Culture: Stories & Lit
Look at Me
I have a border collie. which means i have a dog especially alert to motion of any kind. My Border Collie, Ainsley, is one of those who sometimes—well, okay, frequently—has rather explosive reactions to the motion of trucks, dogs, bikers and squirrels, to mention just a few. Which means I also need to be Border Collie–alert to motion so I can coach her on more, shall we say, appropriate responses.
Fortunately, I have a lovely path just outside my front door that wends between a river and canal, and curves in such a way that I can see almost anything coming or going for about half a mile in either direction. Even better, it’s traveled just enough to give us opportunities to practice self-control, but not so much that we can’t relax and enjoy our walk. It is not unusual to see fishermen along this path. While they don’t move much, they do wave their poles back and forth, an activity that can easily set off my dog. One day, as we walked, I saw a man on the bank of the canal about a quarter-mile ahead. I let Ainsley continue sniffing and scampering at the end of her 30-foot lead, worked on controlling my own breathing and, as we got closer, called her cheerfully to my side. Taking up the slack in the leash, I got a treat in hand, and together, we walked calmly by the man with the freaky stick.
This activity may seem absurdly straightforward to most dog owners, but it is actually hard-won for me and Ainsley. She is a rescue with a mostly unknown past, found wandering the woods, living under the porch of an abandoned hunting camp, gimpy from a broken leg that was never set and healed crooked, pregnant, full of bird shot, and blind in one eye. She is, true to her breed and in spite of her rough start, sweet, smart and trainable. She was, unlike her breed, very low-energy and cautious. Or so I thought. It turns out she was mostly just deeply inhibited. After a couple of years, as she became healthier, happier and more confident, she also became much more reactive. With a lot of help, advice, reading, consistent counterconditioning work and her ability to forgive my many mistakes, we found ways to manage this behavior. We never leave the house without a pocketful of treats. I taught her tricks to use as playful distractions. We work diligently at recalls. She is no longer an off-leash dog.
But one of the most fundamental building blocks of training remained elusive. As anyone who has dogs knows, you can’t teach them much until you teach them to pay attention to you. As anyone who has tried to manage reactivity knows, teaching a dog to make direct eye contact is the first step to effective counterconditioning. Ainsley is indeed very focused on me. However, she somehow learned shake, spin, down, come, leave it, enough, high-five, wait and so much more while simultaneously avoiding direct eye contact. She’d look at my face, but not into my eyes. If I insisted, she’d turn her muzzle askance and squint at me, blinking uncomfortably. I know that direct eye contact, while intimate among humans, is confrontational among dogs, so I accepted her oblique gaze. For a long time, Ainsley also did not know how to play— with me, with a toy, with a rawhide or with another dog— so it was clear that she had missed some pretty fundamental experiences. But slowly, over the course of several years, she has become engaged and responsive. Less hypervigilant. Goofy even. And from time to time, instead of looking at my eyebrows or cheekbones or chin, she will look steadily into my eyes. For a few moments, at least.
So having her trot at my side, glancing up at me, relaxed and unconcerned about the strange man with the weird appendage, was a not insignificant victory. In fact, I was so relieved and proud that I immediately let the leash unloop in my hand and told her to “go play,” which she happily did, sniffing along both sides of the trail as it took a sharp turn around an outcropping of rock. I rounded the bend behind her and saw a big blue bucket, net and tool bag lying in the grass just ahead. Ainsley was already there, nose to the ground. I quickly called “leave it” and began to take up the slack in the leash. But I was too late. By the time I’d crossed the distance from my end of the leash to hers, she’d found a pole hidden in the grass. Both her lip and tongue were pierced with two separate, four-barbed hooks. The look on her face was confusion more than pain. The look on mine must have been much worse. I held her jaw and spoke every comforting word I could think of as I tried to figure out how to keep her from getting more entangled. Fortunately, the barb in her lip came free. But the one in her tongue was completely set. I took hold of the hook, attached to 45 pounds of dog through a millimeter of skin, and tried to shove the miniature torture device back through the small hole it had made in the edge of her tongue. She squirmed and danced. Now her four and my two legs were also getting entangled in 30 feet of bright pink leash and several feet of invisible fishing line.
I said “easy, easy, easy,” my usual cue for getting her to slow her gait, and “wait, wait, wait,” my cue for getting her to stop moving, and blinked away the hot tears of fear. I tried fighting the hook without fighting my dog, but her tongue slipped in and out of my trembling fingers and the barbs pricked me instead of her. I tugged and pushed and twisted; the hook would not budge. I yelled for help. The fisherman was too far away and out of view. Blood, hers and mine, dripped off my fingertips.
I couldn’t back out the lure, so I had to snip it. With my free hand, I fumbled in the tool bag, looking for wire cutters— didn’t fishermen always have a pair for just this sort of eventuality? No luck. The only tool I could find was a knife. She’d recovered from so many much worse injuries in her life, I told myself she’d easily recover from a tiny slice in her tongue. I unsheathed the knife, set it against the hook, and pushed hard and fast into that sliver of flesh that held her. Suddenly, she was free.
She trotted off, shaking her head and spraying drops of blood into the landscape. I reordered the fisherman’s gear and tried to regulate my shallow breathing and pounding heart. Slowly, my panic was replaced with gratitude for Ainsley’s calmness during our little ordeal. She is, fortunately, a naturally sensible dog. But what struck me was that she had struggled against the hook, but not against me. She had listened. She had let me help her. I watched her return immediately to sniffing for feral cats and rabbit poop, and I was reminded, again, why it is so profoundly important that we train our dogs. Yes, we train because tricks are fun to show off to family members. Because a dog who doesn’t void in the house or jump on guests is easier to live with. But even more important, we train them to wait at an open door and walk on a leash to keep them safe. Dogs are, in many ways, human creations. We have domesticated them to live with us. And in doing so, we have brought them into immediate contact with things they might more naturally avoid: roads, cars, toddlers, garbage cans, toxic substances and so much more. We’ve bred them to be our best friends; training is the most essential thing we can do to be their best friends.
