Friday, June 26, 2015

Review of Fenzi Dog Sports Academy OB300-Heeling Games

I audited this class at the Bronze level.  I had used Denise's heeling series to start Taco's heeling so this was a continuation of that BUT like it says in the prerequisite section, this class is helpful even if you didn't start your dog using her Precision Heeling skills.

This class has a wealth of information that all work to make heeling FUN and interactive.  The class is broken down into different types of games and each dog might benefit from one or more types and not others.  An example:  My dog Dot loves to jump so a high hand touch for her is both motivating/energizing and allows her to let off  some stress that she builds up during heeling.  I use a hand touch to reward her for a great about turn, and also bring her back into position when she tends to drift a little wide.  It is a correction of position that she doesn't view as a correction, it is fun and enjoyable for her.  But (at this time), I am not able to use a high hand touch to reposition Taco.  A hand touch stimulates him too much and more often than not knocks him OUT of position.  Instead, leg weaves bring him in close to my leg and get a fantastic head position.  I leg weave (through my right and then left leg straight into heel position) before taking off to bring him in close and get his energy level up and his attention and eyes on me.  These games not only break up the heeling in order to keep the dog's attention, each type of game also reinforces and builds attitude, attention and excitement.

A lot of the class reminded me of Denie's posts on "obility" which is what she calls "obedience where you keep the action moving as fast as possible by blending exercises together and removing as many fronts and finishes as possible."  I was also reminded of a session Dot and I had with Bridget Carlson about heeling and how to apply her "3 reps before you reward" principle to our heeling.  She uses a handful of tricks (games) but her spin on it is that you have the dog do it three times before rewarding.  That way in the ring you can have the dog do one after an exercise, then again and it knows the reward is coming ONLY after the 3rd rep so it keeps working harder and harder, waiting for the chance to do that 3rd trick and earn its reward.  Having her tell me when to hand touch, spin or weave was extremely helpful, but I won't say Dot has gotten the hang of the 3 reps thing (mostly because I am not a stickler about it).  The important thing we took away from that session was that heeling does NOT have to be straight lines and halts, there are so many fun things you can add into it!  And that is what this Fenzi class is all about, with a lot more variation and options than just tricks in heel position, there are also sends, circles, toys and more for you to try out.

To get a taste for the class, watch the promo video and check out her blog posts on heeling games: Heeling Games, Heeling Games-"Fly", Heeling Games-Horizontal Movement, Obility.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Dot earns her CDX!!

Our home club's spring Obedience trial was this past weekend and we had a great time.  Between ring stewarding and shuffling between running two dogs, I was busy and tired after each day.  Saturday Dot earned her last CDX leg!!!!  I was super happy, she did a stupendous job and everyone kept commenting on how happy she was.  She really is a happy girl who just wants to be doing something, anything, she loves being active and participating with her humans!  When she understands her job and you keep her moving, she works like a dream.
Taco earned his first two Beginner Novice legs.  He is just starting to understand the dog show routine.  Get there and potty, set up the crates and WAIT, potty again and WAIT, potty again and WAIT, warm-up and do 2 minutes of obedience and WAIT.  He's great at the waiting part but he isn't yet used to getting warmed up and ready to go, he sleeps soundly in his crate and can be hard to wake up!  But Sunday he showed me that he's starting to get it, he was ready to work after only a few minutes of focused warm-up and earned a fourth place in a really great Beginner Novice B class.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Bailey/Farhoody Seminar Wrap-Up

 “Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly - until you learn to do it well.”
-- Steve Brown

I attended a Bob Bailey/Parvene Farhoody seminar this weekend.  The seminar was entitled Out of the Lab and Into the Field: Performance Dogs in the Real World and covered how to apply scientific training methods to dogs that need to perform in real-world scenarios.  The concepts of operant conditioning, stimulus control, generalization, when to shift criterion, fluency vs. proficiency, distractions, etc. were the main focus of the lectures.  Randy Hare and Lucy Newton gave a great demo with several dogs applying these concepts to scent detection work.

But I'm not going to review the material Bob and Parvene covered this weekend. This post is about what I was left feeling and thinking after this weekend, the questions I'm left with and how I'll possibly proceed.

Am I creative enough to come up with training plans tailored to each animal, specific and detailed enough to elicit only the approximations of the end behavior I'm looking for in order to get the animal their in the shortest amount of time?  Bob talked about training being a craft for most of history and not a science.  In my other hobbies (sewing, baking, gardening, etc.) I am naturally a craftsperson, I can follow a pattern or recipe very well.  I can use traditional skills and create something fairly impressive, but I am not really an artist.  I very rarely create a truly unique piece of art or anything one of a kind.  In dog training, I am very good at following a prescribed plan, the more detail the better.  But I'm not sure I can think creatively and critically enough to come up with such detail on my own.

