Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Hard Realistic Expectations

 Last year I wrote on blog on how to set you and your dog up for success creating a plan that had realistic expectations.  Jump over here to read it, before reading this post! This post will continue on from there.

Having Realistic Expectations is HARD

If you read the post linked above, you'll know just how important it is to set realistic expectations based on what your starting point is now. You'll also know that there is no exact timeline that works for every dog so it's impossible to say that a 6 month old dog should be able to do XYZ behaviors in all environments with unlimited distractions. 

If you've followed any of my posts either in this blog or on social media, you know I always talk about Crazy Canine Adolescents and how unpredictable this age is for the dog and their owners. That 6 month old dog, is just entering adolescence and about to start developing rapidly physically, emotionally, and socially. Plus that adolescent dog is going to go through several periods where impulse control and self regulation seem to fly out the window.

This is where it becomes really challenging to have realistic expectations! 

Belle is currently 7 months old when I write this. In many ways she is excelling in my plans for training, often seeming to be way ahead of the game and smashing goal, after goal, after goal. In most ways she is doing so well that when she begins to struggle it throws me for a loop!

Last week was a particularly barky week. I'm not sure if there was something going on brain development wise, or my work schedule didn't fit her needs schedule, or I was simply expecting too much of her in certain situations. Needless to say she barked often and for long periods at some points and I was increasingly frustrated. Barking is one of those behaviors that triggers me emotionally. I'm fine with the bark when it happens due to a distraction entering the environment. 

Belle likes to bark as soon as she sees a person outside, then I she rushes to my side and watch calmly together. That's a 1-2 bark and done situation and I can handle that. But if that distraction is a friend of hers, or a dog she wants to make into a friend that barking doesn't stop. This is more of a high arousal barking that is begging for play time. This barking drives me insane!

Belle sometimes helps with clients in the training room and sometimes she hangs out in the office. And if she's in the office she was getting really good at barking a moment when a client first came in the door, then quieting down and relaxing in the office. But last week she couldn't do that! Every time a client came in she barked non-stop. It didn't matter if I let her out to see the client or kept her in the office, Belle just kept barking. I couldn't talk or even hear myself think. One time another client that lives nearby and has a dog that Belle loves stopped by while I was with a client and I begged him to take Belle to his house for a bit just to stop the barking. Thankfully he did!

So at some point I need to determine is the barking due to me having unrealistic expectations or is there something we need to add to our training plan to modify the behavior or do I need to do a better job of making sure Belle's needs are met before a client appointment.

This is where realistic expectations become hard!

Depending on the trainer you talk to and their ethical philosophy, some trainers will say that most dogs grow out of "IT" (name the crazy adolescent behavior) while many others will state that dogs will not grow out of IT! That is the kind of black and white thinking that I try really hard to avoid. No one can say for sure if a challenging behavior is going to be a lifelong issue or something that is temporary due to the ever changing adolescent brain.

I know that barking is Belle's default behavior. She does this behavior whenever she doesn't know what else to do. It doesn't matter if she's nervous, excited, frustrated, in high arousal, etc.  Whenever she escalates emotionally, barking happens. I'm pretty sure that's not something she is going to grow out of. 

That is where it's important to set up of for success with training plans that help Belle learn about her ever changing world through environmental processing and help her learn to control her arousal with self regulation. And that is exactly where it is important for me as Belle's human to set up training to support her, management to prevent rehearsal of the behavior I want to go away, avoid putting her in situations she can't yet handle, and making sure her needs are met before we do any type of separation activity as that is where the barking is happening most frequently.

Taking a look at what has changed recently that could be causing the more frequent behavior.

Sometimes we forget that there might be underlining causes related to the challenging behavior we are struggling with. Often there is more to the behavior that just what is happening in that moment. A few weeks ago Belle could easily stay in the office while I ran an errand or worked with a client with some but not alot of barking. And now she can't!  So what has happened during that time?

Well, to start, Azul hasn't been feeling well so I've been working a bit harder to meet his needs by taking solo walks, ATV rides, and other fun outings. Belle has stayed in the office a more than normal, stayed home with Dad (a whole different challenge) a bit more than normal. And we've been working to get Belle comfortable staying with my friend and his dogs so that she can stay with them during an upcoming medical appt for Azul. Before this she would stay in the office fine, but adding in staying home with Daddy and staying at my friend's house with and without me has increased the amount of time she is away from me.

