Karen Pryor’s Visit

I met Karen for the first time at ClickerExpo, and it was there she asked whether I would be attending the Professional Animal Behavior Associates (PABA) symposium in Guelph in May.  Unfortunately, I explained that I couldn’t as there would be too many students/too many classes to run, and with the May 24 weekend the following week, I couldn’t cancel classes for the symposium.

After ClickerExpo, via email, Karen suggested that she would like to extend her trip to Canada and after her engagement in Guelph, come visit us in Toronto.  So, after a little bit of planning leading up to it, on May 16, I had the unique privilege to host her for the day in the city!

A world famous author and the pioneer of clicker training is coming to visit and I had a space of approximately 8 hours to make the experience memorable.  If you’re not from Toronto and have 8 hours to spend here, feel free to follow this itinerary – you’ll enjoy it, I am certain!

So, this is what we did:

4pm:  Picked up Karen at her hotel.  I had arranged for her to stay at the Westin Harbour Castle on Queens Quay and Yonge.  Heavenly bed, lakeview room overlooking the Toronto Islands; back in the day when I worked at salesforce.com, a lot of the folks from San Francisco would stay there and remark that the rooms were great and the lakeview at sunrise was stunning.  You can’t go wrong having visiting dignitaries stay there.

430pm:  Karen loves tea.  So our first stop was Nadege Patisserie on Queen Street West, east of the south-east corner of Trinity Bellwoods Park.  We had two pots of tea and an assortment of their perfect macarons.

Nadege Patisserie
Nadege Patisserie, http://www.flickr.com/photos/abakedcreation
Perfect Macarons
Perfect Macarons, http://www.flickr.com/photos/bcruz3

530pm: Enroute to When Hounds Fly, we walked through Trinity Bellwoods Park.  Had the weather been nicer, it would have been an opportunity to observe a lot of owners with their dogs, but unfortunately, with the drizzle, the park was a bit quiet.  Still, with the ample rain we’ve had, the park was lush, and the few dogs were saw were well behaved.

630pm:  Puppy class at When Hounds Fly!  I had invited all the nearby KPACTPs, all the teachers at our school, and other friends of the school like Krista from UWO and Katie from Queen West Vets to join us.  Karen had expressed interest in watching a class or two at school.  When Hounds Fly opened its doors with puppy class and foundation skills class taught using a modular, non-linear syllabus, which is strongly encouraged in the Karen Pryor Academy curriculum and program. The class that evening consisted of just four puppies; two of which were first timers, and two of which had attended a few classes already.

Tena Kristjanson and Karen Pryor
Tena Kristjanson and Karen Pryor
Ten dog trainers watching one
A bit strange to have ten very skilled animal trainers watching you teach puppy class.

So who came to the event?

KPACTPs Stacey Shaw, Tena Kristjanson, Katherine Ferger with Karen
Julie Posluns, Mirkka Koivusalo, Me, Emily Fisher
Julie Posluns, Mirkka Koivusalo, Andre Yeu, Emily Fisher with Karen

Tena and Katherine own All About Behavior, which runs clicker training chicken camps in Newmarket.  Also in attendance (but I don’t have photos of them yet) – Debra Ross (KPACTP), Krista Macpherson from UWO, and Katie Hood from Queen West Vets.

8pm:  School’s out!  Time for dinner… at one of Dundas Street West’s gems, Enoteca Sociale, just a short stroll from When Hounds Fly.  I had booked their private dining room located in what feels and looks like a wine cellar (I guess it is one) and is also adjacent to their climate controlled Cheese Cave (with a see-through glass window partition).

Enoteca Sociale, Private Dining Room
Enoteca Sociale, Private Dining Room
Cheese Cave
Cheese Cave at Enoteca Sociale

Fiddlestick bruschetta was a featured antipasti, and for dolci, the table was split between their profiterole and a chocolate budino topped with sea salt.

We talked about a lot of things that night, ranging from the likes and dislikes of the recent PABA symposium, animal cognition, horses (I know nothing about horses), animal rescue, e-collars – you name it.  I have to say that it was really amazing to be able to enjoy the company of so many lovely people who are passionate about animals!  But perhaps what was most special is that for the first time, possibly ever, we put a bunch of animal trainers together in a small room that could agree with each other!

Prepare, Prepare, Prepare, to Train with Maximum Intensity

This post is all about preparing for class to maximize the efficiency, effectiveness, and intensity of your training.  As an instructor, it is clear to see which students come fully prepared for class, and in general, those that are well prepared do better both in class, and overall.

Since I am a dog trainer by profession, I may take preparation to a level that is beyond that of an average family dog owner, and I know there are people who are more disciplined than I am, but certainly everyone could make minor improvements in their preparation.

Prepare The Day Before Class

  • Exercise, exercise, exercise the dog – not to the point of exhaustion, but so they can sleep well that night.
  • Ensure the dog has a lot of uninterrupted sleep – having a house party that goes on till late at night will keep your dog from resting well.
  • Avoid stressful events (i.e. grooming, vet exam, being taken to somewhere new).
  • Avoid excessive feeding the day before so they are hungry on the day of training class.
  • Make sure you have high value treats ready for class.  I keep ample tubes of Rollover and Natural Balance around the house.

