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News: Guest Posts
Meet the Trainer Behind the Amazing Jesse
Simple advice from a training wunderkind

If you’re a dog lover, you’ve probably seen “Useful Dog Tricks performed by Jesse.” The YouTube video has clocked more than 9-and-a-half million hits to date—so someone is watching the wirehaired Terrier with Cleopatra eyes chew the scenery (metaphorically, only).

With an always-wagging tail, the tri-colored Jack Russell merrily opens and closes drawers, turns a lamp off and on, cleans countertops and windows, pull off his booties, opens a wallet, closes a door, helps someone off with her sweatshirt, shoes and socks and retrieves her sandals, and on and on.   Who is the wise and seasoned pro behind the scenes? How many years of study and practice went into helping Jesse discover his inner superstar? Well, there’s no pro and not a lot of years either. The woman behind the clicker is 21-year-old Heather Brook of Litchfield Park, Ariz., who before Jesse came into her life had never trained a dog. Clearly, what she lacked in experience, she made up for with patience and love.   Heather got the 8-week-old puppy when she was 16, and discovered early on, he needed an outlet for his boundless energy. So she turned to trick books and Karen Pryor’s clicker-training website. Always relying on positive reinforcement, she helped Jesse master an impressive variety of tricks that she captured in videos that went viral and eventually landed the duo appearances on The Rachael Ray Show (“Amazing Animal Tricks”), The Late Show with David Letterman (“Stupid Pet Tricks”) and in several commercials. While the attention has been exciting, Heather says, “the time spent together is what made it worthwhile.”   What’s her advice to would-be trainers?
  • Bond with your dog. “We have a relationship first,” she says. “We’re best friends, so the training comes naturally.”
  • Dedicate time and be patient. Brook says she doesn’t set a specific time to train but works on tricks for about five or ten minutes, twice a day. She also mixes it up. “He’s better not always doing the same thing,” she says.
  • Find a reward your dog LOVES—whether it’s a toy, treats or praise from you.
  • Finally, and most important, Heather says, “Just do it. If you have a dream, you will succeed.
    News: Guest Posts
    The Canine Supernanny Is Back
    Victoria Stilwell returns for another year in Bark, and a third season on TV

    New year, new challenges, new solutions. We’re thrilled the calm, compassionate and straight-talking Victoria Stilwell returns to answer reader questions in 2011. In our February issue, she tackles one dog’s new habit (acquired during the holiday) of counter-surfing. As per usual, Stilwell’s prescription requires seeing the situation from the dog’s point of view and employing a combination of positive training and smart management strategies—and no “scat mats.” She’ll be responding to readers’ questions—one per issue—all year, so send your canine puzzler to editor@thebark.com with the word “Stilwell” in the subject line.

      And while you’re waiting for your next issue, check in on the new season of It’s Me Or the Dog, which premieres on Saturday, January 8 at 8 p.m. (ET/PT). Among this season’s collection of out-of-control owners is Jill Zarin, best known as one of “The Real Housewives of New York City,” who can’t reign in her cantankerous Chihuahua, Ginger. There’s plenty of solid training advice and more than a small dose of family therapy. We also hear there are a few surprises, including training a micro-pig!

     

    News: Guest Posts
    Are You Tipping?
    Don’t miss your daily dog tips from DogTown

    Sometimes I get overwhelmed reading about training and behavior. It feels like there is too much to know and absorb. That’s one of the reasons I’m loving the daily updates from Dog Tips from DogTown. This sneak, one-tip-a-day peek is rolling out on TheBark.com this week and next. My current favorite is “Tip 3: Because dog’s don’t wear mood rings,” a simple, illustrated guide to reading my dog’s moods.

      I also respect the source: the trainers at Best Friends Animal Society, the nation’s largest no-kill sanctuary. Is there any better measure of trainers’ commitment and skill than turning around the lives of dogs the world has turned its back on? I’m inspired and motivated by their example.  

     

    Dog's Life: Lifestyle
    Dogs Have Difficulty “Unlearning”
    New research on canine cognition

    A recent study published in the journal Animal Cognition shows that dogs have a hard time “unlearning” certain tasks that they have been trained to do. In Minding the gap: spatial perseveration error in dogs, researchers Britta Osthaus, Donna Marlow and Pippa Ducat demonstrated that dogs who have learned a specific sort of detour behavior have trouble deviating from that behavior once the set up has changed.

      The researchers trained 50 dogs to go through a gap in a barrier in order to reach their guardians and receive a treat. Approximately 80 percent of the dogs learned this task in just a single trial. After 1 to 4 training trials, the dogs were confronted with a slightly different task. The gap in the barrier was no longer in the original position, but in a clearly visible alternative location along the barrier.   When tested with this new task, dogs consistently went to the original position of the gap rather than to the new opening that would allow them to reach their target. This error was made by 46 of the 50 dogs. The more times they had gone through the original gap, the more likely they were to make the error once the gap had been relocated.   This study shows that dogs have trouble “unlearning” at least certain sorts of spatial tasks and that they tend to persist with behavior that has led to success in the past, even when the task had changed. The researchers point out that this has implications related to both dog training and to future cognitive studies of dogs.

