I’m just back from participating in grant reviews for NIH (Nat’l Institute of Health), and what a process it was. 36 people, from all over the country and a vast range of fields, were charged with reviewing a large number of grant proposals for scientific merit. The proposals were administered through the Nat’l Institute of Child Health and Development and related to Human/Animal Interactions. I can’t tell you anymore about the grants themselves, or they’ll shoot out my kneecaps. Well, probably not, but the absolute hardest part of the process is that we all pledged to keep virtually any information about the proposals themselves completely confidential. That means never, ever talking about them to anyone, ever, outside of our two days of meetings in Washington, D.C. As the Scientific Review Officer said: “The statute of limitations is forever.” She said it would be the hardest part of the process, and it is. I’d say more, but then I’d start going down a slippery slope.
What I can tell you is this: First, the initial phase of the process is something like sitting on a beach in the warm sand, and then looking up to see a wave about 30 feet high looming toward you. Once you agree to be a reviewer, the amount of information that one is sent is, well, overwhelming. The process is clearly much less time consuming once you’ve done it before , and considerably less confusing, but as a newbie, wading through the reams of information sent through the mail, email and internet is daunting. It took me I don’t know how long just to figure out what COI (conflict of interest) and SRO (Sr. Review Officer) meant. Well, I do know how long it took, but I’d rather not say.
In brief, 3 people are charged with carefully reviewing about 6 grant proposals each. Once that is done (8 million hours later-although the process is actually clear and straight forward once you’ve got in figured out, some of the grants are over 200 pages long), the entire panel of 36 people meets for 2 days to discuss and eventually rate every proposal that the reviewers agree has merit. We met from 9 am to 6:30 pm on the first day (1/2 hr for lunch, in the room) and started at 8 am the 2nd day. We finished around 1:30 pm, which was a boon to those of us who wanted to fly home that day. I managed to book an earlier flight, and got home at 9:30 instead of midnight. What’s most important to know, if you are a tax payer, is that the process was done with meticulous attention to giving every proposal a fair and equitable hearing, that the room full of reviewers (from child psychiatrists to CAABs like me) had enough IQ to lift the building off of its foundation and that everyone worked hard and appeared to care deeply about the process.
Before I left I must have said “I WILL NEVER DO THIS AGAIN” at least 25 times and after I came back I said “Wow, that was amazing.”
But the primary reason I bring it up here is because the review process reminded me of a ‘simple’ but not easy aspect of dog training: starting from the beginning. Let me explain: The SRO (see, now you know the lingo too!) asked us to let her know if they could do anything to make the process simpler and easier for first time reviewers. I will write her next week, because there is. What I most needed was someone to give me chronological instructions. “First, do A. You do A this way. Then, do B. The way you do B is this….”. It seems so simple, but it’s actually very difficult to pull off instructions that are that clear IF you are involved in a complicated process and IF it’s hard to remember what it is like to start from the beginning.
I think learning to train a dog has the exact same challenge. So many trainers are so good at what they do that they can’t remember what it was like when they first started. There are great dog trainers who are brilliant at training dogs, and there are great teachers who are great at training people to train dogs. Sometimes that gets combined, but they are two different skills, don’t you think? Great dog training teachers are able to both empathize with dogs (as best one can with another species) and also with the beginners that they are working with. I am still touched and saddened by how many people have come to my office in the last 22 years and said “I left dog training class/another behaviorist/the vet’s office in tears…”. I think it happens less than it used to, but it still happens too much. One feels so vulnerable when starting something out, and unless information is provided in a way that begins at the beginning, it is hard to learn much.
But it’s tough to start at the beginning when you were there many, many years ago, isn’t it? It’s challenging, but it’s actually one of my favorite parts of my work–working with people who don’t even know where to start. In part, it requires a clear understanding of where the beginning really is, which is not always an easy place to spot when you’ve traveled far away from it yourself. So here’s the question of the day: What is the beginning? What are the very first things that people need to know about training and behavior when they first get a dog?
