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Training Vs. Fulfillment

April 20th, 2012

A new client brings her dog into my center and begins describing her dog’s problem behavior.

“He is constantly getting into things,” she says. “He sits at the window, waiting for any movement outside and then he’ll bark like crazy. When he goes into that mode, he doesn’t even hear me calling his name”

I nod in acknowledgment of her frustration.

“If he wants my attention, he’ll just start barking at me, and when I tell him ‘NO!’, he just barks more.”

“I see,” I reply. “How much exercise does he get regularly?”

“Well he spends time out in our yard every day.”

“What about walks?” I ask, “Do you ever engage with him in exercise so you can challenge him mentally and physically?”

“Well, we probably don’t walk him as much as we should”. . . . . . .

Which means “No.”

Believe it or not this is a very common scenario at our center. The dog in question was a young, healthy hound mix, with a med-high level of energy. The woman was looking for a training method to eliminate these behaviors. “Just do this, and he’ll never act that way again.”

I had to inform her that what she was dealing with was not a training issue, it was a fulfillment issue. Ask any high energy level human how they would feel if they were forced to sit still for a couple days, with no physical activity, and without being able to leave the house. Most would tell you that they would become very agitated. In fact, they would probably become physically uncomfortable as their energy became more and more pent-up, and their body began looking for ways to release it. It is not a good feeling, and would not be a happy individual.

Now imagine how your high-energy dog feels when he’s been stuck in the house all week. I’ll bet he’s literally crawling in his own skin, and its no wonder he’s getting into trouble as he desperately looks for ways to release his energy.

I have three dogs, but the one who is most often in the public eye is Lobo, my 2 1/2 year old Belgian Malinois (belgian shepherd). He is not a German Shepherd, although he looks similar. Most Malinois have significantly higher levels of energy than the average German Shepherd. Lobo is a very high-energy dog. People meet him and are always impressed. He has a great energy, he is stable and balanced. He holds down positions while I wrangle with aggressive dogs and doesn’t bat an eye. However, I’m always amazed at one thing: Many people see his behavior and say “Well, that’s just because he is shepherd.”

No.

Anyone who knows me and Lobo, also knows the amount of work that I do with him every day. Sometimes I’m tired, but I know that I am his steward, and he is my best friend. He does so much for me, the least I can do is keep him fulfilled. . . .

It’s Wednesday, April 18th, 7:00am

While I make coffee and eat breakfast, Lobo is on the treadmill. He does a steady 5 mph with no leash. He completes about 2 miles in just under a half hour. Then he gets a chance to go outside and slow his breathing before he eats his breakfast. Then we get ready to head down to the center.

8:30 am

We stop at a park that’s right around the corner from the training center. The treadmill is a good start, but Lobo doesn’t get to really run full boar on the treadmill. Lobo needs a chance at least once a day to really let loose!

The ‘Chuckit’ ball tosser provides the perfect solution. Lobo has a very intense ball drive. This is also why off-leash training is so valuable. Here we are, just outside of downtown Buffalo, and right next to the I190, but I can trust my dogs 100% off leash. After about 20 min of intense running, mingled with obedience exercises, we pack up and head to the center to check in on my staff, and get organized for the day.

10:00 am

Lobo and I meet one of my clients at the waterfront to help her learn how to walk her troublesome Olde English Bulldog past other dogs. Here Lobo did a lot of walking, and a lot of holding down positions while I gave instruction.

11:00 am

Lobo and I are back at the center working with the pack. Lobo is great at helping dogs become social. He’ll spend a good hour out here in the yard interacting with dogs.

And that’s just what happens before noon!

As the day wears on, Lobo helps me with various other appointments, and does a lot of pack work. Later in the evening, we do some more play and training with just the two of us.

9:00 pm

Lobo is able to settle down and chew a bone at home. He’s not exhausted, but he’s content. Believe it or not, without that much exercise, he would still be very antsy, pacing around the house and over all being kinda annoying. It’s not his fault, without exercise it is obvious that he is physically and mentally uncomfortable.

