Why I No Longer Care About Having an Obedient Dog

So often I have people reach out to me for training and they are simply looking for “Basic obedience.” And over the years my definition of what that entails has grown, changed and evolved with my own skill and understanding. And over the last couple of years I have come to conclusion I no longer care about having an obedient dog, and I do not strive to teach clients to have obedient dogs either. I seek to achieve a well behaved dog. And those two things are different.

To understand what I mean when I say I don’t want an obedient dog, I think we must first look at the definition of obedience.

obedient

[ oh-bee-dee-uhnt ] adjective

obeying or willing to obey; complying with or submissive to authority:an obedient son.

From this definition I think the key components to it as it applies to teaching is the phrase “submissive to authority.” And most importantly out of that the word “submissive.” Submissive is a loaded term in dogs, and in dog training. Mostly it is used by people who don’t understand how dogs think as a means of establishing “authority.” If your dog is not submissive to you, he is trying to undermine or over take you. Both of which are patently untrue.

So when we discuss obedience in dogs we are essentially still leaning back on that old school of thought, that unless the dog is obedient, he is some how challenging your authority.

When we think about obedience in children what comes to mind are images of tough authority figures disciplining kids to ensure they do as they are told. Obey or be punished. We have come a long way in how we interact with one another, especially in regards to education and learning in children, and one of the primary take-aways from our modern understanding is that punishment is not terribly useful in teaching. Unfortunately for many dogs, we have not as a culture realized this applies to our canine companions as well. That punishment is not useful for learning, it hinders and slows learning. While you might be able to punish a dog into compliance, you will never be able to punish a dog into being well behaved.

“But,” you ask. “Isn’t well behaved obedient?” The answer to that is a resounding; not really. An obedient child is one who does exactly as they are told, and does not question authority. We know this sets children up to have conflicts with authority figures, and even places them in danger of complying to dangerous, immoral or unthinkable things because they have been forced into obedience instead of being taught how to be well behaved. A dog who has been taught to be obedient, that is to always comply with authority is a dog who has never been taught to think through a situation, or to be well behaved. Their compliance is reliant on the act of what happens if you don’t comply. Their compliance is reliant on punishment to be maintained. Yes, they absolutely do as they are told, but at what cost? And what happens the moment you remove the threat of punishment for their lack of obedience? How many dogs trained on prong and ecollars (shock collars) and other forms of compulsion are ever able to be with out those items? Very few.

So what does a well behaved dog look like? You’ve seen this dog already. You’ve seen the dog patiently waiting at their guardian’s feet, with eyes on their person, watching them. You’ve seen the dog who is excited, bouncing down the trail but whips around and recalls the moment his person says their name. This is the dog who sits quietly at the vets office and who follows along on a loose leash through the pet friendly store. You perhaps even know a few dogs like this, who are calm, relaxed and content to simply walk along with minimal supervision from their human. Their human holds conversations with friends, or browses the pet toys contemplating which one to buy. Their human checks their phone while their dog just waits patiently. Their human enjoys long walks on and off leash. These are well behaved dogs, and this is achieved through reinforcement. What we expect of our dogs needs to be reinforced.

So when a client contacts me asking for basic obedience classes, I ask them what they are looking to achieve. And invariably they want the dog whom they can trust off leash, whom they can walk down the street with out incident, they want the dog who doesn’t knock things off the walls, or jump all over company. They aren’t looking for an obedient dog, they are looking for a well behaved dog. A dog who looks at new situations and makes the choice to behave in a socially appropriate manner. They don’t want to have to punish their dog to get them to behave a certain way, they want a dog who just understands what behaviors are expected and how to translate those behaviors to new situations.

Your dog will never learn to make good choices if you do not give them any choices to make. When the consequence for making the “wrong” choice is punishment, what happens is a dog learns to be obedient. So long as the desired behavior is spelled out for them they appear to function. But when faced with novelty they shut down, or worse become reactive to it. This is because at no point during the use of punishment (particularly positive punishment that causes pain) were they taught how to make appropriate choices. They might become very obedient, doing exactly as they are told , but they are not well behaved. They are not relaxed. They are not comfortable in new situations, especially since dogs are not very good at generalizing, because they have no idea what is expected of them in any given novel environment. Are the rules the same? Are the rules different? What am I supposed to do now that we are in this entirely new place? It is not with out irony that often times novel environments require escalations in punishment to achieve obedience again in our dogs. Dogs are not very good at handling prolonged exposure to distress, it often leads to escalations in their reactive or otherwise undesirable behaviors. Dogs who are trained with punishment become distressed about meeting new people, and this often escalates their jumping up behaviors, or resort to displays of aggression to handle their emotional overload. This is because these dogs have been trained to be obedient, but not to be well behaved and make well behaved decisions. With out the express permission of a cue from a handler, these dogs often show immature, or overly cautious behaviors. They are not capable of making the appropriate choice to avoid jumping on someone, or to disengage from someone who makes them uncomfortable because these dogs have never been taught to make a choice.

