Monday, May 5, 2014

Tyler's Journey - My first K9 Partner

Born in 2000, Tyler was one of two pups left in a litter of 6. She and her brother were the only two black and white siblings in the GSDs “Free to a Good Home” advertised in the local paper… I was living in North Carolina. My last dog, Keisha had run off after letting her play with Jeff’s dog at their house. His was tied, I was naive. And I learned my lesson.

So, I wanted another dog in my life. I wanted a GSD. Never had one and always wanted a big, rough, fuzzy friend…found this ad and drove an hour or so to check them out…but only the two were left. Seems the in-house Shepherd, a female named Gretchen, was a former police dog. Gretchen’s owners, for some reason didn't know her old commands when they adopted her…not sure how that worked, so I asked her to sitz…she did, at attention! She platzed too. Seemed surprised that someone knew her language.

Meeting the two pups, there was a black one with a lil white stripe and there was a black and white one that was all wiggles and smiles… she ran to me and curled around my legs…and my heart. She was 5 months old when I put her in the back of my first Trooper.

Home life was frustrating as she’d not been properly house trained…like at all. So, it was about 6 months of clean up and frustration. Took her to work with me at this little pet supply store where she was the mascot and greeter…great socialization. We went on walks around a local lake doing off leash obedience in Cary, NC. At home, I brought pigs ears to a nearby church and began swiping them along the ground as I walked then hiding them among the little old tombstones….then I’d go get her, let her go and she’d follow the trail all the way to the treat every time! I was amazed at her intelligence and tenacity! This was way before I knew anything about SAR, mind you.

Once at the store, she opened the back door to go pee herself… I never knew anything till after I was done helping a customer, I couldn't find her…she was outside the front door. She had let herself out, peed, walked around the whole strip mall and was waiting at the front glass door to be let in!! Shit!! I let her in and asked her if she went outside? She took me to the back door that had one of those swing handles on it, jumped up and smacked it…going right out before the big heavy fire door hit her butt….whoa. I knew I was in deep with this girl.

Another 6 months or so and I moved home to my parents’ place in Central California. I don’t remember what I was thinking, or what spurred me to do it…there was no Word from on high. Just emailed the local contact for the California Rescue Dog Association, Norma Snelling. Met with her and a few others in their training group and Tyler ran a short trail…Norma said, “well I think you got a trailing dog there”. I was elated. And we began going to training weekly. 2 hrs from Exeter to Madera Co. I had two days off a week from my little security gig. I drove up Wednesday evenings to our typical search area…camped at Bass Lake, trained Thursday morning then drove home that afternoon. Did this for 2 years. (Those of you that bitch about 30 minute drives to training and not having “enough time”? If you WANT it, you’ll find the time)

Tyler was a low to medium drive dog. I didn't know that then nor did it matter. Like most newbies, I still wanted to work her cause she was my dog…we could keep her at a medium level, but as I've learned there is SO much work in keeping a dog’s drive up…when that energy could be spent in other areas. Tyler was no Dascha…but I am glad to have had Tyler as my first dog…my teacher.

After a couple years in CA, I moved my parents home to IL to retire. Tyler came with me and was a great training partner and helped introduce SAR to many interested in the Southern IL area. She was always with me and I loved it. As she got to about age 6 I decided to look for a new dog. Younger, more driven. Tyler was retired and helped raise three other search dogs in my home. Teaching them appropriate play behavior and manners in the house. Strong maternal instincts in this mutt!

In 2010 I moved in with a girl I’d been dating. Tyler chose this time to sleep outside. No reason why, just always wanted out…and she’d lay on the porch, content. I got her a dog house and she was good. No tether, she didn't wander far, just to the edge of the property and back…each year getting slower and slower, but always quick with a bowowow at strangers that pulled up, or a tail wag and hobble over for a scratch when I got home. Always faithful.
This last year she has taken on the look of the old dog, had a stroke (I think) about 5 months ago. She was immobile for 4 days, not having use of her hindquarters. Got “better” but started losing her appetite, strength and mass and I could feel her time was nearing an end. Two days ago it happened again. I couldn't let her life decline in stages.  All things, good and bad, come to an end.