Prepare The Day of Class

  • Prepare multiple types of treats, freshly cut, and separated into zip loc bags.  All of them should be of fairly high value, but of course, some more than others.  Currently I am bringing one bag of Turkey Rollover, and one bag of Salmon Rollover.
  • Prepare all equipment needed for class.  Clicker, target stick, mat, tug toy, treat pouch loaded with some treats, extra treats in ziploc bags, etc.  The mat is very important (to be covered in the next blog post in this series)
  • Avoid excessive exercise for the dog that day.  Too much, and the dog will be too tired to work.
  • I do not feed my dogs any food until class starts.  That may mean the first food of the day is in the evening. They’ll live.
  • I block off the two hours preceding a class, so that I can relax and not feel rushed.
300 Reinforcers
300 Reinforcers
Bagged and Ready
Bagged and Ready

If we are to demand 100% of our dog’s attention during class, they deserve 100% of ours.

Prepare for Leaving Home for Class:

  • At home – walk the dog to allow them to fully eliminate and burn off a little energy before leaving.  My dogs are older, so they don’t need to burn off steam prior to class.
  • Arrival time:  I aim to arrive at the front door of the school 10 minutes before class.  Too early, and the dog can get impatient waiting for class to start.  Too late, and you won’t have enough time to walk the grounds to let the dog eliminate one more time.  I would err on the side of arriving early vs. late.
  • Training starts as soon as I get to the car.  Going into the car is a HUGE reinforcer, so the dog must hold a sit before being cued to hop in the car.  My clicker is on me, my pouch is on me, and I am ready to click/treat from this point moving forward.
  • During the drive there, I reinforce calm behaviors.  Every time the dog lays down and relaxes, I click, then treat.
  • When we arrive at the school, training continues.  The dog must offer a sit and hold sit as I open the door – and release the dog.  At this point, the dog gets 100% of my focus.  Phone is off, no idle conversations with anyone – I am here to pay attention to my dog.

This is what I do to prepare so that both Petey and I arrive to school focused, energized, and ready to work.  The opposite looks like:

  • Coming to school late – the dog is anxious because the handler is anxious about being late, and often is rushed from the car to the school without having a chance to eliminate.  Dogs have had accidents minutes after arriving to school because of this, which further stresses both the dog and handler.  The handler also misses out on instruction so the next 10 minutes of class is also a writeoff.
  • Not having treats cut and prepared – the dog is left in limbo while the handler has to spend 5 minutes cutting treats – that is 10% of the class wasted, and the dog’s mind is allowed to wander.
  • Not having enough treats – the dog is left in limbo as the handler has to somehow get some treats (take from the school, or buy from the retail store in front).  The dog gets to practice disconnecting from the handler, again.
  • Equipment buried deep in a bag, not readily available.  The dog’s good behavior during the leadup to class (sitting, eye contact, waiting at a boundary, etc.) go unreinforced, so the dog just pulls around and sniffs aimlessly entering class.  Training MUST begin the minute the dog is released from the car and the dog should not be allowed to do his own thing until after class ends.
  • Not exercising the dog enough (in particular, the day before) – the dog is hyperactive and can’t focus in class.

What’s the Point of All This?

The point of all this is to make all the details and particulars around getting to and functioning in class easy, so that 100% of your attention is available for the dog.  Clicker training is hard enough as it is!  I often tell students in my classes – If we are to demand 100% of our dog’s attention during class, they deserve 100% of ours.  With that foundation in place, we can eliminate opportunities for a dog to be left in limbo, drift off, get distracted, and lose focus.  In the next post in this series, I’ll talk about how I work inside the classroom to maintain a very high level of intensity and focus from the dog.

Wax On, Wax Off (Foundation Skills Are Everything)

After nearly a year hiatus, I’m taking dog training classes again as a student with Petey.  Renee at All About Dogs is offering daytime agility classes, so finally, I was able to sign up and enroll in classes that didn’t conflict with when I teach in the evenings.  Because of this, I’m inspired to start a short blog series on my experience as a dog training student in a mainstream dog training class, and share my approach to maximizing my dog’s ability to learn and perform.

The Story Begins a Year Ago:

Petey’s story with agility class actually starts a year ago, when I originally enrolled him for classes.  After his rescue and transfer to our home (as a foster dog), he had completed a basic obedience class at Who’s Walking Who (where he was awarded the “Top Dog” award; I didn’t mention that I was a professional dog trainer – I just needed a place to train him around other dogs), and he was my Karen Pryor Academy dog.  I imagined him taking agility classes, being focused and motivated (as he had been up till this point), and having him flying through weaves and tunnels in no time.

On the night of his first original class a year ago, we were early and settled into class.  Renee had the dogs in class lay down on mats and work on stay exercises.  Everything was going grand until after ten minutes into class, a late arrival entered through the doors.  The late arrival was an adolescent male (intact I think) Portuguese Water Dog.  For some reason, Petey was fixated on him and extremely frustrated by his arrival.  He was desperate to go check out the dog, but of course, as class had started, dogs could not meet (like they originally had in the waiting area).

Quickly, Petey’s arousal levels increased to the point where he would no longer take food.  He was visibly stressed and began howling and lunging, and if I recall correctly, he began air biting in frustration.  In despair, I ran out of the classroom to give Petey some fresh air (not even having time to put my shoes on) and was outside in the rain in my socks.  Coincidentally, I ran into Julie who had arrived early for the next class with her dog, Delilah.  When she asked how I was doing, embarrassingly, I replied,

“Umm… I’ve been better.  Petey is having a meltdown!”

After class one ended, I pulled Petey out of class immediately, and I’ve been at work ever since.

