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Category Archives: Musings

Cue Discrimination

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For the new AKC Cue Discrimination Exercise, your goal will be to teach your dog to listen to a specific position cue like sit, down or stand without creeping towards you.

How might you accomplish that?

First I would suggest separating out the challenges.

  1.  Listening for the correct cue. Dogs are generally not very good at listening, so you will need to work on teaching the dog to respond correctly. You do have the option of combining the verbal with the hand signal, though I would suggest teaching each one individually and then combining them only as needed for an “extra strong” cue.
  2.  Distance.   Distance is the last thing I add to cue discrimination. Instead, I practice the positions up close, but I add varying levels of complexity. For example, can my dog sit on cue when they are on an uneven surface? Can my dog sit on cue when there’s a cookie on the floor nearby?  You can check out this video if you want to understand that concept better:
  3.  Don’t creep forward! Dogs tend to be motivated to get back to us, so the biggest challenge with doing positions at a distance is that the dog starts to creep in. This can be caused by calling our dog after we do our positions, but as often as not, it simply because our dogs want to return. Heck, we are the source of all good things! We have food, toys, and personality, so it’s understandable that our dogs are in a hurry to get back to us.

How can you teach your dog to perform positions at a distance without creeping in?

First, I like to teach my dogs to do their positions on a platform. That pretty much prevents the issue of creeping altogether, because the dog has no choice. When that is solid, I teach my dogs to perform with their front feet on a target. The idea is the same, except it’s a lot easier to fade it. The dog learns to hold their front feet still and work their rear end.  This generally ends with a tuck sit and a fold back down.

When it’s time to start doing multiple positions in a row I like to back my dog up between cues. For example sit, back. Down, back. Etc. You get the idea.

When that looks okay, I combined the cues with the targets, moving backward. For example, ask the dog to sit with their feet on a target. Then back the dog onto the next target, and ask for a new position. Eventually, I also stop the dog between targets and ask for positions there as well.  If I want to do a recall, I have the dog run around a cone behind them first so they are rarely reinforced for coming in directly.

Below is a video example.

One final note…consider working on a single position per target 90% of the time – the more you work several in a row, the higher the odds that the dog will start to worry and then you’ll see errors.

This video is unedited so you can see how I handle errors.

Do words matter?

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Do words affect our thoughts, feelings, and responsive actions?

If I “cue” you to sit in a chair, what is your reaction? What is the language that suggests a cue? What relationship might we build from there?

If I “direct” you to sit in a chair, what is your reaction? What is the language of direction? What relationship might we build from there?

And if I “command” or “order” you to sit in a chair, what is your reaction? What is the language and emotion behind a command or an order? What relationship might we build from there?

In all cases you are now sitting in a chair (or not) but…how do you feel about it? How do you feel about me?  How do I feel about you, and my ability (or power) to make you do things?

And if you opt not to sit in the chair for any reason, what do each of these words suggest will happen next?

In the year 2018, I’d really like to think that most of us have removed the word “command” or “order” from our vocabulary under the vast majority of circumstances. At best, the implication is that failure to respond may well be met with some type of force or negative consequence and at worst, it poisons our thinking vis a vis the other.

Does it matter what we say? What we call these words that we generate in our thoughts and express from our mouths?

Yes, it absolutely does.

“Command” comes from a military model of the world.  It assumes both a hierarchy and a punishment based system. One being has authority over another and a system of punishing consequences is well established to deal with those who fail to comply.

I cannot remember the last time I commanded anyone to do anything.  Not even when I worked with inmates in a locked facility (7 years!).  I didn’t command people to do things. I directed them. “Commanding” obedience would have been a good way to end up on the wrong side of a very angry group of individuals, and the general consensus among both staff and management was that avoiding adversarial interactions was an excellent idea.  My position power was enough to either get the job done or to provide me with excellent leverage should I have needed it.

And when I fired people for a living (3 years!)?  I often advised managers of challenging employees to “order” an employee to do something that was currently not happening.  I did this because it was a legal requirement before termination, not because I thought it was a good idea.