At the end of the day I am not concerned if a dog I work with, particularly a pet dog, is obedient. I want to achieve a dog who’s default is well behaved. I want to teach a dog to make appropriate choices when faced with certain stimuli, and to be capable of thinking through new situations to make even better choices. I don’t care if that dog has a flashy heel, I care that that dog and guardian can walk together peacefully in all kinds of situations. I am not interested in a dog who submits because a lack of obedience will mean punishment. I am interested in a dog who makes good choices, who behaves because he has been conditioned and reinforced so well for those choices they are the default. A dog that understands even under duress we can still think through our choices, and we can seek reassurance, guidance and support from our humans, no strings attached.

I have no interest in a dog who submits to human authority. I am interested in training dogs who follow human guidance because they want to, not because they have to. A dog who is well behaved goes a lot of places, sees and does a lot of things. A dog who is well behaved and works with their humans has a full, rich and fantastic life. One they can appreciate fully instead of just waiting to be punished for the wrong move.

Become a Patron!

“A yes means very little from an animal that can’t say no.”

Dr. Amy Cook, Ph.D.

If you have been on my facebook page recently, you will have seen my announcement that I was launching a Patreon. For those not in the know a patreon is a modern way for people to be patrons of the arts (and other things.) This is a way for every day people to patron people who are making quality content of all sorts. These can include artists, musicians, writers and yes podcastors. I have often been asked about starting a podcast, over the last several years I have gone back and forth about using a patreon to help promote better ethics in dog training for outdoor adventures. This week I finally took the plunge and launched.

My goal is simple: provide good quality information and coaching for trail dogs, and dog behavior concerns to patrons. My podcast will be monthly (to start) and feature discussions on training for the trail, advice for outdoor dog adventures and even discussions on dog behavior as it relates to being in the wilderness. I will also be writing articles discussing various training things, and behavior things as well as reviewing places to take your dog both near to me, and wherever I end up traveling. I want to be able to reach people and help them enjoy the outdoors with their dogs from wherever I am, and wherever they are. My long term goals are to eventually reach a point where I can use the funding from the patreon to finally finish the design and build on the online Hikerhund school. To be able to produce online content that speaks to the outdoor adventuerer in all of us, and to the very heart of our dogs.

So why has it taken me so long? That’s a good question. The simple answer is that I battle constantly, like so many people, with imposter syndrome and my own poor self esteem. And both of these lead me to often stall on new projects in fear I will not be “good enough” at it. That because it will not be perfect, I will some how not be able to achieve what I want to achieve. And after a lot of shadow work and support from some amazing people. I decided the only remedy for that was to just do it.

So I set the launch.

What will I be producing?

Podcasts! That is the big component to this. I will be producing a monthly (to start: my goal is to be more frequent as needs must) episode that covers a topic relating to dog’s in the wilderness, dog training or dog behavior. Occasionally I hope to have guests on, as well as expand into discussing animal behavior in other areas as it might apply to working with dogs. But the primary focus will be on training and raising dogs for a life of outdoor adventures.

I will also be producing info-graphics, articles on training and behavior as well as on recommended gear etc. On top of that I will be doing monthly live sessions where I discuss training, and demonstrate certain skills as well as field live Q&A sessions for patrons. I am also offering merchandise for subscribers (as benefits of subscribing) as well as for sale in general. And certain levels of subscribers will have access to participation in live training sessions, as well as video submissions and feedback entries.

The goal is to be able to offer people a lot of information, from a reliable, reputable and experienced source. And if I am being totally honest, which I am sometimes to a fault, the hope is that it can eventually provide a reliable sense of financial stability. My long term goals have always been to be more mobile, and a patreon is a step towards that. Imagine being able to record a podcast from the side of a trail in a brand new location? Or film sessions in new states with new terrain and new distractions to demonstrate how universal certain training approaches can be, or how to trailer training to your environment. Imagine being able to catch a live q&a with trainers from all around, even internationally via zoom calls etc on a consistent basis that applies directly to our specific interests of getting dogs outside and down the trail? Imagine being able to watch a live session with other species as I explore the universality of training approaches using science with other species and dogs from varied backgrounds. To me these goals seem lofty and maybe not quite with in reach, but I will never know if I don’t just go for it.

So how can you support?

Simple! You can join the patreon! The base level tier which gives you access to listen, read and review all kinds of material is only $5 per month. And there are three other options from there! Each with it’s own benefits and rewards (beyond watching me take on dog training on the new frontier.) You can unsubscribe at any time, and you can always change your donation amount. First podcast will be available this weekend. All about why the trail is the best place to raise a dog.

Click above to join!

Checking My Ego: Lessons in No.

Today I had to check my ego. I went to visit my horse, Ben, and I had every intention of riding. It had been a week or more since I had seen him. My schedule is intense, and my efforts to continue to build my online business to make more time are going slow at the moment. This leaves me limited extra bandwidth, which unfortunately Ben often pays the price for. This is on me. Ben fortunately lives in a large pasture with four other geldings, and has a good time in his offer hours...days....sometimes weeks. But today I had made space to go ride my horse. My intent was to practice some of his skills under saddle, to use the time to relax and focus on our goals with his collection, and responsiveness. I have finally been able to transition him to bitless (Ben was initially trained in a very classical manner, and I have been working towards a more modern, less forceful way to interact with him.)

Ben said no.

He was not aggressive about it, or explosive which has been his method in the past to communicate when he was overwhelmed, or frustrated. But he wasn't feeling it. As I went through the routine of practicing mounting up (a historically problematic area for him) Ben said no. He refused to stand to be mounted, his tail swished consistently and his agitation was obvious in his body language. Ben has always been particular about who gets to ride him, and today he told me that he did not want to be ridden.