This small yet very stressful incident with the fishing hooks could have been much worse. Part of the reason it wasn’t is because of all the painstaking, frequently embarrassing and often frustrating but ultimately rewarding work I put into my relationship with Ainsley. I showed her what to do with a stuffed toy that squeaks when she bites on it, a dried-up piece of cowhide, a regal cat who refuses to be herded, a big white truck barreling towards us.
In the process, I suddenly realized, I was also showing her what to do with me. She learned I was good not only for putting kibble in a bowl and a leash around her neck, but also for introducing her to agility obstacles, playing “get it” games, removing snowballs from her paws and helping her sort through what to do about the strange things that pop up out of the landscape on our walks. This day, on this walk, she let me help her sort through a fishy, thorny problem with her tongue. More than teaching Ainsley to look at me, I realized I had finally, and much more importantly, taught her to look to me.
Culture: Stories & Lit
Lessons for a service dog in training
Jake piper’s making slow sense of the Home command. I’m not sure how much he’s really got it. He follows Puzzle readily when she leads us home, but I notice that he is clearly following her. He is a moment behind her dance steps, always, and doesn’t appear to be making any choice of direction. When I give him a handful of trial runs beside her, I realize that as long as she is with us, he will be content to let her lead. I don’t think he’s got it. It’s time to work him on the Home command alone.
I’ve watched him work his nose since the very first day he came to us, and what I know about Jake Piper is that he’s got a keen sense of scent and a high drive impulse. But, unlike Puzzle, he doesn’t have six years of finding a specific something and leading me to it with his nose. Jake also naturally works more head down across the turf than head up across the wind. He can trail a rabbit’s recent path through our back yard quite easily, but it’s Puzzle, head up, who seems to snag the airborne scent of passing humans long before they reach the house. It’s Puzzle who picks up on the roof-hugging squirrel pressed flat to the tiles above us. Of course, she is a field dog by birth and long trained to work air scent, and he is all raw nose talent and completely unversed. I’m interested to see just how quickly he picks up the Home command and recognizes what I need him to do. I’m curious if he’ll consistently backtrack our trail or if he, too, in time will simply take us home by moving from scent zone to scent zone regardless of the path we took outbound. It’s possible he won’t pick up this command at all.
Jake learns words quickly, so I start with teaching him what I mean by home. Walking along the boundary of the property, I’ll suggest we go home, and then, as we approach the front of the house, tell him to find the door. Jake has successfully learned that the Door command can mean door in as well as door out, so I hope to build on that understanding. Where once it was just about finding the door, Jake’s task now demands he find home and the door. For a week’s worth of sessions, I simply say, “Let’s go home,” as we approach the house, adding the Door command as we step onto the property. Jake learns commands well. The first time I say, “Let’s go home,” along the back fence of the property, and he chooses to run the length of the fence and then turn right to get to the front door, I mark it as a success. Yes, he did pee over other dog marks on the way—a quick hike of leg out of form rather than function— but he got us there. He enjoys the command, the job, and the big, big praise for a good dog doing well. In this he is much like Puzzle. Home is a happy command to give a once abandoned dog like Jake. Every time we work it, I’m reminded that in a way Home celebrates what he nearly never had.
We begin to train farther away. This is tougher for Jake, working across a merry universe of distractions. Even one house down from ours there are enticements: a cat arching in a window, any number of piss marks on trees, a child’s sock, a dead pigeon. Before we can nail the Home command, Jake has to reliably Leave It, a term he now understands. Usually good about it, he occasionally plays dumb and lunges for whatever (Never heard that command in my life). He also plays deaf (Even if I do know the command, I didn’t hear it).
Jake’s a curious beast, leaving the taunting cat and the rotting pigeon much more readily than the piss marks, leaving the child’s sock most reluctantly of all. He doesn’t try to snatch the sock as toy, but he’s curious about it. When Jake does Leave It on the second command, he looks up at me in puzzled innocence, as though he’s wounded by my tone of voice.
In a few days, from one house away, he leads me home. In a week, from two houses away, he leads me home. When the month is out, I can give him the Home command as we round any block leading to the house, and he’ll take me there, long lead drooping and scraping across the sidewalk, a loose connection between us so that I can be certain I’m not cuing him with tugs even I don’t recognize. For a time we work into the sun so that my shadow is thrown behind me—I want to make sure I’m not even cuing him by some lean of body he can see, though I’m not sure he recognizes what a shadow is.
We have several good Home finds from a block away, once even approaching from a side of the block we had not taken outbound, and I think it’s time to let Jake Piper advance a little more. We take a long, free-to-be-dog walk into town, and halfway back I put on his service vest. He stands still for the putting-on-of-uniform, slides into it easily, and I see the change of demeanor I see in Puzzle when the vest goes on, as if he understands which rules apply.
“Take me home, Jake,” I say. We are about three blocks away. It’s a big step up from the block he had been doing, but we’re on the very road we took outbound, and we are walking into the wind. With any luck, it’s blowing straight over the house and into our faces. With any luck, Jake has so much of our outbound scent and home’s scent that the path back glows.
Jake perks at the command and starts off with great energy. Too much energy. For a moment I have to rush to keep the lead slack between us. If we weren’t near traffic, I’d drop the lead entirely to see which route he’d take. Jake’s head is lifted. The spotted left ear is standing almost straight up. The right ear twists like a corn chip. Everything about him looks happy, and with a terrier’s easy, distinctive trot, he moves confidently in the right direction. His pace is steady: Jake-Home-Jake-Home-Jake-Home-Jake-Home. A couple of times he turns around to shoot me a glance. It’s a check-in but so confident and prideful that it reads less like How am I doing? and more like I am so on this. Who’s the good Jakey?
