Author: admin

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.