Thursday, November 7, 2013

Breakdown of a bad training session: Part 1

I will be the first to admit that I am not perfect, no one is. We all make mistakes but it is what we do with those mistakes that defines us.  I recently did a training session with my new 5 month old border collie puppy "Gir" that did NOT go very well. There were highs and lows but my overall feelings of the session were full of frustration, disappointment, and exhaustion. Luckily I recorded the whole thing so I could go back through and see where I went wrong and what I could do better.

In the Part 1 video you see the very beginning of the session. There is actually no training involved (no conscious training anyways) but it is easy to see that the session was set up from the beginning to not be as successful as it could be.
Take Note:
  • Timing is everything. Trying to train at 11:00pm (an hour past Gir's bedtime!) is not a smart move. It is even less smart when he has been running around and playing with Juno for the last hour and a half. A quick session before play time (and earlier in the evening) would have been much better. 
    • Take note of when your dog seems the most enthusiastic and try to train then, you will be very pleased with the results! I find my pups are raring to go when I first get home and right before dinner time. Training FOR their dinner is even better but I feed raw and do not like handling it too much.
  • Keep your sessions short and sweet. Speaking of timing, quick sessions, no longer than 5 minutes each have proven to be much more successful in the acquiring and retention of learned behaviors. This training session dragged on for a whopping TWENTY MINUTES! Way too long for a puppy's short attention span (especially late at night!)
  • Your emotions affect your dog, control them before ever attempting to control or train your dog. In this video you can tell that the humans involved are not enthusiastic about training. Dear Sweet Husband and myself were not only tired, but just finished a mini conflict. Those two things combined had me near tears (darn those stupid female hormones!) and I was not projecting the right emotions to create a great training session.  Get it together!
  • Pay attention to what your dog is telling you with his body.   I point out some signs of stress that I was probably causing and should have noted. Honestly I was too frustrated with the day overall and was not paying attention as I should have been. This goes back to the last point about controlling your emotions first.  

As you can see this is not setting up to be a very effective training session. Stay tuned and I will be posting my breakdowns of the rest of the session.

Take away message for today:

"Start the day right and you are 
more likely to finish it right."

Same thing can be said for training sessions and any other endeavor!

Have you ever had an experience that afterward seemed doomed from the beginning but you did not realize it in the moment? Let me know and leave a comment!

Until next time,
Stay Pawsitive!


Monday, November 4, 2013

Being a Responsible Pet Owning Renter

Pets are wonderful. They enrich our lives and bring so much joy into our hearts. Having a pet means always having someone to go home to, and something warm to snuggle with. Sharing my life with dogs gives me a reason to get out and move around, breath in the smells of the outdoors and appreciate the world a little more.  I have made many friends on walks, at stores, and at parks simply because I have a dog and either they do too or they love dogs as much as I do but for various reasons cannot have one at the moment.

Kirby, Juno, and foster dog Harold.
What joys to come home to!
One reason many people do not have a pet is because the apartment or home they are renting does not allow pets.  I am so grateful that in the 5 different places Husband and I have lived in the past few years, we have been able to have our pets with us. It did not come without struggle.  I had to sift through hundred, if not even thousands, of rental postings crossing out every post with the words NO PETS nice and bold.  I have called more landlords and management companies than I can count and have been hung up on by more than a few once I uttered that dreadful "P" word. Our rent is often higher than non pet owning tenants, and we have not always been able to live where we want because of lack of pet friendly housing.

Why does it have to be this way?  Many people would point fingers at the landlords and management companies and call them heartless or cruel for not allowing their dear pets, their furry family members, to live with them.

I, instead point my finger right back at pet owners. That's right, I blame pet owners for this.

Our current apartment was a godsend.  Affordable, pet friendly housing in the middle of the oil boom. So many tenants have pets because this is one of only few options in the area.  They had simple rules: don't bother the neighbors, keep your dogs on leash outside, and clean up after your pets. They had a designated area for pets to eliminate and were even so kind as to provide poo bags by every door. Is this heaven?

Unfortunately a few bad kids had to ruin it for the whole class.

It didn't take long for residents to take advantage of the overly nice management.  Dogs were allowed to eliminate in forbidden areas. Not only that but people seemed to struggle with picking up the poo, even though there were poo bags at every door.  And even when they managed to pick it up and bag it, many thought it a good idea to leave the bags on the sidewalk outside the door, just a mere 100 steps away from the dumpsters.