Here’s one of mine, just to prime the pump: Dogs can learn to respond to dozens or hundreds of words, but first, they are watching you. Learn to pay attention to how your body moves when ‘talking’ to your dog, and you will automatically beocme a much better trainer.
Meanwhile, back on the farm: Before the farm, here’s a shot taken close to my hotel in Washington, DC. Trees in bloom, OH MY!
And here are some of the girls (and Redford in the middle) at the feeder, with careful attention paid to their nether regions. Butt checks like this happen three times a day now. I have 3 ewes who were/are due to lamb between yesterday and tomorrow, and I am obsessively looking for signs of imminent action. The one who looks closest here is Spot, 2nd from the right, with her slightly enlarged bag and swollen vulva. And of course, there’s piggy Brittany standing in the feeder getting everyone covered in hay, as usual…
But nothing yet. Jim, Will and I are about to go on a long walk (it’s sunny and gorgeous) and I’ll check again when we get back. Will is still on leash, but I let him run free to the barn and back yesterday (he is crazed with joy to be outside off leash or off heel, I got tears in my eyes watching him flip and spin joyously). I’m still taking it slow, we’ll keep him on leash for the long walk, but I’m becoming a bit optimistic that he might be able to go back to working sheep or playing with other dogs in a week or so.
Nancy Andreasen says
You are absolutely right that it is tough when you don’t know how to start. We have had many dogs over the years, but never trained them in any sort of systematic way. Our 4 month old SPCA pup turns out to be a chow/rottweiler mix, and at 78 we don’t want any control issues with her, so we are doing our best, complicated by the pup’s recurring urinary tract infection…and the puppy training class didn’t help. It was noisy, chaotic, and seemed to assume we already either knew a lot or had a handle on the recall, etc. With my husband’s hearing loss it was impossible. We went twice, haven’t been back, are now depending on books, videos, and blogs like yours, which help but don’t answer specific questions!
Thank you for this fascinating post. As someone with experience on the other side of the grant process (I just finished my part of a grant application going to the American Honda Foundation) glimpses into the evaluation part of the process are fascinating. Now that I’m done with the several months of writing and rewriting I’m feeling a bit at loose ends; it pretty labor intensive at both ends of the process that’s clear! Ranger’s reaping the rewards now that I’m done. We’ve gone back to cart training. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aA_lQyc_mk4&feature=channel We’re entirely self taught and it’s very much a work in progress.
I’m not sure what I’d call the beginning. I can tell you the advice I give those new to living with and training a dog. I tell them “look at the dogs you like copy what their people do.” People aren’t born knowing how to train dogs and they often start their life with a dog with no idea what kind of dog they want or how to get there. I know I had no clue about a lot of things when we adopted Ranger. Looking back I can see that there were behaviors I would have been happy to keep that I inadvertently extinguished simply because I didn’t know what I was doing. He came to us happy to play fetch but we didn’t reinforce it and he’s not a fetcher anymore. And since we don’t need him to be able to fetch we haven’t put in the time to train the behavior again. Maybe what I’m saying is that the beginning is understanding that you’re both learning, you’re learning to teach and the dog is learning to learn neither of you automatically know how to do your part in training.
A wonderful agility instructor of mine replied when I commented to her about how refreshingly “nice” she was to her students, “well, we use positive methods to teach our dogs; I think we should be the same with people.”
I am in agreement with your comment about starting with learning about how our body language is interpreted by our dogs, but I would take it a step further by pointing out the differences in the way dogs communicate vs. how humans (primates) communicate, each with their own species. This was such an eye opener for me when I read about it in your books and heard you talk about it in a seminar. It reminds us that we have to consciously think like a dog and not a primate until it starts to happen more naturally.
I think it’s important in the beginning not to get overwhelmed with information. Maybe the way to learn how we influence our dogs can start with getting the dogs’ attention, being mindful of what works, what works the most quickly, and what stops working the quickest. It might help with the inevitable frustration the trainer (new or not-so-new) experiences to keep in the front of our minds that dogs do what works for them. That seems to give the best access to the way our own dog “works.”