Also during this time, Belle has been learning to pay attention to the medical needs that I often ignore. She is doing both morning and evening medicine reminders now and has even done 3 migraine alerts despite the fact that I haven't started training that scent yet. This increased attention to my medical needs is likely impacting her desire to be with me more and dislike separation more. This is something that many Service Dogs and Service Dogs in Training Struggle with as they often spend so much time with their person and so little time away from their person. This is something that I help other people train around, but it's not something in Belle's current training plan because I didn't expect it to be a probably. We worked on as a puppy, but I didn't expect it to come back. That's a huge oversight on my part!

Figuring out what is causing the change in behavior or the increase in the frequency of the behavior is the first step in coming up with successful solutions to the problem. Often the process of figuring out the cause helps us to become more understanding of the emotional struggles of our dog. And that often leads to our understanding of what is a realistic expectation for our dog in this point in life.

Penelope V. Yorke — 'Knowledge is the key to understanding, understanding is the key to achieving, and achieving is the key to becoming.'

This quote also applies to challenging behaviors that we are struggling with. When we know the cause of the behavior, we understand the dog's needs that are being missed, and when we focus on taking care of that need we can see the behavior changing more rapidly.

BUT! When is the behavior setting in and becoming a challenge that is going to be an ongoing struggle?

At some point if the behavior is ignored too long, the management is not being used, the dog is able to rehearse the behavior often, and the training that leads to change is not being done...the behavior becomes a habit or a way of getting something accomplished.

Dogs don't do any behavior simply because they know we like it or hate it. Dogs do what works! Every behavior has a purpose behind the behavior. In animal science terms behaviors are described in an ABC pattern. Antecedent is the thing that happens before the behavior. Behavior is what the animal does. And Consequence is what happens after the animal does the behavior. 

Many force free trainers are unhappy with the wording of "consequence" because to many people that implies something negative. But in this situation, it could be negative or positive.

For example, a scared dog barks at the human or dog approaching them. That human or dog then backs off, not wanting to experience conflict with the dog. The scared dog then learns that barking and acting like a jerk keeps threats away so they repeat it whenever that scared emotion hits them. Barking in this situation becomes a learned survival mechanism.

Belle's barking is communication begging me to come be closer to her. Often she barks and I go to her...she learns that persistent barking gets my attention.

Is that what I want her to learn? NO But at the same time, I don't want her to be practicing the behavior of barking and I don't want her to live in that heighten state of emotional chaos for long either. So what is the solution?

Look at my management and how I can set up Belle for success to prevent her from feeling the need to be near me non-stop. Responding to Belle sooner vs later at least prevents the rehearsal of repetitive barking, which also lowers her emotional state much faster as well. I'm not going to let her just cry it out and learn that I won't respond to her needs. So I'm going to keep going to her or reassuring her through the door if and when the barking is occurring. But I'm also going to do my best to prevent that barking in the first place with better management.

Step 1: Make sure Belle's physical, emotional, and social needs are met before she needs to stay alone in the office or with another person.

Step 2: Make sure I have enrichment she loves set up in the area she will need to stay without me. And make sure I have a calming sound playing during this time as that seems to help her as well. She loves listening to Andy Hale videos on YouTube while I'm with a client! I think it sounds much like a Zoom meeting that I often do and she lays calmly at my side. And Andy Hale has the calmest of voices while talking!

Step 3: Schedule more playdates with friends right before I have clients or visits to friends houses during my client sessions so that Belle spends less time in the office during this challenging time in her life.

And most importantly! I need to remind myself to have realistic expectations for a 7 month old Crazy Canine Adolescent who is doing their very best to be successful in the world that I place them in.

Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Patreon Membership


Why Should You Join The Yooper Paws Patreon Memberships?

I created Patreon to help dog owners who live outside of driving range to the Yooper Paws Training Center. I tried several other platforms and ways to arrange content in a way that makes it easy for dog owners to find the information they need and Patreon does that. Now I have so much great content on Patreon that many of my local clients also join for additional support.

At Yooper Paws of Love, our mission is to help dog owners and dogs to develop teamwork skills in a way that will help their day to day life. We believe that for the most part, all dog owners LOVE their dog and want to do what is best for them. Yet the amount of training info out there that actually hurts more then helps is enormous. Therefore we want to teach people how they can be successful with training their dog to live a safe, calm, and happy life in their family.

