Monday, October 3, 2011

8 Months and Counting!

Kash at 8 Months Old

Every day is so fun with Kash.  He's still a teen - don't get me wrong - but rather than be frustrated at the things that he does that may not be ideal, I celebrate the successes and the humor with which he brings to every day! For instance two days ago, he found a toilet paper roll that I (silly hooman) did not put onto the roll right away. It was, in fact, laying on the bottom of three steps that leads to our jacuzzi tub. Being on the floor, and all, it MUST have been a toy! So he grabbed it, and out he comes, jumping all four feet into the air, "shaking it dead", and running from end to end of the room, in glee and SO proud of what he found.  Rather than take it away immediately, I watched him play with it for a good five minutes. He had no intentions in shredding it, just in running with it and holding it in his mouth.  I laughed, and laughed, and laughed.  I did eventually ask him to "Give" and then played a good round of tug with him as a result.

He remains a very social, friendly boy (albeit hormonal, being intact), and enjoys the social contact he gets out and about in public. He attended the PEI Pet Expo with me all weekend (along with the others in the Schnauzer quad!), and while it was quite stimulating for him he did exceptionally well given his current level of emotional development.  And he remains intensely devoted to his buddies at home, and you can often find them lounging together or playing somewhere. 

He LOVES to learn.  He learns at a rate that is controlled only by how much time I can devote to training him.  He learns so fast, that I need to keep challenging him in his skills. He is much like Gaci in this regard - with the benefit of having a dog who is happy to show those tricks off in public (in which Gaci is generally more preferential to being a closet-trickster).  He has a wide array of things up his sleeve, and that is growing daily with maturity, and when "mom" can find time to teach amidst the crazies that every day brings!

He has a lot of maturing to do yet, before that brain returns permanently from vacay, but I'm going to enter him in his first Rally Trial this fall, and see how he's coming along! I'm only putting him in three out of six - even if he is ready for his Advanced title, I'm in no rush with him! It's always been about the process, not the prizes.

Kash chilling in his "apartment" with Gaci (on top) and Shimmer (on left!).  They love their kennels, or in this case, kennel.
Can't believe he's four months shy of the big 1 year! As I keep saying time and time again, I am WILDLY in love with him, each and every day he brings a smile to my face. Looking forward to all that is to come!
Schnauzers on-duty.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Adolescence - What a Wonderful Time!

My baby is definitely no baby anymore! Kash has reached his six month milestone, and reach it he did! This last week and a bit has made me realize that he has definitely entered the realm of "adolescent" - my friends, I have a teenager on my hands! And with that, comes new challenges, many of these are the same challenges that many of my clients face from day to day!

- Learning about his little "nuggets"  - he is definitely cognizant of his developing manhood. His interest in the ladies has piqued, and he is quite the comical flirt.  He has also discovered the joys of lifting his leg to urinate - the first few times quite funny as he ultimately peed all over himself, but I think he'd tell you that he's a pro now!
- His impulses have decreased once again. A normal aspect of adolescence, as I instruct all my clients to expect that with development, adolescence sometimes brings setbacks to basic impulses and skills as they mull their way through the swamp and fog to adulthood. Lots of impulse control work, regular training, and sit/down stays are helping him through what is also a difficult time for him!
- His playstyle with buddies has changed. It is no longer that care-free play of puppyhood, where it doesn't matter who's who, and everyone plays with everyone. He very much is now interested in "who" he is meeting, and now greets different dogs, differently. He has been experimenting with his "voice" as a greeting, it's one thing he did find at adolescence. It's coming along quite nicely though. He remains quite stable throughout, although he succumbs to the odd "rude encounter" from time to time.  But he loves when all the boarders come to stay, and looks forward to romping with those new dogs.

Through it all, he's still the same sweet, loving, sassy, smart boy - his brain has just been flipped upside down for a couple of months while he gets the next set of "life lessons" figured out, and makes that move into adulthood when it all smooths over again.  This that part in every "parent's" life when they look at that teenager and wonder what they can possibly be thinking.  LOL. But as we've all been there, we understand that adolescence is a time of more learning and sometimes a hard time for everyone, dog and human alike! 

I have no fear that Kash will develop into a wonderful male like a few more months! *G*

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

2011 AAC Regionals - What a Time!

Gaci and Shimmer

What a time at the AAC Regionals this year! It was my, and my dogs', first experience there. I decided to give it a shot even though I'm still pretty new to the sport compared to most competitors, and to see what it was all about. It was only Shimmer's second trial ever, so we were simply going in to see where we stood so far. The weather was, well, bad. It rained, and hailed, and thunder/lightning through most of the weekend. But we tuckered through it and the dogs did awesome!

