Monday, October 31, 2016

History. . .

A trip down memory lane can tell us a lot about ourselves, especially when it comes to how we got to where we are now.

I recently took a little stroll myself, mostly looking through old photos, and I realized that I have always been on the path to be a dog trainer.  I remember wanting to train animals from the earliest age, and would always try to find ways to interact with all types of animals!

I didn't get my first dog until I was 11, but I did have a few cats, which I of course trained!  I was also very active in the horse world (my family got a horse when I was 6), whether riding in the mountains or in a jumping competition.

I decided to share this journey through photos.  Enjoy!

First off, a big Thank You to my wonderful parents who supported their crazy animal obsessed daughter growing up!  

My mom put together a wonderful scrapbook for me, with this part showing how much I was always finding animals (real or stuffed!) to cuddle and love.

When I was 5, my father was working on a TV show that happened to have a guest baby chimpanzee on!  Knowing how much I loved animals, he asked the animal trainer if I could meet the baby chimp. Lucky me!  I am so happy in this picture!

Training my Grandmother's dog. I was around 8 years old.

With my horses, Smoke and Driftless. I was around age 10.

At the age of 12, I was volunteering for a local animal rescue, and ended up in an article in the local newspaper.  I started volunteering for the rescue when I was 11, spending my Saturdays helping to get dogs adopted, and also fostering dogs until they found forever homes.  

At age 13, I had adopted my first dog and begun taking agility classes.  This is Joey and I at our first Agility Fun Run.

Joey and my horse Smoke.  I was about 14 here.

At 16 I was working as an exercise rider for a horse trainer.

I continued to advance my skills, working on different elements of jumping and dressage.

I trained ALL of my animals!
From left to right:
Opal, Jack, Bernie, Joey.

Sheep herding with my Border Collie, Opal.

An outing with the dogs, 2005.

With my family, and dogs, at my college graduation.

Working as a trainer at Petsmart.
Became a Canine Good Citizen evaluator in 2008.

Competing in Agility with my Dachshund, Hayden.

Training on the beach!

Competing at the 2013 AKC Rally Obedience Nationals with my Dachshund, Hunter.

Competing in Conformation with my Pyrenean Shepherd, Winecup Andreu de Bien Aime.

Training on vacation.

Earning 3rd place in Steeplechase at the USDAA Southwest Regionals in 2016.

Well, there you have it!  I tried to keep it short, I hope you enjoyed it!

As always, thanks for reading!

Monday, September 5, 2016

Healthy Mind and Body Dog Training

Dog training in a humane way to keep both human and canine counterparts happy and healthy.

Promoting positive rewards with food, play, and bonding exercises. 

Love the dog you have; embracing each dogs unique personality and abilities, and understanding their comfort levels and what THEY truly enjoy.

Enjoy your dog; finding activities that you enjoy doing with your dog to get more out of your relationship with them. 

Problem solving.

Dealing with behavioral issues in a safe and secure way that allow owner and dog to feel comfortable and happy at all times.

-Down time with your dog; being able to give yourself and your dog stress relief time to avoid frustration 

-Understanding why issues arise

-Learning about your dog and what makes them tick

Why I changed my dog training philosophy.

I\"ve worked for years as a dog trainer, and helped owners fix countless problems, but there were  many times that I felt unsuccessful, usually because of frustration on the owners part. Getting fast results is important, but sometimes the expectations of what we want from our dogs can be out of sync with what we are getting. More often than not, the source of this frustration is based on a focus of everything that is going wrong, leading to resentment and a negative association between dog and owner. 

Let\"s talk about the many pitfalls of understanding dog training, and how difficult it can be to navigate!

Too often I hear "But I see dogs in public just sitting with their person at a coffee shop, perfectly trained, laying at their person\"s feet. Why can\"t my dog be like that?" Well, first of all, that dog may be perfectly trained, yes, but they may also have the personality that is suited to enjoying that with little or no training. You may have a dog who enjoys a lot of activities with you, but laying at your feet for hours on end is not one of them. Can it be trained? Sure! But some dogs may take a lot of time and effort to get there, whereas others seem to take to it right away. 

But my friend told me...