Our mission is to help owners and dogs be successful! 
Success looks different for every family and every household therefore we strive to make sure that we have resources available that everyone can afford. And Patreon Membership is definitely our cheapest option! To achieve this mission, we have some FREE content that is available to everyone who signs up as a FREE Member. This includes

Yooper Paws Updates: A monthly update of things that are happening locally and virtually.
FAD Workshops from years 1, 2, and 3 that help you learn how to teach dogs to focus more on YOU than the distractions in the environment.  In this series, you basically watch Azul grow up as year one he was a young adolescent and year 2 just at the end of adolescents and year 3 he settled into his adult self. This collection offers nearly 15 hours of video content to help dog owners.

The Canine Car Club is a podcast series that helps you teach your dog how to feel safe, calm, and happy in the car reducing fear and over excitement with practice exercises that you can do while you listen to the podcasts in your car.

Creating a Calm Christmas is a 12 post series designed to help you prepare your pets for big holiday events and larger family gatherings. While we reference Christmas often as this collection was released in December, the skills apply to all holidays, large family events such as picnics and reunions, camping trips, and vacations. Basically any time your schedule is going to be different and BIG things will be happening, you can set your dog up for success with the info in this free collection.

Paid Memberships

If you are looking for more detailed info to help with a behavioral problem you are having or teach a specific skill, the paid memberships mix written content with live zoom sessions and text based support from quality Canine Coaches. The Crazy2Calm Canine Coaches help me watch the chat groups and provide support for those in the paid memberships which means you not only get my advice but you also have access to other trainers around the US & Brazil. Here are the paid memberships.

Play With a Purpose is an all new membership designed to help dog owners learn to play in a ways that teach dogs how to think through excitement and build skills that help in every day life. It's divided into 4 different sections; Training with Tug, Balls with a Brain, Playing with Enrichment, and Playing with Your Food. Since this is a new membership will start in June 2024 with posts focused on Tug which can be used to teach dogs to have a gentle mouth, keep mouths off humans, trade for something better, and much more. July will focus on ball play. August will focus on enrichment, & September will focus on Food Games. After that all four sections will be available for members to review at their convenience. This membership is extremely beneficial for people with new puppies or first time dog owners but also a good choice for people that want to learn about having more fun with their dog. The membership costs $6 per month and you can stay as long as you want and leave whenever you want.

Helping Fearful Dogs Feel Safe is my entry level membership for those with dogs that display fearful or fizzy (over-excited) behaviors such as barking, lunging, kangaroo jumping, or other big behaviors when something new enters the environment such as people, dogs, and wildlife. In this membership there is a 2 hr instruction video to get you started with helping your dog regulate their emotions. In addition to addressing fears, this membership also includes skills such as leash manners, exit strategies, and games based training to build confidence. This membership is also $6 per month. If you search for other classes based on helping reactive dogs, you'll likely find prices from $500-3,000! Yes, those can be excellent classes but we realize that many people simply can't afford that and helping these dogs learn to feel safe is our passion.  This program comes from the heart and we will do our best to continue to add content that will help all dog owners with fearful and fizzy dogs.

Turning Struggles Into Strengths Membership combines 2 Collections in a massive support program for people who are struggling with a wide variety of common challenges. To start with the Challenging Behaviors Collection is a video workshop based learning with over 12 hrs of videos that work through a wide variety of foundation topics that be applied to most behavior challenges. Then this year we are getting more detailed by creating workshops and additional resources that focus on a specific behavior.  We started with leash manners and will be working through struggles with resource guarding, separation anxiety, jumping on guests, barking caused be fear and barking caused by excitement, and so forth. This membership tier is part of our step up program so it also includes the Helping Fearful Dogs Feel Safe Collection. You can get all of this great content for just $10 per month. Again you can start whenever you want and leave when you're ready. So if you did just 3 months of the membership you could do most of the content already there for a cost of $30 and opt out. But this is also the membership that continues to expand so most people enjoy this membership much longer.

The Trainer in Your Pocket Membership is our top level tier! For just $16 a month you have access to all the resources in every collection offered! Play With a Purpose, Helping Fearful Dogs Feel Safe, The Challenging Behaviors Workshops, & the Turning Struggles into Strengths Collection. Plus you get excellent support from Canine Coaches! There is a group chat available to ask questions, a monthly live Q&A session where you can ask questions and submit videos to be review. And you can send direct messages to Canine Coaches that will be responded to that day. This could cost thousands of dollars with other trainers, but we are trying to make this affordable for everyone! For many dog owners, $16 a month is manageable compared to up front costs starting in the $1,000 range.

All of our Patreon Support is designed to help you and your dog grow as a team by playing games together that can be applied to every day life experiences. We realize that most dog owners are used to more traditional training where dogs are given orders that they must comply with. Our resources are designed to help dog owners transition from that old school methodology to one based on love and compassion, using training to teach our dogs how to be successful in life by making good choices, seeking support from their human, and learning to be safe in the environment. If you want to enhance your relationship with your dog, then you're in the right place!

