Gratitude and My Next Challenge

I started When Hounds Fly Dog Training in January 2010 as an experiment to see whether dog training services – specifically, centered around Clicker Training, could become a full-time career for me.

At the time, most of the dog training schools operating in Toronto were part-time businesses, where the instructors drew their primary income from either white-collar day jobs, or made the majority of their income through other dog-related services (such as dog walking).

Fast forward to 2017 and When Hounds Fly now has four employees (if you include myself), three of whom work full time, doing dog training and behaviour consulting. So, the experiment paid off!

Our Past Instructors

One of the biggest challenges I’ve faced in growing this company is finding qualified people that met my high standards for instructors. In the early days, I was extremely lucky and qualified people found me. My early part-time instructors came already knowledgeable, already experienced, no training or skills development required.

Karen Pryor Visits When Hounds Fly
2011 – Julie Posluns, Mirkka Koivusalo, and Emily Fisher, my first group of talented instructors
Rachael Johnston
2012 – Rachael Johnston joined us (And she’s been with us since)
Alexa Mareschal
2013 – Alexa Mareschal joined us briefly – she had worked in the US at the head office of PetCo on their national training office. She’s a lawyer now in Salt Lake City…
2017 – Sara Russell joined our team early this year, already completing her KPA-CTP and coming with years of experience in the field.

By 2014, I realized that the odds of just finding qualified people who would apply for either part or full-time positions as instructors were extremely low. So, I turned my attention towards helping mentor and coach people who were passionate about our mission, so that in the end, they could hopefully be instructors at our school.

2014-2016 – Verena Schleich and Katie Hood became instructors at When Hounds Fly while volunteering and assisting classes and completing their Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner programs.

Katie and Verena were the first two people that I can say that I taught everything I knew to. All the insight and experience I had accumulated to date, I tried my best to impart to them to help them become as complete as possible. They have both since moved away from Toronto and I know they are out there doing excellent work in the field.

2017 – Tim Alamenciak
2017 – Kelsey Edwards

From 2016 onwards, I’ve been focusing my energies on personally developing talented people to help meet the needs of our community.

In the past, I left the formal education to organizations such as the Karen Pryor Academy, Pat Miller Peaceable Paws, or Jean Donaldson’s Academy for Dog Trainers.

Now, having spent years working with people and mentoring them, my goal is to transition towards developing qualified dog training professionals in-house.

Tim Alameciak had volunteered for nearly a year as a classroom assistant, and his own quest for knowledge and self-study gave him the foundational knowledge needed to be an instructor for our team.

And, most recently, Kelsey Edwards, another one of our year-long volunteers is next. Through our own internal training workshops, 1-on-1 coaching sessions, and guided self-study and reading lists, she leveled up to a point where her knowledge rivals that of those who graduate from recognized dog trainer certification programs.

Classroom Assistants and Volunteers

Over the years, we have had many people inquire about volunteering at our school to gain experience. Some stay as few as a couple of weeks and then stop showing up. Others have been extremely committed (and through hard work, ended up being instructors here).

In 2012 we had a Working Holiday Visa visitor from Japan, Megumi Yamanaka, volunteer as a classroom assistant for a year( Unfortunately I never got a picture with her). She is teaching dog training back home now.


In recent years, Monisa Nandi, Stephanie Tran, and Megan Taylor have volunteered as classroom assistants with us – long enough for us to say that they’ve learned a lot and we’ve trusted them with different aspects of teaching and working directly with our clients.

Claire Kilburn at Paws in the Park

And, Claire Kilburn volunteered with us for over a year while completing high school. She’s studying at McGill now, but works remotely as our admin assistant, and this last summer, she had the opportunity to teach both in the classroom and also be our representative and instructor at Paws in the Park.

There are some people who have volunteered with us for a month or two, once a week and now go around saying they apprenticed under me, which is a big misrepresentation (the first few months are just cleaning up messes and filling up water bowls… it’s a long time before I let people even answer simple questions or speak in class.

These days, so many people don’t stick with things or put in the hard work. Everyone wants shortcuts…

My Next Challenge

 

While I am still very much involved directly in teaching (both group classes, and private lessons), I am transitioning towards skills development for our team – both our instructors and our volunteer classroom assistants. I’m getting good at it, and in the end,  our community will benefit from a greater number of highly qualified dog training professionals.