Am I able to take enough risks ("take a flyer" as bob would say) and set the animal up for something just a little more complex than the last time?  I am a very anxious person who doesn't like change.  When I train, I tend to start out where we left off last time, or even worse a few steps behind where we left off, thus always setting us back at least a little.  I tend to stagnate at a certain level for too long, not wanting to progress too fast but end up not progressing at all.  Some days I am so paralyzed by the fear of not knowing exactly what the next step should be or not wanting to make mistakes that I don't train at all.  I know in my mind that it is worse to stall training totally rather than just get on with it and make mistakes.  Yet I have a hard time clearly defining the next steps and following through when it is not exactly spelled out.

Am I observant enough to pick up the tiny shifts in behavior required to really move forward?  I find it extremely difficult to both observe myself, my body language, cues, reward delivery, etc. AND still focus on the animal's behavior and responses well enough to deliver properly timed rewards and (importantly) NOT reward incorrect behavior.  It's a lot to keep track of all at the same time.

Bob often says something akin to "Anyone can train any dog to do anything using any method given enough time."  Do all methods work?  Yes, but not all methods work with the same speed and accuracy. This isn't my career, I don't have to produce a 100% fluent working dog in 8 weeks to make a living.  This is my hobby, if I'm not the greatest at it no one will starve.  I can take my time learning and maybe not ever be great, but my dogs and I should absolutely be enjoying it.  If we aren't there is no reason to continue doing it.

But that's no excuse to settle for sub-par training methods.  I know it is much kinder to the dog to use methods that are very clear and work relatively quickly so the dogs can have success and earn many rewards in a short time.  It isn't fun to see a dog confused and stressed because they don't know what is expected or how they can earn reinforcement.  Will I ever find myself scientifically training at 100%, tracking data, keeping myself cool and calculated during trials instead of whooping it up and hugging my dogs?  I don't think so, but I will certainly utilize the parts that make sense to me and incorporate them into my training. 

What I took away (besides about 15 hours worth of behavior theory lectures):
  • To effectively teach, you have to be ready to change your OWN behavior!
  • "What do I have" - "What do I want" = "What I need to train"
  • Get the desired behavior, then add environmental changes quickly.  After two correct responses, move on or change something, don't stall and slow down learning.  Adding distractions is really adding discrimination to the learning process, which enhances learning.
  • Before creating a training plan, clearly and objectively define the target behavior including what it will look like  and what the final cue will be.
  • In regards to conditioned reinforcement (such as a clicker) "When in doubt, leave it out!"  A lot of times a clicker simply muddies the water and removes the primary reinforcement from the behavior by one unnecessary step.
  • Once fluent, the animal should exhibit the same latency, magnitude and intensity in response to the cue as it does to the primary reinforcer.
  • You will make mistakes.  Mistakes will slow learning down.  But don't let mistakes keep you from trying new things or working to be a better trainer.
  • Do not take any training technique or advice as gospel.  Really critically analyze what you are being told, scrutinize it and decide for yourself if it passes the test of good science/advantageous for your situation.

“The master has failed more times than the beginner has even tried.”

― Stephen McCranie

Tuesday, April 28, 2015


Taco was adopted from our local Humane Society so I decided we would participate in their annual fundraising event this spring.  In the past, it was called the Mutt Strutt but our community is getting fairly well known for our spring marathon so this year it was called the IL Muttathon.  It's basically a  group dog walk followed by activities like paw painting and agility obstacles and contests like the Peanut Butter Licking Contest.  Cute! 
Taco, are you all tuckered out from fundraising?
Taco and I set our fundraising goal at $200 and we made it!  I sold dog toys and treats.  And I participated in a research project at the University.  (That's kind of my go-to  for making extra pocket money, I am an excellent human research subject!)
Taco showing off his plastic bag boot.  He cut his foot (again!) and has to be booted up for a while.
But due to the dog flu, they have postponed it.  Bummer!  And even bigger bummer, the new date is the same date as an obedience trial I've already entered Taco and Dot in.  :(  But I'm happy we set our goal and made it and will be helping out the Humane Society. 
Taco shows our house guest, Cali,where the best sunbathing opportunities are.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

2015 4-H Kick-Off

4-H Dog Training Classes have started and are busily teaching the beginners what dog training is all about and preparing the more advanced students to take their training to the next level!  The K-9 Crusaders is the name of our club and I was a member of this exact club when I was in 4-H.  Nowadays, it's what's known as a SPIN (Special Interest) Club as we focus on only one project, dogs.  In our county, there are also SPIN Clubs for baking, shooting sports, robotics, sewing, etc.  It's a great way for kids interested in a particular project to get info and hands-on instruction.

