Preparing for Rally Trial – Week 3

Quick update! With two weeks left to go, here’s what I’ve gotten done so far:

  • All of the basic behaviors are at a decent level of fluency
  • I actually did drive to the trial location in Barrie and did a class there, just to see if Petey could work in the environment. He can, so we’re good.
  • I have been training all around town, including training right in front of the house where there is an understimulated Doberman that barks incessantly, and also training right next to dogs playing fetch and wrestling.

So, finally, I am going to work on actual stations and signs. I started with Weave (four pylons) and magically I noticed that for this station, Petey started doing strange things with the first pylon. He jumps it, bumps it, bites it, paws it, you name it. All the stuff I have done so far always involve the pylons on my right, so I guess this threw him off.

To address it, I just broke down the weave station into walking through gates of pylons and then slowly closed the angles off.

Also, I came to realize that Petey also has limits. You’ll notice in the videos I start with two distractions. One is a tupperware full of beaver urine. The other is a stainless steel food bowl full of rollover. In the beginning of the training session, he pays no attention to them at all. By the end (last part of the video) he starts smelling and pulling towards them. I’ve got to ensure he stays rested and I don’t overwork him. As mental stamina fades in training, so does willpower!

And lastly with all the hard work lately, I try to make sure he has a lot of good downtime to sniff. Also I recently picked up a very nice Bowser dog bed from The Dog Bowl down the street.

Petey at Kings Mill
Petey at Kings Mill

Preparing for Rally Trial Day 2 – Luring and Pressure for the Stand

Today was my 2nd day having a chance to work with Petey to get him ready for his Rally Trial… now exactly 1 month away.

CARO Rally Novice is actually a pretty simple class with a fairly short list of behaviors. There is one though that has been missing from Petey’s repertoire for a very long time – a stand!

He has a long history of reinforcement for sits and downs (having started with him three years ago with a very “family dog/pet manners” orientation, stand was not a behavior I thought useful to teach), so up until this point, the instant any food/toys/training regalia comes out, he’s frantically offered sits and downs. If I used targeting to get him into a stand, like how Susan Garrett featured this on her Facebook page, the moment I clicked, he’d sink into a sit or down, unlike MANY dogs I’ve seen in class that hold the stand much more naturally.

At ClickerExpo this year, I attended a lecture by horse trainer Alexandra Kurland. She challenged the trainers in the room to teach a single behavior using multiple methods – luring, targeting, shaping, even modelling, and using pressure. I also attended lectures by Kay Lawrence on Luring and Targeting, and in the luring lecture, she emphasized that each teaching approach has pros and cons, and its dependent on the learner, the behavior, and the teacher on which is the most appropriate. In her own words, the quality of the final behavior is not determinable by the method used to teach it, assuming a sufficiently talented trainer.

Back to my elusive Stand with Petey –

In the past, I’ve tried shaping it, but he’s a squirmy little bugger, and has a tendency to tap his toes and wiggle around in between the click then treat.

Hand targeting was challenging as he’d sink into a sit well before I could deliver a treat to his mouth.

So, I just gave up on teaching him Stand. Fortunately, by committing to a Rally trial I forced myself to just do it, so last week I started. Here’s what I did:

  1. Worked on a raised platform to minimize forward steps. In this case I placed him on a stair landing, and I worked two steps below. A must for short dogs!!!
  2. I initially lured from a sit to a stand.
  3. Prior to releasing the lure, I applied downward pressure on his rear-end to engage his opposition reflex to push up, so he’d resist sitting
  4. When I felt enough upwards pressure, and he had maintained correct position, I released the lure.
  5. I removed the lure and simply used a hand target to get him up.
  6. In CARO you are allowed to touch to stabilize the dog in a stand, so all that is left of the downwards pressure is a very light touch on the rear as a cue to hold the stand.
  7. Finally!!! Enough duration for the CARO Novice Stand.

(At the 0:35 mark you can see what my rudimentary stand looks like now)

A definite pro of luring is you end up getting very clean, precise behaviors. No garbage behaviors have snuck in with Petey’s new stand. The bad rap that luring has is with trainers who don’t have an understanding of training to know when the dog is, in Kay’s words, “going operant” – at that point it’s time to switch to targeting or shaping.

If you haven’t heard of Kay Lawrence before – shame on you – but that’s OK, because I actually only heard about her for the first time last year at my first ClickerExpo. She does some really funky stuff with luring and targeting. I also looked at her YouTube channel and unfortunately the best videos she played at ClickerExpo are not on there – but I did find this – a 9 minute video of a student of hers showing her technique to teaching trotting for the show ring – using a “follow” target stick – that has a measuring cup at the end of it and a treat inside!


