Oh dear. I fear that this is going to be one of the “self-help” pieces in which the author begins by talking about how bad she is at doing something (we’ll call it X), and then tells you why it’s so important to do it. It might end with the author seeing the light, as should we all, and is now doing X with consistency and dedication.
Oh, wait, it’s not going to be like that because I can’t say that I’m now doing X with “consistency and dedication”. But I can say I’m a little better at it than I’ve been in the past, and I’m trying to do better. And it does feel good.
Solve for X? In my case it’s making notes about my progress training Maggie to work sheep in a competitive trial context. I do take notes on how things are going, what I learned at a clinic, etc, and always intend to organize them into coherent order from all from the various journals and random pieces of mud-stained paper that they exist on now. However, “coherent order” is a goal I have not yet reached. But, I am making progress, sorting through the notes I’ve taken over the years, and wishing I’d been more organized about it.
I’ve started that process, and here’s what I’ve learned:
Maggie and I have both learned so, so much in the last five years. Reading through my mish mash of notes has reminded me how far we have come. It’s very reinforcing and I highly recommend it. No one is giving us treats or belly rubs for all our hard work, so we need to do it ourselves.
And then, there’s this: It is clear from my notes that Maggie and I both tend to make some of the same mistakes over and over again. “Infinite trial learning” I call it. For example here are some comments from my notes 4 years ago with friend and kick ass sheepdog trainer Peg Anderson, with my grade on how I’ve done since then:
Because Maggie has too much eye (meaning she can get “stuck” on the sheep once she makes eye contact), I should:
– Not stop on the fetch. A+
– Send her toward their tails, not their heads. A-
– When teach driving, keep moving so she learns to like pressure. B-
– Don’t stop her, just work on pace. C+. No, F. No, D. Okay, maybe C-.
About that C minus: It’s easy to say don’t stop your dog, but when things are moving at a million miles an hour and you have to make decisions within less than a third of a second, it’s easier to say than do. Stopping your dog slows things down and gives you a moment to think. But I have worked on not stopping her, and even ran one trial last winter in which my only goal was to run the entire course without stopping her even once. I knew that would mean I might miss a gate and get a lower score, but it was a smart thing to do because we need to practice it in a trial context. All of which I promptly forgot about at the last trial where I lost points for letting the sheep stop, cuz I, uh, kept telling Maggie to lie down cuz things were moving so fast. (See “Review your notes often below”.)
HOW DOES THIS RELATE TO ANY TRAINING? Here are some reasons that I think taking notes are of great value when starting training anything, like new dog, a new set of tricks, or working on a behavior problem.
FIRST, TAKE NOTES After having decided what behavior you want to focus on, take notes. That’s easy to say, but takes some thoughtful organization to do. Job One of note taking is figuring out where to write them. I like to write notes by hand in a notebook, but you you should use whatever you are most likely to use on a regular basis. Try to take your notes in the same place, rather than a random sampling of notebooks and journals (not that I’d know anything about that). Most importantly, make it easy easy easy to make a quick note here and there–if it’s logistically tricky or your expectations don’t match your energy level you’ll stop too soon and lose the value of taking notes.
MAKE NOTES READABLE (This, of course, is purely theoretical.) They don’t have to be pretty, and you can skip all kinds of extraneous words, but what you write needs to make sense a year or two from now. Ahem.
REVIEW YOUR NOTES OFTEN Oh yeah, that part. I found that I remembered many of the things I’d written in my notebooks, but not all of them. And it was easy for me to get distracted by the newest shiny key (teaching Maggie more advanced skills and forgetting about the basics). If I’d review my notes from just a few months ago I no doubt would have done better at the last trial because it would have reminded me to slow things down, rather than stopping them altogether.
I’m going to start a Sunday night ritual in which I update my notes based on the week and review important things I’ve written previously. We rarely go out Sunday night, and that’s usually my Groom the Dogs evening, so I’ll just add that in. Do whatever works for you, but I know I’m not the only one who takes notes and then doesn’t read through them often enough.
YES, IT’S ABOUT YOU TOO As I hope is clear, your notes should be about everything related to your training sessions, including your own behavior. There might be some of us out there whose training skills are perfect. but I’m not one of them. If your training session didn’t go well, exactly what did your dog do instead of what you wanted? What was the context? How did you respond? What can you do to help your dog do better next time?
