Friday, December 31, 2010

Rethinking our New Year's resolution

After posting our New Year's resolution - 'to put the joy back in training' - it dawned on me how general and unmeasurable this goal was. How will I ever be able to tell when/if I've attained it - or made some progress toward attaining it? So, I've been trying to come up with a more specific action plan that will help me reach this goal, and some ideas on how to measure our progress. These are my ideas so far:

1) I will begin each training session with play. Not being a toy or tug dog, Jackson's favorite game that gets  him excited is chasing his favorite treat across the ring. He will also chase me around the ring (when I have the energy to run : ) and he likes to do long recalls to his other favorite treat (Cesar's moist dog food)!

2) I will try to play tug with him twice a week. I ordered a mesh tug toy a while back that you put their favorite food in and it's guaranteed to make any dog want to tug.  Well, I didn't have immediate success with it so I put it away. I will get it back out again and give it another try. This time I will not give up so easily.

 3) I will shorten our training sessions, and/or take at least two breaks during our training to break out in a play session.

4) I will try one new kind of treat each week to peak his interest. I've heard dogs go nuts over tripe - or, maybe some sirloin steak will be on the menu : )

5) I will try to teach him one new trick each week. With a clicker, he picks up on simple tricks pretty fast so I think it's doable - if I can just think of 52 simple tricks!

Now, how will I measure our progress in putting more fun back in training? I'm not sure. That may be more subjective.

Tail wags are usually a sign that a dog is working happily. I'll admit, I don't get a lot of tail wags when he is working obedience exercises, so maybe I'll look for tail wags and keep track of when/if I see them. I'll watch his head position too. If his head and ears are up when he's working, that might also be a sign of his comfort level. One of Fanny's posts talks about your dog asking you to work with him - instead of the other way around. If I walk out to the middle of the ring and he comes trotting out to me, does that mean he's asking me to work with him? If he's nudging me for more treats, does that mean he wants to work with me - or does he just want a treat? Hmmm... I haven't figured this one out yet. Any ideas?????

Thursday, December 30, 2010

I will not suck the joy out of training!

Yup, that's my new year's resolution and number one goal for 2011. Up until a couple weeks ago I thought my number one goal was obvious - to get the udx title. However, after reading Melinda's blog post about putting the joy back in training, I was reminded again about why I do this.

Although I try to make our training sessions fun, I sometimes get caught up in the frustration of trying to meet the performance and title goals I've set for myself and forget to relax and find the joy in training for Jackson and myself. This year I am committed to trying harder to find that joy. I didn't start out training with titles and placements in mind. I just wanted to try doing something different with my dogs that I thought would be challenging and fun. It is fun  and rewarding - which is why I'm hooked on obedience.

Another blogger - Fanny Gott - posted something recently that also really got me thinking. In her post she said, "I never ask my dog to work with me. My dog has to ask me to work with him. I don’t ask him to look at me or to come to heel. The dog has to take responsibility for those things if he wants to work." Wow, I've never thought about training in those terms - expecting my dog to ask me to work with him : )

Anyway, those two posts really got me thinking about what it is I want to accomplish with training my dog. I will of course be setting some less lofty goals, i. e., straighter fronts, better position in heeling, nicer finishes, but always trying to keep in mind my primary goal of making training fun!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Thursday, December 9, 2010

A Pictorial Review of 2010

I've selected a photo taken in each month to represent some of the
events in Jackson's year.

What a great year it's been!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

To pinch, or not to pinch ....

...that is the question. I was recently asked how I taught Jackson to retrieve the dumbbell. Since I had been thinking about doing a post on my training philosophy at some point, this question seemed a good lead in.

Jackson is the first dog I have trained for competitive obedience, so please take my random thoughts on training with a grain of salt : )   Every dog is different and it's a journey to find training methods that work for your dog and for you. This is what I have learned - so far - about what works with my dog --- and, that's not to say that other methods may have worked as well.

I am not a purely positive trainer. I choose to use primarily positive reinforcers such as treats and praise to train behaviors. I lure - a lot - when first teaching a behavior. I also use corrections to extinguish behaviors I don't want and to reinforce the notion that he doesn't always have a 'choice.' I don't believe corrections have to be harsh - they only need to get the dog's attention and communicate to him that, 'this is not appropriate behavior, or that was the wrong decision.'  I don't believe that ignoring bad behavior in my dog will make it go away, any more than I believe you should ignore bad behavior when raising children. And, I don't believe correcting my dog damages my relationship with him anymore than I think disciplining children damages your relationship with them. I think it gives them a clear picture of what your expectations are and what's acceptable behavior. Well, that's pretty much it in a nutshell - at least as of today. I'm sure my ideas on training will continue to undergo changes and adjustments with more experience, and more trials and errors!

 All of which brings me to the question, "how did I train the retrieve?" I used the ear pinch method. I started out with putting the dumbbell in Jackson's mouth and having him hold it. I rewarded him for holding it and sometimes he would even take it from my hand. But most times he would choose not to take it. Now, I might have worked on this for a year or so and gotten him to take it on command (and I do know people who did work on it for months and were able to get their dogs to retrieve without pinching their ear), however, I am not that patient of a trainer, and at that time, had no experience with clicker training. We had one training session where we pinched his ear to get him to take the dumbbell. I think we only did it a couple times before he figured out what he needed to do. Today, Jackson has a reliable retrieve. I can't remember one time in the four or five years since we did the ear pinch, that he has refused to retrieve.

Would I use the same method with my next dog? I don't know. I've done some dumbbell work with Jolee, who has a totally different personality/temperament than Jackson and I've been using the clicker training method with her. It has been a lot of fun watching her learn that way and I hope to get back to working with her soon. I'll just have to see how far clicker training takes me.