June client spotlight: Barrett the cattle dog

Congratulations to our June client spotlight, Barrett the cattle dog!

Barrett rocks the loose leash!
Barrett rocks the loose leash!

Barrett is a rescue puppy adopted by an awesome, active gentleman to be a lifelong partner for myriad fun activities. In other words, Barrett is truly lucky! He’s also amazing–very quick to learn, eager to please, and just a fun dude to chill with.

I’ve had the pleasure to see Barrett twice weekly for Day Training visits to work on getting him used to the world, walk on a loose leash and come when called. It’s been a lot of fun, and we take frequent breaks to chew as a teething puppy has to have chew breaks! And play! We have to play and have fun! Playing games like “catch me” and “hide and go seek” have made come when called even more fun to learn.

Barrett is getting off to a great start because his dad knows the value of training in helping them have enjoyment together. It makes me happy to know that they are going to do well together because they’ve been working on it from the very start of his coming home from rescue. This is one of many reasons that Barrett is our client spotlight this month.

Thank you to Barrett and his dad for being so great, and for choosing us to help with their training needs!
Laura
Owner, Delightful Doggies

The power of connection in successful dog training

There are lots of components that go into successful training: your timing, the delivery of the reward, having the right motivation for the dog, managing your environment for success, and many more. Each of these in and of itself is worthy of a blog post, but today I’m going to talk about one of the cornerstones and how I perceive it: the ability to truly connect with your dog.

What is a connection and how do you know you have it? For me, it’s when my dogs look happily at me, come to me without me even asking, and look to me as though I have their back. By and large, my dogs find it extremely rewarding just being around me. I notice the good behaviors they give me and reward them. I talk to them and look at them in a loving manner. I do things with them they enjoy, and I enjoy as well, sharing that mutual enjoyment.

Here are my tips for building a good, solid connection with your dog:

  • Empathize with your dog. We are so caught up in what the dog SHOULD do, or DOES know, that when they don’t do what we’ve prompted from them, we get frustrated. We repeat ourselves: “Django, sit………sit………..SIT!” Our voices and actions become white noise to our dog, and we go down the road of being upset, which can lead to unnecessary and unpleasant punishment, deteriorating our relationship. Remember there may be reasons why your dog isn’t doing what you think he should be doing—and knows how to do. Sometimes they actually haven’t been taught to understand what we’re asking in all situations so we need to retrain at easier criteria. Perhaps your dog didn’t hear you, or is thinking about it and just needs a moment more than what we will give. Sometimes they may be too afraid, or the pavement is too hot or cold, or they may be experiencing some type of pain or discomfort. The dog is refusing for a reason, not out of stubbornness. The more you can realize where the holes are with your training, or what he may be experiencing at the moment by contemplating his point of view, the less frustration you can experience and the more trust you will be able to build with your dog overall.
Loo offers a check-in to mom after seeing another dog
Loo offers a check-in to mom after seeing another dog
  • Reward all the check-ins! One of the simplest things you can do, the instant you get your new puppy or dog, is reward him EVERY TIME he looks at you, in as many places you can, and with as many distractions, as possible, of his own accord. We call these “check-ins,” and your dog will be most successful if you do this first in less distracting environments, then in increasingly more distracting areas and scenarios. You can’t overdo it in the beginning, especially as the surroundings change. The more you do this, the more they will learn you are the most amazing thing in their world! In less distracting situations you can use their regular food ration and simple training treats, but in more distracting environments (exciting to be in the park on a weekend!), you will have much better success if you have little bits of hot dogs, chicken or cheese—any real food that your dog doesn’t normally get but will absolutely love. Everything starts with looking at you—a sit, a down, a loose leash walk—so if you start by rewarding simple check-ins, you will have a strong foundation for even better manners and relaxed behavior.
  • Acknowledge when they get it right. Often! It’s all too easy to ignore the good kid, right? The naughty one in the back always gets called out, gets called up to the front, gets all the attention. This usually doesn’t work well overall because the naughtiness is more rewarding than being good and quiet! It’s a simple analogy but it helps us realize that there are many times when our dogs are being good and we aren’t acknowledging it (as well as how much we end up reinforcing “bad” behavior instead). Make a point to have treats at hand more often than not to reward good behaviors when they’re offered, at spontaneous times, and see the awesome results of paying attention to the good kid—he repeats all that awesome stuff, more and more. Even if I don’t have a treat at the time, I want to tell my dogs they’re being good, or give some attention to them in the form of affection or play, so they know I appreciate their awesomeness when it happens.
  • Have full engagement with your dog. I am a huge advocate for food in training, and to also continue maintaining behaviors you’ve already built, but it’s also important to use other reinforcing items to engage your dog in myriad ways to build your relationship together. Often when I’m walking a dog I love to praise them as they’re doing well in addition to treating them to stay by my side, and to tell them how awesome they are before releasing them for a sniff break. By engaging them a bit more than just being stoic or relying on the treats alone, and allowing them freedom to do what they want, I think most dogs are more eager to actually be present with me on the walk. It’s not like I have to talk or pet them the entire time, but I do enough to motivate the dog and add even more fun to what we’re doing, instead of staring at my cell phone or talking on a Bluetooth. You can also engage in playing with the dog with a toy, or a game you both enjoy as well. If I’m enthusiastic, and genuine, they will pick up on this and know that we’re a team together—we work hard but we also play hard!