Lesson Learned:  Wax On, Wax Off – Foundation Skills Are Everything.  Without Them, You Have Nothing

At this time last year, Petey knew a ton of cool behaviors, like his jump in a box trick, lots of targeting behaviors, and we had even begun working on object discrimination exercises.  He knew how to target post-it notes, sit pretty, jump over, through my arms and legs, and much more.  Big deal!  He was unable to focus in class as soon as a curly, black colored dog with testicles came into the room.  Prior to this, in his limited experiences in different classroom settings, perhaps I had just been lucky that none of the dogs were black with curly hair, and were all neutered.

Over the last year, Petey has actually learned very few new behaviors.  Other than hind-end awareness exercises, which I just did over the winter recently, I have only been working on a single behavior:  Eye contact.  This is the first exercise we work on in puppy class at When Hounds Fly.  I spent a year on this single exercise with Petey, the dog that learned all the behaviors taught in the Karen Pryor Academy curriculum.

In class at When Hounds Fly, I make my students do a ton of eye contact exercises.  It is boring and repetitive, but it is important.  Focus and attention work is the “Wax On, Wax Off” exercise of dog training.  If you struggle to get your dog’s attention in class, or in other environments where your dog must perform reliably, it is absolutely critical to get that focus first before you even begin teaching any other behavior.

In Karate Kid, Daniel had to do four exercises before his karate training began.  They were:

  1. Wash a parking lot of cars and wax them.
  2. Sand a huge wood deck.
  3. Catch flies with chopsticks.
  4. Paint a fence only using his wrists.

Over the last year, here are some of the eye contact exercises I have been working with Petey on:

  1. Long duration eye contact (1 minute+ duration built up)
  2. “Look at that” exercise with every single dog he has seen while on leash in a year (average of 6 dogs per day, which means over 2100+ repetitions in the last year)
  3. Zen, with food thrown right next to him, while holding position and reinforced for eye contact.
  4. Remedial socialization at the dog park, using protocols from Jean Donaldson’s FIGHT!
  5. Generalization – training on our walks, at multiple dog parks, on the street car, bus, and subway, at Pawsway, at pet supply stores, at the vet’s office, at When Hounds Fly (hence the purpose of Petey Needs Training classes last year) – everywhere, and anywhere.
Eye Contact at Pawsway


In case you didn’t watch Karate Kid, here’s Daniel doing his foundation skills work:

This time around, we were ready for classes again.  It was a year of prep work.  In preparation for our first class, we moved onto the next foundation skill Petey would need to succeed in class – a fluent Go to Mat behavior – retrained at the dog park, with dogs, children, and adults milling about.

Lesson Learned:  Get Real! (Expectations)

Last year in puppy class at When Hounds Fly, a student just finishing puppy class asked me whether it was necessary for his dog to take our basic foundation skills class, since he had already taught his dog a stay, and the dog knew how to sit and lay down.  He emphasized how smart his puppy was and how his puppy should be doing agility.

Meanwhile, his dog was straining at the end of his leash, desperately trying to go visit the other puppies in class, and was completely unresponsive to his handler’s calls.  Absolutely no sign of cognitive dissonance – just the blinders that go on when you’re a proud puppy parent, I guess.

Agility is new to me, but I get the feeling that agility instructors must get a lot of phone calls and emails from proud puppy parents asking to allow their dog to enter their agility programs, even though their dogs have had absolutely no foundation training.  Or, they take agility classes, but disregard the foundation exercises (zen, mat, hind end awareness, etc.) and believe their puppy should be doing weaves and a-frames on first class.

Walking around a wet parking lot in my socks was the best thing that could happen to me.  That experience gave me the motivation to spend a year on a single behavior.  I estimate I have reinforced Petey over 10,000 times for eye contact in the last year, if not more.  It forced me to get real with my own expectations on how much foundation work must be done before one even begins actually training a dog for a specific purpose.  For example, in Bertilsson/Vegh’s Agility Right From The Start, the first time any specific agility equipment is introduced in their book is on page 263 (of a 440 page book).  Everything prior to that is foundation skills.

For giggles, and to develop a little sympathy for agility/rally/obedience instructors, check out this video of a “proud puppy parent” and an agility instructor:

“My dog is far too brilliant to be in a beginner’s foundation class! Let’s just put him on the equipment and let him figure it out himself. All I have to do is point at the equipment and he will do it.”

Next Post:  Preparing for Class

In my next post, I’ll talk about how I prepare for classes to make the most out of every second I’m there.  And.. in case you’re wondering, Petey did great when he finally made his return to All About Dogs last week.  And, very appropriately, the dog that was next to him in class was another black, curly furred Portuguese Water Dog, that Petey couldn’t care less about.

Canine Cognition Research – Updates and Some Results

Hello Readers –

Did you know that Krista Macpherson, a researcher from the University of Western Ontario, conducts canine cognition research at When Hounds Fly?  Many of her test subjects are current and past students!  Here is an update she sent out to past test participants, including a deck she presented at a conference with interim findings back in March.

Want to volunteer your dog and your time?  Please email krista.macpherson@gmail.com and mention if you are (or aren’t) a student (current or past) at school.  She is always looking for volunteers to help.


From Krista:

Hi all!

