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…


The Four Phases of a Positive Reinforcement Trainer

A few weeks ago, I was invited by Katie Hood (Karen Pryor wrote about Katie in her recent letter about her trip to When Hounds Fly) to come watch a rehearsal of The Animal Show.

The Animal Show is a one-person play written and performed by Katie.  In her own words (from her web site) it’s:

“A tale of caring for unwanted animals in Animal Rescue and the responsibility/hilarity that goes with it.  Follow this fresh-faced (mostly klutzy) newcomer as she rescues bald eagles from the ocean, pulls 41 cats from one house, and falls in love with the man who saves a three-legged kitten.”

Katie draws from her own experiences in working in animal rescue – being on-call 24/7, enduring the hardships of helping mortally wounded animals, and perhaps most importantly, learning to cope with the public (that often don’t care one bit about the welfare of animals) and the bureaucracy (that often puts profit ahead of care). Katie structured her play around Doug Fakkema’s “Four Phases of Animal Rescue”, which describes the phases that someone working in animal rescue goes through (as follows):

Phase One:  ZEALOTRY: Red hot and raring to go, we are out to change the world. We are high on life. We know that we can make a difference, that our efforts on behalf of animals will ease their plight.

Phase Two:  ZOMEBIEHOOD: Our Phase One enthusiasm has turned sour; the bubble bursts and we crash and burn. We see the same people coming into the shelter with yet another litter—they haven’t heard our message. We continue to euthanize; there seems no end to it.

Phase Three:  MISANTHROPY: Our Phase Two depression has turned outward and we’re mad as hell. Hopelessness turns to rage. We begin to hate people, any people and all people unless, like our coworkers, they dedicate their lives to animals the way we do.

Phase Four:  “Big Picture Time”: Over time, though, the depression of Phase Two and the anger of Phase Three can become replaced with a new determination and understanding of what our mission really is. This is Phase Four—big picture time. We realize that we have been effective locally—and in some cases, regionally and even nationally. So we haven’t solved the problem (who could?), but we have made a difference for dozens, even hundreds and sometimes thousands of animals. We have changed the way others around us view animals. We begin to see our proper place in our own community, and we begin to see that we are most effective when we balance our work and out-of-work lives.

Katie’s performance is deeply personal – she travels through all of the four phases and her story reminds me of my own experiences in animal rescue.

I’ve volunteered and fostered at a handful of rescues – for sure, the rescue organizations led by those that are in Phase Four of their development of animal rescuers are by far the most efficient. They are realistic in their objectives. They respect and balance their need for personal time as well as their volunteers’ time. They never get angry at people and recognize that people make mistakes. Rescue organizations that have frustrated me are led by people that bounce around from Phase 1 to 3 depending on the time of day. They constantly lose volunteers, foster homes, and applicants. It’s hard to work with people that can go from boundless energy, to clinically depressed, to combative all in one day.

The Animal Show prompted me to reflect on a lot of things.  I realized that although I have never been heavily involved in animal rescue, I’ve also gone through a similar process of transformation as a positive reinforcement dog trainer. It’s a journey that’s also deeply personal and at times I’ve done things that I’m embarrassed of.  Here’s my journey, categorized into “The Four Phases of a Positive Reinforcement Trainer”.

Phase One:  SMUG:  You finally understand what a clicker is. Your dog is able to learn behaviors quickly and you think your dog is just the smartest thing ever and that you’re the most amazing trainer. Your dog walks beautifully on leash, comes when called, and knows a bunch of impressive tricks. You can’t help but feel like your dog is better than all the other dogs at the park, and you can’t help but feel schadenfreude when you see another owner struggling with their dog’s pulling, or their inability to collect their dog when it’s time to go home.

A personal story:  Long before I even thought of becoming a professional dog trainer, someone at a Beagle rescue meetup saw me working with Duke with a clicker. He came to ask me about it. Rather than be a gracious representative of clicker training, I said something curt along the lines of “Well a clicker is something you need to get trained on how to use.” If by any chance you are reading this, man, I am sorry. I hope you went to Google that night and searched for “Clicker Training”. I could have just sent you to if I wasn’t so self-absorbed at the time.