Fill in the blank. For example: They had a dog that was social and loved everyone and it\"s all because 1) they took it everywhere as a puppy, 2) they showed it who the "leader" was at an early age, 3) they used a special tool that made all of the difference, etc., etc. The list could go on with all of the advice that people will give because they have a dog, or have had multiple dogs that were "well behaved". Just because those things seemed to work for those dogs, doesn\"t mean it will work for every dog, which is why having an expert is so useful. Before I was a trainer, I always had "well behaved" dogs too, but that didn\"t mean that I was a dog trainer; it took a lot more work, education, and experience to become an expert trainer. The truth is, "well behaved" is a subjective term. We have a general idea of what that is, but each individual person has different specifications of the details and preferences that define a "well behaved" dog. Taking a friend\"s advice can sometimes be useful, but take it with a grain of salt. A good trainer has dedicated their life to perfecting methods, and you can be sure that they choose to do certain things, and NOT other things, because of the knowledge they have attained. There is no "one size fits all" dog training. Each dog is different, and so is each person, which means that just because your friend/neighbor/family member did it, doesn\"t mean that it\"s the right choice for you and your dog.

My goals as a trainer.

I want to help people and their dogs enjoy each other and to be happy and successful, in whatever way works best for both. 

I DO NOT want to force a dog to behave in a way that makes them uncomfortable. 

The point of having a dog is to enjoy it and bond with it, not to force it to do things for my satisfaction. 

But what about serious behavioral problems like aggression?

You can still train your dog with kind methods to overcome and manage serious issues. In fact, humane methods are shown to be more effective in the long run for serious behavioral issues. Just like with any type of dog training, the key to success is patience and repetition. When I deal with serious behavioral issues my goal is to CHANGE HOW THE DOG FEELS and therefore reacts, rather than just punishing a behavior to try and get rid of it. 

Sometimes the lure of correction based training can be strong. It seems as though results are quick and effective, but we know based on studies, as well as years of scienctific research on how humans and other animals learn, that just because a swift punishment seems to show immediate results, there is a lot more going on. When we punish a behavior harshly to get rid of it, we are suppressing the behavior, and suppressed behaviors can resurface, sometimes in other ways, and become bigger problems in the end. Changing how a dog (or human for that matter) feels about something takes time, but the rewards are priceless. 

Don\"t be fooled by quick results; they are not reliable and can evolve into bigger problems. 

Let\"s get specific.
What is healthy mind and body dog training?

Step 1: 
Choose the right dog for you and your family. 
This is often the most overlooked step, and yet it is the most important! Research different breeds to understand what their personalities are like, how much exercise they need, and how much socialization and training they will require. Don\"t just be pulled in by a cute puppy face!  Often, the best option is to adopt an adult dog from a rescue, who has a stable adult personality, and has already gone through all of the puppy problem behaviors. Prepare your household before bringing a dog or puppy into the mix. Having a trainer come to your house, or at least do a consultation over the phone, BEFORE you get your new dog will really help with the transition.

Step 2: Set your dog up for success. Manage the space that your dog is able to use in the home. Use baby gates, exercise pens, and a crate to help keep your dog from getting into trouble when they first come into the house. With new dogs, it is also useful to keep them on leash with you in the house. 
**Managing your dog\"s freedom to roam around the house is a temporary stage. The intention is to prevent them from practicing any bad behaviors when you are not looking.

Step 3: 
Teach your dog what you WANT them to do.
This is where positive reinforcement training is so useful. You can use your attention, praise, toys, treats, or anything your dog finds rewarding, as incentive for good behavior from your dog. Anytime you see your dog doing something you would want them to do in the future, reward it. It could be as simple as your dog laying at your feet while you watch TV. This is a wonderful opportunity for you to praise and pet your dog! If your dog chooses to not jump up on you when you come in, that\"s a perfect moment to reward them! The list goes on, but the goal is the same: find your dog doing something good! 

Step 4: 
Learning is the key to success.
The more you can teach your dog, the better your communication will be. Of course, obedience is essential, but also tricks, and other activities will help to build the bond between human and dog. Activities can be anything from structured and creative playtime, to organized dog sports like agility, rally obedience, etc.. Never stop learning!

