Thursday, October 31, 2013

Living with a Pyrenean Shepherd

First of all, I do not pretend to be an expert of Pyrenean Shepherd ownership.  After all, I only own one Pyrenean Shepherd, and so of course, I cannot determine that they are all exactly like mine.  However, I receive many inquiries about what it is like to live with a Pyr Shep, and due to their success in the agility ring, there is undoubtably some interest in the matter.  I feel that it is time for me to weigh in on the topic. . . as limited as my knowledge may be. Beyond owning Andreu, my Pyr Shep, I also talk to many other Pyr Shep owners and fanciers around the world regularly, and research as much as I can about the breed. I also have extensive knowledge, as a trainer, in regards to raising puppies to be well-mannered members of society.

 Pyr Sheps are not for everyone (undoubtably the first statement you will read in any commentary about them), but for certain people they are an absolutely wonderful match. 

**A VERY important note to make is that the points made here are generalizations. Every dog is unique, and breeding plays a major role in the genetic predisposition of a dog. My intention is to suggest some likely possibilities, but of course none of these are hard-and-fast rules. Specifically with Pyrenean Shepherds there is a great variety not only in appearance (rough face, smooth face, demi-long variations, and the body types that differ within the coat varieties, as well as many color options), but also in personality. 
Because the Pyrenean Shepherd was developed within different valleys and areas of the Pyrenees Mountians, each breeding pool had their own specifications. This is also why the Pyrenean Shepherd has the lengthiest standard in the AKC. There is so much variety within the breed that it is actually quite difficult to generalize much of anything. . .they are all different, so please take this post as only a general guideline of possibilities.

The "good":

-They are energetic; this gives the owner the opportunity to do A LOT with them! They can excel in many dog sports because of this, and love to be an active member of the family. They are great for jogging, hiking, playing frisbee, obedience, tricks, agility, tracking, nosework, herding, etc., and love to be on the go as much as possible. Andreu LOVES to run in agility competitions, and adores showing off in trick shows!

-They are smart; they pick up on new things quickly, and are extremely good at figuring things out. In general this can make them a joy to train, especially when it comes to tricks and dog sports! They love learning new things and love to work. Often they will figure out how to do something before you can figure out how to train them to do it. Andreu is so quick to learn new things that teaching him is a breeze and it takes him a remarkably short period of time to master them.  I have never had a dog that is so easy to potty train, and Andreu is an intact male! It was very easy to teach him that he could only potty and/or mark outside.

-They are quick and agile; this element has brought them much success in the agility ring. They make tight turns, run fast, and jump high. This comes from the fact that they were bred to herd sheep on the mountainous and rocky terrain of the Pyrenean mountains. Because of this, they are light bodied and have an amazingly quick movement about them. They don't do anything slowly. Andreu's ability to navigate obstacles constantly amazes and entertains me.

-They are alert and loyal; although they are small (15-32 pounds in general) one of the tasks they were bred to do was to alert the shepherd to any possible dangers; a wild animal hunting the sheep, a burglar stealing livestock, or any other unusual characters who may potentially be dangerous. Because the shepherd and dog would often be out to pasture for long periods, it was essential that the Pyr Shep keep a watchful eye even as the shepherd slept. Being loyal and alert often causes them to be wary of strangers, which makes them good guard dogs, as they will often not just allow strangers to come into the house without warning. They become very bonded to their family (and often one person specifically), and will protect them fiercely. Andreu will always let me know if there is something strange going on, and although he loves meeting new people, performing tricks for them, or playing ball with them, his focus is always still on me.

The "bad":

-They are energetic; this also means that they must have a lot of excersie to satisfy their energy level. They need to have a physical outlet every day to deal with their energy, and if they don't get it they are likely to get aggravated and take out that pent up energy in negative ways. For example, ripping apart your furniture or belongings.

