September 16th 2009 6:27 pm
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Is Training Always the Answer? Training vs. Management
September 16th 2009 5:32 pm
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It's a cold Saturday in upstate New York, the kind of day where everything is covered in ice, deicing salts, or both. Four future training superstars gather at the Clicking with Canines facility in Endicott, NY to attend a KPA workshop weekend presented by my business partner Steve Benjamin.
KPA is a lot of work for both the dogs and the people, so we took a short break to allow the students to take their dogs out for potty breaks and get some fresh, if not bitter cold air and stretch their legs a bit. Many of the dogs live further south than Binghamton, and are no more pleased with the bitter winds and cold temperatures than I. Some of the dogs with shorter coats are, in fact, shivering and can only be outside for a few minutes at a time.
The KPA students attending are talented trainers with a great understanding of dog behavior. They understand one of the fundamental differences between positive training and traditional training: positive trainers blame a breakdown in the training process when a dog doesn't respond appropriately to a cue, traditional trainers blame the dog. We are taught to tape ourselves training and review the tapes to evaluate the clearness and precision of our cues, to be quiet with our bodies and "let the clicker do the talking." If the behaviors are proofed for all aspects of fluency, and the cues are clear, why on earth would our dogs ever NOT respond to the cue?
Some people attribute poor cue response to dominance, some to spite, some to stubbornness or willfulness. I am guessing that 99% of the time the response is: either you haven't proofed the behavior well enough or something about offering the behavior makes the dog uncomfortable.
One student learned the hard way, a lesson well-taught from his beautiful but very short haired mix breed dog.
We approached the building together, eager to get some relief from the cold. Like many of the students, this particular individual has their dog on a "Nothing in Life is Free" protocol, which means the dog earns life rewards through the performance of cued and desirable behaviors. Think of all the things you give your dog, and all the things that your dog can give you. You should expect something from the latter category in return for giving your dog something from the former category.
As we neared the door, the student cued his dog, "sit." I would bet that this dog had performed "sit" thousands of times, in dozens of different environments. The behavior was well proofed, so why wouldn't this dog sit?
I asked for the dog's leash. Once I had the leash in hand, I turned to the student and said, "you know how to sit, right? You know what the word means?"
"OK," I said, "take your pants off and sit on the ice in your skivvies." I think he thought I'd lost my mind. I was hoping to teach him to think about things from his dog's perspective.
Needless to say, the student did not respond to my cue, even though he understood the cue and its connection to the behavior. Why didn't he want to sit on the ice in his undies? Because ice is cold, and it is uncomfortable to sit on. So are deicing salts, I'd imagine.
It is always important to consider, if you are cueing a behavior that you have proofed well and your cue is clean and clear, environmental factors and stressors which may make it difficult, uncomfortable, or impossible for your dog to comply with the cue.
Example: Dogs don't like to sit on ice.
Example: Reactive dogs are not disobeying a cue if you ask for a down stay in the presence of another dog; you are simply asking for an operant behavior in a situation where your dog is responding emotionally.
Example: A student was teaching her dog to leg weave, but was lined up incorrectly, effectively asking her dog to walk into a wall. Needless to say, the dog did not respond to the handler's weave cue.
Whenever you are cueing behaviors, evaluate the situation and note carefully differences between your dog's usual response. If you have practiced to the level of distractions in the environment and your dog shuts down, maybe something is wrong. Maybe your dog is not disobedient but is in fact in pain or experiencing a high level of stress.
If there are behaviors your dog usually performs with joy and suddenly you get no or lackluster response to the cue, consider if something in the environment may be discouraging your dog, and think too about your dog's health - is there something painful or uncomfortable about responding to their cue?
Some dogs want to respond to a well taught cue so badly that they will do so despite physical discomfort. This can end up backfiring and poisoning your cue, the dog will associate the cue with discomfort and thus will not respond as reliably to your cue in the future because sometimes, responding to the cue hurts!
