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Perfect

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Today one of my students asked me, “At what point would their dog be trained to be perfect?”

The answer is “Never.”

Your dog will never be trained to be consistently perfect.  What will happen is that you, the handler, will learn to respond quickly and reliably at all times to each of your dog’s actions within training.  In effect, your dog will improve as you become a more consistent trainer.  Your responses will occur almost unconsciously, removing the traces of error before they are visible.  Your dog will then respond by developing new tendencies and habits,  but these too are always open to deviation.

If your dog forges just the tiniest bit in heeling, a highly skilled trainer will respond instantly so that the forging is addressed before anyone else can even see it.  If your dog goes wide after a jump then a highly skilled trainer will make sure that their next few training decisions counteract that behavior – possibly altering reward placement or pulling the behavior out of sequences altogether for remedial work.

Training for precision is different than training a dog to simply respond to a cue with low criteria.  For example, if “sit” means get your butt down, anywhere, anyway, and at any speed, then you might go weeks or months with no real failure, because tolerance for deviation is built into your cue.  But if sit includes criteria of placement, speed and exact position, then you will not have this good fortune.  The more criteria that you include in your definition, the more maintenance that cue will require.  This reality will be true of every single precision behavior that you teach. More criteria? More maintenance.

Over time, you will learn which behaviors are most at risk for your particular dog’s temperament and training history, and you will learn to pay special attention to those weaker areas.  Forever.  It makes no sense to get frustrated with your dog over these natural variations in behavior.  Your dog is no different than the next one.  If you can accept that natural variation is a law of nature then you’ll stay in a much happier place with your dog.

If your dog’s tendencies are against what we want to see in competition, for example, your dog prefers to sit with a leg sticking out, then you will constantly battle that tendency – every single time you see the most beginning indications of that leg sticking out, you will respond quietly and unconsciously.

Great training skill develops over time as the handler becomes faster, more responsive, and more aware of who their dog is and what their dog needs to perform at their best in competition.  More games with flow and movement or more precision with drills and foundation skills?  Shorter or longer sessions?  The list goes on and on, and the answers will depend on your team.

And then you will compete.  If you’ve done an excellent job and if it is a good day, then perfect will happen in the ring.  And as soon as you leave the ring and return to training then you will go back to what you always do – addressing every deviation.  Instantly.

If you believe that this is not correct, then hand a fully trained, truly beautiful worker from any sport to a novice handler for one month.  At the end of the month, you will see the results; the dog’s natural tendencies will begin to re-emerge, blending with whatever the novice handler’s tendencies contribute. Your perfect dog will be gone.

Perfection as a permanent condition?  That is not possible.

 

 

 

 

Advanced Distraction Training

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Brito is just beginning his Advanced Distraction Training.  This video picks up roughly where a dog would leave off if you completed all of the assignments in my book, “Beyond the Backyard; Train Your Dog To Listen Anytime; Anywhere!” (available on Amazon or from my own website, The Dog Athlete)

Note that I am introducing the idea of going away from me to a place (foot target) and Brito has to cross over cookies on the ground.

To get there:

Warm up with familiar work where your dog is moving towards you – in this case I start with a recall over cookies on the grass.  Make sure you have a plan for failure!  You’ll see that Brito goes for a cookie (which he gets) at :42. I add a “punishment” in the form of picking up all the remaining cookies and also delay before allowing him to try again (remember, control the environment and not the dog whenever possible).  Finally, my fast movement in to control the cookies alerts him to the fact that those cookies are not for him – yet!

Make sure you have higher value cookies to reward success!  On the grass he is getting cheerios (his routine training treat) and from my hands he is getting a dog cookie. 

On your first sends away from you, start very close to your dog so you can interrupt if he makes an error!  

Start in your most familiar training area.  Brito has been able to do this exercise at home, so we’re now taking the show on the road. (generalization).

Do not increase the challenge level until your dog can walk directly over the distraction food without bowing out.  That suggests confidence and a strong understanding of how to “win” – bowing out suggests either stress or unsureness.   (That’s fine but do not progress until that has subsided.)