Interesting post–I’ve been thinking alot about starting from the beginning. I just adopted my first purebred puppy at 8 weeks after years of adopting older (mixed breed) shelter dogs.
I’m realizing that starting at the beginning means something entirely different with an eight week old dog than a 9 year old dog. It’s quite intimidating to realize what a gift of potential I’ve been given. Honey has comes from the home of caring, responsible breeders who worked hard to socialize her in the first eight weeks.
Any problems that come up are going to be laid right at my feet (no blaming previous, irresponsible owners or trauma from being in a shelter).
And most importantly, I’m trying to keep in mind that starting at the beginning doesn’t just refer to the steps in responsible training but also to developing a bond and two-way relationship that will be the foundation for all learning we both do in the future.
BTW, Kat, thanks for the video of Ranger pulling the cart. Great job!
The three turning points for me that expedited my communication skills with my dogs and also fosters (blank slates) are:
1-learning how to capture a behaviour the second it occurs , mark it ….BE EXPRESSIVE…
Use your voice..if you’re happy..sound happy! smile!, wiggle your body, notice which words you use that you notice makes your dog’s tail wag, or get all squinty happy eyed) and remember to follow up with what the dog considers rewards…. right after that (food, toys, cuddles, adventures)…
That way while people learn to get their timing down pat and while dogs learn that …hey…she gets happy when I sit…atleast your voice and emotions can bridge the gap in time until you can deliver the reward.
Plus best of all…it’s dependent on interaction. Not when I do this…you’re supposed to do that. Being frustrated is not a helpful state of mind to be in for either dog or human.
2- send them home with a body language dvd….I wish you would have time to do one…I really enjoyed watching you in your For the Love of a Dog seminar. This makes communication a two way street. Not simply a monologue. Human talks..dog listens.
ie..helpful for me was learning some body positions are universally inter-species….
..lean forward to stop them….if a dog is leaning forward towards you ….but not moving…there’s other things to consider like facial and vocal expressions but still…we both do share some common body language and some facial expressions. Learn to use them to your advantage and also learn to identify which ones your dog emotes to take seriously.
*** Especially important for them and you to learn….. invitation to play..if you’re out of treats, toys…being able to play with your dog as a reward…too funny …. as I write this my Daizy put her head under my arm, and is wagging and giving me her happy tap dance to entice me to play 😛
And of course…body language to let them know (ignore)….that they’re just going to have to wait a minute.
3- teaching the “touch”cue with their nose first, then “target” with their paw….dog learns to touch an empty hand, use their paw to target …that way you don’t have to worry about having trouble fading lures.
those two basic cues expedite teaching traditional cues and also opens the flood gate for load of tricks and games to play together.
Time for me to go take Daizy up on that invitation to play 🙂
Very exciting life you lead! I’ll cross my fingers for Will..bless his happy soul 🙂
The very very beginning, for me and maybe for a lot of people brand new to dog training was to start with…well, the dog. I wanted to start with reading books and learning all sorts of theory and watching shows and all this stuff. And what I really needed to do was to learn how my dog, this dog right here in front of me, communicates.
What is he trying to tell me right now? What does it mean when he moves his left ear forward like that? (In this case, it means “are you going to throw the toy or what, lady?”)
I didn’t even know that dogs DID communicate beyond the really obvious wagging tail (always means happy, right? 😉 or bared teeth. I did not go into dog ownership with any idea that I would have to learn dog language. I thought I would just teach him my language.
So I don’t think everyone should have to start out learning all the subtle nuances (it could take a lifetime!), but to just have an awareness that your do is trying to communicate to you all the time is a pretty radical concept for some folks.
Great topic – especially because we’re embarking on training our 2nd Aussie puppy. She is 14 weeks old and is as much a whirling dervish as our now 4yo Aussie was.
I poured through a ton of books and attended a bunch of dog training classes with our first Aussie. Still, it’s amazing how much I have forgotten as we embark on puppyhood again.
I think it’s most important for dog owners to keep in mind that puppies and new dogs do not come pre-programmed with knowing what we want from them. It’s important to show the puppy/new dog what we want from them – either by redirecting their behavior or modifying their environment to ensure their success.