On the topic of pressure – I think I’m a few days away from not even having to touch Petey’s rear end to remind him to stay standing… but without that pressure during the early stages I don’t think I would have gotten any stand as quickly as I was able to. A few words about pressure – either body pressure or leash pressure – both are very useful tools. Prior to this, the only pressure work I had ever done was Shirley Chong’s “Give to Pressure” or Grisha Stewart’s “Silky Leash” – applying leash pressure, engaging opposition reflex, and then clicking/treating for the dog giving into lease pressure, counteracting their own opposition reflex, and moving into the direction of the pressure, vs. against it. At ClickerExpo, Michele Pouliot showed video of how guide dogs are trained not to pull on leash/give to pressure, so that a small pull in any direction of a guide dog will trigger them to promptly move into, away from, or walk backwards. The video she showed was amazing and unfortunately does not live on YouTube or anywhere else.

In a nutshell, I’m glad that I was able to dust off luring, and take advantage of body cues/pressure, to produce a serviceable stand for the upcoming trial in a short amount of time.

Finally Entering a Trial

Hi Everyone,

I’ve been on the busy side lately, with opening our second location in uptown Toronto on Avenue Road and Lawrence, getting our online dog training school,, off the ground, and attending ClickerExpo in Nashville… oh while I was doing that I also sat for the CPDT-KA examination in March (results pending). But all that is past now and things are settling nicely, so I’ve decided to enter a Rally Obedience trial scheduled over a long weekend in May (perfect, since we close the school over long weekends!)

The trial will be held at the Red Barn Event Centre in Barrie, Ontario; this is where Emily got her last leg in Novice and got Elsie her Rally Novice title.

Now the world knows, so I have willingly put a lot of social pressure on myself!!! Nothing like a little negative reinforcement for motivation!!!

I like being methodical about my training, so by my count, I have approximately 14 available afternoons for getting Petey ready for the trial. So I’m putting together my training plans of all the behaviors I need fluent and on-cue, and what criteria elements I plan to introduce to try to proof the behaviours as best as possible.

Before starting training, I decided to take advantage of Pavlov and I am in the process of conditioning both a special collar for Petey, and a special article of clothing for me. I won the collar at a raffle at Whattapup’s opening party. It’s made by The Hydrant, which is a Toronto-based collar/leash manufacturer. For me, I bought an inexpensive zip-up vest from Mountain Equipment Co-op to use as a poor-man’s training vest. I’ve just been putting on the collar, and putting on the vest, and feeding or training Petey.

Petey’s working collar by The Hydrant

The first “unofficial” training day was on Friday evening when I took Petey to Whattapup’s  training hall, as Mirkka had planned to do some training with our fellow trainer-friend Nancy after classes had ended for the night. Check – in a new indoor environment, with dogs milling about and even wrestling, he was focused and worked just as well as when at When Hounds Fly.

This evening was the first “official” training day where I worked on three behaviours primarily.

  1. Front – Just getting it reasonably straight and reasonably close, with a finger point to crotch as the cue
  2. Finish Left – Just getting it reasonably straight and tight with a verbal cue plus either the shoulder lean or left hand swing
  3. Heel – Working on building duration and around and over various articles (I scattered treats on the floor and left novel items around)

So far so good! I look forward to blogging more in this mini-series all the way up to the trial itself.

On Dog Walkers

A responsible and conscientious dog owner selects all their dog care professionals (veterinarian, trainer, groomer, etc.) with care. There is, however, one professional, that needs to be chosen more carefully than any. Yes, even over your dog trainer. That’s your dog walker.

Dog walkers spend a considerable amount of time with your dog. So much of the physical and mental well-being of your dog is dependent on how your dog walker operates his or her business and what their knowledge of dog behavior is like. Unfortunately, many dog walkers that I see would not meet my expectations – I would not put my own dogs in the care of most of the dog walkers I see out there.

I have the luxury of working mostly evenings and weekends – so I take my boys out for walks during the same hours that most dog owners are at work. I walk amongst the dog walkers. I’m often confused for them.

In recent months, some of the things I’ve witnessed include:

– Constant leash corrections – I was picking up Chase (the Jack Russell that I was training for eTalk) and in the span of just a thirty second elevator ride with a dog walker, I counted twenty leash corrections on a Golden Retriever puppy that must have only been 14 weeks old. All the dog was doing was sniffing, or looking around. By the end of the week, if you extrapolate that, that puppy will have received approximately 2000 leash corrections – and not once been taught what to actually do (how about asking the puppy to sit?)