There might be a dozen reasons for this. I don't work with him enough to keep his eagerness to explore and learn sharp. It was early morning, and I had called him away from his breakfast (which he came willingly, but still.) The list goes on. But the point was; he wasn't interested.

In classic horsemanship guidelines I would have been required to force the issue. You would have heard some old cowboy telling you “Don't let him get away with that!” And a variety of other euphemisms that boil down to: make the horse do it. But I have worked very hard to teach Ben to present his feelings in a less explosive, and dangerous ways. I have worked hard to unlearn my own very classical horsemanship education (that started when I was just old enough to spell my own name.) And in this paradigm of putting the horse first, Ben made it clear he did not want to do what I wanted to do, and I took him at his word.

I stress a lot on the value of letting our dogs say “no.” I teach that a no is valuable. I teach that it is meaningless to have our dogs say “yes” if we do not also allow them to say “no.” This is not something that many horse people practice, it is something I am making strides in practicing. Today, I practiced it.

As I went through the work I noticed Ben's agitation, I also noticed my own frustration that he was not willing to cooperate and follow the cues I had given him. As my frustration increased, so did his. And at some point I realized what was happening: Ben was saying he did not want to be ridden today.

I completed a successful approximation towards our goal, I stood on the mounting block (For those who don't know I am very short, and Ben is absolutely huge) put my foot in the stirrup, marked it and get back down onto the ground and rewarded Ben for holding still during that. Then instead of taking advantage of the fact he was cooperating that far, and jumping up on him, I respected his feelings, and rewarded his good hard try by walking away. He followed me to the barn where I untacked him , gave him a nice brushing and returned him to his pasture, and his waiting breakfast. He shoved his head in his feed trough and didn't watch me leave as he normally does.

Could I have continued and just made him deal with it? I had no intentions of working him hard today, it was going to be more a mental work out then a physical one. It was mostly to just spend some time with him, practicing basics (as with dogs the basics are your foundation of everything else.) All in all it wasn't going to be a stressful day. And I could have made him hold still for me to mount him and proven my point that it is useless to say “no.” But what would that have taught him? What lesson was he likely to take home from that? Was it that being ridden won't be bad? Maybe. Or would it be that subtle, peaceful objections will be ignored in the face of his owner's desires? Also maybe. And if it is the latter, what do you suppose he will do the next time he is uncomfortable or unwilling to try something I am asking of him? Do you think he will remain polite, and peaceful? Or will he, in an attempt to be certain he is heard, escalate his responses? Perhaps to a level where he endangers one or the both of us?

I know Ben well. Perhaps in many ways better then I know myself. I know that when he is frustrated, angry, upset or scared he will explode. That explosion can be very dangerous for small humans, and for Ben himself. I have worked hard over the last two years to help Ben learn to trust me, to believe me when I say everything will be okay. In order to not undo that trust, I have to believe him when he says he doesn't want to do something. I have to frame uncomfortable, or scary things in a way that allows him to trust me completely when I ask him to do them. I have to respect his no, so I can trust him when he says yes. Ben is my ride or die, but that is meaningless if he doesn't have a choice in the matter. Today he made his feelings clear, so I put him back in the pasture where he promptly resumed his breakfast with out looking back.

As I reminded my ego to check its self, and set aside my daydreams of riding my horse today, I realized that practicing what I preach matters. And it matters the most when it's hard for me to do. As I drove away from the barn Ben's head was still in his trough eating breakfast. He was hungry. I am not keen on working out when I'm hungry either.

 

"The more chances we give them to say no, they more chances they have to say yes." - Pine Irwin CPDT-KA, ABKA L2, PPG, FFCT, IAABCM, SFCS , QTDE

Dogs vs. Backyard Dinosaurs: Keeping pet chickens safe with dogs

This past week the rescue I work with was contacted by two different people to take in dogs who were attacking/harassing/killing chickens. We were able to help them thankfully, but in reflection I feel very sad for these two otherwise delightfully sweet dogs. They were simply doing what dogs do.

With the pandemic came a lot of changes for our world, one of which was the rise of backyard chickens. Or backyard dinosaurs as I like to call them. I have had chickens in my backyard for years, I absolutely adore them, and someday should film training them using the same methods I use on dogs and horses (ducks, and pigs too apparently!) And as delightful as backyard chickens can be, they do pose a challenge when it comes to our dogs.

Many owners are finding a sudden problem of their dogs wanting to mess with their chickens. Many of these dogs were not raised around chickens, and now are faced with the challenge of ignoring their instincts and not chasing the flightless birds hanging out on the lawn. And owners are facing the reality that their sweet, wonderful dogs might pose a threat to their equally wonderful chickens.

So what are we to do? How do we maintain the safety of our flocks in the presence of a predator? Except in this case the predator is Fido, our family golden retriever.

Can dogs and chickens coexist?

Absolutely! But there are some things we need to understand about dog behavior, and chicken behavior though. The first is that dogs are opportunistic predators. And chickens are prey. Not only that, chickens behave like prey: they tend to flap off, making noise and running when startled. Which can easily excite the prey drive in a dog, even in our softest, most mellow and fluffy of pups. This can also cause other problems if the dog catches the chickens, stress to the birds, injury or even death. And as such knowing what to do to help our dogs and chickens coexist is important to keeping everyone safe and happy. We have to acknowledge this reality, and understand that it is something that will always color our are dogs and chickens interact. This is not a problem for dogs, after all it is what dogs do, and we very rarely condemn dogs for chasing squirrels.

