Tuesday, August 28, 2012

He could have been a dog trainer ...

          Such wisdom from a Prime Minister

"Personally I'm always ready to learn, although I do not always like being taught."

Many many dogs get drilled, and drilled, and drilled, into submission, obedience and out of any desire to learn. Yet dogs are always willing to learn even when the teaching method leaves a great deal to be desired. I was thinking about this the other day; even when dogs were shown their 'accidents', or worse shoved into them, and scolded they still figured out house training eventually. Positive training addresses this dichotomy in a broad context but many dogs, no matter how trained, likely have something they don't like being taught. It's our job to figure out how to take the willingness to learn and create a love of being taught too.

"Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm."

I know I've reflected on this before - I really believe the concept of failure is foreign to dogs so they stay enthusiastic as long as we do. Many trainers make failures so obvious to the dog they have no choice but to become disheartened. If failure is inevitable how can success be possible? While there may or may not be  "failures" in your world of training, and many trainers use NRM (no reward markers very effectively), one central concept of this quote - celebrating failure as a way to reach success is critical to grasp firmly.

"However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results."

Not necessarily to change strategies mind you but just to check in. Assessment is such an important part of playing working with our dogs. Without checking progress and benchmarks the best laid training plan on the planet is weaker than it needs to be. Inherent in this quote is the concept of having a strategy of course. While I often appear to free wheel as I play work with the dogs I generally have some conception of what we will accomplish. I am full of admiration for those who have detailed training plans and keep such great notes about training. I aspire to this. I should print this quote out and stick it on my fridge!

"It is a mistake to try to look too far ahead. The chain of destiny can only be grasped one link at a time."

One step, one building block or brick  at a time. There is no point in teaching a complex behaviour until the basics of attention and focus are in place.  Every skill is dependent on prior knowledge to make them work. Using shaping as much as I do even just the willingness to offer things is a brick of sorts.  Laying a foundation of excellence is critical to overall success. Rushing to the "sexy" stuff can backfire badly both for the dog and the trainer as it can be very disheartening when "chain of destiny" breaks, sometimes irreparably.

"To build may have to be the slow and laborious task of years. To destroy can be the thoughtless act of a single day."

I plan, I think ahead and then something unexpected happens and I react ... not always with the thinking part of my brain. I have yet to strike one of the dogs but when I fear for their safety (or others safety - baby rabbits come to mind here) I have yelled and grabbed at them.  I hate that. Wyn bit me quite hard the other day and I pushed him away; he tumbled and came right  back for more but I didn't like my reaction.  I have met so many dogs that have little resilience for difficult things (Sam being one) that I about this aspect of training without the quotation, but it's a good reminder anyhow. Well laid bricks are hard to dislodge but easier to jostle out of position then they were to get in place.

"Every day you may make progress. Every step may be fruitful. Yet there will stretch out before you an ever-lengthening, ever-ascending, ever-improving path. You know you will never get to the end of the journey. But this, so far from discouraging, only adds to the joy and glory of the climb."

This? This is the heart of playing with my dogs. There is no end to training - only a journey of great joy and discovery. For this I am truly grateful. 

Monday, August 27, 2012

Give a boy a break ....

Wyn is really quite an amazing little soul. He sits on a verbal cue and by default for things like getting a leash on or waiting for dinner, he goes to kennel or bed when asked. He plays happily by himself or with people or dogs, he tugs, he is starting on 'out' (as long as the toy isn't too high value), he asks to go out to potty, he walks nicely on a leash and he is thrilled to meet and greet people. He has a happy puppy recall at the moment so is enjoying bombing around at the farm when I collect fresh feed for the rabbits. He gives great snuggles.

He is a puppy through and through - he barks, shrilly and loudly, at times. He bites on occasion as if he were Jaws himself. He is in a phase where if he can get his little mouth on kleenex or paper towel they are shredded instantly, with glee and a huge mess. He climbs in the water bowls and empties them all over the kitchen floor. He gets overwrought when tired or hungry. He's pretty consistently wide awake and raring to go by 6 am.  He drives me crazy at times. He is a 10 week old puppy.