REINFORCEMENT ISN’T JUST FOR YOUR DOG Our brains are hard wired to focus on the negative, but that’s not helpful here. In my experience dog owners and trainers tend to be pretty hard on themselves, which is not always constructive. I can get sucked into that too, so my notes are full of YAYS! and GREAT!. It’s usually about Maggie’s behavior, but I do try to reinforce myself in my notes too.
WHAT ABOUT YOU? Do you take notes? Any tips or ideas you have for the village about how to take and use them most efficiently? If you’d like to read more, I wrote a blog in November of 2012 on observing and interpreting behavior in which I talk about taking notes too.
MEANWHILE, back on the farm: Just home, again, from a sheepdog trial, except this time Maggie and I weren’t running. I was brought in by the hosts to do some speaking, and what a joy it was. The Vashon Classic Sheepdog Trial is not to be missed for so many reasons. One is that it’s the most spectator-friendly trial I’ve ever attended. There are seats under shady tents, but also this lovely hill where you can stretch out and enjoy the day while watching the drama unfolding out on the field.
There are fantastic venders, from a Fiber Village where kids can make a variety of fun things with wool, to lots of yummy food, to my buddies from Dogwise, Jon and Jason. Huge thanks to Maggi McClure, Tina Shattuck, and the folks of Vashon for making our time there a joy.
I thought you might enjoy these photos of a shed (anyone know who this is? I apologize for not knowing!), showing some of the stages of the process. The goal is to split two sheep off of the rest. For full points it should be the back two, depending on their line of travel, but you still get some points if it is any two. Any port in a storm sometimes. Here the handlers has got the sheep nicely lined up so that if she and the dog move correctly (inches matter), there will be enough of a gap for her dog to come in and separate the flock.
In the photo below you can see her dog in the process of coming in to keep the sheep separated.
The next photo shows catch the moment in which the dog looked at the “wrong group” of sheep–he needs to be driving the two on the left away. However, I’m not so sure he’s wrong here: he could be warning the ewe looking to the left to stay where she is, so
In the photo below you can see that he made the shed and successfully proved to the judge that he had control of the sheep. Well done!
After it was all over it was sweet to be going home, but lovely to fly over the beautiful mountains of Washington.
Thanks to Washington and Vashon Island for such a wonderful time!
Maureen Finn says
It was wonderful to see you here! I wasn’t able to make the trial itself this year, but remember being blown away the first time I came over to watch, several years ago. My (untrained) Rottweiler helps me with my sheep, but there is NO way I could ever imagine her on that outrun they do to start. Flippin amazing! But I did come over for your lecture on Saturday evening and thoroughly enjoyed it. I could have listened to you all night. Darn that ferry schedule – I felt like Cinderella with her pumpkin coach. 🙂
Maureen Finn says
AND, thank you for this great post and reminder. I’ve been to so many trainings (dogs, sheep, writing) and workshops and take copious notes and pretty much never read them again. I find them months (or years) later, when I’m looking for a notebook to go to the next seminar. They usually end up in the recycle bin at that point. I love the idea of updating the notes as a weekly ritual. Getting a folder together would be hugely helpful not only to collate everything into one place, but to actually REVIEW and absorb what I wrote, after the event itself, without the distraction of place/people at a workshop.
I use a free online database tool called Airtable that I’ve customized for what I need. I can easily select and filter based on sport (rally, nosework, agility), skill (sit, exterior search, rear cross, etc), keep track of trials and scores and judges, which instructor I worked with, etc. I keep track of the time of day, the place (home, training school, local park), any costs for classes or workshops, and text fields for what went well and what could be improved, as well as general notes. I can also attach pictures or videos – very handy for handouts or receipts!
There’s an app that works with my phone, so I can enter data on the go, and I can do more complex analysis on a desktop at home. When I sign up for a class, I pre-fill as much as I can, then fill in the rest after class.
It works very well for my brain!