And what happened after orders were given?  Well, the “ordered” individual either did or did not comply, but they sure turned into a sullen mess from that day forward, pretty much ensuring the misery of everyone around them even as they managed to stay on the “right” side of employment.  No surprise there.   Commanding and ordering others is surely one of the ugliest forms of interaction.  No one thrives on being powerless, and no healthy relationship thrives that way either.

Language matters.

There’s no reason for a person to command another person.  If you are a teacher, judge, or evaluator, go ahead and direct others.  There is no reason to “command” your dog either.  Cue him and take your decision making from there as well.

Maybe it’s time to stop thinking in terms of having your “commands” obeyed or disobeyed and start thinking in terms of creating circumstances that allow for a win/win.  To get there, choose words which align with the relationship you’d like to have.

Next week I’ll give you some ideas about training in a manner that avoids forward creep in the new Cue Discrimination Exercise in AKC Open Obedience.

 

Note: Late registration at Fenzi Dog Sports Academy wraps up on Thursday the 15th, so pick your class and get registered if you’ve been procrastinating!

 

 

 

FDSA Podcasts. Free!

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I like playing with dogs.  I also like writing.

I do not like reinventing the wheel so rather than writing about play, I’m going to encourage you to listen to a conversation on that topic.

Yesterday I was interviewed for a 30-minute podcast for FDSA on the topic of play.  Click the link if you want to listen to it.

Nothing to buy and I covered a lot of ground!  Why I play with dogs.  What you can learn when you play with your dog.  How to play…in particular, how to get started.  And why I think it matters if you play with your dog – for competition purposes and otherwise.

Plus, since the FDSA podcast happens every week, you might find an entire laundry list of other topics that interest you.  Those are free too.

Here’s a direct link to all of our podcasts.  Recent topics include balancing drive and control, gaining a more reliable recall, developing fitness in your dog, and optimal arousal levels for performance. Next week Julie Flanery will talk about “Things you didn’t learn in puppy class.” If you have a really really really long drive ahead of you, that will do the ticket.  Hundreds of hours of listening right there.

Thousands of episodes are downloaded or read each time we release a new one.  If you want them downloaded to your phone each week, instructions for doing that (for Apple and Android) are given right at the top when you click the link.  So read through that and you’ll be good to go.

And if you’re more of a reader than a listener then that’s good too, because we transcribe all of our podcasts.

For free.

Sensing a theme here?

If you have specific topics that you’d like covered, go ahead and mention them in the comments!  We’ll see what we can do.

 

 

The science of words. Or is it the words of science?

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Here’s a puzzle for you based on the “Stroop Effect”

Name the colors of the following words.  Don’t read the words; name the colors.  For example, you would say red, blue, green, if you were going across the top line.

colors2

How did you do?  It’s hard!  That’s because our brain is wired to read words over processing colors; we’re forcing our brains into an uncomfortable position.

Which is how I feel about the four quadrants.  Let’s look:

Positive?   Science says to GIVE something to the dog!   And the average, English speaking, human brain? The brain says that positive means GOOD.

Negative? Science says to TAKE something!  And the average English speaking human brain?  The word negative means BAD.

Reinforcement?   The average human brain says it’s something we like, regardless of the effect on our behavior.  And science?   Well, not so much.  It’s defined by its effect on behavior.  If the behavior increases then it’s reinforcement.   Otherwise, nope.

How about Punishment?   The average human brain says it’s something that we want to avoid regardless of the effect.   And science? It’s not punishment, no matter how much the dog doesn’t like it, if it doesn’t decrease behavior.

Now, add the pluses and minuses to the reinforcement and punishment and you have fodder for hours of human brain puzzles.

This inherent contradiction between our innate use of language to organize the world and the words that represent the four quadrants will never go away.  It will never get better.  The struggle will continue until dog trainers internalize that we are torturing college students, future trainers and random pet people alike. And, in my opinion, to no particular benefit. Note that I said “torture” rather than punishing – that’s my nod to science cause…it’s not having the desired effect.  They don’t develop enough fluency with the concept to make it useful to their training.  They just suffer.

