Monday, March 30, 2009

Dog Breeds: When is the Discrimination Going to Stop???

I know that dogs were bred for specific traits, and that is what makes each breed different. But there are days when I get a little vexed every time I hear someone say "My (insert name of dog breed here) is so: 
  • smart
  • stupid
  • stubborn
  • aggressive
  • dominant
  • talented
  • lazy
  • intelligent 
  • scared of everything
  • obnoxious
  • and the list goes on and on... 
because s/he's a (insert name of dog breed here, again)."

UGH! Okay, yes, there are times when I'll look at my own dog Poncho and say "Oh, you're being such a terrier!" Why? Because his behavior displays more of the "grab-shake-kill" personality - which terriers were bred for and are known for, right? But hey, I'm Irish and Russian - and I'm not much different than most of my non-Irish non-Russian friends... except maybe I sunburn more easily. I do however know a few Irish and Russian folks with olive skin that tan beautifully! So there ya go, once again I can't discriminate. 

I think it's important that we look at our dogs as them being just that: dogs. Yes, each were bred for specific traits - but that doesn't mean they will display those specific traits. It also depends upon environment, upbringing, how behaviors are learned and reinforced... which brings me to a very important question for you: if your dog is doing something specific, are YOU the one rewarding that behavior? And then, are YOU the one blaming the dog for behaving a certain way? Hold yourself accountable before blaming their breed. No excuses for your own behavior! 

So if your dog is "smart", then I can conclude that 1) your dog is motivated to learn 2) that you're pretty darn good at teaching them 3) maybe you took them to a dog training class and learned a few things. 

If your dog is "stubborn", then maybe it's because 1) you haven't taught them what you wanted in a way they understand 2) you have unrealistic expectations 3) you assume because they do something once that they actually know what you're asking them to do. 4) you need to take them to a dog training class 5) you're impatient and get frustrated - which is normal human behavior, therefore, I won't think you're "stubborn". 

So before you start labeling and discriminating against dogs and their breed, ask yourself these questions: is my dog just being a dog? Have I been the one rewarding the behavior? Have I not been rewarding a behavior? Is it MY fault my dog isn't doing what I want him/her to do? 

Sunday, March 29, 2009

AVSAB Finally in "Science" Camp For Dog Training Choice

What a great article to wake up to today! The AVSAB (American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior) has just released an official statement on the better choice to train dogs... and it just so happens, they're the same methods I've been using all along here at the Inquisitive Canine!!! 

It always seemed so ridiculous to incorporate bully behavior to train dogs - I would never learn well that way; I can't imagine a non-human animal learning well with those methods either. 

For more information on Dominance Theory, old fashioned methods, and why it's best not to use these methods, check out their official statement

For training classes that incorporate scientifically sound, proven techniques, that are fun, rewarding, and that get results, check out our website at the inquisitive canine

Monday, March 23, 2009

This Dog Trainer Needs to Refine Her Skills

Okay, before you start saying "What? Huh? What do you mean?" I'm talking specifically about refining my mini-golf skills, not my skills as a dog trainer - I already do that everyday.

Whatever your "skill" is, whether it be dog training, wood carving, snow-boarding, or miniature golf, if you want to do well at something, or achieve the goals you've set for yourself, then you need to practice, practice, and practice again. Remember the old adage, "If you don't use it, you lose it." Well I was living proof of that training every day, mini-golf, uh, not so much. 

I can't recall the last time I played miniature golf - it's been years, I know that. Well, my good friends, (Wild-Web-Women Lorrie Thomas, Emilia Doerr, Nicki Gauthier, and Pamela Sherman) came south from Santa Barbara today to celebrate Emilia's BIG 3-0 B-Day at Golf 'n Stuff here in Ventura. It was a great time! I think I shot about 100 over par...but hey, it was about having fun, not scoring...good thing because Lorrie even mentioned how it had been so long since she used a pencil and paper (versus computer) that she wasn't sure how the scoring was done, so we decided not to...thank goodness. I think she and I both tried to cheat at some point, and couldn't even pull that off! Duh! 

Anyway, having the club in my hand just reminded me how not keeping up with any skill can make you forget... however, the good thing is that it started to come back towards the back nine. So I know that if I stuck with it, I'd probably do better each time. 