In short, Lobo is not balanced and well-behaved because he is ‘a Shepherd’. He is balanced and well-behaved because he is fulfilled. His life is enriched through exercise, discipline, structure, and fun. He has a job, and his life has purpose.

This is what it takes to own a high-energy dog. For some it is a dream come true, for others, a nightmare.

Before you bring a dog home, consider that dog’s needs. Pay close attention to their energy level. What will it take to keep that dog balanced. Many of the behavior problems that I see are simply the result of the dog being higher energy than the owner.

If your dog is displaying problem behavior around the house, ask yourself: Have I fulfilled my dog’s needs today?

 

 

Tobin Hits The Jackpot!

April 7th, 2012

Helping rescue organizations to rehabilitate difficult dogs is one of the many things I do to keep myself sane. With all the chaos of running a business, sometimes it’s easy to lose track of what’s important.

Kristy, the director of Buffalo Paws and Claws Animal Rescue, brought me a dog named Tobin, a shepherd mix, a few months ago because he was displaying some pretty serious food aggression.

Kristy and I worked together over a few sessions so I could give her some strategies to overcome this problem. The aggression however, proved to be too much for her to handle on her own, and she was growing increasingly afraid of Tobin. If Tobin couldn’t be rehabilitated, there was no way Kristy could safely adopt him out, so failure was not an option.

Together, we decided that it was best to enroll Tobin in my Boot Camp program.

Under the supervision of myself and my staff, Tobin turned into a model student. In fact, while he was here, he even helped us train other dogs.

Tobin, looking proud while he acts as a distraction for Lucy and her human (background)

At the end of a two week bootcamp, Tobin was showing no signs of aggression and, as the stars aligned, there was a human ready and waiting to adopt him.

I told Kristy that on the adoption day I would meet her and Tobin out at the new adopter’s home so I could show her the exercises that we had been working on, to ensure a smooth transition into her home. Everyone agreed, and as a team we were ready for Tobin’s big day.

I arrived at Tobin’s new home at 3:00 Friday afternoon, it was a gorgeous sunny day; the perfect day for an adoption. I peeked into the backyard and saw Kristy and Theresa, Tobin’s new mom. Tobin saw me and began dancing around on his hind legs, as if he was saying “Thank you!”. I looked around the yard, and was blown away. Tobin literally hit the Jackpot. Theresa’s home was equipped with a giant yard enclosed by a picket fence, a waterfall, a pool, beautiful landscaping, and Tobin even had his own dog house. Once we were all there Tobin began sprinting around the yard at top speed with a smile on his face that I had never seen. I took one look at him and said “He’s happy because he finally made it home.”

Tobin and Theresa, home at last.

We brought Tobin inside, and prepared some food for him. I briefly demonstrated for Theresa the exercises that we used to help him overcome come his food aggression, using a balance of reward and correction. I explained that he had a lot of rehearsal in the past of being successful with acts of aggression, and although he was doing great, I wanted him to have more rehearsal of doing it the right way before he could be completely trusted around food. Theresa understood, went through all the exercises like a pro, and Tobin showed nothing but his gentle side. Kristy was blown away with the progress in just two weeks, as the last time she saw, he was snarling and biting if you came anywhere near him while eating.

Sometimes owning a business can wear you down, it’s easy to lose track of yourself. I am so proud of Tobin. I left Theresa’s house with a giant grin, grateful that I was able to be a part of Tobin’s life. These are the days that drive me. Thank you Tobin for breathing life into me. 

 

 

Conversational Leash Work and the Future of Dogmanship

April 1st, 2012

Last week I had the pleasure of hosting a couple professional trainers at my center to offer them some education and insight on some of the training programs I offer, and some of the concepts that I have been developing.

Let me just start by saying how overwhelmed I am with the success of my training philosophy. When I founded K9 Connection nearly 5 years ago, I had in mind a simple, common sense approach to training. At that time I never would have thought that the simplicity of my approach would have created such a buzz.

Now at 28 years old I am humbled that professionals from around the country are seeking me out to help them improve their techniques, and the services that they offer to their clients. In my mind, what I am offering is still just a common sense way to improve our communication and relationships with our dogs.

