A blog about dog training and dog breeding…and other sundry matters

Posts tagged ‘Dog Training’

Our First Day Back on the Field

Athena did very well on her first day on the field last Sunday.  I’ve been doing light training in the house, gradually easing her back into training.  She did a fabulous off-leash heel and amazing stays amid the most outrageous distractions.  I was very proud of my baby girl.  I was hoping she would earn her CD by December, but that might not be possible.  We’ve only now formalized the retrieve in the house, but of course the exercise will fall apart once we do it in unfamiliar places, like my backyard, or in the obedience ring!  I need to proof it in unfamiliar places.

We didn’t get around to practicing the retrieve at the field.  She gets tired quickly.  After being out to training then for a bit of a drive to drop something off at a friend’s house, all Athena did that night and much of the next day was sleep.  I’m hoping that her stamina will return by September 18th, the day of the obedience trials.

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Before you call the dog trainer….

A few months ago someone called me frantically for help with her little dog.  Out of the blue, her reliably house-trained dog started peeing in the house.  She was at her wits end because the dog started doing this when she was off the island.  Now the dog peed in the house when left alone and during rain.  This lady was convinced the dog had developed a behavioral issue.

I thought otherwise.  When dogs, and other animals, start acting “weird” suddenly, the first thing to do is to take the dog to the vet and have it checked for medical issues.  Pain and illness in general will turn an otherwise sweet-natured dog into a shrieking banshee that will bare it’s fangs at the least provocation.

According to Dr. Debra Horwitz, a veterinary behavior specialist in St. Louis, MO, illness can cause behavioral changes in pets, particularly older dogs, that include soiling the house, aggression, destructive behaviors (chewing stuff), restlessness and “excessive vocalization.”

Old dogs, Horwitz points out, often suffer from Cognitive Disfunction Syndrome, similar to dementia in humans.  The disease manifests itself as disorientation, changed relationship to the owners, not recognizing familiar people initially.  Apparently the possibility of developing the Syndrome increases as the pet ages.

What are we to do?  Only a vet can best advice you on how to help your dog.  Supplements such as Sam-e and a diet containing medium-chain triglycerides can help.  As in aging humans, keeping the brain active also helps stave the effects of cognitive issues related to age.

In my friend’s case, her dog, a four-year-old small-breed,  had tick fever and a bladder infection.  No amount of training would have helped this dog.  It needed veterinary intervention, fast.

References

Horwitz, D. (2010).  Cognitive function in older dogs.  Clinician’s Brief.  Retrieved from http://www.cliniciansbrief.com/column/applied-behavior/cognitive-function-older-dogs?pyMBZBP3PA

Effective Training: The Reinforcer

Remember when training a dog, whether adult or puppy, that the reinforcer must be something that the dog finds rewarding (and not necessarily what the trainer thinks that the dog should like).  Some dogs are not “foodies” but prefer a game as a reinforcer; others prefer to be petted, or hugged, while some dogs cringe at being hugged, and do not find pettings to be particularly reinforcing.

If the dog is a “foodie,” then find the treats that the dog really enjoys and use those only when training.  This ensures that the treats do not lose their value to the dog, but will be highly effective as a reinforcer.

We Did IT!!!!!!!!

El Zima's Celestial Harmony, aka "Athena"I am so very proud of my girl, El Zima’s Celestial Harmony, aka Athena.  She placed second in the Beginner’s Class  at the Jamaica Kennel Club’s Obedience Trials held last Sunday.  Athena managed to place with only one week of consistent training.  She scored 185 points out of 200.  Not bad at all.
El Zima’s Celestial Harmony, aka “Athena”
White German Shepherd

 

She lost points due to handler’s error.  Okay, so it’s been a while since I’d been in the obedience ring, and it was my first attempt training and handling a dog in the Beginner’s Class, so I have to work on my technique.

Now we’re preparing for the Intermediate Class next month.  Keeping fingers and toes crossed once more; she has to learn to retrieve.

Returning to Training and the Show Circuit

White German Shepherd

Image via Wikipedia

So I decided that I want to return to what I love doing the most, my passion: training my beloved dogs and trialling with them.  The decision came this morning after making some significant changes in my life.

We are rusty, my Athena and I, but I marvel at Athena my white german shepherd’s enthusiasm for training. We trained for a bit today after doing spotty work during the past few weeks.  Now with our first show coming up at the end of the week, I will train everyday, but I will not intensify our work.

You see, Athena is so enthusiastic about training, that she will not leave my side, except for the stays.  Her eyes are so bright and alert with her German Shepherd ears standing tall, and her tail in a perpetual wag.  She has this cute finish:  when she’s sitting directly in front of me and  I give the cue for her to walk around me and sit at heel, she literally jumps up out of her sit and wraps herself around my legs.