– Violent “alpha rolling” – at Cherry Beach I witnessed a dog walker tackle and then sit on a Chocolate Lab. The dog walker must have been around 200 lbs in weight. Besides creating a dog that is afraid of people/physical touch, that kind of crushing weight can break bones or at minimum cause stress and damage to the spine.

– Bored, unexercised dogs – I see dog walkers that take their groups to the same boring concrete tennis court day in, day out. The dogs don’t even move anymore. They just sit there bored out of their mind. Mentally unstimulated, physically unexercised. What a waste. The worst offender I’ve seen is a dog walker that takes a group of dogs on a leash walk around a 400 meter oval track round and round for an hour – it’s the saddest group of dogs I’ve ever seen.

– Related to boredom – wandering dogs. I go to the dog park armed with amazing treats and squeeky balls, and I’ve worked hard to pump up my dogs’ motivation for toys. They fetch. They chase me down when I hide or run away. Often, a “stray” dog from a dog walker’s group will notice us having so much fun and latch on and try to hang out with us. I’ve left Cherry Beach and headed to the parking lot and have had dogs follow me out – dog walker nowhere to be seen.

Bored dogs at off leash dog parks make their own fun. If they’re not chasing balls or sticks or moving around, I’m fairly certain they’ll end up bothering other owners and other dogs. That’s how inappropriate play, bullying, and eventually fighting breaks out. Dogs that are subjected to physical punishment, especially when delivered by the unskilled hands of a dog walker (you can’t possible time punishment correctly if you’re in charge of six dogs) will eventually develop fear and aggression. In both cases I would rather see the dog stay at home for nine hours a day.

But, enough with the negative! There is hope… there are good dog walkers out there. They are in the minority so I hope you are lucky enough to have one. Last summer, I tagged along with Julie (she is a dog walker by day, and has two employees that walks dogs for her as well) because I wanted to learn a bit about what good dog walkers do, and also improve my own skills in handling multiple dogs at once off leash. I brought my video camera and here’s a montage of what a brilliant group dog walk should look like:

Good dog walkers:

  1. Bring treats. Every day these people are with your dog for about two hours. There are many opportunities where your dogs will do something brilliant – that behavior should be reinforced, so it is repeated. Julie reinforces dogs for making good choices – especially recall.
  2. Get them hooked on fetch. Three great things come from fetch. Gives physical exercise, conditioning a new reinforcer (dogs that’ll do anything for the ball to be thrown), and keeps them busy and out of trouble.
  3. Keep moving. No sitting on a park bench checking text messages, while your dog harasses other dogs due to boredom and causes fights.
  4. Consider mental stimulation. A leash walk around and around the same block is about as exciting as going on a treadmill, as is going to the same fenced in box five days a week. Your dog walker should mix it up regularly.
  5. Pay attention and avoid problems. Strange dog with testicles on a pinch collar hard staring at your dogs coming this way? Recall your dogs and move away quickly. Every other person and dog is a potential risk that requires assessment and the best solution to problems is to avoid them altogether.
  6. Realize they’re not a dog trainer. Julie is, but most aren’t. I recently received an email from a great dog walker I know. She included her client, and described her dog’s recent displays of aggression, and asked for help. A professional knows their limits.

If you’re considering a dog walker, or currently have one, ask hard questions and get good answers. A bad choice – your dog will suffer and you will see the behavioural fallout. A good choice – you’ll see countless benefits, such as improved off-leash recall and a tired, relaxed dog.

Coming When Called!
Duke and Petey Coming When Called!

Book Review: The Evolution of Charlie Darwin by Beth Duman

The Evolution of Charlie Darwin
The Evolution of Charlie Darwin

Published by Earth Voices Publishing, 2011

191 Pages

“Do you want to learn to train your dog using the gentlest dog-friendly methods but you get overwhelmed reading long, complicated training books? If so, this book is for you!”

The Evolution of Charlie Darwin is part dog ownership manual, part chronicle of the the adoption of a rescue dog. The author, Beth Duman is a well known animal trainer – most recently she lectured at the 2011 APDT conference, and is a core dog trainer with Dog Scouts of America, CPDT certified, and is a Victoria Stillwell Positively trainer. Charlie Darwin is her rescue dog and this book chronicles the first year of his life with her, organized around a large collection of training articles.