The thing I love about teaching is seeing the moment someone gets excited and genuinely clicks with a concept.  This year we have a continuing student from last year who did not want to move up to the advanced class.  I think she was comfortable being one of the "better beginners" and wasn't excited about the prospect of not being at the head of the class.  We also use mostly positive reinforcement and motivational techniques in our advanced class and she is most comfortable with more traditional chain collar corrections.  The moment I saw her correctly applying the Fenzi pocket hand to her dog, and loving the result, my heart sang!
A fellow leader teaches the Showmanship class.
Kids and animals are an awesome mix most of the time but it also has it's challenges.  In my ten years of volunteering with the club, we've had some trying times.  I don't want to gloss over these as I hope we have used them as learning experiences.  This year we had a fairly serious dog bite incident where a beginner's dog bit (and kept going for and biting) a Junior Leader who was helping the class.  I felt terrible, so upset that it had happened to a young person who was only trying to help and did nothing to provoke the attack.  I felt bad for the young handler who was upset that it happened and scared what would happen to her dog.  I felt angry at the parents, who had decided this dog was safe to bring to a class of children despite finding out later that it had a bite history with family and friends.  But animals are animals and things will happen.  We got through it, hopefully preserving the young handler's interest in dogs and training for the future.  And we learned from it, hopefully improving our process for registration, screening and intervention in years to come.

My lesson plans this year stress NOT drilling your dog, NOT rehearsing and rehashing the same old trial prep.  Training sessions should not look like the same boring string of exercises you are required to do in the competition ring.  For the most part, the class is willing to try my silly activities but I wonder what their training looks like at home.  I hope if I give them enough options, they'll find a few that they enjoy enough to do on their own.  Any suggestions?  So far we've worked in hand touches, leg weaves/recalls through the handler's legs, games/toys to end heeling without a formal halt, Janice Gunn's cookie toss games for fronts without a formal recall, and we do Shirley Chong's clicker retrieve method.

Friday, April 10, 2015

No Therapy For Us

After a few more Therapy Dog visits with Dot, it became apparent that therapy work just isn't Dot's calling.  She is a friendly dog, outgoing and willing to go and be anywhere.  She greets people.  She knows a command for go say hi and a command for resting her head on their lap.  But if were up to her, she'd spend about 10 seconds with each person and then move on!  She just wants to move, see what's next, get to the next room, smell the next hallway, see who is around the next corner.  She doesn't want to linger and let someone pet her for ages and ages.  She kind of wants to move on, which I can only imagine makes the person being visited feel left out and longing for more interaction, not exactly the feelings aTherapy Dog should bring out in people. 

When visiting nursing home patients or students stressed about finals, she is not the patient, ever-present calming force with others that she is with me.  With my husband and I, she is insistent and merciless in her quest for attention and petting.  She is the dog that nudges and rubs and forces your hand onto her.  And I thought sure she'd be that way with others, but not so.

After I had already made the decision and contacted our local therapy contact who had been supervising our visits, a friend posted a link to this blogpost.   It is so true, people want to be out with their animals, sharing them and doing good but it really is a small percentage of all dogs that actually enjoy and crave that type of activity.  While I wouldn't say the Dot didn't enjoy it at ALL, there were certainly other things she'd rather be doing if given the chance.
These two photos are examples of Dot would rather be!

Friday, March 20, 2015

2015 AKC Rally National Championship

After I decided to enter Taco in the AKC Rally National Championship, I had major butterflies and almost wanted to call it off.  But I had paid my money.  We had made hotel reservations and got someone to watch the cat and made plans.  I had hyped it up to my friends.  These are not good reasons to go, but they are reasons.
So we packed up our bags
And took the short drive to Purina Farms. (The dogs fell asleep, as usual.)
Upon arrival, the dogs enjoyed their hotel room bones.
We set up our crates (including the new quilt and matching crate tags!)
In the HUGE crating area
And got our first look at the rings
Wow, this was going to be quite a production!  Then on Friday, I tried to keep Taco's attention.
And despite being very stressed out, he was overall a very good boy.
Long story short, Taco was not ready and I knew that going in.  I don't think the experience negatively impacted him in the long run, after a couple of days he's back to his normal happy self and enjoys training just as much as he did.  But the trip wasn't his favorite experience in the world.  New places, strange dogs, off his routine, all caused a major down-shift in Taco's usual happy attitude.  He mainly wanted to spend time in his crate.  He was able to play with toys at the show site, so that was a good sign but in the ring he was stressed and moving in slow-mo.  He was so worried that he popped his elbows on BOTH down-walk arounds.  He just wasn't prepared for such a dramatic change in environment and to ask him to perform in these new and stressful surroundings was just too much.