These strategies build a reinforcement history with the dog—I am always oriented toward helping the dog find the right path and rewarding for what I like most. The stronger your history, the better your success at having a dog that will be happy to do what you like—it’s fun for the dog, and it helps build a real connection with them. It builds a solid relationship!

Need help? Feel free to reach out, and happy training!
Laura
Owner, Delightful Doggies

May 2017 clients

May was a really fun month filled with puppies and doggies of all kinds. We very much appreciate everyone who worked with us this month, and are looking forward to a busy summer!

Click on the below photo icons to visit our May 2017 clients Flickr album. By clicking on the slideshow button (top right computer/play icon), you can view all the photos in a fun slideshow format. You can also join us on our Facebook page to see even more photos of client dogs, great articles, news items and blog posts, and we also have an Instagram account.

Charlie Rainier and Riley Freddie Mac Snoop Dogg Ludwig Von Beardog Tater Bodhi Avanti Roxy Gryffen Luna Sierra and Bella Betty and Hank Loo Rylee Kirby Zappa Samson Barrett Maybelle Gracie Misty Timmy Huck

Have a wonderful start to your summer!
Laura
Owner, Delightful Doggies

May client spotlight: Charlie the Labrador retriever

Congratulations to our May client spotlight, Charlie the Labrador retriever!

CharlieTrainingLabradorsDenverColorado
Charlie is a charmer!

Charlie is a total charmer but he had some issues with meeting new people and reacting to other dogs, which is why his parents contacted us. We formed a plan including TTouch and other methods to help him feel relaxed and grounded, in addition to desensitization and counterconditioning protocols to help him learn that dogs make great things happen, and how to be calm and disengage, instead of fixate and react. He’s progressing by leaps and bounds, and does great in a lot of scenarios! The most challenging is being more calm around his home environment, but he’s getting better everyday at learning that he doesn’t need to bark at the fence or window.

With the wonderful patience and consistency his parents have given to our plans and the process, Charlie is sure to continue to improve and become more confident. This week he started learning how to do nosework, which should be a great enrichment activity for him! He’s been doing great in our setups with head delightful doggy, Jasper, to practice skills, and with his next-door nemesis (wink), a dog that he finds particularly upsetting.

It’s awesome to see how much Charlie and his parents have learned and grown in this process, and we’re very proud of all of them! Thank you for enlisting our help, and for being such great clients.

Happy Training!
Laura
Owner, Delightful Doggies

Training methods matter

Methods are a hotly debated, and oftentimes controversial, topic among dog trainers. It gets even hotter when you toss in the variety of information on the Internet and media, and hobbyist trainers and dog aficionados who live and breathe for their canine companions.