 

Management:

It is rare that you will find a dog who is more willing to leave the chickens alone than chase them. I am more surprised by dogs who ignore the chickens, then I am by dogs who are willing to do chickens harm. As mentioned above, dogs are predators and will behave the way predators do. So our first line of defense in protecting our chickens is management.

A secure chicken coop and run is paramount. Having a safe space with plenty of room to secure your chickens is not only good husbandry, it is the best way to keep your chickens safe from all kinds of threats. Hawks, raccoons, foxes will all cross through suburban environments for an easy drive thru meal of a pet chicken. Your chicken run should have some kind of roofing, either a solid roof or a wire roof that provides protection from above. But when you have a dog in the yard you should also reinforce the fencing around the run, and a way to keep the bottom of the run from being dug under. At my tiny urban homestead I have cinder blocks around the base of my run, and I have wrapped hog panels outside the chicken wire that makes the bulk of the fencing system. These hog panels are designed to keep very large pigs in place, and since they are very sturdy they are the perfect defense from dogs pushing on the chicken wire inside and weakening my fence. The cinder blocks are there to keep the dogs from digging at the fence and creating holes to stick heads through. At my house one of my dogs will absolutely cause the chickens harm if he gets too close to them, when they dogs are in the yard the chickens are secure in their run. I took special care in raising my hens to train them to “kennel up” on cue.

The second phase of management is the age old, tried and true best practice for keeping dogs safe: a leash. Yep! When in doubt: leash up. Leashes are an important part of managing the situation to keep your chickens safe, and your dog from making poor choices. Here at the River Hawk Homestead when a dog needs to go potty, but the birds are out in the backyard enjoying their bug patrol duties, I take the dog out on a long leash to go potty. This allows me to really reinforce their good behavior of ignoring and disengaging from the birds, as well as keep them from getting too close and making a poor choice with the birds.

 

Training:

The next step in dog and chicken cohabitation is that favorite word: training. We want to work with our dogs very quickly as the birds come home. I teach a strong, and well reinforced “leave it.” But I also train my dogs (on a long line) in the yard with the birds to do mat/stationing behaviors. Teaching them to maintain a comfortable position on a platform or a mat while the birds are about. Both of these behaviors will go a long way to helping your dog know what is expected of them when the chickens are around.

The final training piece is a rock solid recall. Being able to call my dog back to me and direct their focus to appropriate items is key to harmonious living with birds. I want to make sure I can ask my dog to walk away from the birds of their own accord, and easily give them an appropriate alternative to chasing my birds.

In conclusion: Yes dogs and chickens can live together. But that picture may not look like the bucolic image of a dogs sniffing in the yard with chickens milling about. For many dogs it will look like good management and ongoing training practices to keep the birds safe, and the dog's safe from their own less than desirable impulses. And if you find yourself overwhelmed; reach out! I have a lot of experience with chickens and with dogs (obviously) and I am happy to help guide you! You can even get a consult on how to train your chickens to recall and kennel up on cue! (My behavior consulting is not limited to canines!)

I want to normalize the idea of a half hour training session with a professional trainer.

Over the last year I’ve spent a lot of time adjusting my business, like we all have. One of the ways I did that was moving to an online platform for training, first by necessity, then by choice. I love working online. I love working over video. The ability to record, and watch without any interference from my presence has forced me to elevate my training. I have had to sit down and analyze the way I teach and learn all the subtle nuances of my own methods to translate them to other people without the handicap of grabbing the leash. And something I’ve realized is that a half an hour is the perfect training session.

I offer half hour training sessions online only. This is because the cost of driving around my valley makes a 30 minute session not really worth it given the cost of traveling in time and gas around the city. Except that maybe it is?

We talk a lot about the dog’s ability to focus in training. Keeping sessions short and in multitudes rather than one long session during the day. But what we don’t talk about is the owner. As people we too have limited attention spans, and brains that can become over saturated with information ensuring not enough gets retained.

So why are we still working on an hour long model when a half hour model is more efficient for everyone? I think on eof the primary reasons is tradition, growing up attending public schools class times are an hour long, meetings with therapists, lawyers, doctors are all charged by the hour. But the reality is those hour long classes aren’t actually an hour either. It’s 50 minutes. Your therapist? 50 minutes. Your doctor? Maybe a half an hour really. So why in dog training has the industry standard become an hour when a half hour will serve every one just fine?

As someone with ADHD I often worry my perspective on focus is skewed. I oscillate between so fixated on a goal I can remain on a single task for hours, and so wildly unable to concentrate I can’t even get the dishes done. So I tend to view my perspectives on the best use of time through a lens of inherent suspicion: am I accurate or am I just having an ADHD moment? But the truth is moving to offering 30 minute sessions online has been an amazing blessing.