He’s the good Jakey, I think, and I am just about to share his overconfidence when suddenly he shivers all over, the nose drops, and the tail goes from a sway to a wag. This is the very kind of animation we may see in search dogs the moment they catch human scent. There is nothing about the Home command that should torque Jake up in this way; I’m thinking this even as he moves from the trot to a scramble and, nose down, begins to pull me along the sidewalk—right-direction-right-direction-yes-it’s-the-way-we-came—and then suddenly goes across the street on a diagonal, onto the opposite sidewalk, and into a row of bushes. Jake is crittering. He has chosen a place where possums like to sleep off the day, and I have no doubt he’s trailing one now. He is on it. He thrusts into the green so deeply that all I can see is his madly waving tail. By this time, I’ve abandoned my role as observer of the process and am pulling him into me, heaving hand over hand down the long lead. We meet somewhere in the middle of the thicket, and as a huddle of little possums scatter in the underbrush, Jake sits and turns to look at me. His expression isn’t guilty. He beams as though he thinks he’s done the job.
“Jake, come out of here,” I say, leading him out, giving an embarrassed little wave to an elderly man grinning from a neighboring porch.
No treat. Sit for Jake. Deep breath. Let’s try this again.
“Jake, take me home.” Jake stands and looks pointedly at the hedge, then back to me.
“No, Jake. Take me home.”
His expression mystified, as though he can’t imagine why a hedge full of baby possums is not the thing I want, Jake begins again. We move away from the hedge in a cloud of Leave Its; Jake crabs sideways, looking back toward possum land as long as he possibly can. Somehow, though, when we hit the sidewalk, he seems to shake off the hedge’s allure. He is service dog in training again, and I am hopeful that this time he’s got it. He’s slowed from a trot to a walk, a better pace for a human handler behind him, and I’m glad to see he made that choice. (I hope he made it out of consideration for his partner, but he may have made it because we’re now upwind of possum.) The lead between us is slack.
Two blocks from home. A block and a half from home, and we’re still moving in the right direction, at a partner-sensible pace. A car passes, honks lightly, its driver smiling at the two of us. I smile back, because really, we are on it this time, and here we are, woman and dog, the picture of obedience and collaboration. A nice walk now; Jake-goes-home-now-Jake-goes-home-now. No pull, no tension on the lead, still moving in the right direction.
A block from home, Jake’s head pops up with interest, and for a moment I fear he’s on another possum. But no— though Jake has snagged some happy scent on the wind, he doesn’t break stride for it. Instead, he moves steadily forward and with great confidence, leading us down the last block, up a low set of steps, and to the front gate. He sits and grins at me, eyeing the treat bag.
This was right on so many levels. Right direction, right pace, no startle at the car honk, a lead up the steps, to the gate, and the happy Here we are! Sit. The only problem: We’re at the wrong house. Not only the wrong house, but one of the most splendid historic properties in our little town. A beautiful full-blown Victorian mansion with turrets and wraparound porches, its lovely landscaping bounded by a wrought-iron fence.
To Jake’s credit, we passed this house outbound, and today it’s immediately downwind of our own. I can see home from where we stand. So could Jake if he were looking for it, but at the moment he’s happy with the house he’s found for us. Holding his Sit, he perks every time I look at him. This is home, isn’t it? I give him credit for having good taste, if not accuracy. He seems pretty sure we should just head on through the gate.
Excerpted from The Possibility Dogs: What a Handful of “Unadoptables” Taught Me About Service, Hope, and Healing by Susannah Charleson. Copyright © 2013 by Susannah Charleson. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.
The other day I, and my three leashed dogs, had a tense encounter with two women and their two unleashed dogs. We had just finished our morning outing and were leaving our wonderful off leash area in the Berkeley marina—this 100+ acre park has breathtaking vistas of the bay’s bridges, plus half its space is set aside for humans and off leash dogs to exercise and enjoy nature together—but the rule in the other half of the park is that dogs must be on leash. The walk to and from the OLA might take all of 3 to 5 minutes. That should be a simple rule to follow, and one that we, who helped establish this dog park, agreed that we would help others to comply with.
But few people oblige, especially in the mornings, figuring that there really is no one there to see them side-stepping the rule. I know how that feels since walking three, anxious-to-romp, dogs on leash can be challenging. But I understand the importance of leashing them, so I do. I am also aware that the “I-can-get-away-with-it” attitude has threatened the legitimacy of the off leash area. So lately, I have been reminding people, politely, about this rule. Most people understand and gladly leash their dogs.
But the recent encounter went beyond not following that rule—I recognized the women because they run with their dogs in the OLA, but pay scant attention to what their two dogs are doing. I have seen these dogs charge up to, bark and "air" snap at each dog they encounter. Their behavior is not playful or social but instead demonstrates borderline aggressive behavior. But luckily, they always run off following their owners.
So there we were walking on a “leashed” path, exiting the park, when I saw them walking towards us about 50 feet away. Their dogs spotted us and quickly came charging up to us. Barking, snarling, threatening. The women didn’t even move, I had already stopped walking, had all my dogs in a sit, and asked the women to call their dogs. They did nothing, not call them, not run to them, they just froze. By that time their dogs were in full attack mode, hackles up, fully baring their teeth (the photo shows how they were reacting, and yes both dogs were wearing prong collars), which, in turn, inspired my dogs to react. Even mellow Lola got into the act. Yet, the women didn’t do anything. I had to call out to them again to get their dogs, which finally they did (but still not leashing them).
As one of them was trying to round up the two dogs, I calmly explained to the other woman the basics of the on/off leash rules, also pointing out that they should do more when their dogs show this heightened level of agitation/aggression.
I really don’t know what it takes for some to understand that this is simply not acceptable dog behavior. Some don’t understand dog behavior and foolishly think that dogs will simply “work it out.” This is one of those golden rules of responsible “dog-person” behavior, when another person asked you to control your dog, the best thing to do is to just do it, and take your dog away from the interaction. There should be no argument, no “but my dog is friendly” comment, which, in this instance, certainly wasn’t the case.
Why do you think that some people react this way? How best should this “teachable moment” be handled?
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Whether they occur within a species or between them, relationships are much the same in what they require to grow and flourish, and books about improving your relationship with a partner, child or friend offer very similar advice. The ideas that follow could also apply to other close bonds, but in this case, they refer specifically to improving your relationship with your dog.
1. Spend time together. A relationship is about being with one another and sharing experiences, so time spent together strengthens it, especially if you spend that time in enjoyable ways.