-They are smart; this also means that they are very good at finding their way around rules and boundaries. If you are not 100% consistent, they will notice the moments that you do not enforce the rules and they will often take advantage. For example, you may have a rule that your Pyr Shep is not supposed to be on the couch, but on a rare occasion you want to cuddle, and will allow them some couch time (although they are not notoriously very into cuddling). A Pyr Shep will interpret this as an inconsistent rule that they can take advantage of; do you seem like you are in a cuddly mood? A Pyr Shep will take that as an invite to sneak up onto the couch without you noticing, or they will sneak up when you aren't looking, because obviously that is when they are "allowed" to be there. Smart does not always mean more obedient or easier to train, in fact it can often mean the opposite, as they are smart enough to know when they can get away with "breaking the rules".  It is important to note that a dog rarely thinks of this as "breaking" the rules, but instead thinks that there are different sets of rules for different situations. The potential downfall to having a smart dog is that they can easily read you, and will figure out how to work in what they want with what you are willing to enforce. This means you must always be on your toes in order to set clear boundaries (not an easy task with a quick dog).

-They are quick and agile; this also means that they are going to be faster than you....always. If they try to jump up to see what's on your kitchen counter and you go to stop them, they will be on to the back of the sofa, then the coffee table, then your bedroom before you have a chance to do much of anything. You are not likely to ever catch a Pyr Shep; if they decide to dodge you, they already have, long before you can react to it. Sight hounds may be fast when they start running, but Pyr Sheps are quick right in front of you. They don't have to run a distance to get their speed, they will be able to out maneuver you in a small room and you won't have a chance. 

-They are alert and loyal; this also means that it is important to do a lot of socialization early on in order to set a Pyr Shep up for success, and to help them understand that strangers are not neccessarily threatening. Some Pyr Sheps who are undersocialized (and this applies to many other breeds as well) can possibly become wary, defensive, and reactive dogs who feel that people they don't know are a threat. Many Pyr Sheps can be very social, even with little early socilaization, but being a sensitive breed, it is a better plan to prep a dog for success by socializing early, and training positively. Some can develop a tendency to bark at strangers or animals that they don't know, and this can quickly become a problem when taking the dog out in public, or having guests come into your home.  If a dog becomes fearful of people or other dogs, this behavior can escalate and become a serious problem. Their natural tendency to be alert can lead to barking; if they hear something, don't understand something, or are afraid of something, they may bark, and their bark can be quite loud so that they can alert you to the potential danger.  That being said, many Pyr Sheps are actually very quiet, so it is not necessarily expected for the breed to be vocal, but it is important to understand that it's a possibility. 
*It is important to note that the vocalizations of Pyr Sheps are sometimes related to whether or not they grow up with/live with other dogs who bark. They learn quickly, and other dogs can be very influential to whether they learn to vocalize heavily or not.

A note about the combination of "smart" and "alert."

-This combo is invaluable in many respects; it offers a dog who has quick problem solving capabilities, takes in their environment and understands it, and can easily adapt their knowledge to deal with the situation. Pyr Sheps are very good at dealing with situations without having to be trained how to do so. Whereas many other dog breeds need to specifically be trained how to understand and deal with something, a Pyr Shep will often figure it out on their own, which becomes a very useful tactic in many situations. They don't wait to be told how to handle something, they just do it. For example, in an agility sequence, if something is not working out correctly, most dogs will repeat the sequence in the same way until you give them a clearly different cue. A Pyr Shep will often try different things once you start repeating, in order to search for what it is that you want. If I repeat a sequence in training (or competition for that matter) Andreu will rarely try the same thing twice, but instead attempts different ways to complete it. This shows an amazing intelligence and concept of "thinking independently" in order to please me and fiure out what it is that I want.  This same concept overflows into many elements of life. A Pyr Shep is more likely to come up with new and unique ideas rather than repeating the same thing. This can be extremely useful in teaching new things, because when encouraged, they come up with endless possibilities of what they will try. However, this also means that they will easily become bored with repetition, and will work to find more creative ways to do things.
The other aspect of "smart" x "alert", is that during most Pyr Sheps mental growth they will often become aware of many things in their environment that other dogs would never notice. For example, Andreu went through a new "awareness" period about every 2 months within his first 15 months of life. These included awareness of noises, different visual stimuli, things overhead, etc. His initial reaction was often fear with these new stimuli, as he did not understand them. In his "sound phase" he would flee whenever a new, potentially scary (usually loud), sound was introduced. With positive reinforcement, and non-confrontational exposure to those sounds (no flooding!), he easily overcame these cautious reactions. Once he understood what they were, and how they worked, he was perfectly fine with them. For example, a slamming door would make him very uncomfortable, but if he saw the door slamming he was able to understand the source of the sound, and gradually generalized that even if he only heard it, he understood what it was and that it was not something to be concerned about.

