Friday, August 5, 2022

Train Smarter Not Harder

Whether you're starting out with a new puppy, trying to survive the adolescent or teenager phase, or have an adult dog, it's very easy to get caught up in the thought that you need to train your dog more.  Most dog trainers will admit they spend so much time training other people's dogs that they skip formal training with their own dogs.  As a lover of intelligent dogs, you'd think I spend a huge chunk of time training my dogs.  NOT

Then you have the common issue of people only seek out training help when their dog has 1 or more behaviors that the owner or family doesn't like.  Maybe the dog barks & lunges at strangers or pulls to greet them over enthusiastically, both of which are unsafe for the stranger and the owner holding the leash.

This is just a guess, speaking from experience, but I believe most trainers spend less time "training" their dog simply because they know from the beginning what canine behaviors they want from their dog and teach them those good behaviors make great things happen.  Most trainers are also very skilled at managing the environment, creating boundaries where needed, to prevent their new dogs from practicing unwanted behaviors in the first place.  For example if your dog loves to countersurf, putting up a gate to keep them out of the kitchen can prevent the dog from perfecting their skill in that department. With puppies I restrict their movement inside the house with closed doors and gates, slowly increasing access as they learn to leave people items alone.  Early management can make a huge difference in the amount of training you need to do in the future!

It's all about training proactively instead of reactively.  As a former dog rescue trainer and working with clients who often wait till their dog is driving them crazy to get help, I've seen and dealt with almost every dog behavior out there.  The behavior is the action the dog is doing, not a definition of who the dog is or can become.  Putting a label on a behavior, such as REACTIVE, can actually cause more harm than good when it comes to how we think about and conduct training.  Often we use the terminology "the dog is reactive" to describe seeing behaviors such as barking, lunging, pulling, and/or jumping on other people or dogs.  The trouble is calling them "reactive" doesn't tell us how to proceed with training.  

While some trainers set out to "train a behavior out of them" that is not how I want to treat me dogs or any animal.  This implies that we are punishing or correcting the dog for the rude behaviors.  Instead I focus on WHY the dog is doing the most cases it's either fear based or over-excitement based, both of which involve an emotional response.  If a dog finds that new person scary, their nervous system goes into fight or flight impulse, either trying to run away or trying to scare that object away from us both of which increases the distance between frightened dog and the perceived intruder.  If the dog finds that new person mega exciting their emotions sky-rocket to a point that they are no longer able to regulate their impulsive behavior, again this often leads to an increased distance between the dog and the distraction as the owner tries to escape the situation.

In both reactive situations, our training sessions should be designed around teaching the dog better cooping skills.  We can teach them to process the environment more fully to increase their feeling of safety.  And we can teach them to process their social emotions more effectively.  Both will lead to a calmer and happy dog and owner!  Then once their emotions are not running away with their impulsiveness, we can teach them the behaviors we do want in those situations including proper greetings or a "safe" behavior that helps dog know their owner will advocate for them.  Azul being super social and loving people interactions had to learn behaviors for proper greetings.  Cam on the other hand was never going to be happy with random strangers petting him so instead he learned that if he was in a heel (our default position) that I would not let random people reach toward him.  This allowed him to hit a point where he will gladly step into the heel position when he feels nervous for any reason.  We also trained an emergency sitting position for times when a stray dog was running our way.  So Cam automatically heels when he sees the dog, then if the dog comes to close he sits which allows me to then step between him and the dog no matter which direction the dog is coming from.  Cam holds his sit while I block the dog therefore Cam rarely barks or lunges at another person or dog because he simply doesn't need to anymore.

In this theme of "Train Smarter, Not Harder!" I'm going to be addressing how you can teach concepts like environmental processing, social processing, self regulation, increased impulse control, and hopefully get all the way to a post or two on intelligent disobedience.  Subscribe to this blog in the right hand column so you can be sure to learn about easier ways to train your dog!

Want to learn more about helping your dog feel safe?

T-Touch is rapidly growing in popularity!  I'm learning more about how it works and hope to one day be a certified T-Touch Trainer.

Sunday, July 31, 2022

Independently Training Your Service Dog


I have a page on this site filled with SD Tips with links to the laws involving Service Dogs (SD) and various training.  For this blog I want to focus more on some of the personal experiences and hardships that happen when you are disabled enough to need a Service Dog yet want to do the daily care and training yourself.  If you follow any of my social media pages & groups, you'd know that I speak with lots of other SD Handlers around the world and I see many of the same struggles over and over.