A friend reminded me today, they are a small part of our lives, but we are all of theirs. And I thought, we outlive them, but they out love us.

14 years she has loved me. She’s seen me come and go, do right and wrong, listened to me bitch and moan, and laugh and cry. I've camped with her in the Sierras, on the coast in N. California, on the Snake River in Oregon, splashed in the water off the Pacific and watched her swim out to sea, chasing seagulls! I watched her break up fights at dog parks and nuzzle newborn bunnies. We flew over Fresno in a helo, and ridden together in ATVs for training. We watched fireworks over Bass Lake in CA. Trained at the K9 training facility on the NASA base. She’s been with me longer than any woman and more faithful than some. She’ll always be a part of me and I hope that I've been the kind of person she deserved.

Don’t post sorrys or apologies. Today is not a day for your sorrow. She had an AMAZING life. And I’m proud to have had her as my best friend for this long. She’s taken some risks and always come out on top and by my side. She’s a good dog. And now she’s Free. 

Monday, March 10, 2014


One of the most common problems that people complain about with their dogs is the inability for a dog to not jump up on somebody they meet.

Whether it's a little kid walking into the room, the owner coming home after work and walking in the front door, or meeting people on the walk through town. These issues are merely of the dog's misunderstanding of training. At some point it found that it was rewarding to jump up on you. Or on somebody that you were meeting. And it continued this behavior and what's your first response when it happens? We yell "OFF!"

By yelling "off" we're not telling them its ok to do something, but were telling them that it's unacceptable to be doing what they are doing. Well, at least that's what we think we're doing, and that makes sense in our head. In the dog's head they've already completed the behavior. And what you are wanting is to give a command for the next behavior which is to go from the standing up with my muddy paws on somebody's chest position to a four feet on the floor position.

While this is the intended goal of getting the dog off of somebody, what we would really like is for the dog never to jump up. So why do we not train this behavior instead?? Exactly the question that leads to the next and more appropriate way of training.

As opposed to waiting for the dog to rush up to somebody and jump,  next time, walk up to somebody that is remaining calm and quiet, being non-stimulated, and have them stand there while you put the dog into a Sit. Once the dog is in a sit, then, have the person reach out and pet the dog's head.

To begin with,  this is all you need.

Walk towards someone with the dog on leash. Have the dog sit just before it would normally begin to get ready to jump up, you'll need to watch your body's dogs body language to understand when this is about to happen. When they sit, have the person pat the dog on the head with little or no fanfare, so the dog gets a reward for it,  but there is low stimulation, keeping the dog from feeling the need to jump , and then the interaction is done.

Continue this until the dog is comfortable and used to sitting every time they approach somebody. Then they can have a little bit more freedom. If any time they began to jump back up, go back to the non-stimulating, slow introductions. You'll find your happy balance. And you'll also find happier interactions with people you approach!

Happy training!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

High Value Food Rewards

re▪ward    riˈwôrd
noun: reward; plural noun: rewards
1. a thing given in recognition of one's service, effort, or achievement.
"the holiday was a reward for 40 years' service with the company"
synonyms: recompense, prize, award, honor, decoration, bonus, premium, bounty, present, gift, payment; More
a fair return for good or bad behavior.
synonyms: recompense, prize, award, honor, decoration, bonus, premium, bounty, present, gift, payment;

There are various types of rewards that you can provide for your dog for good behavior. Toys, treats and praise. For this discussion I'm going to only focus on food rewards. Most of the discussions I have with clients revolve around food or treat rewards.

A reward can come in many shapes and sizes. Chunks of hot dogs, dry biscuits, kibble from their normal food, bacon, slices of chicken, various dog treats, it's up to your imagination as to what type of treats to give your dog.