Finally, a reminder that the initial rambuctiousness will likely go away. This has helped me the most, particularly as we watch the “puppy crazies” unfold multiple times a day!
So simple, but not obvious to me for a long time: dogs aren’t divided into “aggressive” and “fine.”
As a first time dog owner, dog training was completely foreign to me. Not only because I had never done it myself, but because the family dog growing up and my grandparents’ dog were never really trained. No books were read or videos watched and certainly no obedience classes attended! Looking back now, I am amazed at what those dogs learned without people intending to teach them. They were both good dogs.
As I read this post the first time, I was thinking, “Hm. What is the starting point? What is the beginning?” I drew a blank. Now, a day later, after having this in the back of my mind while spending time with my husband and Bear, I know an important starting point. Your attitude and expectations, your understanding that a dog is a dog and that each dog is an individual. My husband seems to have this picture in his mind of what Bear should be, a picture that has no base in reality, lol! I think it’s his idealized version of what the perfect dog is. A few comments he made this weekend got me thinking, and I started making this description up in my head. I have to take the time and write it down, because it’s pretty funny.
But that led me to realize that the starting of dog training is in your attitude, expectations, and acceptance of your dog. A dog is a dog. They don’t know our language. You can’t get irritated with them when they don’t obey a command you have never trained. They don’t know what the heck you’re talking about! Dog’s are individuals – some like to fetch and others could care less about that ball you just threw, some like to swim and others are content just to get their feet wet, some are good watch dogs and others are good friendly greeters to all, some love to play with other dogs and others are happier with people.
That’s my input for this early Monday morning – love, understanding, patience, and acceptance. 🙂
Stephanie K. says
For me, when I’m teaching, the beginning is the idea that dogs are dogs. They aren’t people and they have their own behaviors and rules for their own species. They don’t come into our homes automatically knowing what we want, so it is our job to teach them, to show them the way. This leads into, dog’s do what works. I’ve found this to be a good foundation for starting out with new people who are new to dogs
One of the beginning pieces I want people to “get” is that their puppy or dog isn’t being naughty, or spiteful, or stubborn, he’s just being a dog when he pees in the house, or tears something up, or digs up the flowers, etc. and that there are adjustments on both sides that need to be made. We need to not leave shoes out when puppies are teething, or leave tempting food on the counter, and may need to push trash cans away. Dogs need to learn that there are appropriate behaviors for outside (digging, running, pottying, etc) and inside (eating, snuggling, chewing on a bone, etc.)
Very timely! Yesterday I audited a herding clinic and it was so confusing to me. I was hoping the instructor would be explaining things as they went along but she is known to be better with her dogs and stock than people (although I began to question this when she almost strangled a duck later in the day). Sigh. Some of the participants were able to answer my questions which were so very basic. But for a newbie I couldn’t understand even what it meant to “work” the sheep. I know that my dog is really soft but haven’t tried him on big stock so don’t know what level his drive would be but it seemed like it is a real balance between letting your dog make its own decisions about what to do and telling him what you want him to do.
But if you aren’t moving the sheep from point A to point B or penning them or taking them out of the pen, or getting them in a chute for worming/trimming then what is the job supposed to be? My dog would need to know what the heck he was supposed to do so he could focus on that. I know eventually in trials you take them on a specific route and through gates etc. but when just learning and “working” your dog on sheep, how do you communicate the purpose of being out there walking around? I hope this makes sense!
This is my first puppy and I
Assuming that people just starting out in dog training have a fundamental level of caring about their dog and his/her wellbeing, I think the most important reminder is to be consistent. It doesn’t matter what cue you use, or even what training method you use (though I prefer some over others)…if you aren’t consistent your dog isn’t being given a fighting chance. So many people get hung up on things like…”oh you use “drop” with your dog and I use “down” with mine…maybe if I switch cues my dog will understand as well as yours.” I’ve always considered teaching my demo dog cues like “cake” “icing” “pie” and “skittles” just to prove the point that cues don’t matter, but I would probably just confuse myself and end up giving the wrong cue then stuffing myself with sweets…
“What I most needed, and didn
Well, my beginnings (starting every week somehow) look something like this:
a) Look closely at who my dog is and embrace her/his fundamental nature.
b) Be clear about my own expectations from this dog.
c) Work out a training plan for all the areas where my dog’s natural behavior and my expectations clash.
d) Stick to that plan – or revise it if it doesn’t work.
d) Try to reach that point of harmony that makes both sides so very content by minimizing areas of conflict between canine and human expectations.
e) If dog or person are not happy, go back to the beginning and start all over again.
