Consequences!

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Once upon a time in a career far far away, I was sitting in an auditorium at a sales seminar, listening to the speaker explain that every purchasing decision is made on the basis of emotions.  The two most common emotions that drive people’s purchasing decisions are fear and greed.  He claimed that nearly every purchase we make is driven by one or both of these emotions.  He asked the audience if anyone could remember making a purchase that was not driven by emotions.  Someone in the audience raised their hand and he asked them what their “emotion free” purchase was.  The guy stood up so everyone could see him and loudly exclaimed, “toilet paper!”  This was met with a roar of laughter from the audience. 

When the laughter had died down the speaker asked the poor guy why he was buying toilet paper.  “Because we were almost out”, he said sheepishly.  “And how did you feel about that?” asked the speaker.  There was a murmur of agreement from the audience accompanied by nodding and a giggle or two.  Every one of us in the room could relate to the mild fear that drove that purchasing decision.

If you want to get kinda philosophical about this, you can think for a minute about what an enormous role fear plays in each of our lives.  What kind of person would you be if there was no fear?  What would motivate your actions in the absence of this emotion?  What would our existence be like if our actions did not have consequences?  More importantly, what the heck does this have to do with dogs?

Everything.  I don’t know about you, but I have to constantly remind myself that each and every behavior, whether it is dog behavior or human behavior, has a consequence.  Think about it for a minute…  It bears repeating doesn’t it?  Each and every behavior has a consequence.

Whether it’s your kid being rude, your spouse being extra kind or your dog jumping on you with muddy paws, each of those behaviors has a consequence.  The likelihood that the behavior will reoccur is directly affected by the consequence.

“Well, that’s all just peachy, Jon, but what does that have to do with dog training?”

Consequences are the “reinforcers” we are always talking about!  If you want to know why Fido jumps on you, look for the consequence.  Why is your daughter so incredibly rude sometimes?  What is the consequence!  If your wife is especially kind and sweet to you on Thursday, what is the consequence?  By identifying the consequences of a given behavior we are focusing on what reinforces that behavior. 

When we have a firm grasp on what the reinforcers are, we are in a much better position to modify the behavior.  If we have control over the reinforcers (we don’t always have this) we are able to design a program to modify, increase, or eliminate the behavior.

In the case of the dog that jumps on you, what are the consequences?  Physical interaction is the first one that comes to mind.  The dog gets to “play” with you even if you don’t think it’s fun, it’s still play to him because he initiates the activity and you respond in a way that satisfies his need for physical interaction with you.   Game ON!

What if the consequence was the immediate denial of attention?  The important part of that last sentence was the word, “immediate”.  The strategy only works if the dog understands the removal of attention as a direct consequence of the jumping behavior.

I chose this particular behavior/consequence as an example because I’m using it right now on a dog that is boarding here at the kennel.  He is a world class jumper who absolutely cannot resist jumping and putting his paws on me.  In order for him to understand that this has a negative consequence for him, I wait until he has stopped jumping before I open his kennel door to let him out.  It takes him a minute to settle down, but he gets better at it every time I let him out for his exercise.  Dogs here at MCK get out for exercise at least 4 times every day, so I use this opportunity even if they are not here specifically for training.  Similarly, I refuse to pet, touch, or make any contact with the dog unless he has all four paws on the ground.  Keep in mind, this dog is not here for training so I have not had any focused sessions with him, but we are seeing a huge improvement in the jumping behavior already after a week here at the kennel.

When he goes home, his humans are likely to continue with their old ways and he will begin to jump on people again, but I can’t do anything about that.  Why not?  Because I have no control over the consequences of these people’s behavior!

So now that you’ve read the long version, I’ll give you the short “Easy Button” version:

Look for the consequence to identify the reinforcer.

Determine if you have any control over the consequence/reinforcer.

Modify the consequence to modify the behavior.

Slack Leads to you all!

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Beach Mutts!