Mini-golf isn't as important to me as some of the skills I teach my dog training clients. I explain that taking one class is great to get started, but it certainly doesn't stop there. Of course they don't have to continue taking classes forever, I don't like to add that type of pressure in. But let's face it, "life is training". We humans go through 12+ years just to graduate high school, then onto college or some type of training to get a job... then as we get older we might go back to school for some reason or another - career change or just for fun...Regardless, obtaining skills takes practice! 

So, if you've already taken your dog to a dog training class, go practice those behaviors. If you haven't, think about signing up at the inquisitive canine... Or, teach them how to golf! Poncho would have been able to retrieve our golfballs today when we accidentally hit them into the brush - good think Lorrie enjoyed the rock-climbing. 

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Taking Your Dogs Meal on the Road is a Win-Win For All

I've been taking Poncho out to Kimball Park and the Ventura State Beach a lot lately, training him to run for longer periods of time while on leash... Yes, running for a sustained period of time is new for Poncho the dog... no "marking or sniffing", just exercise... 

Trust me, being a dog trainer I know I need to fulfill Poncho's dogginess, I'm not a tyrant. I make sure I take him on separate outings for sniffing, marking, chasing things, and rolling in dead stinky stuff etc... But for the running/exercise part, it's all about training those slow-twitch fibers...keeping his heart-rate up, and getting his yah-yah's out so he'll want to relax at home, and have better concentration for when he sits at his computer and blogs

What I have found to be quite unsettling is that it seems I'm the only doggy guardian out there using any kind of food rewards for rewarding those behaviors I want! For a dog, I would think going outside into the big beautiful world is like going to Disneyland! And if I want to keep Poncho motivated to run with this old slowpoke, vs romping and playing like a dog...then I'm more than happy to pull out the leftover lunch meat. Not tons of it mind you, I don't want him to get sick,  just little nibbles every once in a while, and only for the action of "running". 

I witness all other dogs either be yelled at, choked, or completely ignored by their guardians - usually because they're into their own world - however, their dog is straining to get to us...just to say *hi*. How horrible this must be for the other dogs. And I must say, I think this behavior on the humans part is hypocritical. We brings snacks for ourselves and/or for the kids. We stop at coffee places, fast food places etc...for our own "rewards", but yet being stingy with our dogs is a good thing. Well, I think not. 

So, I ask you, if you're spending time taking your dog out for walkies, try this experiment: bring some of their meal with you on the road, instead of giving it away for free out of a bowl. They might enjoy walkies more, and you might get those behaviors you want! Oh, and if you're already doing that, then you deserve a treat too! 

If you want to learn more about walking or running your dog with simple successful techniques, you might want to join in on one of my classes at the inquisitive canine studio or Ventura's rewarding for everyone. 

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Isn't it time to look at how we "treat" our dogs?

Okay folks, heads up! This Ventura dog trainer says it's time we look at "treats" and rewarding our dogs in a new way. I've been doing this myself for quite awhile now, and I'd love for you to join me in this new way of thinking. 

I think we, as humans, are programmed to look at the word "treat" as that something extra we "earn" doing something that's considered "difficult" for us. Maybe something mentally challenging like studying for an exam, and passing with flying colors, "Hey I deserve a treat tonight." Or little Johnny getting an "A" so he gets a piece of cake. Maybe something physically challenging like training and competing in a celebrate, athletes will take themselves out for a nice meal...or ice-cream! Or parents will take their kids for pizza after a game. We earn it, we deserve it... If we don't do something extra special we don't get it... 

Okay, that's fine for ourselves, but what about our pet dogs? Most people end up giving their dogs their meals out of a bowl without asking them to do much of anything besides "sit" before it's placed on the floor... big deal. Then I get training calls about needing help with being quiet in the yard, jumping up to greet people, walking poorly on leash... Well geez, why not use your dogs meal and give them pieces of it whenever they're doing something you want? This way your dog is "earning" it, but you're training at the same time...getting more "bang for your bowl" so to speak. 

I've been taking Poncho out a lot, all over town, teaching him to run next to me while on leash. I seem to be the only one using "treats"... but what I'm actually using is his meal. Sure I'm using higher value stuff because I want the behavior badly, so I'm going to use something more least for now. Once he "gets it" and is trained, I'll be able to use less and less... or something lower value. 

I'm not looking at it as "rewards", I'm looking at it as his meal, his daily sustenance, and when we're running I look at it as his personal "aid station". I mean come on! When I'm running a race there are aid stations every mile! Water, electrolyte drinks, oranges, energy gels, banana's, protein bars, and much more.... a lot of non-food items too - just to make everyone happy and as comfortable as they can be. So why can't I be Poncho's "aid station"? His kibble, turkey, and roast beef are equivalent to my energy gels and protein bars? 