A note on dog training and "fear phases":

Traditionally, these are called "fear phases", but I am hesitant to assign them this name, as my experience with Andreu made it clear that his intelligence, in combination with his natural alert observation, caused him to become aware of things that most other dogs (and people for that matter), would never notice. It's therefore not neccessarily a phase that is fear based, but instead a cautionary realization of what is happening, or what something is.  
Because these dogs are generally considered "wilderness herders" and often valued for their wild and natural nature, it is important to understand that a Pyr Shep has to become acclimated to a city is not at all natural to them.  This is not a bad thing by any means, it is instead a process of acclimating to the many different environments that he may encounter throughout his life. That being said, because of this awareness, I had to take much more effort in his socialization than I have had to with many other dogs. This is an important element to think about if you are considering bringing a Pyr Shep into your home. 

Many of these aspects are often described as "quirky" in descriptions of Pyr Sheps, but I have intended here to break down that vague statement a bit more as to avoid confusion.

Beyond the casual owner:

If you are serious about dog training, here is an interesting note about "fear phases".
To get technical for a moment...
I like to compare these stages to Sigmund Freud's concept of Psychosexual development, in theory of how to work through them at least. Freud believed that if a child didn't work through each phase, they would be stuck with a "fixation" from that stage until they worked through it. What we call "fear phases" in dogs can work very similarly to this theory; if the phase is not properly worked through and overcome, then a potential fear can become "stuck" in the dogs "psyche". For example, if the puppy is going through a phase where they are fearful of strangers and they are either forced to interact in a way that they see as negative, or on the opposite approach, kept away from strangers entirely, they can easily hold onto this fear into adulthood. This of course is not specific to Pyr Sheps, as many different breeds of pups go through these stages, but it is important to understand that with a "sensitive" dog, you need to work through each phase.

With patience, socialization, and positive reinforcement training, the Pyr Shep can be a wonderful companion. The effort you put in pays off; many Pyr Sheps are accomplished agility, rally, obedience, frisbee, flyball, herding, and therapy dogs, beyond being wonderful companions for their owners.
However, if you want an "easy" dog, who you can bring into your home and take little effort to train and socialize, this breed is not for you. If you are looking for a star agility dog, but want to have a dog who just jumps right in with no questions asked, a Pyr Shep is not for you. 
If you work to unlock their potential, a Pyr Shep will not disappoint, but you have to put in the same amount of work that you are asking from them.

Well, much like the breed standard, this description has become wordy and very vast in it's variety of options. . . However, I don't think there is any better way to describe the multitude of possibilities that you can encounter with a Pyr Shep. 
My advice is to find a breeder who understands all of these things, breeds for temperament AND health, and to start early with a pup, focusing on whatever it is that you have in mind to do with that dog. I will say, that it seems to be easy to "shut down" a Pyr Shep with too much punishment and harsh corrections, so letting a pup develop, and supporting them as they do, is the best way to go (and by the way, this is my recommendation for all breeds, but I can't stress it enough for Pys Sheps).

I encourage anyone who is interested in the breed to get involved with online forums devoted to the wonderful Pyr Shep, try to meet as many as possible, and contact owners and breeders before making a decision.
This being said. . . I couldn't possibly be happier with my decision to have a Pyr Shep join my family, as Andreu is the happiest, and most social dog I have ever had. He LOVES other dogs and thoroughly enjoys greeting new people (strangers he often ignores until he gets to know them, but that takes a only a few moments in general), and he is excited to work, loves to do any activity I give him, and is joyful all of the time. I couldn't imagine my life now without a Pyr Shep. I have never had a dog who is so entertaining and an all around pleasure to work with.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Dog Training is like Weight loss