I’m going to start this review by posing a question to you, assuming you are a fairly knowledgeable dog owner that understands how clicker training works, why we shouldn’t use force and intimidation with our dogs, and have a good general understanding of the science behind how we interact with our dogs.

Have you ever discovered that a friend or family member is getting a new dog, for the first time? What went through your mind when you first found out?

If you’re like me, I hope they ask me for some pointers – perhaps recommendations for good books, finding a great puppy school, develop a love of training their dog, etc.

My worst fear, and what makes my stomach turn, is when I find out later they didn’t take their puppy to puppy socialization classes, or took their dog to a yank and crank or dominance theory trainer, and have been leash popping and tsssting their dog just like “that guy” on TV does. And, it happens. I have friends on Facebook that post videos of going to dog training classes where dogs are tethered to them as they wrap them around poles and trees. It absolutely breaks my heart.

That’s how a book like this can help. It covers a lot of ground – on topics as important and as varied as bringing a new rescue home, how to introduce them to your other pets, crating and confinement, long-lines, socialization, recall, polite greetings, loose leash walking, desensitization to handling, shaping go-to-mat … a LOT of topics. Each topic gets a short two to three page treatment – enough detail for the lesson to be understood, but not so much as to bore anyone. It is really like a collection of useful articles that if you could have eight hours in a quiet room with your friend, you’d go through with them (who does!).

Along the way, Duman includes excerpts from her own training journal with Charlie Darwin, where she writes about her own frustrations with two of his most naughty habits – running off with stolen objects, and fence jumping. We get a glimpse into the thought process of an experienced positive reinforcement trainer about how to address behaviors in her own dog – without using force or intimidation.

While there is content specifically for new puppies, this book shines as a guidebook and reference manual for those with new adolescent or adult rescues – just like Charlie Darwin.

Although primarily written for new dog owners, or those unfamiliar with positive reinforcement training, experienced dog trainers can get a lot out of this book as well. In many ways the book can be looked upon as a checklist of important topics to cover in private consults, group classes, and lectures.

This week, it’s featured on and 30% off, so pick up a copy for yourself, and consider it a book to get for friends and family that are getting a new dog and need that first solid reference manual on their journey.

What I liked:

  • It is a solid collection of training articles covering possibly every topic that a new dog owner should know
  • Each article is detailed enough to make sense and benefit the reader and their dog
  • It can be read in any order, so it is very much a reference manual, which makes it very useful for time-pressed people

Some considerations:

  • It’s best suited for those with a new adolescent or adult rescue. A puppy owner (8 weeks old) would benefit from this book in conjunction with a puppy-specific book as well.

Free Training Plan: Around

Hi Everyone,

After slacking off for two weeks while on holidays (When Hounds Fly was closed, and I also slacked off on Petey’s training) I’m back at it and yesterday I taught Petey a new behavior – “Around” – which is just to go out and go around an object, either left or right, based on how I send him out.  The whole exercise took approximately 20 minutes (of course, broken up into many short, high intensity sessions).

Here are some comments about the training plan:

1) Initially Petey has no idea what to do. We’ve been doing a lot of “go in/on” so he was just jumping on top of the bucket. That’s why I put my leg there – I was hoping he wouldn’t jump up.

2) I moved onto using “Aim for It” (described in Agility Right From the Start) – which is basically just click for action, treat for position.

Click 1 – for heading towards the object

Click 2 – for looking at the intended path

Click 3 – for moving along intended path

Click 4 – for turning head towards intended path, and then cue to mat

Subsequently, less intermediate c/t are required and very quickly, the dog understands the whole path to take as one behavior.

3) Good Agility Practices / Loopy Training

There’s no time for dead time in training! Like I mentioned in my previous post about training with high intensity, the dog is either working, or on their mat.

In clicker training, a loop is:

Cue > Behavior > Click > Consume Reinforcement > Cue > Behavior > Click > Consume Reinforcement

I use the tug toy frequently as a way to deliver the reinforcer, and transport the dog back to their mat – at which point, another loop in the training starts again.

When using food, it’s important to deliver the food in a way that the dog does not have to get frustrated to find it. Usually, my aim is pretty good, but you’ll see on the video there’s a bad bounce (2:11) and Petey has trouble finding it. Having to sniff/scan/search for food breaks the loop. This is inefficient training and can also cause superstitious behaviors to creep into your training.

When it’s time for a break, I send the dog to their mat.

4) The opposite direction: I didn’t include any video, but I started with Aim for It to teach the other direction.