It is sooo simple, right?!
It is absolutely true that great animal trainers are not always great teachers of people. Learning that was a huge hurdle for me and made a lot of difference in my ability to deal with great trainers whose people skills are not so great. I’ve learned a lot from some of them but yes, did a lot of crying along the way. Can trainers be taught to teach more effectively? That would be wonderful but I’m not getting my hopes too high. It would be great if people skills were talked about a lot more as prospective trainers learn the ropes. It’s not clear how consistently that happens. Still, those of us new to dogs or new to a particular behavioral issue are not totally lost at sea anymore – books like yours have saved my sanity and kept me trying when it all seemed too much to bear, so to all newbies, I say read, read and read some more. In-person trainers are (or can be) very helpful but don’t loose sight of the fact that you live with this dog day in and day out and your observations are valid too. Trust yourself a bit more. Push back a little when you are treated inconsiderately. And always remember YOU are your dog’s anchor, protector, teacher, the center of his or her world. Don’t abdicate. And if a trainer makes you cry too often, find someone else. Nobody is indispensible. And don’t forget to be grateful to the great trainers who are also great teachers. They’re out there and they are precious resources!
Menopausal Entrepreneur says
I find the most rewarding part of our work is being able to educate people in how to “speak dog.” So starting from the beginning has never been an issue and never gets old. What a kick it is to see the look of understanding on their faces. This is why I always begin my training classes with a “people only” lecture so that everyone is on a level playing field with the basics.
Liz F. says
The beginning= studying.
Studying= reading, taking notes, observing, more notes, listening to others, notes again.
I created flash cards to help me learn about dogs:
I summarized my most important notes into small snippets of info, put them on a rainbow of card stock to distinguish behavior subjects by color, and drew little iconic images on the backside. (Here she goes again with the visual stuff.)
For example, I drew a ‘cartoon scuffle’ (a cloud w/ stars, squiggly lines and tails sticking out) to illustrate that an owner should not try to solve behavior problems during a crisis. Instead find the most elegant way out of the chaos and work on issues later. Or, another example is that I drew a yield sign to remind myself never to approach a fearful animal, and a caution sign to say beware of stiff, still dogs.
I like the cards so much because they encapsulate “the beginning,” and anytime my mind is somewhere else I can quickly refresh myself on all things dog. Beyond notes from books, I made cards from seminar info, others’ suggestions, and random stuff I found important along the way. Punch a hole in the corner, throw them on a key ring, and you have the most important dog behavior info at the ready.
I actually adore my inch-thick, worn set of cards…I have been trying to develop these some of these into a product, but actual paying jobs and life have stood in the way of it developing from sketches. It’s fun to have ideas and see them in real life somewhere down the line. Although I’d really like to get the time to make a serious demo set, I offer this idea to the universe with the potential to help others now!
Ann W in PA says
Here’s my piece of advice for “the beginning” – As you and your dog learn your first few things together, have patience! You’ll get there! You and your dog will get better and better at learning new things together the more you practice, so hang in there. (Addendum: you are not even going to remember a year from now if it takes an extra week to teach your dog to lie down, so just take a deep breath and smile.)
