My Most Important Piece of Training Equipment

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We arrived at our Top Secret Training Location just after dawn.  It was pretty foggy this morning!

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We were greeted by a coyote that was barking his fool head off at us.  He was throwing rapid fire challenge barks and moving back and forth about 40 yards in front of us. I made the dogs heel and we walked directly toward him.  He relinquished the territory, but continued to challenge-bark as he backed away.  We pushed him a little farther back away from our position, then changed course and headed across the wind so we would not be so easily detected.  I was never worried about him.  I’m not the least bit afraid of coyotes.  I do have some concern that Peck might get too friendly with them, so I am careful when I know they are stirring in the vicinity.  Sorry I didn’t get a picture of the yodel-dog, but I was too busy keeping my animals under watch to think about pulling the camera out of my pocket.  Oh well, I’m sure you’ve all seen a coyote before.

We spent the rest of the morning exploring a swampy area where I knew Peck would be too busy to think much about the coyote.  The strategy appeared to work.

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Here’s a shot of my most important dog training equipment.  Everyone who has a dog should have at least one pair of these!

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My wife, who is the family’s self-appointed footwear connoisseur, can tell you that these things ROCK.  Warm and dry all the time!

Besides the interaction with the coyote we also found another sure sign that spring is rapidly approaching.

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YIPPEE!!!

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Slack Leads!

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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!

OUCH! (Coulda been worse)

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Having a reasonably well behaved dog is important, no matter who you are.

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Proper use of a leash is not an instinct.  It is a skill that must be learned.

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Hint:  Don’t allow your dog to jump on toddlers.  It’s dangerous.

Take a good look at the catering staff in the background.  It’s interesting to note that they could see what was coming.

I would like to offer my services to the White House.  If anyone there is interested in learning how to prevent this kind of incident I would be happy to help.  The only pre-requisites are a collar, a lead, and a handler with a modicum of common sense.

I don’t care what your politics are.  The scene depicted above was a stupid stunt.

I preach about training with a slack lead for a good reason.  It’s the only way you can teach good lead manners.  But the lead IS there for a reason.  It CAN be used to prevent this kind of thing.

‘Nuff said.

Jessie’s 30 Day Obedience Boot Camp

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Another young dog has begun his 30 Day Obedience Boot Camp here at Muck Creek Kennels.  Our young recruit is a mixed breed, Lab/Shepherd cross.  He enjoys counter surfing, barking, and a long list of delightfully destructive behaviors which include bed-shredding.  Here is an photo of his latest creation:Image

This is what I found in the kennels this morning at 6AM.  This kind of destructive behavior always stems from inadequate exercise.  As you can see, I have my work cut out for me! 

I did a brief training assessment with Jessie yesterday and found him to be quite responsive.  He craves attention and he’s willing to work for it.  All I have to do is channel his desire for attention into more positive behaviors.

It all begins with SIT.  It nearly always begins with SIT.  When a dog has learned that he can get what he wants by barking and whining, we need to ignore the attention getting ploy and counter it with some demand of our own.  Jessie REALLY wants me to pay attention to him.  He’s already well on his way to learning that I won’t even look at him unless he sits first.

Later, we’ll apply the N.I.L.I.F. principle and require a sit or other trained behavior before he gets anything he wants.  N.I.L.I.F. stands for Nothing In Life Is Free.  When we practice this principle we require the dog to sit before he gets anything he wants.  This means every time Jessie goes out of his kennel he has to sit first.  Every time he gets a pat on the head – Sit first.  Want a treat?  Sit First!  Before I put his food down and let him eat?  Sit first!

But before we embark on this new journey, our first order of business is to wring some of the vinegar out of this guy with a healthy dose of strenuous exercise.  I’ll try to get some pictures for you later today.  He’s quite a handsome fella with a mischievous glint in his eye.  He can put on a ridiculously goofy face at times, but don’t let him fool you!  This guy is a smarty!

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!

All Work and No Play…

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We can’t work all the time!  We’re trying to work in some fun stuff with Diesel’s training.  By keeping the sessions fun it makes Diesel a better student and it makes me a better trainer.  We spend maybe 10 or 15 minutes on Sit and recall trials, then we get ourselves a good chewy toy and we lure Diesel thru some agility moves.  He loves it!

By using his favorite toy we help overcome his reluctance to try new stuff like jumping through the tire or walking up the ramp.  He caught on to the tire thing really quick!  The ramp will take a bit longer because I need to build a new one.  As you can see from the photo, the one I have is too narrow and too wobbly.  Wow!  Who built this piece of junk?

Maybe I should drag my lazy self away from this dog gone computer and go fix that ramp, huh?

In the meantime, would you please wrack your brain and see if you can think of the perfect guardian for Diesel so I can get him re-homed before we get too attached to one another?

The perfect guardian for Diesel would be a person who has some experience with the breed.  Diesel would prefer to be an only dog.  His new guardian should be fit and have lots of energy and time for exercise.  Diesel’s next home will need to have a fenced yard.  Diesel likes cats, but not in a way that cats would find acceptable, so no cats please.  We’re still working on getting a hold of his AKC litter registration so his new guardian could register him.  I’m currently taking care of all his expenses, but I will charge a re-homing fee to cover his training.  I’d like Diesel’s next home to last forever, that’s why I’ve decided to get his basic obedience in place before I let him go.  That being said, his new guardian could be training with us right now.  This would be much better than just driving away with a dog you’ve never worked with.

If you’re interested or you know someone who is, please call or email.

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I Hope This Clicks!

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Diesel’s training is underway!  Before we could really get started I wanted him to have a day or two to settle into our routine.  I also needed time to observe and make some decisions about methods and tools.

I decided to employ positive reinforcement and clicker training with Diesel.  Those who know me will already know that I use traditional methods with some dogs and clicker training with others.  I try to let the dogs tell me what is going to work best with them.

Diesel showed some timidity when I approached him with a training lead in my hand.  He also showed some other signs of subordination and/or submission that didn’t seem appropriate to the situation.  Basically, we’re dealing with some fear issues.  When I play with Diesel and get him in the mood for some rough-housing, the timidity goes away and he shows a bolder, more confident side.

Of course I could use traditional training methods to develop obedience in Diesel, but I would risk losing that happy, playful demeanor he shows when we’re just goofing off.  The trick here will be to get him to a place where he is making good decisions about obedience and still keep that happy-go-lucky attitude that makes him such a fun guy to be around.

Wish me luck!