Cop-out, I know. We’ll be back in full next Wednesday :-).
What a whirlwind of a week it’s been. Like I mentioned in my last post, we had our second workshop weekend for the Karen Pryor Academy this past weekend and, to my surprise, it went well. Let’s dive right in, shall we?
Leading up to this workshop my nerves were sky high. I am a bit of a worrier, and that carries over to many aspects of my dog training. With Paco, I jump to the worst possible outcome with every situation, mostly because I have worked with dogs for a while now and I know what could go wrong! For example: he’s not staying in the crate at night anymore – oh no, he’s not going to be used to it for our workshops and he’ll bark the whole time! (Even though the majority of the last workshop he didn’t make a peep in his crate.) He’s had two negative on-leash encounters with dogs in the past six weeks – he’s going to be reactive to the dogs in class now! (Even though he was perfect with them last time.) His cues aren’t under complete stimulus control – he’s going to be too distracted to focus during class! (Even though we’d practiced many of his cues ad nauseam and I’d prepared lots of high value reinforcers).
My fears of what could go wrong began to get in the way of my progress. It’s funny that even though in class we learn to focus on the positive because reinforcing the behaviors you like – even those from yourself – will mean they become stronger, and yet I could not help but be so negative about how Paco and I were progressing as we headed to the Unit 2 Workshop. Luckily, when we arrived there early Saturday morning, my mindset quickly began to change. As we walked around before class, Paco didn’t try to eat any other dogs, and in fact was fabulous at staying calm in their presence. He settled right down into his crate without a single sound. We began going over course materials, and I felt completely up to speed. Whew. This was, surprise surprise, not going to be as bad as I had convinced myself it would be.
The weekend continued to improve. Paco and I really hit our stride together. I cannot truly put into words the way I feel about Paco and our connection. When we met three months ago, we were brand new to each other and brand new to training. Our relationship was sticky and weird – it even initially felt a bit forced (which, actually, I suppose it was). We have since taken every step of this journey together. It is not even in a teacher-student or parent-child sort of way. It is a partner-partner bond. We are in this as a team and we share every up and down. He helps me improve and I help him improve. I marvel at his successes and he shows me when I have done well. We work hard and then wiggle and coo and celebrate like the best of them. It is an interesting feeling, knowing that he is not my dog – but I think that actually brings us even closer because we have formed this relationship under unique circumstances. I love him so much and I am so proud of him and how far he has come.
I left the workshop Sunday evening feeling great. Not because I do not have challenges and many difficult weeks ahead of me – but because I now feel like we can actually do it. Paco and I do have what it takes to kick butt these last two units and accomplish what we need to for our final exam. It might take some blood, sweat and tears, but we will take this new found confidence and run with it. Our eye is on the prize – certification – and we will be putting 110% effort into it until February 16. Wish us luck and stay tuned!
I have begun blogging for Dog Latin Dog Training’s website about my KPA experience. My Wednesday blogs here on PLF will be a sort of re-blog from those posts. For some posts it means I’ll touch on things you all probably already know, but for the most part it will probably be new content. Today I am taking a look back on the road to KPA. You’ve heard some of this before, but here it is again, all in one place. Thanks for sticking with me through this journey!
I guess I’ll rewind for this entry, and talk about how and why I ended up in the Karen Pryor Academy. Both of those – the how and the why – have a bit to do with a wonderful woman named Beth Mullen, the mastermind behind Dog Latin Dog Training.
Beth and I worked together at the shelter for about two years – she with the animals, me in the development department. As I started fostering shelter dogs, our paths began to cross more often. I needed help here and there on behavior issues, and Beth was always so gracious with giving advice. I subsequently started to really see the positive work she was doing with our shelter dogs, all through creative clicker training – never using force or fear that folks sometimes think you need to turn to in a large kennel setting like a shelter.
While Beth certainly had a positive influence on my journey into force-free training, many other factors went into me choosing it as a new career path. When my interest in training picked up, I began attending workshops at Your Dog’s Friend (they are an insanely good resource for learning to live harmoniously with your dog!). It was a seminar about managing your dog’s behavior where I had a “light bulb moment” about management and reinforcing desired behaviors. From there, I went to an internship at Animal Farm Foundation (AFF) and had my first real “hands on” experience with reward-based training, shaping, behavior modification, etc. (I was in between fosters at this point so real life subjects to “practice” on were tough to find – AFF really opened my eyes to the possibilities). I saw first-hand how much you could achieve with this training and officially became hooked.
(This is one of those instances where you guys already know what I’m talking about – bear with me!) Johnnie Cash was the four-legged furball that sealed the deal for me – the dog trainer deal, that is. That foster pup taught me SO much about communicating with dogs. Johnnie had a lot of energy (she sat in the shelter for five months with no interest), and I promise you that if I hadn’t taught her in a way that her good behavior was a product of her own decisions, she would not have become such a great, well-mannered dog… and I would not have become such a believer in clicker training!
Fast forward a few months, and Beth has officially taken me under her wing. I am soaking up every bit of knowledge I can from her – and it is a lot! I learn something new every time I watch her work. She really inspires me to work at becoming the best dog trainer I can be. We both believe strongly in continuing education and not becoming stagnant in what you know. Beth has also taught me enormous amounts about mutual respect when it comes to working with animals, and that’s exactly what clicker training is all about.
KPA will be a difficult course for me, but it will likely be one of my greatest achievements – not only as a trainer, but as a person. I am just trying to come out the other side as a better trainer with the ability to help dogs and their owners live happier lives together. I am so lucky to get this opportunity!
Stay tuned to next week when I talk about how Paco and I are doing together and how we prepared for our first testing weekend.