In addition to working “over” distractions close up, I’m also working on calling him off of distractions after he has permission to eat the cookies directly off the grass.  You’ll see that start at about 5:30.  I tell Brito to eat the low value cookies off the floor, and now I bring out the meatballs to reward him!  I call him name, stick a meatball under his nose, and pull him off the cookies on the floor.  I do this repeatedly, sending him back to the grass cookies every time.  I will stay at this step until I can call him off of cheerio eating without luring him with a cookie on his nose.  From there, I will increase distance from the pile of cookies, lower the value of the reward cookie in my hand, and increase the value of the treats on the floor. One step at a time! Finally, Brito will be rewarded with work for calling off the treats (the work can then earn a cookie, either from my pocket, the ground, or another location altogether).

Take your time! I started seriously working on this a while ago when I attended a training in a building that had too much random food on the floor.  I realized that I could not control the environment – so rather than fighting about it and teaching Brito to opportunistically avoid me to get to random cookies, I’d train through it.  Eventually he’ll end up stronger in the presence of open distractions, but we’re not there yet!

Brito advanced distraction training

Do we teach resilience?

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Should you add corrections to training in order to teach a dog “resilience?”

The argument goes like this:

“Adding corrections in life training helps your dog learn how to handle stress.  If the dog doesn’t learn how to handle the stress of even mild corrections, then when something stressful happens in life they won’t be able to recover.”

And for a competition dog:

“By adding corrections in training, your dog will be better able to tolerate the stress of a show and a competition ring”

Go ahead and define the word “correction” however it makes sense to you because that is not relevant to this post.  This post is only about whether we need to consciously teach stress resilience as a generic skill by adding handler induced corrections.  Let’s start with the second point:

Here’s an example of ring stress:  A competition dog will eventually have to accept the stress and pressure of a judge in the ring.  The judge will be directing the handlers activities and may be quite close to the working team.  For the stand for exam, that person will even touch the dog.

I agree 100% that these realities are stressful for many dogs.  To compete effectively we need our dog to be able to accept that person, and to experience minimal (or no) stress at this competition reality.  Better yet, we want the dog to welcome it!

Let’s look at the two ways we could try and make that acceptance happen:

  1.  Add corrections in training so that the dog learns to recover from stress.  Now go to a dog show and the dog experiences the stress of a judge in the ring – the dog (hopefully) generalizes that the corrections/stress they experienced in training are no different than the stress or discomfort they are experiencing with that judge, so they recover and move on.  or,
  2. Add a judge to your training.  Introduce the person at a specific distance – enough that the dog is aware and then remove the stress and reward the dog with a chance to work or with a cookie – depending on the dog’s stage of training.

If you want to teach a dog to handle the stress of the dog show reality, wouldn’t it make more sense to address the SPECIFIC stressors of the dog show, rather than going for a generic concept like “teach stress resilience?”  We know what those dog shows stressors are, so make a plan!

The second option targets the specific issue, and if you really believe in the need for generic “teaching stress resilience,” then it does that as well.  So why would you ever use #1 as a training strategy? It’s too generic and it adds no specific advantage.  It also leaves a lot to chance.

Job done.  No need for the human to add any corrections at all.  And indeed, there is a good reason not to.

I want to be the good guy! I am the one that takes the dog away from the pressure!  I am the one that provides support and works to make my dog believe he is a superstar; always succeeding!  I am the one the dog can count on to REMOVE pressure – not to add to it! And by the time my dog gets to the show, I want him to actively welcome the pressure of the judge because he has been trained that it is nothing – look and dismiss. Move on to the work.

It all comes back to “conditioned emotional response.”

You want your dog to likes you. A lot!  To count on you as the source of interesting activities.   At any given time your dog may not remember why  they like you- the specific cookies that you handed over, games that you played and adventures that you navigated. But your dog knows that they like you and feel good in your company.  You’re on the same team.

The last thing I want to do is be the person associated with “adding stress” to my dog’s life!  I’m the advocate!  And when more severe stress happens, I want to be the one who removes them from those situations! I want my dog to look to me for support when they need help, because experience has taught the dog that I will support them or modify the situation to make them stronger.

Ok, so now let’s go back to the first point; that humans have to add corrections in general life training so that their dogs learn to recover when unexpected things happen that are outside everyone’s control.

Do I need to teach my dog stress recovery “for life,” so that when they stub their toe they don’t have a meltdown?

No.

