Friday, July 31, 2015

Where's the button? 5 factors that may help you build work ethic in your animal partner.

The concept of  "Work Ethic" came up today on a FB group I belong too.

As one wise sage pointed out, if everyone is working from different definitions the answers will look varied. So, let me clarify. When I speak of work ethic I mean that notion that work is worthy of doing well and investing time in. Now of course if you read this blog regularly at all you know my immediate challenge with this as it applies to the dogs,  I play with my dogs (and horses). We don't do much work at all. So, in real terms Work Ethic to me is being willing and able to bring an intensity to the table, a desire to do whatever and do it well. For reward? Why not. Sometimes the act is reward enough sometimes payment is needed. I am ok with either and don't believe that Brody (who very much likes to be paid) is lazier or less motivated than Sally (who finds the action of work itself motivating usually). The current canine and equine crew vary. A lot. Their single biggest commonality? They bring their A game to the playing field more often than I would expect. (Sometimes *cough* Sally *cough* more often than I would want - if you'd asked me if I'd ever build a house with tweaks to foil a too smart dog I would have laughed at you - 9 years ago anyhow!)  That intensity, drive, willingness to work is pretty neat to see in such a diverse crew.

The alarming part? The only truly concrete thing the dogs here  have in common is that they are all dogs nobody else wanted (well Thea was wanted but only by Paris Hilton wannabes so ... same difference really).

To delve into this more I did some reading on work ethic in humans and found a neat little article that identified 5 key factors involving a work place work ethic. Being me,  I've adapted them for our animal partners and will illustrate with examples from the canine crew here.

Integrity  trusting your relationship (obviously a two way street) is worth the work so you have to be willing to invest the work. Brody is likely my best example of this. He is the least obviously committed to work here (although honestly he is always ready to give it a go - he just isn't as pushy as some) yet he could come out day after day and be absolutely rock solid. A little Q monster in many ways. 

Sense of Responsibility accepting their own role in the work being done and contributing to moving things forward. Yen gets this big picture concept. She loves to work but absolutely understands that I can't and won't make her work. The choice to work is hers. And she chooses work and assignations with me with a whole-hearted joy that makes every one around her laugh. Six fluffy pounds of shivering with anticipation is pretty darn cute. She carries far far more than her weight in play training. 

Emphasis on Quality Always willing to do that little extra to ensure the work is the best possible in human terms. In canine and equine terms I equate it to not giving up when the going gets tough. Not opting out but figuring out. Sampson took awhile to develop this aspect of work ethic. A long while. His first summer with me every single one of my training videos had shots of him running past the work happening. Sigh. He's a different dog now and I am grateful for the lesson that work ethic is not always apparent in early days. This video illustrates the development on work ethic over Sam's first summer with us, Not the intention of the video but even so there you have it.

Discipline Focus, commitment, and drive might be terms that you are more familiar with in a canine context. I would add bravery and desire here too. Thea is a total Type A. At 7 pounds of chihuahua soaking wet she continually shocks people with her intensity. She is assertive and opinionated and has never said no when working. Scenting, agility, basic manners - no matter. She may or may not be interested but she is going to give it her all. 

Sense of Teamwork working together with an eye on the complete picture - It took Sally awhile to get this - those early 40 fault runs had nothing to do with a lack of work ethic and everything to do with the fact she didn't understand we were team and I had the course maps!

So this is all fine and well but how the heck to develop Work Ethic? Wave my magic wand and take dogs nobody else wants, use a little tincture of time and see where you are? Pick a sporting, herding, toy, terrier or other group dog? Umm no - we cover all those types here and all have a solid work ethic. 

All I can say with any degree of certainty is that dogs who love to play train and are allowed to opt in rather than being forced seem to develop a stronger more disciplined work ethic than those who have ALL THE PRESSURE. It has been a very long time since a dog here has had to work with at any given moment. Even in class with Sally I usually had Brody with us and if I felt a diminished desire to play in Sally was happy to swap out dogs,  Usually I have a group of dogs sitting waiting (sometimes not so patiently) for their turn to play. Not being sure if they will get time to play or work seems to increase motivation to want to work. Even the terrier loves to DO STUFF. 

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Flip. Flop.

Yesterday it was about giving your animal partners time off. Today it is  the concept of  "self training".  I don't mean training at home on your own. (Though that can have issues too - nothing like some objective eyes to help keep you moving forward)  I mean the concept that the dogs trains themselves. By magic. Without your input. The Miracle Method,  Passive Training. I don't care what you call it - it isn't going to work by and large.

Osmosis is one thing - but there has to be something to build on, and from.

Playing Training is a partnership. A dance. A dialogue.

It's' relationship, engagement,  call it what you will  Dogs and horses cannot possibly figure out what we want and train themselves.

Yes lots of what we build on is instinctive ( sports like barn hunt and herding are obvious - but the concept is much bigger - moving away from pressure, wanting to be with us are just two examples) but without a facilitator to explain the rules how on earth can the team work as a whole? They can't.

Period. Full Stop.

If you expect ribbons and glory - heck if you just expect specific behaviour it's YOUR job to invest time in making sure that behaviour is known, cue-able and fluent,  Your JOB I tell ya. Hope you are listening!

Monday, July 27, 2015

Stop. Just Stop.