That being said, last week myself and my staff were honored to have Jeff Gellman of Solid K9 Training in Rhode Island, and Sean O’Shea of The Good Dog Training and Rehabilitation in LA come to visit for a very fun and informative couple of days.

Sean and Jeff at my training center while we give all our dogs a bathroom break.

One of the topics that I was able to teach was a concept of leash work that goes beyond the typical leash correction. I call this “Conversational Leash Work” because it involves not only us as the humans using the leash to guide the dog and tell them things, but it provides a framework for using the leash to feel the dog and “listen” to them in a sense, and then respond. In fact, when done properly, there is very little “correcting” in the traditional yank and crank sense. The idea is to use very subtle pressure on the leash to give the dog information, and a very active release of that pressure to respond to him and tell him that he is making a good choice. Personally I love this type of leash work because when practicing it I feel connected to the dog in a way that is particularly unique. In all my years of dog training, I have not experienced a technique that works as fast and as universally to establish trust and respect with a dog.

The following video is a very rare glimpse into the private demonstration that I provided for Jeff and Sean. The dog Jack, is a foster who I just met, and who had no previous training. You can hear Jeff and Sean’s commentary in the background. Some of the information may be too advanced for some folks, but it is too good to edit out. I should also note that this is the first time Jack has ever worn a prong collar, and this video demonstrates how prong collars can be used in very gentle ways.

Incidentally, Jack was brought to me because he was showing aggression to other dogs. In fact, he couldn’t even be within sight of them while out on walks without starting to lunge and bark. Here is a picture taken the day after we shot the video. Within one day of my leash work program, Jack showed tremendous improvement.

Jack in the foreground with his foster mom, Sean O'Shea and Josh Moran helping out with some dogs from our pack.

About 15 minutes after this photo was taken, we were able to socialize Jack, off leash, with a group of 6 stable dogs from our pack. The rapport, trust, and respect that was created through the leash work is what facilitated the whole chain of events.  

The idea of conversational leash work involves a lot of give and take. The goal is develop a sensitivity with the dog whereby the more he knows you are sensitive and aware of him, the more sensitive and aware of you he becomes in return.
This is a cooperative approach to dog training that aims at establishing a high level of mutual trust and respect very early on. The end result is a dog who works with you because he enjoys the process, and any external rewards and consequences serve simply to amplify that foundational relationship.

The quote in the beginning of the video is taken from Chad Mackin’s article: Relationship: The Hidden Motivator, you can view that article Here

I truly feel that work like this is the future of pet dog training, and Dogmanship.

Pause. . . Listen

March 30th, 2012

We talk a lot about getting respect from a dog. But what about showing respect to the dog. What about having respect for the fact that when we are dealing with dogs we are dealing with an element of the animal kingdom that is far more in tune with mother nature than ourselves.

Many people do not know that wolves and dogs differ by only about 1% of their mitochondrial DNA.
That’s right, as far as DNA is concerned, your cute little Maltese is extremely close to a wolf. Their link to wolves is much closer than our link to apes, which can be demonstrated in the fact that dogs and wolves can interbreed and produce fertile offspring.

I do not mean to infer that dogs and wolves are exactly the same in every way. They’re not. All this wolf-talk is really just the backdrop for a more important discussion. Here’s some questions to start us off:

Would you as a human, walk up to a wolf and immediately start groping her face?

Would you stick your face in the face of a wolf that you do not know, make direct eye contact and start speaking to them in ways they do not understand?

Would you walk up to a wolf and stick your hand right in front of the wolf’s mouth?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, then it may be time for a psychiatric evaluation. The Majority of us will answer no to these questions, which presses me to ask: Why do so many of us feel that it is ok to do these things to dogs?

The fact is that too many of the dogs out in the world, any of the actions stated in the above questions, when done by a stranger, are considered threatening, stressful, or irritating. Many dogs learn early on to tolerate such foolish human behavior, but very few actually like it.

I do have one theory as to why we treat dogs this way. I propose that it is because at some point along the line, our society began treating and viewing dogs as infants. Not children, infants.

It is well known that many people treat their own dogs this way, rolling them around in strollers, and carrying them in purses etc.. However, we as a society appear to treat other people’s dogs in very similar ways that we would treat other people babies: bending over, cooing at them, and reaching out touch them almost immediately.