In 30 minute sessions I am able to have my notes made, my plan of attack done a head of time, and I can hit the ground running. Everything is streamlined. I have the ability to present information and practice skills in doses that do not overwhelm the dog, or the owner. Because I keep my own active teaching to short bursts in traditional sessions, it’s easy to fall into the trap of information dump between working with the dog. For some clients this is something they can soak up, and they love it. But for people who are less interested in the nitty gritty science of dogs, and more interested in just having a good relationship with their dog, this can be an information overload. And this can make it hard for them to remember the key points they needed to take away from the session, or what specifically they were to work on.

And yes, after session notes are helpful for this, but for me after session notes can be very time consuming, and take a day or two to get out to clients when I am doing back to back hour long sessions. My brain has a saturation point too, even for an area of hyper focus like work. But in a 30 minute sessions I can have time set aside after for those after session notes. I can make them immediately, and get them typed up and sent out directly following my work because I have budgeted the time for it more smoothly then with a traditional time slot.

So going forward I am going to be sitting down and reworking my current plans and packages. I think making training sessions with clients into shorter, more frequent bursts, like in dog training it’s self, is going to see more success for everyone. And at the end of the day my job is to make sure my clients can train their dogs, and 30 minutes is all it takes to a better relationship with any dog.

What do you mean we’re doing this virtually?

Things changed a lot over the last year. And that meant having to change with it. Perhaps it is a silver lining in all of this, that I was forced to move more virtual with my work during the pandemic, because it had been a long term goal of mine for a while.

“Wait, you WANTED to go virtual?”

Yes, I did. Among the teachers struggling, and people finding themselves working from home in makeshift offices in the corner of the bedroom, with a closet door for a background, I was finally able to do what I had wanted for some time: work remotely.

I have been working slowly towards moving virtual for several years. All my work building the ideas and platforms behind Hikerhund were all geared towards providing an entirely online service center for people to get help with their dogs. The pandemic simply forced my hand, and made me take the leap. And I loved it more than I even imagined I would.

My long term goals had always been to build Hikerhund as an online platform, a resource for training and education about having dogs in the outdoors, safely and for maximum benefit. But I suffer a constant battle with never feeling like I am quite “ready.” This has lead to me putting off, delaying and otherwise avoiding taking big leaps more than once in my life. And the results of lock downs and a global pandemic with an illness that was particularly risky for me (I am a severe asthmatic) combined to force me to make the big jump. In a matter of a couple of weeks I was able to launch new programs, and offer new services via zoom and continued over the last year to build and rebrand, and design programs to promote virtual learning with dogs.

“But you’re a dog trainer, how can you train dogs from a computer?”

The simple answer is that I am not training dogs. Despite the misnomer of my job title the reality is the bulk of my job is actually training other people to train their dogs. I can teach a dog to almost anything, but that is not much use to people when I am not around. My job is to teacher owners how to train their dogs, so that at some point they feel confident to continue working with their dogs while I am not standing there watching (especially since I assign homework!) My goal with any client is to make sure they feel confident enough to understand the process of moving forward, so that in the future when they encounter speed bumps on the road of life they have developed the skills and understanding to tackle them on their own. (And if they run across something they don’t feel equipped to handle they know exactly where to reach to for help!)

“But I really want you to see my dog do….”

I don’t. Which sounds blunt, but it’s the truth. I do not want to see your dog fail, I do not want to see your dog have an overly emotional response to a stimuli. I do not want to see your dog practice poor obedience behaviors. I do not want to see your dog making mistakes and practicing those mistakes. If you’ve caught the behavior on video prior I will gladly watch it but during training I will go out of my way to avoid setting your dog up to practice a poor decision. And I will be teaching you how to avoid that too. The truth is I don’t need to see it, because I have seen it. I’ve spoken with you at length about the issue, and I know what reactivity, what aggression, what over stimulated manic behaviors look like. So addressing them is a matter of relying on my experience and education, not necessarily witnessing the dog losing it’s mind over a squirrel and blowing off his recall.

In the case of particularly nervous dogs, or dogs who struggle with aggressive behaviors my not being present in the environment is a great benefit. It means we are able to work with the dog in an environment he is most comfortable, and with out the added stress of another human present. This makes it so much easier for dogs who struggle in the presence of strangers to maintain composure to focus, and learn and rehears good skills with their handler to reduce poor decisions out in public again.

But I’d really like you to come with me on a walk to see how we are doing.”

Great! Let’s get your phone out and let’s go! I can take a walk with you anywhere in the world with the simple use of a strap, and a set of ear buds/phones. And as an added bonus once again there is not another person adding stress and excitement to your dog’s normal routine of going for a walk, and you get real time help anywhere you are – so even when you’re away from home. And for me, I get to watch through video everything that happens and coach you through everything you need help with, but neither one of us can fall back on the crutch of me just “doing it.” (Which is something I struggle with allowing to happen since I know how to quickly and easily get behaviors from dogs it can be tempting for both of us to fall back on letting me do it instead of really getting you, the dog’s handler and guardian to over come obstacles and learn to teach the skills. This I particularly true with leash skills.)

“Well… when can I try this out?”

One of the benefits of going virtual is that I can be a lot more flexible. Since I do not have to factor in travel times, I can offer a lot more to clients more often and earlier/later into the day as well. This means I can often see you sooner then I would be able to do if you wanted to do something in person, this also means for people who want excellent , expert help from other regions they too can get good, reliable, solid, scientifically backed information to help them train their dogs. No matter where they live.

