Friday, February 9, 2018

The Problem with Puppies

"The Problem with Puppies"

Nothing is cuter than a puppy. Nothing. I truly believe nature designed them this way to keep them alive, because heaven knows if it weren't for the cute factor, we would easily kill them. They go from adorable, chubby, tumbling balls of puppy breath that follow us around and seem to come when they are called to a creature we barely can stand very quickly.

Initially, it becomes easy to be ok with cleaning up a small mess, a potty accident, or forgive a chewed on shoe when they are small and adorable.

Fast forward to twelve weeks old and we are over it!! Now, everything is annoying and what's worse, they are no longer small and fuzzy, they are gangly, independent, and frankly more work.

I wish I could tell you it gets better, but the truth is this is where management techniques, training, and routine change happen. Most dogs will require us to grin and wait for them to turn two years old before we start to like them again.

Our perfect older dogs are totally to blame. They have allowed us to be lazy where a puppy will allow none of that. They require work, exercise and structured routine. They require us to change.

It can be easy to allow other dogs in the household to "tire the puppy out", but they will bond to the other dogs and not care at all about the human side of things if this happens. Always remember, a human will never be as much fun as another canine.

If you are going through puppy hell, just keep going. Invest the time in your puppies first six months. Limit their play with other dogs. Become the center of their world. Get to know each other. You only get this stage once in a dogs life. Set it up to be successful.

Remember, life is stressful. Training your dog should not be!

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Eye Contact

"Know when to hold ‘em and know when to shut ‘ em"

It’s funny – most dogs love eye contact! They really do…even as small puppies, MOST dogs tend to want to engage you with their eyes. Understanding how to utilize eye contact in your training can give you a competitive edge over someone who casually passes over understanding this portion of attention.

To give you an idea of my own personal experience with “eye contact abuse” I will let you know about an experience I recently had in Utility. I am debuting a new Utility dog, she is green and it’s been a while since I have shown in Utility – 2006 was the last time, if that helps paint that picture a little better. Things were going well the first go out was fine, no biggie. The second go out, call it nerves or what have you, when I gave my dog the signal to take the bar jump, she took off running…TOWARDS ME! It was in this very instance I realized a very valuable and possibly costly mistake. Rather than do my normal Q to the jump (head tilt and then arm signal) I simply stared straight at my dog. I changed her understanding of the exercise and from her experience I only look at her on RECALLS, so a recall she started to do.

Thankfully this story has a happy ending. Luckily, I realized this error while there was still time to salvage the run and I quickly closed my eyes. With my eyes shut, Brandy realized immediately this was not the Q for the recall and my very bright little sheltie promptly turned and went over the bar jump.

There are certainly going to be times when you need to “Kill” eye contact, like in the scenario above, and times when you need to pour it on (Fronts and Finishes). The difference in straight fronts and finishes can be simply where you put your face. I tell my students, “LOOK WHERE YOU WANT THE DOG” and that’s where he will be. Many handlers sway back and forth trying to get the dog in front, many of them spit various amounts of disgusting things not made for human consumption, many follow the dog in and inadvertently allow the dog to guide the head position causing the handler to maintain eye contact during crooked fronts. Remember, earlier I said, “dogs love eye contact” so this is the same as a reward and if you give it while in certain positions the dog can begin to build value to it, so be careful to only build value to the exact position you want. For a finish – you need to “break” front eye contact and give it back when the dog has reached the next position you want to build value to (heel position).

Try this the next time you work your dog. Leave them on a “Novice Recall”, call them to front, but turn your head so your face is facing far right and then the far left. See where your dog lands. Rather than tell them to finish, simply turn your head the direction you normally finish your dog. See what happens there. I know the answer – but I will let you read that book, so I don’t spoil the ending!

Killing Forward Motion

If you have ever been to an Obedience Trial you have seen dogs do the “Death Walk” back from an article pile. This “Walk of Shame” is costly as far as points are concerned, generally starting at 3 points and moving upward. It is never difficult to figure out that at some point the dog has been corrected, but the culprit here is KILLING FORWARD MOTION IN TRAINING.

I recently had a private training session with a woman working on her OTCH. The biggest chunk of points the dog was losing was on articles because the dog always “Death Walks” back from the pile. I had her send the dog and I advised that regardless if the dog picked up the wrong article or not, we were not going to go to her (which had been her answer to the dog bringing back a wrong article). We would simply allow the dog to bring the incorrect article in and have the dog try again. By the third wrong article, the dog finally realized she was not being rewarded, but was also comfortable enough to get back to work, find the right article and RUN in. So many times we, as trainers, forget what we need to be successful and that is ATTITUDE. I have a saying – NEVER SACRIFICE SPEED FOR PRECISION.