Life provides the stress for life. Training only takes place for approximately 15  minutes a day – you can count on the fact that the other 23 hours and 45 minutes will provide plenty of experiences for the dog to experience the normal cycle of “That hurt!! ” or “That was scary!” and the end result of “I’m ok!”

You’re just not that important to the normal development of your dog, assuming you expose your dog to the realities of life through socialization.  Obviously if your dog never leaves your home, no one ever comes in, and you’ve padded the walls, then yeah, it’s going to get weird when you try and walk out the door.  But its probably easier to just walk the dog out the door – socialize them – and let the world happen, than trying to arrange corrections to teach your dog to accept life.

 So far, all of my dogs have stubbed their toes at some point or another, and I have yet to see any of them opt out of life or refuse to leave the house after the event.  Indeed, my various dogs have broken bones, dislocated body parts, and gotten stitched up after deep cuts occurred – none of which I actually arranged for – and they moved on.  They did not become freaks.  

Normal good training and socialization should expose your dog to the various realities of dog shows including reduced reinforcement, the pressure of dogs, people and things, travel, etc. You can predict those realities and train for them.  And since you are consciously training rather than approaching “resilience” in a haphazard fashion, you can control the scenarios.  So if you really believe that stress needs to be “taught” by a trainer, then this does the ticket just fine.  No need for corrections at all to get there.

Build your relationship through advocacy.  THAT is what your dog needs from you.  You don’t need to teach stress resilience.  Stress is an unpleasant feeling that is rooted in the emotion of fear.  I no more need to teach my dog how to handle fear and stress thanI need to teach my dog to be “happy”.  All I need to do is think about which one I want associated with me.

On another note:

Congratulations to Katie O. of Louisville, KY for winning a free class at Fenzi Dog Sports Academy for the February 1st term!  We look forwards to seeing her there.  We’d love to see even more new faces, so feel free to take a look at the schedule and get enrolled.  Classes start TODAY. Class Schedule

 

Advanced Heeling

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Heeling is the foundation of obedience. Fortunately I love heeling, so I’m very motivated to find ways to make it beautiful, accurate and engaging for me and my dog.I also enjoy teaching heeling to other handlers, probably more than any other obedience skill.  As a result, I’ve been teaching a series of classes at the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy on this topic.

The first class was “Precision Heeling.”  The second class was “Heeling Games.”  And….this one is “Advanced Heeling and Problem Solving”.This is the class that considers those tiny, itty bitty details that cost you points or drive you a little crazy.  Over the six weeks of class, we’ll look at those details; all of the ways that we struggle in our heeling, and a very wide range of options for improving your skill.

The Gold level spots are full, but you are welcome to join the class at Bronze – and for $65, that’s something of a deal.  The prerequisites do not apply at the bronze level.  If you did not take the earlier heeling classes, then some of what is discussed will mystify you, but as long as you have something that passes for heeling then you’ll find plenty to keep you busy.  Indeed, I can pretty much guarantee you that you’ll hear ideas, solutions and lectures here that you have not heard anywhere else.  And if you’re an experienced trainer that picks up a few new ideas, well….that’s a good thing.

This particular class is composed of both lecture and skill lists that target specific issues. All of the skill lists are released on the first day of class (February 1st) to ensure that you can get to work on your personal issues right away

I’ve placed the skill list for “about turns” below to give you an idea of how the class runs.  There are four concept lectures to help you learn to solve your own problems and also ten skill lists to give you specific solutions to various heeling issues.

The students who submit videos over the next six weeks will be the demo dogs for the class as a whole.  If you find a student to follow at Gold that has similar issues to your own, you’ll make excellent progress.

I hope to see you here or in one of the other classes at the school.  Class starts February 1st and “late” registration ends on February 15th. We have a contest running on this blog (Scroll back a few entries) to win a free class at bronze for this term.
Send me a note through the “People” link at the academy if you need help selecting the right class for you.  Anyway, regardless of whether you take the class, try out some of the ideas below if you have issues on your about turns. Good luck!

SKILL LIST #7: ABOUT TURNS

Forging on about turns

This can either be a generic forging problem (in which case you would want to look at the topic “Forging” from the first week’s lecture for solutions), or it an be an anticipation problem.

if it’s an anticipation problem, the basic issue is the same as for forging on right turns; the dog is making assumptions about what is going to happen next, and simply does it before you want them to.

