Conditioning Calmness

Conditioning Calmness

Lately I’ve had a couple of clients asking why their dog isn’t staying in the owners desired position. So I started to really dive deep into what it is that makes the dog break from their position (i.e. sit, down.) What I noticed with a particular one, was that every time the owner praised or gave a treat, his dog broke. Simple enough, but why? 


From the time we get these little guys as puppies, or adopt them, we get so excited when they finally accomplish what it is we were looking for. So we praise the heck out of it because we’re so proud of the success that we get their excitement fueling and they break position- but at that time, we don’t really care because they’re so new and cute. The problem stems later when they’re big, barky, and unruly but we NEED them in position for whatever reason.  


Ultimately, what needs to happen is that we counter-condition the praise to be an intermittent bridge, rather than a release bridge.  How does this happen? Here’s a four step plan to increasing that duration:

Step 1) Start from the beginning and be very aware of everything. The best thing you can do is to record yourself. Ask the dog into position. Have a release word that will indicate to the dog when they’re finished (and remember this needs to be conditioned too) such as “yes”, or “okay.” When the dog has surpassed a few seconds (start short,) give them that release word and treat. Keep your body language very calm and relaxed.

Step 2) Ask the dog into position. Keep your body language relaxed again, and hold strong eye contact. Briefly increase the duration of the position and then give your release word with treat. 

Step 3) Begin to build in that intermittent praise. Ask dog into position, and have a new phrase picked out (“nice,” “good.”) Build that new phrase in at a low volume and with calm body language. 

Step 4) Eventually you’ll have that intermittent praise built up to a few minutes, and then they’ll only release themselves when they hear that special word “yes” or “okay.” Remember however, this won’t happen overnight, and like anything else it takes practice daily! 


You’ll notice I mentioned that body language quite often. Studies have shown dogs actually read our body language 45% faster than what they hear us say. There could even be a very subtle movement with your body that you don’t realize you’re making which is causing them to release themselves. For example a clap, point, hand on the hip; anything can be conditioned so be extremely aware! Thankfully, everything can also be counter-conditioned. Also remember that our dogs aren’t bulletproof so work around low distractions and with high value treats to start out. Have them leashed up while you practice with whichever collar you choose to use.

A good bullet point to take from this if nothing else- if you don’t want your dog to be exuberant or unruly in a situation, don’t yell and don’t get frustrated- it’s just emitting that fear or excitement that much more. 

Training terms for this post: 

Counter condition- a technique employed in animal training in which behavior incompatible with a habitual undesirable pattern is induced.

Intermittent bridge- A series of continuous and instantaneous signals marking a progression of successful instants advancing toward a successfully completed behavior.

Happy Training

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ESA PSA

ESA PSA

Emotional Support Animals- they can be of such great benefit to us. Our pets are our companions, our family, our best friends. It only makes sense that sometimes their presence has the ability to calm and reassure us when we’re stressed, or in a panic. ESAs have been proven to help those with PTSD, clinical depression or anxiety, and many more conditions. Having that bond and relationship with an animal is a very special gift, but what about how they’re feeling in that moment?

Recently, (very recently; I’m on the plane now as I write,) I was at the airport and saw an ESA pitbull/bulldog mix. Beautiful, sweet dog. Unfortunately, she was stressed beyond belief. Panting perfusly, pacing while the owner stood still, and tugging on the leash harness like there’s no tomorrow. It’s hard to watch honestly because the thing is if you plan to register your dog as an ESA, you need to make sure YOU aren’t being selfish. Consider that the dog has no idea why it’s suddenly been taken from the house to this strange place with tons of voices, smells, sounds, and other seemingly scary stimuli.

What I’m saying guys, is if you truly need your pet there with you to feel calmed and reassured, then please don’t do it the injustice of not preparing them. Now, how do you prepare them to not be stressed and anxious? If they don’t have it already, start with strong leash/crate manners. If they know that you’re in control and have their safety in mind, they won’t feel the need to pull or be stressed. Once you have this under wraps, take them places, train in these places, get them really comfortable in all kinds of new environments and reinforce all the good! Heck- go to the airport even; you’ll still be able to practice and get ready for that big day of travel just from outside the security point!

If you need them to be there for you, then be there for them too. They’re thinking, breathing, feeling animals and they can have all the same feelings as you.