Gaci was the only dog in her division (10" Specials), so she ended up getting first place by default. However, if you ask me she earned every single point of it, and definitely earned her ribbon! She did awesome. Coming from a girl who "would never do agility" because of stress, to competing at Regionals and running six runs through the weekend, happy in each and every one, she's definitely a winner in my eyes!

Shimmer ended up only being 43 points short of qualifying for Nationals. [:O] And she placed third in her division of seven dogs. I was so surprised. She did amazing! One day two I noticed she was getting pretty tight in her front left shoulder, so between her second and third run of the day I booked her in for a massage and assessment with the on-site canine massage therapist. She was definitely feeling the weekend, and had a sore toe (running in rainy weather, I don't blame her!), but I was given the go-ahead that it would be fine to run her in her final run.

I'm so proud of my girls. They did wildly better than I could have imagined. I knew they could do it, but I now have even more confidence that next year they will do even better! For Starters-level dogs to be running Masters-level courses, and even getting clean runs, I'm so happy with them. They definitely need work in the Gamblers department, as we haven't touched on that game really, but still.

Here are two videos highlighting their weekend (I didn't put everything in there as it would have gotten too long!)



Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Kash - Evolving into Adolescence

It's hard to believe my little man is growing up!!!! Four months old, and losing teeth!

He's definitely coming out of "babyhood" and I'm starting to see signs of adolescence (although no leg-lifting yet - knock on wood nearby), in that his play is changing with each of the dogs. I notice it at puppy class too - he is now beginning to incorporate "terrier rules" in play in that there are some things he will no longer accept that he once did. But at the same time, his stability continues to shine as he welcomes any new dog into the household and is getting much better at ignoring dogs during class while we are working here and there. His recall out of play is fantastic, too. I'm quite proud of that feature!

I've been busy working with him, developing his skills for Rally-O and Agility, and later formal obedience. I've also got a weekend in July booked out to take him to an Earthdog trial. I am giddy with excitement for that one, since there are never earthdog events around here and I would LOVE to get him into a terrier event and see how he does!

His four month video, as it turns out, is all about agility, and where we're at so far. I'm very impressed with the level of drive and focus he is developing, and his total lack of fear to try things out. He is such a thinking dog, always keeping me on my toes this boy. I just hope and pray we get through adolescence fluidly, but we'll cross that bridge when we get there!

Here is Kash at four months doing some agility training!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Meet Barney, my temporary visitor!

Say hello to Barney (the little guy on the left)! He'll be staying with me for a few weeks while we do some assessment and training. He has been having trouble at home with leash-walks involving strangers, other dogs, and recently moving vehicles.

He's already settling in well with the Schnauzer group, and I look forward to seeing what we can  learn about Barney, and accomplish during his stay!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Thing About Trainers.......

Lately I have received a lot of questions, from various clients and non-clients (people inquiring about services) regarding different training services and what differentiates one trainer from another. All to often I hear about "picking the first trainer that came along", which actually scares me quite a bit, considering the vast differences that can sometimes occur. So I thought it would be a good educational practice to share some tips and tidbits to consider when choosing a trainer.

Anyone can "be a trainer".
Unlike professions such as doctors or lawyers, where you gain an education and then are required to pass a legal test in order to provide those services within an industry, there is no standardization when it comes to dog training as a career. Anybody, at any time, can open a business and claim experience as a "dog trainer".

"Having dogs all my life" is not an adequate level of education to give you insight into the minds and behaviour of animals (although if your trainer is currently raising his/her first dog, also take note). Nor does it give you any real guarantee that a person is actually able to teach dogs. As I heard from a wonderful person once (I can't remember who, my apologies!)..........I have had teeth all of my life. But that doesn't make me a dentist.

Also be aware when trainers tell you that they have gone to "dog training school". Please, don't take that at face value. I can easily spend $400 and a nice company in another country or province will mail me a beautiful certificate saying that I read a few books, passed a multiple choice test, and am "now a trainer". Heck, some of them will even send you the certificate in advance! Reading books doesn't make you a good dog trainer - training dogs does. While there are some great organizations out there that are doing their best to make dog training a more professional industry (APDT, CPDT, CAPPDT), with certifications using academic exams and proper protocols for certification, please do your research and look deeper when somebody claims "dog training school" as an educational background. A lot of the time it doesn't actually mean anything. As a trainer, I feel that is important for clients to know. Please dig a little deeper when somebody claims they have gone to "dog training school", as not all programs are of the same quality.

So, what should you look for? This is not a complete list by any means, and you can often find a rare gem who does not fit the bill, so to speak, but it should give you an idea.