Of course we wouldn’t act this way to someone’s 18 year old son, and that is precisely my point. We don’t show infants a whole lot of respect, and I believe the assumption is that they don’t really know how to communicate much anyway. Therefore we impose our own will onto them, “I want to squeeze the babies cheeks,” so I do, “I want to put my face in their face and make weird noises,” so I do. We do these activities because for some reason we enjoy them, and we rarely stop to think about how the baby feels.

This is exactly the type of behavior I see people do to dogs. We see a cute fluffy dog and we just have to touch him. Who cares whether he likes it or not right? Wrong. Dogs do know how to communicate, and they do it very clearly. Humans often just 1) don’t even give the dogs a chance to communicate before we impose our own will, or 2) just don’t seem to actually care what the communication is.

The majority of dog bite cases that I see come into my center could have easily been avoided if the human would have taken an extra second, observed the dog’s body language, and respected mother nature.

Although there are many dogs who love the contact of any human who is willing, there are at least as many who do not. If the average human would stop for just a moment when approaching a dog, they would be able to see an animal that is showing signs of apprehension, uncertainty and probably a little nervousness. In other words, the dog will show pretty clear signs that they are not ready to be approached quite yet, and certainly not ready to be touched.

There is an act that I call “asking the dog’s permission”, and I think everyone should practice it whenever they are interacting with a dog. Instead of just diving right in whenever you want to touch a dog. Practice these steps to show the dog that you respect her, and she can trust you. Here is the formula:

**These steps assume that the dog is not showing any outward displays of aggression as you approach.

1) Move towards the dog, and stop about 2-3 feet away.
2) Do nothing
3) Observe the dog.
3a) if the dog seems curious about you, sniffing the air in your direction and wagging her tail in a low, relaxed way, then allow her to approach you and sniff while keeping your hands to your self. Only pet her if she nuzzles you for affection.
3b) If the dog is ignoring, than either ignore her, or walk away, which ever you prefer. She is telling you that she is ok with your presence, but not really interested in socializing at this time.
3c) If she lowers her head, diverts her eyes in a purposeful manner, turns to the side, or tightens her lips, calmly just give her space, and back off. What she is telling you is that she is not comfortable with your proximity and she needs a little more space to feel secure.

Whatever her communication is, RESPECT IT.

Notice that none of the steps above involve sticking your hand out for the dog to smell. You can remove that one from your repertoire.

It is also worth noticing that we are reading her communication, and stopping the interaction before it has become a growl or a lunge.

The beautiful thing is, that even if she initially displayed the behaviors shown in 3b or 3c, as she sees that you consistently listen to her communication, and respect her, the more comfortable she will be with you and then may begin to want to interact socially with you. But don’t expect this to happen after one try. She needs to see that you are consistently respectful.

Likewise, just because she has let you pet her once, doesn’t mean that you can dive right in from here on out. Always ask her permission, and she will thank you for it with mutual trust and respect.

Respect

March 14th, 2012

This seems to be a recurring theme around here lately. Owner after owner bringing dogs in with behavioral issues ranging from fear, to anxiety, to aggression, and the common thread that runs through almost all the cases is the apparent lack of respect between the dogs and their humans.

Note that I didn’t say “The apparent dis-respect“. There is a difference.

To me, disrespect would imply that the dog knows what it means to be respectful, and is choosing to disregard that knowledge in favor of his or her own agenda.

Lack of respect means that the humans never taught the dog what it means to be respectful to begin with. Sometimes because they didn’t know how, sometimes because they didn’t try.

So what does it mean for a dog to be respectful? For the purposes of this discussion, we can say that Respect is the adherence to well established rules and boundaries, and the appropriate response to pressure. Pressure here can mean physical pressure (leash, touch, electronic collar), social pressure (eye contact, forward body language, claiming space or yielding), or what I call achievement pressure which is the pressure we all feel when there is something which we strongly want to achieve and we have to figure out how to do it. This last one takes the form of respect building when the item or event that the dog wants to achieve is controlled by the human, such as a treat or the activity of going outside.