If the handler signals a turn and then completes the about turn in a predictable fashion (180 degrees) then the dog stops paying attention and completes the turns before the handler.   Dogs can also forge out of temperament; pushier and more driven dogs often forge out of temperament; they think they know more than you do, so they just beat you to it.  You’ll need to show them that they don’t know as much as they think they do!

The solution is the same if the dog anticipates because the handler is predictable or because the dog is simply very temperamental and driven.  You’ll need to make the dog think on every step throughout the about turn.  Turn slowly so the dog is processing well and then test it by alternating slow, normal or fast about turns. Do not always turn the same amount; maybe it will be 30 degrees followed by a half or maybe 270 degrees followed by a fast pace. This is the same as forging through a right turn:

When training this way, make sure you are keeping your body very straight and correct so that your dog can follow you.

It’s not fair to make a fast about turn while your shoulder hangs back!  Practice stair step heeling so the dog can never get up any momentum towards the right about turn.  Make sure that your body stays straight over your feet!  This is a good exercise to practice without a dog first and then videotape – make sure your handling is the same with or without a dog.  Here’s Raika practicing stair steps – left, right, left, right, about turn, etc.  Never more than a few steps in any direction. You’ll see how she starts to smooth out.  (This video is a duplicate):

Finally, try performing about turns followed by an immediate halt before you go in the new direction – that gives your dog plenty to think about!  If you practice indoors, most dogs can show better self control, so it’s a good place to start.  Note that I still encourage her verbally to drive through the about turn – I don’t want her to start lagging!  You can also see how I handle “less than perfect”.  It’s no big deal but I don’t reward either:

All of these solutions are basically the same as recommended above for anticipating on right turns, which is why many of the videos are the same.  Make the dog think; not just drive forward!

Lagging on About turns:

Lagging on about turns can be an attitude problem – check out the section on lagging from week 1 skill list.  This is the most challenging situation because if the dog simply doesn’t care about the work, then no cure in the world will hold up when the rewards are not right there.

Lagging on about turns can be caused by footwork that “kicks” the dog as you complete the turn.  This is particularly common with small dogs – keep your feet together on the turn to decrease this issue!

Lagging on about turns can be caused by dogs that have been worked too much to the left – the dog gets lazier and lazier until there is nothing left when you work to the right.  It can also be caused by rewarding the dog behind correct heel position, or too many halts after the turn is completed. Finally, it can be caused by a dog that thinks too much – a dog that is very careful and is expecting a right turn – they’ll get left behind as the handler completes the full turn.

Take about turns out of heeling for awhile.  Start practicing the about turn separately as a 180 degree pivot to the right.  Reward every single one by throwing the cookie straight ahead.  .  At first, reward regardless of speed or effort.  Here you can see that I’m going to throw whether Brito is there or not.  Note that my shoulder stay over my feet and I throw the cookie straight ahead – no looking back!

When the dog is driving around with some improvement, switch to alternating the reward straight ahead or offered in heel position. It’s ok if the dog occasionally shoots out of heel position or sits crooked as a result of anticipating the cookie throw.  You can deal with that later when the overall picture is better.

In this video, you’ll see I lose Brito’s attention.  He is trying but he’s young and a bit fragile about heel position, so I give him some verbal help and I move the food down low to help draw him in,  but I do not look backwards or twist my shoulder backwards:

Be prepared to do this for weeks.  With my young terrier, he had a tendency to lag quite a lot and it took several weeks for him to understand to stay up in position and that food would be tossed straight ahead.  I did not offer cookies in position until the overall issue was resolved – I threw them straight ahead.  And I suspect that for maintenance I’ll be doing this for many more months until he’s a stronger worker overall.  Other dogs will figure it out very quickly and will develop an anticipation problem so…think balance!  Once the dog is more enthusiastic about the turn when it is isolated, you can return the about turn to regular training and see if you’ve gotten the desired improvement.  Here is Brito working on heeling – note that the reward comes for the about turn and the cookie is tossed:

In addition, take a good look at your own body language!  Lagging is often caused by letting your left shoulder hang back as you complete the turn.  Don’t look at your dog on the about turn if your dog lags; look where you are going!  I often focus on my right foot as I complete the turn.I’d strongly suggest practicing without your dog first and then add your dog.  Then videotape so that you can be sure that you are not contributing to the problem.  If your handling has contributed then the cure won’t be instant!  Your dog will have to adapt to your new behavior.  Be aware that it is common for dogs to cross behind you and end up on your right side when you first practice your new, correct handling.  Simply drop your left hand down to help them target around your body as they learn.  Note that in all of the above videos, I look where I am going, keep my feet together and keep my shoulders over my feet!