2. Communicate clearly. Misunderstandings and confusion are the enemies of good relationships, so be as clear as you can when you communicate with your dog. Be consistent with your training signals. Since dogs tend to learn visual signals faster than vocal cues, use the former when possible. Dogs pay attention to what we do more than to what we say, which means that we should attend to what we do when we communicate with them. You’ll feel closer when there’s greater understanding between you.
3. Put a little love into their food. The way to many a dog’s heart is through the stomach, and preparing healthy, tasty food for your dog shows you care. You can choose to cook for your dog or simply focus on providing the best nutrition in the most delicious way possible.
4. Train your dog. Well-trained dogs are allowed greater freedom. If they come when called, they get to spend more time off leash. If they don’t go for the food on the table, they can stay nearby during meals. Training also reduces frustration because when you ask your dog to do something he’s been taught to do, he knows what you want.
5. Be playful. There’s a reason I called my last book Play Together, Stay Together. Scientists have observed that across a variety of species, parents who play with their children have the closest relationships with them, and this also seems true in relationships between people and dogs. Playing games and having fun strengthen your bond.
6. Remain calm. Losing your temper, yelling or freaking out in any way upsets everyone in the vicinity of the emotional storm, even if it doesn’t have anything to do with them. No matter what’s going on, exude a sense of tranquility so your dog can count on you to keep your cool.
7. Learn more about canine behavior, especially body language and facial expressions that indicate stress. When you can identify the signs that your dog is anxious or scared, it will be easier for you to protect or remove your dog from situations that make him uncomfortable. If your dog can count on you to keep him safe, the trust between you will be better and so, therefore, will your relationship. There are a number of excellent books and DVDs on this subject; look for the works of Patricia McConnell; Suzanne Hetts, Daniel Estep and David Grant; and Barbara Handelman.
8. Pay attention to your dog’s likes and dislikes. Knowing your dog’s preferences, favorite games and foods means that you can give him what he really wants and be the source of all things wonderful. Similarly, keep track of what your dog can’t stand. A good starting place is to know the things that most dogs find unpleasant: head pats, citrus or strong floral scents, loud noises, being stared at, being dressed up in clothes that impede their ability to move and being hugged.
9. Touch your dog. There is strong evidence that physical contact such as grooming and petting lowers stress in shelter dogs, which is measured by reductions in both heart rate and the stress hormone cortisol as well as by an increase in the anti-stress hormone oxytocin. This has led researchers to believe that physical contact plays a role in enhancing the bond between people and dogs. Focusing on your relationship with your dog is arguably the most important aspect of living with a friend of the canine persuasion. After all, it’s not a desire to help the economy by spending money at the vet and the groomer or to ensure that our clothes are covered in fur that drives us to have dogs. Rather, we love dogs as friends and as family members, and being with them enhances our life in unique ways. It’s all about the relationship, which is worth improving no matter how magnificent it is already.
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Following your passion into a profession
You want to become a dog trainer because you love dogs, right? Makes sense, but before you take the plunge into the career of your dreams, ask yourself this very important question: how do you feel about people?
Most of dog training entails teaching people. Sure, you could land a job training service dogs or dogs living in shelters, but the vast majority of dog trainers earn a living by teaching classes and private lessons for pet-dog guardians. And the success of a dog’s training program depends upon the human’s compliance with that program.
There are many, many wonderful clients who put everything they have into training and rehabilitating their dogs. They do their homework. They are eager to hone their skills. They treat their dogs with kindness. But there are also clients who will challenge you at every level of your being, who will question your expertise, fail to do their homework and then complain that their dog is not improving, and disappear when they recognize how much work is involved. A word of advice: As a person who loves dogs, you can, and will, go the distance for the good of the dog, but at a certain point — sooner rather than later, if you want to avoid burnout — you just have to let it go.
Still interested? Great! Read on. There are many routes one might take to gain the skills and experience required to train other people’s dogs. Many trainers are self-taught, relying on books, videos and personal experience for their education. Others learn by apprenticing with an established trainer. Seminars and workshops provide an education for a lot of trainers. And still others choose a more formal route by attending an academy for dog trainers. The best trainers explore all paths and recognize that the journey never ends.
What follows is a seven-part lesson plan to guide you in your pursuit of training dogs for a living. In no way comprehensive, it’s an overview of some of the possibilities that await you. Where you go from here is limited only by your imagination!
Lesson One: Train thyself
When people catch the training bug — often as a result of working with their own difficult dog or taking an inspiring group class — their first step down the path to becoming a professional trainer is to study the many books, articles and DVDs on the subject of animal behavior and training.
Sarah Owings, owner of Bridges Dog Training in Los Angeles, Calif., says, “Before KPA [Karen Pryor Academy], I was simply an autodidact — totally self-taught animal person devouring books and videos. Like many dog trainers before me, however, my main teacher was Zoë and before her Annie and before her Rocky and Rufus and…”
In order to work effectively with dogs, you need to know how to read and understand canine body language. Every training library should begin with Canine Body Language: A Photographic Guide, by Brenda Aloff. Other must-reads include Don’t Shoot the Dog, by Karen Pryor; Culture Clash, by Jean Donaldson; Excel-Erated Learning, by Pamela Reid; The Other End of the Leash, by Patricia McConnell; and Complete Idiot’s Guide to Positive Dog Training, by Pamela Dennison.
Of course, self-education can take you only so far. At a certain point, you need to learn hands-on skills from someone with more experience.
Lesson Two: Get your hands dirty
Perhaps the most frequently traveled path to becoming a professional dog trainer, and one that seems to follow naturally after reaching the limits of educating oneself, is the apprentice/ mentor relationship, which can take many different forms. Some dog-training academies include formal apprenticeships as part of their programs. Some trainers offer internships through their own businesses. And sometimes, an informal apprenticeship grows out of a trainer/client relationship.
