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

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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Storm Watch & Success, Part 5 – Drugs & Alternative Therapies

This entry is part 5 of 7 in the series Storm Watch

You’ve tried everything — desensitization, counter-conditioning, safe places, and more — and it’s not enough? Or you know your panicked dog needs relief now while you start other protocols? Here are some more tools to consider.

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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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Silly Pet Tricks 102

I brought home a hula hoop a couple of weeks ago.  Valenzia was a little shy of it; she didn’t seem to like the shoop-shoop sound the sand made, nor the fact that it swung around in a wide arc that barred her from Mommy (me).  I didn’t want my dog to be uncomfortable with the hoop, and one of the best ways I’ve found to counter-condition a “scary” object is to turn it into a training target.

I’ve posted before about using shaping games and silly tricks to foster creativity or take the edge off a wired dog’s energy.  Since I was doing a few minutes of shaping anyway, I figured I could use our short training session for the next video installment.  So, here it is! Continue reading

Preparing Your Dog for Veterinary Visits

I learned a few days ago that Spica, my lovable-but-not-too-bright younger Doberman, has damaged her ACL. This isn’t really a surprise; Spica is a career runner who chases squirrels up and down the fenceline and spins in circles barking at them for about six hours each day, so her legs are under constant strain. In addition to the dog’s confinement and treatment (and her owner’s possible loss of sanity, living with a dog who isn’t allowed to run for six weeks!), this injury means that we’re likely to be seeing more of our veterinarian than usual.

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