Dogs running off-leash interrupted parking lot traffic and male dogs started marking all the pretty landscaping by the doors.  It was not uncommon to enter the elevator and discover the tell-tale wet trail ending in a blob on the floor indicating a dog had urinated.  The cleaning crew even confessed to finding abandoned piles of poop in stairwells. Who does that!?

Is it any shock that our wonderful apartment complex recently revoked it's pet-friendly policy? Not at all. Thankfully, only new residents are restricted from having pets.  Current residents are grandfathered in but it is implyed that any little misdemeanor on the part of your pets could get you faced with the ultimatum of disposing of your pets within 24 hours or face eviction.

Irresponsible pet owners have caused the pool of pet friendly rentals to shrink yet again. And I do not blame the apartments, I would not want to deal with a bunch of dog poo everywhere when I could have just field my complex with non-pet owning tenants.

AKC Museum of the Dog, a pet friendly museum in St. Louis.

This irresponsibility is far reaching and very damaging.  More pets will be brought to shelters or abandoned because their owners cannot find adequate housing.  Less pets will be adopted from shelters because more people live in NO PET buildings.  This one complex is owned by a company that owns hundreds across the state, the NO PET policy could spread throughout the rest of their complexes. 

This is a huge problem and if you are a pet owner you need to be worried about it because it affects all of us. The same irresponsibility that is losing us housing opportunities is also getting our furry family members banned from various places and parks.  The days of pets going everywhere with us is changing to pets going to a few select pet friendly zones.

So what can we do?  Be responsible, be a role model, and encourage others to follow suit. Carry poo bags when you walk your dog. Pick up the poo and properly dispose of it. I have forgotten poo bags in the past and have managed to improvise with leaves and random garbage.  I don't like carrying the poo bags so I tie them to my leash, the back of my dog's harness, or in her backpack.

When I see another dog's poo I pick it up. Not doing so could only hurt me and would never help me.  When someone blatantly leaves their dog's poo with no intention of picking it up, I smile and pull out an extra bag, pick it up, and comment on how I hate it when I forget my poo bags.  Hopefully some get the hint, social pressure can be a very powerful thing.

Own up to you and your dog's shortcomings and prepare for them.  If you know fluffy can't always hold it the entire elevator ride, carry her so she can't pee or bring cleaning supplies along in a little tote just in case.  If this is a common problem maybe you should consider training her to use a potty pad instead?

Control your dog's and recognize when you need help.  There is an entire profession dedicated to helping pet owners enjoy and train heir pets. Some great links to find a trainer are:

          The Pet professional Guild

          The Karen Pryor Academy

          *The Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers

          *The Association of Professional Dog Trainers

*Buyer beware, trainers listed in these searches are not always force free. Do your research and be sure to chose a trainer that uses modern, science-based training.

In the end, we as pet owners must strive to be better tenants and better citizens than our non-pet owning neighbors.  We need to change in a way that makes apartment complexes want to rent to us instead of banning us.  We need to take responsibility for both our and our comrades actions to try and fix this huge problem.

Do you know the saddest thing about my new apartment complex's recent ban on pets? The apartment is only 2 months old. You read that right.  This is a brand new complex and irresponsible tenants managed to turn this pet friendly housing into NO PETS ALLOWED in just 2 short months.  Something needs to change, and we need to lead the change.

What are some useful things you have done to find pet friendly housing? Are you a landlord? Why is your pet policy like it is? Leave a comment, I would love to hear it!
On a brighter note, I have returned to blogging, YAY! I really do have a lot to share and a lot that I think people will find useful and/or entertaining in some way or another, I just need to dig in and DO it! Thanks go to "El Chris" at The Iron Buzz for inspiring to get back in.  His blog is always entertaining, inspirational, and educational. Go check it out!

Until we meet again,
 Stay Pawsitive!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Trust is a Beautiful Thing

A beautiful thing happened this week at Agility class. 

Juno trusted me. 

She trusted me to lead her safely and into no harm.  
She trusted me so much that she willingly ran into something 
that she would probably never had done alone. 

I was touched. I was honored. 

To be trusted is a greater compliment than to be loved.” - George MacDonald

So many people fret about whether their pets love them or not. 
Spoiling them, fawning over them. 
Becoming upset when their dear pet runs away from home. 
But I thought he loved me! Why would he leave?

Some people believe that to receive the love 
of these wondrous creatures of ours is 
the greatest joy of all.

I disagree.

I have felt love. 
I have felt the love and adoration of many creatures,
but it will never compare to earning the trust of another being.

"Learning to trust is one of life's most difficult tasks." - Isaac Watts

Animals give us their love for free.
They give us their love and ask nothing in turn.
They give love to those that do not deserve it.
But the reserve their trust for those that earn it.