Self Doubt

One of the biggest challenges is often getting past the personal struggle of doubting if a Service Dog is really needed.  For years the thought was you had to be blind or in a wheelchair to qualify for your dog.  It seems that it's only been common to use a SD for other disabilities for the last 5-10 yrs.  In fact the Federal Law that covers Service Dogs and defines what a disability means in order to qualify for a SD, the American with Disabilities Act (ADA), was signed into law 32 years ago.  It often takes a very long time for a person to admit that they are disabled enough to benefit from the use of a SD in day to day life.  Often times the individual lacks support from 1 or more family members that makes them have self doubt all the more.  Then the interactions with the general public any time you leave the house with your SD adds to this self doubt yet again.  I struggled with this really hard for about a year and still every now and then if I've been having a run of good health I wonder if I really need Azul with me everywhere.

Daily Care

In my opinion, starting with a young puppy is the best way to ensure success in training a Service Dog.  However, many disabled people (including myself) struggle with being able to care for a young pup and adolescent dog that is not yet fully trained.  Costs for routine care are often more then an individual can afford.  A dog has to have certain needs met before you can train them to do anything; food, water, shelter, going out to potty, exercise, enrichment activities, mental all adds up as far as financial cost and physical energy of the main caretaker.  

The puppy sleeping arrangements of needing to potty every few hours causing lack of sleep is just the beginning.  Then setting up a daily routine that meets your puppy's needs and allows you to get your day to day life activities accomplished can be quite challenging.  Then puppy grows up to become an adolescent which throws even more challenges in fitting everything into one day.  With my first SD, I made the mistake of giving her tons of exercise and keeping her busy because I thought that was what was needed.  Unfortunately that creates a dog that NEEDS to keep busy and much of SD life is being calm and doing nothing.  With Azul I started calming behaviors and settling down routines from the very beginning.  We also visited tons of new environments to simply sit there and do nothing.  I get asked all the time if Azul is a typical hyper Husky and my answer is always, "Nope, he's the calmest dog I've ever met!"

Now that Azul is mostly an adult, his needs for day to day activity are much less then when he was younger, but he still has physical needs that are sometimes hard for me to achieve on bad health days, especially when I have a month like this July where every single day is a bad health day.  There are days where all we've been able to do is play flirt pole for 2 short bursts of 5 minutes at different points of the day.  Azul does fine with this for a day or two, but after some time he needs to go explore and sniff whether I feel like it or not.

Training Challenges

The first major challenge in training is that you either train too little or too much or don't realize what training is most important.  There are tons of professional dog trainers out there who can teach you the basic concepts to force free training which is a never ending journey as there is always another way to apply something or problem solve for your struggles.  Then there are several SD Trainers that will guide new handlers attempting to train a SD.  (This is also goes back to financial issues and how much you can afford to spend on learning.)  With all of these professionals and dog training being an unregulated field, it can be hard to weed out the good trainers from the bad.  Often, we need to have more then one dog training professional in our contact list to accomplish all our goals.

Learning more about dog training brings about another challenge that many disabled individuals struggle with and that is cognitive issues due to brain injury, auto-immune diseases, and other traumas.  This challenge often becomes the one that is nearly possible to overcome simply because you can't find a way to take the information your trying to learn and apply it to your dog.  The phrase, "Easier said then done!" comes to mind here.  As someone who has brain fog, challenges with finding the right words, and a horrible memory, this is has been a huge hurdle.  Again this is why it helps to have a large network in the dog training world to help you when your overlooking something or can't figure out what your missing.

Often people search for that one template or training plan that works for them with their dog and that simply doesn't exist because every person is a unique individual and so is every dog.  Andrew Hale from Dog Centered Care is always referring to this as an individual's Emotional Truth.  When it comes to past experiences no two people are the same, so if you begin to look at the emotional journey that you undertake when training your own SD you can only go on YOUR emotional truth.  

Training also brings about a whole other level of self doubt when we get exhausted or frustrated with ourselves feeling like we are letting our dog down.  This can come from feeling like we are not training enough due to physical abilities or having other complications like not being able to drive to the location we'd like to do training in.  Feeling frustrated and helpless can then cause further health issues and send us into a spiral we can't seem to get out of.

As a Trainer, Behavior Consultant, and Canine Coach let me just say that the easiest way to get across all the training hurdles is to find a professional or mentor (or a few) that share your training style and that you are totally comfortable communicating with.  You need to be able to let this trainer see your best work and your worst days and feel comforted by the fact they want to support you without judgement.  If you're still searching for your support network, consider joining my Working Paws Facebook group which is filled with lots of knowledgeable and supportive people.

We all face challenges in day to day life, but getting over these 3 common challenges have made a huge difference in who I am as an individual, as a trainer, and as a mentor!  

My August Theme of the Month will be "Train Smarter, Not Harder!" and is going to involve lots of simple shaping exercises and environmental processing.  Here is to hoping August is a much better month then July!

Adding More Enrichment

As dog owners, we use reinforcement to reward our dogs for the behaviors we like. Enrichment is often confused as being an extra great or j...