Tuesday, 28 February 2012


It was a crazy, busy week last week.  I have several friends going through family sickness and deaths which has once again reminded me to count my blessings and enjoy life while we can.  I am so very lucky to have a wonderful husband and family, awesome pets and some of the greatest friends anyone could hope for. 

Patricia McConnell is one of my favourite dog authors/experts and she recently wrote a blog http://www.theotherendoftheleash.com/youve-got-a-friend responding to the question of can dogs be friends.  This gets into all sorts of discussions related to the definaition of friendship and how humans keep trying to assign our emotions to our animals (anthromorphism).  I am in the camp of believing that dogs can be friends and that is based entirely on my own experiences.  When Lucy was a pup we often met up with other puppy owners in the area and years later those dogs would light up to greet each other even long after the crazy play times were over.  Riley and Lucy were definitely what I would call friends.  They never really played much together as Lucy was slowing down a lot by the time Riley came along.  They were however very compatible and happy to see each other and just be together.    Riley and Sam are littermates and I would consider them friends but there is also a crazy littermate vibe that seems different compared to what I would consider friends.

Riley and Stella have developed a wonderful friendship and I am super thrilled with how they interact together.  I have found it fascinating to watch the two of them develop a play style that works for both of them.  Riley is a rough and tumble play style and Stella is a zoom and chase player.  They have developed a play that is in between both their styles and obviously enjoy each other a lot.  I’m glad that this has developed over time instead of being an instant always crazy playing when we brought her home.  It has made it easier for me to train and work with both of them because they are not totally always wrapped up in each other.  I have seen people with multiple dogs that become so focused with always playing with other dogs that they then have a difficult time convincing the dogs that the person is also fun to train and play with.

I also find it very interesting that both Riley and Stella revert back to their regular play styles with other dogs.   Stella has beautiful dog body language and she has been taking a role as a “puppy ambassador” in training classes to meet the young puppies as she is very appropriate and non-threatening.  We are transitioning out of puppy classes now towards more regular obedience handling but it’s fun to get to play a bit with the puppies.

A huge thank you to http://www.donnaandthedogsblog.com/ for sharing the Versatile Blogger Award with me.  She has a wonderful blog about her three dogs with include a lab and a vizsla.
The rules for the Versatile Blogger Award are as follows:
1. Thank the award giver and link back in your post. (See above)
2. Share 7 things about yourself.
3. Pass this award along to as many as 15 blogs you enjoy reading and let them know about the award!
I will hopefully get to passing this award on this week as well as one other I have received.   
This week we are on a winter holiday with the dogs so lots of snowshoeing, cross country skiing adventures and playing in the snow.  Expect lots of very cold looking pictures soon! 

Friday, 17 February 2012


Stella recently turned eight months old and we have begun the process of her having more freedom in the house.  We spend most of our time at home in our kitchen/ tv room area which has a baby gate to seperate it from the rest of our home.  The baby gate was "temporarily" installed back when Riley was a puppy but has proven useful for times when I meet with clients or when we have extra dogs around.  It has also given the cats and Riley a way to choose whether or not to interact with the puppy while she has been growing up.

The baby gate likely won't be going anywhere but it is certainly open a lot more these days.  Stella is good in the house with possible exceptions of a fascination with gloves, shoes and socks & underwear.  Luckily she mostly just carries them around for attention without destroying anything.   She is actually shaping us to pick up after ourselves much more :o).  I'm also starting to notice her finally easing on the puppy obsession of putting everything and anything in her mouth.

There is a second baby gate in the house which can block our bedroom door.  Again that one was installed when Riley was a puppy and we used it to keep him and Lucy in our room while we all slept.   Stella is crated at night and that will likely continue as I want to keep her used to crating for when we eventually start to trial.   Riley outgrew his crate at about eight months so we began to gate him with Lucy in our bedroom when we were out.  It was a logical choice as it is away from street view windows and he loved to sleep on our bed.  That eventually led to whole house freedom but he still usually just goes and sleeps up on our bed when left alone.  We have now begun the same process with Stella and after a little bit of destruction the first day (ripped book) and smarter planning by us (leave dog toys and puppy proof better) she has figured things out.  It is usually only for 1-2 hours a few days a week so this is a good way to ease into more freedoms.  Both dogs basically hop up onto the bed and settle down for a good snooze when we leave now.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Hide n Seek

I am lucky enough to be able to walk with my dogs daily on wonderful trails where they romp off leash.   Both dogs check in frequently and have good recall (except when Riley finds a golf ball but that's another story).   I have noticed recently as the dogs have enjoyed more playing together that they aren't checking in quite so much and occasionally they just start running together and zoom down the trail around corners out of sight.  This is not acceptable behaviour for safety reasons.

