Cheers to You, New Year

Did anyone else catch where January ran off to? It’s like she came and went without even saying hello… rude! But I guess it’s not all January’s fault – we were also too busy to notice how quickly the days were passing.

Looking back, I’m realizing that January was a month of re-centering. Even though it felt like a total whirlwind with all four weeks blending together, I feel like I am starting the second month of 2014 more focused than ever on what I love doing: helping dogs. Working with the HSUS #367 dogs sparked the rejuvenation of my passion, and since then I have been reminded again and again of where I am right now and where I am capable of going this month, this year and, most importantly, this lifetime.

I’ve never really been one for New Year’s Resolutions. I don’t have anything against them or the people who make them, I’ve just typically been the type of person who might set one here or there and then doesn’t exactly follow through. But 2014 has already proven to be influential despite the fact that I did not make any conscious resolutions. In the next handful of posts I’m going to be discussing in more detail the January (and beyond) happenings that have helped me realize 2014 is going to be quite an exceptional year:

1.  Working with the #367 dogs and helping with their transport to freedom. Here is Rudy, one of the three survivors that Jasmine’s House is taking in. This photo is from when we met him off the van after his trip from the HSUS temporary shelter. My friend Amy, who volunteered with me, and I will tell you guys what it’s been like to follow these dogs through their journey (spoiler alert: it’s been pretty spectacular!!!!).

Photo credit: Heidi Moore Trasatti Photography

Photo credit: Heidi Moore Trasatti Photography

2.  Hanging out with WHS Rudy (popular name, right?). I never realized how much I missed fostering until I spent more time with Rudy and his fosters. Stay tuned for a guest post from Eran about what fostering Rudy has been like!

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3.  Getting down to the wire with Paco and KPA. We’re less than two weeks out from the big weekend that will determine if we get our KPA-CTP certification or not. After all the work we’ve done, I’m getting pretty nervous that we are so close. It doesn’t help that Paco’s been a little under the weather lately (luckily nothing a little pumpkin can’t fix) and doesn’t want to do much more than what he’s pictured doing below. Will we be ready? We’ll talk about how the weekend goes as well as what finishing the course will mean for my career as a trainer. Please send all of your lucks to us February 15 & 16!

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We hope your 2014 has started off with as much fun and happiness as ours has! Thanks for being here with us as we head into year #3 for Peace, Love & Fostering :-).


Red, White & Rudy: DC’s Finest New Foster Dog

About three weeks ago I was scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed and spotted this handsome pup:

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Obviously I went back for a second look. I mean, how can you resist that face? When I investigated who he belonged to I assumed it would be one of my rescue, blogging or pittie advocate friends. To my surprise, it was a friend of mine from college named Eran that I hadn’t spoken to in, oh, probably two years. Because for me when pitties/foster dogs/dogs in general are involved all tact goes out the window, I immediately started to like and comment on all the pictures of this adorable dog. A mutual love for dogs automatically eliminates the possibility for social awkwardness, right?

Eran reached out to me after my “OMG HE’S SO CUTE” storm and filled me in that he and his five roommates were actually fostering this dog named Rudy through the Washington Humane Society. Um, awesome?? Furthermore, as we got to talking we discovered that we both live in the same neighborhood in DC.  Double awesome. Obviously I could not wait to meet this little red and white bundle in person!

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I’ve seen Rudy twice since then and let me tell you, he is a doll. He’s tiny and polite and of course totally adorable and social and dog friendly and has a face so squishable I have to try really hard to not chase him around and kiss it at all times. He’s only about seven months so of course he’s got manners to learn but he’s a quick study. When I went to meet Rudy I went over all sorts of fostering “secrets” (management, the joys of bully sticks, food puzzles, positive reinforcement, etc.) with Eran and his roommates and they are well on their way to giving Rudy everything he needs (and more!) to find a forever home.

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I was going to put together a brief bio about Rudy for this post, but his fosters wrote an awesome one so I will let them tell you more about him:

“Hey! My name is Rudy! I’m a 7-month old sweetheart of a pup. I love giving and receiving hugs and kisses. If you are willing to work with me, I promise to learn to sit still, lie down, and maybe even roll over (treats make it a lot easier to keep my attention)! I respond super well to positive reinforcement, so please be patient with me – everyone makes mistakes!  With enough exercise, and a few lengthy walks a day, I will be your perfect couch potato companion! Crate training? Pretty much nailed that. If there isn’t anyone home with me all day, I appreciate a visitor sometime in the middle of the day to get a chance to stretch a bit outside my crate. I’m pretty great on walks, and am quick to make new doggy friends!”

Let’s recap, shall we? Rudy is: Crate trained. A couch potato when he gets enough exercise. Super dog friendly. Very quick to pick up on training. Totally, insanely adorable.