As for teaching people to apply their positive (dog) training skills to PEOPLE, check out TAGTeach (Teaching with Acoustical Guidance.) It may seem a little over the top to use a clicker on people (although I was *amazed* at the effetiveness of the demonstration of teaching people some agility handling moves, with such accurate feedback on small moves like having shoulders pointed in the right direction) but even without a formal marker, and just telling people they did a ‘great job’, it teaches the instructor to break down the task into steps, have people focus on improving one thing at a time, ignore the mistakes and just set the person up to do it right next time… you know, all those nice things we do when we teach our dogs…
I just learned about TAGTeach recently, but about a year ago, I stopped correcting people in my dog training classes, kind of as an experiment, and amazingly, they learned way faster than previous groups. One thing in particular is getting them to stop yanking on their leashes — amazingly, the more I focus on helping them do what I WANT them to do, instead of correcting them for what NOT to do, they are changing their habits faster. Hmm…sounds kind of familiar… Ha!
Off topic, but I have a question and thought that maybe I can get some input here. Bear’s recall command ‘come’ has been somewhat poisoned by my husband, who is inconsistent and unrealistic with Bear. So, do I keep the same verbal cue and just work on it more to get it back? Or should I pick a new command for a recall? Suggestions for a new cue? (My mind goes blank!)
Thanks in advance!
So many great suggestions above and it’s a toss-up as to which one is truly the beginning. I think for me (approaching one year of dog ownership now) it’s that the training/learning is never over. Despite plenty of preparation (lucky for my dog and me both, a friend recommended The Culture Clash long before I adopted the dog), I had the illusion that training would be a job that I did the first few weeks or months on things like sit, lie down, stay, go to your bed, etc. and then we’d be finished – i.e. dog with behavior that requires no further work except occasional practice.
Obviously, that was an unrealistic expectation, especially with a 3-year-old shelter/rescue who clearly hadn’t been asked to focus much on humans before. And it completely missed the role that learning plays in the dog-owner bond as well as the opportunity for ongoing mental exercise and cognitive development of the dog.
The big revelation for me was right after my first class with my dog, when the trainer said that it wasn’t about specific commands, but about teaching the dog self-control, and rewarding him for focusing on me. The breakthrough for my dog came shortly thereafter, teaching him “wait” was the first step, and he now has excellent self-control. (I’m not talking 10-minute stays in front of a store while I go inside, but it’s night and day compared to those early days, where I was convinced that his scenthound genes were equivalent to canine ADD.) We’ve both learned a lot in a year, but still have lots to work on. The holy grail would be to let him go off leash on the trails, but we are still working on solidifying the foundation behaviors like recall and “leave it.” (Maybe training off leash reliability, how to train it, and whether it can be achieved with adult adoptions, scenting breeds, etc. could be a future blog topic?)
What I discovered was that my dog and I both really enjoy the training, so from here on out it’s all about continuous improvement and celebrating the small successes, just like so many other things in life.
This is so true! There are many wonderful people who are experts in their fields. But teaching is a completely different bowl of wax. It’s a rare skill on its own.
First off, so many great additions to this conversation, thanks so much. I knew you all would come through. I wish every new dog owner could read all your comments! I couldn’t agree more about the importance of understanding that your dog is a, uh, dog, and getting your expectations straight. (Just wrote a column on that in Bark as a matter of fact!). And “here here” to “training is NEVER over,” “focusing on what’s right instead of what’s wrong,” “learning how to mark or tag the right behavior (ie, timing is everything!), learning canine ethology and teaching self control versus ‘obedience’ (love that), “not overwhelming beginners with too much info/” (a common problem in my opinion) and most importantly, “the value of positive reinforcement.” I’ve undoubtedly skipped some, but encourage everyone to re-read all the comments: no matter how long you’ve been at it it’s great to refresh your batteries!
Here are some random comments in answer to yours, from the most recent backwards:
To Angel: Oh yes yes, definitely come up with another cue for a recall. Herding dog people use “That’ll Do!” and it rolls of the tongue and is fun to say! And, seriously, have you tried using Pos Reinf on your husband? Honest. Ignore him when he’s wrong, figure out one step closer to right and reinforce the heck out of it. (Food works on people too, but kisses are quicker).
To Liz F: Wow, you are so organized! Good for you. I truly believe that it is the written word that helped our brains become so complex. There’s nothing like forcing yourself to write something down to make a concept more clear, more precise. I’m not as organized as Liz, but whenever I get into trouble I’ll start writing things down and am amazed at how often it helps to clarify things.