Jill Dextrase, co-owner of Sit Happens!, in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, met her mentor when she enrolled her own problem dog in a group class at the local humane society. After apprenticing for several years with the instructor, Jill took over her mentor’s business and now teaches classes and private lessons out of her own facility. Volunteering at an animal shelter is another excellent way to gain hands-on experience with a wide variety of dogs. Many shelters now have training programs in which volunteers are instructed how to train the shelter dogs so that they become more adoptable. This can be as simple as teaching a dog to wait at doorways or as complex as behavior modification for reactive or fearful dogs. If your local shelter doesn’t have a training program, volunteering to establish one, once you’re qualified, is a terrific way to gain client referrals from the shelter staff and other volunteers.
Lesson Three : Get schooled
There are more dog-trainer schools out there than you can shake a stick at — and many of them deserve to have a stick shaken at them! Be diligent when researching schools; many proclaim themselves to be “positive” and “humane” while continuing to promote techniques and equipment that are quite the opposite.
Until recently, there were two biggies in the arena of positive-reinforcement training academies: the Karen Pryor Academy and the Academy for Dog Trainers at the San Francisco SPCA. But in 2009, the SF/SPCA Academy closed its doors.
Jean Donaldson, founder and former director of the SF/SPCA Academy, recently announced the details of her new Academy for Dog Trainers, which will take the form of lectures and training demonstrations on CD, as well as self-assessment tools and virtual classrooms. Students work at their own pace with their own dogs in their own homes. Graduation requirements include an online final written exam and submission of a video of the student training with specific criteria. Jean hopes to establish a mentor program for graduates of her academy (academyfordogtrainers.com).
The Karen Pryor Academy (KPA) also offers the convenience of distance learning, but combines it with four weekend workshops with the instructor and fellow classmates. KPA instructors are extremely well regarded in the industry and are located across the U.S. and internationally; students may choose the instructor they want to work with. The curriculum is entirely online and includes training exercises and interim tests. One unique feature of the KPA curriculum is the requirement to train an animal of a species other than canine. Graduation requirements include an online final exam and inperson teaching and training assessments. Passing all three assessments earns graduates the right to put “KPA CTP” (Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner) after their names. Certification can be revoked at any time if a graduate does not continue to meet the quality standards of the Karen Pryor Academy (karenpryoracademy.com).
When you’re ready to take your skills, as well as your understanding of the science behind how animals learn, to the highest point possible, then you’re ready to take Bob Bailey’s Operant Conditioning and Behavior Analysis Workshops (a.k.a. “Chicken Camps”). Bob teaches four levels of these eminent workshops; unfortunately for those of us in the U.S., he now teaches them only in Borlänge, Sweden (houseof- learning.se).
There is no substitute for learning from Bob, but if Sweden is out of the question for you, you can learn to train chickens (which sharpens mechanical skills like nothing else can) with Terry Ryan at Legacy Canine in Sequim, Wash. (legacycanine.com)
Lesson Four: Get out there
Conferences, seminars and workshops are fantastic sources of knowledge as well as great networking opportunities. From one- or two-hour evening seminars to weeklong conferences, there are enough educational events across the country to keep a trainer learning, meeting and greeting all year long.
The biggest get-togethers for dog trainers — and anyone interested in dog training — are ClickerExpo (clicker expo.com) and the Association of Pet Dog Trainers conference (apdt.com). ClickerExpo is held twice each year at various locations across the country and features three days of speakers as well as hands-on “learning labs” (yes, you can bring your well-behaved dog!). The APDT conference takes place annually in a different city, lasts five days and features many of the top trainers and researchers in the field.
There are also numerous smaller workshops and seminars held all over the world every month of the year. Positively Trained and PuppyWorks are two companies that organize and host educational events for professional as well as amateur trainers. The Yahoo! list “DogSeminars” is a great resource for finding seminars in your area.
Lesson Five: Make your own path
And then there are the approximately bazillion other routes one might take to become a professional dog trainer. Laura Monaco Torelli, Director of Training at Animal Behavior Training Concepts in Chicago, Ill., began her career with marine mammals in Ken Ramirez’s trainer program at the Shedd Aquarium and went on to work with zoo animals before becoming a dog trainer. Kristen VanNess, owner of A-Frame of Mind Dog Training in Granville, Ohio, learned to train dogs first as a 4-H club member, which led her to become more involved in dog projects as a 4-H advisor and eventually to co-found a 4-H kid-and-dog camp, Ohio 4-H Teen Dog Experience.
Lesson Six: Get credentialed
It’s a commonly lamented fact that anyone, at any time, can hang out a shingle declaring him- or herself a dog trainer, with nothing more invested in their services than a business card — and even that isn’t essential. But while it’s true that there is no government regulation of dog trainers in the United States, there are a number of organizations through which you can earn credentials. The most common is the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers, which offers the Certified Professional Dog Trainer — Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA) certification (ccpdt.org). Earning a CPDT-KA isn’t a cakewalk, but you’ll learn a lot along the way and your clients will understand that you are committed to a high level of learning.
Lesson Seven: Get in business
So, you’ve chosen your path, you’ve learned all there is to learn about training dogs (yeah, right!), and now you’re wondering, “How do I start, let alone run, a business?” Fortunately, Veronica Boutelle, former director of the SF/ SPCA Behavior and Training Department and author of How to Run a Dog Business, recognized a need among dog trainers, and founded dogTEC, providing business consulting services to dog professionals (dogtec.org).
It’s a beautiful thing when a career and a passion come together. If training dogs professionally interests you but you’re not sure about making the transition from whatever you’re doing now, take just one simple step toward your goal, and then take another: Read a book. Watch a DVD. Complete a class. If the bug catches you, you’ll know it, and you won’t be able to stop the momentum. And whatever you do, even after you’ve been training dogs for 30 years, don’t stop learning and improving your training skills. You can never know too much about dogs, and the world and its dogs need as many great trainers as they can get.
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Perfect Family Dog Training
Dawn Sylvia-Stasiewicz, 52, who trained dogs for the late senator Edward M. Kennedy and trained first dog Bo (known to her as Charlie) before he went to live in the White House, died Jan. 12 in Virginia. According to The Washington Post, she had been leading dog training classes days before her death. After being admitted to the hospital, for reasons that were not stated in the obituary, she went into a coma and died of respiratory distress.