It also means more flexibility for you. When I was doing in person training I had a hard time of an hour session. This is often a LOT for dogs, and even for clients. I can pack a lot of information into 60 minutes, and that isn’t always a good thing. It can be overwhelming. Dogs have a limited attention span, and pushing past that can make training an unpleasant experience, and then make dogs resistant to learning. With virtual training I can cut sessions down to 30 minutes, this is enough time to maximize a dog’s potential and a human’s (people have a general attention span of about 45 minutes.) Since there is no factor of travel time, we can get in, get to work and be done before any one is overloaded with information. This allows me to trim training to it’s essential elements, and really refine our work. It is the perfect length of time to engage both humans and dogs, and it’s not something I could offer in person while driving all over the place.

If you want to know more send me an email! Let’s talk about your dog! pine@irwindogtraining.com

Like most people who train through positive reinforcement, I use a lot of training treats. Doubly so because I am often using them for client’s dogs etc. That means my treat budget is pretty extensive compared to a lot of my other expenses. And as we all know the best treats with the best ingredients are kind of expensive.

Another concern is for dogs who have strict dietary restrictions, getting away from common allergens like chicken, or rosemary can be really challenging. Not to mention expensive. And none of us really want to give more money to amazon or chewy. So I have a homemade training treat that is amazing! Dogs love it and it’s super easy to make! (Not to mention cheap.)

For the recipe I made here I use multiple kinds of baby food, but you can use a single flavor, or any combination you want. The key is to use the flour to help balance it out. The first time I made these I just baked the baby food, the results were tasty but mostly flavored air crisps. They crumbled with the slightest touch, and were mostly air. Obviously this is not ideal for storing in a treat pouch.

What you need: mixing bowl, spatula, large baking sheet, silicone triangle mat.

Available via Amazon. I know, I know, you can check your local restaurant supply for them too.

Basic Recipe:

13 to 14oz baby food

1 cup flour

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Mix together baby food and flour to form a consistency that is thicker then the baby food, but easy to spread.
  3. Spread in inverted silicone trays. I just glob it in the middle and spread it out, scraping off any excess so it’s all level. I don’t really worry about the edges since the goal here is to create treats as easily as possible and I am not detail oriented. At all.
  4. Bake. 10 to 13 minutes, I kind of eye ball them if they look like they are going to burn I take them out.
  5. Let cool enough you can dump them out. They will pop right out of the silicone tray, I just roll it and out they come. I do not grease the tray ahead of time.
  6. Let cool completely, toss into a jar for storing. I do keep them in the fridge when not in use since I don’t dry them into hard rocks, and there are no preservatives in them. You want them to be cool completely before storing because the heat escaping will create steam that will make them too soggy long term.
  7. Let your dog lick the bowl.

For this recipe I used 4oz Apple, 4oz pumpkin, 2.5oz Chicken and 2.5oz turkey. You can use any combination of flavors. You could even use peanut butter but if you do you might want to adjust the flour content to ensure you don’t end up with a paste that is too difficult to spread. I like using baby food because you can control the ingredients, and make sure you aren’t accidentally getting something in there that is not diet approved for dogs who are restricted, or need to manager their calories. (I haven’t experimented with using canned dog food yet, I am planning too soon though! But with canned food there are often a lot of additives and stabilizers that I don’t necessarily care about, but also don’t really need to add when baby food is pretty cheap and easily obtained. Also with canned food you will need a pate variety with no “chunks” unless you want to take the step to run it through a food processor first. No chunky, all smooth.)

It is really that easy. And I have two trays, I filled them both completely and baked them. There was a little batter left over that I split between the dogs and let my youngest lick the bowl before putting it all in the dish washer. (The trays can go through the dish washer too!)

Voila. Easy, delicious, entirely customizable dog treats! No spending half your day cutting hot dogs, or cheese. All in all when I make these it takes maybe half an hour. And most of that is just baking the trays (I bake them one at a time since my oven isn’t super large.)

Let me know if you try them!

pine@irwindogtraining.com

I think there are a lot of things we
over look in working with dogs; everything from the importance of
knowing when to stop, the idea of cutting yourself some slack, the
idea of loving the dog you're with etc. All of these are things other
people have covered (often times better than I could myself) or
things I mean to write about but get distracted (hello, ADH—oo
shiney!) But the one I want to discuss today is something that I like
to tell people at the end of my reactive dog classes; and it's this:
this difficult dog you have, right here, right now, is going to make
you better.

We all know of the dog who is
“difficult.” Perhaps they are incredibly fearful, hyper reactive,
aggressive, or maybe they are just really difficult to motivate;
whatever it is we know this dog. We might even own this dog. And when
we are buried under a mountain of self doubt and frustration, anger
and resentment because we just want Fido to be normal for god's
sake... We have to take a moment to remember a few things.

The first is that no matter how
frustrating this situation is for you, it's equally, if not more,
frustrating for your dog. They don't want to constantly be feeling
the way they do (angry, frightened, upset, overstimulated – pick
your adjective.) They don't want to be living with their own stress
and they really don't want to be living with your stress, either. So
matter how bad it gets, remember you are not in it alone, Fido is
right there beside you (wreaking havoc and stirring the pot, but he's
there just the same.)