Happy Training (and travels)


Same Dog, Different Cue

Same Dog, Different Cue

Have you ever heard someone speak to their dog in another language and just thought-WHAT? Animals of any kind can all be trained on different or multiple cues; these cues may be verbal, visual, scents, or tactile. For example, Rory, my dog, is trained in two languages (French and English,) visual cues, and scent cues.  There are some really great advantages to multi-cue behaviors.

The reason that I trained Rory in two languages is that when other people are around her and don’t know the rules of behavior, they could be inadvertently be untraining a lot of the hard work I put into her. So while she does know all her basic behaviors, I don’t want those words to become white noise to her. Also, it creates a better bond between us as dog and trainer so that she is fully aware I mean business when I’m talking to her in French.
Training on multi-cues is also VERY mentally stimulating. It reaches out to all of their senses which they need to feel fulfilled. Many zoos and aquariums are doing scent cues with sea lions, and otters. They’ll present a scent (cinnamon, for example,) and train the animal to respond accordingly to the desired behavior matching that scent.

 

Another great example of training like this is for animals that have a disability such as being blind or deaf. You can get really creative with how to train their behaviors! If your animal is older and going blind or deaf then it is in their best interest that you start to retrain them to the cues which will fit them accordingly. When I was working with sea lions, we had one, Lilli, who was blind. So before her eye surgery, her trainers at the time changed over all of her cues that were visual, to be now tactile. This important training gave her the best quality of life that was attainable and she loved to learn new things!
It’s really a pretty simple process too- if your animal already knows to sit, for example, all you do is pair the new cue with the old. Eventually, you’ll fade out the old cue, or continue to use it on occasion depending on your goals.
EXAMPLE: English to French cues.
Rory, sit. Reinforce.
Rory, assieds, sit. Reinforce. Repeat step multiple times until animal is grasping behavior.
Rory, assieds….sit. Reinforce. This time you’re giving it a pause to test it out, but not yet punish them.
Eventually, they won’t need that extra help of “sit” once they’ve grasped what you’re asking. Of course, this plan will be a little bit different depending on what it is your training, but that is your general idea.
All in all, it makes training more fun for your animal because they’re being constantly stimulated, it can strengthen your bond, and can even be necessary for their quality of life. Usually, before I go into a session with Rory, I challenge myself to make that session unique for her whether it be by only using visual cues, or a certain language etc. Try out this challenge with your animal, and let me know your thoughts!
Happy Training♣
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Lilli, the greatest teacher I could’ve ever had♥
Should a Trainer Be Skilled in Every Quadrant?

Should a Trainer Be Skilled in Every Quadrant?

Burrhus Frederic Skinner, known as the Father of Operant Conditioning heavily studied the ideas of operant conditioning in the 1930s. There are two forms of conditioning, Operant, and Classical; both of these are highly valued and studied in the world of training. Most often though, operant conditioning is the main go-to which is what we’ll be diving into.

Here is a quick definition of what operant conditioning is, and how it works. Essentially it is a learning system which focuses on four quadrants of reinforcement and punishment. Through the use of these quadrants, the results should show either an increase or a decrease in the desired or undesired behavior.   

operant-conditioning

Examples would be:

Positive Reinforcement- Ask your dolphin to do a vertical jump, dolphin completes behavior to criteria, the trainer gives them a fish.

Positive Punishment- Dog is wearing a prong collar, E-collar, choke collar, martingale collar, etc, the dog receives undesired pressure when they do not comply when asked.

Negative Reinforcement- Pushing a dog’s bottom down to sit, and when the dog sits, the pressure is released.

Negative Punishment- A sea lion is not complying in their session, the trainer chooses to step away for a few minutes.

If you are from the marine mammal community, you are likely a positive reinforcement only trainer. If you are from the dog training community, you may be from any quadrant, or what is known as a balanced trainer. But here’s the thing- no matter what kind of trainer you identify as, I can almost guarantee that you are working within one of the other quadrants in some way, even if it is not deliberate. Ending your session, turning your back, using a smaller fish- these can all be punishments depending on your animal’s response. So often people look at prong collars, choke collars, E-collars, and see them as unethical or abusive but if you really want to dig into it, your back harness, gentle leader, flexi lead, or even in some cases flat collars are all the same. Please know, by no means am I bashing any of these kinds, I only mean to say look into the quadrants and look into what you’re actually practicing.