Step 5:
Consistency is critical.
Setting clear rules and boundaries for a dog is essential to helping them understand how to navigate our world. Positive training does not mean permissive training! Having rules and boundaries is wonderful as long as everyone in the household is on the same page. Often, dogs who are having basic training issues in the home (potty training, jumping, counter surfing, etc.) are actually just unsure of where the boundaries are in their training. Sometimes they get attention for jumping, or they manage to steal a tasty morsel off of the counter. These rewards for unwanted behaviors confuse dogs. It\"s important that everyone in the house is on the same page about the rules and boundaries, and consistently follows through with them. 

Step 6:
Balancing time.
Sometimes training can get frustrating; if we aren\"t seeing results quickly, some behaviors can be hard to deal with. Understanding how to balance in some down time with training is crucial to everyone\"s sanity. Sometimes this might mean teaching your dog how to quietly hang out in the crate with a chew or a stuffed treat toy. Other times, focusing on teaching your dog how to settle with you can be the best relaxation. 

Important reading! 
There is a lot of information out there, but I prefer to assign to the researched, tested, and proven scientific methods that exist. Over the years, what we understand about animal learning, and dog behavior specifically, has changed dramatically. 
I am a member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers, a wonderful resource for seminars, education, and information, and I highly recommend checking out their library of articles! For relevance here though, I suggest you at least check out their article on why Dominance Theory (arguably the most prevalent idea that has taken hold in society) is outdated and problematic in dog training:

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Education over Ego

There is a huge issue with dog overpopulation in our country today. There are many different theories and beliefs as to why this is, and there are many popularized methods as to how to reduce the amount of unwanted pets. 
Often, the focus is on rescue dogs versus dogs from breeders, a debate that has become very serious in the dog community. This debate is passionate on both sides, and causes a great deal of term oil, often between people who are all interested in the same goal; providing dogs with happy and healthy lives with loving families. 
I don't believe that the issue is whether to buy or rescue, I think the issue lies in the public's view of dog ownership, specifically how to attain a pet dog.
This is where I believe ego comes in to the picture. Many people understand that it is a wonderful thing to rescue a dog, but for those who decide they want to get a puppy from a breeder, they often end up looking for all of the wrong things. In an age where anything can be ordered online, and aesthetics are at the forefront of importance for many people, we all want a house full of beautiful things that we can get at the click of a button, or at the very least, a short shopping spree. This mentality has caused what is probably the worst thing to happen in dog breeding. The internet is littered with websites that allow you to order an adorable puppy with flashy rare colors, just by transferring some money and filling in some information. Want a puppy now? There are several to choose from! Red Merle? Blue eyes? Got it! Craigslist has a listing for a litter of cute puppies in the area! But these buyers rarely ask about the puppy's health, or the health of the parents. What about temperament? When that adorable puppy comes home how likely is it that the owner will want to deal with the stresses of puppyhood, or worse yet, adolescence? Often people select the breed of dog they want based on looks, or brief personality descriptions, and do little further research into wether or not that breed is best suited to their lifestyle. What if the breed selected is intended to hunt small animals and the family has a cat? What if the breed is intended to be protective and the family has guests over all the time? Considering that they went the quick route to get the puppy in the first place, it is unlikely that there was much thought process about how to deal with these things, or prepare for them in the first place.  Even worse, some people see their new puppy as an opportunity to make money in the future by breeding them and trying to make money off the pups (after all, they paid a pretty penny for their pup, didn't they?).
I'm not saying that everyone who orders a puppy via the Internet is a bad owner. Very often these people end up putting a lot of time and effort into their puppy and being wonderful owners, but considering the amount of dogs in shelters and rescues, clearly, some are not.
The issue that I see is that our society is so driven by ego that we often care more about looks and ease of accessibility than we do about doing our research and finding the right dog for our homes and a responsible breeder or rescue to attain that dog from.  