5) Object Generalization: My goal for our first session was for Petey to go around a pylon. So I started with the Pylon on top of the bucket, then moved to a small paint can with the pylon, and then just the pylon. It was nice and easy.

What do you think of the training plan I used? Comment below if you have feedback!

Good Training Decisions Are Obvious With Experience

I’m now a month into the Silvia Trkman course and beginning to crack open the 3rd set of bi-weekly lesson plans.

One of the new exercises I’ve been working on is the 2-on 2-off, which is where a dog learns to go onto a platform, and only have the front two paws come off. This is, as I understand it, used for coming off of obstacles like the A-Frame or Teeter so that the dog doesn’t jump off prematurely, but completely walks off the obstacle.

I started working on the 2-on 2-off, and my first session looked like this (go to the 1:08 mark)

Silvia said it was going fine but I should vary my position, so I kept on working on it, and started working on building distance and some duration. By the third session a few days later I had something like this (starts at the 1:08 mark):

Class was on hiatus for about a week so no comments or questions. So I did a couple more sessions like that. Something dawned on me after the fact though. I was creating a superstitious behavior chain of overshoot the platform and then back up on it! Woops, duh, that should be obvious right? The dog would come off the A-Frame and then back up onto it again.

So today, humbly, I went back and started working on it again. The next clip is a bit on the long side (6 minutes) so you can jump around, but now I’m only c/t if Petey finds the 2on2off position on the first attempt (jump ahead to the 2:35 minute mark):

Fortunately I didn’t get too far along the path before getting back on track.

The other thing I have been working on in this program is perchwork and hind end rotation. If you’ve seen my YouTube channel, you might know that I first taught Petey to perch and rotate for Finish a year ago. But, there’s a problem! I only taught counter clockwise, so he could not go clockwise! This course is forcing me to deal with that, so I am working on a clockwise rotation.

His clockwise rotation is still weaker than counter clockwise, but, it’s coming along nicely. I don’t have much footage of when I first started working on clockwise, but let me tell you, it was like trying to get the toilet bowl to flush the opposite direction. Counter clockwise was so heavily reinforced it was incredibly difficult to get the first movement towards the other way.

Last year I was just greedy and wanted the perfect finish fast, and I got it. But, I should have been thinking about developing Petey symmetrically, because equal awareness for left and right would be important for exercises like cik and cap for faster jumps in agility.


Cik and Cap
Cik and Cap

All these considerations – should be obvious with experience. Having no experience in serious competitive agility, they weren’t obvious to me!

I’ve always felt this way, but these little roadbumps in my training really confirmed that what I already knew. There is a reason why Mirkka teaches our Rally-O class – she has trained dogs to Competition Obedience standards (which are much higher), and why Julie teaches our Tricks class – she has choreographed, trained, and performed full Canine Freestyle routines, and why Emily teaches our Canine Good Neighbour class – two of her dogs are CGN titled dogs.

There’s no such thing as overqualified when it comes to selecting your instructors because only with experience do good training decisions become obvious.


Good Shaping is Stress*-Free

Today during new student orientations, When Hounds Fly welcomed a new student with a 16 month old English Bulldog. Their owner had completed three levels of classes at another dog training school (a typical Toronto dog training school – mostly positive, old-fashioned lure-reward type school). She had watched a lot of our videos and was excited to come to our school and do our Foundations Skills program, even though her dog probably knows many of the behaviors taught. I was really happy to hear that, as it was clear she knew that she was coming to learn how to be a clicker trainer!

“We’re really anal here about good training. You came to the right place.” I said.

“Great, because I don’t want my dog to be confused, wondering what he’s supposed to do, yawning and stressing out anymore.” she replied.

What a brilliant observation. Being a sloppy trainer is not just detrimental to you, in terms of lack of progress. It is highly unfair to the dog. They feel stress and anxiety with poorly timed clicks, low rates of reinforcement, or confusing criteria. Being a great clicker trainer means the dog should seldom, if ever, feel stressed during training.

When you train your dog, what kinds of signs of stress do you observe? For Petey, the first sign is stress lines around his eyes and mouth. If it continues to worsen, he whines quietly while moving frantically. At its worst, he stops moving and lays down, panting and whining. Other dogs bark at their handler in frustration. Some lay down and look depressed. I knew of one that would start growling. None of these feelings are helpful as we are trying to condition good feelings about training.

