RSS Feed

Long Held Beliefs

Posted on

Recently an article came out that challenged a very common dog training/raising technique.

I’m not interested in discussing the merits of the author’s thoughts.  What I found much more interesting were the reactions of people reading the article.  I got the feeling that people were mostly upset about the fact that somebody would dare to challenge a popular technique.

What’s up with the sacred cow thing?  Just because an idea has been around for a long time does not make it right.

Dog training is evolving.  We will all discover that we’ve been wrong at various points in time. The ability to do a bit of reflection – recognize that maybe we were wrong before and might need to change – is a skill worth developing.

And there is another, equally valid, possibility!  Maybe our combination of personal experience and research suggests that we should not change; that the evidence does not support this new direction.  And that’s great too!

But what is not great is hardening ourselves.    When controversy rears it’s head, we need to look.  Every time.  Think about it! Mull it over a bit.  Respond calmly and rationally or don’t respond at all.  Maybe the article’s fallacies further reinforce what we know to be true – that’s fine – support your beliefs. Maybe the truth of the article reinforces what we need to learn to evolve; that’s fine too – it might be time for change!  And finally, maybe the controversy is enough to get us thinking but not enough to change.  Again, a wonderful conclusion that allows for more discussion, thought and research.

What worries me is a response of “this is wrong because it is not what I learned but I refuse to explain why” or “because I don’t agree with this part we must shut down this discussion altogether.”  There’s nowhere to go with that; no way to learn or consider what one might have missed.  Ultimately, being right or wrong doesn’t matter nearly as much as a willingness to engage the hard questions.

If something makes you uncomfortable and you decide you don’t agree, take a moment to explain why and state your sources (which may involve personal experience).  Keep an eye on your tone; the goal is to disagree, not to stop discussion or to shut down a person’s willingness to think and share. OR… stay out of the discussion altogether! But an argument that says you’re wrong but I don’t have time/interest/inclination to explain it? Or an argument that says you’re wrong in one part so I can’t possibly engage the rest of your discussion?  That’s not a winner.

On another note…

Looking to advance your dog training skills?  Check out Fenzi Dog Sports Academy.  We have 33 classes and registration opened yesterday; maybe there is something for you!


Pinpointing source (Nosework)

Posted on

Brito and I have been playing with Nosework, taught at Fenzi Dog Sports Academy.  So fun for everyone, especially my hunting Brito!

Today we’re playing a game to help him learn to get as close as possible to the source of the odor.

This unedited video shows what I’m up to.  In short….get the right container, cut exactly one small hole approximately the size of the dog’s nose, and teach your dog that it’s not about the container at all; it’s about where the odor is emerging. (Note: Make sure the edges are smooth so that your dog finds it pleasant!)

Brito’s been playing at Nosework for a couple of weeks; he loves it! I have a couple of other games in mind when he masters this one:

Training is training is training.  What happens when you look at a sport as an outsider rather than as a person with a history of tradition, “shoulds” and “this is how we do it’s?”  You won’t know until you try.  As long as you’re kind, the worst thing that happens is you have to back out of the hole you dug and head in a new direction; a small price to pay for the chance to explore and learn!  Heck, if you think about it for a moment, maybe you’ll think up ways to apply this idea to scent articles for your obedience dog or tracking articles for your tracking dog.  Or maybe the whole activity will be so fun that you can use it to reward other skills that you’re trying to develop – one activity as a reward for another!

If you want to learn more, either from the beginning in our Introduction to Nosework class (NW101) all the way up to Reading the Nosework Dog for competition readiness (NW380), check out the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy’s Nosework program. This term we’re offering five different Nosework classes; something for everyone at pretty much every level. The combined knowledge of our Nosework team (Stacy Barnett, Julie Symons and Melissa Chandler) is really exceptional!  Go ahead and join the fun!

Learn your dog, Part 2

Posted on

Last week I talked about watching my dog in a contained area, free to do as he chose.  I talked about what I learned and why I do it.

If you tried that exercise and found it interesting, here’s another simple one to try.  If this one sound familiar, that’s probably because it comes from my online class and book, Train the Dog in Front of You.

Starting wherever you want, attach a leash to your dog’s collar.  No food or toys visible. Only one dog at a time.  Now…go.

The only rule is that your dog makes all of the decisions.  If you started from your house then your dog will select the direction of travel from the front door.  Your dog will decide when to stop and when to go.  Your dog will decide what to sniff and what to look at.  If your dog chooses to backtrack then you will allow for that.

Your only job is to keep your dog and the environment safe.  If you selected an environment that causes endless issues, for example, your dog wants to approach dogs in a place with a lot of dogs or is trying to pee on inappropriate things, then you picked the wrong environment.  Try again.  Work very hard not to reprimand, not to pull on the leash and not to re-direct your dog unless it’s required for safety.  Be pleasant and warm if your dog checks in, but don’t start a party.

