A Few Thoughts

So, I have some catching up to do. My life has gone to the dogs, and that’s a good thing! I have been working tirelessly to make the change, and every day I’m a little closer!

First order of business, I hosted another pack walk and it was very successful. I believe I had around 20-28 dogs. Some people came late, some left early, and some joined in while we were walking. So, getting a hard count was a little difficult. This time was better than my first walk, as I was trying to keep everyone together as a group. The dogs benefit the most from having everyone in a pack, not spread out. I’m getting better at this, but it’s going to take some time.

I LOVE the benefits of pack walks and I enjoy getting everyone together to host them. It’s a great way to safely socialize and a great gateway to doing full blown socials while I’m learning more about dog behavior and getting used to reading every single little subtle sign. It’s exhausting, and I feel I miss a lot. But that takes experience. No book or seminar will teach me everything – I have to get out there and do it. At a safe pace of course. I’m not about to take on a really nasty behavioral problem just because I need the experience.

Here’s a video of the walk. If you follow through my comments, you’ll see how every person and dog’s behavior smooths out near the end of the walk. There were a few dogs who needed additional help (The German Shepherd for one), but for the most part, the dogs’ calmed down pretty well.

Secondly, I have started helping with Wasatch Canine Camp’s socials. How awesome is that? (HUGE SWELLING HAPPY FEELING!) However, I feel like I’m miles behind the trainer and her skillset (won’t mention names for privacy), and I have so much to learn. She has also been doing this a lot longer than I have. But I won’t give up, and I’m trying very hard to not feel down when I realize this. I just focus on the good things – like how much progress I have made within the last year, and where I will be at the end of this year. Someday, maybe I will have a facility. It’s a dream right now, but maybe if I work hard enough, I can get there.

The hard part about socials is that you can’t really talk to people while you are there. I’m still in ‘spectator’ mode instead of ‘presenter’ mode. I have to watch every single dog and every interaction to make sure it is appropriate interactions between people and dogs. I feel like I have to be in every place at once, and sometimes I feel like I can’t keep up. At K9 Lifeline, the instructor (again, I won’t say names) said you’ll get a feel for when things are about to happen before they actually do. Like when the energy changes in a particular part of the room/area. I haven’t felt that yet. Will I get there? I feel like I have to be in all places at once, and I don’t think this class can be taught with just one person. Well, the size of the class matters, of course. On average, the class is about 30-40 dogs. I don’t know if I would be comfortable taking that much responsibility yet. Maybe someday – just not yet.  I’m not scared, just… I don’t know enough and I feel I’m a ‘baby’ in this field. It’s comforting to know I have more experienced trainers watching my back while I’m learning, but giving me enough room to grow and to make mistakes. I really look up to these women, and I hope someday I can be as successful as them.

Napoleon

Napoleon, waking me up in the morning

Something else I have noticed is that I find myself being passive around more experienced trainers. Not as assertive as I normally am or I shut down, in one particular person’s case. Like to the point where I can’t speak – I can hardly breathe and I end up having a panic attack.  This affects my performance, the way the animals see me, and I’m not as strong of a leader as I need to be. I have started working on this and I mentally prepare myself before going to class or to an event where more qualified people will gather. One step at a time – I have started asking questions about social, asking about behavior I have missed, and I’m beginning to analyze every dog I see. Sometimes I wish I could turn that off, but other times I’m proud I see so much more than the average dog owner. At first, I was ashamed I needed to ask any questions. But then, I realized that everyone has to start somewhere, and to be the best I can be, I have to stop worrying about what people think about me. I need to buck up and ask. I was always worried someone would say, “Well, you are a trainer, you should know that!” or “You call yourself a trainer, but you can’t handle [insert something here]?” I haven’t received that reaction at all – what do I have to be anxious about? …A trainer asked me that about a dog once – and now I’m asking that same question to myself. What do I have to be worried/anxious/scared about? I’m over it.

I want to turn off the auto-dog-evaluations when I’m out with friends, at parks, or when someone says ‘Your dog is so perfect! He loves people and is just happy’. I want to say: “My dog is not happy nor is he perfect by any means. He’s over adrenalized and he isn’t in the right state of mind, and makes bad decisions. He can’t learn anything in this state of mind, and when you are baby talking him and loving on him, you are reinforcing this behavior and undoing work I have done for the past 8 months. I have been working with him about calming down around people, other dogs, and distractions. He was doing well, and now I have to undo all the un-training you just did.”