In my previous post I mentioned I had just enrolled in an online distance course. The first exercise I’ve been working on is to train Petey to put four paws inside a food bowl. The instructor does not give very explicit training plans – figuring it out yourself is part of the learning process. In the below video, I have taken snapshots of the four sessions I did over three days:

In the series of four training sessions on video, I started with a US postal service box, then a black ikea box, then a cardboard box that housed my kettle, and finally the water bowl dish. In each session, Petey never showed signs of anxiety or stress. While he sometimes struggled to get his paws in the container, he knew what he was doing.

Good training means the dog is never stressed or confused. A good training plan is needed first. This four paws in a food dish exercise is a great exercise in thinking about how to shape properly by splitting criteria. It’s so easy! Start with a giant box and work your way down to progressively smaller boxes until you get to the final size you wish. Move down a size/raise criteria whenever the dog hits a certain success rate (80% typically). Box dimensions (length/width/height) are easily quantifiable, so criteria is black and white. Instead of starting with a tiny box, or a food bowl, and getting frustrated, I just spent a lot of time finding perfect size boxes. Then the training went quick!

Unfortunately, not all behaviors have criteria so easy to split and identify as the dimensions of a box. That’s the skill of a great clicker trainer – determining how to split criteria to the smallest increment, devising ingenious ways to setup the training environment so criteria is easy to identify, and ensuring the rate of reinforcement is high enough that the exercises are easy for the dog.

In my earlier videos and training sessions a year or more ago, Petey often got confused and would lay down and get stressed out. I kept on training and pushed through. From now on, if any dog I train shuts down that way, it’s time to stop training and go back to the drawing board.

Always be asking yourself – how can I make this easier for the dog?

Nesting Dolls
Answer: Split Criteria Like Nesting Dolls

*Update: A mere hour after I posted this on our Facebook Page, Casey Lomonaco posted a really great comment: “I partially agree. Learning is stressful, but there is a big difference between eustress and distress.” Thank you – yes – learning is stressful, and I think during a great training session, especially when you are raising criteria, our dogs are buzzing and feeling eustress. And that is a good thing. Thank you Casey!

Online Distance Courses – Silvia Trkman’s LoLaBuLand

Exciting news! I just enrolled in a three month distance education course run by Silvia Trkman. Petey and I are in “Puppy/Tricks Class” and every two weeks we will be given assignments of tasks/tricks to complete. I’m excited to have access to the tutelage of such a world famous trick and agility instructor, and also as it’s been a while since I graduated from the Karen Pryor Academy, I kind of miss the pressure of deadlines and tasks to train. Instead of having to drive 7 hours to a workshop though, participants post videos to document their progress.

I decided to give it a try since a month ago, Julie enrolled in a class with Kay Laurence of Learning About Dogs – another world famous dog trainer. She said she was enjoying it so here goes nothing I thought!

I signed up last night at 1AM in the morning, and the class started ten days ago so I’m already late. The next set of homework comes out in four days and I’m hastily working through the first set. My first challenge is to get Petey to place all four paws inside progressively smaller containers – the final goal would be something as small as a bowl or food dish. We can do it in three days! Wish us luck!

Petey wiped out after box work!
Petey wiped out after box work!

KPA Reunion Weekend at Clicking With Canines

On Friday, July 29th, 43 clicker trainers (Karen Pryor Academy Faculty, Graduates, and some of their friends) from the Northeast travelled to Endicott, NY for the first ever Karen Pryor Academy graduate reunion at Clicking With Canines. Mirkka and I made our way from Toronto (it’s about a 7.5 hour drive) to attend. I left the Beagles at home so it was just her Aussie, Forbes in the back.

Although very casual in feel, the weekend was extremely well put together. It’s thanks to Steve Benjamin (Faculty, and my instructor), Casey Lomonaco, Donna Devoist, and Abbie Tamber for putting in a ton of hard work to make it an amazing weekend! Obviously much of the weekend was educational in nature, so here’s a little bit about what I learned:

Saturday – Morning Presentations

Jules Nye of Sit Stay Play – Separation Anxiety

Jules Nye on Separation Anxiety
Jules Nye on Separation Anxiety

Separation Anxiety is a big topic and rather than cover the basics (that many readers of this blog will already know – if you want a primer, check out this article I wrote a while ago.

Jules asked a number of rather socratic questions and also made many interesting assertions – here they are:

A common cause of separation anxiety is bad experiences during the departure. That could include a cat that beats the dog up, a thunderstorm that occurs while left alone, or, even the return of an abusive owner (i.e. a previously happy dog is sitting on the couch chewing a shoe – owner returns home and proceeds to beat the snot out of the dog – now the dog is anxious when he’s alone because the return of the owner could happen any time).