To our committed volunteers, past and present – I wanted to express my gratitude to you and also complement you for your commitment to the process. Thank you!!!

 

 

Sincerely,

Andre Yeu

Work with the Toronto Humane Society

This year, we’ve had the opportunity to work with the Toronto Humane Society in a variety of ways. One of our missions is to improve the welfare of animals (in particular, dogs), so it was our pleasure to offer our expertise and services to them.

Andre Yeu had the opportunity to provide clicker training seminars to a variety of THS staff (Animal Care Workers, Supervisors, and their Canine Behaviour Team):

Rachael Johnston has had the opportunity to provide consulting services to discuss behaviour modification for a number of dogs under the care of the Canine Behaviour Team at THS.

And this summer, we were invited to offer complementary mini-training sessions at Paws in the Park,

THS’ annual fundraiser and adoption festival.

 

We hope to have future opportunities to work with the Toronto Humane Society to share our knowledge of humane training methods and clicker training again in the future!

When Can You Start Walking Your Dog Without a Leash?

A question we get a lot here at When Hounds Fly is “when can I start walking my dog off leash?”  It seems like it’s a goal for a lot of people – almost like a sign their dog is well trained, to be able to walk around the city without a leash on.  The answer we always give them?  Never.

We know they mean well, and they’re eager about training their dogs, and training them well, and we love seeing that effort.  But – for those of us living in Toronto (and all city folk) – never is the right answer.

Why is it so important to keep your dog on leash?  Let’s break it down.

What are the potential downsides to having your dog on a leash?

None.  Zip.  Zilch.  Your dog could care less; at least, assuming you’ve trained them to walk well on a leash.

What are the reasons to always have a leash on your dog?

  1. Safety.  You could have the best trained dog in the world, but you just never know.  What if your wonderful, smart dog just one time takes off after a squirrel or a cat and gets hit by a car?  Would you ever forgive yourself?  What if a car backfires and scares your dog, and your dog runs away?  It only takes one time, and no dog is perfect.
  2. In respect of other dogs.  One of the most common reasons we see clients for private lessons is because their dogs are leash reactive; ie. fearful, anxious, or aggressive towards other dogs while they are on leash.  One of the biggest complaints these clients have is that people let their off-leash dogs run up to their on-leash dogs, saying, “don’t worry, my dog is friendly!”  But the fact is, yours may be – but theirs isn’t.  Theirs is scared or aggressive.  And yours is at worst going to get injured (going back to the first point, safety) – potentially then developing their own fear or reactivity – or at best, will remain safe but set that reactive dog’s training that they’ve been working so hard on back.
  3. In respect of other people.  You love dogs.  That’s great; we do too.  But not everyone does.  Some people are scared of dogs, or have allergies, or have religious/cultural beliefs that mean that they don’t want to interact with your dog.  Letting your off leash dog charge up to them is incredibly insensitive.

 

City of Toronto Leash Dog In Public Poster

Leaving leashes off in non-designated areas is just plain selfish.  It might make you feel good and proud of how good your dog is, but your dog doesn’t care, and it is ultimately detrimental to everyone around you.  Want our city to be more dog friendly?  Be a good neighbour with your dog, and keep leashes on unless in off leash areas!

 

 

ClickerExpo 2017

We – Rachael, Andre, and Verena – just got back from Portland, Oregon, where we spend 4 days at ClickerExpo – a huge conference for clicker trainers, run by the Karen Pryor Academy, where all three of us studied.  It was a truly amazing experience, spending four straight days surrounded by clicker trainers of all walks of life and experience levels.

We spent one full day doing chicken camp – in which we clicker trained chickens with Terry Ryan.  This should be on every dog trainer’s bucket list.  It’s an excellent way to brush up on your precision and timing, with a less forgiving animal than a dog.

Three days were then spend back to back in labs and seminars, with presenters like Kathy Sdao, Dr. Susan G. Friedman, Ken Ramirez, Michele Pouliot, Sarah Owings, Laura VanArendonk Baugh, Hannah Branigan, Jesus Rosales-Ruiz, and more.