If you care, and you spend a lot of time working at it, you can override your natural inclination to apply the relevant word connotations, and actually master the quadrants.   Unfortunately, when things get weird, for example, a forced retrieve is negative reinforcement, then you will probably always spend a few seconds, or minutes, chewing on it before you get the right answer.

As applied trainers, there are other approaches that may work a whole lot better.

I ask myself three questions:

1. Is the dog engaged or disengaged?

2. Is the dog content or distressed?

3 Am I getting closer to my behavior goal?

If any of those are answered no, then I have a problem. I need to take a good look at my training and figure out what needs to change.

If you use the quadrants to get you to the same result, then all is well.  But if keeping the quadrants straight in your head is taking so much energy that you have nothing left for dog training?  Consider changing your approach.

If I had it my way, the four quadrants would disappear off the face of the earth. But since that’s not going to happen,  I’ll just offer up my solution.

It works for me. Maybe it will work for you.

Free classes at FDSA

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My guess is that most people who follow this blog know that I own an online school. It’s called Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, and we are currently registering for the February Term.

We average about 40 classes each term, and cover pretty much everything from foundation skills to nosework to obedience to behavior to agility to….more.   At $65 for a bronze level class, it’s a good deal, and we have a generous scholarship program if you need a little help with your tuition. Just visit our site and follow the “new student” link to learn more at http://www.fenzidogsportsacademy.com

Online, you can learn quite a bit from world class instructors who are committed to teaching both you and your dog with kindness and respect.  If you haven’t tried it, take a look and see what you think.

To encourage you to check it out you can enter the contest.  Just click on the link below, take a look at the February schedule, and tell us what class you would like to win for you and a friend. If you wish, you can also be placed on our mailing list, but that’s completely optional.  Just enter the first part and close the contest if you prefer not to be on the mailing list.

I hope to see some new faces this term!   If you’re struggling to pick a class, send me a note through Facebook Messenger and I’ll see what I can do for you.

We are worldwide, convenient, feature truly excellent instructors, and offer all of this at a tremendous value.   We also have a very strong online support community through our Facebook groups.

What more could you want?

Free bronze level class at FDSA for you and a friend!

Molecular Redistribution

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Here on my blog I generally talk about dog training, but on Facebook, I cover a good deal more territory.

The following conversation is one of a regular series of conversations that I have with my 13-year-old dog, Raika.  Some of our conversations are funny and some are sad, but many will ring true for anyone who has the pleasure, and heartbreak, of owning a dog coming near the end of her life.

I am placing this conversation here so that others can find it again, should they want to read it in the future, quite possibly when they find themselves facing their own dog’s molecular redistribution. You can find more by searching #Raika on Facebook or simply following me there.

Molecular Redistribution:

Raika: When I go through my molecular redistribution, I am going to give Brito my quietness.

Mom: Your molecular redistribution?  

Raika: Yes, when my molecules get redistributed wherever they are needed. I will give Brito my quiet voice. He sure needs it. And I think I will give Lyra my loyalty so she can help take care of you.

Mom: Raika, I truly have no idea what you’re talking about.

Raika: Don’t you remember your molecular acquisition day?

Mom: As a matter fact, I do not. Go right ahead and explain it to me.

Raika: Well, right before I was born, I got my personality molecules. My emotions, my habits, my clever nature; little things like that.  The bits that make me, me!

Mom: You did?

Raika: Of course.  Didn’t that happen to you right before you were born?

Mom: I have no idea. I cannot remember before I was born.

Raika: That has got to be one of the saddest things I’ve ever heard! I’m very sorry about that. Molecular acquisition day was probably the most exciting day of my life!  As each one came, I learned a little bit more and became a bit more me.  I found out that I was going to be witty and sharp and an amazing problem solver. Plus I knew I was going to be a little bit bossy. That’s why I pushed my way to the front of the line; I figured I better show my littermates the way out. No time like the present to get started on your destiny.

