The Bond Fostered by Training

I was on Facebook last week, and saw that one of my close friends had made the decision not to have one of her elderly dogs operated on to attempt to remove a cancerous mass from her leg.  Now it became abundantly clear why a few days earlier, that same friend was asking how well a dog can cope with only three legs, and how long recovery might take.  Only this time I knew which of her dogs she was talking about, so not only did I really feel for my friend and her special dog – I was hit pretty hard too.

You see, when I was “dog-less” for twelve months or so before bringing Inka home (and starting this blog), my friend would lend me one or another of her dogs to take to classes and train, and I felt honoured that my first “surrogate dog” was my friends’ very special sable collie.  Born with a form of diabetes and rejected by her mother, my friend raised her and hand-fed her.  When I first met her she was 11 years old, although I assumed she was around 5 or 6 – such was her love of people and vigour for life.

My friend and her dogs were there for me at a time when I really needed them, and after being snuggled back to having a dry face again by Starr and Inka, I realised that it was more than this reason, and empathy for my friend, that caused my sadness and tears.  Even though we spent the majority of our time together in class training, and very rarely “hung out” like we all do with our own dogs, the thought of this special girl passing is upsetting to me on a personal level because of the bond formed between us by clicker training.

I have read a number of times about the bond that is formed through the use of positive reinforcement training, and from experience I know this to be true – with some of my friends’ dogs, with dogs at the shelter I volunteered at, as well as dogs who have come in to classes I’ve assisted in.  But this is a very special, wonderful girl who has touched the life of a close friend of mine, and also helped my friend to help lots of dogs, furthermore she was a joy for anyone to meet; her life is and will continue to be celebrated by many, and it is for that reason that I wanted to share this poem:

I am standing upon the seashore.  A ship at my side spreads her white sails to the morning breeze, and starts for the blue ocean.  She is an object of beauty & strength, and I stand and watch until at length she hangs like a speck of white cloud just where the sea and sky come down to mingle with each other.  Then someone at my side says, “There!  She’s gone.”  Gone where?  Gone from my sight – that is all.  She is just as large in mast and hull and spar as she was when she left my side and just as able to bear her load of living freight to the place of destination.  Her diminished size is in me, not in her; just at the moment when someone at my side says, “There, she’s gone,” there are other eyes watching her coming and other voices ready to take up the glad shout, “There she comes!”  And that is dying. – anonymous

 

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

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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.

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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?

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…

Carol Price – Collie Psychology: A Review

In part, uneducated, disproven, unkind, and in places downright nonsense.  Let me elaborate:

Collie Psychology

I was quite excited when I first learned about ‘Collie Psychology’.  I have one of Carol Price’s earlier books ‘Understanding the Border Collie’, and while it’s of an age that means it has a lot of old-school talk that we now know is no longer relevant, it still contains some good information for those who are able to see past the pseudo-science.

I was hoping that her new book would be bang-up-to-date, with lots of great information on progressive reinforcement training; perhaps some discussion on why outdated training methods and tools worked, but also the issues they cause; reasons why she has “moved with the times” in her training ethos and tools of choice; and suggestions for resources to help others who are interested in learning and expanding their knowledge, alongside lots of great collie information.

Sadly, I’ve only made it a quarter of the way through the book and I’m giving it up as a bad job.  While the section on finding a good breeder is a true gold-star piece of writing that should be held up for everyone with even a passing interest in dogs to absorb, the rest of the book is filled – mostly – with the same out-dated clap-trap.

She makes aggression in puppies sound like an everyday event (growling is during play, for instance, but actual aggression is not); there’s also a fair amount of anthropomorphic fluff about puppies and dogs “disrespecting” their humans, when an understanding of learning theory would show that is not at all the case.

The section on training has a diatribe on why, how, and when to use a “correction command”, when – again – a little bit of education would show the writer there’s no need for such hostility, especially towards a young puppy.  There’s very little discussion on setting the puppy (or dog) up in the home so that he or she is unable to make mistakes, but lots of talk about what to “correct”, and how.

When she gets to actually teaching the puppy/dog and adding cues (which she insists on calling “commands”, for some unknown reason) to behaviours, she suggests people use a gesture and word cue a the same time; this is known as “overshadowing”, and when behaviours are trained with overshadowed cues it means the dog either does not listen at all to the verbal cue, or takes much longer than necessary to learn it.  She also completely fails to mention using a marker during training, meaning that – once again – the training will not progress as quickly as it could.

Not once in this section does she suggest than an owner might want to find a reputable training class to take their puppy or dog to, although she has no issues with pointing out that owners, especially those who are novice either to the breed or to dogs in general, are bound to make mistakes(!) – something a competent training instructor would not only be working to eliminate in every dog/handler team, but they could also provide personal guidance on what to do (or not do!) to help both human and canine understand, and complete, the exercise.

However, the things that really finished this book off for me were the following: –
1) her suggestion on “sticking out your leg” (AKA tripping the dog up) when he or she pulls on the lead;
2) the misinformation she gives to readers on the topic of learned helplessness;
3) her assertion that playing tug with your dog causes aggression.