On top of this already dangerous mix of issues, many people don't realize what a responsible breeder is. Just because a breeder has a website, or has had dogs for many years, doesn't mean that they are a responsible breeder. The easiest way to tell is that a responsible breeder won't just take your money and give you a pup, which of course immediately makes them inconvenient for the fast paced ease of buying that we are all used to. Good breeders want to know about the home that their puppies are going to. You may have to answer tons of questions, give references, explain plans for the pup, including training, or even have a home check (or show pictures or video if the breeder isn't local).  These breeders health test their dogs, are generally active in some element of the dog world (dog shows, sports, or working activities that the breed is intended to do), and often have waiting lists for their pups. They are very selective about which dogs they choose to breed and why, and they don't breed very often. They will want to know all about the potential home, family, and plans that they have for the dog. They may even (heaven forbid), tell you that your family is not suited to the breed that they have and that you may have better success with a different kind of dog. These breeders will not let you breed their dogs in the future unless you have a serious interest and are willing to work with them, or another respected breeder as a mentor, and even then they may not agree. They have contracts that state these facts and many more. They are willing to take any puppy they produce back at any point in the dogs life if for some reason the home doesn't work out.
Think about it this way; if people ONLY purchased dogs from responsible breeders, we wouldn't have an overpopulation problem. 
Don't let your ego decide the next 4 legged member of your family. Educate yourself and decide to buy responsibly, or rescue!
Education over Ego.

Potty Training

I get a ton of questions about potty training, but I will try to keep it simple here.

First, let's address the most common misconceptions about potty training dogs:
1) This is one all of us have heard:
When the puppy potties inside the house, rub their nose in it.
•Okay, so let's break this down...
If you are potty training a human toddler, and you let your guard down for a moment and leave them without a diaper on, and they start peeing on your living room carpet, what would you do? 
-Would you rub their nose in it? Of course not! That's horrible! 
-Okay, so what would you do?
   *Probably pick them up and run them to the nearest toilet.

When you think about it in these terms it makes a lot of sense to run the toddler to the nearest toilet, in part because it will decrease the mess, but also because it will communicate to the toddler that potty goes in the toilet, not on the carpet! 

•So now, here is the question: if it is so logical to run the toddler to the toilet rather that rubbing their nose in the mess, why do we think it would be so different from a puppy?
-Do we think that puppies are somehow smarter than human toddlers and can perceive our meaning when we punish them harshly for soiling the floor inside the house? 
   **I personally think it is quite obserd to believe that our puppies are smarter than human children.
-Do we believe that showing them their mess is somehow linked to how their natural dog behavior works? Does the mother dog somehow manage to push the puppy's face into the mess that they made in the den in order to encourage them to go outside? 
   **No, by the way, she doesn't. She will remove the waste by eating it herself...not something that I think most humans would like to do.

•Alright, so let's go back to how we would teach our human toddlers to potty in the correct place, 
We would move them from the incorrect place, and take them to the appropriate place. Well, this seems to make a lot of sense, so why don't we do this with our puppies? 


**Here is the truth of the matter; why the method of rubbing a dog's nose in their mess has persisted for so long:
Many dogs will associate that having their nose rubbed in their own mess is a negative thing (obviously), and they are likely to associate the act of pottying with something that YOU interpret as negative. Therefore, they would prefer to potty somewhere that you cannot observe them. If we are lucky, and have a small home, they might figure out that the best way to avoid you seeing them potty is by going outside!! In some instances this may work, but often it can be interpreted as purely out of sight, and this can mean in another room, behind a couch, under a table, etc. 

**Is your dog pottying "behind your back"? In a place you cannot see? In another room, or when you are not looking? This is because you have taught them that pottying is an unpleasant thing that you don't want to observe. This means that it will be much harder to teach them where you WANT them to go, as they have associated pottying with a negative element when it's around YOU. 

Alright, so now, let's readdress the toddler pottying on the living room floor. I already know what many of you will say: "why would you let a toddler who is not potty trained, run around your living room without a diaper on!" 
And how right you are! So why would you let an untrained puppy run around in your living room? They are not magically more inclined to understand you than a toddler. They need the same rules and restrictions! 

So now, let's get to the good stuff!
Here's what you should do:
•puppies should have an exercise pen, or area blocked off for them, where they have access to a potty pad in case they need to go when you are not watching them. 
•puppies should be watched when they are roaming ANY area so that you can quickly pick them up and take them outside if they need to potty.
•puppies should have multiple trips outside to the appropriate potty place so that they can learn where they should go. Just like human toddlers, we should encourage and praise them when they go potty in the correct place!
•puppies should understand how to go into, and be left in a crate so that they can start building the muscles involved in bladder control as they grow up.