Ok that’s really harsh and I haven’t ever said that to anyone, but at the same time, it’s true. My dog is high energy, and with the combination of the wrong state of mind (over excited), he can’t learn anything. I have put him into a calm state of mind before any training, or he won’t learn anything. No, he’s not perfect. He really isn’t, but he is a gem. He’s my rock, and I wouldn’t trade him for the world. Not that we were talking about that – but I am constantly looking at dogs, the people handling them, and how they are reacting. Napoleon can get amped up so quickly, so we purchased an eCollar to manage his mindset. It was really made a difference, though I haven’t received any formal training on it yet.

Any who, I think this is a long enough post for today, so I’ll end here. Next time, I am going to post about Ryder, my training challenge right now. I had him again this week, and I really had to take my time with him on most everything.  He’s a bit of a handful when he is being naughty!

And just to show... here's the obedience class I was enrolled in.

And just to show… here’s the obedience class I was enrolled in. (Click for larger image!)

Difficult Dog Workshop

Difficult-dog-training-utah-county-k9-lifelineLast week, I had the opportunity to attend a difficult dog training workshop hosted by K9 Lifeline. Heather Beck and her staff taught us how to handle aggression, stubbornness, and over-adrenalized behavior.

Of all the things we talked about (which was a lot, it was a 4 day workshop), there was one particular thing I wanted to highlight that has changed the way I train. It was completely life changing.

See, when I started out, I was positive techniques only. Now, I realize that if I want to work with truly difficult dogs, I need to adjust the way I train. Happy go lucky dogs benefit from positive techniques, but they also learn to be over-adrenalized and can’t learn to calm themselves down. So, you also introduce another problem with using only positive techniques.

Now, one of the major things I learned that I need to work on is adjusting how I feel when working with a difficult dog. I preach patience, patience, patience, but I wasn’t practicing unconditional patience with the dog I brought to the workshop. After the instructor pointed out I was tense, I realized … I was! And I found myself frustrated as well because I felt like we weren’t getting anywhere. So, I adjusted my attitude and instead of thinking, “I’m going to stand here and wait until you realize we aren’t going anywhere until you give up.” to “Let me show you what I want, and we’ll go from there. Whenever you get amped up, we stop and I apply pressure. Once you calm down, the pressure goes away. I’ll wait so we can set you up to succeed. We’ll take as long as you need.” I learned to have unconditional patience, and I also realized that when we are training, I can’t stop until we make it a good note.

dog-training-utah-county-newfoundland-difficult-dogLast night, I was training a 6 month old Newfoundland puppy. We have been training for a few weeks, but I saw aggression yesterday while we were training. We haven’t seen this before from him. This is the ‘fight’ stage, and we need to work him through it (carefully so no one gets hurt). We were practicing working with the Halti with the family, and I was having the younger kids work with him to learn how to use the pressure appropriately. Well, one of the kids didn’t want to be there (we’ll call him Kid B), he didn’t want to train, and it seemed he didn’t like the dog either. So, as soon as he took the leash, he was a bit heavier with the corrections, and the dog turned on him and started nipping, jumping, growling, and barking at him. So, I corrected the child, and we worked the puppy through it. He eventually calmed down, and then we did another round with me, then mom, then then Kid A, and then back to Kid B. The dog again, got aggressive, so I took the leash because I was worried the kid would actually get hurt (this is now a 70 lb puppy who is biting, not nipping anymore). I corrected him softly with just pressure from the Halti, and he took a good 15 minutes to calm down. I got bit a few times on the hand, but then he jumped to bite towards my stomach. No blood, just bruises, but that surprised me. I’m applying what I learned at the difficult dog workshop, and we didn’t give up until the dog was calmed down and on a positive note. We can’t stop when he’s being aggressive because he will learn that’s what he needs to do to get people to do what he wants.

So, I assigned the family to have just the older kids (2 more kids who weren’t here for today’s training) and mom work with him for now since he does bite hard and is fighting so much. This is the first step of learning a few technique. FIGHT – and that’s exactly what he’s doing. So, we need to work him through it.  I checked how I felt while working with him. I was concentrating on not getting mauled, and I was working on my feelings. I’m not scared of getting bit, it’s going to happen at some point. I want to avoid it, but I’m not scared. I felt… calm, relaxed, but focused. I was concentrating on focusing that energy towards him.  He did eventually calm down and we could end the training on a good note and kennel him to process everything he learned.

So, just a few days after I learned how to calm my own mind, I’m learning how to do this with my clients’ dogs, and I saw success. Even though I was late to my next appointment, I wasn’t ending until I saw him relax and calm down and accept what I was trying to teach him. I didn’t give up, and I was focused on being calm and working him through it.