Our scores were 78 and 71.  Overall we came in 64th out of 73 teams in novice.  Nothing to write home about.  But I feel like the experience was VERY educational.  I know a lot more about Taco now than I did before we went.  And hopefully that will help me create a plan to more adequately prepare him for travel and experiences he's likely to encounter throughout his life. 

On the way home, this happened.
So cute!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Recent crafting

Recent crafting included some dog-related fun!  In honor of attending the AKC Rally National Championship, I decided to get fancy with our show set-up.  I made quilted nameplates for both dog crates:
 Stay tuned to see the matching quilt I made to go under the crates!  That's sort of a thing here in the midwest, a quilt or special rug to go under your crating area.
And I finished the February Block of the Month from QuietPlay.  Cute little baby penguin!

Review-Blue Buffalo Wilderness Wild Bones Dental Chews

Thanks to, we got the chance to try out some Blue Buffalo Wilderness Wild Bones Dental Chews.  I was really happy to find these because most edible dental chews contain grain ingredients but these are grain free!  They also don't have any fish ingredients so perfect for Dot with all of her food sensitivities!  Taco was the first one to try them out since Dot had just had a dental cleaning and I thought her mouth and gums probably needed a little down-time before getting back into extreme chewing.
Taco tore threw the large-sized chew, first chomping it into two smaller pieces and then going to town on those.  I was a little disappointed it didn't last a little longer but Taco's super jaws extinguished this treat in around 5 minutes.  It lasted linger than a similarly sized biscuit treat so that's a plus.  He seemed to enjoy it, retreating to the back of the room so he could gnaw in peace.

I am not convinced that chews like this actually do much cleaning of the teeth but he liked it enough and it didn't upset his stomach so I'd be willing to give them both one every once in a while.  Can't hurt, but it certainly doesn't replace brushing and annual dental cleanings.

Disclosure: provided me with one package of treats to review.  I was not compensated in any other way and the opinions are all mine and the dogs'.  :) 

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Intro to nosework: Fenzi Academy class vs Leerburg DVD

Having taken the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy's Introduction to Nosework class and watched Leerburg's The Foundation of Nosework DVD, I thought I'd compare these two different training options here on the blog. I find that taking online classes at bronze is a little more immersive than just watching a DVD because you get to read the interactions with other students but at bronze, I was still only an observer.  I think these two options compare fairly well.

Both instructors (Fenzi's Margaret Simek and Leerburg's Andrew Ramsey)  emphasize commitment to odor and pinpointing location of odor.  But I found Margaret's system a LOT easier to implement in my home.  Why?

Ramsey's training starts with a "training lab", basically a lot of chests with drawers, that will be the search area for all training.  Much of the beginning of the DVD focuses on getting dogs used to this environment, getting them comfortable being assertive and sticking their noses in drawers and such.  This is before any odor is added and seemed necessary only because he sets up this sort of artificial searching area.  I don't have this set-up and there were not any other options given.  Margaret uses boxes, not a permanent training lab situation.  This was much more easily moved from place to place, I found it way easier to fit training with boxes into my life than to set up a room or even part of a room with a permanent training set-up.

Ramsey's system requires multiple people to set up the training scenarios.  One holds the dog while the other riles them up and makes the hide.  One handles the dog's line while the other moves in with the reward at source.  I don't have another handler.  I only have me!  Margaret's training program assumes only one handler.

Ramsey also uses toy-motivated dogs in the majority of the DVD.  He does have sections that address food-motivated dogs and how to condition a dog to a food tube ("Classically Conditioning Food Delivery Device" as they put it) but for the most part, instruction is given for a dog that is over-the-moon about a ball on a rope.  The dog I am working is not.  In this regard, Margaret's system works better for me right now.  But if I was working a different dog, this would not have been such an issue.  I could just as easily criticize Margaret's approach for not including options for dogs that were not food motivated.

Minor point but parts of the DVD also seemed like a commercial for the Leerburg Nosework kits.  I got my scents separately and assembled my own kit for way less money.  I like that Fenzi Academy classes don't try to sell me things.

I did a complete review of  the Fenzi Academy Introduction to Nosework Class which you can read for even more info on it.  I am now taking Dot through the Fenzi Academy Introduction to NW Search Elements, which is the next in the series but is taught by Lucy Newton.