Saturday we were hiking and they did this so I ducked off to the side of the trail out of sight.  When they came back to check in they found me quickly.  The next time I made a point to duck into a spot where I could hide quite well.  Stella came back first as usual and ran by a few times before stopping and heading straight to me.  The little miss definately has a good nose on her.  I then held her with me and Riley came zooming back to look for us and ran by.  He also has an amazing sense of smell but relies less on it when he is excitable so it is harder for him to seek me out.  I let him run up and down the trail for a few minutes looking for us before I called him to my position.    I did this one other time that day when they again got to far ahead.  After the third time both dogs were careful to keep a much better eye on my location. 

It might seem a bit mean to stress them out this way but it is important to me that they remember to stick close.  I think having the time to romp off leash and be dogs is a good trade off for this.  When we walked yesterday I only got one little chance to hide on them and they caught me before I could get into position.  I would say that means the message is being received :o).

Friday, 10 February 2012

Slow it down

One of Stella's nicknames is zoom, zoom girl.  She definately has a lot of enthusiasm for life and does most things high speed.  While this is tremendously entertaining and fun it can also be interesting to train.  Now that we are both getting more comfortable with shaping she tends to want to zoom around offering everything she knows at warp speed.  This week we started working on slowing down.  I am rewarding for just sitting in heel position and giving attention.  We are working on holding a down stay for short periods etc.  I had a platform out today for her front feet to work on a front position and she was cracking me up spinning from one side of heel to the other with her front feet on the platform but eventually she slowed down enough to think about what I was asking for. 

One of the things I enjoyed most at clicker expo was watching extremely talented trainers work with dogs.  Kay Laurence provided some interesting tips about slowing our bodies and actions down when our dogs get into overdrive and it makes sense.  All of her movements from start to reward were executed very slowly with one hyper dog and you could see the dog take in that energy and calm itself down and think.  If a dog is fast moving but still thinking and "connecting" then this wouldn't apply as much.  It's nothing that I haven't heard from my trainer before but sometimes just seeing it in action gets through to the brain better.

My trainer has been trying to beat into my head that I am to much of a cheerleader when I work with my dogs and she is probably right :o).  I could get away with it with Riley more easily because of his personality but I will need to be quieter with Stella.  I have also been more quiet and aware of my body working with Riley and am noticing some good results.  This doesn't mean that I still don't cheerlead and play while training.  I take great joy in having fun with my dogs but perhaps I am more aware of when it is a suitable time for that. 

Sunday, 5 February 2012

"Least Reinforcing Stimulus"

One of the talks I attended at clicker expo was from Ken Ramirez on what to do when your dog makes an error and doesn't respond as you wished.  This is a subject of great interest to me because that is an area that I have struggled with as I have transitioned from the more "traditional" training methods.   There is a "heirarchy of effective procedures" designed by Susan Freidman which outlines the steps that should be taken before punishment techniques are considered.  This is a link to heirarchy article with examples of each level. 

Ken Ramirez discussed different techniques on how to handle errors.  They included Non-Reward Markers, Time-Outs and Least Reinforcing Stimulus.  He is not a fan of non-reward markers (NRM) because he feels it can be a punisher unless used very skillfully and can easily cause frustration for the dog.  He feels most people do not have the skills to use it effectively.  He feels that time-outs should mainly only be used when the dog is giving a human a time-out.   If the dog is ignoring us then we should remove the opportunity for reinforcement.  Time-outs can also easily punish the wrong behaviour if not timed properly and are ineffective if the animal doesn't care about your presence.  He noted that ending a session for a break or to reduce frustration is not a time-out, it is a managment technique.

