Thursday, May 17, 2012


Following the OCOTC shows in April (Soda got his RE), Soda is officially retired (hopefully temporarily) due to his collapsing trachea. I have to say not working my So has been a bit of a downer. It made it tough to think about writing on his blog. Soda does not appreciate retirement...his OCD is rather obnoxious without working his brain. Right now we're focusing on training calm behaviors (sits, downs, look away).

Roo also did well at the OCOTC shows. He finished his CD in 3 shows with a 2nd place and two 1st places. I was quite pleased with him.
Roo made his debut in open this week at the Yorkie specialty in OKC. He NQd but it was a good "match" for us (there aren't any matches in our area so sometimes you have to use a show as a match). We know what to focus on now. After AMA nationals we'll take the summer to polish up open and start some utility exercises.

Hopefully once we're back to regular training, I'll get posting again.

Roo heeling, courtesy of Sirius Photography

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Just Playing Games

Do you play training games? If not then you should! Games can be used to work on all sorts of obedience and agility skills. Not only that, games are fun and quick, keeping your dog focused on the work. Need some ideas?

Today I worked in directional cues with Roo. We have named turning right "spin" and turning left "turn". Like Greg Derrett in his Foundations DVD, I taught my dog these with verbal cue only, no body language necessary. I taught Roo a "box" cue (put your front paws on the box). Now I have him doing box, spin and box, turn. Next I might get all 4 feet on the box and have him spin and turn.

Soda Pop is not very good with things like box due to his neurological issues. But he could do spin and turn on the flat. Today I worked on putting them on words with no hand cue. Then I had Soda back up away from me and spin or turn.

This was a good break from formal obedience for both dogs, yet fun and useful training for agility. Don't feel like you have to do formal work every session. Sometimes just sit back, grab your clicker, and have a little fun!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Training Session Recommendations

How long is the ideal training session for your dog? There is no one answer. The following considerations can help you decide how long you should spend on your training session.

1. How old is your dog?
Just like young children, puppies have much shorter attention spans than mature dogs. I typically recommend keeping training sessions to 5 minutes or less for puppies under a  year old. You are much better off doing 2-3 short sessions per day with a young dog.
As your dog becomes physically and mentally mature, you can slowly increase the length of time of your session if needed.

2. Are you practicing by yourself at home, in a class, or in a private lesson?
If you are practicing by yourself, keep the session short. This one-on-one makes for an intense training session.
If you are in a group class, even young dogs can last 30-45 minutes. Most older puppies or adult dogs can handle a 1 hour group class. In a group your dog has down time to relax between turns. This makes it easier for the dog to work during its turns for the whole class time.
Private lessons tend to be high in intensity. For this reason, younger dogs may do better limiting their lesson time to 30 minutes instead of the typical hour. Discuss with your trainer how much time is appropriate for your dog. My general rule is puppies under a year get 30 minute session. Dogs 1-2 years are decided on a case-by-case basis. Adult dogs get 1 hour sessions.

3. What is your training plan for this session?
If you are working on something that requires intense concentration and precision from the dog, a shorter session may be a good choice. Teaching a brand new behavior is often a good indication for a short session.
If you are mixing up the behaviors you are working on and have your dog moving around (say working on heeling, then a jump, then fronts), you may be able to extend your session longer.
Will you be having  your dog wait on a stay or in a crate while you adjust your agility equipment for the next sequence? This down time means your session can be longer.

4. Stop while you are ahead. Always end on a good note.
If your dog did something absolutely incredible, feel free to reward them and end on that note.
If you are having trouble during your session, back off the behavior you were working on. Ask your dog to do something you know they will be successful at. End on the successful behavior. Your training session should always end with you and your dog pleased.

5. What if I find myself always working for longer than I planned?
Set a timer. No matter what you are doing, end when the timer goes off.
Set aside a certain number of rewards. Once those are done, end your session.

6. Work up to increased time.
Don't jump from 5 minutes to 15. Slowly increase the time. I would take approximately a week to add 5 minutes to my training session.

When in doubt, keep your sessions short, sweet, and successful!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Rules for Failure

No dog is perfect. No handler is perfect. There will always be failures in dog training. The key to making failure a valuable part of your training is to properly evaluate the cause for the failure and make a plan to help your dog succeed. The other essential part that many trainers forget is teaching a dog to fail and bounce back. This creates a dog that does not shut down when failure strikes. Today's blog post is all about turning failure into success.

1. Why did my dog fail?

  • Was my dog trying hard to succeed?
  • Did my dog check out from what we were doing? 
  • Did my handling cause my dog to fail? 
If you have trouble evaluating these questions when training on your own, take video of your training session. STOP working at the place of failure. Take the video to your trainer for a proper evaluation. Never continue doing what you were doing if you are experiencing failure.
If your dog was trying hard but does not understand, step back in your training plan. Clarify what you want to your dog. Help your dog to succeed.
If your dog is checking out you must evaluate the reason. Is your dog in an environment they are not yet ready to work in? Is your dog overly stressed? Does your dog have an inability to fail (shuts down at failure)?
Video taping and working in person with a trainer is the best way to evaluate your handling. If you are having trouble with something, practice the handling on your own without your dog. Once you have perfected the handling without your dog, add the dog back in.

2. Plans to help your dog succeed!
Utilize a training notebook. Plan out the course of action for training a new behavior. If you have failure, systematically go back to the previous step where your dog was successful. If you still have trouble progressing, break down  your training plan even further. Take baby steps to create success.
Remember that you must have a distinct criteria at each step. Be clear to yourself. Be clear to your dog.
Utilize video review. Don't reserve video for just matches and shows. Record your training sessions as well. Review what you are doing when you are not in the moment. Alter your training plans based on your performance.