I’ll admit, I’m a very passionate dog trainer. I got into this field because I love dogs, and I do love people, too, and want to see them happy together, as opposed to giving up and taking the dog to a shelter. I would be remiss if I did not cop to the deep love I have for dogs—it’s one of the strongest I have! No doubt most people get into this profession out of the same love for dogs. We have a wide variety of trainers here in Colorado, and if you go visit individual websites, you’ll see a lot of different terms, marketing jargon and labels used to define the methodologies of trainers:

  • Positive reinforcement
  • Balanced
  • Wolf pack theory
  • Natural methods
  • Traditional training
  • Force-free
  • Science-based
  • Clicker or marker training
  • Relationship-based or centered training

To most average consumers, all these labels sound pretty much okay or can mean a lot of things, depending on how you interpret them. Most people can say they want to learn how to communicate effectively with their dogs, and live in a “balanced” state or in “harmony.” But beyond these labels, how can a consumer really determine what the trainer is actually going to do to teach their dogs or solve problems they’re facing?

Dog training, and behavioral science as a whole, have made a lot of advancements in the last few decades. Karen Pryor’s Don’t Shoot the Dog is, in my opinion, one of the books that really made the case for operant conditioning techniques, and the superiority of using positive reinforcement to teach all animals new skills. On the flipside, in 2004, Cesar Millan’s Dog Whisperer TV show debuted, and the “calm-assertive energy” techniques as a pack leader to dogs began to take off. These two “schools,” if you will, and everything in between, are very much in opposition and can be not only confusing for dogs but people!

No doubt we live in a world where people are confused about how to deal with problem behaviors from dogs. I get a lot of strange looks when I tell people to just feed their reactive dogs for noticing triggers (the stimulus that causes the unwanted behavior). “But aren’t I reinforcing the (insert “bad” behavior here—i.e., barking, lunging, etc.)?” people will ask. It’s true that we always want to stay what we call “under threshold,” presenting that stimulus at a level where it will not illicit that behavior we don’t want, but sometimes we live in environments or undergo situations where that isn’t possible.

The key is understanding you can’t reinforce the emotions, and if a dog is truly upset and needs intervention to help them through something difficult, then we should do it, instead of getting frustrated and demanding something they cannot do—perform a behavior. It’s a great goal to want your dog to sit and look at you in the presence of other dogs, but if other dogs are scary for him, then it’s a VERY tough place to start for him! There is not a lot of understanding when it comes to our dogs and their emotional state, and this is probably one of the main reasons why I believe methods matter most. Time and time again, I see clients who have no idea how to make a positive association through successful desensitization and counterconditioning methods (DS/CC), even after seeing one or more other trainers or so-called behaviorists for their dog’s reactivity or aggression issues, and it’s mind-boggling!

Illustration by Lili Chin – click for a larger view

At Delightful Doggies, we choose to strive for situations where we can create a positive association for dogs with those items they find challenging, scary or overly exciting, and then we can get and reinforce the behavior we want. This means setting up the dog for success (so presenting that trigger in a very gradual, non-threatening way), making that association, and then getting a behavior because the dog has not gone over threshold, and sees the trigger as a good thing: It makes chicken happen!

On the flipside, there are others out there who will go too far too fast, or do not employ proper DS/CC protocols, and when the dog does have the reaction the person doesn’t want, the dog is punished. That usually ends up doing the opposite—it makes the trigger even scarier, and can make reactions worse—or suppress them. While the dog may not bark once you’ve used your punishment (making the handler think they’ve “fixed” it), they’re still a bundle of nerves underneath it all, and this training may break down. It may also cause your dog to enter a state of learned helplessness, even if they act the way they want you to moving forward. This isn’t fair to the dog, or help him feel confident and comfortable in the world in which we’ve asked him to live.

I recently shared a post from Sarah Stremming at Cognitive Canine (GREAT blog to follow!): “Why Positive Reinforcement ALWAYS Works.” So many times I have heard others say training didn’t work (regardless of the methods used). This blog makes the very valid point that it’s not the method, but the application of the method, that fails. If we set up appropriate plans and stick to them, they should work—even if it’s a punitive method! It’s very important to remind ourselves that our ability to see things through, to appropriately plan for and execute the training, is at the core of it all. Handler error and misunderstanding, poor timing, inadequate motivation/reward, etc., are all likely to blame than the method itself.

