Thursday, February 23, 2012

Of activities and interferences

Marketing is just one must do for a behavior trainer. There are after all upcoming seminars, workshops, classes, never before offered classes (like the new APDT C.L.A.S.S. program) and skills to be announced to the target audiences.  For me being on an island, this is a weekly activity, but for today my marketing flyers must lie dormant at the printers.

A lot of my business actually comes off island within a 50 mile radius and through phone consultations nationwide.  Am taking my first international consult in March and so days can be crazed.

From CGC classes, to private consultations for challenging behaviors, to phone consults and a private Control Unleashed class to prepare a dog for agility classes, as well as a full writing schedule there is never a dull moment. Except for today, when the big COLD that is going around hits me square in the eyes and I'm down for the count. Then things take on a surreal snail's pace and I don't know what to do with myself.

This shouldn't be happening. Who me, get a cold? I've got things to do after all.

So, I simply work on my book a bit ( a little thing on The Aggression Puzzle with formulae and emotional detox info) and assign myself an article on Helium, study up on helping a Havanese overcome Coprophagia, prepare for a phone consult from California working with a dog reactive dog, start compiling notes on creating curriculum for the Pet Association Guild, and wind down an emotional detox in Maryland, reschedule a travel date to Puyullup, WA, and get things in order for a private session for control unleashed and pre-agility work, as well as preparing for final session in Intermediate Treibball class.  A very boring day to say the least.

A day in the life of a behavior trainer can be interspersed with great notes such as "Dear Miss Diane, Thank you for my new toy and for your patience in training me to be a better dog. You make me happy! Mom, Dad and I thank you!" (a dog reactive dog) OR filled with woe as a long-term client dog is put to sleep for extreme resource guarding resulting in level 5 bite wounds to her very loving owner. From great joys to great sorrows, it can all add up to "experience and learning".

When all is added up in the scheme of life, the joys far outweigh the sorrows and make it just another day in the life of this behavior trainer.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Kody's great disappearing act

Dog trainers can be attracted to dogs who have quite a few challenges and they can also be very good at working through those challenges. My dogs are "working dogs" and to me their job is just as important as any other. Their main task is as "teacher dogs" to all levels of reactive and aggressive dogs. They have helped many stay in their forever homes, avoid euthanasia and overcome huge challenges.

This blog is about Kody Bear, CGC, RN, therapy dog and "teacher dog". I trust Kody off lead or on. On Sunday, it was no different. After teaching Intermediate Treibball, I decided to let Kody run around the field to release some energy.  He did just that and with abandon...disappearing for at least five long minutes or more.

He ignored a hand cue to come, which hadn't occurred for at least six years. Kody is going to be eight-years-old in March. He chose THIS time to showcase his worst behavior and in front of the Intermediate Treibball class.

Confident me, gave a hand signal and watched Kody's eyes glaze over as he raced away and out of sight. I did try a couple of strategies, a verbal cue, a "NOW" and then turning my back and walking toward the truck as if to leave. Kody wasn't buying any of it. Did I go after him. No.Why? I trust Kody. I knew he would be back. He had been in an xpen watching the other dogs play Treibball, a game he loves. He did a bit of demo work and did well. I could speculate and say it was revenge or a way to get some energy out, and give a myriad of excuses.

One client commented that he probably headed out after a deer or a bunny. I knew differently, because while Kody has a high prey drive, we've worked very hard. I knew he had his sights on other more interesting quests.

What it was, in reality, was the scent of either a dog or a coyote in heat. Earlier dogs were doing search and rescue workouts and the smells could have been enticing. At that moment, I wasn't as interesting as the smell of a dog in estrus. Kody did his magic disappearing trick.  While waiting for his return, a student helped me start to pick up the Treibball equipment and we nonchalantly loaded it into the truck.

Soon Kody came running in full stride along the fence. He looked quite handsome and happy, but he was foaming at the mouth. That was the telling sign, as he does that when aroused. He came back to me and what did I do at that point?

I nonchalantly gave him the signal to come again, he sniffed one more time at a nearby tree and then came racing to me. I asked for a down and tossed a handful of treats between his legs. We were once again connected.