What's not up to your imagination is the value that the dog puts into the rewards that you have chosen for her (For this discussion, the dogs will be referred to in the female gender).  The same can be said for anyone that you meet on the street. If you take a packet of bite size carrots and walk down the street and hand them out, first of all people are going to wonder why you're giving out free carrots, second of all not everybody is going to eat one. I myself can't stand carrots. So if you had hand one to me I would thank you for your kindness and then either return it or throw it away. On the other hand someone else may love them and gobble it up. The same can be said for chocolate, however there seems to be very few people that would turn down a bite of good chocolate. But they're out there! And you never know until you ask.

Now viewing this from the dog's perspective, we buy treats for dogs, usually erring on the side of lower prices. But, even though the dog may eat them, what ever they happened to be, is it the thing that she love the most? Is the drive is get more valuable than the food on your plate? Or her own dog food? We have to take this into consideration when we are asking them to do they're obedience training. If the reward that were offering isn't as interesting or valuable as going to the food bowl and getting the last few pieces of kibble out, then we need to reevaluate what we're trying to reward with.

You can easily view this as considering yourself and your employer. If your employer was to walk up and say that you would get a $5 bonus for working on your day off, would you do it? What if it was a $500 bonus? Ah, so there's more incentive there yes? The same can be said for your dog. If I hold a dry biscuit in front of their nose,  they may go after it, but in my other hand if I have a piece of cheese, or bacon, more than likely their interest will go to that hand.

So my question is, why continue to try to use the treats that you have been using up until now instead of turkey, chicken, bacon, cheese? You're not feeding this as a regular meal, you're merely using it to reward and behavior and then that treat is put away. It is a tool to make a behavior more consistent. Not something to do for the rest of her life or as a full meal.

Buy various types of treats when you're trying to work out what works best for her. Cook a few different things, drained as much grease off to possible of course, and then make small baggies. And over the next few days use different treats when doing your obedience. See what works best. I know some dogs that go crazy for those carrots we mentioned earlier. I'm working with a dog currently that loves banana chips. However, if I cook up some bacon, I can 99 percent of the time get a great  response from a dog during training.

Don't limit yourself to what works at the moment only, or what kind of works, or what's  "healthiest" , or what's cheapest. If you want the best behavior out of your dog, find the best treat for her!

Happy Training!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

"Positive" Reinforcement

Let's talk about positive reinforcement. The term "positive reinforcement" is often misused by marketing companies and those that sell toys or devices or even training for dogs. It's used to provide a description or a name for a product that they want you to think is happy, and produces positive thoughts or outcome for your dog. And everyone wants their dog to be happy, hence the intentional misuse and eventual misinterpretation of the word  "positive".

So let's breakdown the phrase.
Positive = the adding to
Reinforcement = anything causing a situation or behavior to repeat

In the terms of training, the phrase positive means adding to, not, positive as in: good and happy. So anything that you do with your voice, touch, leash, electronic collars, rattle can, etc are going to be adding to a situation. Now if those things that you add to the situation cause of behavior to repeat, then you are reinforcing. And the behavior will repeat again because of the reinforcement it received the last time.

Example: a dog in the other room is barking from its kennel, you, from your bedroom yell, "no!" The dog goes quiet for a few seconds, then begins to bark again. You repeat, "No!" Again the dog is quiet for a few seconds then continues to bark.

In your mind the word "no" is a reprimand, the punishment for the dog doing something that you don't approve of. After all you do need your beauty sleep.  In the dog's mind they are merely seeking your attention, they can't see you, they can't hear you, so in order to get that attention, they do whatever it is that will get it. In this case it's barking. They are rewarded by merely hearing your voice. You have added to the situation. This in turn reinforces the parking. And so you are POSITIVELY reinforcing the behavior.

Training your dog is not merely giving it treats and putting a leash on it. There are portions of Psychology with you can pull from and learn so much more about how a dog thinks. This is the part that I find fascinating. We can guide our dogs to be better pets, partners, family members by understanding how they understand the world. They don't use logic or reasoning so its not as easy as sitting them down to explain why you have done something. Once you understand how they see the world and interact with it, your next training session will be much more fun and in-depth than you ever expected!