I personally believe that in order to be the best trainer I can be, I will have practiced thoroughly in each quadrant. Ultimately, your animal whether it be a dolphin, horse, dog, or elephant- they should all be motivated and excited to train. I’ve seen some dogs that are amped up to train that are wearing three types of collars, but are just as amped when all of the collars are off. I will say, that in the marine mammal community it is solely positive reinforcement because of public opinions and while I know that that is a whole other topic, I would encourage you to explore what you can do within the sessions that are still ethical and have you experimenting in the quadrants. Pushing yourself to be the best trainer you can be will be entirely up to you, but I caution you to research and practice the quadrants in your own life. Daily I go through the motions, looking at people with their pets, or even their own kids thinking to myself what at that moment are they practicing.

As trainers, I hope that ultimately we all only want our animals to be mentally stable and motivated. This is an attainable state for any animal, so long as you’re using the right tools and methods per your animal and session. Recently I heard a great quote from trainer Chad Mackin, “Ethically we are obligated to know all of our options before training.” I agree with that entirely.

 

Happy Training ♣

Q & A

Q & A

Jumping on Owners and Guests
It’s annoying, it hurts, and it’s just plain bad manners…but it can be fixed! Almost all behaviors can be fixed through three main ways- reinforcement, punishment, or ignoring.
If you want to reinforce your dog, practice this drill. Put yourself on the other side of a door from the dog. Have some high value treats with you (behind your back, or else they try to jump to get it) or in your pocket. As soon as you step through the door, immediately ask your dog to sit and quickly feed if they are successful. Do this drill for many repetitions, day after day. If your dog isn’t crated at home, carry some treats with you so that when you get home and the dog is extra excited, you can practice it with that high level of arousal they have at that moment. If you’re skilled enough at hiding your treats, practice standing up from the couch, “sit,” treat. With enough practice (and good treats, nothing stingy!)  this should become a habit for them.
If you want to go with the correction route, I have two suggestions. One, have a short 1-2 foot leash on them at all times (yes, in the house.) Every time they jump, give that leash a tug in the downward direction. The second option, you can do what is the normal reaction- raise your leg and give a little pop of the knee. Of course, nothing that will hurt them but just a nudge to say “hey, I don’t want to be jumped on!”
Finding Motivation to Train Behaviors 
I would recommend more high-value treats! Also, get a few so that you can mix it up. Or, have them work for their meal. Personally, though, I’ve found for my dog, even if she eats her meals from a dish if I use the right treats (freeze-dried raw minows, no joke) she’s game to train. I’ll post the links to some below. Also, try to train behaviors they find reinforcing! So work towards what drives their breed- sniffing/foraging, mouth/bite work, high energy/agility, etc.
My Dog Never Listens to Me
Have you ever really liked a song on the radio, but then they start to overplay it? At first, you enjoy it and sing along…but then it gets annoying and you start to ignore it or change the station. It’s the same for dogs with our verbal cues (sit, down, heel etc.) When you repeat your cue over and over and over and…over…it just becomes white noise. It completely loses its meaning. Usually, these instances happen when there’s high arousal, so practice with that. Invite a friend over to help you and just have patience. It is SO important to be cautious of your body language and mannerisms during this because if you smile, laugh, or repeat the command all you’re ultimately doing is rewarding them for not doing what you asked. Now some similar advice applies here that you can either reinforce them, correct them, or ignore them. If you want more information on that, you can contact me. Ultimately, if you’re frustrated that your dog never listens to you, it’s because you’ve taught them they don’t have to, and often when they do, they get nothing in return for it- so go back to square one.
Like anything else, it’s important to find the root of the problem. Make sure you’re giving your dog proper outlets for their energy, and stay consistent in their training- it won’t happen overnight!
Happy Training ♥
Cut up into small bites and store in a Tupperware.
Many flavors to choose from.
Raw is so great for them!
Natural, and a good variety of flavors.
Trainer Inspos