**you can easily teach your puppy to potty on cue by taking them outside, waiting for them to go, and then naming the behavior "go potty" as they do their business. 

It's time to get over the archaic methodologies used with family dogs. There is no reason for us to treat puppies in such a barbaric and illogical way. 

Let's use common sense to train our dogs. They deserve that much. 

Please comment with questions or concerns about potty training.

Thank you, 

Friday, June 5, 2015

My Opal

Today I had to say goodbye to my Opal. 

It is difficult to express the impact that she has had on my life, because it is exponential. 
Opal came into my life when I was 16. I had been in contact with rescues about finding a border collie who would enjoy doing activities with me, especially agility. I was called when they found this wonderful girl, because she had high energy, high drive, and would do best in a home that took advantage of those elements. I fell in love right away. She jumped out of the foster mom's car and immediately started chasing a ball. She barely recognized my existence, and yet I was still enamored with her. She was intense, driven, and somewhat hard to handle, but I was head over heels in love. 
After a few months we noticed some issues with her gait, and after a vet exam discovered that she had severe hip dysplasia. After two surgeries and weeks of recovery, Opal acted as if nothing had ever changed. She was just as excited and driven as ever. She had limited mobility, but loved doing tricks, and training in agility, as long as we kept in low impact and easy on her joints. 
She loved doing ANYTHING I asked her to, and always wanted to work.
She taught me how to perfect my training, and how to teach just about anything. However, after a bad experience at a dog park she developed a very severe reactive issue with other dogs, and I had a hard time at first figuring out how to deal with it.
This is how Opal became my "cross-over" dog. I had been using a clicker and treats, but also more traditional correction based methods with her, especially when it came to her reactivity. After trying different corrections, as extreme as I could come up with, I came to a realization; she wasn't trying to defy my training, or show that she was "in charge" or "dominant", she was trying to protect both of us from imminent danger (as she saw it, other dogs). When I came to this realization, I had a shift in my understanding of her, and I shifted how I trained her.
I started rewarding her for looking to me rather than reacting to dogs. I started utilizing my clicker to communicate when she was acting the way I wanted her to. The change I saw in her was fast and dramatic. She began to not only "do" what I wanted her to, but to UNDERSTAND what I wanted from her.
I began to see a difference in her behavior so intense that I felt guilty for ever having punished her for what she had thought she was doing right. It became very clear to me that my punishment had been created by misunderstanding, and my methods of training immediately took a dramatic change. Opal became the best demo dog I could ever have. She loved coming to work, being in class, showing off, and being an example of what positive reinforcement training can accomplish. To this day, she is still the reason that I am the trainer that I am, and I could never thank her enough for being such a wonderful teacher. 
We got to experience agility, sheep herding, obedience, and trick training together, and I honestly cannot say that I have ever seen or experienced a more willing, faithful, reliable dog at my side than Opal. She always tried to do right by me, and in that she taught me to be humble, to LISTEN to what a dog tells me about THEIR experience, and to have compassion for another being's emotions. 
I cannot possibly express the gratitude that I have for what she has taught me. I am so lucky to have had such a wonderful teacher come into my life, and to have put up with all of my shortcomings in my learning experience.
I hope that everyone is as lucky to have experienced a soul like this, and I know that all of those who met her felt just as touched and impressed by her as I have been. 
Thank you Opal, for your patience, your beauty, your exuberance for life, and your teaching skills. I am forever in your debt.

Your ever grateful Kate.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Dachshund Positive Training!

I often encounter trainers who believe that a positive reinforcement trainer cannot get the kinds of results that they do...
Here is my miniature longhair Dachshund showing off some of his skills!

Friday, October 31, 2014

What do I want from my dog?