So the next time you pack your own lunch, your own snack, your kids snacks, or pass through the burger drive-through or a Starbuck's, remember to pack snackies for your dog too... then use them to reward those behaviors you want! 

BTW, this ice-cream moment was because Poncho's dad happened to be eating an ice-cream and Poncho ignored the mail truck driving by...that's a huge "win" in my book! Bonus! 

Saturday, March 7, 2009

This Ventura Dog Trainer Takes Her Own Advice

For the past month or so this Ventura dog trainer has been spending more time training her own dog Poncho to "run" while on leash, versus sniffing/marking/shuffling along... I know he is a dog, and dogs enjoy doing those things. I would never ever want to deny Poncho his normal doggy-like behaviors, but I also want him to get some exercise - outside of the yard - that doesn't involve fetching his toys and going nuts when the mail-truck comes by...(yep, that behavior is a tough one, and another post...) 

My hubby (Poncho's rockin' "Disneyland" dad) takes him out all the time here in Ventura, but he allows Poncho does whatever he wants...again, no real "training" involved. So how can I expect Poncho to know what to do when neither of us has ever taught him.... So I did, and I have to say, it's been going great! Being a runner myself, it's been very rewarding for me... we're working up to a 5K to run together...if we can find a course that allows dogs... Santa Barbara is usually good for this...I'll have to check with the Santa Barbara Running Club

Anyway, I had realized that Poncho wasn't great at running on leash, because he's never been trained to do so! I always tell my students, "if your dog isn't performing a certain behavior, ask yourself 'Have I ever taught them?' " Duh! Hello? No, I haven't taught him! Maybe I should!!! Poncho loves when I listen to what I tell my own manners class students... And so I have, and we're progressing quite nicely. 

This is how I've done it:
  • Reward what I want: in this case, it's "running" next to me. 
  • "Click and treat" for "running" motion. 
  • Feed for position: provide the reward with him still next to me, not falling back behind me or crossing in front of me. 
  • Use high value rewards: chicken, leftover grilled sirloin. Only when he's in running mode
  • Use kibble for walking but moving forward...
  • Allow sniff breaks here and there (so I can rest)... 
If you ever want to join me and Poncho, we've mostly been going to Kimball Park here in Ventura because there are very few interruptions and loose dogs. I'll be the one rewarding my dog for running - cheering him on and handing out goodies - sort of like the aid stations at races, but instead of Gatorade and energy gels, I hand out chicken... Geez, I hope they have meat at the races... muffin crumbs work too. 

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

It's all in how you look at it: training versus a chore

Here's a question (or two) for all of you dog folks out there:

Do you exercise with your dog? Do you look at walking your dog as a chore? or something fun to do together...? A nice break in the day if you will...

I realized that just like me and my running, setting a goal is a great way to stay motivated. I looked around for a dog-friendly race so Poncho and I could go together, and lucky for us we found a few... Thank you Santa Barbara Athletic Association! So now I'm not only taking Poncho for walkies, but we're actually in training! At least that's how I'm looking at it... 

I wonder if that "Mom's in Motion" group will start a sub-group called "Dog Moms in Motion"? I've asked... and have been ignored... bummer... I bet they'd get a lot more people signing up!

What are your goals with your pets when it comes to "exercise"?

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Sunday Pomp & Circumstance: Canine Manners Class Graduates today

What a great day it was today! My first Canine Good Manners class of 2009 graduated today here in Ventura. Such a lovely group. Dogs were showing off their skills by checking in and paying attention to their guardians during discussion time, as well as all the other manners skills, while practicing their loose leash walking, going in and out of the studio, and the ever popular "leave it!"... Brandy even learned to ignore the enticing paper napkin his "parents" tempted him with. 

Riley is getting better at remaining quiet and sitting to greet. Ferris was meeting dogs and people without hesitation. Dickens stayed focus during the more difficult exercise of dogs walking around him in close proximity. And Kona, who is one of the youngest, really showed off her sit and down stay with increased duration and distance... 

All of the guardians really figured out how to troubleshoot as they went along, and that was one of my main goals; this is what I find to be rewarding... Sure it's great for dogs to perform all of the general behaviors in the studio here in Ventura, but it really means a lot to me when I see the human handlers getting what they want their dogs to do with the skills I've taught them. And then being able to figure out what they need to do in case their dog doesn't "get it" the first time. Click-treat for the humans!