Our training sessions are priceless, and I don’t want to kill Athena’s enthusiasm by training hard and stressing her out.  As Sunday’s show will be our first in over a year, and we haven’t trained in about as long, our performance will probably stink, but as long as my dog enjoys being with me and enjoys being in the ring, that’s all that matters to me, and I’ll know that I have done my job as a trainer.

The Best Treats to Use for Positive Dog Training

The choice of treats are definitely very important in the world of clicker training.  First and foremost, the treats must be something that the dog really likes.  Secondly, the treats should be small, pea-size or slightly bigger for a large-breed dog and smaller for a small/toy breed.

I have found when training rottweilers and german shepherds that if the treats are too small, the dogs invariably choke on them.  If they are too large, you simply run out of treats before you are really finished training.  I tend to treat generously and often, so that is a big issue for me.

When training toy breeds, like pomeranians, if the treats are too large, the dogs will fill up quickly and you will have to either find an alternative to food as a reward, or quit training for that session.  I have never had this issue with my large dogs, so I can’t swear that it won’t happen to larger breeds.

Treats should be smelly and soft.  If they are smelly, they will be palatable to the dog; if they are soft, the dog will be able to eat the treat quickly and not disrupt the training session.  I store my treats in a zip-lock bag to seal in moisture and stuff it in my treat bag (which is nothing more than an insulated lunch sack for humans which I clip to my belt when I train).  When I’m finished training, depending on the treats, I store the zip-lock bag with any remaining treats in the refrigerator.

Because my dogs tire of eating the same treats over a long period of time, I tend to add variety.  So for several days or even weeks I’ll train using bits of cheese, then I’ll switch to bits of sausage, then pieces of boiled liver.  I have found sausage (hotdog) to be very messy as the links invariably retain lots of moisture, especially if you thaw them then serve.

Unlike many trainers, I do not mix treats within a training session.  It’s just too much work and gets cumbersome to manage during sessions.  Timing is important in clicker training, so you don’t want to be fumbling with getting the treats out of the pouch, especially when training an inexperienced or young dog.

Of late I’ve been using commercial treats for variety, especially for Athena, who is not a food oriented dog.  One of the treats, Scoops made by Seargent, is supposedly made with real cream.  It is a soft treat and breaks into small pieces very easily and are not nearly as messy as sausage.  I just started using Beggin’ Strips, too.  I like these treats because they are the least messy of all.  I can push a few strips in my pockets and not worry about messes.  Although they break up quite easily.  I have found that the dog needs some time to chew the treat during training, and depending on the size of the dog, if the treat is too small, the dog has a hard time chewing it.

Bottom line is, choose food that your dog truly enjoys.  The reward must be of a high value to the dog.  If the food isn’t something that the dog particularly relishes, then the very act of offering a treat becomes an aversive.

Training and Teaching: A balancing Act

The past few weeks have been hectic around here with my students getting ready to take their Royal Schools of Music exams, and obedience trials just around the corner.  The days go by so quickly, and before I know it, a whole week has passed and I have trained my dog but once.

I love operant conditioning (a method of dog training using positive techniques and negative punishment) because I find that my dogs retain what I teach them for long periods, even when I don’t get a chance to revisit the behaviors.  Athena, who won the Novice trial last November with High in Trial, will be entering Beginners in a few weeks.  My various jobs prevent me from focusing on her training they way I’d like to.

It’s been many weeks since I’ve worked her out of the yard and proofed any of her exercises.  She performs beautifully in the yard, but the challenge will come in the form of the myriad distractions on the day of the show.  I do what I can.

I came to the realization some time ago, that if I waited until I managed to train consistently (like everyday for a month) before entering a trial, I’d never enter another obedience trial until I was retired.  By then my dogs would all be dead, and I’d have to start all over again.  I made a resolution to enter at least two trials every year.  It is my ambition to put obedience titles on at least two of my seven dogs.

So, here I am, trying to balance the work that I do with my human students, which I love, with the work that I do with my dog students, which I also love.  I’m tough on my human students because I not only teach them how to play the piano, but provide them with life skills that will serve them well. 

I’m gradually learning to lighten up with myself where my dog training is concerned.  I do this for the sheer joy of training an animal.  I learn so many other skills in the process, and learn about myself, too.  Trials are an opportunity for me to enter the obedience ring with my best friend, my canine partner, to show the world what we’ve got, and most of all to have fun.  At the end of the trial, regardless of the outcome, I still get to take the dog home.

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