In any training, make sure that your cues are clear and concise, and that you are realistic about your dog's response to the cue in relation to how well you have proofed it. If your normally enthusiastic jumper all of the sudden lays down or goes into her crate when you cue her favorite behavior, it may not be a training problem, but a physical problem.
Training should be fun for you and your dog, but will not be fun for your dog if it hurts her. Remember the KPA student, who was well-intentioned, tried hard to be the best student he could be, understood the cue very well, and still could not comply with my request for a cued behavior because it would have been both socially and physically uncomfortable for him; and keep this in mind if your dog's normally enthusiastic cue responses start to break down.
August 24th 2009 10:03 pm
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PERMISSION TO CROSS POST w/ credit to Casey Lomonaco, KPA CTP, Rewarding Behaviors Dog Training (www.rewardingbehaviors.com).
Regardless of your political views on the war in the Middle East, I believe we can all agree that the men and women who serve in our country's armed forces are courageous patriots and deserve the full support of those who they defend.
How can we as pet people help out the brave soldiers who have vowed to protect us? Consider fostering an animal for armed forces personnel serving overseas. Soldiers who have human families may be lucky enough to find that a caring relative will offer a place to live for a beloved pet while the soldier serves on active duty. Others are not so lucky, having no human family or no family members who are able/willing to bring one or more dogs and/or cats into their homes. These soldiers find themselves facing an incredibly difficult decision - what happens to a soldier's dog when he leaves for Iraq?
It is difficult enough to leave one's home for dangerous combat half a world a way. The world each soldier is entering into is foreign and dangerous, and each must say goodbye to the things that make his country worth defending - life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. For those of us who share our lives with animals, it is difficult to imagine how happiness can be pursued without them, and they are certainly a vital part of our lives.
It is no different for the men and women in our armed forces. Many are placed into situations where the only apparent alternative is to turn their furry best friends over to an animal shelter. Most will pray that their dog finds a new family. Many of these prayers will go unanswered, and the dogs and cats of heroes end up as statistics; one of faceless millions who travels to the Rainbow Bridge at the end of a needle, victims of the devastation that is pet overpopulation.
WHAT YOU CAN DO TO HELP
What can you do to help these men and women? Consider opening your home as a foster home for a serviceman or servicewoman's companion animal. There are wonderful organizations which specialize specifically in finding temporary foster homes for the pets (dogs, cats, chickens, horses, and a variety of other species) of military employees serving active duty.
OPERATION NOBLE FOSTER -
specializing in finding foster homes for cats belonging to servicemen and servicewomen
Operation Noble Foster specializes in finding temporary foster homes for cats belonging to military personnel. Check out their page "Basics of Fostering Cats for Military" for more information. Want to sign up and offer your home to a military kitty? Here is a link to the foster application
NetPets is different from Operation Noble Foster in that they do not place restrictions on the species of the foster animal in question. If you are interested in applying to be a foster parent for The MilitaryPetsFOSTER Project©, this link will bring you to their application for foster parents.
CONSIDERATIONS FOR FOSTER PARENTS
Do you have the room to bring another dog, cat, horse, chicken, or sheep into your life?
Do you have the finances? These organizations are volunteer run and are charitable organizations - you will likely be responsible for the veterinary bills, food, and other expenses associated with the animal's care while it lives in your home.
Concerned about how to introduce your foster pet to your existing household pets? If you need a little guidance, do not hesitate to ask a behavioral professional for help (www.greatdogtrainers.com).
IF YOU CANNOT FOSTER, DONATE OR VOLUNTEER!
You may not be able to foster for whatever reason, but that doesn't mean you are unable to help the effort. Both organizations accept tax-deductible donations on their websites.
Alternatively, if you have a well-visited website, consider writing an article about these programs, or post one of the organizations' banners on your websites to bring much-needed recognition to the plight of military pets needing foster homes.