Most people want to be fit and healthy, but don't want to do the work to get there. The same is true of dog training; many people want the perfectly well behaved dog, but they don't want to do any of the work to achieve that. Dog training, just like personal health and fitness, takes time and effort. Sure there is the occasional dog that seems to just "fit", and is calm, friendly, and seemingly perfect. There is also the occasional person who never works out, just naturally has a high metabolism, and can eat anything yet still maintains a beautiful figure. But these occasional instances are the exception, not the rule.
Training takes work and effort, there is no magic pill or quick fix that can get you the same results.
So, let's get to work!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Aversive Training Tools vs. Positive Training Tools

I often hear clients or other trainers say that they want training "without bribing the dog with treats". They say "I want my dog to behave because he loves me and wants to work for me". However, they then often slap a shock collar (e-collar), prong collar, or choke chain on the dog. I could go into the many reasons that these methods are the exact opposite of getting the dog to work for you because he "loves" you, but that is covered in many different writings (see:

Instead my focus here will be on the fact that ANY tool that you use to train (corrective collars, aversive tools, treats, play, etc.) have to be faded away from.

  •  When you use a tool to train a dog the goal is to eventually be able to work your dog without it, and that requires fading it out of the training system. Getting rid of the tool that was used to initially train the dog is the same regardless if what the tool is. Gradually you work without the tools when behaviors are consistent, and if there is regression you bring the tools back for a short period of time. When you teach a new behavior, you reintroduce the tool to help the dog learn. It is easy to become addicted to the tools (keeping a corrective training collar on the dog for the rest of its life, or using treats every time you want a behavior), but the fallout is still the same if you don't fade it out properly; the dog won't behave the way you want it to without the tool.
  • There is no magic trick, no short cut to dog training; it requires a clear set of rules, consistency, and good timing, to work effectively.

Personally, I prefer the method that makes my dog and myself happy, that keeps our relationship positive, and has the least amount of side effects possible. I prefer to use treats in training because I can fade them away and still have consistent behaviors at the same time as having a happy dog, who is not stressed, and wants to work with me. My happiest moments are those when I see how happy the dogs are to be coming to training class; even those who initially were scared, unsure, or aggressive. As a dog owner I want training to be a fun and pleasant experience for myself and my dog, after all, isn't that the whole point of having a dog?

Monday, March 11, 2013

AKC Rally Nationals

I am proud to announce that Hunter and I will be competing at the 2013 AKC Rally Nationals in Tulsa, OK!  Hunter qualified to compete in the Novice category.  Results to follow!

Hunter's Rally winnings through his RA title.

February-March Agility Trials

Here is a video from Andreu's second agility trial.  This was also Hayden's first trial after a long break due to health issues.  Andreu earned another Novice JWW qualifying score (1st place), and Hayden earned her 3rd Novice Standard qualifying score (1st place), earning her a new title and moving her into Open!

Here is a video of Hayden and Andreu at the Belgian Tervuren Club of Southern California's AKC Agility trial.  Andreu earned a T2B qualifying score and 6 points.  Hayden earned a T2B qualifying score and 10 points (1st place), as well as an Open Standard qualifying score (1st place).

Andreu's Agility Debut!

Andreu earned 2 Standard qualifying scores and 1 Jumpers With Weaves qualifying scores at his first AKC trial!

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Honest Kitchen Dog Food

Tonight was the first night that we tried out the new Honest Kitchen food. It is a dehydrated food with a great ingredient list. Just add some water and its a great way to give the dogs a very close-to-fresh meal, without having to take the time to cook it! On tonight's menu is the fish (wild, line-caught Haddock) formula called Zeal.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Exciting Outings

Today I took Andreu and my Dachshund Hunter to the Southern California Pet Expo. It was totally hectic there (which I had expected); inside the Long Beach Arena, with TONS of dogs and people, booths, loud speaker announcements, etc. It was so packed that it was often hard to find our way through the crowd! Andreu did wonderfully despite all of the commotion! He was a bit nervous when it would get really crowded, but took treats from me the whole time, listened to everything I asked him to do, was excited to greet other dogs and go sniff people, and even performed some tricks! I was so proud of my confident little boy!