Every year, about this time, Lyn and I take a trip out to the ocean.  Sometimes we take the camper and spend a few days beach-combing or fishing in the coastal rivers.  This year it was just a day-trip, but what  glorious trip it was!  We brought all four of our dogs with us which looks like this:

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It’s hard to see in the photo, but the back seat has been removed and I built a flat, stable platform for the dogs.  It’s a bit crowded with four of them, but they get along really well, so it works.

It takes about 2 hours to get to our favorite beach.  The dogs are very excited when we get there!

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This is Ginger’s first trip to the ocean.  She can barely contain her excitement!

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The trail meanders along the Copalis River.  What a great spot for a swim!

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Peck is determined to catch a seagull.

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He made at least a hundred attempts, but was never successful in bagging one.  That didn’t stop his enthusiasm though!  We walked along the beach for a little over 2 hours before we headed back to the truck.  The dogs never seemed to run out of energy, but they all slept soundly, in a big pile, all the way home.  Here’s a few more shots from the beach and the river trail.

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We were very fortunate to get a break from the rain.  We also had the entire beach to ourselves!  That’s one of the advantages to visiting the ocean at this time of year.  We did run into a couple people on the walk back to the truck.  Fortunately they were dog lovers and they didn’t mind being greeted by 4 overly friendly beach-mutts!

Except for the cost of a few gallons of fuel, this is FREE ENTERTAINMENT!  Go get some!

Have a Frosty Rainier!

We try to get out every morning for a walk.  It was a little chilly yesterday.  That doesn’t bother us at all.

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Sometimes I hunt with a shotgun and sometimes I hunt with a camera, but we’re always hunting as far as Kaia and Peck are concerned.  I enjoy the scenery and they enjoy the “smellery”.

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When the temperature gets this low there is always ice to contend with.  Ice can be a very dangerous element for retrievers.  There’s really no way to teach them how to handle ice other than to expose them carefully and allow them to figure it out.  There are many different kinds of ice that a retriever needs to be able to navigate.  There’s solid ice, wet slippery ice,  thin cracking ice, cutting ice, slushy ice, ice breaking at the edge, and on and on.  If a dog’s first encounter with ice occurs while he is running a retrieve, the odds of injury increase exponentially.  It’s far better to allow a dog to learn about ice while he can approach it with some caution.

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In the photo above you can see Peck’s trail through the ice near the top of the photo.  He charged through a thin layer and I think he was surprised to find it rather uncomfortable.  After charging through the thin layer he turned around to go back and check it out.  I could almost hear the wheels turning in his doggy brain as he stored the data for future encounters with the cold, hard stuff.

This is how dogs learn to deal with a lot of things they encounter.  All we have to do as trainers is get them out into the wilds where they can gather these experiences.  No amount of classes or training programs, books or DVDs can ever replace the simple act of getting out there and doing it.

The dogs and I were walking through a field of mowed Scotch Broom the other day.  I was thinking about a friend who was deathly afraid of allowing his dog to run through the stubble.  It seems his dog had sustained a foot injury on a previous jaunt through the field of sticks.  He didn’t want to let his dog run there, ever again.  My dogs have been running through stubble since they were puppies.  We’ve never seen a foot injury resulting from this. (Knock on wood!)  I believe they have a way of paying attention to their feet that allows them to trot right through this stuff without a problem.  They only learned it by doing it.

Obviously you have to pick your poison carefully.  I would not have chosen to let the dogs learn about porcupines by attacking one.  Unfortunately they made that decision on their own.  But, other things like ice, streams, stubble fields, and numerous other hazards can be learned by the  dogs through repeated exposure.  You don’t want your dog to learn about moving water by having him swim for a 40 yards retrieve across a raging river.  The hazards need to be introduced gradually, beginning with the easy stuff, so the dog avoids injury and fear.