If you are getting 10 points off your score in Utility B – kiss winning goodbye and at this point was the over correcting necessary or helpful? When you correct your dog by stopping the forward movement to you, in any scenario, you are essentially KILLING FORWARD MOTION. I have seen dogs be corrected for chewing the article in front of their handler AFTER bringing the article all the way in and then they suddenly begin to stop half way back from the pile. Why? By the handler correcting in front and forgetting to reward the effort the dog was making in this long complex behavior chain the trainer was inadvertently KILLING FORWARD MOTION.

Scenario #2: Directed Jumping. Every time the dog takes a wrong jump in practice the handler yells “NO” and runs up keeping the dog from jumping at all. The next time the handler signals the dog to jump (even if the dog winces towards to the correct jump) he doesn’t move. Why? This happened because the handler had previously KILLED FORWARD MOTION in the dog. Dogs need to be decisive in Obedience, especially in Utility. A decision will always be better than no decision at all. So wouldn’t it have been easier to allow the dog (who was obviously trying) to take the wrong jump and simply not reward? He tried to be right, but made a mistake. Let’s try again and maybe you will be successful next time. Obedience Trainers tend to be reactive and either attempt to keep the dog from EVER failing or correct the dog when they are making wrong choices rather than correcting when the dog is giving a lack of effort. When you correct effort you correct a dog that is trying and you will create a false lack of effort as illustrated in the scenario above.

Scenario #3: In Novice, the handler has really been working fronts and finishes. The dog comes in front and the handler feels it would be better to constantly guide the dog by sticking their foot or leg out. The dog runs into it. In the ring the dog stops and sits just out of reach of the handler. In our quest for perfection, fronts and finishes almost feel like the dog from Nintendo’s popular duck hunt game. You miss and the dog pops out of the bushes laughing hysterically at you. In Obedience he just laughs and takes your placements. To avoid the forward motion killer mentioned above, always reward when the dog is trying. If a dog runs in and sits smartly, but not necessarily straight, would you say he was trying? Should he get a reward for the effort he gave? My students and I reward fronts all the time, even the “not so pretty” ones. A dog comes in and sits crooked. We allow the dog to make the decision to sit and if it is crooked the dog is given a “C” reward (I use Cheerios) that is quickly tossed between my legs. You want to quickly get the dog out of the front position so as not to build any type of value to the crooked front. Set up for another recall and try again. If you reward the forward motion you never have to worry about the dog not giving you effort in the ring.

If you change your mindset that mistakes are ignored and the correct behavior or behavior chain is to be rewarded heavily you will begin to see more of what you need in obedience which is Attitude and less walking. I hope this has shed some light on the Forward Motion Killers. Remember there are probably 400 different scenarios that could have been used, but I chose these since they are the ones I see most often. Be mindful of these killers and you will go much, much farther, much, much faster.

Until Next Time!

Remember, life is stressful, training your dog should not be!

Friday, January 22, 2016

The layers to achieving great heeling....

"Attention, Precision, Animation & Team Work"

Each piece is a chunk of heeling and is worked on differently. I call them layers.

Layer One: Attention

Heeling WITH Attention is what we are after, but heeling is NOT attention and Attention is NOT heeling. I cannot make this clear enough. Think of Attention as it's own exercise and work to achieve a dog who is engaged with you in any position, stationary or in motion, during moments of silence and in utter chaos. When you have those, blending this layer into heel work is very easy! This is actually the "Have to" phase of dog training. Attention is developed by habits that happen domestically as well as expectation in training.

Layer Two: Position

Good Heeling is exact. It is a position that is maintained regardless of change of pace, turns, halts, sideways motion, backwards motion, etc. The dog knows how to get to this position and maintain it.

Layer Three: Focal Point

A focal point is the place the dog should be looking during the position of heeling. This is a blended piece of Layers 1 & 2.

Layer Four: Mechanics

How does the DOG move it's body? Does the dog understand how to use it's rear when needed? Does it dog get up on starts correctly? Does it use his body correctly to maintain Focal Point? Position? Attention? This is a blended layer of 1, 2, & 3 with the addition of body awareness.

Layer Five: Handling

This is where the handler decides what heel work should look like in their sport. Body cues are established and choreographed so they can be taught to the dog once the dog's heel work is built through layer four. The Handler should present the dog a consistent picture in all phases of heel work.

Layer Six: Engagement

This is a tough one, but this is the layer where silence must take over. You must learn to engage and connect with your dog in slence. If you cannot engage your dog without words, heeling can be a challenge, regardless of the layers set up previously. You need to learn to connect with your dog through subtle body language like eye contact - building with your eyes and posture.

