Less is more when it comes to chatter.

An interesting theme has been running through my lessons the last few weeks and that has been to stop all the chatter, clucking( surprising how many people do this) and the constant "jollying up" to either get their dog's attention or to fix a behavior. Dogs are not verbal communicator like humans so if they are hearing a bunch of chatter that really has no meaning then they have to try to pick a cue out of it. If the handlers remains quiet except when asking for a cue, the cues have more meaning and the dog doesn't have to try to decipher what is being asked of him. So all the dog really needs to hear is the cue, the bridging stimulus and perhaps some happy praise as you are delivering the reinforcement. So many people will chatter in an effort to get the dog to speed up when he is lagging or in an attempt to improve his attitude. This only results in inadvertently reinforcing the plodding gait and dull mood. If instead you completely ignore the lack luster performance and reinforce any effort on the dog's part to speed up you will soon see a lot more effort put into staying in position. The same goes for the hang dog sad sack, ignore that dog but reinforce any moments of cheeriness and soon you will see a much brighter dog. This all goes back to knowing what you want so you can see it and reinforce it. Remember what you attend to is what you will get.

With work and patience there is hope for your out of control dog.

I've been working with a family that has a dog with a bite history for the last six weeks. This little dog is very explosive when anyone other than the family enters the house or if anyone gets too close to him ( like 30 ft or closer). We took him over to the TSC in Jackson this morning and worked on impulse control ( loose leash walking, not rushing out of the vehicle until told to do so and remain sitting until released) and civil behavior around people ( Look at That game, Open Bar/Closed Bar and BAT). This little guy let me actually take him and walk around the store( Mom and Dad were busy chatting with an old acquaintance). Even two weeks ago I might have been risking a bite if I got too close. He let people pass within feet of him and chose to look back at me or whoever had him at the time. I can not tell you how very pleased I am by the progress of this dog and it has everything to do the the dedication his family has shown to him and his rehabilitation.

Don't focus on the problem. Look for solutions.

I'm having trouble with Diego's work ethic. Now, Diego is a dog with 28 titles in seven sports, with perfect scores in formal obedience and routinely earns 100's in rally. This dog was given 9.2 and 9.6 on his freestyle routine, work ethic has never been a problem.
At his age, almost 10 yrs., it's reasonable to look to health related issues. He has bone spurs in both front feet, that injury from when he did the splits on the slippery floor a year ago and, well, he's ten. Certainly all these things are contributing to some degree but it's more than that.
Friday was one of "those" days. A day when quitting seems like a good choice. A day when "I'm not only quitting this, I'm quitting everything!" I'll be the first to admit that my attitude wasn't helping anything and I spent most of the following 24 hours examining my role in this. I'd like to say "Then like a bolt of lightening it hit me" but in reality it occurred to me much more softly, like a bystander whispering "You created this, you and only you. But guess what? You can fix this too." I've realized Diego has given me yet another gift, another lesson, though unpleasant, very necessary.
As I mentioned earlier Diego slipped on a slippery floor and did the splits with his hind end. The injury was much more severe than I initially thought. It also has had a profound psychological effect on him that will probably be with him for the rest of his life. Once the extent of his injury was realized I made the decision to not ask anything of him for a year. Every two weeks he's been going in for acupuncture/chiropractic treatments along with daily supplements. Physically he's as healed as he ever will be and I decided to compete in freestyle and rally.
So where'd the problem come from? During the last year I asked nothing of him but if he offered any behavior I reinforced it enthusiastically. My aim was to reinforce any "try" he gave me and to continue to have him see me as a valuable resource. What ultimately happened was every behavior he offered was in reality a demand. Because I was not asking for anything from him, he was hurt you know, and reinforcing whatever behaviors *he* offered when and where *he* offered them, he in essence turned me into a cookie dispenser. He was calling the shots and controlling the consequences so when I asked for something *I* wanted, when *I* wanted it he said "No thanks. I get what I want for free, I don't have to do anything *you* ask for because *you* give me everything I want when I ask for it."
The beauty of looking for solutions instead of focusing on the problems is the solution is pretty much right in front of you. I could have played the excuse game. He doesn't feel good. He's getting old. He doesn't feel like it anymore. But instead I was fortunate enough to realize I create this mess, I needed to fix this mess. Diego is now on a "Learn to Earn" program big time. He gets nothing for free, not even his meals. He's not getting any less, he just has to earn everything. The criteria now is he has to give me snappy, sharp responses or he gets nothing. No asking twice, no second chances. It will be interesting to see how long it will take to undo the poor attitude I created but that's just part of the journey and lesson. A journey I am grateful for and a lesson I will never forget.