I think it’s fair to say that  we all came back better trainers – and teachers – than we were when we left.

Rachael, Verena, and Andre in Portland
Chicken Camp Attendees
Andre and his Chicken (Photography by: Marty Strausbaugh)
Terry Ryan & Verena
First Night of Expo Meet and Greet
Working with Chickens! (Andre on left, Rachael on right)
Andre, Verena, and Rachael with our Chickens

Closed for Continuing Education January 25 to 31st

Dear Prospect Students –

Thanks for visiting our web site!

Our commitment to excellent dog training means despite working with over 4000 dogs (and their families) for the last 7 years, we continue to invest in education and are never done learning.

Instructors at When Hounds Fly are away for a week to attend ClickerExpo in Portland, Oregon. Please note our school is closed for all current students from January 25 to 31st.

DSCF1058-300x225DSCF1075-300x225DSCF1087-300x225

Our administrative staff are responding to New Student Enrollment Forms/Class Registrations during our closure, but our response may be delayed.

Inquiries or special requests may not be responded to till we resume operations in February.

Thanks for your understanding and we will see you in February!

Sincerely,

The teaching staff at When Hounds Fly

To our prospective students…

August 8, 2017

Dear Prospective Student,

Thank you very much for visiting our web site and checking our services out. Since I started When Hounds Fly in January 2010, over 4000 dogs and their families have taken classes with us. My mission when I opened our first location at 1108 Dundas Street West was to raise the quality of dog training services in Toronto, and to improve the welfare of pet dogs in our city.

Thanks to the success of our students, word of mouth spread quickly and we grew. Our Dundas West location now has two training halls and we frequently run multiple classes per night that are always full. Requests for private lessons to help with dogs that have fear, anxiety, or aggression issues pour in, to the point where new students were waiting many weeks for a first available appointment.

From an economics perspective, when demand for services exceed supply, it’s time to increase supply. The problem is it’s not easy for me to increase our availability. I can’t just “train up” new employees to meet demand. Finding experienced, professional dog trainers with sufficient practical experience and academic experience is very difficult. (We’re hiring – in case you know of anyone!) Unlike big-box dog training schools, we don’t have a “6 week teacher training class” and certify people to be instructors. Rachael Johnston and Sara Russell have 10+ years experience. We are that serious about qualifications and expertise.

Going back to economics – if supply can’t be increased, then I could just increase prices to reduce demand and maximize profit for our business. I am, however, community-oriented at heart, and I want people who have modest incomes to be able to afford our services and programs. I don’t want to price ourselves such that only the wealthy can benefit from our classes and services. So, I haven’t increased prices of group classes since 2014. I’ve setup this business to avoid unnecessary frills (such as a receptionist who answers phone calls – when all the basic information is freely available on our web site and most customer service functions are fully self-service) and put all our resources into teaching and lessons.

My goal is to grow our teaching staff so that we can meet demand. I’m working on it. It’s my top priority. But I won’t compromise on my original mission of maintaining extremely high standards. So until I find the right people to join our team, please see the following regarding lead times/wait times for coming to take classes with us:

Availability at Pape Village

Our newest facility at East York can accept students almost immediately. We have both extra classroom capacity and teaching resources. If you want to start Puppy Socialization or Foundation Skills class as soon as possible, please enroll at Pape Village. Our investment in our Pape Village location is very important to us, therefore our most experienced instructor, Rachael Johnston, teaches the majority of classes here.

Availability at Dundas West

Our original location is very busy, and we carefully limit the number of new students we take in per week to avoid having more students that we can serve. As of this update, we are currently accepting applications for new students, however, New Student Orientation spots are only available for later in August with an eye to be taking classes in September.

Availability of Private Lessons

As of mid-June, on average, between all of us, it is about a 4-6 week wait time from the time of enrolling to your actual first appointment. And like all things in life, good things come to those who wait – hiring someone strictly based on who can see you first usually results in disaster.

Thanks for taking the time to read this. I look forward to meeting you and your pup at school soon.