Educational Background. Good dog training principles are based in sound science. While the actual teaching of dogs and application of methods is an art, the concepts used behind them should be sound, and have some basis other than hearsay and folk tales. Look for folks who have studied in an academic setting, such as an accredited college or university, whose degree or diploma have relevance to the field (psychology, ethology, biology, agriculture, and animal sciences are good places to start).  It's a good place to start.

Continuing Education.  The beauty of dog training as both a science and an art is that we are learning more about our canine companions all the time. Every year, we develop a better understanding of how dogs learn, what motivates them, and how to teach them. If somebody tells you that they know all there is to know about dog training, please halt there. Continuing education is a key component of humane and modern methods in teaching our dogs. "Even trainers have trainers" - that is, we should all strive to continue to learn from one another, and from testing our ideas and observing the results.

Actual Experience.  While a degree or diploma is great, it takes more than just book knowledge to successfully teach dogs. In order to be successful at it, you need to practice it. Lots. Look for folks who are involved in foster care, rescue work, assist at a shelter/daycare/boarding facility, or are active with their own dogs (often trainer's dogs can give you a good idea of the level of skill of the trainer.......if they have dogs with poor manners, are they the best candidate to teach you or your dog?), or have shown in some way that they have the mechanical skills to teach what you need help with.

On that same note, look for relevant experience. If you need help with serious behaviour problems with your adult dog, perhaps using a trainer who only holds puppy classes may not be the best choice. Or if you are looking for an agility class, finding somebody who has trained their own dogs and actually competed in agility trials and understands the sport in depth, may be of more help than somebody who has trained their own dogs on a few backyard obstacles. Don't be afraid to ask questions and find out if the trainer you are seeking has the experience you need.

Honesty.  What I mean by this is that good trainers are honest about their strengths and weaknesses. Nobody "knows it all", as we've already mentioned. Trainers should be honest when they are dealing with an issue they are unfamiliar with, or are uncomfortable with. Good trainers, when they don't know the answer, won't make one up - they will find the information to help you, or they will refer you to somebody who has more experience in that field. Because there is such a vast array of information out there, and because nobody has all the answers, good trainers have networks in which they can discuss issues with other folks to be sure they are providing the best services possible.

    Be aware of "100%" or quick fixes. Anyone who guarantees that they can fix all of your problems for sure, no matter what, or in a guaranteed time period, needs to be looked at with caution. The fact is - there are no 100% guarantees when it comes to animals, any more than there is for people. Dogs are living, thinking beings who have emotions and make choices; and fixing problems is not always cut-and-dried or quick. Quick fixes are rarely healthy in any aspect of living, and most often there is fallout or side effects from it. Often big ones. Teaching dogs is no different. Many of the "quick fix" methods are harmful in more ways than they are helpful - the end doesn't always justify the means, and will often make problems worse. Many "quick fix" methods use fear, pain, and intimidation to obtain results. Are those aspects you really want to base your relationship on with "man's best friend"? If they are our best friend, why not treat them with the respect and kindness they deserve?

    So please - when looking for any trainer, look for somebody who is interested in helping YOU and your dog, and who works hard using dog-friendly techniques founded in science (not folklore or opinion!  Take caution when you hear trainers claiming terms like "alpha", "dominance", or try to sugar coat painful tools as non-painful accessories) to help your specific situation, not a cookie cutter approach that may not be at all what you need.  A good trainer should be helping fix the relationship problem and make life better for both you and your dog - not just put a band-aid on the symptoms regardless of the effects it may carry out for your furry friend.

    Every dog is different than the next, and every family is different than the next. Choose wisely a trainer who can reflect that without hurting your dog or relationship in the process.

    Friday, April 1, 2011

    Kash at 8.5 Weeks Old

    Kash is becoming quite the little worker already. He is totally into the game, loves figuring out that click, and I am very impressed with how his tug and toy play is coming along. Every day I am so happy with the choice that I have made, I just pray that things continue on this path!

    Wednesday, March 30, 2011

    Kashing In

    On Friday, March 25th I welcomed a new addition to the family. My trio has become a quad. Ykelenstam's Pay It Forward, or "Kash" as he is aptly named, has blended seamlessly into the family. As my own Zipper's son,this little 5lb boy is already stealing the hearts of everyone. Even Gaci, my special little lady, is quite accepting of his antics and let's him follow her all around, run under her legs, and occasionally grab her all-too-tempting beard.

    He's still young, but I love the way he approaches the world. He is meeting everything head on, and he takes no time at all to overcome new challenges (like stairs, in which he's still quite small to do them well). He is very respectful to the other dogs, and already has a love of learning.