After reading these nuggets of “information” – one of which does not line up with my ethos on interacting with others (human or otherwise), another which is factually incorrect (though it makes for a good sob story); and the remaining one being a just downright silly – it has relegated this book to the bottom of my reading pile, behind such authors as Toni Shelbourne, Denise Fenzi & Deborah Jones, Pamela Dennison, and my personal favourites, Karen Pryor and Jean Donaldson – all people who are much more easily accessible with up-to-date research and information that appeals to dog owners of every kind, be they “just” pet owners, invested dog enthusiasts, or canine professionals.

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Disclaimer: I have not been asked, nor paid to write this review; the opinions contained herein are entirely my own, and are based upon both my experience and my education, both of which are ever-expanding.

Relationships

After a hectic weekend of surprise sunshine, broken washing machines & the ensuing panic this week’s (fortnight’s?) blog post is a little late.  It’s either proof I shouldn’t work to a schedule, or proof I need to be more organised!

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“Instead of measuring a relationship with an animal by it’s “cheapness”, it should be measured instead by the amount of trust the animal holds”

People often say that training a dog using food and/or toys as reinforcers can and does “cheapen” the bond of a human-animal team.  What these people don’t realise is that there isn’t a team without some form of reinforcement for each potential member of that team.

Perhaps this makes more sense to me because I have ‘special’ dogs, who need someone in their life they can trust after a hard start; perhaps it makes sense to me because I’m interested in training my dogs in the quickest, most efficient, and least stressful way; or perhaps most people don’t really stop to think about this sort of thing (if that’s you, I think you should!).

I think the thing many people fail to realise is that dogs don’t actually come with a built-in desire to please humans – and let’s face it, not many humans do either!  Dogs are only “in it” for themselves, so if you can’t make it worth their while to do what you want, they’ll happily find something better to do.

Dog Looking at and Listening to a Phonograph, ...

Would this be your dog?

Of course, there are a few options to choose from, but it boils down to two points: you can force your dog in to complying with your request; or you can show your dog that it’s worth his while to listen to you and do as you ask.

Yes, we know that whichever way you choose, your dog will be more likely to do as you ask but why use methods which intimidate, oppress, and diminish both the spirit of one half of your team, and the bond which holds your team together?

Why not use methods to build up your canine teammate, and strengthen your bond with each other, turning “working” with you, into “playing” with you?

After all, the only one who can show you the value of your “work” is your dog – so why not help him to see that value…?

Where We’re Going Wrong…

So, I’ve had some time to think this weekend, and I think I know where we’re going wrong when talking about dog packs and/or dominance:

Theory:

a coherent group of tested general propositions, commonly regarded as correct, that can be used as principles of explanation and prediction for a class of phenomena: Einstein’s theory of relativity. Synonyms: principle, law, doctrine.
Hypothesis:

A tentative explanation for an observation, phenomenon, or scientific problem that can be tested by further investigation.
So you see – when talking about the now dis-proven dominance/pack dog training ideas, we shouldn’t be calling them theories, because they’re not; they’re hypotheses.
Learning theory, on the other hand, is a theory.

 

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

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?

Working

On one of the Yahoo! Groups I’m a member of, somebody recently wrote:
“I want my dog to work because he wants to please, not because he has to”.

I responded: “Just a point on semantics: a dog will never find pleasure in pleasing others – they are not altruistic”.

This, as always, got me thinking.  Even if dogs do find joy in pleasing others, I don’t want my dogs to work with me because it makes me happy.  I want them to work with me because they’ve found the joy and value in the work for themselves, not to mention it would be nice to think they want to spend time with me doing what they enjoy doing – whether that’s playing around and figuring out what it is that will earn them their next reward; or whether that’s taking part in something more structured such as obedience or agility trials, sheep herding, trick training, scentwork, and the list goes on.

To me, if a dog is doing something “to please” someone, then it means that or doesn’t want to do that task in the first place – as a child I’d clean my room “to please” my mother, but you can bet I didn’t enjoy it and would rather be doing something else!  And if a dog isn’t enjoying herself, it’s often quite obvious, whether it’s the low posture and tucked tail of a dog who may have been trained with aversive tools or methods, or whether it’s the reluctance of a dog only ever trained with kibble or commercial dog treats.

Below is a photo of my with my first dog, Spirit.  I love this photo because we are engaged, you can see we’re a team – he loved playing (training) with me, and was quick to pick things up.

Spirit & I working as a team

This is what I want to see from my dogs, and from other dog/handler teams too.  Happy dog, happy handler, happy team.

Or, for a more recent example (thankfully not really featuring me!), take a look at this short video.  This was Starr’s second introduction to the balance disc, on Tuesday evening.  Her first was the night before, and she wasn’t all that sure, though we didn’t have quite as much space to play in.

What do you think?  Is she happy to play on the disc?  Would you be happy if your dog was giving you this ‘performance’ during his or her early training sessions, either with or without a piece of equipment?

What about you?  What do you like to see from your dog when you’re with them?  What do you do to get those things you like to see – do you have a special toy, special treat, or perhaps you do something that gets them excited about the training process?