Labrador Retrievers aren’t the only dogs that conquer hazards in this fashion.  They’re just the first breed that comes to my mind because I work with them every day.  Please help me broaden my horizons by sharing how your dogs learn to navigate hazards through repeated exposure.

Slack Leads to you all!

Another Sunday in the Church of Dog

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We decided to take the shotgun for a walk so the dogs and I headed toward Mt Rainier.

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..and we drove up in the boonies near Morton.

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Peck is pretty sure there’s a grouse up here somewhere:

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C’mon, we’re almost to the top!

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Hmmm. No bird on that hill either!

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There was lots of time to take pictures and I could have left the shotgun at home.  We didn’t see a single grouse.  None of God’s innocent little creatures were harmed in the making of this blog post, but I must confess that we had mayhem in our hearts and minds!  We just couldn’t find any birds that wanted to cooperate.  It was a beautiful day and everybody agreed that the air was fresh and the sun was bright. We were thankful for that!

Hope you all had a wonderful weekend!

That was FUN, but it’s time to get back to work.

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The kennel re-opens today after being closed for 2 months.  The first dogs show up this evening and more are coming throughout the week. 

It’s been a glorious sabbatical! I’ve had plenty of time to work with my own dogs.  We’ve been hunting in Eastern Washington, the Olympic National Forest and some local areas that must remain secret!  Kaia is hunting better than ever and Peck, who was just a bumbling puppy last season, has become a hard charging little bird maniac. 

The re-opening of the kennel doesn’t end our hunting season, but it reduces it to a series of short, local hunts rather than the 3 week epic bird-a-thons we’ve been enjoying on the other side of the Cascades.

 

I’m glad to be getting back to work.  All this time off is great, but I miss having all the dogs around.  I’ve had a chance to recharge and I’m ready to take on the wild beasts again! 

I have a class starting at Sprinker Center called “Click It, Don’t Kick It!”  This is a positive reinforcement training class that runs for 6 weeks.  We start up on Tuesday 11/5.  You can get details and sign up info HERE.  

Or just call Sprinker Recreation Center at 253 798 4000

Next, on Saturday Nov. 9 we begin our next series of Beginning Obedience for Sporting Dogs.  This is a traditional training class primarily for young sporting breeds, Labs, Pointers, Setters, Goldens, Chessies, etc.  This class runs every Saturday for 6 weeks, from 10 to 11:30 AM here at Muck Creek Kennels.  To sign up for this class, just call Muck Creek Kennels at 253 442 9625

See you in class! 

Oh…. I almost forgot…  Don’t forget to bring your human!

Delta Recon Run

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This will be a short post this morning.  I spent a couple of hours yesterday getting my duck boat ready.  I’m planning to take Peck and Kaia on a little recon run this morning.  We hunt an area in the South end of Puget Sound.  I need to check all our routes and waypoints to make sure nothing has changed too much since last year.  I wouldn’t want to set out all our decoys and get the boat anchored in the pre-dawn only to find as the sun rises, that the boundaries of the refuge have changed or a new building is in place or perhaps someone has set out an anchor buoy and moored a boat in the middle of our hunting spot. 

In preparation for boat hunting, I’ve trained Peck to enter and exit via the platform on the side of the boat.  We did all this in small stages over several days.  The training began with our trusty old canoe because it’s easy to get in and out of.  Later we progressed to the duck boat on land at first, then moved to a nearby lake.  By the way, all this training was done in the summer when the air and water were much warmer.  All of this is “old hat” to Kaia who watches with a bored look as Peck is going through his paces.  She does get excited when we finally move the training to the lake where she can enjoy a good swim.

I’ll bring along a few bumpers so I can throw them a retrieve or 2.  I’m tempted to bring along a fishing rod as well.  Neither of the dogs gets too excited about fishing though, so perhaps it’s better if I limit the “mission creep” and just stick to recon and a few marked retrieves with bumpers.  We’ll see!

Perfect?