01So do us a favor and share him with your friends? Please? While I selfishly want him to stay around the corner for me to steal visit whenever, this awesome pup deserves a home of his own. He is available through the Washington Humane Society and would love to find a family interested in helping him grow up to be the best dog he can be while taking him on a few hikes ad jogs along the way. If you or anyone you know are interested in Mr. Rudy, email eranfriedman9@gmail.com!

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Playing Catch Up

Whew… the Holidays are over! Life is back to normal, right? Sort of? I feel like I haven’t written a real blog post in FOREVER and that I need to just give you a long catch up entry about everything that’s been happening over here at PLF. However since I don’t want to bore you with those details, I’ll stick to one of the most major commitments in my life right now: the Karen Pryor Academy. I know you’ve read a lot about it over the past few months, but it’s still new and exciting and sort of scary so I want to continue to share my experiences with you all.

It feels like just last week that we had our second testing weekend. Well, it was much earlier than that because this past weekend was workshop #3! That means our next workshop in mid-February is the big exam weekend… YIKES.

This third weekend went much better than I thought it would. Unit three covered a lot of intense material, and I felt a little behind heading into the workshop. Turns out I understood the content better than I thought and had so many *a-ha!* moments that the entire weekend was extremely reinforcing for me. Just like weekend two, I left thinking you can do this, J.  I also left thinking wow, you really, really love this behavior stuff! Talking nerdy dog speak officially gets me going (speaking of: see you in March, Clicker Expo!).

This latest workshop left us both exhausted.

This latest workshop left us both exhausted.

We’ve covered so much in KPA up to this point. We’ve learned everything from proper clicker mechanics so that you’re not bribing your dog to how to build behaviors using shaping and capturing to how to teach cues to fluency (meaning they have precision, low latency, high speed and can be performed around distractions, from a distance and for whatever duration you choose) and put them under stimulus control to why building a relationship entirely around trust is so important for your dog’s ability to learn and be happy. I seriously CANNOT GET ENOUGH of all this knowledge. The fact that it is coming together so perfectly – all the long lessons and assignments and readings are finally all making sense in the big picture – is just so thrilling to me.

It hasn’t been easy though, and it won’t be easy moving forward. Not living with Paco has presented the challenge of scheduling and time. It’s funny to look back at our previous challenges though to the ones we are experiencing now. Before I couldn’t get him to focus on me, I couldn’t for the life of me find a reward that was exciting enough to keep him engaged and he would shut down after two minutes of attempted shaping.

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Now, I’ve got a bouncy, happy puppy on my hands who will work with me whenever I request it. It’s no longer a matter of what to use to keep him engaged. He’s happy to train, sometimes I just need that little bit of extra yummy to really keep his focus. I especially noticed our progress at the workshop this weekend when we were doing a shaping exercise. Shaping was one of the first topics we learned about in KPA, so Paco and I were still new to each other and never very good at it. He generally bowed out of the exercises pretty early and I would get frustrated – not a good combo. During this workshop exercise I successfully shaped a new behavior in a brief five minute session almost without even realizing. Working together has become so natural to us it’s hard to realize how in sync we are now! I touched briefly on our budding relationship after weekend #2, but holy moly do I love that little dog.

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Yes I am aware that he does not look thrilled in this photo. He loves me back, just not when I squeeze him like a teddy bear.

 

For the next six weeks, Paco and I will be tirelessly working on our ten-part chain, the ultimate test of our knowledge and skills from this course. You can see an example of a 10-part chain here on YouTube. Basically I have to teach Paco at least ten cues to fluency and then chain them together (a concept we learned about in our course). While the video you watch might not look *that* impressive, there are lots of technical details that make it the perfect way to showcase all that we have learned and taught our dogs. It is an impressive feat in the end!

While it’s a lot of work and stressful to fit in between my 9 to 5 and training clients, I don’t think I’ve ever encountered something that came so naturally to me (except maybe loving my foster dogs, but I think this is all related). The science behind animal training and behavior just makes sense to me, and I am realizing more and more that it will be yet another opportunity where I can help dogs – and people – in this world. How lucky I am to have discovered this passion (along with so many more) and been given this opportunity so quickly in life!

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Life Lessons Thanks to Dog Training

You had to expect it sooner or later, the deeper-than-dog-training post. I’m sure most people experience this feeling with their passions: the idea that the impact is much more than simply “I get to do something I love.” You learn lessons from your passions and often they translate over to the way you live your life and the person you become.

I’ve never been a super over the top positive person. I’m not a downer by any means, but I’d put myself pretty much in the middle of being a Negative Nancy and being that person you dislike because they’re always chipper. I’m average. Growing up, when it came to animals I found myself in the middle, too. I loved them deeply, but I didn’t exactly have the most patience for their animal-ness sometimes. My horse and I would get into knock-down, drag-out arguments during dressage lessons because I would take personally the fact that she wasn’t doing what I wanted her to. My trainer would actually need to tell me to dismount sometimes. I was emotional and I thought if I just tell her a little bit LOUDER (harsher), maybe she’ll get it!  It makes me cringe now, but the fact of the matter is that is who I was.