Jules is not a fan of plain old desensitization (planned departures without the use of any food or reinforcement). Rather she suggests counter conditioning (which means use food in the planned departure).

Give your anxious dog avenues to calm themselves down. Destruction is self-calming behavior, which is why dogs with separation anxiety destroy things. Redirect their self-calming behavior to appropriate objects (buster cubes, food dispensers, etc.) She also asserts that if a dog has a dog door to the yard, and can actually verify the owner is gone, they tend to calm quicker. Chewing, digging, running around, etc.

Poisoned cues – I wrote about this here when I attended Kathy Sdao’s lecture last fall – you can make a dog afraid of food, food toys, or certain behaviors if you cue them prior to leaving. A great way to kill a dog’s stay is to cue a down-stay and then leave.

Confidence training – teach separation anxiety dogs out of sight stays, or send-outs, so they develop a strong reinforcement history for leaving the owner.

To walk or not to walk – in my own article I suggest exercising a dog prior to leaving them home alone. She posed the question “to walk or not to walk” and it is dependent on whether being outside creates more anxiety in the dog. For example, if a dog is generally anxious and could spook by being out there (reactive to dogs, cars, people?) then walking first prior to departing would only make their anxiety greater at home.

Lastly, Jules stated she is supportive of the use of medication for cases that call for it. Fluoxetine, Clomipramine, Benzodiazepines – drugs can lower threshold so the behavior mod works. In some cases, dogs are just genetically predisposed to being highly anxious and medication can help them relax in other situations where they are under a lot of stress.

Andre Yeu of When Hounds Fly – Business Startup

I did a brief presentation on how I started and grew When Hounds Fly to where it is today. Sorry, you just had to be there for it!

Leanne Falkingham – Shelter Training

Leanne Falkingham - Shelter Training
Leanne Falkingham - Shelter Training

Leanne gave us a glimpse of her world – her dog shelter – where she has implemented extremely progressive training, management, and enrichment programs.

A stark fact she shared is that the majority of dogs surrendered to shelter were only with their owners for 3 months. The majority are between 6 months to 2 years and are showing early signs of aggressive behavior. In New York State, Jack Russell Terriers, German Shepherds, Huskies, and Pit Bulls make up the majority of breeds surrendered or picked up as stray.

Training implemented: Dogs are clicked and treated for being quiet, and sitting when greeted. Unlike most shelters, her shelter is quiet, and dogs know to sit for attention. This increases the likelihood of their adoption (no one wants a barky dog that will knock over grandma). Dogs are required to sit for everything (sit for harness, sit for kennel door opening, etc.) and dogs are taught impulse control/zen around toys.

Environmental Enrichment: Their outdoor area has been setup like an agility playground and staff and volunteers take the dogs out when it’s there turn for outside play. Inexpensive food/puzzle toys are used, such as a muffin tray with tennis balls (treats are hidden under the tennis balls). Dogs also take turns actually spending time with staff in the office side of the shelter, sitting in office chairs or curled up on the floor, meeting and greeting employees and visitors.

She also plays music like Through a Dog’s Ear, but also recommended Canine Lullabies (I had never heard of it before). Check it out.


Casey Lomonaco of Rewarding Behaviors – Treiball

Casey Lomonaco - Treiball
Casey Lomonaco - Treiball

Casey is very active in the (new) Treiball community and she gave us an intro to Treiball lecture. Treiball is a very new dog sport, imported from Germany, where dogs are directed by their handlers to push balls into a goal. Can’t visualize it? Just watch this video.

Perhaps the most interesting fact about this sport that I learned is that an untrained dog can easily puncture a Treiball inflatable. One hard paw or one nip and the ball is destroyed. So the crazier a dog is for a ball, the more time must be spent on impulse control. The first skill Casey focuses on teaching is a good strong hard push, without any pawing or biting.