The one I found interesting was Least Reinforcing Stimulus.  I find all this jargon confusing at times but basically when the dog gives us the wrong response (or no response) we provide a neutral response (ie don't move, make noise, change facial expression etc) for a period of 1-3 seconds and then offer the dog an immediate, easy opportunity for new reinforcement.  The dog should have a calm response to your neutral response.  It is designed to cause the least amount of frustration for the animal.  This is not really a technique for teaching new behaviour it is only a response when a behaviour is learned and is not done correctly.   He showed the technique working very well with both marine animals and his own dogs.  Many positive trainers already utilize this technique even if they are not aware of the science or terminology.

A real life example of how this works for me....
When I release my dogs to explore off leash I require a sit while I remove the leash and a release word (go see) from me before they move.  Riley pretty much has this understood so often is released first.  Stella is fascinated with what Riley is doing and therefore isn't all that keen to sit and wait.  Previously I would ask for a sit and if she didn't offer then I would touch her collar (basically an alternate cue for the same asked behaviour).  If that didn't work then I would move her further back from what she wanted, try again until I finally got what I wanted.  It worked but we both found it frustrating and I felt I was re-cueing much to often.  It also was not teaching a fast response.  Yesterday when she didn't want to sit I did my "pause" and then asked for two hand-touches which she did and then asked her to sit and she sat super fast.  I was then able to reinforce that by releasing her to play. 

Another example is that I have been making the dogs "work" for their dinner when I have time.  With Riley this means I run through his list of "obedience" commands and feed him a spoonful of dinner when he is right.  Previously if I got a wrong response I would often "fix" the response and then just reward with a "good" and a pat.  That basically teaches him that I will "fix" his response (tell him to get in closer etc.) instead of him learning to think through what the correct response is.  Yesterday he sat too far back in heel and I just moved forward and asked for a touch, then a down (both reinforced) and then moved into heel.  Again I didn't get the position I wanted so moved on.  The third time he had beautiful heel position and also the next two times I asked. 

I know it is a very simple thing and probably has been very obvious to many others but it as been a bit of a light bulb moment for me.  If I think about it I have used this technique especially when Stella was jumping up to grab at me while we were walking.  I would freeze and she would stop and then we moved forward again.  Dogs also often use this when playing with each other and one dog doesn't like how the other dog acts.  I look forward to experimenting more with it.  Any errors or incorrect interpretations of Ken Ramirez's lecture are entirely my fault!

In other news Stella turned eight months old January 31.  Where does the time go?

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Clicker Expo

Clicker Expo was amazing!  I find I am having a hard time putting into specific words what I learned as there is so much stuff still flowing through my brain and digesting.  I need to print out the lecture notes and go through and make some notes and future goals.  I attended mainly foundation series seminars and labs which are designed for newer clicker trainers.

I attended the following:
          Ken Ramirez - Oops, What to do when mistakes happen seminar
          Kathy Sdao - Understanding and applying shaping seminar and lab
          Kathy Sdao - Developing cueing skills
          Kay Laurence - World of targeting seminar and lab
          Kay Laurence - The Al-lure of Luring lab
          Michelle Pouliot - Hold it, Get it, Bring it, Give it (formal retrieve) seminar
          Kay Laurence - Training with play lab

All of them were dynamic speakers with great passion for positive training and animals.   I think that is one of the biggest things I take away from the weekend.  There is obviously great science behind these training methods and I learned a lot about that but even more it is a mindset that there is a better way to get what you want.   I also have great admiration (and a wee bit of envy) while watching these trainers with such amazing timing and understanding of the learning process.  It inspires me to be more creative and to reach towards new goals.

I opted not to take a dog with me.  It would have been to much for Riley I think and while Stella probably would have been fine I thought it was a lot to expect from an eight month old puppy.  They were long days which would have meant lots of crate time and the working spots in the labs I attended had limited working time.  I went with my trainer Heather who is a KPA graduate and she brought her dog so I had lots of opportunity for dog loving.  I even saw my first real life wire haired vizsla.  My dogs were well looked after at home and gave me a great greeting when I returned.  Little Miss Stella was so excited that while I was greeting Riley the little brat actually nipped my butt to get my attention.  Life with dogs is an adventure :o).

In honor of the clicker expo being held in Portland, Oregon here is a few pics of a year old Riley on a trip to the beaches of Oregon in 2007.