First of all, my apologies for not following up with you all sooner…I keep telling myself “I’ll talk about results once I have collected a bit more data”…but of course I’m always collecting a bit more data, so I might as well talk about results now!
Most of the people on this email list have participated in one (or both) of two experiments…the first was a timing experiment, and the second was a counting experiment…I’ll speak to the progress of each study below:
Timing Experiment
In this experiment, we had one or two “Manners Minder” machines spit out a a treat on a set interval (either every 30 seconds, or every 1 minute).   With this study, we were interested in determining whether over time, the dogs would come to anticipate the arrival of food from the machines, and thus approach the machine as the time interval approached.  This ended up being problematic, because most of the dogs easily figured out that the ideal solution was simply to lay beside the machine the entire time and wait for the snacks!  While this was a good strategy on the dogs’ part, it made it impossible to measure timing in terms of proximity to the machine.
Luckily, the psychology department at Western has a great team of woodworkers and electricians to build experimental materials…and they have revamped the Manners Minder machine for me.  It is now bolted to a plank of wood, and has a large button hooked up to it.  So the dogs will still be able to get the food at a set interval…they’ll just have to hit a button first.  This means that instead of measuring timing in terms of the dogs’ proximity to the machine, we can measure timing in terms of the number of button presses that occur as the interval approaches.  I’m going to start pilot testing this new apparatus in the next couple of weeks!
Counting Experiment
With the counting experiment, dogs watched as the experimenter (me) dropped different quantities of food into each of two bowls.  If dogs can count, then they should reliably choose the bowl with the larger quantity of food.  What we found is that when the food ratio involves “food versus no food” (which in this experiment, was done using 3 versus 0 pieces of food , and 1 versus 0 pieces of food) the dogs are extremely good at the task (in fact, they rarely choose the wrong bowl.  In any other combination (e.g. 1vs3, 4vs1, 2vs3, 3vs4, 2vs1)  the dogs really struggle with this task, and to get right answer only about 60-65% of the time (and since there are only two bowls, chance performance is 50% on this task).
It is interesting that dogs struggle on the counting task, because pretty much any other species tested on this task has performed quite well at it.  A couple reasons that they may not be good at this task are as follows:
1.  As we have selectively bred dogs to attend to us (herd our sheep, guard our homes etc.), we might have “bred out” other characteristics that were more important for survival in the wild, like numerical discrimination.
2. Dogs are dumb (I personally am not a fan of this explanation!).
Another possibility is that this procedure, for whatever reason, was not “meaningful” to the dog.  In talking to another researcher who was working on a similar project, is occurred to me that I have always had the experimenter drop the food into the bowl, while the owner held the dog (but did not otherwise interact with the dog).  What if the owner was the one to drop the food into the bowls?  Would the dog pay more attention to the task?
Long story short, I changed the procedure so that the owner was the one dropping the food into the bowls–and preliminary results show that in many cases this made a big difference to the dogs. We need to test this more formally, but these initial findings are really exciting!
I presented the counting data (minus the new “owner dropping the food” version of the experiment) at a conference in Florida in March, and it was very well received.  I have attached a copy of the slides that I presented, for any of you who may be interested.
Upcoming Projects
I am currently looking for some more dogs to do more counting studies with–I need naive dogs, who have never done this task before.  If you have a dog or know someone who has a dog who would like to participate, please let me know!  I will be running sessions at When Hounds Fly on April 30th/May 1st, as well as May 14th/15th, between 2pm and 7pm. It takes about an hour to complete the experiment.
As always, many thanks for all of your help with these projects!

Want to see the slide presentation?  Click on any of the images below:


ClickerExpo 2011 Chicago Day Three (Sunday)

Here we go!  Day 3…

Session 1:  Efficient Training in Action (Cecilie Køste)

This lab really focused on smart reinforcement placement.  BUT, another key aspect of good training is everything that happens before you start training.

Her mantra is THINK – PLAN – DO.  Thinking is “What is the behavior to be trained?”   Plan is “What is the training plan, what is my criteria, where will reinforcement be delivered, what could go wrong, and what will I do?”  When you are training… no thinking, no planning.  That must occur before training begins.  If the training session is falling apart, you must stop, put your dog at station, and go back to thinking and planning.

Cecilie coaching a student
Cecilie coaching a student

The exercises in this lab were:

Cup Game (Clicker Mechanics)

She had all the students warm up with a basic clicker trainer exercise – the cup game.  How many treats can you put into a styrofoam cup while maintaining perfect form (feeding hand is still till click, no extra movements of the body, no speaking).  I haven’t done this myself since my first KPA workshop over a year and a half ago.

Go to Target

This is the simple “Go to Cone” game we even do at Puppy Class at When Hounds Fly.  The best way to use reinforcement here is to click, deliver the treat to the dog’s mouth, let them nibble it while you lure their body/head back towards the cone.  When the dog has finished eating and is released, the cone is now right in their face for another repetition.  Brilliant!

Beagle playing "Go to Dish"
Beagle playing "Go to Dish"

Finish Position

All the dogs here had finish positions already trained, ranging from kind of wide and sloppy requiring a big hand cue, to verbal only finish cues, to really snazzy jump, rotate mid air, and land in finish Obedience finishes.  Efficient training means when you click and treat, let the dog nibble on the treat while the handler moves around and faces the dog in Front position, tucked really, really close (like Front).  When the dog is finished nibbling, the dog is now ready to offer Finish again. Round and around you go…

Finish Position
This dog had a great "flying" finish. The handler is about to treat and will allow the dog to nibble while she moves to Front position, setting up for another rep.

One tip that was mentioned about any of these obedience behaviors is the dog should get it right and perfect on the first repetition – otherwise you have a dog that learns to do a sloppy finish, then wiggle their butt in to get closer, c/t.  Oops… Petey has that.  Michele Pouliot calls this a “two part finish”.

