Puppies and Imagination

Do dogs and other animals have imagination?

While scientists now agree that animals are conscious (duh!) and many or most agree they are sentient, it’s harder to say how much creative and meta-thinking animals might do. We can listen to a human child tell us a silly story he’s invented, but the language barrier makes it harder for a young animal to do the same. Take away a common language, and would we think an other-speaking child incapable of inventing the story, just because we can’t hear him tell it?

We know animals can think creatively for problem-solving; it’s one of the aspects we treasure about clicker training in particular, this encouragement of creative and analytic thinking in our learners. But I hadn’t thought much on if or how animals use imagination on their own. I’m a storyteller, but only for my own species. I mean, a game of keepaway can be just as fun if it’s a piece of wood or some faux treasure, because the game is in the chase, right? When we play tug, it’s a fun game whether we’re pulling on a rope or a freshly killed caribou. Imagination isn’t a clear component. Continue reading

17 Essentials: My Shopping Haul for New Puppy Gear

Beagle puppy

Not my puppy. But darned cute. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What does a professional trainer buy for a new puppy? I already have a full complement of Kong toys and other standards, but you can always use a few new items. And sometimes there’s a special gap that needs to be filled — like during travel.

(By the way, I’m not really trying to be coy when I only say “puppy” in this post; at this time of this writing, I actually don’t even know the puppy’s gender yet. I will happily introduce you all when things are settled.)

array of puppy gear on wooden table

some of the shopping haul

Bringing home this puppy is a bit more complicated than usual — we’re flying back from Europe. So not only do I have to travel with a puppy, hotels and all, but I have to keep it happy — or at least quiet — for 10 hours in a pressurized tube.

So, how does one plan for that? Here’s what I pulled out of storage, dusted off, or purchased new for the trip. Continue reading

Mindy-Penny and the Return to Ordinary Life

This entry is part 25 of 25 in the series Service Dog Training

So Penny, née Mindy, is a pet dog now. Aside from the obvious things like no longer accompanying us into restaurants, church, grocery stores, etc., her life has changed in other subtle ways. Like, I can feed her what I want now, instead of sticking to a national brand available at any big box store. And she can have treats beyond her strict diet, like popcorn which falls on the floor during game night, which she previously had to ignore.

This has been a rougher transition than you would think. But really fun. Continue reading

The Training Game and What It Teaches: The Rat Is Always Right

Many clicker trainers are familiar with what is almost universally known by the ridiculously simple name of The Training Game. It’s a shaping game played among humans, and most often a learner is sent from the room while the group determines a (physically and socially safe) behavior to shape, and then a trainer shapes the learner with the clicker to perform the chosen behavior.

There are a number of variations on this game, many useful. The trainer (and observers) can learn a great deal by doing this! and it’s a great way to test various training concepts and approaches. There is a variation I have not used in nearly a decade, however, with good reason: It broke the learner.

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Puppy’s First Tornado – Preparedness for Pets

This entry is part 7 of 7 in the series Storm Watch
Tornado warning

Tornado warning (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Spring came very late to Indiana this year, and I got complacent. With a lot fewer spring storms, I didn’t prep for tornados like I should have. So when the warning sirens went off a few minutes ago and I saw that a tornado had been sighted, I was unprepared.

This is dumb. If you’re lucky, you get up to half an hour of tornado warning, if it’s considerate enough to touch down at a distance and with an observable and predictable path. The average warning time with today’s radar equipment is about 13 minutes, according to NOAA. But you might have just a few minutes, if that.

So I’m writing this post from my basement, waiting for the tornado to pass (it seems to be heading north of us) and making plans to improve my storm preparations. Continue reading

Clicker Expo and After

This entry is part 12 of 25 in the series Service Dog Training

What a week! Mindy and I traveled to Clicker Expo in Norfolk, Virginia, and because I didn’t want to fly her, we drove. It wasn’t a bad drive, about 12 hours, and I broke it up into two days with a bit of hiking each way.

“Not a Real Service Dog”

On the way down, we had our first access trouble ever, when Mindy and I were ejected from a hotel after we were checked in due to her not being a “real service dog.” Continue reading

The First Day is a Big Day

This entry is part 3 of 25 in the series Service Dog Training
Yes, your face WILL stick like that.

Yes, your face WILL stick like that.

A California puppy haiku:

Snow is weird and cold.
OMG! You can eat it!
Ow-wow-wow brain freeze.

Due to a lucky “break” in our cold snap, Mindy experienced only a 70-degree drop in temperature when we arrived home late Monday night. I took her out to urinate on the new paving stones installed for her toilet (GDB puppies learn to urinate on concrete, for the easy of urban work later) and watched it freeze beneath her. Brr! 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

When You Should NOT Socialize Your Dog — Part 2

This entry is part 2 of 2 in the series When You Should NOT Socialize
hand reaching for snarling dog

“It’s okay — if enough people pet him he’ll get used to people, right?”
(copyright Fotalia, photo purchased for use)

So all that chat in Part 1 about how to avoid creating problems while socializing a puppy was nice, but you’ve got an adult dog — and whether you made some socialization mistakes or whether you inherited a bad socialization legacy along with the dog, things just aren’t the way they should be. Is there hope?

Yes, of course there’s hope! But again, here is where mistakes happen in the name of “socialization.” Don’t make them.

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What A Blind Dog Sees, Part 1

This entry is part 1 of 2 in the series What A Blind Dog Sees
Inky, in early stages of illness, before much hair loss or blindness

Inky, in early stages of illness, before much hair loss or blindness

Inky, my husband’s dog, is blind.  She wasn’t born this way; in fact, this is a fairly recent development for her, thanks to a very rare and unusual autoimmune disorder.  We noticed her holding her head oddly one night, but thought it was just the light.  By the time we realized she was having trouble seeing, it was progressing very fast.  We estimate she lost most of her vision within two weeks.

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