Happy training!

Suggested  reading:

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Rewarding Your Dog

"I've been praise training him and its going great! "

So, consider this:

Your boss tells you from now on he's gonna give tickets to the local opera as payment from now on,instead of money! Yay! They are worth hundreds of dollars each! However,  you can't resell or trade them away, but you can still go as your payment, right? what if your boss told you that he was going to hand out gold nuggets instead of those Opera tickets? Would you then be more inclined to accept them as payment?

Well, as much as a dog may love your "payment" of a head pat and "good girl" it the same or better to her as a chunk of hot dog or other treat? If no...then you are forcing your opinion of a "good reward" on her...if so, then there's no problem.

WE have to be honest in our approach to what works and what doesn't...just cause WE think something is good for them, doesn't mean it's going to be something that gets the best response from them!

Experiment with your dog. Try different rewards, and see if they bring out better results. many dogs like different things, you may find that one magical items at the dog will do anything  for.

Many of the store bought treats may have a good taste of them but may not be overly nutritious, as long as you're not feeding  "too much" to them during training, then it shouldn't  too much of a concern. However don't overfeed them anything that's bad for them. Ever. Refer to the product description and ingredients, and always confer with your vet if you have concerns. over. Go lay down.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Leash Work or Line Handling

It's called different things, Leash work, line handling, leash control, etc.

But the connection from you to your dog is as important as speech is at times. Your dog, whether you realize it or not,  listens to everything that you say through your leash. If you're sad, distracted, mad, whatever your emotion is, guaranteed it will be transmitted down that line. The leash also transmits corrections or tugs that you do intentionally, but at the same time they transmit how you hold your hand,  where you hold it, and the little things that you do that you don't even realize you've done. If you talk with your hands you should be careful about waiting them around as you're talking to others. The dog will get used to this behavior, but in the wrong instance they can take it as a correction should you yank the collar.

Looking at the leash itself, it can be made out of many things, but either way it is either loose or tense during its use. It is used by many people to make sure the dog doesn't run off, this is  can be a sign of an untrained or poorly trained animal. The leash should be there for the dog safety, and any laws or ordinances the required. A well trained dog should never have to held back or restrained in some way so that it doesn't go somewhere or do something with the handler does not want. If you have a good training, and acceptable circumstances around you, you should be able to bring your dog back to you by voice, or not have the dog leave in the first place by training. (Part of our responsibility as dog owners or canine handlers, is to expose the dogs different situations with their training so that we, and they, are prepared and we'll know what they're going to do in those situations. Not every situation can be prepared for or exposed to the dog, so when it does happen, instead of being upset by the situation, use it as a training opportunity. Or mark it down for an opportunity later in that dogs training.)

In a well trained dog's circumstance the leash can be used to communicate to the dog upcoming left or right turns so that the dog knows which way to turn, but even that can be done away with if the dog is already paying attention to your feet and your direction.

So aside from training, let's look at the uses and proper handling for the leash.

Types of leashes: The type of leash you choose  is completely up to the owner or the handler. You can find them in nylon, cotton, leather, even fake leather. It's up to your hands as to what is comfortable and safe. Another thing to consider is length. Standard length seems to be four or six foot long. You can get shorter lengths but there tends to be more tugging on short leashes by those that don't have  good training with their dogs. And with a leash longer than 6 foot there tends to be a lot of confusion and stepping on leashes, getting them wrapped around things, and the dog tripping over them. So I would stay with the standard length of 6 or 4 foot. For training I usually use a 4-foot lead as it allows me enough room to let the dog make choices and be right or wrong with out unwanted pressure on their collars. And there's not a lot of balling up of leash or winding it up so the dog can be next to me and not have a whole bunch of leash laying on them or around them.

For advanced obedience and teaching your dog to stay or come, using a long lead can come in handy as well. Long leads can be anywhere from 10 to 30 feet long. You can buy them at pet stores or even at feed stores. Usually they come in cotton.