If he walked in our door as a 10 month old puppy I'd think he was pretty good. I really do need to keep things in perspective and remember he is still a tiny (big!) baby who in normal circumstances would probably only just be starting on his "puppy" phase. No great leads on homes for him yet - which is fine as I'm not rushing back to work next week but he really is a find.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Building a work ethic ....

What could I learn from Sally and her marvelous work ethic?

Persist, Focus and Do it must be her mantras.


Sally fundamentally believes that there is always a way to get it done. She'll take a break and do something else but she doesn't forget the assigned task and she doesn't worry too much about it. She knows it'll happen eventually.  She clearly demonstrates that she understands she has to take care of herself in order to work as hard as she does. She's hard on herself;  leaping off decks and letting herself get too hot before stopping are two examples,  but when it's time for a break she makes it clear that a breather is in order. She will work past the time she wants to quit but if she goes too much longer the quality of work starts to suffer. In a human context  knowing when to stop is an important aspect of keeping a strong willingness to work. Building time for fun, breaks, a change is essential to being able to maintain drive.  Balancing that sometimes adding 20 minutes, or "just one more unit" of work past when you'd like to stop can get an awful lot accomplished.


When Sally knows what the task at hand is virtually nothing can interfere with her desire to get the job done ( a job I think she should do or a job she thinks she should do - either way works for her). She's demonstrated that time, and time again. I, on the other hand, have been working on this post since before filming Saving Dinah finished July 21.  She takes time to build to 100 % focus. She needs to know the job at hand, have what she needs to do it available, and warm up a little. Whatever she is doing she gives it her all once warmed up. Again, and again and again if needed (back to that persistence thing!)

Do it

Sally's deadline is always pretty immediate - if a job needs doing she does it. She relies on humans for priorities and deadlines, in exchange she gives enthusiasm to motivate getting it done! She has no issue with using a break to work on something else then returning to the original task with renewed vigor. She isn't afraid to make a mistake and have to try something another way or maybe even have a complete redo of the task.

She puts many people (me included) to shame with her work ethic. I'm taking a page from her book for the next week!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Bribery? Exploitation? Coercion?

Is training dogs exploitative? Is it, in a positive framework,  simply a matter of bribery?

and another no.

Google suggests that synonyms for exploitation include: abuse, dishonest, profiteering, using and many other unpleasant terms all suggesting a one way benefit.  Bribery's list is nearly as bad:  exaction, extortion, milking, payoff, ransom etc..

Training, at least around here, is a two way street. We all benefit from it. We all, at least generally, enjoy it. The dogs want to play work. They ask  for the opportunity to train - frequently and with happiness. There is an ex-pen set up on the lawn .. every dog will randomly hop in just to see if they can get a session going.

It's hard to play with just one dog as everybody wants in on the action. 

The specific topic of bribery came up recently when Sally and I took a moment out at a social function to do some work ... she spun, and wove through my legs, did her head thing, hammered my hand with her nose touch  and was happy happy to be working. When we were done and starting to wind down I paid her with a bit of a treat in my pocket. Someone who had walked up said "I knew it was all bribery!" with great glee. I got into the whole pay for performance thing - and showed him luring vs paying. He got it. Or at least he was polite enough to say he got it!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Wyn is building some drive ...

oh me
oh my

this boy is developing quite a work ethic without a whole lot of prompting from me ...

and he adores water - quite the combo!

Monday, August 06, 2012

Let the games begin ....

Sir Wynston Churchill is a real puppy.

All of a sudden he wants to play endlessly and can be awake for more than an hour.
He is learning to walk on leash, get into his crate, sit as a default and tug and play with people (and Sally!).

He and I are very well house trained. He gets a little overwrought on occasion and Big T reminds me about positive training when he senses my frustration building but those occasions are still very rare  - and usually happen when he's tired but wants to play.

He's nearly Brody's size. He is hilarious!

Saturday, August 04, 2012

People who say ...

People who say they sleep like a baby usually don't have one.  ~Leo J. Burke

yah  .. true saying indeed 

Since June 11th the longest uninterrupted sleep I've had is 6.5 hours ... I'm not very good at going back to sleep so often that's it for the day (napping is impossible for me unless I'm sick)

I would naturally sleep pretty close to 8 hours if nothing woke me.
Cry me a river eh? It's all my own fault anyhow.