Wide on about turns

Dogs can choose to move wide on about turns for several reasons.  Sometimes it is simply an attention problem; if the dog isn’t paying attention and does not see the turn, then they will end up wide.  The solution is to increase your expectations for attention (see skill list week one for thoughts on attention).

Dogs also heel wide when their handlers struggle to hold a straight line; little dogs are at particular risk of getting stepped on or kicked and will quickly develop the habit of heeling wide on about turns.  While the about turn does not cause the wide heeling, it does make it particularly obvious.  See the skill list for week 1 to deal with generically wide heeling.

If you find that your dog is avoiding your feet, make a point of keeping your feet together on turns.  This makes it much less like that you’ll step on your dog.  In addition, be extremely careful about not drifting into your dog when moving and especially on turns.  Pick a line and stick to it!   It might help to put a line on the ground and make sure you are going out and back on the same line.   Outdoor tennis courts and basketball areas are great for practicing walking straight; just get on a line and use it!

If your dog makes a wide about turn and then quickly moves back into position, try adding a halt right on the corner after the turn is completed.  If your dog knows where they should be when you halt, they often begin to anticipate that and pull in closer on the corner itself

Finally, you can do some special footwork for training that makes your dog anticipate pulling in.  After completing the about turn, immediately pull to the right for a step or two before continuing back in a straight line.

Train the Dog in Front of You

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When I met my husband 20 years ago, I wasn’t eating a ton of vegetables. I wasn’t avoiding them, but he chose to eat a lot more of them than I did. Therefore, he decided that I didn’t like vegetables and he often told people this random fact.

And then, over the years, I started eating more and more vegetables. Now half of my plate is normally vegetables, and I pile a big helping of salad on top of that. This change came on gradually.

To the point where it became rather common to be sitting at a table with guests while my husband told them how I don’t like vegetables – yet my plate would be overflowing with them. Our guests would look at my plate and appear puzzled, but my husband never really looked for himself.  He had already decided that I didn’t like vegetables.   Indeed, I even pointed out my enthusiasm for vegetables on occasion, and still, he saw those episodes of vegetable eating as an anomaly.

To this day, if you ask him, my husband will  likely say that I don’t like vegetables, and evidence to the contrary does nothing to change that.

The fact is, once we get a belief in our heads, it can be really hard to look at the situation critically, even if there is massive evidence to suggest that a change has occurred.

How about your dog? Are you training the dog that you have; the one that is sitting at your feet?

Not the dog you thought you had; rather the one who actually exists today, with all of his experiences, training and maturity?

Yes, that dog.

Is that dog really the one that you started with?  Or are you training a dog that has long since moved on?

Maybe today is a good day to look at your dog and ask yourself…is it time for a change?

One key thing that separates experienced trainers from more novice ones is exactly this issue. Experienced trainers are constantly testing, evaluating and progressing – are you ready for this? How about this? What happens if?

Today I let Brito do some problem solving on his own. Historically I have not done that because it shuts him down and he will opt out of training if he is not supported. But he’s a different dog now, and I need to remember that, because that’s my job as a trainer.

What are my options?  How does he respond?  Will this approach progress my training without sacrificing any of the qualities that I have worked so hard to nurture?

Brito handled it fine. Which doesn’t mean I should get carried away and change our entire program, but it does mean that I must continue to evaluate and be prepared to re-consider what I had believed to be true.  What dog do I have now? Today? In this place? With these exact set of circumstances?

Brito will always maintain a fragile core, but it’s no longer fair to call him a fragile dog.  It is more accurate to say that I need to make sure that he is handling whatever training I am providing with his happy and confident demeanor intact.

