIF); or perhaps if I needed him back on the lead, I might call him and ask for a stay rather than a recall.

Waita wait, is more of a loose stay; the dog can stay in the general area, and can change position, but cannot move forward from the area where they were put in the wait; the handler can either return to the dog and release them from the wait, or they can call them out of it, or ask the dog to perform another cue.  For example I ask Inka to ‘wait’ at the bedroom door, open it, then tell him he can go through.