Long Down – Feed in position (room service) – bring the treat to the dog to reinforce position.

Sit – Feed above head for a more tucked sit.

Stand – Feed towards chest

Reverse Lure – While a dog is in position, tease the dog with food in your hand, almost like you are trying to lure them into another position.  If the dog maintains position, c/t.

“Many Downs” – How many downs can you get in a minute?  C/T and toss the food to reset quickly, or after a down, handler moves away to get the dog up, so you can cue another down.

Rollover – Feed over the shoulder to encourage more rolling.

Hold Cloth – Shaping a hold of a hotel towel.

A common theme throughout the sessions I have taken – everything you do in training should be a conscious decision, and certainly I have learned to be very conscious about where I reinforce and why.

Session 2:  Crosstrain! (Michele Pouliot)

This seminar should just have been renamed “Platform Training”.  Platform training is relatively new.  Michele had a DVD for sale at ClickerExpo that was flying off the shelves and kept on teasing me since it was played on a monitor in the hallway.

Platforms are so new in training that there are next to no videos on it on YouTube.  I just found a handful… this one is the use of platforms to teach position/distance for Obedience:

The use of props in training is not new.  We’ve used walls/edges to limit a dog’s option when trying to train a straight heel or a straight finish.  We’ve used mats for position.  Many are now teaching heel/finish using perches (or paint cans in my case for Petey).  Platforms make it easy for dogs to delineate space.  It makes it easy for us to understand criteria, since if the dog is on the platform, and it’s the right size, by definition, the dog is straight, and in the right position.  Michele showed clips from her new video that shows platforms being used to train front, finish, weaves, go outs, tight spins, stay, and response from a distance work (like paw from a distance, while perched on a platform).

I intend to teach the 18 basic behaviors from Cecilie’s Top OTCh lecture on Day 1 to Petey again, but this time using platforms.  I’m going to build my own platforms using leftover flooring from When Hounds Fly.

Lastly, she talked about other useful tools for training such as chutes, ledges, walls, x-pens, etc. to train behaviors.  I was delighted to see all this, because Julie is doing the same stuff with our students in our tricks class right now.  I love it whenever the methods we use at When Hounds Fly are validated by the world’s top clicker trainers. 🙂

Also, check out her “Step Up to Platform Training” DVD here.  She starts training her litter of puppies at 4.5 weeks old.  Wow!


Session 3:  Learning Games and Play

Kay Laurence is “one of the world’s top clicker trainers” according to Karen Pryor.  All weekend long, people were raving about her lectures so I decided to catch her on the very last track and session for the conference.  I am glad I did!  This topic was appropriately “light” in technicality but brilliant in terms of expanding my horizons of training.  Specifically, Kay has very ingenious ways to incorporate playing with your dog as training.

Through play, we can teach dogs self control, body awareness, and movements such as backing up, side stepping, etc., all of which are needed for many different dog sports.

One important thing to think about (which I often don’t) is the safety of the game. She is adamant that dogs should never run around on laminate flooring, as it’s an easy way for them to pull a muscle, or worse. I guess it’s true -try running around laminate flooring in your socks and see how long it takes to pull a muscle. Her training facility is CARPETED and ripped up and replaced regularly.

She has a pretty large library of videos on YouTube so I’ll just share these videos for you to watch and enjoy.  Have fun playing with your dogs!!!

Games with a Sausage (Catch the Mouse)

Egg Agility



Lastly, I thought I would share a few things from the Saturday (Day 2) evening dinner featuring Patricia McConnell.  She lectured on the  topic of animal cognition and how much animals think.  I didn’t really take notes but she shared various research on different examples of studies done and also cited Ken Ramirez’s (Shedd Aquarium) work on teaching dogs to understand concepts like Big vs. Small, Mimicry, and of course dogs like Rico and Chaser (object recognition with both noun and verb).  She showed some footage that I’ve found on YouTube for you to check out.  They’re interesting and fun.

She also shared a few other recent studies about dogs understanding our pointing gestures better than chimpanzees, and also a study that showed domestication does not necessarily mean a dog’s problem solving ability is reduced (which is commonly believed to be true).  Anyways I’m not really a scientist so I’ll just ask Krista (from UWO) next time I see her.

Julie, Mirkka, Emily and I had to leave at 4 to catch our flight home, so we missed the closing remarks by Karen and Patricia.  Evidentally it was so moving there were 400 dog trainers in tears at the end.  Oh well, next year I’ll plan to stick around!  In the meantime, I have hundreds of slides and notes to review.  Hope you enjoyed the blog series!

Notes for ClickerExpo
Notes for ClickerExpo



ClickerExpo 2011 Chicago Day Two (Saturday)

I’m exhausted!  I feel like I’m back in school… also feeling a bit inadequate, but also really fired up about enhancing my own training skills as soon as I get back home.  Cecilie said during her lecture today “You could shape that way forever and be perfectly fine, but doing it this way will make your training more efficient.”  Who doesn’t want to be more efficient?  So here’s a summary of what I did and what I learned.

Session 1:  Shaping Procedures for the Agility Trainer (Eva Bertilsson and Emelie Johnson Vegh)

I’m not an agility trainer and I don’t know the first thing about agility.  This is exactly why I took their track.

Eva Bertilsson and Emelie Johnson Vegh
Eva Bertilsson and Emelie Johnson Vegh

The most important concept they shared today is the concept that shaping is not just Behavior, Click, Reward, repeat.  There is a TON of behavior that occurs between the taking of the reward and the next cue.  What happens here MATTERS.  If you don’t pay attention to what occurs after the dog eats their treat and the next behavior, you end up building a lot of “garbage behaviors” in your training.

