Alena has been training professionally since 2000, specializing in working with animals who suffer from chronic fear or aggression. She completed her primary TAGteach certification in March 2010, and graduated from the Karen Pryor Academy for Animal Training & Behavior in 2012. In addition to teaching training classes at CIA, Alena presents educational seminars on behavior modification and pet nutrition.

Why I Plan for Failure

One of the great precepts of clicker training is to set the training subject up for success. As a trainer, you never want to put your dog (or other trainee) in a situation she’s not ready for, or ask her to perform a task she might fail. Failure isn’t instructive for the learner, and it can be very frustrating, which can be a major setback to your training.

But just because we don’t make failure a part of the training process doesn’t mean it’s not on our minds. Anything can happen in real life — unforeseen distractions, accidents, equipment failure and numerous other complications can interfere with our plans. We have to have a contingency plan in case something goes wrong. This is why we train fail-safe behaviors! Continue reading

Music and Memory: Classical Conditioning in Real Life, part 3

This entry is part 3 of 3 in the series Music and Memory

Last time I shared examples of an extremely aversive experience poisoning what had once been a pleasant, rewarding behavior. So when something outside of your control goes wrong, how likely is it to destroy the behavior you’ve trained? Continue reading

Music and Memory: Classical Conditioning in Real Life, part 1

This entry is part 1 of 3 in the series Music and Memory

Have you ever heard a particular piece of music, or smelled a certain scent, and had a powerful emotional response that you couldn’t quite explain? Well, it happens to everyone – even your pets – and it’s how your brain is hard-wired. Continue reading

The Importance of Precise Feedback – or, “Stupid Human, You’re Doing It Wrong”

I experienced a little reminder today of why we try to practice “clean” training – clicking without extraneous movements, words or signals that distract the dog or telegraph that a treat is coming. It’s important that the clicker be the most salient signal that reinforcement is on its way; otherwise, our training becomes less precise as the dog begins listening for the rustle of the treat bag or watching for our hands to move instead of paying attention to when we click. A clicker-savvy dog can also become very frustrated or confused if they aren’t getting the feedback they need. Continue reading

Why We Teach House Manners — Or, Good Training Should Be Idiot-Proof

Like many dog owners, I’ve gotten spoiled by having a mature, well-trained dog in the house. Naturally, when we first bring home a new member of the family, we are obsessed with teaching all sorts of critical foundation skills (targeting, door and leash manners, handling exercises, and so on). But once those initial behaviors are in place, we give them little thought because we’re too busy focusing on performance behaviors, or working skills, or the next cute pet trick — whatever our particular venue may be.

What this means is that once I’ve taught my dog the way I need her to comport herself in the house, I get lazy. I do things I would never think of doing with a novice dog. And fortunately, our style of training holds up brilliantly in real-life situations — which, as a matter of fact, is why I still have the load of groceries I bought tonight.

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It’s Spring in Indiana

In Indiana, our calendar has months like the rest of the world, but they’re called January, February, Mud, Tornadoes, Welcome Race Fans, June, July… The month known as April in other places is characterized here by severe thunderstorms and tornadoes, which is not only murder on dogs with thunder phobias (like my Valenzia), but means that occasionally, you might need a rubber raft to get to the mailbox.
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At the Dentist: Thoughts on Reinforcement Delivery

English: Title: "The bath". Dog dres...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last night, I was compelled by a strong odor to give one of my Dobermans, Valenzia, a bath. Those of you who have seen Valenzia in action or read about her know that she is kind of an anxious dog — as in, wound so tight she makes a Slinky look downright relaxed. Fortunately, she is also very food-motivated, so bath time — once a terrifying, stressful experience — is now just the occasional unpleasant interlude that she has learned to barter for cookies.

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