Laurie Champagne says
The only diary I have ever been consistent in keeping in my life was the diary I wrote for my beloved English Cocker Spaniel Ranger who died this December . I started it the first day I brought him home 12 years ago – recorded behaviour, training, diet , where & at what time we walked – but also sometimes the weather or what was in bloom & advice to myself to slow down and enjoy him .My husband I used it to communicate with each other when our shifts were different so we would know if Ranger had a bowel movement, walk etc. We wrote in his doctor appointments & odd observations – over the years we sometimes slipped away from the daily entries for a few days but were pretty faithful and oh my the comfort it gives me now while I miss him so desperately to be able to go back & read about the way he slept on my heart in the mornings as a puppy after we played & how he loved the snow , and even the painful entries during the last months of his life when he & I both knew he was going and the dog who always wanted to be only 2 inches away from me now wanted to be only one inch away from me so we would sit on the couch and I would sing his favourite songs …… I can go back and read his story – just jotted notes but so precious.
Charlotte Kasner says
I am currently about half way through the Karen Pryor Academy Professional Dog Trainer course and happen to have just completely changed the way that I take notes.
I had tended to fill in the required templates but then write a stream of consciousness-type follow up. I have now organised notes into subject matter and included the goal of the training, the environment in which it was undertaken, level of distractions, attenuating circumstances etc.
Then I add the details of how the session went and follow up analysis and the plan for the consequent session.
I am working around full time work, a part time additional job and finishing of a Grad Dip in Canine Behaviour Management. I am also working with a borrowed dog so have to fit sessions in around his owners. Needless to say, I did not plan for things to be this concentrated but it does mean that finding a way of making notes work for me is essential as I don’t have the time to back-track or mis-train.
It has made note-taking seem less onerous and I am integrating it into my practical training in a much better way .
Patrick Shannahan says
That person shedding is Tracee T. from Atlanta, GA and her Abby (my former dog.) They did a great job.
Hali Chambers says
I have a passion for journals and notebooks and I have all kinds with different purposes and themes. The one thing they all have in common is that they are Traveler’s Notebooks. The first ones by Midori were made with a piece of leather and elastic bands, but now they come in a variety of materials and sizes. I have smaller ones that will fit in a pocket or larger ones that stay on my desk for notes. The advantage is that you can swap out notebooks when they are finished; you can have separate notebooks for different topics or children or dogs or projects or whatever. TNs provide a structure to hold it all together, but also a lot of versatility. I make my own, but there are companies like Chic Sparrow that make some really beautiful ones! 🙂
…And Rifle Paper (?) or Peter Pauper paper makes great journals and notebooks within which one can make one can make one’s all important notes! Great post!
Thanks for your comments. I have a “sticky” dog, Jill, and her polar opposite, Kandy, rocketgirl who is btilliant but scares the sheep with her speed. So, we’ve been practicing together, with Kandy on a long line to slow her down and Jill waiting in front of the draw (barn) and waking up to push the sheep back to us. I feel success if Jill accomplishes her task and Kandy waits till the sheep head our way so we can continue our drive. We’re a long way from trialing but believe we need to get our basics, like down, first. I’m worried we won’t be ready for Scott Glenn’s clinic in 2 weeks.
I love the above comment from Laurie Champagne about her notes on her dog. I share my dog with my mom who is in her mid eighties, after work in the morning when I pick up the dog my mom and I have a conversation about Noel’s antics, appetites, elimination, etc. I wish I had kept some sort of written diary. It is wonderful to read all the comments from people who feel their dogs are their family.
Barbara Martin says
Thank you for saying we handlers need reinforcement too! After last’s weeks Nose Work with class with Miley, I was so disappointed in myself for all the mistakes I made. I’m sure I did something good but I can’t remember what it was. Rather than beating myself up I need to remember and do better next time. After all, since I go home with my best friend no matter what she did in class or a trial my dog is also going home with her best friend – me!
I use a spreadsheet on my phone to record my reactive dog’s behaviour to different triggers, good and bad. I use the ABC of behaviour model. Reviewing the data takes considerable time and effort but has been helpful to demonstrate to his vet where things have improved or not. In the three month period of summer just gone (I am in Australia), reactions to noises jumped from 1-2 per day to average of 9 per day, over the same period the year before. No vet can argue that noises aren’t a problem when you have good notes to prove your feelings!
Sally Fox says
Your lecture Saturday night on Vashon got a roaring round of approval. The audience was packed, excited, and appreciative. I had never ‘met’ your work before and it came at just the right time, as I was debating what to do with our foster-rescue dog who had startle-bit me that morning. You were the inspiration to keep observing and learning from the dog; there’s so much we can learn together. Thanks for coming all the way to Vashon! Hope you’ll come back…
You are so kind!
