Friday, June 26, 2009

My Training Principles

1. Most of dog training is building good behavior habits and preventing bad behavior habits. A large part of curing bad behavior habits is simply making it difficult for the dog to engage in that behavior while simultaneously instilling a new behavior that you would like to become habitual.

2. Increase the rate of reward. I took this concept from Leslie McDevitt and I reward my dogs often! Especially for paying attention to me. In class, when there is down time an I am just listening to the instructor, I am consistently rewarding attention. If ever I am having difficulty with a concept I find increasing my rate of reward helps drastically.

3. Reward sucessive approximations. When I first started training, I thought I should only reward when the dog got it right. This led to much frustration for my poor dog. I now make sure that I reward each little baby step on the way to getting right, especially with complex behaviors, like heeling. I gradually ask for better performance as my dog's understanding of the behavior increases.

4. If the dog gets it wrong, it is never the dog's fault. So what if my dog has known "sit" for years. If one day I ask for a sit and he gives me a down, why would I not first assume that he got confused, rather than that he is being intentionally disobedient or sloppy. How often have I meant to give one command and actually given another? If I, the one with the big brain, can't always get it right, why should I expect him to? Likewise, there are many, many other reasons that my dog might not get it right: he is not feeling well (why do we so often assume our dogs are robots?), he is hurt, he is afraid, he doesn't understand what I want, I've been inconsistent in the way I gave a command, the dog is not trained to the level at which I am asking him to perform. I try always to assume first that my dogs wants to obey and there is some reason why it is at the moment difficult for him. And if I can't tell what the reason is, I give him the benefit of the doubt anyway. Just last night, for example, Lok and I were at class working on formal recalls. This is something we've been practicing at home--working on getting him to wait while I walk out and turn to call him. Well, as I left, he got up to follow me twice. As our instructor pointed out, I was being inconsistent in the way I gave him the command. I was giving the command as I was walking away and bent over towards him and he was confused. When I fixed my handling skills, he got it right, and did great! Dogs are so sensitive to our body language and I'm learning more and more how subtle changes in body position can totally change a dog's response to a command. Amazing!

5. Don't train when you're not in the mood. You will train poorly; your dog will learn poorly. Sounds simple, right? But it's sure been difficult for me to learn. I slowly caught on, and now I am pretty good at noticing when I am getting frustrated during a training session and ending it, and even when I am not in a good enough mood to even begin a training session.

6. There are many different ways to train any behavior. I am largely a self-taught trainer. My dog Lok had all of the obedience basics down before we ever set foot in an obedience class. I often find that the way I have taught things is not the way anyone else teaches them! Often I will set out to teach a behavior and change my method many, many times before I find one that works for my dog. In teaching people for the past five years, I've learned that people vary widely in their learning styles. The same is true of dogs. You just need to find the method that successfully communicates to your dog what you want.

7. There is no training method, tool, or technique that works for every dog. There's just not.

Monday, June 22, 2009

June Jam!

Great day of disc dogging with the MNDDC! Lok did great! We did D/A, even though I knew it was a lost cause and he was so cute in it! He tried so hard and made two 0-point catches at the end of his round! Yay Lok! His freestyle was great as well. The first round he was way excited and that threw off his catching at first. Then he jumped up and chomped my entire forearm, thinking it was a disc. OUCH!! He realized his mistake and then got super-apologetic and didn't want to play for a minute, but I got him back into it. He made it into the top ten and got a second round, which was much better with a more focused dog, more catches, better flow and no biting me!

Jun would have done great in D/A had I not choked and thrown terribly!!! I haven't thrown that bad since sometime last year! But I was having flashbacks to last year's D/A which sucked majorly. Last year, I was throwing to a blind dog, but didn't know that, and couldn't figure out why we just kept getting worse and worse no matter how much we practiced. It was kind of a blow to my confidence and now I feel like I'm cursed in D/A. Also, even though my throwing has improved a ton and I can throw a lot further than last year, every time I step up to the line I feel the pressure to get really long throws and I think I try to just whip the disc out there and end up with zero form and discs that go off to the side or into the ground. Yuck. Add to that the time pressure and I am a wreck! I need to figure out a way to calm down in D/A and throw like I'm just throwing for fun! I wish all D/A was Catch 22. Lok's very first round of C-22 ever he did AMAZING, so I don't have the same feelings about that game and I've been able to do as well in competition as I do in practice.

Jun's freestyle went about as well as I could expect. She's not to the level yet where she can go without tugging for a minute and a half so she started sticking on discs pretty much right away. The moves we do have I couldn't get her to do. Plus it was hot, and she was getting lazy. But next year is Jun's year for freestyle, I can feel it! She's come a long way and I have faith she will continue to improve. I am finding though, that there are situations where it would be really nice to be able to give her verbal commands! It's tough to hand-signal with discs in my hands! So, I am learning to communicate with her via body language, and learning to be very consistent with the positioning of the discs and my body so she will know what I want from her. At the same time, I don't want it to be at all obvious that she is deaf--I want it to look smooth and effortless. It's interesting and challenging, but I am up to it, and so is she!

We met Matt DiAno from CO and his border collie Maggie. They are really cool and very nice, which is pretty much to be expected, since they are disc doggers after all! Matt and I threw for Jun and Maggie while we talked. Very cool! Can't wait for the next comp in July!!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

What we're working on

Being happy about doing obedience: lots of tugging, ultra-short sessions, lots of variety, fun jumping and retreiving, running heeling, interspersing tricks.
Retreiving a hot dog
Rear-foot targeting
Fixing his "bow" command
Sit pretty-stand-sit pretty
Putting together a disc freestyle routine

Building duration and distractions on stays
Working on a stand-stay
Formal recalls
Formal retrieve
Building duration on sit pretty (what a motivator real meat is!)
Learning some new disc freestyle moves

Both of them have been making me very happy lately . . . well, except for the aforementioned wall barking . . . but other than that, very happy!