Sincerely,

Andre Yeu

Why We Refuse to Board and Train

Just this month I was asked by two people (a fellow Karen Pryor Academy trainer, and a Toronto veterinarian) whether I do board and train or whether I had referrals for trainers that did.

My response to them was this:

“Most board and train facilities are terrible and rely on very harsh, physical punishment as their primary training tools. This includes choke chains, prong collars, and definitely shock collar training. This includes a number of popular board and trainers that operate in Toronto out of their homes.”

There are dozens of “dog trainers” operating in the GTA that train owner’s dogs without the owner present. And often enough, cases of abuse come to light. Two examples from recent history include:

Samantha Brown of Lead The Way Sam in Mississauga – Fined $2000 for causing distress to an animal

http://www.torontosun.com/news/torontoandgta/2010/03/03/13099826.html

Craig Wright of FACW K9 of Oshawa – Convincted of Animal Cruelty

http://www.durhamregion.com/news-story/4323863-oshawa-dog-trainer-convicted-of-animal-cruelty/

And the latest to emerge is the alleged cruelty inflicted upon a Toronto dog, White Socks:

justiceforwhitesocks

White Socks’ full story can be read here:

https://www.gofundme.com/uptqes

But in brief, in a mere 8 days of a board and train stay, there is clear visible evidence of:

  • Wounds to the neck area caused by either prong collar or shock collar (both tools were confirmed to be used)
  • Stress-induced colitis – White Socks did not eat for 7 days and was pooping blood
  • Starvation – In a mere 8 days he lost 4 lbs.

 

The owners pulled White Socks out on Day 8 of a 30 day stay and immediately sought veterinary care. Imagine what would have happened if he had remained for the entire 30 days…

For some reason, despite stories from 2010 and 2014 of cases such as those highlighted earlier, people continue to sign up their dogs for lengthy and costly board and train services. My intention in this blog post is to clearly argue why we do not support board and train services, nor offer them.

Board and Trainers Usually Rely on Harsh Physical Aversives

Board and Train services are popular amongst trainers that rely on shock collars and prong collars, because normal human beings that care about the welfare of animals would intervene and stop someone from using these tools on their beloved pet if they were there to bear witness. In a board and train facility, the training is done out of sight, so these trainers can inflict whatever level of aversive they feel necessary to get the job done. In the cases above, dogs suffer severe psychological and physical trauma. Dogs have even died in board and train facilities. Would you send your dog to a place like this where injury or death could occur?

Dog’s Do Not Generalize Well

If the training occurs on a barn or a house somewhere far away, the training done will not automatically translate back into your home, your property, and your neighbourhood. Therefore, the majority of the training should occur in the dog’s home and neighbourhood, which means the majority of the training needs to be done by the owner.

Behaviour Modification is a Lifestyle Change, Not a Procedure

Don’t like the fact your dog pulls on leash? If you walk your dog three times a day, it would only take a week or two of not reinforcing Loose-Leash Walking for all the board and train work to unravel. Your dog barks at strangers? Unless you continue to intervene and follow training protocols, any headway made in a few weeks of board and train will quickly dissipate.

This is why our focus as a dog training school is to teach owners how to train their dogs. It must become second nature to the owners how to reinforce desirable behaviour and become a lifestyle change for long-term behaviour change to occur. A couple of hours of “handover” training done at the end of a board and train is not enough to time for behaviour change in the owner to stick.

In Board and Train, The Dog’s Best Interest Comes Last

If I were taking $3000 from an owner and board and training a dog, I would feel immense pressure to “get the job done” and return a fixed dog. Unfortunately, dogs are not cars, and I cannot accurately predict how much time and effort is required to make improvement. If towards the end of a board and train session, I’ve failed to make good progress, I would feel pressured to rush and push the dog beyond what is appropriate, safe, or humane.

How long does it take to improve behaviour in a dog? The answer is, however long it takes. Board and train puts immense pressure on a trainer, sets expectations for the owner far too high, and the one who suffers for that is the dog.

When we help owners and their dogs, sometimes we see immense improvements in just a week or two (of the owner working daily on their own). In other cases, it’s a process that lasts the entire dog’s life. To impose timeframes and expectations is in conflict with our code of ethics to have the animal’s best interests at heart.