How I became so enthralled with positive training after coming from that background still confuses me, but I don’t ask questions. My point in writing about my history of positivity is to show that I was a skeptic at first too. I was not easily won over. What do you mean I cannot correct my animals? After years of wanting to “win,” I finally came to terms with working on the same team as my animals (thanks to many books, seminars, lectures from professionals, etc. – but still). And it has been changing me for the better ever since.

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Aside from just the dogs, positive training continues to impact my every day perspective. The philosophy of “focus on what you like, ignore what you don’t like” has changed my life. It is, after all, basic learning theory – but the transformation you begin to see in your relationships with friends, family, coworkers, etc. is remarkable. All of a sudden you start to notice a shift in their behavior or how you communicate or even the product of your work together.

I appreciate the improvement in my relationships, but it is the growth within myself that I am most thankful for. I think we as humans have a tendency to be so, so hard on ourselves. I didn’t do this right, I forgot to do this, I missed the opportunity for this, my weight changed to this, why didn’t I do this like this, I don’t like this about myself, why couldn’t I have been better at this. Since I’ve learned more about the benefits of focusing on the positive, I have tried my hardest to do away with that kind of talk. I know it sounds hard – impossible, almost – but hear me out.

In the Karen Pryor Academy we do an exercise during the “show and tell” portion of our weekend workshops where everyone writes down three points the student did well, and then we share. They can only be positive – no “you did this well, but….” There are no “buts.” Again, I was skeptical at first – but boy does it begin to change your perspective. Reinforced behaviors get repeated, and by focusing on the behaviors we like from ourselves and others, we are helping them to happen again. Slowly but surely the negative, nasty crap we say to ourselves every day begins to fade away.

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I’m not saying we should eliminate constructive feedback. Obviously, we all need feedback. But delivering it in a way where it won’t negate all the achievements you’ve made is essential. Think about it, that “but” or “however” in the middle of a compliment and feedback can easily eliminate any feeling of accomplishment.

When I find that I’m being too hard on myself, I stop and take the time to give myself some credit. I’m currently doing it every night. What did I do well during the day? What am I happy about? What am I proud of myself for? Not only does it reinforce those behaviors and qualities and therefore make them more likely to happen tomorrow, but it also creates quite the list to look back on when I’m feeling sub-par.

I’ve found that a positive outlook is something I’ve owed myself for a long time, and I’m thankful and lucky that my training career led me this direction. I encourage you to try it sometime today: make a note of an action you took or a trait about yourself that you like.  At the very least you’ll have a moment of pride, or it could turn into a new outlook on the people and situations around you in life.

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He’s Just Not That Into You!

We’ve all seen the movie or at least heard of someone in this kind of relationship: a girl goes nuts trying to get a guy to pay attention her, only for her efforts to go unnoticed. That’s sort of how I feel about my relationship with Paco right now. Seriously. I just can’t seem to get this boy’s attention! Let me explain.

Paco has proven himself to be a challenge to work with – in a good way! He makes me think outside the box and causes me to work extra hard in perfecting my communication skills. He’s a great dog to become a teacher with. My latest challenge with him is finding a good motivator. This is, yet again, another lesson I am grateful to learn the hard way early on: not all dogs are super motivated by food. While food is a primary reinforcer, meaning animals are hard wired to want it (and therefore work for it), Paco generally doesn’t fall over himself trying to earn a treat. Up the value, you say? I’ve tried: peanut butter, cheddar cheese, chicken jerky, stupid overpriced training treats from the store, hot dogs, canned chicken, Natural Balance log roll, squeeze cheese, and more. It’s all the same to him. So, we have to try something different.

This is where the scene of a girl trying super, super hard to impress a boy comes into play. Paco generally loves attention, praise, petting and encouragement. This is great! Supplementing food rewards with attention for a dog like him should do the trick. I should note here that during shaping sessions, this encouragement comes after the achieved behavior as a reward, versus while Paco is trying to figure out what he is supposed to be doing. Verbal encouragement as a prompt instead of a reward during shaping can actually throw the dog off more and slow learning.

Turns out, I have to really put on a “Paco is the best ever” show for him to keep him engaged in our work. Sometimes when we do training sessions I feel like I am literally jumping up and down and standing on my head squealing, “Look at me, Paco! That right choice was so exciting! You want to keep training with me! It’s so fun, I promise!” Yeah. . . kinda sounds like a girl desperate to get a guy’s attention, right?

I guess you could label me as that desperate girl at this point. We’ve got such a long, tough road of learning ahead of us and Paco and I need to be on the same page. After a discouraging week, I think we finally had a breakthrough. It’s been a lot of trial and error to figure out what motivates him; something I feel like has set us back in our coursework, but will benefit us, our relationship and the quality of our work in the long run.

So, if you’re ever in a DC neighborhood and hear a lot of clicking and cheering, that would be me and Paco working together. Just call me the crazy dog lady.

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