Handling of the leash: Pick a side that you want your dog to walk on. Its okay for the dog to walk on both sides, however start with one side for your initial training and teach the dog how to do it properly, then you can incorporate the other side after the dog learns the basics. Whether its left to right is completely up to the handler. Sometimes this matters due to the handler being right or left handed. If it's a service dog there may be other implications or reasons to having the dog on one side or the other.

The leash itself should make a "U", coming down from your hand and looping back up before touching the ground, to the dogs collar. There should be no tension on the leash where the dog is pulling a handler. Again we're not going to go into how to train a dog not to pull, merely how the leash should be handled. If the dog makes a change from one side to the other or has to navigate around objects, your job is to keep the leash clear of their legs and the objects that they maneuver around. If you're not successful, the leash can hang up on you, the dog, or said objects and can provide a correction. It may not be an intentional correction, but in the dog's mind there was a yank on their coller that stopped their forward movement. You'll notice when this happens the dog looks back to you as if to say, what did I do? You don't need to make any fuss,  you may merely need to clear the line and continue on your way.

If you're a dog owner, your job is to provide a comfortable and loving home and experience for the dog. Good training and good equipment will help you in this challenge. If you are a service dog owner or handler, your job is to do the same, as well decrease the need for micro managing so that they can do their job and provide for their handler. Good training a good equipment goes a long way to making the life and job as a dog easier. And in turn this makes our lives easier! And more enjoyable for everyone!


Friday, June 21, 2013

Learning to Read Your Dog as Well as She Reads You

Learning to Read Your Dog as Well She Reads You

We all communicate in some way or another, even if it's not verbally.

The majority of the animal kingdom communicates in other ways besides audible noises, and humans are no different. But for thousands of years we've developed an amazing language base that differs in so many ways that we barely know what we HUMANS are saying...let alone those that are not human! And in focusing on one type of communication (talking), we seem to have forgotten to listen in other ways!

So, as with all relationships, communication is Key. Gaining a way to communicate with your dog is your first step into developing a working relationship that will benefit both of you. Without it, neither of you will know what the heck the other expects from them!

The first step in doing this is learning how to get your dogs' attention. She needs the right motivation first. After all, would you pay attention to a guy mumbling at you on the side of the road, stumbling back and forth? Or the pretty girl with a nice demeanor handing you a $100 bill? It's all about what motivates us as to what gets results.

So, learn what your dog LOVES...not "likes". Like only gets you so far. Love will take your dog to the limit. Get her favorite toys and treats out...then get another brand. Play with her and see what she goes for most. Then try little chunks of hotdogs, cheese, bacon, boiled or grilled chicken. Find that one thing that your dog goes bananas for! (Please refer to your vet's advice on any allergy your dog may have or be at risk for when attempting new foods and treats).

Once you have found that magic food (or toy), you can begin!

Your first step in gaining communication with your dog, or reinforcing it with the dog you already have worked with is to play the name game or "Watch Me" or whatever you want to call it..

Play with her for a minute or two, just moving around and handing her a treat, move around hand her a she becomes more comfortable with this fun and easy game, begin to say her name and when she looks directly at you, even for a split second, tell her "Good girl" or "yes" or whatever word you want to use. (Remember this word and keep using it in the same tone and inflection each time, as it will be your "Marker" word down the line for all your commands!)

Each time she looks at you after you say her name, reward with a Marker word and treat... do this a lot...A LOT! If she wanders or breaks contact with you, move around...when she comes back, offer the treat and say her name again... reward! Make it fun and a big deal! The more fun it is, the more she'll wanna do it again.

When you can say her name and she'll stop what she is doing to stare into your face each time... you've taught the command :)

Congratulations, you have built a bridge to your dog...this behavior can be taught in a calm, home environment, then in busier and busier areas until the dog will look at you while a pack of dogs runs by after the Oscar Meyer weiner mobile!

Communication begins with the small things, and while this seems very small, you'd be surprised how many times it'll come into play in basic and advanced obedience.

Good training!