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We walked across the south side of the ridge, the road angling down the mountain between a series of switchbacks. This was the uppermost leg of the trail. We had just hunted the ridge top and were now returning the mile or so to the truck.  Peck was working fairly close to me on my right.  He had the habit of staying close and checking in with me frequently as young dogs often do.  Kaia was working farther up the same slope to my right, making large loops uphill into the snowberry bushes and jack pines, sometimes wandering slightly beyond gun-range as she chased down an interesting scent.  One of the bittersweet changes in our hunting this year has been watching Kaia evolve without Vee there hunting beside her. 

I’ve heard and read other hunter’s claims that it takes 3 seasons to make a good grouse dog.  Three years sounds about right to me.   Great grouse dogs keep learning after that too.  Sometimes when a good campfire is burning and an uncertain amount of adult beverages have been imbibed, you can hear about the dog that went straight from the whelping box to the grouse woods and laid straight into the game.  I’ve heard about this amazing dog several times but alas, have never actually met him or hunted over him.

Watching Kaia and Peck work the hillside above me made readily apparent the very different stages of my dogs’ development.  Peck is in the first stage.  This is his first real season. He tagged along with us last year on a hunt and it was plain that he was not ready to hunt at 5 months, nor was he expected to be. 

This year is different.  He’s ready to hunt.  He’s a solid retriever, he searches diligently for birds and he has great energy and excitement.  Kaia is far more composed in her expenditure of energy.  She seems to cover more ground without running herself ragged.  She doesn’t show much excitement until she smells a bird, then it’s like a big switch turns on inside her.  There’s no question that she is working a bird.  Peck maintains a higher excitement level all the time and it’s not as easy to tell when he’s getting ready to flush a bird. 

Kaia finds more birds than Peck.  She seems to know where to look for the birds and how to find the bird when she first gets a whiff of that delightful grouse scent. Now in her 4th hunting season, Kaia has learned how to find the birds, how to conserve her energy by not chasing down rabbit and squirrel scent, and this year she has begun to finesse the manner in which she flushes the bird. 

I noticed early in the season that an unusual number of birds were flushing toward me.  When I first noticed this I chalked it up to dumb luck.  After hunting with the dogs for 6 weeks I am ready to embrace the theory that Kaia is figuring out how to push birds towards me.  This is why I’ve been so careful about limiting her hunting range.  Of course I want her to work in range but I don’t spend a lot of time or energy forcing the issue.  I’ve always believed that every brain cell that a bird dog uses to think about me is a brain cell that is not looking for birds.  As much as I like a well-trained and well behaved dog, I give my dogs a lot of latitude in the field.

Back on the hillside, I see Kaia’s tail start to revolve as she charges uphill and disappears behind a clump of stunted mountain pines.  About 3 seconds later I hear the bird flush nearly 50 yards above me on the rocky hillside.  When I catch sight of the grouse he is rocketing almost directly downhill at me.  He seems to catch sight of me at the same time and makes a sharp right turn placing him on a course directly down the trail away from me.  At this point he is about 30 yards in front of me.  Peck throws himself into a SIT at the sound of my shot.  Kaia is still out of sight but is presumably sitting as well.  I blow 2 sharp blasts on the whistle and both dogs come running toward me.  Peck is first to arrive at my side where I tell him to sit as we wait for Kaia to come bounding down the hillside. 

From the HEEL position I show Kaia the line to the bird with my left arm and send her for the retrieve.  After a brief search, she picks up the bird and returns to the HEEL position, holding the bird gently until I take it from her.

Doesn’t that sound just about perfect?  It was one of the hunts where everything just came together.  These are the ones we remember.  Little snapshots like this fasten themselves to the inside of my brain and help me forget all the little screw-ups that can happen over the course of a season. 

Maybe I should tell you about some of the less successful, wacky, goofball things that happened before I forget them all?   Perhaps it’s easier to enshrine the perfect hunts in my memory if I conveniently forget my many errors?