Thursday, August 30, 2012

A Time To Love

Over my morning coffee this morning, I read a disturbing and rather heart-breaking post on Facebook.  A friend of mine from KS had posted that a friend of hers had her dog stolen right out of her yard yesterday.  The thief even took off the dog's collar and hung it on the kennel as  a final "I took your dog" token.  The house sitter did say that she had seen a boy walking down the street with a white dog (Baxter), but by the time she reached the house and realized this, the boy was no where to be found.
There are several things that are disturbing here:
Why would the house sitter leave a dog, unattended, while she was away from the house?
WHY would a kid think it's OK to just TAKE something (or someone) who doesn't belong to them?! Why hasn't a parent reported a dog... assuming the dog made it to a home environment.

My biggest fear is that this sweet, little rescued dog has been taken to bait for fighting.  I don't know if this is really much of an issue in that area... but the situation lends itself to wonder.

Things like this tear me up and will bother me for a long long time.  I can only pray that this person has just taken Baxter because they wanted a dog for themselves.  I pray that they will return him safely.

I can also ask all of you to recommit to your own dogs' safety/well being.
So often I hear from people that are at their breaking point with their dogs' behavior... they have virtually no affection for the dog.  This is heart-breaking.  Your dog DESERVES to have you spend time loving, playing, and training it!  YOU brought the dog into your life, now make both your lives happy by investing in your relationship!

Ask yourself how you would feel if suddenly, you came home and the dog was gone.  No idea who took them, what's being done to them.  You may say that you "wouldn't care"... but stop that attitude and THINK.  Would you really not care?  Possible abuse, neglect, death by baiting (if a person isn't willing to get a dog honestly, they WON'T be genuine in their care).

So, make a list if you have to.  What are your dogs' needs and entitlements?  What would need to be in place to make you a happy dog owner (be specific)?  Now, make a plan of action.  Get a trainer, contact me if you want... anyone.

Just remember that there are times to step away from your own situation, and be grateful that at the end of the day, your dog is snoozing safely in your home.  You know you love them, and care for them... or that you have recommitted to them.  Love them. 

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

A night At The Casino: Day 1 results of teaching "Wipe Your Feet"

Well , well, well... who would've seen this coming?!  So, as a follow-up, I wanna fill you in on how the boys did on our introduction to our new cue.  It was fun for all, and there were a few night at the training casino would be complete without them! 

Those of you who may actually know my boys know some very basic personality traits.  If not, here's a little background:

Thomas (11 yr old hound mix)- LOVES food, can be very aloof if you can't compete with something "better", sometimes afraid to try the "in between" steps (it's major and sudden leaps for him... right or wrong).

Linus (5 yr old yellow Lab)- LOVES LOVES LOVES food, LOVES me, LOVES life, takes NOTHING seriously, often I am competing with his excitement over food to get him in a place of learning so he can actually EARN the treats.

Last night, a couple of hours after everyone had had dinner, I broke out 2 junk towels, some diced up refrigerated dog food, and a clicker.  Pups followed of course. 

We sat in the living room, a little bit of space between them, and towel in front of each dog.  One at a time, I showed them each a treat, laid it on the towel, then folded the towel over to cover it. 

This is where we combine some shaping and luring. 

I simply tapped the towel in front of each boy and said "find it", a cue they know but generally use their nose for locating something. 

Linus dove in with his schnoz, which was great, but the click/treat was delayed until he SET A PAW ONTO the towel, or move towards the towel if he was not going to be so eager.  In his case, he stepped on the towel quickly, so the click/treat was delivered.  We worked on that for a few repetitions.  He even did a couple of really, really good swipes with his paws at the towel.  That, my friends, is jackpot worthy! 

Meanwhile, I was encouraging Thomas.  He has a tendency to either just freak and start throwing out his token behaviors (i.e. shake, high five, speak, spin).  However, once I started clicking/treating his paw movement in the same way I was rewarding Linus, he started focusing.  But, he kept lying down thinking that was what I wanted (as if we were practicing "Go Lie Down". 

The kicker... at the very end of the session, I turned to Thomas to find the smarty paws actually grabbing the towel in his teeth to pull back the towel so he could get the treat.  LOL  LOL 

Overall, it was a great start and I look forward to practicing again today! 

Let me know how you and your dogs are doing!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Tricky Tricks

So... I'll be the first to say that as a trainer I am rarely interested in teaching tricks.  I mean, call me crazy, but between real life demands, a child, a husband in school and training for cycling/running events, I'm not all that concerned with teaching my dog to chase his tail or to "play dead" (why would I want to picture them dead, anyway?).
BUT... I love a good trick that is applicable to every day life.  Things like teaching my boys to close a door for me, pick up their toys, etc. make my heart sing!  And truthfully, trick training is an amazing way to just have some fun with your dog and see what you can accomplish together.
Next on the agenda in our house, and I have no idea why it has taken this long to get to it, is "Wipe Your Feet".
After literally years of keeping a junk towel on hand, I have decided that the time has come!  My boys are bright and so I would like to think of myself as a competent trainer... so here we go!

Now, there are a couple of ways you can go about training tricks.  Namely, shaping or luring.  For those of you who aren't familiar with this stuff, I'll briefly describe them here.

Shaping simply is a waiting game in which you put your dog in the relative area that you need for the learning (in this case, it would be a mat or towel).  You arm yourself with a clicker if you use one and plenty of high-value treats.  From there, you simply allow the dog to start figuring things out. You have to have an eye for the slightest progression.  In this case, without prompting, I would click and treat the first MOVEMENT of a paw on the mat.  I wouldn't expect a dog to immediately start avidly wiping their feet.  As the dog sees the pattern that he is getting a treat each time he moves his foot, I then kick it up and delay the click/treat until there's just slightest bit more movement.
You build in this way, rewarding the teeny ting progressive steps until the dog has painted the ultimate picture.  Needless to say, shaping can take a long time.  Or not.  It really depends on the dog.  But the key to remember is that if you rush the learning process, the dog may learn the ultimate end steps of the behavior, but the earlier steps WILL unravel and they will be a jumbled mess! So take your time and work at your dog's pace. Not something our culture is geared for, I know.... just trust me.  : )

Luring is simply helping to put the dog into action, and then rewarding the compliance.  Sounds simple, and a bit faster than shaping, it generally is.  In teaching a dog to sit, a treat is held over the dog's head to encourage them to look up, then the treat is moved back toward the crown of the dog's head to lure the final sit.  This works beautifully.  As a caution, luring is ideal for fairly basic commands... and shaping is a great tool for the more complex tricks/behaviors.

You can always do a combination of the two... which is generally what happens.  : )

I will keep you posted on the progress of Linus and Thomas (my boys) in this endeavor.

Day 1: I will begin with a junk towel and a yummy treat.  For this, I want something super tempting and "fragrant".  I am going with a refrigerated dog food log that can be chopped into bits.

The towel will be laid out, dog watching process, and I will lay a treat on the towel and fold it over to "hide" the treat.

Next, I will encourage Linus to "find it"... a command he already knows and is in love with.  AS SOON AS he begins to use his paw to "dig" for the treat, I will click and toss a treat onto the towel for him.  Then, we will repeat this process.... a lot.  OK, not a ton of repetitions at once, I stick to 5-10 reps per session.  But, this will be our practice for several sessions until Linus is a star at it.

Stay tuned for the coming days and Linus' progress! Let me know how you and your dog fare on this impressive trick!

Remember, if you have questions, check out my business website and send me a contact email!