Just as with COVID, there is great diversity in choices and beliefs in how people live their lives. Perhaps the hardest thing for me during this past year has been to accept the choices people make as to wearing masks, socially distancing, attending social gatherings and dog shows. My trouble ignoring dog training methods is just part of this challenge that I must face and accept.
I do realize that these people do love their dogs. Perhaps they just don’t understand or have not experienced the changes in their dogs if they wear or train with shock collars and other aversive training. Have they had that amazing relationship with their dog that is so fragile yet so beautiful? When I look at these dogs I often see changes in posture, the eyes and joy in working or greeting people.
So I have to continue to set a good example with my dogs to help others see there is a different way. I have to constantly remind myself that three of the best people I have trained with (Laura Romanik, Petra Ford and Susan Garrett) all use reinforcement-based training methods for correctness and have amazing dogs that are at the top of their game in competition and as an amazing pet. Their dogs are happy, confident and seem to enjoy interacting and training with their owners.
With all that said, phewwwwww….. it is gone…. Onto my latest challenges with my young dog (4 years old) Beckett. Videos below showing the change and how I trained with reinforcement for correctness.
We only showed once in obedience the past year due to COVID. It was a night show, with no practice match or exposure to this new environment with all the mask wearing, darkness and just having the show world seem turned upside down. Beckett could not do much of the Graduate Open exercise since there was so much that apparently was bothering him. He had no focus or idea why he was in the ring. For his second time in the obedience ring for his Open run, he could do a good job except he could not do command discrimination along the dark side of the back ring.
Shortly after the show Petra Ford had an amazing Fenzi webinar on “Pressure”. She talked about all the ways that dogs feel pressure while in the ring. She discussed in detail how this pressure effects her dogs especially her young dog, Zeal, that just won the AKC 2020 Obedience NOC. I also had an opportunity to talk with Petra and learn that she felt the Command Discrimination exercise was one of the hardest for the dogs. A lot of pressure from behind, on the side, from the judge and in this show in the dark along a poorly lit back gate.
After learning more about all the ways that pressure can come into play at a show and how their behavior could fall apart due to it, I started working on exposing Beckett to pressure. See my section on “PRESSURE” with video progression of our work (pressure from behind, pressure of the judge – their position in the ring, walking into dog on recalls, heeling…..)
You will notice that the way Petra showed training in helping dogs to be comfortable with pressure involved carefully reading the dog to be sure they were not stressed at any time and not moving on until they were happy, confident and comfortable. Everything was to be fun with many positive rewards for correctness.
I also learned so much from Susan Garrett and have taken most of her online classes. Susan believes in game-based positive reinforcement and of course shaping. I have learned so much watching Susan so beautifully demonstrate her philosophy with her dogs and have found that games are a great way to build a dog’s skills in all exercises.
GAMES: Late in the day when we go into the doggie gym we do a lot of games and fun training which the dogs love and do not even seem to know we are really training to build fluency and confidence in the exercises as well as joy for the work. Three of the fun games I enjoy with the dogs are: seek for the treat and then come to front (seen in video below); put the scent articles in another room and have them find the scented article and search for the dumbbell and bring it to front from many angles.
Not only do the dogs seem to love these games but doing them together with each other adds an element of competition that is fun and seems to build their drive drive and love of the game.
The positively enriched training that I use is supported by science and uses reinforcement for correctness, games, shaping, preplanning, balance breaks, and assessment following training (review of video) of what was good and what needs improvement. Below is a summary of my REINFORCEMENT-BASED TRAINING.
A new training session begins with
- First, identifying what needs to be improved.
- Breaking this behavior down into its smallest pieces (SHAPING) – Helping the dog be successful while they learn to understand the behavior. One piece will be taught until the dog is performing it happily, confidently and correctly before we move on.
- Plan to video each training session: After each session look for what went well and what to improve and work on in the next session. Plan your next session
- Use…. THINK, PLAN, DO for each training session
- THINK: about what is to be trained.
- PLAN: the days training session(s).
- What will be done for reinforcement; when will reinforcement be given; what will be done when dog is not correct or does not meet the criteria for the level they are at; when will there be balance breaks.
- What will the balance break be? How long into training or what will indicate that a break is needed?
- How can this training be made into a GAME?
- DO: be sure to carefully read the dog to be sure they are not stressed or not understanding.
There are 2 new videos to show training that positively reinforces correctness.
I leave you with these wise words by Susan Garrett,
“The dog is a reflection of us as a dog trainer”
What does your dog say about you as a trainer?
Listen to the fascinating and informative podcast on Fenzi by Petra Ford on THE MAKING OF A NATIONAL CHAMPION.