    Every day he is discovering the joys of life - the broom, human hair, licking fresh fallen snow.....there's something about a pup that definitely lightens the mood for all!! I am so excited to start this new journey with Kash, as it's bound to be a great time!

    Wednesday, February 23, 2011

    Marley says "This Is Fun!"

    Say hello to Marley, an 8 month old American Pitbull Terrier! She is having fun learning all of the necessary skills to take part in conformation dog shows later this year. Here she is practicing "stacking" (standing) on her mat, and she loves it!

    Tuesday, February 15, 2011

    Beagle or Basset? Poodle or Pug?

    With the sheer number of dogs turned into shelters and advertised in the local paper or on Kijiji, it's clear that somewhere along the line the thought of *planning* for your newest addition has gone by the wayside to be replaced by impulse buys or shallow choices - cuteness factor, being the main offender.

    Sure, you DO want a cute dog, but that dog's cuteness quickly wears off when it is herding the children, has endless energy, or won't play well with others.

    When you are getting a new family member, whether it is your first dog or your fifth, the decision should always be made with thought and a realistic look at your own lifestyle. In every person's life, as you progress through the path of life, your own lifestyle will change very much - young adulthood, career-based, family with kids, empty nester, and eventually retirement and senior citizenship, to name a few. As you travel that path, the truth is that the right dog for you at 25 might not be the right dog for you at 45 or 60 - based on a lot of things - finances, exercise and energy, physical limitations, the type of home that you live in, etc.

    Below are just some of the considerations that should be involved when thinking about what type of dog (not breed!) will best fit into the life you have now.

    1. Size
    - Bigger dogs cost more money to feed, and accessories - kennels, collars, leashes, etc, are more expensive as you increase in size.
    - Bigger dogs are often better suited to families with kids than tiny dogs. Some folks are a bit worried about medium-large dogs hurting children, but the reality is a small dog is at a much higher risk of injury, or for scary things to happen when the kids try to pick up, squeeze, hug, or fall on a small dog.
    - Bigger dogs are, by sheer nature of size, much stronger than smaller dogs. If you have physical limitations due to disability or age, size needs to be an important consideration.
    -Where you live may play a role in the best dog for you. Some apartments limit you to small dogs only, and if you live in a small one bedroom apartment you might have some space troubles with larger dogs.

    2. Exercise Needs
    - This is a biggie, because a lack of exercise is one of the leading causes of unwanted behaviour.
    - Size is not an indicator of energy level! That's important. Some of the most high-energy dogs I've seen are small dogs, and many of the giant breeds can be pretty low-key. Age of the dog can also play a role in energy levels as well.
    - Be realistic, not idealistic! If you are already a jogger and run five days a week, then a very active Shepherd or Malamute may be a great choice! But please don't kid yourself with the idea of "I'll start jogging when I get my pup". Like most New Year's resolutions, that thought process tends to fail miserably. Either take up jogging now, and get a dog to match that in a few months when you have a routine, or get a dog that matches the energy level you have now.

    Any dog, even low-energy dogs will need at least 1/2 hour of exercise per day, so take that into account and plan accordingly. If you can't supply that minimum, please reconsider getting a dog until you can fulfill that. Exercise can come in many forms - walking, fetch, playing at the park, swimming, running in a field, frisbee, etc. Putting your dog in the backyard by itself is not exercise. Dogs don't tend to exercise themselves - you need to provide it.

    3. Grooming needs.
    - Do you want to spend 15 minutes every day combing out your dog, or do you prefer a wash n' wear dog?
    - If you want a dog that needs regular grooming, like poodles or many terriers, do you want to spend the time learning how to do it or will you take your dog to a groomer? One takes time, the other takes money.
    - Don't mistake short hair for a clean house! Some of the shortest-haired dogs are the worst shedders, and while you aren't vacuuming up clumps of fur these hairs tend to stick into clothes and furniture and clothing like barbs and are hard to remove.
    - Are you a clean-freak? This might help determine shedding vs. nonshedding dogs. Keep in mind though the majority of non-shedding breeds have higher grooming requirements and are not wash n' wear for that reason.

    4. Age of Dog
    - Puppies are most charming little things, with their dependence on you and their big eyes. But keep in mind this can be a most frustrating time! Puppy teeth are sharp, they need to be taught where to potty, they need lots of manners and routine, and they need lots and lots (and lots!) of good socialization!
    - Puppyhood is a ton of work, and it is not for everyone. Older dogs have a lot of that behind them already (although not all, if you go the shelter route some of these dogs still need a helping hand), their puppy antics are gone and they are settled into the personality they will carry forward. What you see is generally what you get. Puppy personalities are very unpredictable as to what an adult version will be like.