A perfect example I have from my own training is with Petey.  He often throws in extra behaviors between reps – a common one I see is he spins clockwise between behaviors.  Another common example I see with many dogs is during a Watch Me exercise – after the dog eats their treat, they often start scanning the room and looking at other dogs.

In both cases, the eating of the treat has become a cue to do an extra behavior.  If we are trying to build focus in the Watch Me, and you continue to allow your dog to eat, then scan, then cue Watch me, then click, eat, and scan, you are actually reinforcing scanning/looking away.

Good training eliminates the garbage that happens between repetitions.  You can manipulate the environment to prevent those extra behaviors, change criteria/increase rate of reinforcement, or work on reinforcement delivery (position) to prevent garbage behaviors from occuring.

Garbage behaviors are also contextual.  In obedience, a great behavior to get after eating a treat is for the dog to look back at the handler, since we are trying to build extreme focus on the handler.  But in agility, we are trying to have the dog continue along the intended path of the course (criteria would be nose ahead towards line).

Session 2:  Shaping Procedures for the Agility Trainer in Action

This was my first Learning Lab for ClickerExpo.  Since I am without a dog, I attended as an observer.

The primary exercises for the dogs in this lab was to implement the “Aim for It” procedure – which in a nutshell, is nose ahead towards intended path.  These exercises were fantastic, however, what really blew my mind was the exercises that preceeded Aim for It.

Eva and Emelie actually spent a good thirty minutes simply working on the protocols that lead UP to beginning training.  This is what happens before you start training with your dog.  It is clear that what happens in between training sessions is key to making each training session impactful, an also getting maximum intensity and the right attitude out of the dog.

Training starts with a dog at their “Station”.  The station can be a mat or a crate.  When a dog is at their station, the dog is off-duty and the handler is free to think, plan, and prepare.  Once the trainer is ready, the dog is moved from their station to their work area through a “Transport”.

Transport, as they define it, is not just walking the dog casually on leash (or off) to their working area.  When transporting a dog, they assert that the handler must be fully engaged and contacting their dog at all times.  That can mean dog is being lured/lead with food from your hand (and making full contact/munching away), lead with a collar grab, or lead via a tug toy.

As soon as the trainer disengages with your dog (food hand is taken away, hand goes off collar, or toy is taken away), training starts, and you c/t the first behavior that meets criteria (for Aim for It, it’s nose ahead).  Once the trainer is done the session, he immediately go back to transporting (by using your last food reward as a lure back to the station, or tugging back, or collar grabbing and leading back).

This protocol takes “pay attention to your dog” to a whole new level for me and I feel quite guilty for leaving my dogs “dangling” after the end of a training session now.

Session 3:  Efficient Training – Making Progress Quickly (Cecilie Køste)

This session had a lot of parallels to Eva and Emelie’s.  A lot of it covered basic good training form (no talking while training, hands by the side (not in the bait bag), etc.  She also spent a lot of time sharing videos of her colleagues training, and they do also have very regimented stations – the dog was sent to his crate whenever the trainer needed a break, or time to setup the training environment (moving props, reloading treats, packing tug toys, etc.)

The biggest takeaway I got from her presentation was placement of reward.  As I mentioned earlier, up to this point I have been pretty relaxed about treat placement.  Primarily, I used treat placement as a way to reset the dog to maximize the # of behavior repetitions in a training session (i.e. click for watch, toss treat for to floor to reset, or click for down, toss treat to side to reset, or click for mat, toss treat away so the dog has to travel back to the mat).  She summarized the four different strategies for treat placement as follows:

  1. Reinforce in position (treat in down for down stay – room service as she calls it)
  2. Reinforce to reset position (to expedite the next repetition)
  3. Reinforce for Direction Sliding (treat ahead of the dog away from you in heel to counter-act the tendency for a dog to become banana shaped in heeling)
  4. Reinforce to next behavior in behavior chain (toss toy over jump, if final behavior in chain is a jump

Session 4:  Click to Calm Unleashed with Emma Parsons

Last lab of the day – I was an observer in Emma Parsons’ Click to Calm Unleashed lab.  She ran the lab walking through the different exercises she teaches in her Click to Calm class for reactive dogs.  What’s amazing about them is they don’t actually require a ton of space, and one thing that was really surprising is how hard she pushes her students… making trainers with their space sensitive dogs work in extremely close proximity by being strategic and careful about entrances, exits, and maintaining high rate of reinforcements (or sometimes just shoveling food into the dog’s mouth).  With more research and planning hopefully I can incorporate some of these exercises for classes at When Hounds Fly.

Car Crash Game
Car Crash
Parallel Racing
Parallel Racing
Off Switch Games
Off Switch Games


The evening ended off with dinner with a lecture by Patricia McConnell – I’ll write more about that tomorrow.

Have a good night!

ClickerExpo 2011 Chicago Day One (Friday)

Hi everyone!

Just on break between my last session and dinner so I thought I’d blog a bit about Day 1 lectures and workshops!