Monday, January 7, 2013

Playing Hard to Get. . . With Your Dog

I often tell people that the less you speak, the more your dog listens.  This is because, in general, the more you throw out cues at your dog the more they learn to ignore your voice; they hear you all the time and realize that many of the things you say mean nothing, they don't understand them, or you don't follow through with them.

This can also be taken into account with your physical presence with your dog.  When you are constantly following your dog, trying to give them attention, looking at them, petting, hugging, cooing at, trying to get them to behave, and talking to them, they will inevitably assume that you are always there and that they don't need to pay attention to YOU.  Let me be clear, I am not saying that you should not give your dog attention, I will be the first to say that I love petting, hugging, and talking to my dogs!  The key however is the times in which I choose to offer my attention.

*As an important note here before I go on, it is essential to understand that the majority of dogs don't distinguish between positive and negative attention.  There is no reason that they would really; often humans offer confusing displays of body language with voice tones and volume levels that vary between each individual and are used with vast variation depending on the situation.   If there are multiple people in the household the way you speak to each other can also confuse a dog, as well as desensitize them to your voice (this can happen while talking on the phone too). 
The importance of all of this is purely to break down our assumption that our dogs should somehow innately understand what we are saying, or the meaning of what we are saying.   For example, I recently had a client mention that his dog had done something to upset him, however he did not catch the dog in the disobedient act, and therefore couldn't correct her at that time as it would confuse her (at this time the dog was coming happily to greet him).  However, he was mad at the dog, so he said in a happy, high pitched voice, "You're such a bad dog and I'm so angry with you!"  The dog, of course interpreting his tone and not his words, happily wagged her tail and greeted the owner.  
Not only can our dogs become confused because of our tone of voice, but also because physically touching your dog will often be interpreted as a positive attention, even if that's not how it's intended.  For example, if a dog jumps on a person and that person pushes them off, the dog could interpret that as  positive attention.  In fact for many dogs, any attention is good attention.  You may be thinking that you are correcting your dog, when your dog is thinking "Yay!  My person is looking at me and touching me!  I got them to pay attention to me!"  Ultimately, this means that getting upset with your dog and giving them negative attention could be just as bad as giving them positive attention for bad behavior.  What will be clear to your dog however, is your lack of attention; ignoring them.

So, now back to the main point of this writing.  I encounter many people who have difficulty getting their dogs to focus and listen to them.  Observing their interactions together, the person is often following the dog, repeating their name, calling them, giving constant cues, petting, hugging, etc.  The dog is often looking for something else to do, or is distracted by more entertaining things in the environment.  You can see this in human relationships as well; a person who is overly pursuing a love interest can find themselves "putting-off" the focus of their attentions.  This of course is where the term "playing hard to get" comes from; a person purposely shows little (but some) effort towards their love interest and it can result in the interest instead pursuing them.  We can apply this same concept to our relationship with our dogs; we want them to focus on following us, pursuing our attention, instead of us pursuing theirs.

So, let's get down to the details of how to create this kind of relationship with our dogs.  A main point to consider is that you must be able to control the rewards your dog is obtaining from their environment; this could be smells, other people and dogs, animals to chase, toys to play with, etc.  In order for your dog to see you as the high value reward, they cannot be able to access other high value rewards away from you, at least not when you are trying to interact with your dog.  Starting with your dog on a leash, or in a small room with no distractions is best.  Then, anytime your dog focuses on you (the best focus is eye contact) you reward them, either with treats, your attention, or a game with toys (depending on what is most rewarding to your dog).  DO NOT call your dog to you, or ask them for any cues at this point; remain silent and still, and don't even look at your dog until your they bring their attention to you, and then at that moment "turn on" and have a party with them; it is as if you have all of a sudden come to life when your dog is focused on you.  Gradually build the amount of space and distractions that your dog has access to, and continue to reward them for bring their attention back to you (you may have to up the value of the reward as the distractions become harder).  This seems like a fairly simple process, but there are very common pit falls that may occur when not in a specific "training session".  However, there are a few key points that you can follow with your dog in order to help you while you are "playing hard to get".