    Those are just a few of the considerations you should ponder as you take that leap to choose your next companion, but that's not all! I will touch on other factors such as breed types and differences, existing pets, level of experience, and longterm considerations in another posting.

    Tuesday, February 1, 2011

    Training is not "all he needs"

    There is no doubt that training is a necessary and important aspect of living with dogs. In order for dogs to learn to survive in human societies, we need to teach them how to do that. But there is a long-standing myth that every problem that people face with their dogs can be "trained" away.

    This is simply not true.

    A lot of problem *behaviours* stem from roots other than just training, although a lack of training usually occurs alongside.

    Too often I am faced with dilemmas that exceed mere training and delve into deeper issues between the family and the dog. Part of my job as a trainer is to help people realize what else is missing in their dog's routine that is contributing to problems they are experiencing.

    Poor matches between families and the dogs they choose as companions is a very key component to problems that owners face. Most people seek out dogs whose appearance is appealing or different, who has special markings, or is very different from the typical dogs in the community. Some choose on sheer emotion when they feel bad for a dog sitting in the corner at the shelter, not realizing the inherent difficulties they may face later. Still others choose based upon the premise of "my last dog was a ________, so another one would be perfect." Decisions made in this way sometimes do work out fine, and life continues merrily. But all too often things slowly start to go downhill and *training* does not seem to be solving the problem. This is not a failure of the trainer or the dog, but a failure in the realization that the dog that a family wants, and the dog the family has, are not the same dog.

    You can't make a high-energy dog into a couch potato, no matter how much training you do. That dog, if not given sufficient physical and mental exercise and an outlet for that energy, will express it in other ways, such as barking, digging, running away, pulling on leash or destructive chewing. The real solution to the *problem* is to either make a lifestyle change in yourself, to accommodate the dog that you have, or to find that dog a suitable home where it will be able to have its needs fulfilled.

    The same thing can be said when you assume that since your last dog was naturally the world's-best-dog, all others of its type must be the same way. This couldn't be further from the truth. No two dogs are the same, and dogs within a breed can vary greatly from one to the next. Assuming your next dog will be just like your last one is immediately setting yourself up for disappointment and failure if that turns out not to be the case. And as it happens, the dog is the one who suffers. It is punished harshly for behaviours that are merely symptom of other needs not being met; the dog is kennelled more and more often or banished to the yard; the dog develops self-destructive stress behaviours like licking, spinning, chewing, or fixations; or the dog is put to sleep as a *problem dog* or *untrainable*. When simply a better match could have prevented all of those problems.

    Every family dynamic is different, and not all dogs will fit in neatly to the life and schedule that you live in.

    Choosing the right dog for you is the first step to ensuring that you and your dog will spend many happy years together.

    If you already made your choice of dog and are finding that you are having some mismatch problems, all is not necessarily lost. In the majority of cases solutions can be found to bring peace back into the home.

    But if you are looking to add a new dog into your home, whether for the first time, second time, or fifth time, there are considerations to make before taking home the first dog that catches your eye.

    Stay tuned for considerations to make when thinking of adding a new dog.

    In the meantime, feel free to share your stories - whether happy endings or horror stories - of how you chose the dogs that you currently have in your home, and what led you to make that choice!

    Tuesday, January 25, 2011

    Some Changes Within.....

    Lately Gaci has been exhibiting some new strange behaviours that I have not seen before. Someday I will share on the blog her story, but to make a long story short Gaci came into the world with a bang (her dam died during the c-section her litter was born from), and as she grew up developed some different issues as she matured. She has not been an easy dog, but she has been a blessing to me and she is definitely my heart dog. So I feel it important to share her continued journey.

    The first of two changes is a recent anxiety-overreaction to when my partner comes home. Up until a few weeks ago, her normal reaction would be to alarm bark when she hears the door open, bark one or two more times, and then resume with a happy, wiggly greeting. Lately she can't seem to calm herself down nearly as quickly. She continues to alarm bark for a few minutes, and will not approach him right away when he bends down to greet her (ignoring her doesn't do anything different). She does an approach-and-retreat behaviour that almost indicates fear, however once she calms down from the greeting she displays no fear to him whatsoever, she really likes him and seeks out affection, attention, and is otherwise quite her confident self. If he is home before me and greets her in the bedroom (where she stays when we are out), she does not experience that reaction.