Phase Two:  DISCOURAGED:  Time goes by and you’re no longer as caught up in your dog and your own training exploits. You start looking outward.  What do you see?  Dog after dog on the street in a prong collar.  Another owner alpha-rolling and scruff shaking their puppy.  A dog walker getting cross with one of their dogs and hanging it by the leash to “show him who’s boss”.  You ask yourself, how could there be so many of them and so few of us?  You can’t remember the last time you saw anyone teach their dog using food or toys at the park. And, oh great, everyone is taking their dog to that evil dog training school that advocates forced pinnings and leash corrections strong enough to send a dog off all four of their paws in the air. Everyone’s just beating on their dogs.

Another personal story: I stopped going to the more popular dog parks because it was just too much for me to watch.  It bothered me whenever I saw dogs getting beat up. I only recently started going back.

Phase Three:  ANGRY:  You just can’t take it anymore. Anyone doing or teaching these methods that you find so repulsive must be stopped. Everywhere, anywhere! You spend countless hours on Facebook or other message boards arguing with Cesar Milan devotees about why “dominance” isn’t the reason why that dog is misbehaving.  You give people walking their dogs on prong collars dirty looks. When someone asks you at a dinner party “Oh, you like dogs?  Do you watch the Dog Whisperer?”, you read them the riot act, including the full AVSAB Position Statement on Dominance Theory.

Another personal story: While I didn’t spend a lot of time in this phase, I sometimes even now take a peep at different Facebook groups dedicated to hating on certain TV dog trainers.

Phase Four:  “Big Picture Time”: After spending time being arrogant, depressed, and militant – sometimes all three in one day, you come to realize that the reason why you love positive reinforcement training is because you love dogs. If you love dogs, then your goal should be to help people love positive reinforcement training as well. You can’t accomplish that by being smug, depressed, or combative. When I understood this, I enrolled in the Karen Pryor Academy, with the intent of opening When Hounds Fly.

Thoughts about Phase Four:

  • I catch more flies with honey than vinegar – there’s no point in vilifying the alpha roller, scruff shaker, or leash popper. They are just doing what they think is right. They do it because someone told them that it would help their dog, and in the end, they care enough about their dog to try. I’m ready for them when they want my help.
  • Reinforce what you like, ignore what you don’t.  There are many dog owners out there that carry a clicker in one hand and a prong collar in the other.  Don’t vilify them either.  Reinforce them for using a clicker. As they get better, the prong collar will collect dust. Attack them for having the prong collar and they’ll never want to get rid of it. Today, a new client came with their leash reactive dog on a prong collar.  I made no mention of it, until forty minutes into our appointment, it came time to start training, at which point I let them try a Sense-ation harness, which they loved, and purchased on the spot.
  • “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothin’ at all.”
  • An hour spent blogging about clicker training will help hundreds, possibly thousands of people.  An hour spent ranting about how evil (insert TV dog trainer’s name here) is doesn’t help anyone.
  • I see so many Easywalk and Sense-ation harnesses nowadays. I also hear the sounds of faint clicks in the distance and delight to see my students training their dogs outside. Change starts one dog and owner at a time!
  • I aspire to be here in Phase Four more often than not.  Sometimes I bounce back to other phases, but I really try to think about the big picture and pull myself back… quickly!
Whether you like it or not, by clicker training your dog, you are an ambassador for modern, science-based training. How you interact with other dog owners will have a profound influence on that dog owner’s opinion of not just you, and not just clicker trainers, but the whole world of clicker training, period! So let’s make a great impression the first time and every time.
Duke and Petey Beagles
Duke and Petey
And… if you live in Edmonton, Victoria, or Vancouver, make sure to check out The Animal Show in August, at each city’s respective Fringe Festival – check out for show information and dates!

Don’t Phone It In – Make Class Count

In the previous post in my series on being a dog training school student, I covered everything I do leading up to actually attending class.  So now this post will cover how I make the most out of an hour long dog training class.

The biggest change and improvement in how I train has to do with how I view the structure of a class.

An hour long class = Thirty 1-minute training sessions with thirty 1-minute breaks

An hour long class is a VERY long time – not only for the dog, but for the handler as well.  It’s impossible for both you and your dog to maintain maximum focus and intensity for 60 minutes non-stop.  If you try, your dog will slow down, and you’ll slow down – you’ll get winded, your mind will wander, you’ll get sloppy with your criteria and mechanical skills, and your dog will get frustrated and confused.  As your dog gets confused, he’ll start checking out and you’ll lose his focus.