We encourage you to join as a free member and check out the content there first, then look at what you really need help with the most and how much time you can commit right now to help your dog. Then if you still are unsure of which membership is right for you, reach out to us for a FREE 15 min phone call where we can point you down the path that will help you the most based on your needs.

Online Dog Training Works!
Affordable Dog Training Should Be Available To Everyone!

Friday, March 22, 2024

Play with a Purpose

Announcing the new Play With a Purpose Mini-Class!

I created this class with puppies in mind, focusing on games for 4-10 months old dogs. Really it's fitting for all ages and skills!
Play With a Purpose is a 4 week Mini-Class designed to teach owners how to get more from play then only a physical workout for the dog. 

Let's face it, we all love to play! And the exercise we all get during play is good for all of us. But unstructured play can create its own problems including the dog learning lessons we sometimes wish they didn't learn. Pick practically any game or activity out there and you can find both pros & cons for that game. It's nearly impossible for dog owners to know all the facts and develop play skills that actually set their puppy up to succeed.

That's where I come in! Over the last 30+ years I've learned a ton about playing with dogs. How I play with Azul & Belle now is nothing like how I played with my first few dogs. Now my games exercise the body, soul, and mind helping to enrich everyone's life.

The Play With a Purpose Class is designed to share my years of experience with you so that you can learn to play with your dog in ways that help you grow your relationship, learn valuable life skills, and avoid creating unnecessary problems.

The next In-Person Class begins April 25th at 6PM! 

A virtual mini-workshop will be available soon as well!

Please email me at yooperpaws@gmail.com if you'd like to be placed on the waiting list for either class.

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Clear Communication

 What are you asking your dog to DO? Do they understand?

The flip side of that is, what are they asking you to do? Do you understand them?

We ended the February 2023 discussion with developing Conversation Starters for training sessions. Check back to read that blog and others surrounding the topic of the month for February: Focus on Behaviors here. 

Once the conversation has started, it's important to make sure everyone involved is comprehending the discussion. We all know that when dogs talk to other dogs, they are not exactly speaking English! Human speech is not the native language for our furry friends. You may have seen some dogs that seem to understand hundreds of words, but I can guarantee they didn't start that way as a puppy. 

Here is short exert from our "Building a Better Bond Workshop" on the lesson that discusses cues:

We all use different types of cues whether we realize it or not. Verbal cue words (some call these commands), hand signals, body language, and environmental cues. And of course all of these cues have a time and place for team effectiveness. I think of everyone in my house as team members, people & dogs (other animals too) who work together towards the best possible life for all of us. Don't get me wrong, none of us are perfect and we don't live in total harmony but that's my goal.

In the dog training world, most of us think in verbal cues. Think of "sit" for example. This is one of the first things we teach a puppy. But do we just say the verbal cue and hope our puppy responds? No way, not at first! We use body language to lure the puppy into a sitting position & reward. Now most of us probably say the verbal cue as the pup sits and rewards when the action is complete. Thus teaching the pup to do the action. It doesn't take long to teach a hand signal and verbal cue to this action because puppies are sponges soaking it all up quickly. But what varies from that point is what does your pup learn first, the verbal cue or the hand signal, AND which is more important for that particular action? That's what this week's lesson is about.

Verbal cues can be difficult for me at times but I pick my commands with my speech problems in mind while I am planning for training. I have hand signs for most of my cues in case my voice doesn’t cooperate. I have a few environmental cues such as Lilly will sit instead of chasing small animals when she spots them before I do. She also sits for a leash and waits in the car until leashed.

One of the biggest issues I see as a dog trainer is when the human believes a dog should now a specific word, but instead the dog learned a different cue. For example, many of ask our dog to sit at the door before we let them outside or sit before we put their meal down. (See my recent blog on Routines!) We may think the dog is listening to the verbal cue in that context, yet the dog has learned an environmental cue such as, "when the human puts on her shoes and stands by the door, I'm supposed to sit by the door." This is called an environmental cue when the place the behavior happens or something is added to the environment that tells the dog what behavior they can do to earn reinforcement. My dogs easily know that I always use the bathroom before going out to play, but we don't always go out to play every time I use the bathroom. They have learned that some other environmental cues impact the outcome.  For example if I put shoes or a hat on before using the bathroom, we are likely going outside to potty, play, or go for a car ride. Since humans generally rely more on verbal context, we simply assume they know the word we are giving them for a cue. 

