Otis: The highly intelligent Airedale Terrier

An Airedale Terrier can be a handful and Otis is no exception.

But his owner is the one who really causes me to smile. Charlie is a retiree taking his young charge through my current class to learn a few manners. He’s doing the work and making good progress, but he’s also a guy who’s got enough years under his belt to understand not to sweat the small stuff. His wry sense of humor keeps me guessing what he might say next.

There are eight dog handler teams in my current basic obedience class. We have a Lab, a Golden, a Yorkie, a GSD, a GSP, a Pit mix, a Rottie and the Airedale Terrier. It is a fantastic group and a great mix of personalities.

The course teaches some basic manners like loose lead walking, sit-stay, down-stay and place behaviors. I teach Place to mean “go onto your bed or mat and stay there until you have permission to get up.”

For all of these active breeds, including the Airedale Terrier, the behavior is extremely useful around the house for teaching the dogs to chill out in one spot for a while. It is a great option rather than having to crate the dog when you want a little down time.

It is also valuable for use outside the house. It is nice to be able to go to the park and ask the dog to place on a bench or boulder for a moment if you want to be able to step back and take a photograph. Or it is great to drop a towel in the back of the car and have the dog place on it so they aren’t constantly moving to and fro causing a distraction to the driver.

But in order for the dog to generalize the concept of place from the dog bed or mat to other locations we have to go through the practice time of teaching other possible items.

This was the challenge I gave to my group class last week. “Go out and find one unique or new object and teach your dog to place on it.” I figured it makes the work more interesting as we add some challenges to the training course and it is great for the dogs because it actually builds self confidence to move up and onto weird or unusual objects.

I also told the class I wanted photographic proof they’d taught a new place to their dogs. I got back pictures of dogs on chairs and step stools, old tree stumps and park benches.

But the photo I got back from Charlie made me laugh out loud. It was titled, “Self taught place”

Given the fact that we’ve had mostly negative temps all week here in Iowa Charlie decided that Otis’ new behavior of taking over the couch counted as a new place and he was pretty content with Otis’ initiative of teaching it to himself so he didn’t have to travel outside to learn it!

Plus, he sent me the photographic evidence to prove it.

Leave it to the Airedale Terrier to outsmart me! 😉

 

 

Clarity and Conflict in Dog Training

My travels have introduced me to trainers, competitors, and enthusiasts who have a passion for dogs and an obvious understanding of how to connect with them. I’m grateful for having had the  opportunity to meet so many talented dog people through the years. Jonathan Brinkley is one of those people. We met while I was teaching a workshop at Kennel Club USA in Ohio a few years back. Jon understands how dogs learn, has a versatile tool box, and an open mind that is always willing to explore new ideas. I asked him if he would be interested in a guest post and here what I got back. Thanks for sharing your thoughts Jon and tell your wife to say “Lobster” next time you need dinner plans! 😉

Clarity and Conflict in Dog Training

In dog training, I believe understanding clarity and conflict’s role is monumental. In my honest opinion, through the history of the dog, dogs have become conflict resolving experts. So often the idea of dominance is argued, but at best, we generally now interpret it as a way of establishing cohesion, order, and resolving problems within groups of dogs. As dogs have been forced to adapt to human life and expectations (and honestly done a phenomenal job at it) they face conflict on a daily basis. Unfortunately for them, the human dog relationship evolves quicker than nature, and has been somewhat unkind in allowing them to be quite as successful in resolving contention under the terms of human life, which is partly due to the average person’s understanding on dog behavior and communication in general. In part this lack of understanding creates a lack of clarity and reduces the dog’s opportunity not only to develop conflict resolving mechanisms, but hinders their chance to use them. Perhaps this is why social programs such as large field socialization for dogs have been so successful in dealing with social dog aggression, fear, and other social behavioral problems.

In these socials, dogs are given the chance to understand and build confidence in using natural communication to work through stressful scenarios. In most cases, this is most successful when clarity accompanies it. A well-adjusted dog can correct with very little conflict applied to the scenario, through displacement, spatial pressure, calming gestures, or even physical contact. At first, a dog new to this may not understand a correction, and may even react. But the application of pressure and the precise release of it is what it allows for the dog to understand, not escalate and learn from it.   During training, creating clarity remains one of the most important goals we have with each dog we work with. It is what allows resolution to be effective.

So how does this apply to remote training, or balanced training? Recently a dog came to me who would do sit, down, heel, walk nicely, but attack other dogs, bite when you touched its collar, flip out over grooming, and bite its owners during petting. What was most clear to me, was the dog was facing conflict and no one had shown the dog how to avoid it. The dog had been completely reward trained (to provide a disclaimer, this doesn’t mean that the dog couldn’t have succeeded with positive training) but it had failed to create a clear path through stress for this dog. The dog could offer a variety of positive behaviors, but could not use them in the face of discord. A variety of methods including systematic desensitizing, counter conditioning, and classical conditioning were used in her training, alongside a prong collar and a remote collar, corrections and pressure, both conditioned separately to their own purposes.  Let us not forget, a correction or pressure given clearly and clearly understood is a way of resolving social issues among dogs. Instead of just showing the dog that conflict could be resolved by taking action, we can show it could also be resolved by avoiding certain action as well. This perhaps is why I believe so much in open mindedness in training surrounding the tools of the trade. If they are used to create clarity, they increase the chance of resolving conflict. A dog can at one moment, face a wide variety of competing motivators of a wide variety of values to the specific dog. We unfortunately cannot choose what has the highest value. We can manipulate drives, encourage, etc…but in the end, it is what the dog believes is rewarding. Unfortunately, we cannot always control all the elements in real world environments. Perhaps in a sterile environment, where owners were willing to wait months or a year to see the needed change to not give up their dog, we could approach it without using the “dark side” of training. For some dogs, this may be easier to achieve. The question lies in how long drawing out stress in certain situations is less productive or more productive.