Layer Seven: Attitude

This is where you create a dog who loves to heel. Once you can tell your dog how to move, to keeps it body and head in one place, to take cues, and is engaged, this is where you ask the dog to beg to work. You teach them that heeling is the best thing in the world and they must believe it. You incorporate games, fast movement, exciting rewards, use motion for attention that is intense and build your dog up. This may mean letting your dog do some naughty things - like bark, jump up, etc.

Layer Eight: Variables

This is a maintenance layer - this is where you constantly keep your dog guessing what is next, you drill pieces and change them often. You offer food rewards, life rewards, toys, and much more of yourself in these small broken off pieces.

Layer Nine: Trust

This layer evolves through trial and error. One day in the backyard you may ask the dog to heel when they are hot, tired, distracted, when you have no motivators and you will find a dog who brilliantly responds - You have arrived to the trust phase. This is the layer where you realize you can trust your animal to perform when you are not at 100% and when they may not appear to be at 100%. When you get this, you are ready to start showing.

When you look back through these layers - ask yourself how many of them do you truly have? Maybe your layers were added in a different sequence. One of my friends trains them backwards to what I do, and she has beautiful heeling dogs. All great heeling dogs have these layers. You need them and need to foster each layer. When you work your dog - ask yourself which layer you have mastered, which ones you are lacking, and which ones you do not have and build those in, make each one stronger and maintain the ones you have!

Heeling shows the relationship you ACTUALLY have with your dog and is my favorite exercise to work on. Few people give me chills with their heeling, but when I see it - I can appreciate the work, the trust, the relationship they have with their dogs. Great Heel work is beautiful and comes in many forms - once you have it, you never forget the feel of it.

Those Pesky Stays

At every dog show, seminar, judge’s dinner, on multiple facebook posts, phone calls, attached to many pigeons, in smoke signals concerning trial dogs, stays always end up the topic of conversation. Always. While it may be the easiest to actually train and the most black and white as far as criteria, many trainers struggle with the concept of "stay". I have heard a plethora of methods used to teach and maintain them – many of which make me either roll my eyes or cringe. I felt is was time to talk about the hard facts about stays.

Stays are Black and White

Its such a simple concept – DO NOT MOVE. However, many people fail to realize movement is what should be corrected in stays. FEET movement. If the dog moves their feet go in and put them back. That is as simple as it can get.

Stays are EASY to build Value to

It is easy to go in and reward stillness. A lot. It’s easy to introduce variable rewards to a dog that is sitting still.

Stays should not be made HOT

Stays are all about confidence in understanding the task at hand. Adding too much pressure here can be a disaster. For that reason, I do not correct anything but movement. So if the dog’s feet are still, but it is sniffing the ground – I do nothing. If the sniffing was excessive – I would put a line on the dog and when he went to sniffing I would pull them out of position and correct for movement. All stay corrections need to be for movement and nothing else.

Stays do not need additional behaviors added in

Laying their head down, not getting comfortable by switching sides on the dog, etc are all additional behaviors that are unnecessary for a good stay. Just keep this simple.

Stays RARELY need props

Put the dolls (for beating) away, get rid of your platforms, what is needed is for you to stop pushing the dog too fast and build value – there is no quick fix and many of those methods do not carry over to the ring anyway.

Stays need Success

If you want solid stays – set your time and stick to it until you accomplish it. If I set my watch at 2 minutes and my dog goes down at 1:59 seconds, they will do another 2 minutes over until they give me the duration I seek. This is a must. Never let a dog break and move on to something else.

Stays need Effort

If your dog continuously goes down and stops giving effort, time to up your game. I do “Law and Order” stays for my “lazy’ dogs which means I put them on a stay during an hour long program AND WAIT for them to go down, when they go down, I will correct for the lack of effort, then ask for the duration I was after again. Again, the only correction comes from moving.

I don’t thinks stays are hard, but once trained many people fail to go back and keep a variable reward system in them and forget to mix it up time wise. Stays are important so get out there and train them!

Monday, December 7, 2015

When s*** hits the fan - IN THE RING! Part 2!

The last time I wrote, I talked about how to handle your dogs failures in training. Those same principles apply in the ring, but the fact that you are being judged at a trial tends to muddy the waters. Here's how I think of failures in the ring and I hope this post will empower more trainers to create their own protocol for what they should do if their dog is failing an exercise or exercises in the Obedience Ring.

Mark it!

If you are using markers in your training program - then use them in the ring. Giving the dog important information - in the place it matters most is just common sense. Besides, do what you would do normally in training.