The rules are the rules.

I was talking to a student of mine, whose dog is very well trained, about how people think we are somehow being unfair to the dog by having them comply to our cues at all times. This student is awesome at understanding that the rules are the rules always and everywhere. Not just when it's convenient for her to enforce them. I think it's brutally unfair to a dog to be changing the rule day to day on a whim, depending on how you feel at the moment. Can you imagine how you'd feel getting into your car not knowing if the stop sign meant "stop" today. If the police officer gave you a ticket today for stopping at the same stop sign he gave you a ticket yesterday for not stopping at. You wouldn't know if you were to stop or not. Think how stressful it would be to live in a house where today I can sit on the couch but tomorrow I might not be allowed to. Having a well trained dog means training that dog everywhere. No matter how much my dog may want to leave the vet's office or how late the vet may be behind schedule, my dog still has to wait for permission to go through the doorways, every doorway,every time. When I'm with my dog I am committed to that dog no matter how much it may inconvenience myself or someone else.
This student's neighbor accused her of not letting her dog be a dog but quite the opposite is true. Well trained,well behaved dogs get to go places and do stuff that their untrained counterparts are never allowed to do. They are allowed to be part of the family gatherings, they can run off leash because they come when called,they get to go to the beach, the park and the softball games. Well trained dogs have a lower stress level because they don't have to worry about the people in their lives routinely going off the nut and yelling and screaming (or worse) at them for doing something that they've done for the past six weeks with nary a blink of any eye. But now for some unknown reason the same behavior has become taboo. Talk about unfair.

What are your living arrangements?

If in your working environment your boss locked you in your cubicle all day and you could only come out when your boss said you could, would you want to spend your free time with your boss once you were let out of your cubicle? It's the same with your dog, I bet he's more interested in running and burning off steam than working with you,especially if woking with you includes correction and punishments and very little of what the dog finds reinforcing. So don't be too surprised when the leash comes off your dog takes off and isn't too quick to come back.
I had a tense few moments this morning while the dogs and I were walking around the field. A hound came trotting out of the woods in front of us and of course Maya and Diego had something to "say" about this trespasser. Even as they tensely circled the hound they both immediately came to me when I called them. Of course lots of cheese and liver sausage was doled out. The hound went on her way and we went on ours. On the second lap of our walk the dobes spotted the hound off in the distance and lit out after her. Again, even though they were quite a distance from me they came back immediately. Why is it I can call my dogs off most anything and have such nice focus while they're working? Am I just lucky to have such great dogs? No, both dogs came to me with recall and focus issues. Am I such a great trainer? Definitely not, there is nothing special about me and I make mistakes every day when working with my dogs. I truly believe it's how I live with them moment to moment. I understand that they are learning something every second they spend with me. I keep my eyes open for the behavior I want,like great recalls and attention, and I pay then well when I see it. So in other words I'm prepared every second I'm with my dogs. I always have yummy treats on me, its part of getting dressed to go outside with them. I put on my coat, gloves,hat and I put the treats in my pocket. I am constantly asking "What do they want at this moment?"
"Maya do you want this gate opened so you can eat horse poop?" "Great!" "Let's do a little focused heeling and I'll open the gate." "Diego, you want one of the treats in my pocket?" "Ok, back away from me 30 Ft. and spin." "Awesome have some cheese!"
There are those who believe a pet dog cannot be a working dog. These people leave their dogs in a crate or kennel run and only let the dog out to "work". The dog doesn't live with them and therefore misses out on all the wonderful opportunities to get reinforced by his handler through out the day, whether it's a snuggle on the couch, an impromptu belly rub or a chance to earn access to whatever the dog may want at any given moment. I think these dogs are missing out on the moments where they know they are truly loved and appreciated for the great dog God made them. Irrespective of their working ability I have found that if you truly,truly appreciate the effort your dog puts into working for you his working ability skyrockets. I seek every opportunities thought out the day to reinforce my dogs and I wouldn't have that opportunity if my dogs were locked away from me.