To Megan: It is almost impossible to use all Pos Reinf if a dog is rushing in and chasing/biting sheep HOWEVER–there is no excuse for being abusive. Corrections can be very simple; all that is needed is to stop the dog from the behavior (which is inherently reinforcing, so you can not ignore it for very long). You almost always can do that by using a harsh voice, or getting between the dog and sheep and using Body Blocks to back them up, or having them lie down when they are wrong, and/or in worst cases, throwing an object between them and the sheep to push them back. (NOT hitting the dog with anything.) And here, in a tiny nutshell, is what “working the sheep” means: You want your dog to focus on the sheep, and attempt to keep them oriented and/or moving toward you. So if the sheep are between you and your dog, if you move clockwise, your dog should move counterclockwise to block their movement away from you. (This is easier to illustrate on a black board!) You want your dog to “balance” which means both keeping the sheep between person and dog and also to learn how much pressure to put on the sheep to move them forward. Too much and the sheep run and panic, too little and the sheep learn to ignore the dog. There are lots of books and videos out there. I like The Natural Way as a book, it’s pretty clear. Good luck!
“And, seriously, have you tried using Pos Reinf on your husband? Honest. Ignore him when he
It is so easy to forget what it’s like to start from the beginning — Somehow it always tends to be a big shock for me when I get a new puppy. I have to repeatedly remind myself that my older dogs were not born knowing what they know, and that it took plenty of time & hard work to get them where they are today. I am constantly working on my patience skills with my young dogs, and making sure not to push them too fast to achieve the goals I have set for them.
I am decidedly not a “people person,” so I was a bit mystified at how I would handle it when I was first asked to teach agility lessons. I am an animal trainer first and foremost — I also always struggled with the human component of horse riding lessons, always preferring to just get on the horse and fix it myself.
Happily, I have found the majority of dog people to be wonderful to work with. I always have a student or two that I have a difficult time connecting with for whatever reason, but overall I have found it easier to teach people and their dogs than I originally thought. Granted — I’m teaching agility nuts who have already done their basic work before coming to me. I definitely don’t have the patience for teaching basic obedience classes. lol
I have found that teaching other handlers has improved my own handling skills greatly. I have to slow down and think about things a bit more, figure out how to put it into words and then convey that message to others. It’s been invaluable to me.
to Megan: Perhaps these two videos might help explain what Trisha is saying. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_iDcJXDOZxw and
This was Ranger’s first time even seeing sheep much less getting to work them so it gives a fairly good picture of instinct and training. The long pole is PVC pipe. Even if the pole is tossed between the dog and the sheep to back the dog up a bit and the dog moves in and gets hit with the pole it’s not going to really hurt the dog. I saw one inexperienced owner accidentally smack their BC when trying to snap the end of the pole between the dog and the sheep she was trying to bite; the dog took a step back and didn’t try to use her teeth anymore. I expect it would have been just as effective if the owner had succeeded in putting the pole in between as a barrier but accidents happen and here at least they’ve planned for that and chosen things that won’t do real harm. I will, however, add that I was concerned about the things they would say “don’t be afraid to hit the dog if that’s what it takes” but reassured by the things they did, owners that were working their dogs were praised when they managed to intervene without hitting (and truly the only hit I saw was an accident). It was an interesting contrast.
We were at a place called Ewe-topia where five days a week you can buy time for your dog to work sheep or ducks and soon the chance to work cattle. The sheep are probably the best trained sheep I’ve ever seen in my life. There are four sheep pens and the sheep work in rotation 10 minutes being herded by inexperienced dogs and 30 minutes hanging out and eating.
In the second video you can see that the trainer is using the pole more. You can see her guiding him and showing him where he needs to be. By this point the initial excitement has eroded some and Ranger is both losing his focus and willing to pay attention.