Move on!

Do not spend additional time stressing your dog out with needless conversation that is really the handlers attempt at saving face with the audience. Forget about it and move to the next thing - QUICKLY. Motion is attention - so MOVE on to the next exercise!Marinating your dog in stress is one sure way to make the ring a bad place. If stress is taking over in one exercise, MOVE ON!

Support your dog!

If your dog surprised you, showed you holes in your training,or has clearly been abducted by aliens, then go into training mode. The judge will tell you if you are pushing it too far and may excuse you - IF THEY DO, BE POLITE AND GET OUT OF THE RING. This was about your dog, not arguing about an additional 4 minutes of failure in the ring - just THANKFULLY leave if your judge feels you took your "support" too far.


If things are going from bad to worse, do not let it continue. Excuse yourself from the ring. Thank the judge for their time and walk out. You owe no one an explanation - this is not about their journey, it is yours. We spend so much time, money, effort in this, why let it go south? Many handlers have a hard time grasping that they own the ring. It is their entry that put them there - so spend your time and money wisely!


Ask for the same behavior that flopped in the ring, outside and if you get it (Without a motivator) then take the time to reinforce it. This really isn't a time to utilize corrective methods, but you certainly can reinforce pieces outside the ring (multiple times ideally) that the dog just couldn't give you in the ring. This is actually a smart idea as it serves to remind you the dog can do it and it simply may need more miles. You may find you need a new method, to counter condition a new correction, or find a different way to make things more clear!

Cancel your next shows!

Rarely can anyone fix severe problems quickly. If your dog is having lack of focus or attention, clearly isn't understanding without your motivators, etc - showing is the worst idea if you want to get back on track with being consistent. If your dog is struggling with generalizing behavior, then you have a lot of "on the road" work to do and it probably wont happen by next months show.

I wish you all much success in 2016 and remember, life is stressful, training your dog shouldn't be!

Saturday, December 5, 2015

When s*** hits the fan!

Dogs make mistakes!

In training mistakes happen (a lot) and no dog will ever be 100% PERFECT - but we increase consistency on the dogs part through teaching and reinforcing and then later through drilling and punishing as necessary. The problem is so many handlers have no plan when training goes south. You should have a plan of attack when your dog fails. How do you handle failures? I always am very perplexed when working with handlers and watch their dog make a mistake to see them avoid doing anything and stand there looking at me. Failure is time for action. You must do something. My protocol for failure is the following:

Teach the Correction you plan to use!

Counter Condition what you may need so when "shit hits the fan" the correction is not emotional, overly hard, or shuts your dog down. My version of the ear pinch (if you can call it that) is an excellent example of how we teach the correction before we use/need it. Here is a video to help you understand how we do this:

Mark it!

Negative markers give information and you NEED to give it immediately. I use the word "Wrong" it is way less emotional than "No" and doesn't sound horrible coming out even during frustrating sessions.

Act Immediately!

Making the mistake on the part of the dog is ok. Throwing of arms , head tilts, sighs etc. from handlers are not. You must act. I prefer to use energy in my corrections - so this is vital. For example: My dog looks away during static attention a push pop may happen. A push pop is where I use my left hand to push the dogs shoulder away from me as I pop the collar and move quickly away from the dog in a right hand circle. I have to act. Action is important.

Show them how to be right!

So they messed up - a five minute conversation with your dog full of additional conversation they don't understand, emotion, or defeat is not helping you at all. So once you have marked it and acted upon it - show them how to be right. For example: My dog and I are heeling along and something catches her eye, rather than pop and keep going, I follow the protocol I have established. I mark it - "Wrong"! I act - I stop and pop! I show - I remind them of where their focal point is and move forward with energy. If you don't show them what you want, moving forward is worthless as was your negative marker and your action. Follow it all through.

Ignore those around you!

Training is about you and your dog. Dogs are not here to impress your friends, trainers, haters, whoever. When you are working your dog, you must be just as engaged as you intend them to be. Failures will happen, no matter the audience, so stay connected with your dog and communicate for the relationship you want - if you change because of who is watching, you are not doing your job as part of the team.

Remember Failure is part of the learning process!

To be great, you must fail. You must be able to communicate with your dog about what is great, what is good, what is wrong and what is bad. We use Markers to bridge this gap. I love telling my dog when they are right, but I find it is way more important to tell them what isn't correct. To me, they learn the most from those situations as it supports how to be right and be reinforced.

Enjoy all the failures you and your dog will encounter. Embrace them as they are a big piece to this crazy puzzle of modifying a dogs behavior. Remember - Life is stressful, training your dog shouldn't be!