    Along those lines, though, she has on a few occasions gone to the door at night barking when there is nothing there. Other times I have found her watching the door on alert, even though she is quiet, or lets out a low grumble from deep in her chest, as though she believes there is a threat present. I can call her away easily, but if I don't distract her onto something specific she may stand there watching for some time, or goes back to check now and again *just to be sure*.

    The other issue I've been noticing is that she is developing a sensitivity to certain sounds. She's never been sound-sensitive, but it was seemingly triggered not that long ago by two events - the power going out in the middle of the night and the smoke detector going on the fritz, and my partner's new Blackberry alert. But she has started to become frightened of other noises as well. The timer on the toaster oven has bothered her - one morning we were making breakfast and I was on the computer checking emails in the office and I heard the "ding" of the toaser oven. About three seconds later I felt Gaci jump up against my lap, and she was shivering quite mad. I invited her into my lap but otherwise ignored her while I finished with my emails. She calmed down within a few minutes but when I went to the kitchen she visibly sat under the table (she never used to do that), although she wasn't shivering.

    I'm admittedly not super comfortable with her recent hypervigilance about the door and sounds, and I'm keeping an eye on things. I don't know what has brought these recent behaviours on, and I have a plan I'm going to set in place when my partner comes home to try to recondition her greeting to him and bring it back down to normal. Her annual exam is coming up soon so I'll be having her checked out to make sure there's nothing wonky going on with her health. She is turning seven, and I realize that sound sensitivity is age-related and age-triggered, but I'm hoping to get a handle on it sooner than later. Her hypervigilance at times has me concerned as those were some of her youth symptoms when I had ended up using Clomicalm during retraining to help ease her anxiety. It's been four years since she's been on Clomicalm, and I'm going to do what I can to avoid that route, but I know in my heart she's not enjoying herself during these times either, and I'll do what's best for her needs.

    She's always been a special needs dog, but we had been on a great routine for so long now I almost forgot that she once experienced the high anxiety that she did when she was young.

    A Happy Gaci

    Wednesday, January 19, 2011

    Target Training - a How-To

    So you've got your clicker and treats, and you've taken some time to familiarize your dog to the sound and meaning of the clicker. It's time to start teaching some things!

    What is targeting?

    Targeting is the name for many different behaviours in which your dog uses a part or all of its body to target (touch) something else. Your dog may use its nose, paw, or whole body. An example of targeting is a nose-touch to your palm, which I will describe how to teach below.

    What are the uses of targeting?

    The uses are endless!! First and foremost, it's a really easy starter skill to teach your dog as you learn about clicker training. Dogs love this game, and will gain a lot of joy from it. It is useful for teaching your dog to come to you, for complex tricks, to go to a mat and lay down, to help redirect your dog in distracting areas, and more.

    Here I will describe how to teach a simple hand-touch.

    • Have your clicker, lots of small treats, and a quiet room. Get down to your dog’s level.

    • Hold out your hand close to your dog so that your palm is facing your dog. About 6" away to start is best.

    • When your dog sniffs or bumps your hand, C/T.

    • Repeat until you notice that your dog is obviously seeking out your hand to bump it with his nose when you offer your hand. When you see this, you are ready to name the behaviour.

    • To name the behaviour, give your cue word, then offer your palm, and then C/T when your dog touches it.
            "Touch" --> Offer palm --> dog touches --> Click! --> Reward

    • Begin practicing in different positions – sitting, standing, kneeling, both hands, etc.

    • Play “hard to catch” with your dog. Walk a step or two away from your dog, get your dog’s attention and use your recall cue to get your dog to move to you to target your hand.

    • Slowly increase the distance until your dog will come to you to target your hand from a few feet away.  Practice it in the backyard and at the park, until your dog can do it absolutely anywhere.

    So, your dog is now targeting reliably from a distance, no matter where I am, now what?

    Now you can start to fade the clicker out, as the clicker is used during the teaching phase only. To do this, you will present your cue word, and when your dog touches your hand, instead of clicking simply reward your dog. And then you have it! You have taught your first behaviour! It will still need to be practiced, but you can now move on to teaching something new!

    Happy clicking!

    Friday, January 14, 2011

    Clicker Training: The Basics

    Continuing on from the last post, where I introduced clicker training, you might now be wondering - How do you get started?

    First, you go out and pick up a clicker. I always get questions on where to get reasonably priced clickers. If you are in the Charlottetown area, my two favorite places are the Atlantic Vet College (about $2) or the PEI Humane Society, as I don't believe you need to spend a fortune on clickers. You can also check your local vet clinic, as many of them sell clickers too.

    So, now you have a clicker and are ready to start teaching!