A dog training class is very much like a workout routine.  Some of you might know that I am a huge fan of interval training and also a huge Jillian Michaels fan.  Her 20 minute workouts are intense, well structured, and never let you zone out.  You do a set of cardio moves, then a set of strength moves, then core, then repeat, until after 20 minutes you are done.  Each set is only 1-2 minutes in duration so that during each set you maintain focus, intensity, and good form.



While it’s possible for you to do 7 minutes of skip rope, 7 minutes of weights, then 7 minutes of crunches, your skipping would end up being sloppy, you’d end up with poor form on the w?eights, ?and you would probably start trying to get away with sloppy crunches.  Short duration bursts allow you to perform with intensity and also recover for another set.  One of my favorite quotes from her 30 Day Shred DVD is:

“If you want results from a 20 minute workout, you can’t rest.  This will save you hours of phoning it in at the gym.”

So that’s what a 30 Day Shred workout looks like.  Here’s what the equivalent can look like in dog training.



Your Dog’s Station – Off Duty and On Break

As soon as you arrive in class, prior to actually beginning work, put your dog at their station.  This can be their crate, or their mat (hence the need for a fluent Go to Mat behavior with a stay).  When the dog is stationed, this is when you can think, plan, refill on treats, take notes, or listen to or talk to the instructor.  You can borrow a mat from the school, or bring your own (this is best, since it’ll be a constant no matter what training environment you go to).  Reinforce your dog randomly for holding a down-stay at their station.

Ready to Train?  Wait Just a Minute!

Before you release your dog… make sure you can answer these questions:

  1. What is the behavior I am training?
  2. What is the criteria for which the dog will earn a click/treat?
  3. What is the shaping plan? (What are the additional steps of criteria beyond the first level of criteria?)
  4. Where will I keep the reinforcers (treats, toys, etc.)?
  5. Where will I place the reinforcement?
  6. What could do wrong?
  7. What will I do if everything goes horribly wrong?
  8. What will I do if the dog advances their behavior to higher levels of criteria quickly?
  9. What will I do if I forget what I am doing?

There are a lot of different answers to all these questions (and there are probably more questions!).  The point of this exercise is to at least have a training plan ready in your head, even if the whole exercise goes horribly wrong (#6).  The possible answers to #7 and #9 are a) Keep working anyways or b) Send the dog back to their station.

Hit It!

Pre-count the # of treats you will use in a session so that you don’t run the risk of training for too long.  In general, I try to make each session last about one minute in length.  This is because a training session should be short enough that the handler can remember the entire training session.

Three more, two more, last one… When you’re down to your last treat, send the dog back to their station.  You can use the last treat as a reinforcer for going to station.

Dog at Station – Time to Think and Plan

Now that your dog is back at station, you can take a moment to review the training session you just completed.  What went well?  Was the rate of reinforcement high enough?  Is it time to increase criteria for the next training session? Or, if it went poorly, what went wrong, and how can you lower criteria to increase the rate of reinforcement?

This is a great time to take notes, record data in a notebook, get more treats ready, and reset the training environment if required (obstacles, props, etc.)

Some Other Notes:

  • Putting the dog at a station builds anticipation, which can increase the motivation and enthusiasm of the dog once they are released. This can build some speed in your behaviors.
  • Staying at station is training in itself.  If the dog breaks station, send them back and make them hold it until released.  This is a stay exercise and letting the dog break station and then proceeding to train them will cause your stay behavior to deteriorate.
  • If the instructor comes to talk to you and you are in the middle of a training session, send the dog to their station before engaging with them.  It’s OK to be rude to the instructor and ignore them for a few seconds while you wrap up.
  • If the instructor starts lecturing, also send the dog to their station so you can give your undivided attention to the instructor while giving your dog a break.
  • You can also station your dog while waiting for class to begin – if you’re early for class, put down your mat and have them stay on it while waiting for class to begin.

Hope you enjoyed the post!  On a side note, making this video was helpful for me as well.  I spotted a bunch of sloppy training errors I made and I’ve broken them down and will be working on improving my own training skills as a result.  If you watch my video and can see errors I’ve made, comment below!

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, 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,
Perfect Macarons
Perfect Macarons,

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 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!