To sit with a dog on a hillside on a glorious afternoon is to be back in Eden, where doing nothing was not boring - it was peace.  ~Milan Kundera

We all love to play with train our dogs.  It is our relaxation. Our fun. 
Competing is fun. We visit with friends, cheer their successes, console them if needed. We eat junk food (ohh maybe that's just me) and laugh with friends. What do our dogs do? They, largely, nap in crates. They get out they get warmed up, they get pottied, they compete. They then often either get huge treats and praise or thrown back in their crate dependent on performance to the judging standard. (Not to the training demonstrated, far too often to my mind).

The bigger and better (and richer?) you are, the more likely you are to travel long distances to compete. Then you travel long distances to repeat it. Then again. It's intense. You are at the top. You gotta go go go right?  Prevent performance erosion. If you aren't showing you are traveling or training. But ...

Travel days are not days off for your animal partner. They just aren't. Travel is stressful for everybody. 

Days off look a little different for each depending on the animal involved around here. 

Sally's days off involve her telling me what to do. 

Sampson's involve the pond. Or mud. Or, ideally, both. 

Some dogs will want to snooze the day away. Others will want to be active. They are invited to hang out while we work or come for a walk but they aren't made to come on a day off. 

Formal cross training days, no matter how much I love them, and I do, is not a day off.  If being groomed is stressful it's not a day off either. 

A day off is doing something (or nothing) unrelated to training goals and plans and just being. We are so very very fortunate here - our dogs can be quasi feral for a day or two or three and just be. Creating that in urban centers where leashes are needed and people are scheduled strictly is much harder. 

I truly do believe that breaks in working reinforce training, freshness and the desire to play our games. When was the last time you scheduled your dog(s) a break? When my animal partners are training and showing hard I schedule pretty lengthy vacations for them. Fitness work may happen depending on the animal but that's it. Three to six weeks of holiday. Twice a year if schedule is intense. A true day off or two even in the middle of the season. 

It's just the way we roll around here. 

We all come back refreshed. 
It's important. 

Terri Guillemets asked "Is everything as urgent as your stress would imply?" Take some time. Explore the options. 

Monday, July 13, 2015

time she ticks along ....

Relationship work,
Play training,
Positive training

They are all fun. They all lead to excellent results, sometimes with dogs that otherwise wouldn't be able to cope at all in the real world. BUT

and it's a BIG BUT

they are time consuming, detail driven, and need tweaking for each participant.

If I was teaching you how to use a shock collar I could simply say hit the buzzer but learning when and in what way to use play as a reward (personal, food and toy) or simply release expectations is a juggling act. The motley collection of critters I get to play with  train, illustrates that well I think.

Take your time. Expect it to take time. Celebrate the time it takes. Patience is truly a virtue in education - of all species!

I am glad I get to play with so many species (including humans) as it keeps my teaching skills sharp.

(this blog was titled before I found the music for the video - prescient or what?)

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

We have farm dogs - hear them bark?

I was in the barn last night puttering around putting away stuff from a show Sunday when Big T looked around and said "the dogs have a good life". It seemed self evident to me in that moment but got me thinking. Thinking is dangerous.

The dogs here have a great deal of freedom. There is a fenced yard which is mostly used at night to keep coyotes away from the little dogs as much as anything else. There is a pond the dogs can go splash in as they want.

The canine crew here largely has agency. That is to say they have the freedom to make choices many, many times in a day. Lie n a comfy bed? Awesome. Outside puttering? Fabulous. Want to come with me to see the horses? Big dogs always welcome. Want to hang out on the porch while the rest of us go for a walk? Terrific - have a good time. Need to rush to the chickens and make sure they are all still there? Suit yourself terrier. The list could go on  for pages and pages 

We ask them to keep themselves safe and encourage them to stay in either the pond field,  home field or with us but to be quite frank they take the responsibility for watching us pretty seriously. If the "travelers" hear a vehicle start up they come to see what's up. They are often lying in eye sight of us supervising what ever activity we are up to or perhaps nosing around looking for critters to scare or smell. 

They ask each other to play and they ask us to play.Sally, Yen and Dora love a crazy zooming chase game we all enjoy,  We ask them to play too. It's pretty unusual for any of us to blow off a reasonable request for attention. 

How has this somewhat feral lifestyle affected training? Well. Here's the rub. It's strengthened it. Behaviours that were offered because of insistence are now offered because they are asked for? For fun? For something to do? I don't know exactly but I do know the dogs are fully engaged in play training . The dogs celebrate their successes with as much joy as I do. Letting the dogs "dog" has given them more motivation to be present with us, not less. They don't sneak off or avoid us because if they really wanted to go to a back field we would all go out back (or those of us who wanted to would - and whoever didn't want to could hang on the porch or inside instead). The dogs' independence has enhanced their bond to us.  

My Mum noticed this change too. The dogs know her well but she's never trained or worked with them. Sam has a long history of being obnoxious a bit pushy with her. Today she told him it was too hot, he was too wet and he should just "go lie down". He looked at her and instead went and picked up a plastic tub to play with. But he left her alone. She saw Dora headed down the driveway and reported her location to me. I suggested she ask Dora to come to the barn if she was worried. She called "Dora" once, happily, and Dora instantly decided being with us was going to be more fun than whatever else she had been thinking of doing. A one call recall, that would make Susan Garrett proud, to someone with no history of rewarding her . 

I feel sometimes like we have gone back in time. To a fire pit where the canines chose to pair up with people for mutual pleasure and benefit. It's a pretty neat realization.