     

    News: Editors
    Mad Men’s Training Advice
    The benefits of positive reinforcement, illustrated

    For all you Mad Men fans—hope you caught “Tomorrowland,” the final episode of season 4 because I don’t want to give away the ending. But there was something in a pivotal scene that struck me as a perfect example of best practices for both child and dog raising.

      So there is Don with his two children and Megan, his lovely, young secretary/nanny, lunching somewhere near Disneyland. Sally and Bobby are arguing when Sally knocks over her milkshake. Don, with a furrowed brow looks ready to snap at the kids (like ex-wife Betty or even worse), but then as quick as you can say “positive reinforcement,” sweet Megan calmly reaches over with paper napkins to clean up the mess. She says something about it being “just a milkshake.” Don looks at her all dewy-eyed and smitten, getting it in a flash that there is an alternative approach to dealing with these messy kiddy matters.   A perfect lesson for trainers who promote “alpha assertive” and “hands-on” methods, it really is so much better for everyone—dogs, kids, parents, owners when you can accentuate the positive and forgo the negative—as Mad Men demonstrated in its “engaging” final scene.  

    Dog's Life: Lifestyle
    Halloween Trick-Or-Treaters
    Is this a good training opportunity?

    It’s common for even the sweetest of dogs to be little devils when visitors come to the door. Some dogs are afraid of visitors, which can cause them to bark, lunge or even bite. Others are simply wild with excitement when people arrive, which often leads to leaping, jumping, barking, spinning and generally being out of control. Either way, it can mean that every time the doorbell rings, people cringe knowing that what’s about to happen may not be pretty.

      The day of days for doorbell ringing is, of course, Halloween. Not only are there loads of visitors, but those visitors are dressed as, among other things, lions, and tigers, and bears, oh my! There are costumes with flashing lights, giant mouths, battery-powered sound effects, and all sorts of weird colors, shapes, sizes and behavior. When dogs are not at their best with visitors anyway, trick-or-treaters are unduly challenging.   Everybody knows that for dogs who struggle to contain themselves when visitors come over, practice dealing with that very situation is a necessary part of improving it. So, I am often asked, “Should I use Halloween night as a training opportunity?” The short answer is “probably not.”   One reason for answering in the negative is that while practice is an essential part of training doors to be polite when visitors arrive, that practice must be in a situation at a level that the dog can handle. Large numbers of excited children will be beyond what most dogs can handle, which means that most dogs will just end up practicing their undesirable behavior rather than practicing the polite behavior we’d like them to exhibit.   Another reason that practicing greetings of visitors on Halloween may be ill-advised is that many dogs react badly because they are fearful of visitors. Trick-or-treaters are bound to be terrifying to dogs since people whose silhouettes are unusual seem to scare most dogs. Masks, capes, giant costumes, carrying bags and other elements of trick-or-treating fashion change people’s silhouettes are scarier to most dogs than the typical tool belts, hats, clipboards and backpacks that fearful dogs react to.   It is especially critical not to use Halloween night as a training session if there is any risk of the dog behaving aggressively to visitors. Most dogs who react badly towards visitors are merely impolite or excessively exuberant, and even that could inadvertently lead to trouble. Trick-or-treaters should not be exposed to the small minority who may actually intentionally try to hurt them.   There are a very few dogs who can benefit from training session on Halloween. Those are the dogs who have worked up to being polite when trick-or-treaters arrive by already showing great success when greeting every other type of visitor, including large groups of people, children, loud people and people dressed a bit oddly. If you’ve worked up to this Holy Grail of training with your dog, perhaps Halloween is an opportunity for you both. If you’re not sure if your dog is ready, the best course of action is to assume that he’s not.   For most people, the only way to make a dog be like Lassie on Halloween is to put him in a Rin Tin Tin costume. So unless your dog has worked up to being ready to handle these toughest types of visitors, don’t plan on training during the trick-or-treating hours. 
    Dog's Life: Lifestyle
    Just For Fun
    Tricks for kicks

    A lot of training is simply teaching our dogs to be polite members of both human and canine society. Walking nicely on a leash, proper greetings, coming when called, doing sits, downs and stays on cue and letting children eat ice cream cones without helping are all useful skills that make any dog more pleasant to be around.