Fantastic point Melanie about the value of recorded data to have an impact on one’s medical team. Nothing like having something in writing to get the attention of others!
Argh, I think we all know that feeling of abject failure, when actually you probably did a number of things super well. I prescribe chocolate.
Ooooh, checking out Rifle Paper and Peter Pauper paper (who could not love that?) today!
I knew you all would come through with some great ideas! Checking this out too!
Thanks Patrick, they did indeed do a super job! Congratulations to you both. Both about Abby and Patrick for your fantastic run at the trial. Can’t wait for your clinic this fall !
Love the reminder to add in context (distractions, other circumstances, etc.). And yeah for writing out the goal–seems obvious but actually I think it’s not. Ex: Goal = to teach my dog to sit. But when? Where? Within any level of distraction? From a dead run? A simplistic example for sure, but writing out the goal makes us be clear on exactly what we are going for.
And how precious is your comment. Am I the only one here who got dust in her eyes reading it?
Airtable, cool, will check it out. Though I’m probably more a paper and pen girl myself, but great to know what’s out there.
Roxanne Smith says
As a newcomer to the sport and community, but someone who tends to be and avid researcher and note taker, I love this advice, and am getting started with it right now! My 2 years old border, Steele, and I are just progressing to the trial stage and there is so much to learn and reflect on. A really exciting (and sometimes frustrating >.<) team building phase that I look forward to note taking on.
Next year we hope to attend Vashon’s Trial! Even in just to spectate. So fun knowing that it’s a wonderful one to go to 😁
Cayce Wallace says
It was wonderful to see you in Vashon, we all enjoyed our non-talk talk so much! It is so hard to put into words the immense impact so many of us feel you have on our thinking and training. I always feel you are right there with me when reading your words and seeing you again in person was such a treat!
I have gotten lazy when asking folks to keep notes on their dogs when there is no significant behavior or treatment plan. What a great reminder that ALL owners training should keep a dog journal to mark changes. I also get lazy with my own notes and my memory needs them more than ever soooo I will get my little note pad for my back pocket again!!
One thing I ask my clients to do in their dog journal is to rate themselves on a 1-5 for overall mood (energy level, emotional state, physical comfort) and a few sentences at the start and end of the training session as well as note their dog. I find they can see trends to better shape their best training times and outcome and impact on the dog as they are a team!
HOO BOY I am great at taking notes, and not so great at… reading them… more than one or two times… I am putting a note on my google calendar now with a reminder to actually review my notes from seminars and classes the last Thursday of every month! Let’s be honest, I’d rather spend my time hiking or training, the big picture birds-eye-view notes and plotting aren’t likely to come any more frequently than every 30 days-ish.
I was *SO* good at taking notes weekly and reviewing them weekly and devising new goals weekly from them when I had a puppy in puppy manners and CGC classes. But with my good dog? My older dog who is an actual saint? With whom I’m competing and attending seminars? HAHAHA I take a bunch of notes at those seminars and trials but seem to (in practice) hope to coast on her good behavior and talent rather than methodically reviewing and changing my handling on daily or weekly basis at home/in class.
One thing that is 50% cringe-inducing (and therefore very effective in changing my handling behavior posthaste) and 50% all good feeling and reward (and therefore very effective in making me adore my good dog) is having people video our trial performance and watching it later. Video makes it so clear what I have to fix. And so, so clear what a tolerant and benevolent animal I work with!
Jenny Haskins says
But I HAVE found that they only really work IF you write them in a book. Scraps paper simply don’t work, and notes in the computer don’t do much better 🙁
Lola Michelin says
Thank you for visiting Vashon and sharing so much of yourself with us at the trials. Hope to see you back in Washington. It was an honor to host you. Your books and dvds have taught our students so much over the years!