Now one may say, you are applying conflict to resolve conflict, isn’t that somewhat counter-productive? Choosing to do a self-rewarding behavior or an owner rewarded behavior produces conflict as well. Choosing between a cookie, and lunging at the other dog is a conflict. Yes, a remote collar can create conflict. The goal is to make it a short term problem, that later provides clarity and reduces the struggle in whole.  Wait, here comes those words coined as bad: Punishment and Suppression! Suppression in training is not a dirty concept. I look at suppression like a lock in a room with multiple doors. If the goal is to get out of the room, only locking the doors is sure to fail. The subject will eventually beat down the door. However, locking one door and placing an exit sign on another, reinforces one path and creates inhibition towards the other. By showing the dog that pressure is applied when certain actions are taken, it creates space for a dog to look for another option in coping with the situation. That pressure can also guide the dog to the alternative option that is also highly rewarding. The stress applied becomes short term, because it allows the dog to practice the alternative behavior or coping mechanism, and allows for the dog to be reinforced for a better mechanism for dealing with the stress as well as not reinforcing past coping mechanisms. When the dog begins resorting to these appropriate coping mechanisms, clarity is achieved.  IT can become easier to choose one rewarding option over another competing motivator, because the value of the uncontrolled motivator can be lowered.

In layman’s terms, I see this as making the choice easier. The easier the choice is, and the more defined the path, the greater chance success can be achieved. The goal of any behavioral modification program should be the reduction of conflict the dog will eventually face in the long term.  How well this is achieved is hardly because of the tool itself, but the application of the tool by someone skilled in using it. If you gave me a cookie every time I walked away from the guitar, I would walk away from it, until playing guitar sounded like a better idea. My cookie drive is pretty low.  However, if the guitar no longer seems like the better option, I would be more likely to choose moving away from it. Only showing what is desirable leaves many options with desirable outcomes. I’ll end with a quick anecdote. My wife and I are the kind of people who can be equally indecisive about what to do with our Friday night. Secretly, I love it when she says, “Well let’s do this!” and puts her foot down. Why? Sometimes options are more stressful than having a clearly defined path, even if it wasn’t the top choice on my list of preferences.

remote collar

Remote collar dog training is more than just pushing the button

Congratulations to the newest graduates of our remote collar training E-cademy program. These ladies spent 10 days at That’s My Dog! Inc in Dubuque, Iowa learning more about my approach to using electronic collars and enhancing this part of their skill set. It is a challenging course. The days can be long so I am always proud of the endurance of students who are away from their homes, their dogs and their businesses. Job well done gals!

 

E-cademy

 

The training course starts out by laying a solid foundation of e-collar conditioning based on what has long been know to be the 3 Action Introduction…meaning we teach the dogs that stimulation can be used to motivate behavior in 3 directions: Push, (move away) Pull (move toward) or Stop (stationary).

Once dogs fully comprehend those 3 actions the training that can be accomplished with remote collar guidance is virtually limitless.

We spend a great deal of time talking about what really makes this training an art form; a trainers ability to have a deep reservoir of ideas on how to help a dog understand exactly what we’re trying to communicate through the tactile sensation. We covered the use of food luring, marker training, leash manipulation, body language that utilizes spacial pressure to shape behavior, using toys, manipulating drives and more.

In addition to working with the dogs we discuss how to solve the other half of the training equation: the humans. Teaching dog owners how to use the remote collar (rather than how to use a “shock” collar) is an essential part of the program. If the human can’t be taught easy to replicate techniques for working with their dog, no program will be successful regardless of the tool.

remote collar

Beyond the basics of how to use a remote collar for obedience training, we also discussed how the tool can be incorporated into rehabilitation programs. The cadence of tapping can be used to calm or to excite and thus change emotional programing. Much the way patting a baby can be used to lull in calmness or swift paced marching & chanting takes adrenaline to a higher level. Cadence has a purpose and it is a powerful influence once there is understanding of how to use it.

On the final written test I asked the students to share some of the most valuable lessons they learned during their time here. Here are a few of the answers:

* Opening my eyes to what I see as a much more fair, non-confrontational method.

* More solid ways to proof a dog’s reliability.

* The importance of obedience and how it can be used to redirect a dog’s mind.

* How important it is to help the dog when learning new behaviors with a remote collar.

* How to engage a dog who’s body may be with you, but his mind is not.

* Learning to read the dog’s body language.

and one additional comment that I personally gained satisfaction from.. That “the $3500 + for this learning experience was a very good investment!”

That makes me feel good. I never want to fall short on giving my students value for the time and energy they devote to coming here. Knowing that another trainer took time to study remote collars more fully means they can go forth and make choices for their clients based on experience, rather than hearsay.