      Yet, it’s the fun things we teach our dogs that give many of us the most joy. Even simple tricks such as beg, crawl and rollover provide loads of fun both when we spend the time with our dogs to train them and when we get to show off their tricks to other people.   Some tricks are timeless, taught to each generation of dogs. Other tricks cycle in and out of favor, with certain tricks being popular right now. Among the “in” tricks to train dogs lately are the following:   “Aaachoo!” The dog retrieves a tissue when you sneeze.   “Leg up” To lift a leg as though urinating, but without really doing so.   “Stop, drop, roll and crawl to safety.” To stop, lie down, rollover and then crawl as a demonstration of the fire safety behavior   “Tidy up!” To put each toy into the toy box.   Does your dog have a favorite trick? Is it your favorite as well?
    Dog's Life: Lifestyle
    Training Goals on the Web
    Using social media for a push

    As someone who works in professional development, I always tell people that in order to reach your goals, you have to hold yourself accountable. This looks different for every person and committing can be as simple as writing your goal down on paper.

    Goal setting is also important when it comes to our dogs because it motivates us to carve out time to train and develop our relationships with our pups.  While dog sport people may have lofty goals, like to qualify for nationals, a goal can be anything from improving your recall to making more time for walks.

    In today’s age of social networking, a great way to share goals is to post them on Facebook or a blog, as well as share pictures, videos and get advice from dog lovers around the world. 

    One of my agility friends is working on heeling with her new puppy, Griff. She’s been documenting their progress on her blog, Dog Nerd 101, and has decided to inspire others to work on heeling by holding a contest for Most Improved Heeler through her blog.

    Many people think heeling is just for obedience, but it’s an invaluable tool for other dog sports and for everyday life. Navigating a crowded street becomes a piece of cake if you’ve trained a heel behavior. Dog Nerd 101’s contest is a great way to encourage others to practice this important skill.

    How do you commit to your dog related goals?

    News: Guest Posts
    Blanket Lust
    An (seemingly) unstoppable obsession

    I am obsessed with blankets. Turns out, so is Leo. My blanket obsession began with a passion for textile design, which developed into a habit of buying any blanket, comforter or quilt that caught my eye. Leo’s blanket habit is related to mine: Whenever I bring home a gorgeous coverlet, he has to chew a gigantic hole right in the middle—as soon as he is left alone with it for more than 20 seconds.

      Sometimes I think fate must have ironically brought Leo and I together, or that maybe Leo is saving me from the fate of being crushed under an avalanche of blankets when I open the linen closet. With Leo’s blanket-munching, I recognized there were two issues that needed to be addressed. First, Leo could not be left alone with blankets until he learned chewing on them is inappropriate. Secondly, he needed a positive outlet for his chewing, such as a chew toy.   Keeping Leo away from blankets worked for like a week. His tenacity for finding unattended blankets was borderline inspiring. I’d leave the bedroom door open for a minute while I went to grab clothes from the dryer: Gigantic hole in the blanket. I’d take a catnap on the sofa: Down feathers everywhere when I awoke.   Since keeping him away from blankets wasn’t going to happen, I tried taste deterrents, like bitter spray misted onto the blankets. Apparently, the only one affected by this was me. Many a nap was rudely ended by a bitter taste. After falling asleep in a blanket cocoon on the sofa (exhausted from watching back-to-back-to-back episodes of Cake Boss), my open mouth would inevitably make contact with the surface of the blanket. It was heinously gross. Meanwhile, Leo would power through the nasty flavor. For my sake, I gave up on the bitter spray.   My plan to redirect Leo’s affection from blankets to toys has been even less successful. Even after taking Leo to training specifically to pique his interest in toys, he drifts after more than 20 seconds unless it is something he can eat (like a bully chew or a Kong toy). I see a future with a morbidly obese dog curled happily on elegant, intact quilts.   The reality is Leo and I both have issues that need to be dealt with (though I’d like to think that I can curb my blanket-purchasing habit as soon as I can curb Leo’s blanket-eating habit). What next? Do I give Leo one blanket and designate it as his? Do I continue my two years of attempting to interest him in toys? Do I concede that maybe I won’t have nice blankets ever? Any suggestions?

     

    News: Guest Posts
    A New Job for Pearl
    Second graders illustrate book about Haiti SAR dog

    Allyn Lee has volunteered for 16 years, teaching second graders about animals and the environment. In January, she was teaching Connie Forslind’s second grade class at Rancho Romero School in Alamo, Calif., about wolves—a subject, she says, always segues to dogs—when Haiti was hit by the devastating earthquake. Lee followed the coverage, in particular stories about the canine search teams, including California Task-Force 2 (CA-TF2), trained by the Search Dog Foundation. CA-TF2 saved 11 lives in Haiti and learned a great deal about saving more lives in future disasters. Lee decided she wanted to write the true story of a Pearl and her handler, Fire Captain Ron Horetski.

      When she told her students they became enthusiastic supporters and illustrators. They studied photos of Horetski and Pearl and watched Search Dog Foundation videos. Every student provided at least one image for A New Job for Pearl: A Homeless Dog Becomes A Hero, and they participate in book sales events nearby. “They are fully involved and determined to sponsor a search dog!” Lee says.    Lee and her students hope to sell 1,000 copies at $10 each to raise the $10,000 needed to sponsor the training of a search dog. To support the kids, SDF and/or to learn Pearl’s wonderful story, visit ANewJobforPearl.org.

     

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