For this exercise, I selected an outdoor shopping mall for Brito and for Lyra, I selected a wide open park. You may want to do this exercise several times to gain the most possible information. Which sense is most dominant for your dog; does he stare off into the distance or is he all about his nose?  Does he stop and listen for sounds?  Does he try to taste things or eat them?  Does he move quickly through the area or is he methodical and calm?  Does he check in with you, and if so, after how long?  Is he frantic?  Does he enjoy this exercise or does it make him stressed?

Did this exercise provide you with any surprises? Information about how you might want to train your dog differently?

If your dog got the point where he just stopped and stared at you, what did you do next?  If you decided to ask him for a few behaviors, how was his attitude?  Did he stick with it, or did he opt out and go back to what he was doing?

I (and many of my students) found this exercise enlightening, to say the least.

Try it.  Tell us about it in the comments if you wish!

Learn your dog, Part 1

Posted on

These days I’m watching a lot of dog behavior.

Let’s look:

I can see that hunting is very important to Brito. He will do this for a very long time.  Can you see how he is determined to find the scent and pinpoint it accurately?  Can you see that he is fully oriented to this activity?  He is intent on what he is doing but aware of what is happening around him (which would not be obvious in this clip but I watched for more than 30 minutes…).  He’s hunting.  That is Brito’s dominant interest; using his nose and searching for game of some type or another. In this case, it’s a rat and her babies under the deck.

For most of my observation time, I am sitting 20 feet away.  I have a ball and food and he knows this.  Here and there he’ll come over and visit me, though the first time he didn’t leave that spot for over 30 minutes.  When he visits I give him cookies and throw his ball until he remembers the critters and then he returns to his hunt.

Because I find dog behavior interesting, and because I like seeing my dog ultimately happy and engaged, I can watch this for hours and indeed, I do.  And I learn quite a lot.

I want to know what my dog cares about.  I want to know what my dog looks like when he is ultimately engaged and happy.  I want to know how long he will persist in tasks that absorb him on the most fundamental level.  How does he handle frustration?  Is his threshold for frustration high or low? What variables influence that frustration level?

And in spite of his absorption and his love of this activity, I can call him to me if I want him or if I want to play.  Most (but not all) of the time he is able to respond to a recall cue away from the deck.

He does not come to me because I have food or toys; he could have had those at any time simply by walking over and asking.  He comes because that is his habit; that is what he has been trained to do and it’s what we do together.

And if I want I can ask him to work.

He does not work because he prefers that to hunting.  He works because that is also his habit; it is what he has been trained to do and it is what we do together.  But if I ask for more than a minute of work under these circumstances, we’ll regress in our training.  I know that because I’ve tried out various combinations of hunting, working and playing.

Here, I have learned that his attention span is fantastic for activities that matter to him. I have learned that if I sit close to him (2 feet), he will check in with me more often than if I sit further away (20 feet).  If I leave altogether, I have learned that he will persist on his own for a few more minutes but then he comes to find me.  He wants me there as a companion or possibly as a source of comfort – I don’t know.

I have learned that if he asks for work after he has hunted for an extended period of time – maybe 20 minutes or so – he can give me fantastic work!  More intensity and effort that I ever see in a more traditional training setup.  Maybe he is channeling his frustrated hunting interested into prey – chasing the ball.  Maybe he is simply in a fantastic mood from his hunting activity, and it is carrying over into his work.  Maybe he’s happy that I am letting him be a dog and giving him a chance to do his own doggy things.  I don’t really know, but it’s all interesting.  Maybe over time I could try and ferret out the relevant variables.

I am fascinated by dogs being dogs.  Observing, listening, wondering, considering.

Try it; let your dog be a dog.  Just watch.  Don’t interrupt.  Don’t influence.  Just watch.  What do you see?  What does your dog love, independent of you?  How, when and why does your presence influence your dog?

Next week I’ll give you anther simple activity to learn more about your dog – who he is independent of you.

More Books: So Many Books. (Currently Seven to be exact)

Posted on

Source: More Books: So Many Books. (Currently Seven to be exact)

All books purchased through The Dog Athlete will be 10% off with coupon code, blog10 -expires Friday.  US only.  For international orders, please click the link above for purchasing options.

Failure to Set-up for an Exercise

Posted on

One of the common challenges that exhibitors encounter is dogs that refuse to “set-up” for work.  Maybe they have just finished the heeling pattern and are moving to the start of a recall and…the dog stands there, looking everywhere but at the handler….waiting. But not sitting.  Not setting up.

This is an extremely common stress response.  Akin to – “If I don’t sit then I don’t have to start.”  Which is technically true.

When a dog fails to set up, there are two things I look at; one is what happened immediately before and the other is what is about to happen immediately after.