Like I mentioned last week, Paco is the dog I am bringing through the Karen Pryor Academy with me. We will be learning together — he the cues, and I how to teach him the cues. He’s about seven months old and cute beyond words. I actually just met Paco recently. His family graciously agreed to let me use him as my KPA dog (seeing as I don’t have one and it is a requirement of the course, I needed to borrow one), and our training together kicked off.
The first day I met him we went for a walk and I tried to do some basic work with him. He did well on the walk, so I was excited for how much training we could do together — plus he was so cute!
The next couple times I went to work with him, I started doing more training. Unfortunately, I really put the pressure on. “You must learn sit RIGHT NOW, dog!” Of course I didn’t mean to be aversive about it (clicker training is supposed to be fun, after all), but I felt pressured to make sure we were ready for our first testing week, and it became clear pretty quickly that poor Paco was not enjoying himself. He would get frustrated and start to shut down during our sessions.
Paco loves interacting with people, so we spend a lot of time just playing. One day we also went on a nice long walk to Soapstone, a little gem of a trail tucked into the middle of Washington, D.C. Paco enjoyed playing in the water and taking in all the new sniffs. After that adventure, I brought him back to my house to meet my roommates. He loved meeting my roommates (and of course they loved meeting him), and soon he was fast asleep in my lap. I think that counted as some good bonding time. Overall it was relaxing and laid back – criteria I need to be sure to incorporate into our time together!
Now that he knows me a little better, our training sessions are improving. Just one week of working with Paco made me realize the importance of evaluating your own teaching. I was making learning aversive for Paco, and I needed to adjust the way I was communicating with him. If I hadn’t stopped and noticed what I was accidentally doing, we could have been headed for disaster.
I am thankful that I made this realization so early in the KPA course (and my career, too), because the next six months are likely to be very challenging for both Paco and me. We need to be able to find fun and enjoyment in every place we can, while we work hard. I have a feeling Paco and I will quickly adopt the “work hard, play hard” mentality. We all know how much a good game of tug can relieve stress.
Stay tuned to see how things with this course – and with Paco – are progressing!
I had a dog growing up. I’ve loved dogs all my life. I worked at the humane society in high school, and then even studied Animal Sciences in college. But I didn’t really have an interest in training dogs until about ten months ago when it felt like a switch flipped. Since then, I can’t seem to learn enough about working with dogs.
With my childhood dog, a Wheaten Terrier named Barley, we used a shake can when he would do the wrong thing like get into the garbage. We walked him on a retractable leash and didn’t pay much attention to how he was invading our surroundings. We wondered why he acted the way he did around other dogs (he could be reactive) and why he wasn’t ‘normal’ like the ones who love every other dog they meet. We would scream at him when he would bark out the front window. But I figured that was Barley and that was the way you interacted and dealt with dogs. Looking back, I can now see why we didn’t have the closest relationship.
I remember bits and pieces of being exposed to training as I got older. Some of the first, I think, was watching Victoria Stilwell’s It’s Me or the Dog show on Animal Planet. I would catch it whenever it was on and was fascinated with how she could change a dog’s behavior by adjusting schedules, house rules and basic guidelines. Fast forward to college when I took animal behavior courses and companion animal courses (when we weren’t taking companion animal courses we were learning mostly about cows and poultry) and I got another glimpse of how animal’s learn. In our behavior courses we covered learning theory and discussed famous studies like those by Pavlov and others and how they related to why animals learn and act the way they do. We also learned about clicker training, though many of the examples we were shown that demonstrated clicker training used horses, donkeys or pigs!
Despite all this background, I still wasn’t that interested in dog training. I started working at the humane society, and even fostering, and didn’t realize the importance in training past just basic obedience (sit, down, stay). Our shelter trainer, a CPDT and graduate of the Karen Pryor Academy (man were we lucky to have her), would chat with me about my fosters and basic ways to help any problematic behaviors popping up and, while I appreciated it and tried to follow through with her advice, I still just didn’t get the big picture of why dogs do the things they do and how I could change the way they behave.
My outlook changed when I attended the Animal Farm Foundation internship last September. Even though the course focused mainly on learning about how to help pit bull dogs get adopted from shelters, the most valuable lessons I took away from that week were the training ones.
When we arrived Monday afternoon, I met our house dog Lady Bird (LB). She was an energetic little thing – way more spunky than I had ever really dealt with. Throughout orientation the first night Lady Bird kept trying to jump up on my fellow intern while we were all talking – something that was quite annoying. The intern simply stood up every time LB got on her lap, ignoring her the whole time, causing LB to naturally fall back to the floor. By the end of the time we were all together, Lady Bird had quit jumping up. No shoving, no pushing, no yelling… just a simple change of consequences and reinforcers.
The week continued with “aha!” moments like that, like when I realized I could pretty quickly teach a dog to sit while I open a door or not bark in the kennel – all using the same basic principles. I couldn’t believe it: the basics that I had learned in school and had watched others do for so long could be applied to behaviors across the board – with great results! I was hooked. By the end of the week, Lady Bird was a delight and I was a training-knowledge fiend.
Upon my return, I quickly realized that I had so many resources at my finger tips: Your Dog’s Friend, Beth the shelter trainer, other blogging friends, books, websites and so much more. I dove right in. While I am learning so much valuable information, I am also realizing that this is how it’s done, this is how people get into training. You’re not born knowing everything about dogs or wanting to train them (okay, maybe some have dreams to be a dog trainer as a kid, but not all of us), and you might not even wake up one day and just decide you want to be a trainer. Sometimes it takes lots of exposure to it or lots of trial and error or lots of exciting successes to get you hooked. Everyone’s story is unique.
Come back on Thursday to see how my dog training journey is unfolding. I am excited to share with you all where things are headed!