A champion of positive-reinforcement training methods, many of which she detailed in her book, The Love That Dog Training Program, Sylvia-Stasiewicz will be missed by all of those who have been touched by her message of loving and respecting dogs, and teaching them as we would our children.
Bark interviewed Sylvia-Stasiewicz shortly before she died. That interview, which appears below and will appear in shorter form in our February issue, was apparently her last. Dawn’s family has requested that tax-deductible contributions be made to the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT) Foundation to further her work in researching, developing and promoting best practices in positive reinforcement dog training. Dawn’s mentor and APDT Founder, Dr. Ian Dunbar, is presiding over the fund.
Details on a memorial and opportunities to pay tribute can be found at lovethatdogbook.com.
We spoke with Dawn Sylvia-Stasiewicz in December to talk about her book, The Love That Dog Training Program (written with Larry Kay), which was also one of our best picks in 2010. She has trained—employing positive reinforcement techniques—many dogs in the Virginia/DC area, including those of the late Senator Kennedy, as well as preparing Bo for his White House posting.
One thing I notice by reading the very many dog memoirs that have become so popular is that few people who write those books train their dogs, which is shocking to me. So could you tell us why it is important to train your dog?
Since most of The Bark’s readers already care well for their dogs, I’m probably singing (or howling) to the choir, so my thoughts will reinforce your readers’ own. Training opens up communication; it’s a language that helps our dog understand us, and vice versa. With any valued companion, good communication bonds us, helps us socialize in the world together, opens up a lifetime of experiences and possibilities. The danger of not communicating includes safety to others and to our dog. If (God forbid) we become physically unable to care for our dog and our dog needs to be rehomed, untrained dogs have a much higher rate of being euthanized. I believe we have a moral obligation to train our dogs.
Why doesn’t aversive training (like Cesar Millan’s methods) work? Could you make a case for positive reinforcement? Why does it take more time than traditional methods?
Both methods will train a dog, but there are dangers and disadvantages in using aversive techniques that outweigh its benefits. Focusing on a dog’s mistakes means he must figure out by trial and error what behaviors won’t get him punished—dogs aren’t good at that kind of reasoning. Failure-oriented training also diminishes a dog’s spirit, typically leaving him fearful. Aversive methods are dangerous because they suppress problems that can flare up without warning—often triggered by an exuberant child, innocent dog or helpful friend. Children should never copy a grownup’s aversive methods, because there is no guarantee that the dog will regard the child with the same authority as an adult. Aversive methods grew out of unscientific, trial and error attempts to dominate, control and coerce a dog, and were based on the naïve and mistaken myth that dog pack psychology required an alpha bully boss—my, how far we’ve come. My book discusses the American Veterinary Society for Animal Behavior’s position paper against aversive methods and the Michael Vick dog-fighting case (the 47 dogs that a federal court ruled were beyond redemption and were scheduled to be euthanized, but are now being rehabilitated only with positive reinforcement methods by Best Friends Animal Society).
Positive reinforcement methods take longer in the beginning. But once your dog catches on that training is a fun time to be with you—a pack leader that directs play and gives good rewards, while ignoring most mistakes—he will be motivated to learn and feel like a spirited genius.
Could you explain the concepts of positive versus negative?
In behavioral psychology, positive means to give something (a reward or a punishment) and negative means to take away something (not give a reward or punishment). It’s like the carrot and the stick: giving a carrot is a positive reward; hitting with a stick is positive punishment; not giving a carrot is a negative reward; not giving a stick is negative punishment. These charts will help explain it.
As you noted, “good leaders don’t have to act like bullies to command respect.” How difficult is this concept to teach to your clients?
Most people get it, especially when they’re given a choice and see demonstrations. Dogs love to follow leaders who provide food, shelter and safety; leaders they see as benevolent and fair. Good pack leaders provide social experiences and lots of fun.
What are your top three goals in training the perfect family dog?
My top three are socialization, real-life rewards and hand-feeding.
Socialization starts by introducing the human world to your dog in a way that she can understand. Your dog needs to have the secure feeling that being around people and other dogs is a pleasant and safe experience that can also be fun and rewarding. When a dog believes that that is life’s reality, everything else falls into place.
Real Life Rewards means that your dog sits for everything. She sits before eating, getting a treat or playing with a toy, before walking through a door, greeting another dog, to get in and out of places and distracting situations. She learns that “sit” happens before something good, so “sit” becomes her way of asking “please.” For the real life rewards system to gain consistency, all family members need to be involved.
Hand-feeding teaches your dog that all good things come from you. Start hand-feeding on day one (unless your adopted dog has food aggression and may bite you). Hand-feeding will teach your dog to be calm when someone reaches into his bowl. Hand-feed in different parts of your house and your dog will learn that your rules apply everywhere. Hand-feeding also helps diminish guarding of food, toys and contraband; it also teaches bite inhibition.
In training Bo Obama, how did you also train the President and his family in the proper ways to keep the training up? Do you still do any brush-up training with Bo?
In training any family, we always work with the whole family, including the extended family, so that everyone learns the same language to communicate with the dog. There’s always brushing up and fine-tuning to do. Training never ends, it just gets easier.
What was the hardest thing you had to train Bo Obama to do? I would think that a “substitution trade” was extremely difficult.
Actually, substitution trades with Bo were a piece of cake (not literally). With most dogs, substitution trades are easy if you anticipate and have valuable things to trade ready (I like stuffed Kongs). Be prepared—not a day goes by when I have a dog in for training and I’m preparing for situations that may come up.
Why do you recommend a five-week training program?
Five weeks give you the basics for everything you’ll need to know without being too overwhelming for dog owners. Since positive reinforcement makes training fun and playful, most dogs aren’t overwhelmed with learning new skills—it’s dog owners’ follow-through that I’ve designed the program to help. It takes about 30 days to make a new habit or undo an old habit, and five weeks is just over that threshold. In those five weeks you will get to know your dog, “read” his posture and learn to anticipate his next moves. Some owners and dogs may learn a little slower, while others a little faster.
Why and when do you advocate hand-feeding a dog?