Napoleon..and his beginning

253706_1679337033150_7345804_nI adopted my lovely boy, Napoleon almost 2 years ago. He is a beautiful golden lab, now a senior at 8 years old. He loves pretty much everything, including the vacuum cleaner and the sound of motorcycles. When we brought this furbaby into our life, I never realized how much he would mean to me. He really is my ‘furbaby’. Now, as a trainer, I understand what proper leadership is, and how to behave around my dog. I also know how to discipline and reward. I recently stopped using positive dog training, and focus more on working on teaching the mind. Everything I learn, I practice on my happy go lucky dog first. I actually think he likes it.

He was about 75% obedience trained, and listened to my husband way better than me. Which is understandable. Dogs respond better to a male voice than to a female voice. So, I worked on verbal commands with him. He’s about 80% reliable with distractions. I needed more. So, we focused on hand signals. He’s about 90% reliable with distractions, and I think that’s as good as I will get him. Especially with how much time I have to devote to him. Which isn’t enough – it’s not as much as I want, and I wish I had more. However, having a full-time day job, and then running my own business on top of that is stressful and time consuming. I’m hoping there is an end. *sigh*… there has to be.

Now, leash training. Great with my husband, not at all with me. So, we work on this… and work some more. And he has shown massive improvement over the last two years. We introduced the Halti. He doesn’t like it, but he knows we aren’t going on a walk without one. He used to pull on the leash to get to children and cats. This has pretty much completely gone away. He learned that when he’s on a leash, he’s working. Yes, he still wags his tail and gets really excited, but he doesn’t pull anymore. Progress.

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Another challenge: Food. He is SOOOO food oriented because he was trained with positive training…meaning food rewards. He worked for food, not respect. Not to please the leader, but to get a quick treat. We don’t work this way, and I don’t train this way. We compromise with him because he was used to training this way for 6 years. The 10% of training I lose is when there is food… or worse – children with food. So, we continue to work on this, but unfortunately, I believe what is done, is done.

For the most part, he is the perfect dog. And I thought that, until we took him to the K9 Lifeline’s social class so I could learn more about training in a pack environment, and using other techniques besides positive training. I’m open to learning many techniques, and I have an open mind. I won’t hurt or scare a dog, but I demand respect as soon as walk in the door. Some dogs are immediately intimidated when I walk in because they aren’t used to this. Other dogs, challenge me because they see me as a threat to their rank. Other dogs accept me right away and are thankful for the leadership. Napoleon – he accepts his rank, and realizes humans are above him in rank. Anyway, we took him to class and the head trainer said I needed to get him under control. Confused, I asked what the problem was. She pointed out he was pushy and getting in other dogs’ faces. He was running around like crazy and increasing the energy in the room, thus raising the adrenaline of all the other dogs. In a high-tension/stress environment, he could cause a fight. Whether he was involved or not, it would have been his fault. That’s when I realized I had work to do. And I wanted to be educated by someone who was that in tune to a dog’s behavior. A dog she had never met before. I was intrigued, and inspired. I had to learn more.

So, for the next 6 months, we continued to go to this class, every Saturday. I learned and so did my canine counterpart. He has shown remarkable improvement, and I had no idea how much energy he had until we started working with him. 6 months worth of work later, my dog is calmer, I’m more in tune to canine behavior, and I have realized positive dog training causes so many problems that aren’t recognized to the early trainer, or someone who is focused solely on positive training. Does it work? Yes. Is it the most effective, non-violent way to train? No.

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I don’t believe in hurting a dog into submission or causing fear for them to respect you. I did realize, after practicing on my own dog, and it’s a battle of the mind.

Which leads me to my next topic. Napoleon isn’t a HUGE dog, but he’s very large for a lab. He’s a healthy 85lbs (after losing 40lbs of fat after I adopted him). Trying to control him by force or physical strength would be exhausting, and he would win every time. Just like giant breeds, you have to learn to control their mind, not their body. Napoleon doesn’t jump on people…unless the person is provoking him and he feels he is being ‘invited’ to jump. Which has happened on occasion.

Anyway, Napoleon is taking this dog training journey with me, and I practice everything I learn on him to see if it will work on an ‘ideal’ happy-go-lucky dog. Which is exactly what he is. He is my best friend, and my rock when my husband can’t be. It’s not his fault, but my dog sees into my soul like no one else. He looks at me, and sees… everything. All my hurt, pain, happiness, confusion… every emotion. He doesn’t have to fix it… he just has to be there.  And he is.