Working With Owners is Reinforcing for Us!

Instructors at When Hounds Fly are dog people for sure – but we’re also into people. Coaching people to become excellent dog trainers, seeing their progress, and hearing firsthand of the improvements they see in their relationships with their dogs – thanks to their own hard work – that’s what motivates us to keep on working.


In summary – board and train? Don’t do it! Most positive reinforcement trainers don’t offer it as a service, for the reasons above. Let us teach you how to train your dog, and you’ll see how it’s not a chore – it’s actually a lot of fun!

 

P.S. – One exception to our board and train rule is at Canine Country Kennels in Barrie, their board and train is done by Katherine Ferger, who is a very experienced Karen Pryor Academy trainer. However, as mentioned in the article, for the benefits to stick, the owners have to learn how to be excellent clicker trainers at home as well.

If Not You, Then Who?

Dear Dog Training Professional:

If I know you’re good, you’ve gotten referrals from me.

I don’t travel far to see clients, and neither do the other trainers here. My general rule of thumb is, if I can’t bike there in 20 minutes from one of our locations, then it’s too far. I have my reasons – carbon footprint (I bike to most of my appointments), spending time helping people and their dogs (not stuck in traffic), amongst others.

As a result, over the last six years, I’ve maintained relationships with dog training professionals across the Toronto area, and this is why we refer people to dog trainers, behaviour consultants, and if appropriate, veterinary behaviourists in North York, Richmond Hill, Mississauga, and beyond.

I attend the same continuing education seminars they attend. They take many of the same online courses I have. They’ve read the same books. They have completed programs with the Pat Miller Academy, Karen Pryor Academy, or Jean Donaldson’s Academy For Dog Trainers.

By what they blog about, post on Facebook, and the education they have, I know they are good. That’s why I refer people to them.

Referrals Gone Wrong

Recently, I referred group class clients of ours to a dog trainer colleague who operates north of the 401 (beyond where we travel for in-home lessons). She provided private lessons in-home for a variety of things, including basic clicker training, and some help getting their dog to be less anxious in busy traffic using basic desensitization and counter-conditioning protocols. Our clients spoke highly of HER services.

I was, however, surprised to hear that when our mutual client’s dog had nipped a stranger entering the house, the colleague who I referred to them said it was beyond her level of expertise and comfort, and instead, referred to ANOTHER trainer with experience with “aggression” issues.

The OTHER trainer told the client that the reason why their dog nipped a stranger in the house is because he is coddled excessively.

… wait just a minute?

The Four Stages of Competence

Why did she (who I will call Dog Trainer Colleague Who Undersells Themselves), who actually HAS this knowledge, second-guess herself and question her own abilities?

Why did she pass off our client to such a Dog Trainer Charlatan? It takes only a small amount of knowledge around learning theory (specifically, associative learning in this case) to know that coddling does not contribute to a dog nipping a stranger in the house.

Why do these Dog Trainer Charlatans have such confidence to take on cases involving fear and aggression, when they are so ignorant of even undergraduate level psychology?

It’s because the more you know, the less you feel you know.

And the less you know, the more likely you are to feel like you know everything.

The Four Stages of Competence is a learning model developed in the 1970s that I frequently think about when learning any new skill. These are definitions both textbook but also with some of my own opinion added in. The stages are:

  1. Unconscious Incompetence – The individual does not understand or know of something, or recognize there is any knowledge deficit. They are blissfully unaware of their own incompetence and as a result are grossly overconfident.
  2. Conscious Incompetence – The individual does not understand something, but is conscious of the fact there is a knowledge and skill deficit. They are aware of their own incompetence and as a result, can self-assess what he or she is capable of doing, or not capable of doing.
  3. Conscious Competence – The individual has acquired the knowledge and skill to perform the tasks in question, but it’s new, so it requires a lot of concentration. It needs to be broken down into small steps as executed, and as a result, not a lot of deviation, experimentation occurs when performing the task.
  4. Unconscious Competence – Mastery achieved through thousands of hours of practice. Tasks can be done effortlessly and because of this, it’s possible for the individual to deviate, experiment, and innovate as they perform their craft.