    The basic recipe for clicker training is as follows:
    - Get the behaviour
    - Mark the behaviour (Click!)
    - Reward

    How do I "get the behaviour"?

    There are three main ways to get the desired behaviour: Capturing, Luring, and Shaping.

    Capturing: As the name implies, capturing works by looking for and marking behaviours that the dog is offering freely, ones that come naurally to the dog (such as sitting). Capturing is a great way to teach simple behaviours, or to promote general good manners.

    Luring: This is generally used to teach those behaviours that can't be captured because they don't occur naturally (like a Spin) or they occur infrequently so that capturing is not very effective.

    They key to using luring effectively is to fade out the lure as soon as possible so that your dog doesn't become dependent upon it to do the behavior. So you might lure a couple of times and then stop and see if the dog will then offer it on its own. More on that later.

    Shaping: Shaping is generally used when teaching those tricks or skills that are more complex, and that would never be offered naturally and are made up of many smaller behaviours. An example would be teaching your dog to pick up toys and put them in a basket. Shaping requires breaking the finished product down into many finer parts and rewarding successive movements toward the final goal. It's a little more complex than luring or capturing, but it creates some fabulous, strong behaviours.

    So, you've chosen what you want to teach, and how you are going to teach it - now what?

    Let's take a step back. First you might want to practice with the clicker and teach your dog that the CLICK sound has a meaning, which is that a reward has been earned. This is simple to do. You will simply gather your clicker and 20 or so tiny little treats. (Note: Tiny means tiny! Just a little nibble, enough so that your dog knows it won the prize, but not so big as to fill your dog up with treats!)

    So you have your clicker, your treats. Now get your dog, find a quiet room with minimal distractions, so your dog won't wander away and do something else, and sit or stand with your dog. All you are going to do is click your clicker, and give your dog a treat.

    Click, then treat.

    Make sure there is a small delay between the click sound and the delivery of the treat. If you treat while you click, your dog may not hear it and little to no association may be made. The treat must come after the click.

    So, you will click and give a treat until you have given ten treats. Take a 30 second break or so, and then repeat with the other ten treats. After you do that, your dog will have a basic understanding of what the clicker means. Now, you can get to training!

    In the next posting, I will describe how you will teach a fun, useful, and good starter behaviour- Targeting. Stay tuned!

    Tuesday, January 11, 2011

    Dogs Remind Us......

    Every day, dogs remind us to stop, take a moment, and enjoy the little things in life. Here is Zipper doing his daily Doga routine.

    Monday, January 3, 2011

    What is Clicker Training?

    Clicker training, or operant conditioning, is becoming more and more widespread throughout PEI, but in some ways is still grossly misunderstood. In this post, and over the next few posts, I will work to describe the essence of clicker training and what it's all about, and most especially why it is so effective (and fun!)

    What is a clicker?

    A clicker is simply a small plastic box with a metal tab inside of it and a tab or button that you can press. When you press it, it makes a "clik-clik" sound.

    How is it used?

    A clicker is used as a marker to mark a specific moment in time. More precisely, it marks a specific action of your dog at a certain moment in time. This sound tells your dog that it has done something that you like, and is going to receive a reward for that behaviour. A reward always follows a click.

    If you click/reward the same behaviour multiple times (for example, your dog sitting), your dog will begin to perform that behaviour more often. That is how they learn new skills.

    A good way to think about a clicker, to help understand it, is to look at it like a camera. You are trying to *take a picture* of a desirable behavior, and then reward your dog for performing that behavior.

    But can't I just give my dog a treat?

    One benefit of the clicker is that it helps you tell your dog precisely what it did right at the moment it did it. Often training problems are due to poor timing of rewards, so this helps your dog to catch on quickly to new skills.

    Picture this: you are teaching your dog to sit. Just as your dog sits, you say "good boy" and reach to give him a treat. As you do that, he jumps up to get the treat. Congrats - you have just rewarded jumping up! With a clicker, however, if you click as soon as he sits, he will understand that it is the sit that is being rewarded, even if he does get up from sitting - because you have marked the precise behavior that he did right!

    Okay, but why do I need to click? Can't I just tell him he's a good dog?

    You can, and should, use verbal praise when you are interacting with your dog. In reality, though, we talk to (and at!) Our dogs. A lot. And sometimes, they start to tune out some of the things we say and it becomes background noise. The clicker makes the same distinct sound every time, it doesn't change due to moods, it doesn't get angry, and dogs quickly learn because it is consistent. Dogs understand consistency, and they come to really love the clicker.

    What can I teach with it?