As I discussed before, start hand-feeding on Day One. Hand-feeding is powerful because it puts you in charge of a resource (food) that the dog can’t live without, and since you “own” the food, your dog will view the relationship with you as the dominant and benevolent force. We’re reaching inside the dog’s primal survival mind to teach her that it’s okay for hands to be in her dog bowl and she appreciates what you provide. If a dog bites during hand-feeding, then be cautious; my book’s chapter on behavior problems will help. Be aware that given the wrong circumstances any dog will bite, so hand-feeding gives you an advantage in preventing and correcting this safety issue.
And what about tethering—when your dog is tied to you? Why do you think this is effective strategy? Can it work with older dogs, not just puppies?
Tethering brings you and your dog together. You become deeply aware of each other as you share each other’s world. It’s a bonding experience; you both take responsibility for anticipating each other’s moves. It’s almost like you become your dog’s muse: you inspire him. On my recent talk in Seattle, I had the hotel dog tethered to me during the whole presentation, and the dog volunteered all kinds of behaviors: sits, giving attention, looking for what’s next—he got lots of praise and some rewards.
In formal heel work, what is the best way to train a dog who is a forward-motion, pull-at-all-cost dog—like our German Wirehaired Pointer—to walk somewhat at your side? I noticed that Bo still hasn’t seemed to master this, at least in the press video I have seen.
In the Barbara Walters Thanksgiving TV Special with President and Mrs. Obama, it was apparent that Bo was well-behaved and prepared for the event, as we should all be with our dogs when meeting visitors. Perhaps your German Wirehaired Pointer needs to walk more often to help [her] understand how to walk on a leash. If we’re training only while we need to take a walk, we’re not going to teach effectively. Tethering and leash walk training can include many turns, stops and starts, variable pace and standing as still as a tree to keep your dog focused on you. Most dogs get excited in moments, and that’s part of their beauty and joy, so we need to prepare.
What’s the Slot Machine and Jackpot psychology in training?
Dogs love gambling as much as humans love casinos. Guessing and working for an uncertain payoff is a game. Positive reinforcement’s beauty is about working to win the game. Once your dog learns a skill, begin withdrawing treats for doing that skill correctly—that’s the slot machine—and now your dog will try harder to win the game he used to win all the time. When his skill improves, such as lying down more quickly on cue, then reward him with extra treats—that’s the jackpot. But don’t start using gambling psychology when teaching a new skill until your dog performs consistently what you’re asking; otherwise the rewards will just seem too random and frustrating.
What do you think are the hardest things for people to learn about dog training?
Dog training doesn’t have to be mean, ugly or painful. Patience and positive reinforcement should be enough to get training started successfully.
Most behavior problems are created by humans. For example, since dogs don’t generalize well, we need to be consistent when showing a hand signal. We need to gradually generalize our cues to new locations—starting by simply taking one step to the side, then gradually building up variety. We reward our dog for “bad” behavior by rewarding it accidentally, such as petting a dog when we want her to stop barking.
Comparing our dog’s progress against other dogs’ abilities will make our dog lose an unfair game. Every dog learns at his own rate. My program gives building blocks and suggested time frames. If your dog goes faster or slower, that’s all good. Patience is a virtue. Slow and steady wins the race.
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
A new app with issues
The number of new dog products and apps is staggering, and it seems like everybody wants to make a buck selling to dog lovers. Let the buyer beware! So much of what’s available may not deliver on its promises. Recently, I heard about the Pavlov Dog Monitor, an app that I think has issues.
Basically, the Pavlov Dog Monitor is designed to allow people to monitor and train their dogs remotely with the use of smart phones, Facebook, and an iPad. The guardian records two videos. One is a correction video with a message such as “Bad dog, no barking” and the other is a video saying, “Good dog.” The first is played to the dog when the dog barks and the second is supposed to be the “treat” for a period of quietness. One concern is that simple praise is unlikely to be enough to reinforce a dog for being quiet, especially if the dog has not been conditioned to enjoy the praise. Another is that telling a dog to stop barking is generally completely ineffective. A final concern is that the instructions tell you to place your iPad near your dog. I predict that not all the iPads will survive being left alone and in reach of a dog.
According to the company that developed the app, “Episodes of repeated barking, destructive activities, or intense behaviors are a thing of the past,” which I think is totally unrealistic. They say that their product will succeed at dealing with barking problems and separation anxiety where toys to prevent boredom, nanny cams, and shock collars have failed.
They suggest that it be used to treat separation anxiety, which is worrisome, as that suggests that they have little understanding of how serious a condition separation anxiety is and that it is not synonymous with problem barking and destructive chewing. The goals of the app are to change bad behavior and to use social media to build a bond between the dog and the person, but it’s awfully hard to build a bond without actually being together.
These statements don’t sound like they are coming from people who really know dogs, and in fact, the company specializes in developing hardware and software products. This is their first dog product. The name of the app should immediately make anyone suspicious about the level of canine expertise behind it. The app attempts to make use of operant conditioning and has nothing to do with the classical conditioning, which is the type of learning Pavlov discovered and for which he became famous.
As I said, there are a lot of dog apps out there. Which ones would you recommend?
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Just as the iconic image of the Great Dad shows him playing catch with his kids, the iconic image of the Great Dog Guardian would show a person running around with a dog. A few minutes—or even a few steps—are all you need, so don’t resist these easy ways to add joy to your dog’s day.
1. Chase. This game is simple: You run and your dog chases you. Clap or make a “smooch” sound to get your dog’s attention, and then run away from him. When he’s within a few feet of you, turn and reinforce him with a treat, a toy or the start of another chase. Stopping before he reaches you prevents the chase game from turning into the “nip the human on the back of the leg” game. (Don’t play the “chase the dog” game—it will teach him to run away when you approach and ruin his recall.)
2. On Your Mark, Get Set, Go. Combine a little trick work and self-control practice with running. Teach your dog to lie down when you say “On your mark,” do a play bow to the cue “Get set” and start running when you say “Go.” Très cute.