There have been trainers who used to be dedicated to more force-free, positive-reinforcement based methods who have gone over to incorporating more punishment. I have always been blown away by this because I came from the other end; I used to use a blend and was taught a more “balanced” way of training, until I found clicker methods and it totally changed my world. When I hear these trainers talk about how “positive reinforcement failed,” I often wonder why it did for them—and where their skill level is with the techniques. To me, methods matter a LOT. I want my dogs and their people to be happy, healthy and confident, rather than suppressing emotions for the sake of a behavior they may be able to perform, but not comfortably and due to the fear of being punished.

At Delightful Doggies, we are committed to staying away from punitive methods and honing our skills in using successful DS/CC and positive reinforcement to ease the dog’s emotional state, help them be calm and confident, and getting and reinforcing behaviors we do want. If we do this effectively, we have no need for punishment, and we believe the same for any dog, trainer or handler out there. It’s also proven to be safer to use these techniques over punishment. Don’t we owe it to our dogs, and ourselves, to be safe and happy together? We want to contribute to building a world full of people who can harness the power of the positive, to give dogs the ability to choose and make the best choices, and understand dog emotions and the power of a well-thought-out DS/CC plan. We hope you will join us!

Happy training,
Laura
Owner, Delightful Doggies

April 2017 clients

April has been a pretty challenging month, as I took a fall in my new home on April Fool’s Day, fittingly, and badly sprained (possibly fractured–the doctors kept going back-and-forth on that) my left ankle. I really appreciate all the support and patience my clients and partner, Courtney, have given me (and my husband at home)! All of you have been phenomenal, and I am extremely lucky to have such a great assortment of people in my life. I feel very lucky, even in the face of the ways having such an injury limits me. By the middle of May I should get another evaluation with a physical therapist and another brace to wear, and more information on a prognosis. Thank you all for your understanding!

By clicking on the below photo icons, you will be taken to our April 2017 clients Flickr album. By clicking on the slideshow button (top right computer/play icon), you can view all the photos in a fun slideshow format. You can also join us on our Facebook page to see even more photos of client dogs, great articles, news items and blog posts, and we also have an Instagram account.

Luna Mac June Freddie Mr. Magoo Betty Bear Tater Avanti Loo Charlie Samson Goose Lola Carly Snoop Dogg Hunter Misty Ginger Rylee Bodhi Boris Gryffen Roxy Ranier and Riley Quincy

Have a wonderful weekend,
Laura
Owner, Delightful Doggies

April client spotlight: Luna the Rhodesian Ridgeback mix

Congratulations to our April client spotlight, Luna the Rhodesian Ridgeback mix!

Luna gives us a big, beautiful smile!

Luna has been doing a blend of services, working with both Courtney and myself on being calm around other dogs and building body awareness, as well as with me solo on honing her manners and other skills to eventually be able to accompany her mother at work. She’s been slaying Dr. Karen Overall’s Relaxation Protocol and Leslie McDevitt’s Look At That technique.

The most challenging part for Luna is containing herself when we come over but she’s getting better at understanding that we do not prefer being jumped at. Using her harness and leash to prevent the jumping and only give attention and rewards when she is sitting or standing consistently is helping her learn better ways of greeting others. We are also working on Relax on a Mat to help with this and overall learning how to better relax herself. Life is exciting, after all!

Luna is a rescue dog and we love working with rescue dogs. All our personal dogs have been adopted from different shelters and as some of you know, I found another dog that I’ve added to my family after searching for weeks for her people. Being able to work with dogs who may have not had the best start, or who would have otherwise been passed along the system or worse, is very enriching for all of us. We love working with dogs with Luna whose winning personalities coupled with great positive reinforcement training; they are our greatest “ambassadogs.” 🙂

Thank you to Luna and her parents for entrusting with us, and for all their hard work and commitment to her. She is lucky to have them, and they her!

Happy Training!
Laura
Owner, Delightful Doggies