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!