Session 1:  Ken Ramirez, Aggression:  Treatment and Context

This presentation categorized and summarized many of the aggression treatment protocols commonly in use in science-based training.  Classical Counter-Conditioning, Constructional Aggression Treatment, Incompatible Behaviors (Watch me), Look at That, Click to Calm, etc. were all covered quickly, and Ken presented his opinions, pros, and cons of each.  Most of the content of this presentation was review for me (since dog aggression is an area I spend a lot of time studying and working on in the field), however, here are a few interesting points I picked up:

  1. Ramirez asserts that training Incompatible Behaviors (Watch-Me) is an excellent tool to prevent the rehearsal of aggression and to keep animals safe.  However, he clearly states that these approaches do not solve the aggression problem by itself. This is something I figured out by accident, which is why I incorporate Behavior Adjustment Training now in the treatment of dog reactivity.
  2. Ramirez showed a video of Kellie Snider in a CAT exercise with a Doberman that is aggressive to strangers that visit their home and has a bite history.  The video showed clips of a 38 minute protocol where initially, the dog would bark and lunge at the sight of Kellie (over threshold), but only at the precise moment the Doberman relaxed would she leave.  If the dog barked as she was leaving, she would return.  After 50 repetitions (roughly), she was able to greet the dog and feed the dog treats, and shortly thereafter she was able to pet the dog on the head.  The video itself was quite amazing in that a) she is incredibly brave – the dog was unmuzzled, has a bite history, and was only restrained on leash and being held by a pre-teen boy and b) this dog had never allowed a stranger to come into their home in many years.
  3. Ramirez did not discuss BAT (Behavior Adjustment Training) as he is not familiar enough with it at this time. A bit disappointing, since it is my favorite protocol for reactivity now.

Session 2:  Michele Pouliot – Anticipation is Making Me Great!

Michele is a world champion canine freestyle competitor – which is exactly why I took this track (I know very little about Canine Freestyle).  The topic of this presentation was how to use a dog’s anticipation to your advantage as a training tool.

If you have ever had a dog anticipate your cue and break a start line stay, or impatiently begin offering behaviors prior to the cue, here are some takeaways (Petey is a chronic jump-the-gun dog, and I’m delighted that she frames this “problem” into an advantage)

  • Anticipation when harnessed creates energetic and immediate (low latency) behavior
  • Most errors of dogs starting before cued are handler errors – extraneous cues the handler gives unconsciously – video taping yourself is the best way to troubleshoot this
  • Never correct (even mildly) a dog that anticipates and starts before the cue – you will kill their enthusiasm
  • Create a “Start-Ready” dog by creating a cue that tells the dog “the first cue is coming” so they know to get energized, focus, and wait for the first “real” cue
  • Use a “wait” cue and reinforce it either with a primary reinforcer (c/t) or cueing the actual behavior.

Session 3:  Cecilie Køste – Top OTCh Skills for Top Obedience

Cecilie is world class competitive obedience trainer from Norway.  This is another area I really don’t know much about, so I was thrilled to have a chance to hear her present in person (tomorrow I am attending a hands on workshop with her on the same topic).

A key concept in their training method is to teach a set of 18 “basic skills” that have no cues, then assemble them finished behaviors fluent with very high criteria, then backchain them into performance behaviors, and then assemble routines through backchaining.  The analogy she used is “Letters to Words to Sentences”.

Since I’m working on getting Petey ready for Rally-O Trials, I’ll blog more about this separately but here are a few neat points I wanted to share tonight:

  • They are BIG on Doggy-Zen proofing.  All behaviors in the basic set must be performed with food scattered on the floor or in bowls – once the dog has performed the behavior, a release cue is given to go to the food (or toy)
  • A new term… “reverse luring” – where lures are presented and the dog must ignore the lure and maintain position (a variation of doggy-zen)
  • No cues are given to basic behaviors – so each session is compartmentalized to focus on one of the 18 basic behaviors.  How does the dog know which behavior is being worked on?  The dog offers all 18 and you just c/t the one you are working on in a session.

Two videos that were quite impressive was a dumbell hold while  hot dogs were placed on the dumbell, and a dumbell retrieve where the dumbell is thrown right next to a bowl of food (zen to the nth degree!)

Time for dinner!  Stay tuned for Day Two tomorrow.  Comment below if you have questions!


Beagles at ClickerExpo
Beagles at ClickerExpo

Icelandic Sheepdog Puppy Party

On February 20th, When Hounds Fly hosted a party for a litter of 7 week old Icelandic Sheepdogs from Sulhundur Icelandic Sheepdogs.  Besides being a ton of fun for all the guests, this was an incredibly efficient way to have these young pups meet over a dozen people and experience a ton of new things!  Guests included the future families of the puppies, owners of pups from past litters, and a few friends and colleagues of ours.

Remember, puppy socialization is the single most important thing you can do, and you don’t have much time to do it.  Socialize and train early! (And check out the videos and photos below).



Icelandic Sheepdog Photo Set on Flickr
Icelandic Sheepdog Photo Set on Flickr

The Heart Rules the Head

There is a little daschund in our neighbourhood that I see periodically on our walks.  The little daschund must weigh all of 8 pounds soaking wet.  Her owners seem to really care about her because she gets walked regularly, even in this cold weather.  I also believe this little daschund was probably a rescue, because it’s been the same size since I first saw her.  Unfortunately I have never talked to their owners because this little daschund is leash reactive (she barks, lunges, and acts aggressively when dogs get close by).