3. Fartlek. Runners worldwide use fartlek training to increase their speed. The word, which means “speed play” in Swedish, refers to the practice of interspersing short bursts of speed within a training run. To play with your dog fartlek style, surge ahead and run few paces, past several houses or even down the block. Chances are your dog will happily follow your lead. (And yes, even serious runners think it’s a funny word.)
4. Hard to Get. This short keep-away game can jump-start a play session. Squeak, bounce or wave a toy around to get your dog’s attention as you run away from him. Just make sure you don’t tease him by playing keep-away too long. The excitement created by a moment of playing hard to get can start another game, but going on too long without giving your dog access to the toy can result in frustration or anger rather than playfulness.
Many people love to play with their dogs. Still more want to play with their dogs but think their dogs aren’t playful, or that they only like to play with other dogs. Certainly, some dogs are more naturally playful or more toy-motivated than others. Yet, I’ve found that time and again, the majority of dogs who are described as “not playful” by the people who know them best actually do love to play, as long as the games are based on running and chasing. Give them a try!
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
What’s new with the dog pros
Dog training is a dynamic field (although probably not as dynamic as dogs themselves), and at the annual national conference of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT) in Louisville, Ky., in mid-October ’08, it was fascinating to witness the ways in which the field continues to evolve. Following are, in my opinion, some of the most notable trends in dog training, all of which figured prominently in conference talks, workshops and dinner conversations.
1. An emphasis on people. Historically, dog trainers have paid more attention to canine ethology than to the behavior of their clients, but now, these instructors are also looking at how people learn, how to encourage them to practice at home, and how to most effectively communicate what they need to do to accomplish their dog-training goals.
2. An intense interest in play behavior. For years, play has been considered a fun topic and very enjoyable for dogs, but with the exception of its relevance to socializing puppies, it has not been widely considered to be worthy of serious attention. Now, canine play is a hot topic in dog training on several levels: establishing and maintaining the relationship between people and dogs, maintaining a high quality of life, and even solving serious behavioral problems. This year’s conference devoted an entire day to a play symposium, during which all of these topics were explored.
3. Fewer crossover trainers. The change from coercion training to positive reinforcement is not new, but what is new is that now, most positive trainers have always trained that way. Fewer people are learning coercive techniques in the first place and therefore, there are fewer trainers to cross over.
4. An emphasis on science. For years, scientifically based training principles have been gaining ground in the dog-training world. This trend continues, with more trainers than ever coming from a scientific background or pursuing continuing education with a scientific basis and an emphasis on the critical thinking skills that allow trainers to distinguish anecdotes and opinions from facts based on scientific evidence.
5. Training as a profession. Many trainers have left careers in business or other professional fields and brought that professionalism to dog training. As a result, more people are training full time rather than doing it part time as a second job or as a hobby.
6. A broader range of information to offer. Instead of focusing narrowly on dogs’ responses to cues such as sit, heel and come, dog trainers now consider what is necessary for dogs’ overall well-being and to improve their quality of life. As a result, most trainers are able to help clients directly (or indirectly, through referrals) in the areas of canine massage, nutrition, exercise and enrichment activities.
7. A focus on family dogs. Dog training used to be directed toward competitive events, primarily obedience and dog shows. Now,many dog-training schools are focusing on teaching pet dogs the skills necessary to be mannerly members of society—walking nicely on leash, greeting others politely and coming when called. These skills are different from competition skills such as a perfect heel, a formal recall and a long sit-stay.
8. Relationships as a top priority. Training is universally considered to be more effective and more quickly accomplished when a strong relationship exists between the person and the dog. As a result, that relationship has become a bigger part of the equation. This recognition means dog trainers are emphasizing ways to develop and strengthen those relationships in connection with the way people train, play and interact with their dogs. Along with that understanding comes the idea that dogs are members of our families. This view, which used to be expressed timidly, almost apologetically, is not only widely accepted now, but unquestionably mainstream.
So, what’s the take-away message? Here it is: It has never been easier for you and your dog to get quality training from a highly skilled, educated professional who focuses on your needs as well as those of your canine companion. And what a great combination that is.
News: Guest Posts
Overcoming fear, Learning to trust again
Many dogs, rescued from the trauma and abuse of puppy mills or hoarders, need lots of extra TLC before they're ready for their forever homes.
Lacking social skills, having lived with fear, pain, and hunger, some remain overwhelmingly fearful even after being removed from their deplorable conditions and given physical, medical and emotional support. Their psychic wounds can cause them to cower, retreat from a loving touch, pee submissively, even growl or bite to keep humans and other animals away.
Such behaviors, while understandable, make them a challenge for shelters already overwhelmed with dogs needing homes. Fearful dogs often become part of a revolving door problem, being returned to shelters by adopting families ill-equipped to deal with the behaviors. Or worse, they may be euthanized because they can't be placed.
ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) has created a flagship program that will attempt to fill the gap between rescue and placement for the most severely traumatized dogs, the fearful ones. The ASPCA Behavioral Rehabilitation Center at St. Hubert's Animal Welfare Center in Madison, N.J. opens this week.
"For some animals, the reality is that after a lifetime of neglect and abuse, the rescue is just the beginning of their journey to recovery," said Dr. Pamela Reid, vice president of the ASPCA's Anti-Cruelty Behavior Team. "The ASPCA recognized the need for a rehabilitation center that will provide rescued dogs customized behavior treatment and more time to recover, increasing the likelihood that they will be adopted. We partnered with St. Hubert's Animal Welfare Center and identified the unique opportunity to utilize their space and collaborate with their behavior and care experts for the rehabilitation of victims of cruelty and neglect."
To start, dogs rescued from animal cruelty investigations will be eligible. To help reduce these dogs' fears and anxieties, the rehabilitation team will gently introduce them to unfamiliar sounds, objects, living spaces and real-life situations that a normally socialized dog handles with aplomb, but can induce trauma and extreme stress in this special population of dogs.
The ASPCA has funded this project for two years. The work done at the Center will become part of a research project, studying and evaluating methods for rehabilitating undersocialized, fearful dogs. The findings will be shared with animal welfare organizations and other researchers nationwide with the goal of helping shelters and rescue organizations rehabilitate abused and fearful dogs coming into their own facilities.
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