*These methods are only intended for initially changing your relationship with your dog.  You will only keep this up until your dog can consistently pay attention to you and listen to your cues.
  • Do not call your dog to you if you think they are in a situation where they won't listen.
    • Of course safety is key; we are talking about safe, secure, situations here. 
    • Ex: If your dog is in the backyard sniffing intently, or watching a squirrel, that is not the time to try to call them back to you.  As long as they are safe (not getting into any trouble), just ignore them, or even walk inside, leaving them for a bit.
  • When you come home, do not fawn over your dog, a short hello will do.
    • This will help discourage jumping, as well as anxiety when you are gone.
  • Do not ask your dog for anything if they are not paying attention to you.
    • Inevitably, your dog will learn to ignore your cues if they are constantly hearing them with no result.
    • Wait until your dog is looking at you to ask them for something.
  • When you take your dog out to public places reward heavily for eye contact.
    • DO NOT ask for it, just wait for it.
    • Stand in one place holding the leash and do not let your dog pull you.
  • Make sure that you follow through with EVERYTHING you ask your dog to do.
    • Ex: If you ask for a "sit" and your dog doesn't respond, don't give up!  Limit your dogs freedom (on leash, body blocking, etc.), and follow through making sure that your dog completes the behavior.  Do not repeat yourself however, instead use a hand cue or body language to encourage your dog to complete the task.  When they do (no matter how long it takes) reward heavily!
  • Use environmental rewards.
    • Ex: When on a walk, if your dog wants to go and sniff something, do not let them drag you to it!  Wait for your dog to focus on you and then give them a release, or even a cue, for "go sniff" or "go check it out."  
    • This way your dog is asking you for permission to access rewards from the environment.
    • Another example would be if your dog wants to say hello to another dog or person; don't allow them to greet until they have "looked to you for permission," and then give them the cue to "say hello."
  • Don't follow your dog.
    • Allow your dog to choose to come to you instead.  
    • If they are pulling on the leash, stand still until they choose to come back to you, don't let them drag you where they want to go.

Always be safe! Only practice this methods in secure, fenced in locations, indoors, or on a leash.

And remember, be the most fun thing for your dog to engage with in the environment!

Thursday, January 3, 2013


My new website is up and running!

"Offering dog training and behavior modification services in the San Fernando Valley area of Southern California."
"The importance of training a dog is invaluable; it effects the quality of life for the dog, the relationship between human and dog, and the community’s view of dogs in general.  It is the difference between having a dog that you lock outside or shut away in a room, and having one that you can take with you places, greets your company politely, and makes life in general more pleasant and enjoyable.  A dog should add happiness to your life, not stress, tension, or anxiety.  The same should be true for the dog; their relationship with their human should not be stressful, or anxiety ridden, but instead happy and pleasant.  This is why trainer Katie McGuire’s focus is always on positive reinforcement training techniques to build a healthy and understanding relationship between humans and dogs."

Andreu Growing Up. . .

Other than our behavioral training progress, Andreu has also been physically growing into a beautiful boy!!

And is progressing very well with his agility training!  He will be ready to start competing soon!

Andreu's Training Progress

It has been quite awhile since I have posted an update on Andreu's training, specifically working through some of his fears and focus issues.  Well, our training goals have paid off!  Partially by consistently timing high value rewards in distracting situations, as well as being aware to not make too big of a deal about going through puppy fear phases.  Often, one of the major keys that I would have to remember (and still do) is to keep everything FUN and engaging when we are training in distracting situations, and to NOT ask for too much!  If I can tell that Andreu is distracted than I am only going to ask for simple behaviors, in fact at the beginning I would generally not ASK for anything, but just wait for any focus on me (primarily eye contact).  As he became more consistent with this I began to ask for more, but I must always be careful to read his body language and only ask for what he will be able to mentally handle in the individual situation.  He has now become quite successful with performing many of his behaviors in distracting situations, including outdoor malls, indoor training facilities, outdoor restaurants, and most recently in a hotel on our vacation to Mammoth.
Having lunch at the Main Lodge in Mammoth.

I am so proud of my little man!  He is really growing up, and his training is coming along beautifully!

Hiking on snowy trails.

