Friday, April 26, 2013

The Perfect Correction

The other day I was having breakfast with my son and I had an epiphany.  He was eating toast with peanut butter and jam.  My son is 4 years old so you can imagine pb & j and a 4 year old equal sticky stuff everywhere.  I had given him a wet cloth to wipe his face and hands when he needed to.  We were having a conversation and he went to use his sleeve to wipe his face and I said hey, nothing harsh just a mild hey what are you doing.  He instantly stopped looked at me and smiled said "oh yeah" and used the cloth to wipe his mouth.

What do we want from a correction?  We want the dog to perform the correct behaviour in this situation.  What do we not want from a correction?  Suppression, this does not help us in any way to help our dogs understand the correct behaviour.  Fear, same as suppression, useless in training.  Avoidance, in some situations may be useful but will the dog only avoid when you are standing right next to him and is the dog just looking for ways to perform the incorrect behaviour and get away with it.

Why is this a perfect correction?  I stopped him from practicing the incorrect behaviour.  He had enough value for the correct behaviour that as soon as I made him stop for a minute he chose the correct behaviour.  The correction did not suppress him in any way, after wiping his mouth he went right back to chattering about whatever we were talking about before and didn't give it a second thought.  The next time he went to wipe his mouth he remembered and used the cloth.

What is typical and nowhere near as effective correction?  Anger, how dare the dog do the incorrect behaviour, he should know better.  Physical force, it is felt that if physical discomfort is associated with the correction the dog will remember better next time.  Repetition, corrections happen over and over for the same behaviour with no change in action from the dog.

What can be done to make our corrections more effective?  Have you built enough value for the correct behaviour.  I stop a lot of behaviours with the collar grab, so I need to have built enough value for the collar grab.  Have you overfaced your dog, meaning are you putting your dog in a situation where the chance of success are nil.  Have you allowed your dog to earn reward from continually practicing the incorrect behaviour.  If there is a huge history of the incorrect behaviour it is going to take a lot of management and value building for the dog to perform the correct behaviour.

When you are working through all of this some thoughts to keep in mind.  Do you have management tools in place to prevent the dog from earning reinforcement from the incorrect behaviour?  If your dog has made the incorrect choice three times than change something he obviously doesn't get it.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Reactive Dogs and Your Emotional State

It always amazes me how my dogs react to my emotional state.  I have always known, dogs are very sensitive to the emotions of those around them.  Every now and then my emotional state is completely out of wack, for whatever reason and my dogs reactions become obvious especially my Siberian Max.

This past week my father was rushed to the ER and thankfully is on the mend but my Border Collie is looking all sad and worried.  I am wondering how much of that is due to my fragile state and/or the fact that I have been away a lot this and he hasn't had his usual share of exercise or attention.  It doesn't take much to throw Iggy of his game and this is a double whammy.

About 6 years ago we were moving.  Anyone who has gone through the buying and selling ordeal know how it stresses a person out.  You could say it was the packing that was making him nervous but because we had not sold our original house we did not pack until the very last week and Max started acting weird 2-3 weeks before the move date.  Max has always been a reactive, high strung dog.  By this time he was 6 years old so he had mellowed and wasn't usually a problem.  In the weeks leading up to the move he start guarding things; bones, bed, etc.  Not from me or my husband just from anyone else.

The same thing happened when I was pregnant. I had a very bad cold and of course being pregnant couldn't take anything.  Again Max starting guarding   The couch, food, etc.  Just really goes to show how your emotional state affects the emotional state of your dog.

You really have to be aware of your state when dealing with a reactive dog.  When Max was very young he was extremely reactive with other dogs.  We worked through it and by the time he was 2 years old was reasonably good around other dogs.  Meaning he could go to situation with a lot of dogs in close proximity such as a dog show but still couldn't handle a dog in his face.  I was at a Walkathon and there were dogs everywhere.  Max was with me and was handling it fine.  I was having a conversation with someone and they were starting to annoy me.  We weren't arguing but there was definitely a discussion happening.  All of a sudden Max started to react at dogs 10 feet away that had been fine a few minutes earlier.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Classes vs One-on-One Training

Thanks to Ian Dunbar, the father of positive dog training, the general public now understands that training your dog is in your best interest.  The life of the pet dog has changed and with it the need for training has drastically increased.  The biggest change is probably the amount of time that dogs now spend inside the house.  It has also been drilled into our heads to socialize, socialize, socialize.  This is how the dog training class was born.  You get a puppy and you take it to puppy or beginner class.  Your job is done.

What I see in my classes is not dog's who are undersocialized but dogs that are over socialized.  Most of these dogs spend the first 4 weeks losing their minds because of all the other dogs and people in the room.  The owners spend the time just holding on.  Don't get me wrong, I think dog training classes are a great step towards having a well trained dog, I just don't think they are a first step.

In my opinion first you train your dog.  That means your dog has a clear understanding of cues.  Walking on leash, coming when called, sit, stay.  Now you add distractions that you can control.  Can you do all this with your food bowl on the floor, with a child in the room, with a child running by, with your toy nearby.  Once a dog can accomplish this then you bring him to dog class and ask him to perform in this level of distraction.  It is hard for most dogs, the brain just cannot keep it together under the onslaught of distractions.

Starting with some one-on-one lessons walks you through these steps.  This way when you step into the class you and your dog have skills to fall back on.  To me this seems a much better approach then practicing the behaviour you are there to get rid of.

Friday, April 5, 2013

With The Warm Weather Come The Ticks

Over the last few years I am amazed at the number of ticks my dogs are bringing home, I was particularly disturbed when I found out ticks can attach to people too.  I thought it would be appropriate to make sure you have good information available to you.  How to remove a tick?  What are the concerns if you find a tick?  What are the symptoms of lyme disease.

Government of Ontario paper on lyme disease

The Star - Toronto based newspaper

Public Health Agency of Canada

The Ottawa Sun

All of the article pretty well say the same thing and that is that tick numbers are on the rise and we have to at least be knowledgeable about what to look for and how to remove them.  I was happy to read that if the tick is removed within 24 hour the chance of acquiring lyme disease is almost nil and doesn't really go up until after 48 hours.  This means if you check your dogs after walks you are pretty safe.  The other nice fact is only 10% of ticks carry lyme disease.

Happy reading.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

So Simple

I was sitting at an agility seminar yesterday with my wonderful boy and I had a realization.  Sometimes it doesn't take very much effort to get a noticeable improvement but it does take some effort.

I am hoping to have a fast Border Collie and I am realistic in the fact that I won't be that fast.  Therefore there are certain skills that I will need.  One is the ability to send my dog to an obstacle far away with speed and confidence.  At a previous seminar I learned how to teach your dog to drive forward when I do a hard step in that directions.  I now teach this to all my students.  I have worked this with my dog but not to death by any means.  This comes out of my toolbox every few weeks and I send him around something.  Sometimes a tree or a car, whatever is around.  Yesterday I saw the results, he was great on his sends.  He had confidence and speed, mission accomplished.

This brought to my attention that the same thing can be accomplished with general everyday obedience with huge improvements for very little effort.  Pick one thing you would like to change.  For example jumping on company.  The spend 3 minutes a day working on this for a week.  In this case it would be sitting as they approach people.  You can practice on family members, or be really good and find some strangers on the street or a neighbour.  If nobody is around you could do this to a food bowl.  Step, sit, step sit, step, sit, etc.  Rewarding the sit every time.

Have fun with your huge results.