The last post I shared was about why I prefer positive reinforcement. I spent awhile thinking after posting about the dogs I have trained through various methods. One element that I realized is that my most recent dog, Andreu, who has had more consistently positive training in his life than any of my other dogs (partly because I started with him so young and partly because I previously utilized more aversive techniques), is the most charismatic, happy, goofy dog I have ever had.  This made me think about what it is that we all want in a dog. I have loved every dog I have ever owned, and all have been amazing examples of the human dog relationship. 
However, Andreu has made me laugh every day he has been with me...his goofy antics bring a smile to my face, and I can't help but wonder, if I had trained my previous dogs with the same methods, would they have been able to express their own personalities more? 
This may seem like a silly concept to some, but really, what is a dog there for? Why do people want to have dogs in their lives? Is it so that we can show that we have a trained companion that can do whatever we tell them to at any moment? Don't get me wrong, Andreu is very well behaved, and has received compliments in the Rally Obedience ring for his exceptional training. He also competes in agility and has been very successful, also receiving comments about how fast and willing to work he is. But Andreu is a character; he is goofy and happy all the time, sitting on the couch with his paws up like a person would, licking the face of the people he knows and likes, jumping straight up in the air when he is excited about something. He will rub up against you like a cat so that you will strach the spot just above his tail, he will randomly go into the bedroom and start rolling around on the bed barking at himself in a random game he likes to play. He loves other dogs and will play with them if they are willing, he gets excited in new places and wants to interact with any new dog around.  All of these antics could easily be distinguished "ill-behaved" but they make me laugh, none of them are breaking his rules of my training, and they all make him happy.
So, the question is, what do I want in a dog? I have some particular specifications being a dog trainer. With Andreu, I wanted a dog who likes other dogs, and can help me work with dogs to understand social manners. I also wanted a dog you loves agility and would perform for me when asked. Above all, I wanted a dog who I enjoy spending time with, and Andreu is absolutely all of those things. 
I see many trainers, and training videos/shows, out there that advocate having a well-behaved dog, and believe me, I love having a well-behaved dog too, but more so, I prefer having a dog who I enjoy spending time with, who makes me laugh, and makes each day more enjoyable.
A dog doesn't need to be trained as a soldier to enjoy life, actually the opposite, a dog can be well behaved and also exuberantly happy. 
The problem that I have seen recently in the dog ownership community is that people have a tendency to see a "trained" or "well-behaved" dog as one who does nothing other than follow orders, and others see misbehaved and wild dogs as comical. 
There is a happy medium. You can have a dog that is well-behaved and goofy/happy/exhuberant at the same time! However, this is gained through positive reinforcement training. 

One of the biggest issues that I face as a positive reinforcement trainer is that many of my clients have already implemented aversive techniques, based on tv shows, or recommendations by their friends, neighbors, or random strangers. If they are using some of those techniques, and some of mine, it can become confusing for the dog, and often leads to mediocre results at best, because the dog doesn't really understand what to do. 
I know, everyone thinks they are a dog trainer, because they have trained their own dog, or watched a show. Everyone is willing to doll out advice as if they know what they are talking about. I understand that this is a controversial point that will hit home for a lot of people, but here is the reality; just because your neighbor/friend/ect. has trained 1-6 dogs in their lifetime, does that mean that they are an expert? I can easily say that I have trained about 3,000 dogs (on a conservative estimate), and I have probably used the methods that have been recommended to you at one point or another. If I don't use them now, it's because I have found that although they may be effective in some cases, they are not in all, and more so I may have found that the fall out of these methods are not worthy of their use in the first place. 
This is why people hire a trainer, to gain their expertise. 
To be fair, I am a very lenient dog trainer; I try to not be pushy about how to do things, but please, don't mistake my consideration for lack of knowledge. There are thousands of people who will tell you that they have the answers for dog training, and you can try their thousand different methods, or you can hire an expert who can tell you the upsides and downsides to the different training methods. 
Ultimately, my point is, I would rather have a dog who I enjoy living with, and is well-behaved. I have made my mistakes, and I am the first person who would encourage people not to do the same thing. 

If you want a dog who is a soldier, shut down, and only listens to orders, then by all means, be as harsh as you like, as much as it pains me for the sake of the dog. But, if you want a dog who is well-behaved, and also happy, charismatic, funny, and enjoyable, then call a REAL trainer, who will help you find a way to create that kind of a relationship. Take their advice...don't mix your own experience with their recommendations, just try it out for awhile and see what you get.

Thank you for listening to the struggles of a dog trainer.