Mom:  Where did your molecules come from?

Raika: From dogs that have passed on. When their body is gone then their personality molecules get distributed wherever they are needed.

Mom: So they go to puppies?

Raika:  Not necessarily. For example, if an adult dog is grumpy, and if he is working on it, then he might get a cheerful molecule to help with his grumpiness, even though he’s all grown up.  Of course, the one that happens right before birth is the big one and sets the stage, but the distribution process never truly ends, which is why we can grow and change.  In short, the redistribution keeps all of the personality traits of the world in balance.

Mom:  Raika, I can’t believe you never told me this before.  So that’s what happens after you die? You go through a molecular redistribution? And you give all of your personality molecules to wherever they are needed?

Raika: Well I can’t say I know the exact process because my time hasn’t come yet. I know how we get them, but not how we give them away.  But when the time comes, I’ll give you a few molecules for sure.  

Mom: You can give me your molecules?

Raika:  I think so.  I think you might need some small bits of me to help you with the sadness.  And I’ll request that they be lodged directly in your heart, so you’ll feel me near.

Raika: Mom are you crying? Don’t cry!

Mom:  I’m not crying.  Just a little cold is making my eyes water.

Raika:  I’m sorry to hear that.  Maybe a walk and some fresh air will do you good?

Mom:  Yes, that’s probably a good plan.  And Raika?

Raika:  Yeah?

Mom: I think you’re right.  When the time comes I’m going to need those molecules. Probably a lot of them.  So don’t forget, okay?

Raika:  I won’t forget.  

The need for space

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I do a huge amount of training in my house.   I do that because it’s quiet, it’s familiar to my dog, and it’s convenient for me.     That is very much a winning proposition, and the convenience allows me to get in several tiny sessions per day if I wish to do so.

Unfortunately, after a reasonably short amount of time, I will have taught the behaviors that my dog can learn inside. Sit, down, stay, pick up an object, etc. I can add proofing, and I can add in fun little games, but at the end of the day…

I need space.

I need space to create behavior chains.   The way I get off endless cookies is primarily through behavior chains, and there are relatively few that I can do in my house.

I need space for play.   I like to build energy for work with toys, and I’m not willing to play tug or fetch with a 50-pound dog in my bedroom on hardwood floors.

I need space to bring joy to the work. Dogs like to move their bodies. If you want flow in your training, so that you and your dog begin to ‘feel’ the work, then you need to free up the dog to move and express themselves.  You can’t get that in your bedroom.

I’m not talking about the generalization of skills. It can be your own backyard or a local training building for all I care. I’m talking about movement; the joy that comes when the work becomes more interesting, and that includes running and movement. Expressing joy.

What if you have no space? You live in an apartment and there are no training buildings nearby?   The weather outside is consistently too horrible to train there?

I don’t know.

I’m serious. I would give you suggestions if I had them, but at the end of the day, if your goal is to get into any sort of competition with a freed up dog who finds joy in the work, you need to allow the dog to move so that it becomes part of the dog’s training habit.

I find it incredibly hard to get off a fairly continuous stream of reinforcement if I cannot move around freely with my dog. How you do that in your house? Well, like all things you can be super creative, but it’s not the same.

Personally, I like to incorporate movement into my training early on, with a puppy. I do it in my own training yard so that they will be comfortable, but it doesn’t change the fact that by the time a puppy has been here a week or two, a decent percentage of their training actually takes place in the yard.

Precision skills? In the house. Probably for the rest of their lives. Flow? Freedom of movement? Games? Fetch or toy play?  Developing a love of training independent of cookies?   Mostly in the yard or in any larger training space. A space with good footing for running.  Space where the dog isn’t always within 3 feet of a wall.

Give some thought to the percentages of your training which take place in an open space, and the percentage which take place in a closed space. Then consider what you use each of the spaces for.

Think about creating a plan to bring those two together.   If you do not, if you stay in your small home space and work endlessly on precision skills, you might find it extremely difficult to get off of the cookies and use the joy of flow, movement and training later on, when you want to go into competition.