Trainer Inspos

Here’s the really awesome thing about working in the training field (well, there’s many but here’s one) there is no right or wrong way to train something! That being said, you’ll find so many different trainers training behaviors in just that many ways. It means there are more people to look up to, and more ways to learn.
Most of my trainer inspirations vary with what species we’re talking about. When I was first headed into the marine mammal field I, along with most others, were taught a good deal by Karen Pryor. She is a renown trainer with a fascinating background starting out with marine mammals in Hawaii, to now owning her own dog clicker training school in Washington. Her platform is strictly positive reinforcement and focuses heavily on markers. Her work is really excellent and I would highly recommend checking out some of her books and videos.
The Monks of New Skete are a great group which has dedicated their lives to raising German Shepard’s and putting them through a rigorous training program. They are balanced trainers, meaning they use training collars to help guide their dogs in the right direction. They have published many books listed below to help others in raising obedient dogs from puppies to adult.
Chad Mackin and Jay Jack have become two of my biggest inspirations as of late. They had a podcast, Dog Training Conversations, together for years up until recently. They are both “balanced” dog trainers, but the reason that I enjoy learning from them so much is because they are constantly evolving and willing to change their methods. Many times trainers will get stuck in a rut that if something works, why change it? In the podcast, they are always challenging each other and playing devil’s advocate for the sake of learning. These guys are a big inspiration because they have dedicated everything they have to evaluate each dog as it walks through their door, and evolve with them. Check them out, they have some seriously good ideas!
Ken Ramirez has been prominent in the marine mammal field for some time now. He’s worked at many facilities but is best known for his work with Shedd Aquarium, and most recently began with Karen Pryor’s Clicker Training Academy. He started a seriously cool behavior where a dog is counting objects, you must check that out here! Also, he was asked recently to help save vanishing wild species through training. Essentially, he and his team were able to train these animals (chimps and elephants) with little to no human contact, how to warn park rangers when poachers were near them saving hundreds of their lives! That project is incredible to me and speaks volumes to what training is capable of doing and why our field is so valuable.
Of course, there are many mentors and other icons I’ve seen through conferences, interviews, etc. along the way that I really look up to as well. As trainers, we all have such unique experiences to be shared, and the possibilities of what is to come from your animal are endless!
Why is My Animal Being Such a Jerk?!

Why is My Animal Being Such a Jerk?!

Why is My Animal Being Such a Jerk?!

We have all had that one session… the one where your animal just gives you the middle flipper, the middle paw, the middle toe. Then you look at your fellow trainers with those wide eyes and say “man, why is my animal being such a jerk?!” There’s a good chance you might use another word other than “jerk,” but we’ll keep it clean. It might not seem like it but they have a reason, I promise you that much. So how do we figure out what it is that’s causing this behavior?

There’s the obvious one- environment. Has something changed, or moved around? Is the weather different? Are your guests being noisy? Is there construction or some kind of festival or concert nearby? ANYTHING that targets one of your animal’s senses can easily be the source of their jerky-ness. Hopefully, whatever it may be is temporary; if not, or even if so, work through it!

Now, how’s their motivation? How’s their drive? If it’s not strong enough, then you’ve got a big problem. I would say, most trainers are pretty well off to notice this one. Our animals often earn their meals, and their extras (treats, toys, extra love, etc.) So if you don’t have their motivation in the bag, that is easily the first place to start.

Are you fulfilling their internal instinctual needs?  This is a big one. So often dog owners will say, “well I play fetch with them, but they’re still being a jerk!” Okay. Your partner gave you five minutes of their time- are YOU going to be genuinely happy and content for the next 24-72 hours until they maybe give you another five minutes? HECK NO!

Most all animals that we care for are social creatures, make sure their social mind is fulfilled regularly and PROPERLY.  Dogs- they need to play tug (correctly!) They need to sniff, be social, roll in the dirt, run, play frisbee, chew- remember what breed you’re working with- and don’t give me the “they’re a mutt mix” excuse. DO NOT just take them to the dog park and expect that to fix all of your problems! 

Marine mammals, they’re all a predator to some other species. Allow them ways to hunt, and be creative! We get in such a rut of using the same EEDs, but think bigger! We are their only opportunity to explore those senses, so make it worth their while!

This week, I started a new job. My dog Rory (lab and pointer mix) who was regularly able to come to work with me, is now no longer able to. I made the poor mistake of thinking that she would be fine in my bedroom rather than in her crate for 9 hours. Well, day one she tore apart a whole mess of things (she has not eaten one single thing in the house since the day I adopted her.) When I opened the door and first saw the mess I had to clean, I took a deep breath and wasn’t even the least bit mad. That’s only because I knew in that instant, that I had not been fulfilling her needs; I’d been slacking big time on her training and was not allowing her a proper outlet for her drives.

Also, the irony of this picture kind of made it all worth it.

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Guys, there’s so, so many reasons your animal may be acting like such a jerk- hormones, a bad day, factors below the waterline that you can’t even see, and plenty more. Its happened to every trainer or pet owner, but think through it. Think to yourself what you and your team can be doing differently to improve the sessions or general behavior. It will almost always pass (I only say almost, because I don’t like absolutes, but I can pretty much guarantee.) 

Happy Training!