If you are already involved with rescues, Operation Noble Foster offers the following link for tips on how you can help both with military cat rescue and provides contact information for individuals who can help if your rescue accepts other species of pets.
IF YOU ARE A SERVICEMAN OR SERVICEWOMEN LOOKING FOR A FOSTER HOME FOR YOUR BEST FRIEND
First, let me extend my heartfelt gratitude to you for your willingness to sacrifice, putting it all on the line, to defend a nation you believe in.
One sacrifice I hope none of you will ever have to make is that of a safe homecoming, welcomed warmly by those you love the most; those who have whispered countless prayers in your name during your absence, and those whose tails may have wagged less since you departed. All of you deserve to come home to the same thumping tail wag or enthusiastic kitty "mrao" that you left behind when you responded to the call of duty.
FINDING A FOSTER HOME FOR YOUR MILITARY KITTY
Here is Operation Noble Foster's Basic Information for Military Personnel. From their website, you can also find suggested foster contracts (which can be modified to suit the needs of both soldier and foster parent). You will be able to view applications from potential foster parents, contact references, ask any questions you might have to find the right home for your cat. While you are keeping your country safe, a kitty owner with a big heart might just open her home and keep your cat safe in return - contact Operation Noble Foster today to explore foster homes and opportunities for your favorite feline.
FINDING A FOSTER HOME FOR ALL OTHER MILITARY PETS
If you are a soldier looking for a foster home for your pets (and you do not have kitties), visit the home page for MilitaryPetsFOSTER Project and scroll down until you see the application for military personnel.
August 7th 2009 10:26 pm
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Hi dogster friends!
At last I can share with my friends Dances with Dogs; the essay about Monte which won this year's APDT/Dogwise John Fisher essay contest (and a free trip to San Fransisco for mom!).
Enjoy, dogster pals!
August 4th 2009 2:22 pm
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It is with great gratitude that I thank APDT and Dogwise for selecting my essay on Monte, my reactive Saint Bernard, as the winning entry in the 2009 John Fisher essay contest. I also thank Janice Patton, APDT awards committee chair, for being so understanding when I shrieked in her ear upon hearing the good news and accepting my award!
In offering the John Fisher essay contest, both organizations have taken a stand to promote modern, positive reinforcement dog training - an effort which will certainly result in improved relationships between dogs and the humans that love them.
The wonderful prize for this contest is a trip to San Fransisco for the APDT conference in October - what an opportunity! I am very much looking forward to the trip, and having a chance to visit with other KPA CTP in addition to learning from many talented trainers and behaviorists who have helped guide me in becoming the trainer I am today.
Thanks again, APDT and Dogwise! See you in San Fransisco!
APDT members - my winning entry will be published in a forthcoming issue of Chronicle of the Dog. I hope you enjoy reading it!
July 31st 2009 10:50 am
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I am a huge fan of Laura's, and was very excited when she decided to start doing live video feeds of important training topics.
Last week's topic was "Lure/Reward vs. Shaping in Acquiring New Behaviors", watch the video here.
This week's topic was "Duration Behaviors." Video available here.
I hope you enjoy as much as I did!
July 30th 2009 8:31 pm
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I'd be clicking and treating like a mad woman on this site! HQ, I want clicker gifts!
July 29th 2009 8:59 pm
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How to Potty Train Your Puppy the Clicker Way
How to Create a Reactive Human in Ten Minutes or Less
Pro Trainers - How To Increase Revenue Via Memberships
Watch out for a new article this weekend!
Want to read more? Check out my personal blog on www.clickertraining.com!
July 29th 2009 8:53 pm
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Once again, I have the great pleasure of being this week's dogster Daily Dog Tip writer.
Check out my tips here! This week's entries are on bite safety prevention/education - ways to keep kids and dogs safe around each other.
Hope you enjoy, happy training everyone!
July 29th 2009 8:41 pm
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