This week at agility Juno was faced with a difficult decision.
You see, I asked her run into a tunnel that was so curved,
all she could see when looking is was a tunnel wall.

I asked her this after just barely convincing her to run through a straight tunnel.
I asked her this without any introduction to the new obstacle.
I asked, and she trusted.

Juno began to run into the tunnel as I ran by 
but then realized there was no light at the end.
She stopped and pulled her head out,
watching me continue to run away from her.

Those few seconds were filled with a heavy decision.
The tunnel was dark, there was no end in sight.
I was running ahead, expecting to meet Juno at the end.

Juno thought about running around to meet me at the end.
She had done that before to avoid going in the straight tunnel.
But then she looked back into the tunnel that I asked her to run into.
Could it really be that bad?

It was only a few seconds but it seemed like forever 
as Juno looked at me, then looked at the tunnel.

To me.

To the tunnel.



Me or tunnel.

The decision was made.
Juno ducked her head and ran with full confidence into the darkness.
She trusted my decision. 

Would I ever lead her into harm?
She has doubted me much in the past, 
But today she decided that I was worth her trust.
I was worth her trust which is worth much more than her love.

I have had her love for a long time,
But to earn her trust is a triumph in it's own.

A beautiful thing happened this week at Agility class. 

Juno trusted me. 

And I couldn't ask for more.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

What's this "Stay Pawsitive" thing?

What? I was cold!
Hello again!

Yesterday I introduced myself and Juno, today I feel I should delve a little more into the name of this blog. Many shows that positive--or Pawsitive ;) -- reinforcement training is more effective and less detrimental than punishment based training.

(check out the 2 studies citied in this little article by Pat Miller:

Science is on our side! ...but that does not mean it is always easy! We humans are very emotional and it is hard to keep our emotions out of our training. (I just KNOW that he chewed up my shoes because he was mad that I have been working late recently!)  We also LOVE quick results and are reluctant to put actual work into things. Take the huge weight loss market for example. They hook customers with promises of instant weight loss for little to no work on the customers part.  We all know that good old diet and exercise is the best way to lose weight but that tempting promise of getting the same results with little to no work is oh so tempting!

Switch back to dog training.  You have a dog that practically drags you down the sidewalk whenever you try taking him for a walk.  You talk to 2 trainers. Trainer A tells you how to use a correction collar to punish your dog's pulling. You don't need to change anything except let the dog know whenever he does wrong.

Trainer B shows you how to use a clicker and treats to reward Fido for walking by your side. Trainer B says you will slowly add more steps between rewards and it will take time for Fido to learn to do this consistently.  You will need to be proactive and set Fido up so that he is almost guaranteed to succeed. (You need to actually PAY ATTENTION when walking Fido!)

Of course you are tempted by the quick results of using Trainer A's suggestion. You don't have to change anything, it's that naughty Fido that needs to change.  If you use Trainer B's suggestion you actually need to change YOUR walking routine (oh the humanity!) and it may take some time to get consistent results (especially if YOUR inconsistent).

But what you also need to think about are the long term and side effects of both suggestions.  If you follow Trainer A's suggestion you will probably become very good at STOPPING Fido from pulling. He still pulls now and then but you know how to put him in his place.  Unfortunately Fido also starts to become more reactive (barking and lunging) towards other dogs on walks. (He used to pull happily towards them but now other dogs are paired with punishment and he does not feel as happy about seeing them as he once did.) Long term for this dog, you will always need to make sure you correct any pulling, the moment the dog gets to pull with no correction he is actually rewarded for pulling (by the absence of a correction) and will try again.

If you follow Trainer B's suggestion you become really good at teaching Fido dog to WANT to walk on a loose leash.  Yes, Fido may still pull now and then (because you weren't the MOST consistent in your training) but when Fido does pull, he usually catches himself and go back to his happy place on your side.  A dog trained with Trainer B's suggestion always looks so happy to go on a walk and has the time of his life working with his human! (Shouldn't walks be fun for both parties?) Long term for this dog, you will get him on a variable reinforcement schedule (think random rewards like a slot machine) so it doesn't matter if you "miss" a reward.  Eventually the dog finds walking on a loose leash so fun that you rarely even need to bring rewards with you, the simple ability to continue walking with you becomes reward enough.

No matter how hard it is, it is important to Stay Pawsitive. 
Trust me, it will be more than worth it in the long run.