I cannot change my dog’s genetic temperament, and I am well aware of our various ongoing challenges, but I can certainly accept, admire and appreciate his ever evolving self.  The fact is, Brito’s temperament now includes every training session, every social exposure, and every experience that he’s ever had.  It’s my job to make sure I’m training the dog that is standing in front of me and not the one that I brought home a long time ago

Train that dog.  The one in front of you.

 

Fenzi Academy: Free Contest…for free!

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If you’d like to learn more about Fenzi Dog Sports Academy (FDSA), this is a good time to do it.  We have a new term starting up February 1st, and we always like to see some new faces!

Take a look at our contest.  By entering, you’ll have a chance to learn more about how our programs work and if you’re lucky, you’ll win a free bronze level class!  With thirty classes on the schedule covering dog sports from Obedience to Agility to Behavior to Gun Dog Foundations, it’s easy to find plenty of classes that will interest you.

We will not use this information for anything else.  You will not be added to any mailing lists (unless you choose to  – but it’s optional), and we do not sell any information.  In effect – you’ll never hear from us again.  Unless you win – in which case you’ll be happy to hear from us!

There is a reason why 95% of our survey respondents say that they plan to take more classes with us!  We get results, and we have a great time doing it…with respect for the dogs and handlers!

And…just for fun…1% of all students who enroll in a class by February 1st for this term will receive a free bronze class for a future term. You don’t have to do anything – simply get registered and you’ll be entered in the contest.  Winners to be selected by random draw.  1% means a lot of winners!

Enter our contest!

Reducing reinforcers/Ring Readiness

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Today I had an opportunity to do a semi-formal run through.  I had a few interests:

I wanted to test Brito’s heeling in a distracting environment and when being directed by a pretend judge.  Because I am not ‘training’ heeling and because I need to begin reducing reinforcers, I do not reward him in position at the end of the pattern.  Instead, I now give a high percentage of my cookies BETWEEN exercises.  Separately, I will continue to work the fine points of heeling,  in my house and with low value reinforcers,  for the rest of his career. But here on this day I’m rewarding the game that we’re playing together – not the heeling.

I simply expect the finished exercises to be correct or I would not be testing them.  The classic reinforcers cannot continue to mark correct work or you’ll struggle horribly in the ring where you cannot reward, regardless of how amazing your dog is.

If Brito had struggled with heeling there is a chance that I would have continued anyway because I need the information.  Then, for the next several weeks, I would focus on cleaning up those weak areas and then I would test them again.

If he struggles and I believe that it’s stress related then I stop instantly.  I never work a stressed dog. (same in trial – I’d leave if he was struggling with stress in the ring).

1:28 – I chose to reward the “waiting” for the figure eight posts.  It occurred to me as I stood there that this expectation was new, and I wanted him to know that I appreciated his good choice.  I did not reward that exercise at all; I moved on to the stand for exam.

Brito did well on the stand for exam.  This was actually a risky move to include in this trial readiness chain, because he is still learning to remain in a stand when I return.

I did not reward this exercise, though with hindsight I probably should have.

I did reward his set-up for the recall at 2:40.

I rewarded generously after the recall but not in the finish position.

Retrieve on the flat.  Brito anticipated the finish – now I know and I can work on it!  I did not reward that exercise but not because of the anticipation – I simply moved to the next exercise.

Retrieve over high jump.  He anticipates the send over the jump.  This is a long standing issue (either going before being sent or not going at all on the first cue) so…back to the drawing board on that one.  But again, this ring time was to test where we are at – the last thing I want to do is call him back and erode his confidence.   Heck, I know I have an issue with anticipation/not going on cue.  No reason to address it here when it’s not even correct at home.

Broad jump is nice.  I end this run through on that exercise.

On balance, I’m happy.  We’ll continue to work on various aspects of reducing reinforcers and ring readiness.

Starting February 1st I’ll be teaching a class called Bridging the Gap; Reducing Reinforcers, Proofing and Generalization.  It’s a ton of materials so this course runs for two terms (and is priced accordingly).  For twelve weeks, we’ll consider the wide variety of issues that need to be addressed before sending in your trial entry. Ideally, you take this class when you have several finished behaviors, and you think you’re about trial ready.  This class is also excellent for dogs that are currently trialing but are starting to run into trouble.  Registration opens January 22nd.

 

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