 

Dog Trainer Charlatan – Has been stuck in Stage 1 for so long, they are blissfully unaware of the fact they are ignorant beyond belief, and BELIEVE they are qualified to help people with dogs with serious issues, and tell people so. They’re totally unaware they are unqualified and basically just making shit up and winging it.

Dog Trainer Colleague Who Undersells Themselves – Is really in Stage 3 or possibly Stage 4, but for whatever reason, is stuck on the self-doubt associated with Stage 2. They know their stuff, but is hesitant because of their mindset or perhaps lack of a support system.

This phenomenon (Underqualified people being overly confident in their ability / Qualified people being under-confident) is actually a *thing* – the Dunning-Kruger Effect.

The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which unskilled persons mistakenly assess their ability to be much higher than it really is. The collary effect – highly skilled persons underestimate their relative competence.

What Does This Mean For Consumers?

If a dog owner has a serious issue on their hands (example: Dog has bitten neighbour, Level 3 bite, puncture) and they contact 5 dog trainers – I’d bet that 3 of these trainers will have sufficient qualifications and skills, and 2 of these trainers will be unskilled charlatans.

The odds of this dog owner ending up one of the unqualified 2 is very high.

The first 3 trainers are the most qualified, but because of their knowledge, they are thoughtful in their self-assessment and may be reluctant to take cases like this because they’ve yet to earn enough CEUs (Continuing Education Units) from seminars on people-directed aggression, or haven’t done their Level 3 workshop yet with Pat Miller, or would want to have an Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB) supervising their consultation, but don’t have one in their network.

The last 2 charlatans are blissfully ignorant – they’ve watched all four seasons of The Dog Whisperer, had some feral dogs growing up and “tamed” them, and don’t know what they don’t even know.

The sad truth of the matter is, based on the cognitive biases of all 5 trainers, it’s likely this dog is going to end up with the least qualified person available to help it. Those that are good enough believe they aren’t good enough, and those that are unqualified think they are qualified.

Charlatans Take Any Dog, All Cases, No Challenge Too Great!

If you are that dog training professional that has invested the time and actually understands concepts like desensitization, associative learning, and abides by frameworks such as Dr. Susan Friedman’s Humane Hierarchy, I’m writing this for YOU.

I respect you may have limits to the types of cases you take on, but you need to understand what happens when you say no.

The consumer (and their dogs) end up with unqualified hacks that employ harsh aversives, flooding, and just downright crappy behaviour modification. In the most frightening cases, they believe they are qualified to help dogs with cognitive and neurological disorders. Here are some examples of their expertise in action:


Over-threshold exposures, many leash corrections (mild but ineffective aversives), flooding (dog forced to stay in area until it is physically exhausted)


Fearful dogs forced outside, any option to flee removed. Flooding and learned helplessness. Sensitization is likely to occur, including new stimulus (children walking on the street may now exhibit a fear response)


Aggressive dogs subjected to triggers at full intensity, then hit with very severe aversives. Aggressive displays suppressed, now strangers get to pet the dog (and get bit in the face since all warning signs have been punished). This trainer may know how to title a dog in Schutzhund, but he has a lot to learn about behaviour modification.

If Not You, Then Who?

If we do not step up and help dogs with fear, anxiety, and aggression issues, dogs with these issues end up with these people. The misguided belief that you need to use aversives to stop aggressive behavior will build momentum, since the only people that end up taking these cases only know how to use flooding and aversives.

Please take a moment to reflect on your own knowledge and skill. Even if you are less experienced, your advice is unlikely to cause harm, whereas the dogs suffering under the hand of these charlatans can end up much worse. Look for mentors, organizations, and your own alumni groups where you can get help when you are stuck, and don’t be afraid to be stuck and get help – it’s the only way you’ll grow.

If you are reading this because you own a dog with a serious problem and you’re looking for a professional to help, I hope this article was helpful as well. For you, I have some videos of what I consider good behaviour modification below.

 

 

Sincerely,

Andre Yeu, CPDT-KA, KPA CTP

 

Examples of Good Behaviour Modification:

Systematic Desensitization and Counter-Conditioning to change a dog’s emotional response to scooters.