After thinking a lot about it, I do consider myself a semi cross-over trainer.  Most of my experience with dogs is positive training methods but there was a dark period in the beginning when I feel victim to a certain charismatic trainer on TV.  It didn't take long to see the negative side effects of that training and it was quickly thrown out (with MANY apologies to my poor dog Kirby!)

I also come from a heavy horse and mule background.  This is a very force dominated world and ever since I was a child I learned to give corrections and MAKE the animal do what I wanted, never stopping to think about actually TEACHING the animal WHAT I want him to do! (Sorry hooved friends of my past, I am trying to do right!)

Now I know better but the temptation is always there, especially with the habitual knee-jerk reactions when dealing with horses and mules. A big part of this blog is to journal my experiences and training while Staying Pawsitive even though it is sometimes hard to do so.

Because even though we may KNOW something is right, we could still find it very hard to do. 

I named this blog Stay Pawsitive it as a constant reminder to myself and to my readers (if I ever get any!)  If you ever catch yourself in a situation where your instincts tell you to get negative (shouting in a traffic jam, dog destroys cashmere sweater, etc.) remember to STAY PAWSITIVE and acknowledge your accomplishment when you put emotions aside and choose right! I know it was hard, but you rock for making the right choice! Go give yourself a pat on the back! (We have to Stay Pawsitive with ourselves as well!)

Until next time,

Stay Pawsitive!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Whose blog is it anyway?

I think I will just jump right in and introduce myself and my muse. :)

Hi, my name is Trish, and this is my fabulous husky, Juno (aka superman's sidekick.)  Funny thing about Juno and I is that I NEVER wanted a husky!  I didn't understand why people would want to live these uber independant shed machines that have too much energy for their own good.

(But Trish, why on earth would you get a husky when you felt that way?)

Believe me, I did not go looking for a husky, I wasn't even looking for another dog at the time but she just fell into my lap.

I was working as a dog training instructor at a store and a lady came in that had found a sick and starved adolescent husky at a park while jogging. 2 months later, and after many visits to the vet, the dog was (mostly) healthy but REFUSED to go for walks with her.  She had to carry this dog outside to potty and down the sidewalk for fresh air.

After consulting with her, she brought the dog in and I was struck by her kind yet worried eyes.  She was obviously very fearful and unsure in this big bright world. After abut 45 minutes of patient work, I had her following me on leash around the store.  I handed the leash to her new owner and helped them take their first steps together. It was beautiful seeing her able to walk her own dog for the first time.

A couple of days later I was contacted by the client because she was being kicked out of her house due to the destruction this husky had caused to the porch. Pets were not allowed in this house and instead of kenneling the dog, she was let to roam free and ended up eliminating and chewing on the woodwork. The client said she was moving to another place and needed someone to watch her dog for a couple of days.  She was concerned with the progress they were making of putting her in a boarding kennel and so I agreed to watch the dog for her. (The beginning to my downfall)

My now husband received a wonderful voice-mail from me, "Hi honey, please don't be mad, but don't be surprised when you get home if there is a new white dog there.  She is very sweet and I promise, I am just watching her for a couple of days!"  (I think you should assume that you will someday receive a message like this if you willingly go into a relationship with a crazy dog girl!)

As many of you out there probably know, a few days turned into a week, turned into 2 weeks, turned into "Hi, I am not having luck getting a new place and it sounds like she is doing so well at your place.  Would you be interested in keeping her at all? I know you would give her a good home!"

I said yes immediately and that is that. (I really should have discussed this with DH first but I am not here to give out relationship advice)  :)

Living with Juno definitely has it's challenges but the more I get to know her the more I fall in love. For those of you not privileged enough to know the personality traits of these amazing dogs, huskies are very independent and prefer to do what they want, when they want, and you can wait in line.

Juno has been very trying to train positively as she never did care much for toys, treats, or other conventional rewards. It took me almost 6 months to train her to sit (I think a post needs to be dedicated to THAT endeavor!) and longer to down.  She is very sensitive and shuts down if I miss a reward (implying she is wrong).  Being a professional trainer, I feel pressured to teach her tons of fancy tricks (first question I get when doing a presentation "How many tricks does she know?" Erm....she can sit!) But Juno is special and I am just happy that she didn't shut down at the meet and greet last week, and didn't shy away from my husband last night.  I so very much WANT to train all of those fancy tricks but I need to work with the dog I have.

So join Juno and I as we attempt to behave like a normal owner and dog.  It may take some odd routes to achieve our goals but we will get there and hopefully learn a thing or two along the way.

Until we meet again,
Stay Pawsitive!