Then we went into training mode and for about 15 minutes practiced recalls, releases and returns, hand signal and all off lead. He returned each and every time, he was in perfect form, as he had been for the last six years.  He could have run off again, but he chose not to, just as readily as he chose in a moment of wild abandon to answer the call of the wild.

Will he run off again? I hope not and I will take precautions to avoid it, however, yes he could. I can't predict the future. As trainers, just as we think our dogs are, in fact, perfect, they prove us wrong

Training continued the next day and off we went, just the two of us, to the woods for a long off lead trail walk. Kody raced ahead, but checked in frequently, raced back to me with each hand signal, waited at the intersections and avoided any temptation to leave me for coyote smells. So the disappearing act? A fluke, possibly. Dogs are emotional beings, and they are not robots. The lesson to be learned is that even in a time of embarrassment, disbelief and hurt, trust was still alive, even when Kody decides to be less than perfect. Trust your training, trust your dog to do the right thing. When that point is reached it shows a bond and relationship.  Do I trust Kody, yes. He had a moment. It doesn't make our next moments any worse for the wear.

It makes me laugh now to think about it. Just another day in the life of a behavior trainer. Less than perfect is okay with me, especially since 99% of the time Kody shows how great he is as my trusted partner.

Happy positive training!

Marking the behavior - click, word, finger snap, tongue click, or what?

Marking the action of a skill or behavior can be difficult for some clients. The why is hard to pinpoint - some get it, others do not.

Karen Pryor says "Clicker training" is an animal training method based on behavioral psychology that relies on marking desirable behavior and rewarding it."

Clients have simply left out the marker altogether.  This is a challenge in the Day of a Behavior Trainer, because communicating to the dog the correct response is a very big part of positive reward-based, results-oriented training. Something so simple to trainers who use this daily can be like climbing Mt. Everest for some students. It is common practice for a marker (usually the sound of a click from a device known as a "clicker") to mark the action of a dog delivering the correct response and then following it with payment or a reward, which makes the behavior wanted stronger. It makes sense that timing is important.

The marker would be issued in the cue to "come!" immediately as the dog is heading toward you - the ACTION. The reward would be given when the dog is in front of their person - the POSITION. Rewarding position makes the behavior wanted stronger. The position for sit is butt on ground, for down lying flat belly to the ground. The reward is delivered for butt on ground and while the dog is lying flat. The marker comes for the ACTION of moving into sit or down.

Let's get real. Most clients haven't heard of clicker training, let alone perfectly timing a marker. This is something behaviior trainers need to keep reminding themselves during each and every client session or class.

Some clients try so hard. A scenario might be teaching name plus come cue. Client says "come" forgets to use the dogs name and doesn't mark the movement forward. However, they are very good at rewarding the dog when they return to them. This is a good thing, despite the botch in technique, because the dog will continue to come to them.  Finding the marker that this type of client can master is the key.

How I do that is to take the dog out of the equation and do some exercises with me playing the dog, and then the client playing the role of their dog. In a class, students will be paired with each other and in turn take on the role of dog or owner. Then we discuss what occurred. It always gets big laughs and that is good for training. We use quarters or dollar bills as rewards.  Behavior trainers must work WITH the client and find the solution. Train the client and the odds are very good the dog will progress quicker and goals will be accomplished. Clients also need to be able to communicate with their dogs when the trainer has left the building.

Practicing how to "mark a behavior" is very much an orientation process for those who are less than a quick study.  It is the trainer's job then to mark and reward what the client is doing correctly.  Marking goes both ways and yet often the client will not know you are marking their "right" behavior.  Still, they will get the concept and apply it to their dog.

Other ways to increase understanding would be to raise your hand and every time a hand is raised, have the client mark that action with whatever marker they have chosen.  Bounce a tennis ball and have client mark the ground hit OR the airborne toss. Repetition is good and yet still some may find it challenging when the living, breathing dog is added again.  Luckily, dogs are quite quick studies and the technique is very forgiving. Purists will argue that timing is everything and it better be for those teaching it. In reality, timing means very little to the client who just wants their dog trained, so showing how they can achieve that goal will be the critical bridge between the dog owner and the behavior trainer.

Until next time - happy positive training!