When a dog has spent enough time in the round (beginners) ring they graduate to the paddock where they have about 20 sheep they’re working. By that point the trainers aren’t using any form of physical distraction but only voice and hand commands. A dog in the round ring that is crowding the sheep and nipping at them will have the pole tossed between them and the sheep or the end of the pole smacked on the ground in front of them. A dog that has graduated to the paddock that is crowding the sheep too much will be downed and released when the sheep aren’t feeling too much pressure to flee.
Sadly, we don’t have a flock of sheep that needs working and I’m not interested in training him to compete in herding trials. Add to that the fact that Ewe-topia is about 90 minutes away and Ranger is unlikely to get a lot more chances to herd. Still, it was pretty cool watching his instincts kick in and how naturally he took to the job.
Wonderful tips above. I would just add as my pieces of advice would be to learn a lot about dog body language and to remember that for every step forward there will no doubt be steps backward. This is totally normal but with dedication eventually the forward steps result in a steady march to success.
Ann W in PA says
Some great analogies above!
One of mine for the beginning — When builders are contructing a huge, beautiful cathedral, at first it will just look like a little pile of stones. Gradually, the cathedral takes shape, but the most important part – the foundation – is made at a point when the project appears at its most humble. But the builders don’t worry about not having something showy right away, because they their work will pay off in the end. So be proud of the little pile of stones you’re carefully putting together, and have faith that as you add each humble and hard-earned piece it will grow into something beautiful!
my comments on sheepherding: When I first started taking lessons, I was shocked at the negative tone of commands, having been used to all positive. But when my young BC started to get out of control (mostly chasing the sheep), I found myself yelling as well. I wondered if there was a way to teach herding positively. I think an experienced handler knows where to be and can anticipate a dog’s wrong moves, and can use their body to block the dog. Inexperience can lead to frustration which can lead to yelling – at least that’s my excuse. There is a trainer from England named Derek Scrimgeour who has books and videos on sheepherding, which are worth seeing.
Here’s a trick I used to teach my dog the commands for herding directions (since we only had a couple sessions a month with sheep, but EVERY DAY with a ball). When he was facing me about 50 feet away, waiting for me to throw the ball, I would start to turn to my right to throw the ball, and he would start to run clockwise…so I would say “come bye”. And the opposite direction for “away to me”. He learned it quickly. I knew that he had learned it when I would say “come bye” without turning first and he would start to run in the correct direction before I threw it.
For me, the first step was learning to watch and listen to my dog. His cues can be very subtle (as in “I need to go pee” is usually expressed by nosing our hands when we’re sitting down) so it took a LOT of observation. The next step was to pay attention to what he did relative to our behaviors and third was to figure out what i actually wanted him to do instead. Learning about training the dog to do (on request) what he already knew how to do was a **huge** breakthrough for us… I got him to listen and he got me to respond correctly.
Interesting topic – and very timely for me. I live in a small town where no positive dog training is available. I took Daisy (almost 14 months old now) to a puppy clicker class in a nearby city, but the trainer was very confusing (she talked and talked and talked, and it tended just to go in one ear and out the other because it was all so new for me). So I’ve been relying on books and the internet and frankly, it’s a really tough experience. I’m well grounded in traditional methods, so I have all that baggage to get past. On top of which Daisy is a shy dog, fearful of strangers, noises, anything different (it’s genetic, I’m quite sure of that, and she’s come a long way)… Our big setback came after 8 months of slow (because of my inexperience) clicker training – something happened to scare her when I clicked, I don’t know what, and she is now scared of the clicker. I try not to beat myself up more than once a day (or should I say middle of the night) but I think that the complication of her temperament (dealing with my first cautious canine) on top of me trying to do something new which is never quite properly explained in books, despite the best efforts of the authors…the problem is that Daisy hasn’t read the books and she keeps doing things that I can’t figure out. I keep giving up and starting again, and I guess I’ll just go on doing that. Fortunately she is a sweet, loving, naturally obedient and well-behaved dog (the kind that would never dream of going out a door before me) – my once in a lifetime dog. We’ll muddle through.
Too much and the sheep run and panic, too little and the sheep learn to ignore the dog. There are lots of books and videos out there. I like The Natural Way as a book, it