Protocol for Relaxation for Fearful Dogs- Using classical conditioning to condition calm feelings on a mat, and bringing that mat to progressively difficult scenarios while remaining under threshold (desensitization/counter-conditioning)


Nail Trims – Using clicker training (operant conditioning, R+ quadrant) to shape a willing nail-trim from this dog that formerly had to be tackled and held wearing leather gauntlets because he bit people trying to cut his nails. All while under threshold.


Dog Reactivity – Engage-Disengage, using clicker training (operant conditioning, R+ quadrant) to train an incompatible behaviour to lunge, pull, and bite other dogs. All while under threshold.

 

Israel Guide Dog Center for the Blind

Katie, Andre, and I recently met with Yariv Melamed, a dog trainer for Israel Guide Dog Center for the Blind, while he was in town for work.

Israel Guide Dog Center for the Blind in Beit Oved, Israel
Israel Guide Dog Center for the Blind in Beit Oved, Israel.  Photo by Yariv Melamed.

In and of itself, this was pretty cool.  Meeting people who train working dogs in any field is always interesting.  Many working dog trainers still train using old fashioned methods (read: correction).  Here’s the cool thing about Yariv and the Israel Guide Dog Center for the Blind: they switched over to exclusively clicker training five years ago.

Announcing the changes in training methods from correction training to clicker training took them four months.  They consulted clicker training experts such as Michele Pouliot (Director of R&D at Guide Dogs for the Blind, Karen Pryor Academy/ClickerExpo Faculty) for best practices. All the trainers got on board with the new methods.  The organization decided that positive reinforcement was the best and more humane method to train, and so they did it.  It’s really an inspiration; there are many other organizations closer to home who have more resources than the Israel Guide Dog Center who can’t be bothered to make those same changes, or who are in the process but are making very slow transitions.

This change in training methods is across the board.  The trainers on staff  are clicker trainers, and they check in monthly with their puppy raiser foster parents, who have the dogs for the first year of their lives.  Then they train with the clients who will ultimately get the dogs for several months, and check in once a year with the clients and their guide dogs.

The Israel Guide Dog Center did side by side tests of the old training methods versus the new, and found clicker training more effective and more precise.  Up to and including things like the dogs knowing exactly where to stop on curbs by the road, avoiding overhead branches, etc.

A typical sidewalk in Israel
A typical sidewalk in Israel

Here’s an added challenge: the picture above is a typical sidewalk in Israel.  They’re uneven, blocked by garbage and cars and treed, unpredictable.  And still, using clicker training and positive reinforcement, the Israel Guide Dog Center for the Blind is able to train highly effective guide dogs.

Katie, Yariv, and I at our school
Katie, Yariv, and I at our school.

No more excuses… if they can do it, anyone can!

(Thank you for Shane and Nancy Spring, Cooper the Mini Golden Doodle’s parents, for the introduction to Yariv)

Volunteers Needed for University of Toronto Canine Cognition Lab

Dog CI Lever

Want to know more about how your dog thinks and learns? The Canine Cognition Lab at the University of Toronto (part of the Psychology department’s Computational Cognitive Development Lab) is looking for pet dogs and their owners to participate in fun studies examining what dogs understand about the physical and the social world.

We will be running some of our studies at When Hounds Fly on April 3, 10, 24 and May 1 2016, scheduling sessions between the hours of 3 – 8pm. Single-time participation and multi-day participation opportunities are available.

dog and tubes

Dog and Shelves

Dog CI Watching

Dog CI Lever

Dog CI Dial

All of our research takes the form of short, interactive games that are designed to be fun and engaging for dogs, such as interacting with puzzles and searching for treats. We record dogs’ actions and the choices they make in these tasks to learn more about what information they use to make decisions and solve problems.

To be eligible to participate your dog must:

1. be up to date on rabies vaccinations
2. be generally healthy at the time of participation
3. not have a record of aggression towards humans

For more information, or to sign your dog up to participate, email us on cocodev@psych.utoronto.ca, or call us at 416-946-3981.

We hope to meet you and your dog soon!

Canine Cognition Lab Research Team
Department of Psychology
University of Toronto

Computational Cognitive Development Lab

University of Toronto