    Anything that a dog is physically able to do! It is used from simple things like manners and tricks, to teaching complex skill sets in dog sports and service dog work. You can teach your dog to sit politely, walk nicely on leash, go to his bed, and fetch a toy. You can also teach your dog to clean up its toys, retrieve a kleenex, or to get the morning paper! The things you can do are endless.

    Okay, so what about when my dog does something bad?

    Clicker training is used to build new behaviours. Most of us have it tightly ingrained in us that you need to *punish* bad behaviour when it occurs. With clicker training, we rephrase the question and turn it into a solution. Instead of "how do I get my dog to stop doing _______?", we ask "What would we like Fido to do instead?" And then you set about teaching it.

    So....instead of "How do I get Sparky to stop jumping", we rethink - "How do I get Sparky to sit nicely when greeting visitors or strangers?". Aha! A teachable behaviour!

    Or, "How do I get Sparky to stop dragging me down the street?" Quickly becomes "How do I teach Sparky to walk nicely beside me and to follow my movements?" Aha! Another teachable behavior!

    90% of what we call "bad behaviour" is simply a situation in which your dog has not learned what it is you would like your dog to do. When the dog is left to figure it out, without learning what we like, our dogs will learn to do it in dog-like ways. It really is a human-behaviour problem, not a dog behaviour problem. The dog is being a totally normal dog. The onus is on us to teach, so it's not fair to jump to punishment when it is us who have failed to teach them what is desired in the first place.

    When you move into severe behaviour problems especially, such as aggression, fear, and anxiety, physical or verbal punishment has no place in your training program as it is only going to increase your dog's emotional state, not calm it.  Remember - punishment can mask behaviour, and stop a behaviour at that moment in time, but it doesn't change the emotion behind it, nor does it change anything long-term. If you continue to punish your dog while in one of these states, you are in essence creating a ticking timebomb waiting to go off. Clicker training has found a very strong place in re-conditioning dogs with aggression or fear-based problems.

    Do I have to use a clicker forever? That sounds like a lot of work.

    No. A clicker is used to teach new behaviours. Once behaviours are learned, you can fade out the use of the clicker and just incorporate their skills into everyday life.

    So, how do I get started?

    That, folks, will be the topic of the next posting. Stay tuned!

    If you have any questions that you would like answered about clicker training, share them here or email them to

    Training With Puzzle Toys

    As a kick-off for National Train Your Dog Month, I thought it would be appropriate to present a topic that is fitting for the season. At a time when outdoor exercise is difficult and weather is unpredictable, it's important to pick up the slack with some productive indoor activities, otherwise you may find that your dog becomes *self-employed* with some behaviours that are not quite as desirable for owners.

    One such activity is teaching your dog about puzzle toys and appropriate chew training. Using puzzle toys serves many functions - keeping your dog's mind exercised when physical exercise is limited, teaching your dog to behave appropriately indoors, and gives your dog an acceptable outlet for chewing and food seeking. It can be a blessing when you have company over or need to attend to a child. The uses are endless.

    Feeding dogs their food in bowls is a convenience for the human end of the leash; it serves little benefit for dogs. Usually the dog either eats its meal in 30 seconds (or less!) and is then left still looking for something to do, or it is free fed, developing into a picky eater and wasting a great opportunity to use a valuable reward for your dog's benefit.

    Teaching your dogs to use puzzle toys is easy, and can be quite entertaining as well. There are many puzzle toys on the market now, for all life stages. I'll share some of my favorites, but this is not a complete list by any means.

    A good starter toy is the age-old Kong - a red or black rubber toy with a big hole in one end and a small hole in the other. It can easily be stuffed with your dog's normal food to teach him to roll it around to get the food to fall out. As he gets used to how it works, you can make it harder by wetting and freezing it, or by putting in some food that won't just fall out. In no time your dog will become good at cleaning it out! A toy similar to the Kong is the Premier Squirrel Dude, also a lot of fun!

    Another easy one to start with is the Premier Busy Buddy Twist n' Treat (no picture - sorry!). It basically has two halves that twist together and can be made easier or harder depending on how tightly closed you twist it.

    A bit harder, but generally more fun is the Tricky Treat Ball. This bright ball will leads to hours of fub as your dog rolls it around to try to get the food out.


    If your dog becomes a pro, like many are apt to do, there are some fun and engaging toys out there that are sure to challenge your dog. My favorites, as tested by the Schnauzer Quality Control, are:

    The Kong Wobbler

    The Premier Tug-a-Jug

    And the Kong Genius (two separate pieces that are linkable for varying difficulties!

    To make life more interesting for your dog, and more relaxing for yourself, get your dog a puzzle toy or two and stop feeding out of a dish for every meal. You'll see the positive effects that they wil bring!