And the second thing to remember is
that this dog will make you better. He will challenge you, he will
force you to better understand him (and all dogs) and meet his needs.
He will demand you learn more, that you hone your skills, that you
sharp your intellect and your creativity. .He will force you to be
more compassionate, and more understanding of some one else's needs
and desires. And in doing so; you will be better. This dog, the one
who is yet again throwing a fit at the end of the leash when a
situation went sideways, will make you better. He will teach you to
remain calm under overwhelming pressure. He will teach you to see
things from his perspective, no matter how weird and different it is,
to better understand why he's reacting the way he is, and how you can
help him cope. He will teach you to break things down into smaller
and smaller pieces until his hyper-drive over stimulated little brain
can chew it and learn it. This dog, this exasperating furry heathen
that you love and are trying so hard for, is going to make you a
better version of yourself.

So when you're ready to throw in the
towel because you just CAN'T any more; think about all you've gained.
Think about how differently you approach training; it's no longer
something you could do, but something you must do. Think about how
differently you view dog interactions than you did before ,how you
can read a dog's body language better, that you recognize signs of
stress and signals that a dog is uncomfortable long before anything
ever escalates to an argument. Think about how creative you've become
in teaching skills in tiny little nibbles over time to achieve a much
larger goal. Think about how when the dog acts up, or out, you stop
and think of the situation from his perspective instead of assuming
his behavior is the result of malice or incompetence. Consider how
you know that being negative about a situation rarely helps, but
instead how to look at the positives, and that being encouraging is
more fruitful than being discouraging.

Now think about how incredibly valuable
potential employers will find these skills, how much easier it is to
interact with people when you know how to view the disagreement from
their side, and how to approach a task from a variety of angles so
every one can learn and benefit. These are skills employers spend a
significant amount of money trying to teach their employees,
seminars, and guest speakers and corporate retreats and team building
exercises. Think about how much you can expand your resume under
“special skills” because you've managed to figure out a way to
coexist with a very difficult being, and love them anyway, and teach
them things, and help them become a better version of themselves.

So often dog owners are so busy trying
to find a reason, a solution, a fix for a problem they forget to
realize that they are already stepping above and beyond. In simply
actively trying to help their dog they are achieving something a lot
of people never do; compassion, desire and understanding. And they
forget to take a step back and smile, and feel good about their
successes (Even when they are small, or short lived) and in
forgetting to reward themselves for the work they have already done;
they don't appreciate their own efforts. This is especially true with
reactive dog owners, they don't see that they have closed the
threshold from 10 feet to 9 feet and 2 inches. They only see the
remaining 8 feet and 10 inches to go. But in doing so they don't give
themselves enough credit for that success. But those small steps, and
those little victories will eventually build themselves to something
great. But appreciating the success along the way is important for
our sense of self worth and self esteem and motivation to keep going.
I get clients who are frustrated, and stressed and often very upset
and worried for their pets. And it's easy to get caught up in those
feelings, so I like to have them take a deep breath, and I start
asking about other things with their dog. Things their dog does well.
Things their dog likes. Things they find amusing, or lovable about
their dog in particular. And then I point out how much better Fido is
doing at walking to a heel, or some other (relatively) trivial skill
they weren't intentionally focusing on but has become a byproduct of
their other efforts. And then I ask them about what caused the
situation that was so stressful for them this week, and I point out
every single instance when they correctly identify the triggers for
their dog's behavior, they take ownership of their own mistakes, or
they correctly identify and address a dog's body language cues etc.
Things they overlooked in their fret over the bigger picture. And
with in a few minutes the conversation has changed from “Why can't
he just be normal?” to “Okay, how do I keep helping him improve?
What else should I be doing?” And in that their attitude has
changed, and they are brighter, more determined and refreshed for the
uphill battles ahead. All because I pointed out how well they were
doing; not necessarily how well Fido is doing because his behavior is
irrelevant to the human's need to recognize and remember how much
they are growing along side their dog. And even with clients I've
been working with for a while, who's difficult behaviors are well
managed and altered to significant degrees, I occasionally remind the
owner how proud I am of them, and how far they have come. So they
never forget how much work THEY did and how much THEY improved right
along side their dog.

Remember when you're knee deep in
frustration, stress and are ready to strangle the dog: that this
exhausting, exasperating and lovable ball of fluff is making you a
better version of yourself. And pat yourself on the back for it.
Because you deserve it for a job well done.

I’ve been a fan of the post-apocolyptic genre of film and literature for years. It was always an escapism sort of thing for me, a “what if…” Living now in an age of corona virus and actually facing a need to isolate and ride out the storm… I am not really entertained.

The dogs are even less amused.

For those that do not know me, or know me well, I am a severe asthmatic. The idea of corona virus is pretty scary for someone like me. And while I work hard to avoid letting fear govern my decisions I, like many people, am taking the opportunity to avoid any unnecessary human contact. I am still working, but I am just avoiding the rest of the world. Which means no cinema for me!

It also means that I am keeping group classes, and group hikes to a minimum. But what about the dogs? They are used to getting out frequently, they are used to a lot of activity. Especially my working dogs. And I cannot be the only one. So I compiled a list of suggested games and activities to engage in with your dog during this weird, and unnerving time.