The types of push training she’ll run dogs through include:

  • Turn on a tap-light (those lights that look like the Staples Easy button)
  • Push doors closed
  • Push drawers closed
  • Unroll a rolled up carpet
  • Push a giant popcorn tin
  • Roll a coffee can
  • Push a child’s wagon
Then the inflatables are introduced – initially the balls are held stationary and nose touches on a target (masking tape) are shaped for precision and also push strength.
The other foundation behavior that must be taught is a solid send out. The dog leaves the handler, goes past the inflatables, and is expected to reorient to the handler and lie down until released to push balls.
As the sport is new, rules and regulations are just evolving in the US, but she also gave us a glimpse into the future, in where more advanced Treiball will include inflatable discrimination (the order in which the dog pushes each ball into the goal) obstacles (hilly areas) and possibly even relay teams (like Flyball). Very cool!
Laurie Luck Smart Dog University Nose Work
Laurie Luck discussing Nosework
Laurie Luck is a KPA Faculty Member from Maryland. She gave us a great introduction to the relatively new dog sport of Nose Work.
Nosework is great for all dogs, but especially those that can’t compete in traditional dog sports. Reactive dogs, handicapped dogs, old dogs can do nosework as dogs work one dog at a time while other dogs are crated in other rooms.
The foundation work for Nosework is to build a “search ethic” in a dog. How you start is simply getting a bunch of old shoe boxes and putting treats inside one – release your dog to sniff and find the box with treats. Once the dog has found the box with treats, go in and add more treats to further reinforce the dog’s search ethic.
The next step is to utilize classical conditioning to pair specific scents with treats. Anise, birch, and clover are the three scents used in nosework. By pairing the scent of clover with treats, the dog will eventually learn to seek out the box with the scent of clover alone. Dogs are also taught an indication behavior so that they can communicate to the handler when they have found the scent (i.e. sit next to the box with the scent)
The types of environments that nosework is done in consist of interior rooms, exterior spaces, a series of containers, and a vehicle.
Nosework is inexpensive, easy to get into, and doesn’t require a lot of space. Hopefully we can offer a nosework class in the future at When Hounds Fly!
Mo Carter – Bird Training
Mo Carter Bird Training
Mo Carter - Bird Training
Mo shared a photo album of a trip she took to a bird training camp where they worked with various exotic birds.
Two things that I took from the presentation were: 1) These birds were free to fly away and escape any time they wanted, but they always returned to their handlers when released. 2) The bigger birds of prey are rewarded with mice!!!  Yuck!
Emma Parsons - Click to Calm
Emma Parsons - Click to Calm Classes
If you have a reactive dog, you know who Emma Parsons is, because you’ve hopefully read her classic “Click to Calm”. In her presentation she shared course descriptions, physical setups, curriculum, and video clips of her famous Click to Calm classes she teaches in Boston.
There were three points that stood out and I made sure to remember from the presentation:
Staffing – The class nearly has a 1-to-1 assistant to student ratio. These classes are extremely labor intensive.
Cacophony of clicks – They are splitting like crazy. Click, feed, click, feed, click, feed. No lumping. The video clips made me like a bad lumper when it comes to my old boy Duke when I work on his reactivity.
Regression is part of the process – Relief for me… my own reactive dog, Duke, constantly goes through ups and downs. A few months ago we were passing dogs on the same side of the sidewalk with ease, and then for a number of reasons, became sensitized again – he’s on his way back to being able to pass dogs on the street again. It makes me feel better knowing that from Emma’s own experience, regression is not a failure or even necessarily a function of bad training.
The rest of the weekend was mostly spent outdoors – including an amazing twilight dinner and social at Steve Benjamin’s place (including a dip in his pond – where Deb Ross gave me some pointers on improving my front crawl) and the following day, Mirkka and I were at an agility workshop put on by Abbie Tamber, another KPA CTP who teaches agility in the area. (Other activities included Lure Coursing, Treiball, and a trail hike). I had so much fun just watching, when I returned home, I ordered a set of agility equipment for When Hounds Fly (weave poles, tunnel, four jumps, teeter) and am fired up about training Petey for agility. Pictures tell a thousand words so here are some pictures of Steve’s beautiful property:
Steve's Pond
Steve's Pond
Abbie's Wobble Board
Abbie's Wobble Board
Steve's Place
Steve's Place


Abbie's JRT handled by Lori Gwyr
Abbie's JRT handled by Lori Gwyr


Forbes and Mirkka running through channels
Forbes and Mirkka running through channels
Abbie's JRT
Abbie's JRT

Video: Abbie’s JRT handled by Lori Gwyr


And lastly a group shot! There’s a number of famous dog trainers there (and a dolphin trainer!)

KPA Reunion Photo 07-31-2011
KPA Reunion Photo


Again thanks to all the Southern Tier NY State KPA folks for putting on such a big undertaking. Other faculty members are planning reunions in other parts of the country so hopefully KPA CTPs everywhere can have a blast like we did. Mirkka and I are working on something for Ontario-area KPA CTPs for 2012 already…