3. Teaching your dog to fail and bounce back with games.

  • The Shaping Game: Use a marker (like a clicker) to guide your dog through the "hot and cold" game. While your dog tries to figure out what you want, they will have successes and failures. The goal is for your dog to keep trying through the failures. 
  • It's Yer Choice: This is Susan Garrett's game of impulse control. It teaches the dog to control themselves around tempting food and other distractions. They make a choice not to take the food or go sniff the cow poop. During that process, the dog will fail while trying to problem solve through the game. Here's a brief explanation of the game:
4. The Rule of 3: Never let your dog fail 3 times. We do not want our dogs to practice the failure time after time. We want our dogs to practice success! Be conscious of your dog's failures. Step in and change something if they have failed twice. 

    Whether you are practicing straight sits in obedience or working on a tough skill on the agility course, recognizing failure and working through it is essential to successful dog training.

    Thursday, February 9, 2012

    Games for fronts and finishes

    We've been busy. My number of private students here in OK is growing! I also just sent off 2 articles for online publication. In addition, I'm working to collect DNA samples for the Maltese Encephalitis Study! I have plans for videos to go with this hopefully I'll get those done at some point. Now, on to fronts and finishes! 

    I'm not much for drilling my dog on any behavior. I figure if it is boring for me, it is definitely boring to my dog. Here are a variety of games you can use to help pattern these exercises with precision! 

    1. Front on a block. I use a small ottoman, small stool, etc. - some object that is just big enough for the dog to hop up on and sit. I stand in perfect front position in front of the block and cue my dog to hop up. I reward the dog for sitting in front position. 
    2. Finish on a block - same as above but you stand next to the block.
    3. Front in a chute. I take 2 pens and make a short chute, just wide enough for the dog to go down. I place the dog at one and and I stand at the other. I call the dog to front. The chute ensures the dog comes and sits straight. 
    4. Finish in the hall. I sit my dog and turn in front of them. I position myself next to a wall with just enough room for my dog to sit next to me. I finish my dog. Being next to the wall ensures my dog sits straight. 
    5. Block to block. I put one block in front of me and one beside. I front the dog, reward, then finish. If you are really snazzy you can teach the dog to jump from block to block. 
    6. Sitting still. I do this for a front and a finish. Sit your dog. Move to the appropriate position. Have a conversation and deliver rewards in that still position. Not only does this reward being in the right position, but it teaches the dog to hold that position for a length of time (great to counteract dogs that anticipate finishes). 
    7. Finding heel. Instead of the traditional front and finish sit the dog at a random angle. Then ask the dog to find heel position. I even put the dog in front of me facing away from me and ask them to find position. 
    8. Call to stationary heel. Sit your dog. Leave your dog and take a few steps forward. Stop. Call your dog to heel. Remember to keep your shoulders facing forward and to look back over your shoulder to call your dog. Work up to more and more distance and your body facing different directions. 
    9. Chair front. For this you sit forward in a chair (or on an ottoman for a smaller dog). Have your legs apart so the dog can come and sit between them. Leave your dog. Sit down. Call your dog. This helps encourage the dog to come up close to you and to come in straight. It is also a handy way to practice while sitting on your couch. 

    Just remember not to overly drill any of these activities. Sessions should be short and precise. 

    You can use a clicker for any of the games mentioned. The timing of your click must be when the dog's butt hits the ground in the correct position. 

    Monday, January 30, 2012

    About Turns

    How do you teach about turns? How are your results? Here is what we do:

    1. The dog must be heeling in straight lines and in a large circle.
    2. I use a chair or a couple of cones (depending on the size of the dog) to turn around. This makes for a wide about turn in the beginning. 
    3. I use a toy to throw as I come out of the turn to teach my dog to drive around me and accelerate through the turn. 
    4. As my dog progresses with the wide turns and toy, I slowly shrink down the turn until I am turning only the length of my foot. 
    5. You should never stand still in the turn, your feet should always be moving, even if it means taking tiny steps. 
    6. Your shoulder and the dog's shoulder should stay even throughout the turn. 
    7. Once your dog has this game, I do it at a fast speed with the toy for fun and to encourage the dog to keep moving quickly around the turn. 

    Here's a brief video. The first is Soda doing about turns. The second is Soda doing an about turn from a stationary position (so he really has to move to accelerate around the turn). The last part is Roo playing the game in warp speed. 

    Saturday, January 28, 2012

    You Can't Beat the Basics

    It is routine for us to focus on making it through the steps of teaching a new behavior. What we often forget to do is go back to the basics.

    When teaching a new behavior, the highest intensity of reinforcement typically comes in the beginning. The goal for the completed behavior is to have it on a variable schedule of reinforcement. Often when we experience problems as we train, we back up to earlier steps of the behavior plan. For example, as we teach more advanced heeling such as pace changes, we may back up to rewarding heel position to help clarify to the dog what we want.

    With complex behaviors, such as heeling or retrieve over the high jump, I routinely have my students run through early piece of the behavior that have high reinforcement rates. I feel this greatly helps with the precision of the behavior as we add more difficulty.

    Helpful Hints:
    1. Write out your training plan for each new behavior
    2. Remember that your initial steps should be marked by high rates of reinforcement
    3. Regularly go back to the basics as part of your training. This will help keep your dog working hard for you as well as helping with precision "tweaking" of the behavior
    4. Never move on if you have not succeeded at a step in your plan
    5. If you have trouble, back up a step or break your criteria down further