Having lunch in The Village in Mammoth.

Behaving around distractions.

In a Down Stay during lunch.

Showing off some tricks at the Calabasas Commons.

How Hayden Keeps Me Humble

Hayden's training progress has always been a roller coaster of successes and set backs.  Between her random health issues that always seem to come up (intestinal surgery due to a blockage, UTIs, spider bite reaction, hernia, etc.) and her behavioral issues which have ranged from full-blown reactivity to new people and dogs (including lunging, barking, and snapping at people coming into the house, and barking at any dog or person she sees when on a walk or at a new location) to intense fear of random things, her training process has been a challenging one.
The reactivity issues have been slow to progress, but we have had some wonderful results!  Through counter conditioning and creating positive associations, Hayden will now only bark briefly at a knock at the front door, and then go and happily greet the guest.  What has been essential in this training process is that we change how she feels about greeting new people.  Before we even began to work on the actual greeting we worked on just reinforcing her for remaining calm AROUND people.  If she didn't bark at them, she was rewarded heavily with high value treats, which gradually became fewer and fewer as her behavior became more consistent.  Then I taught her, first on a leash, to go and greet people (originally by just touching them with her nose, and later by giving them a paw) and as she did I would click (her positive marker) and have her come back to me to get a treat.  We used this same process with greeting people out in public.  Having her come back to me was a very important decision, as I did not want her running up to strangers assuming that they were the ones doling out the treats.  For a reactive dog running up to strangers assuming they have treats could easily cause a very bad reaction.  If a reactive dog in training runs up to a stranger, that stranger will likely assume that the dog truly IS friendly, and they may go to greet the dog in a manor that could overwhelm the dog.  The dog will then quickly realize that the stranger does NOT have a treat, and could easily panic and bite as they are now in an overwhelming situation.  Hayden now LOVES saying hello to new people in the house as well as out in public (dogs are still a work in progress...).
The other major issue that we had gone through with Hayden previously, was her random fear of the teeter-totter in agility.  For about her first 8 months of agility training she had absolutely no problem with it, and then out of the blue she became deathly afraid of it, to the extent where she would not take the most high-value treat if she was within the area where she could hear the sound of the teeter.  The fear became so overwhelming for her that she refused to do agility all together, and would tuck her tail and head for the gate whenever we went to class.  So, we took a break and I began working with her at home on overcoming her fear of the sound.  I recorded the sound of the teeter and played it at a very low volume at home while engaging her in her favorite games and rewarding her with high value treats.  Gradually I increased the volume, and eventually when she heard the sound she would get excited for treats and playtime.  Eventually, we went back to class, practicing all of the other obstacles, and rewarding her whenever she heard the sound of the banging teeter.  Although it took quite awhile, she eventually totally overcame her fear, and has competed confidently and successfully in AKC Agility since then.

However, we have hit some snags in our agility progress.  Hayden always reminds me that as well as we may do during training, she has her own mind, and will decide that she doesn't want to work or play  at certain times.  This was specifically evident at one trial where we had two runs back to back and it was quite hot outside.  Towards the end of the second run she stopped, looked at me and headed for the shade.  I attempted to call her back to no avail, and after she realized that I wasn't going to give up and leave, she headed for the exit, calmly walking out of the ring on her own and waiting for me on the other side of the fence.  Can I blame her?  It was hot, she was panting, I was sweating, and I really should have just decided to skip the second run altogether, but I didn't.  I decided that we should try it anyways, when I really should have quit while I was ahead.  This is just one of the ways that Hayden keeps me humble. . . she reminds me that as much success as I may have with my own dogs as well as my students, there is always more to work on, and that ultimately each dog is their own unique being, and it is much more important to listen to what they need, and how they like to learn, than it is to try to make them do something my way.

Hunter's first time in the Advanced Rally ring, he earned a first place with a score of 94!

The video started about half way through the run, so you can't see the beginning.  This is Hunter's first time in the ring off leash, so he was a bit distracted, but still did pretty well!
Hunter earning his third leg toward his RN title and a 1st place with a score of 99!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Hunter's second Rally Obedience competition; 1st place with a score of 96!