Think about it. Have you taught your dog what it means to be respectful? Have you established boundaries and rules? Will your dog respond appropriately to all three forms of motivating pressure?

If your dog is displaying inappropriate behavior, and you have not taken the time to teach your dog what it means to be respectful, it’s never too late to start. She might surprise you with just how well she can follow rules once she know what they are.

 

Operation: Rescue Gracie

March 7th, 2012

Gracie, the black and white pit bull, with the pack after 7 days of rehabilitation

My friend Julia Taylor from Pawfect Love Pet Care found Gracie and pulled her out of the city shelter. She had been showing signs of aggression towards both humans and dogs. The shelter agreed to release Gracie pending an evaluation from me. I of course, knew I could help before I even met her as I firmly believe that 99% of dogs can become balanced with the right leadership and guidance. 

It was clear right from the start that Gracie had never truly had the opportunity to be social. She had a ton of pent up and frustrated energy, and this was to root of her aggressive behaviors.

The unfortunate reality is that most shelters are not equipped to adequately assess and rehabilitate dogs like this on their own. I commend the Buffalo City Shelter for allowing an outsider to step in and help. The other unfortunate reality is that if Julia hadn’t pulled Gracie from the shelter, she likely would have been euthanized due to her behavior.

Three pit bulls, Gracie in the middle, viciously making out with each other.

 

Gracie’s rehabilitation program with us has included obedience training, vigorous exercise, treadmill training, and pack socialization. She has been in my program for 8 days now, and she is truly a changed dog.

Gracie is currently up for adoption, if anyone is interested in her you can email me and tyler@conectwithyourk9.com and I will forward your info to Julia.

Exceptional Obedience, or Obedience With Exceptions?

March 4th, 2012

One of the questions I always ask humans who bring their dogs in for an evaluation is “How is your dog’s obedience?”

Most people respond something like “Oh, she’s really obedient, she knows all the basics, sit, down she’s not so good at stay but we’re working on it.”

Of course, I naturally must probe further “How is she if there are distractions around, such as other dogs?”

“Oh, if there’s distractions forget about it! She doesn’t listen at all if theres something else she wants to do.”

Let me just start by saying that I commend anyone, who takes the time to teach and lead their dog, regardless of how successful they may actually be.

The reality however, is that if your dog doesn’t listen around distractions, or if she doesn’t listen if theres “something else she wants to do” then your dog isn’t obedient.

The very function of obedience is that you can have your dog perform a task, at your command, regardless of whether they want to or not.

Yes, in an ideal world we would always be able to make the dog want to do the things we ask. But the real world doesn’t work that way. There are too many conflicting motivators such as rabbits, squirrels, other dogs, smells, noises etc. that are often way more exiting than the prospect of maybe getting a morsel of food from us, and most of us have no interest in always carrying around t-bone steaks in our pockets and purses.

The unfortunate truth is that many dogs in our society don’t actually know a single command. What they do know are a whole lot of suggestions. They view their owners cues as “If you want something that I have to offer, here’s how to get it. If you don’t want it, or if I have nothing to offer. . . . . . . . . .then no big deal.”

The very definition of a command however, is that it is a big deal! Because we are fair leaders, we as much as possible, try to reward good behavior and obedience. Yet, just because I am willing to pay the dog for their efforts, does not make the work optional.

Real world dog training teaches commands, not suggestions. A command means “you must do this.” Being a good and fair leader means “Don’t worry, I’ll make it worth your time.”

Unfortunately, the majority of dog trainers these days, don’t teach commands anymore. Dogs do what they want, when they want, and this often leads to trouble. I firmly believe that this fact is the root of 90% of the behavioral issues that dogs have. Dogs need rules, they need structure and order in their lives, and without these things, many become unbalanced.

The following clip is of Coco, a 7 month old Airdale Terrier. She started training with us 3 weeks ago, and prior to that did not have any obedience work. She is practicing the ‘place’ command, and a down-stay. No she doesn’t want to be doing it, she would rather be running around with my dog. She is learning that rules are rules, and they have to be followed. She is not unhappy, in fact her tail is wagging throughout half the video, and she is showing a tremendous amount of self control, especially for a dog her age. I am proud of the work she has done in 3 weeks, and when working with her, it is clear that she is proud of herself too.