It was simply delightful to see you at your talk on Vashon and to have a bit of a meet. I always learn so much from you. This blog is no exception. I’d never really thought about why I have a blog about training my dogs it just seemed a convenient way to organize my thoughts and document my progress. But really that’s where I keep my notes. There are many many entries that never get to the publish stage they’re just my notes before they get tidied into something readable. And it’s also a great source of positive reinforcement for me as readers comment. I’ve rather fallen out of the habit of late and I really should get back to it. My current challenge with Finna is fence fighting with the neighbor dog. The neighbors think it’s good exercise and aren’t interested in hearing otherwise. I’ve been using the premack principle and generally making reasonable progress. I forget sometimes though that I’m working with Finna who has a way of figuring things out that is often at right angles with what I think I’m teaching her. She gets rewarded for being at least five feet off the solid wood six foot high privacy fence with the dog on the other side and giving me her attention. The other day she took her squeaky ball to the preferred fence fighting place, repeatedly squeaked the ball and huffed until the neighbor dog came charging out her doggy door and launched herself barking at the fence. Finna then walked five feet away from the fence, dropped her ball, looked at me and waited for her treats. She had instigated a fence fight just to not participate in order to get rewards. She isn’t always in a mental place where she’s that much in control of herself but it was very encouraging to me to see that that mental place does exist. Now I’m trying to work out what circumstances get her there and figure out how to keep her there. Meanwhile she remains a master class in all things dog.
More soon Kat, but IT WAS ABSOLUTE HEAVEN TO MEET YOU IN PERSON!!!! Wish there was a video of my face when the words “Kat” and “Finna” connected in my brain at the book signing line. And why didn’t we get a picture? Argh, I so wish we had! As I said to you in person, you add so much to our conversation, and I will always be grateful. Now, gotta go to Pilattes, more about fence fighting soon.
And then there’s that ‘reading them’ part!
Barb Stanek says
Love this post. Taking notes. Do it at seminars. Don’t refer back often. Not a consistent note-taker with my own dogs’ training sessions.
So I’m getting a puppy in two weeks. (Timely post — thanks, Trish!) The puppy is a new beginning, and I can do better!
I’ve decided to do training notes on my new puppy (maybe on other things too, like a diary, but at a minimum, training notes. Let’s keep it manageable!) AND my older dog. Why not do both?
So the immediate protest screaming through my mind is “You won’t take the time! You squeeze in training as it is. You won’t take the time to make notes much less read them. At least you never have consistently done so.”
Thinking through this problem I think that I have the solution. I can imagine adding no more that ten minutes to each of my training sessions. I will add five minutes at the beginning of the training session to read my notes from the last session. And I will add five minutes at the end of the training session to make new notes. I can add two extra five minute increments — no problem.
So I’m excited. I have thought through the problem and come up with what I hope is a workable solution. I can even set my phone timer to get me started in this new habit.
Let’s hope this does the trick! Here’s to better training sessions in my house!
Love the practical 5 minutes before and after idea! Yay!
Took lots of notes for my job when I was working, but got much better at it when we moved from a 4-bedroom house to a 35-foot sailboat & went cruising. Living in a small space – but with lots of storage space – made us really think about our stuff & activities: where to put spare parts, repair parts, and food; what absolutely had to be done (boat as transportation and living space came first), nice to have (would make life easier/better but wasn’t essential), and making time for fun. Not having a car (but we did have folding bikes onboard) means you can only buy what you can carry. And all this has to be done around where you are, what’s available in the area, and the weather. The organization skills made keeping track of dog training pretty easy for me. When I’m working I don’t always have a writing surface: if I’m outside, a pack of ring-bound index cards that fit in a pocket of my cargo pants and a pen allows me to note observations shortly after they happen; if I’m indoors I have a Vaultz locking storage clipboard that has room for papers, pens, my credit card reader, etc. Having a standard of documentation for client files – contract, photo-video release waiver, breed profile (if dog’s breed(s) are known, lesson plans with handouts, skills assessment, etc. means I have essential info at my fingertips. For conferences, seminars, workshops, and session observations, I have abbreviations that mean something to me, and write as legibly as I can. Within a day or 2 I enter my handwritten notes in my computer, then organize them to where they make more sense to me and how I would share/present the information. Depending on my week, I schedule 2-4 hours for paperwork by making an appointment in my calendar (blocking out the time), & focusing on that. Someone suggested noting energy level, emotional state, and physical comfort – sort of like Lumosity’s pick the face icon and enter the number of hours of sleep. I think having a client note that about themselves when they begin training homework is a great idea. For my own dog, I or someone else occasionally film a training session or agility, nosework, or tracking practice that I watch later to assess how it went, what I did well, what needs improvement, etc.