Speaking Dog!

I often get asked if I speak to animals and/or do animals speak to me.  This is trick question in my mind.  It's not that I'm psychic and reading the mind of the dog in front of me. But a dog's body language can tell us a whole ton about how they are feeling, what they want most in that moment, and what behaviors they enjoy vs do simply because we ask them to do it. Dogs mostly speak with their body and I've learned ways to communicate using my body language to ask the dog if they will do a certain behavior. 

Many dog owners use hand signals, whether they do it intentionally or not. Have you ever watched someone who talks with their hands?  Lots of owners give their dog a specific hand signal for simple behaviors such as sit or down without even thinking about it. As a Canine Coach, my goal is to help dog owners THINK about it! When we examine our body language, it can be easy to see if we are giving clear communication signals or sending mixed messages.

Azul learned early on that my words easily get messed up! I might tell him to go left when I really want him to go right or vice versa. When my words get messed up, it's part of the vocabulary center of my brain and I can't really fix that as it's disability related. However, my body language is not carried out by the same part of the brain. Basically, it was much easier to teach my arms and hands to give left/right cues then it was to teach my mouth. 

Often dog owners will ask, "How come my dog will do it for you, but they won't do it for me?" That answer is simple! I've spent years paying attention to subtle body movements that I do when I'm around dogs. Originally the intent was to train my dogs to respond without verbal cues. But the skill surpassed that into being what dog trainers refer to as "good mechanics" that makes learning so much easier for the dogs. I often teach owners how to mirror my body language. The problem then becomes, what comes natural for me, isn't always natural for others. So once an owner learns the concept of clear communication through body language, they can change the body language cues to whatever is more natural for them. 

With all the dogs I've trained, I've only seen about 5 different hand signals or sit. Many were formed based on how the owner holds a treat when they want the dog to sit and a few others were more creative based on ASL or some other language known by humans. My son went through a stage where all his hand signals were based on common Star Trek hand positions. Our family loves the Vulcan hand gesture for "Live Long & Prosper!" I still struggle with delivering that signal naturally. LOL

Clear Communication

The bottom line is dogs learn more quickly when we use clear communication. Whether we teach them verbal cues, hand/body cues, or environmental cues doesn't really matter. The best dog trainers & owners often use all 3 types of cues, just not perhaps for all the same behaviors. For example, I have a verbal cue and hand signal cue for sit, down, and stay. Often I give both signals at the same time, but sometimes I will only use one or the other. 

I often encourage my advanced training clients to test which type of signal their dog responds to more quickly and more reliably. This can totally depend on the situation and distractions present when testing the cue. For example, when Azul really wanted to chase a bunny this morning, he was not hearing my verbal cues, nor was he looking at my body to get signals there. I used an environmental cue that I've conditioned and relied on heavily to clearly communicate that I was not going in the bushes the bunny had just fled. Most of you know Azul always wears a harness and if we are on a casual sniff-a-bout I only clip the leash to the back clip so Azul knows he has freedom to move around and sniff. But if/when I need him to slide into work mode, I use a dual clip set up with the leash clipped to the back of the harness and also clipped to the front of the harness or his collar. So when the bunny jumped out in front of us, I quickly reeled Azul in, bringing the leash in short and placing his front clip on. This told Azul it was time to work and although he really didn't want to work because the bushes were too distracting, he knew that we were going to start walking the other direction. In this situation Azul's eyes and ears were too distracted to listen to any other cue, but his body still had to pay attention to the way the leash was connected to him.

I've relied heavily on environmental cues while training Azul. Belle is not there yet! To her all environments are overstimulating so she is not in a place to learn which environments have what type of expectations for behavior. With Belle I use way more verbal and body language cues at the moment.  One of the biggest body cues I use is hand targets. Belle knows to watch my hands and if my hand drops to her level, she is supposed to touch her nose to my hand. Since she knows this signal so well, I've been able to use to teach heel, recall, and many other behaviors without adding the cues. I will eventually add verbal cues to those behaviors, but I don't want to overwhelm her puppy brain by adding too many cued behaviors at once.

Hand targets is often one of the first things I teach all my clients! It's the first step in developing clear communication that both humans and dogs understand.

If you'd like to learn more about clear communication, send me an email and I'll send you the entire lesson on Cues from the Building a Better Bond Workshop! You can request this for free by email to yooperpaws@gmail.com.

Hard Realistic Expectations

 Last year I wrote on blog on how to set you and your dog up for success creating a plan that had realistic expectations.  Jump over here to...