True obedience gives the dog a sense of purpose. All of us are happier when we feel we have a function in the world.

Silly Humans

February 28th, 2012

Have you ever noticed that nearly everyone in the world believes that they are an expert on what is best for your dog?

Personally and professionally, I have found that one of the toughest areas of training can be teaching good greeting behavior.

I’m not talking about the dog training part of it. It’s the people training that’s real tough.

Why is it that when we tell people to “please just ignore my dog when you come in”. That they inevitably take that statement to mean “stare at my dog who is trying to sit still, and make cooing noises while approaching him head on as if you are going to pet him, then stop just out his reach and stare some more while giving him a dissertation on why you feel bad for him because he has to stay on his dog bed.”

The dog is easy, teach him to stay on his “place”, make sure he knows that there is a clear and predictable set of rewards and consequences related to that behavior, and viola! But the humans have their own agenda.

Well. . . . I devised a solution to this conundrum several years ago that is based in the ridiculousness of human psychology.

There is one great truth known to mankind: Humans are suckers for talking dogs!

That’s right, tell the humans yourself to ignore the dogs, and you can bet that your words will fall on deaf ears. But have the dogs say it. . . . . and you’ll be cookin’ with fire.

That’s right, us Silly Humans will do anything the dog says.

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Champion Bloodlines

February 24th, 2012

I was in Rochester yesterday and stopped by my dad’s studio to say hello. Some of you may not know that my dad is an incredible artist. Here he is working on a piano he was commissioned to design and paint for Steinway and Sons. Yep, I come from good stock.

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You can see more of his work HERE

Pressure

February 3rd, 2012

Pressure is a term that I use a lot when discussing dog training. The concept of pressure is somewhat central to my system of training and influencing dogs’ behavior, and understanding how pressure works will make anyone a better handler.

The most important to remember is that pressure motivates, and the release of pressure educates. Say that out loud, repeat it and let it sink into your memory.

Pressure motivates, release educates.

Any pressure, to be motivating, is by its nature going to be aversive. The degree of aversiveness can, of course, vary from mildly annoying, to painful. Ideally, when working with dogs, we want to be as minimally aversive as possible. Although a dog may encounter many sources of pressure throughout their lives, there are three main types of pressure that we use to influence dogs.

Physical Pressure is probably the most natural for people to think about. Examples of physical pressure are: leash pressure, guiding with hands, or even electronic pressure. I would even consider the pressure from and unpleasant noise, or smell to be a physical pressure.

Social Pressure is often undervalued. Social pressure can be strong eye contact, stern voice, and assertive/forward body language. The most practical use of social pressure that I find, is using eye contact and body language to move a dog and claim space. Because you are creating space, some may call this spacial pressure. Among horsemen, this technique is often referred to as yielding. Social pressure is likely to be the most primal form of pressure. Nearly all animals who live within social groups use this as a part of their dominance rituals.

Achievement Pressuremay be a made-up term, I’m not sure. I use this term to refer to the type of pressure we all feel when there is something that we strongly want to achieve, and we have to figure out how. This is the type of pressure associated with positive reinforcement training. Of all the types of pressure, for the average dog this is likely to be the least stressful or aversive. Although for an extremely driven dog, achievement pressure can actually create a significant amount of stress.
Not all positive reinforcement training will involve achievement pressure however. Capturing, or the technique of waiting until a dog naturally offers a behavior and then marking it with a reward, will not involve achievement pressure because in most cases the dog did not know that there was something to achieve, and was not trying to figure it out. (If she were trying to figure it out we would more likely call that free shaping.)
Unfortunately, it is un likely that anyone would be able to adequately train a dog using only capturing techniques, so understanding how achievement pressure works, and how it can be stressful is still important, even for the “reward-only” dog trainer.

Again I must re-state, this is not intended to be a scientific, or exhaustive definition of pressure. It is meant to be functional, for the purpose of further discussion of my training techniques and philosophies.

There will definitely be more to come on this topic, so check back soon!