Hide-n-Seek: If you’ve been around me any length of time you’ve heard me mention hide-n-seek. This is a wonderful game for any time you are low on energy, low on time or the weather is just not making it easy to be outside. Start easy, put some kibble in a place that is relatively easy to find, and ask a dog to find it. I do the first few stages while the dog watches, so the command for “Search” starts to settle in. The goal being that you can hide food/snacks/toys in variety of locations while the dog is unable to watch what you are doing, and they have to use their nose to “search.” This game works on impulse control, drive and mental stimulation. It is an awesome game, and mentally quite draining.

Toys by Name: We all have dozens of dog toys hanging out in our living room. I trip over them constantly. So I started teaching my dogs the names of their toys. This is so I can ask them to go and get me a specific toy from the vast array. This game works on a dog’s ability to think through commands, to select the correct toy from a bunch of them, their impulse control to not simply grab the first toy they find etc.

I teach it in phases. Phase 1 is to teach a dog a toy by name. I start by playing fetch with one toy, and telling them to get the toy by name. “Go get duckie!”

Phase 2 is to toss the toy into a field of the other toys, and ask Fido to get the specific one.

Once you can get reliable results for toy A, then comes repeating phase 1 and 2 with another toy, by another name. And so on and so forth.

Bonus! If you want to really up the anty: ask them to drop the toy in a basket. To “put the toy away.” Great mental work out, and it minimizes the 3am bathroom break stumble over the dog toy landmines in the living room.

Flow Ladders: This is a great one to work on body awareness, and arousal control. I set up a ladder of sticks (I disassemble my agility jumps and use them – but the handles of brooms and mops work too!) I set up the poles equidistant apart (usually just far enough to be a single stride between – bigger dogs go further apart, smaller dogs closer together etc.) I put two baskets at either end, or Tupperware. And I start by asking the dog to walk through the “ladder” at the end is a tasty snack. Then repeat. Try to get a nice flow going back and forth over the poles (in horses we call it cavaletti.) This is a good game for growing dogs, helps them develop that all important body awareness, and for dogs who struggle with control of their excitement. The flow of going back and forth over the ladder helps a dog even out. And it required mind/body connection which provides a nice mental outlet.

Cups: This one is like the street game, where someone hides a marble under a cup and switches it around with two others and asks you to find it. Unlike with the street game the dog is the one finding it, and the win is from nose work. I use plastic cups, or paper, something if the dog destroys it I will not be upset, or sweeping glass off the floor. I make it simple to begin with; two or three cups. And work my way up there. In a pinch I will use a muffin tin with some tennis balls as a slow feeder as well. Cups works on a dog’s ability to wait while you “switch” the cups, and their ability to use their nose to find the treat. It’s a fun game to play, and requires very little in the way of your own energy output. Perfect for those long days when you’re tired.

Stupid Pet Tricks.” This one can cover a lot of territory. It is what I call all those useless but fun tricks we teach our dogs (“shake”, “play dead” etc.) They are an amazing way to enrich a dog’s life, build a bond and impress guests at Thanksgiving. Tricks be as simple or complex as you desire. And they are a great way to vary the routine from practicing Sit, Down, Stay etc. More fun for the dog and definitely more fun for you!

Hope you guys find something on the list to help kill the boredom during the quarantine! And remember I am available for online work, perfectly safe, perfectly sanitary AND you don’t have to wear pants. (Technically I am okay if you don’t want to wear pants in a face-to-face session, I don’t judge.)

Forgive and Forget. These are words to live by, they apply to a lot of situations in life, and they apply to dog training. As trainers, or handlers, we have a tendency to expect perfection from ourselves, and occasionally from our dogs. We have all had that day where it seems nothing goes right, and while Fido has performed this particular command 600 times with flawless execution…. today at 601 he’s completely forgotten everything he’s ever learned. And you find yourself standing there miserable, frustrated and even temperamental.

And any good trainer will tell you to take a step back. Remember to breathe, and start over. They will remind you that we all have off days, and it’s important to forgive the dog their short comings at that really expensive trial you just watched blow up in your face. And that you can come back to the work when you’ve cleared your head; you can resume training with a clean slate.

But while we all know we have to forgive our dogs - after all they live in the moment; and don’t really understand that you’re annoyed because they ruined your training experience yesterday – we too often forget that we also need to forgive ourselves. I can’t count the number of times I’ve had a client or friend tell me the fault with their dog is on their shoulders, that they messed up. And while often this is true, the guilt weighs heavy on them and it infiltrates their training, and their attitude.

So, I am here to remind you that while you’re busy forgiving your dog, don’t forget to forgive yourself. You will make mistakes. You will do something you’re not proud of, you’ll get angry and frustrated and annoyed. You’ll raise your voice when it’s not fair, and you’ll resent your dog for valid, and sometimes even petty, things. And you will realize you’ve done any, or all, of these things and you will feel incredibly guilty for it. You will know it wasn’t fair, you’ll know it probably did more harm than good. And you’ll carry that guilt with you into your next training session…And you need to stop.

I call it the Clean Slate Principle. I approach every training session with a clean slate, for the dog I’m working AND myself. I make certain to let go of any of my own feelings of guilt, or inadequacy; I start with a clean slate. Each session is it’s own new day experience, and that means we have a chance to undo, redo, or reinforce anything we need to; but we can’t do that if we’re not working from a clean slate.

So the next time you start a training session remember to start with a Clean Slate. A Clean Slate for your dog, and for yourself. After all, unlike our perfect dogs, you are only human.