A short while after the daschund arrived in the neighbourhood, I noticed that they began walking the dog on a pinch collar (also known as a prong collar).  For those of you who (fortunately) do not know what a pinch collar is, here is a picture of one:

Pinch Collar / Prong Collar
Pinch Collar / Prong Collar

A pinch collar is a tool of punishment.  If the dog pulls, the metal ends jab into the dog’s neck causing pain, which causes pulling to stop.  If a leash correction (leash tug) is applied firmly, the metal ends jab into the dog’s neck also causing pain.  Most dogs will walk gingerly and carefully when you put a pinch collar on them to avoid pain, so they are often used by dog owners who are too impatient to teach loose leash walking.

The owners of the daschund, while on walks, would apply a leash correction every time the dog barked, lunged, or reacted to nearby dogs.  Very quickly (within a couple of short weeks), the daschund’s outbursts stopped.  She could walk right by me while I was walking Petey and it was as if the little daschund didn’t even see him.  On the surface, I’m sure the owners of the daschund were delighted with the results.

A few months after that, I would see the daschund being walked in the neighbourhood, and thankfully, the owners had switched to using a harness.  We’d run into each other while walking our dogs; I did my best to give the little girl enough space, and despite the removal of the pinch collar, she still was able to walk by without outburst.  I remember being impressed that she was still suppressing her outbursts despite the absence of the pinch collar (this was summer).  But I knew all was not fixed with that dog.  When I see quiet and still dogs that are reactive or fearful, I think back to this German proverb:

“The silent dog is the first to bite.”

Fast forward now to January.  Petey and I were out for our afternoon walk and we see the little daschund again.  I actually didn’t recognize her at first since she was all bootied and coated up.  As Petey and I walk by, she started barking, lunging, and pulling towards us.  Because the threat of punishment is now a long gone memory, her old behaviors have returned.

The moral of the story is – the heart rules the head.  Fearful, aggressive, and reactive behaviors are rarely driven by conscious decisions – they are driven by emotions.  When behaviors are driven by emotion, the only way to change the behavior is to change what’s in the dog’s heart. The pinch collar never helped the little daschund learn to be confident – in fact, she looked quite depressed while she wore it.  It never helped her learn to feel comfortable around dogs – in fact, the sign of a dog coming meant the risk of leash correction was imminent.  All the dog learned to do was stay still and bottle her feelings up.

I can understand the allure of a “quick fix”.  I wish I could help my clients with reactive dogs walk by other dogs in close quarters and be cool with it in a matter of a couple of minutes.  I can’t – but a punishment trainer can throw on a pinch collar and create an illusion of a “fix”.  But it’s just temporary suppression – not long lasting change.  My clients, however, day by day, week by week, are slowly changing what’s in their dog’s hearts.  And once you have changed what is in a dog’s heart, their head will follow.

Conditioning Sequence – Kathy Sdao Seminar Seminar Pt.2

The second big thing I (re)learned from Kathy Sdao’s seminar is the importance of the sequencing and contingency required for effective conditioning (or counter conditioning).

In plain English – if you’re trying to get a dog to love something, or get a dog over their fear of something, you can’t screw this up!

Everyone knows about Pavlov and his dogs right?  We would be very wise to pay close attention to the following diagram:

Pavlovian Conditioning
Pavlovian Conditioning

In Diagram 3, the bell proceeds the food.  That’s how conditioning works – the stimuli is followed by the food, so that in Diagram 4, the bell causes salivation.

If the food were to be delivered before the bell, no conditioning would occur.

Sounds simple right?  The emotional qualities and feelings the dog gets with food bleeds backwards into the bell.

Here’s where this simple sequence gets mangled in practical dog training and behavior modification.

Ruining Food as a Reinforcer

What if you were trying to get your dog used to being left home alone as part of separation anxiety work, so you begin by getting out a very special food dispensing toy, take it to the kitchen counter, and take a block of cheese and begin dicing it up and prepping the toy.  The dog sees you do this and gets excited.  Then, you give the dog the food toy and then proceed to put your shoes on and go out the door.

By going in this order, the food dispensing toy, block of cheese, dicing and prep at the kitchen counter will very quickly become a predictor of something really scary happening – you leaving home.  With enough repetitions, your dog might start exhibiting signs of fear and anxiety at the mere sight of the food dispensing toy!  That’s because the sequence is all wrong – food, then departure.  One of the participants at the seminar remarked that her dog started hiding in fear whenever she brought out a can of dog food and began opening it – because that always meant she was leaving.  For this dog, instead of conditioning good feelings around a departure, bad feelings became conditioned around cans of food!

Beagle is suspicious of food
Are you crazy? If I eat that, you'll leave!!!

A better way to handle this would be to put your coat and shoes on, get your wallet, keys, and cell phone, and then prepare the food.

Poisoning Cues and Behaviors

If you have a fearful or reactive dog, you can also easily ruin cues and behaviors.  If you’ve done work around managing and treating reactivity, you are likely familiar with the “Watch me” protocol, which is to train the dog to look at you when the dog sees the trigger that bothers them (other dogs, strange people, etc.)

Let’s say you are working with a reactive dog and off in the distance, you see a dog approaching but your dog hasn’t spotted it yet.  If you cue a behavior (like “Watch me”) and the dog performs it, and gets their click then treat, you may think you have dodged an outburst.  But if the dog performs that behavior and then immediately after that, sees the dog, you can easily poison “Watch me” to mean that a dog is coming!  Very quickly, you’ll see a dog start panicking and scanning when you cue “Watch me” because you got the sequence wrong.

The only way to handle this is to ensure that the dog sees the trigger first BEFORE you cue “Watch me”.   Otherwise, if dogs follow “Watch me”, the fear and anxiety of dogs will bleed backwards into “Watch me” and ruin your cue.