If the last thing that happened was a fantastic play party with food or toys and now the dog won’t set up, then I suspect that the dog finds playing/working and time between exercises a whole lot more rewarding than work.  If that is the case, then consider either carrying the party into the start of the next exercise (reward the set-up and then release – do that several times and make it a habit for life) OR after your play party, offer your dog a break.  Then restart engagement at Stage 4 (search this blog for info on that). Both of these will prevent the dog from developing a bad habit of setting up slowly and painfully.

But what if the dog does this regardless of what happened immediately before?  You certainly don’t want to stand around waiting – that’s going to create a really bad habit.

That’s when I look at the actual training.  Is something about the work not much fun, so my dog is avoiding starting or continuing?  Is my dog only showing this behavior in a ring, and is a ring the only place that I ever go from exercise to exercise without reinforcement?  Fix that – train for it! Simply end one exercise, praise, go to a new one, set up – and reinforce there instead.  Then randomize it – sometimes you reward parts of exercises or finished ones.  Sometimes you reward after play.  Sometimes you reward at the set-up. And other times you don’t reinforce with food or toys at all; you just keep going.  Maybe for two exercise or maybe for an entire run through.

When in doubt, it’s pretty safe to assume that the dog is avoiding work, so make that set-up worthwhile for your dog!  You can do that by decreasing the value of whatever happened immediately before, increasing the value of the work that is about to follow, or acclimating your dog to continuous chains before reinforcement happens, but regardless, listen to your dog, because if you’re seeing this in training you’re likely to see it in the ring.  And while you can ignore it in training and talk the dog into cooperating, that doesn’t work nearly as well within a competition.


Seminar dog? Or not.

Posted on

This past weekend I had the pleasure of teaching at a dog training conference with seven instructors over four days. By the end everyone was pretty well exhausted.  Happy, but exhausted.

We all experienced a lack of sleep and routine, erratic eating hours, unusually cold temperatures, and reliance on translators to get our information across. In addition, there was a tremendous amount of information and learning to digest. It was exhausting for both the auditors and the presenters.

And the dogs?

Over the course of the weekend, reactive dogs became more reactive and in some cases, non-reactive dogs began to act out; growling and avoiding, whereas at the start of the weekend they had been calm and tolerant. Instead of sleeping more as the days progressed, some dogs appeared to be unable to sleep at all – constantly awake and attentive to the activities around them.

I was glad I didn’t have a dog with me.  The fact is, seminars can be incredibly stressful for dogs, and not all dogs are cut out for a multi-day event.  The first day might be great but by day four?  You need the right kind of dog to succeed in these circumstances.

What should you do with your dog that is agitated no matter what you do for them?  Cannot relax or sleep?  Becomes reactive or behaves in a distressed fashion?  Or simply shuts down and avoids the whole thing?  What can you do for those dogs?

Ask yourself this question:  Is THIS dogs suitable for THIS event?  Or might THIS dog be better off at home while you attend on your own – gathering as much information as possible and bringing it home to practice in the comfort of your dog’s familiar environment?

I understand that you might want a specific person to see and interact with your dog; maybe to help you gain insight into some long-standing challenge.  But if your dog is struggling and not acting normally then the value of that advice is going to be minimal because the dog isn’t behaving in his normal fashion.  I can’t help you with your precision heeling if your dog is too stressed to eat.  I can’t progress your personal play skills if your dog is still staring at the dog standing near the door.

And it can get worse.  In addition to not benefitting from the conference itself, your dog may end worse off than when you arrived.  Your non-reactive dog may become sensitized as a result of the cumulative stress and lack of sleep, becoming more and more uncomfortable with this environment that closely mimics the dog show. Anyone who has followed my blog over the past few years is well aware that I put a lot of value on working towards a dog that is emotionally confident and secure in the dog show environment; don’t ruin that!

Auditing at seminars is highly underrated, which is unfortunate.  Auditing allows you to listen carefully and quietly without worrying about your dog.  It allows you to consider the advice that you are given without the pressure of actually applying it, and if anything makes you uncomfortable you won’t feel pressured to try it. Auditing allows you to relax and socialize; when you get home you can try anything you want!

People tell me that they learn better when they can apply the skills, so they only attend events if they can work. That’s fine, but in the dog sports, there ar two of you, and both of your interests need to be considered. If your dog is struggling but you brought him so that you could practice, is it possible that you’ll end up frustrated with your dog, because you’re not getting what you want? Over the long run, will that support or erode your progress? Maybe your dog can tolerate a half day or a single day, but not a weekend. Start there.

On the other hand, if you have a dog that can rest anywhere, remains reasonably comfortable over multiple days, and handles long days well, then working your dog with a trusted instructor can be quite valuable.

But until you have that dog, consider leaving your dog at home and coming to your learning event alone.