Little Wyn had to eat frequently when he was neonatal and by the time he was a puppy with locomotive skills he was clean in his pen ....

Once he's awake he wants to play, eat and have a drink. Usually he goes out once more for a business break and then comes in and falls into a deep sleep. I'm jealous as once I'm up for an hour I'm up!

He's offering lovely sits when he wants something and learning that, as unbelievable as it seems, he is not always the center of the universe.  He continues to love everybody and is ADORABLE to watch when he greets special friends and Big T - his wiggles aren't just his back end but neck down!

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Who's the teacher?

Wrapped up another great session with Webb Anderson. It was an interesting set up - he coached through 2 days of a trial at Spot On Agility then did workshops the following day that worked on courses from the trial. I missed having a lesson with him but otherwise felt this was a very unique opportunity. Sally ran like a dream. She didn't stick her contacts solidly (especially the aframe) but she did get to the yellow every time - given the last time she saw contacts was at least 6 weeks ago I was OK with it.  I probably shouldn't have been OK with it - lots of people would have been storming off the field with their dogs - but I realized that Sally was doing what she was capable of doing in that moment. She teaches me so much. Punishing her for my education is not going to help either of us.

To learn from others you really have to listen. Watching Webb work with people he has worked with multiple times before drove that home to me too. I'm sure there were moments he wondered why he hadn't just sent up a voice recorded message for us. Running this dog? Play this section of tape. That dog? Use this piece. At one point in the workshop the only feedback he offered was "good" for a not particularly good run. I didn't ask him why but I'm quite confident the response would be "The run was better than some and that's all the person would have heard anyhow".
Being a good student is hard work. I am not a great student and the learning part of the weekend exhausted me.

I'm fortunate though - both Sally and Webb are excellent teachers. They were clear and concrete and kept things simple enough for me to follow. One big take away for me is that just because a dog has solid distance skills doesn't mean you should always use them. Driving your dog around a course can really increase speed and motivation. My old "Trust Yor Dawg" may have to update to "Work With Yor Dawg".

I hadn't played at sanctioned AAC (except for the half day in May) since April 2011 (Regionals and Nationals last summer  - but they are different!). It was great to be at a two day trial. The wicked awesome blow my mind bit of the weekend for me was TWO, count em, TWO standard Qs. Webb told me to enter standard so I did with absolutely no expectation. We did three classes .. and Sally popped off the table in her third class (her only error). She was a tiny bit overtime in one steeplechase (which I don't really get but thems the breaks), and had an off course in the other. She  happily earned advanced Qs in jumpers and gamblers.  So for folks who measure success by Qs we  had a good weekend that way too.

The venue was amazing. I get really absorbed by trial sites. Spot On is my new favourite. The views, the corn, the water tanks, the spread out yet handy setup, the pizza, the accommodating trial host, the beautiful ribbons, the field to walk around, the less doggy place provided for Wyn under the shade of the trees, the draw for great prizes... sweet sweet place.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Hey Susan Garret ~ Whatcha Doing in My Dream?

Thanks for stopping by for a dream dinner Susan. It was nice to meet you although you being so annoyed my husband didn't know where you lived was pretty funny - if you'd known how shocked  I was he didn't ask you what you did for a living you might understand my amusement better. He was also wise enough to do some yummy veggie skewers for dinner - you seemed to enjoy them!

I wish we'd talked about agility a bit - but you knew much more about English poetry than I expected - and liking all poetry, I enjoyed the conversation too! You probably need a break from dog talk sometimes, glad we could oblige.

I was a little embarrassed that Sir Wyn  peed on the floor; then I was mad at myself for being embarrassed. After all he is only 7 weeks old and hasn't had an accident in literally weeks. I obviously wasn't paying attention... DOH dogs have such a good grip on keeping it real!

I hope everybody enjoyed your company too. This is a good house for entertaining - too bad we are moving soon or I could host regular parties!

Anyhow - feel free to pop by a dream anytime  I promise I won't bug you with questions.