Thank you for your well wishes for Paco last week. I am happy to report that he is feeling much better! When I dropped him off with his family he was still limping, but he was definitely back to his old self, wagging non stop! It became quite the challenge to keep him calm as prescribed, but it was much better than seeing him the way he was just a few days earlier. Here are some photos of our time together from before and after his injury – mostly recovering, with lots of snuggling, just like the doctor ordered.
My work with Paco might have ended a few weeks ago, but I have been lucky enough to have him back in my life recently. I am dog sitting him while his family is on spring break! Ten whole days of just me and Paco time – I am in heaven! I am grateful that he is super easy to take care of: he is okay home alone and with just about thirty minutes of exercise a day, he loves to lounge around and sleep. It’s been so fun acting like he is “my dog” the past six days. It seems to be good timing that last week I wrote about fostering Lady Bug without worrying about the actual care, and this week I am here caring for Paco without him being a foster. Here are some photos from the time we’ve spent together so far:
I sure do love having a pup to adventure with again… though I definitely won’t complain when my life goes back to not being planned in eight hour intervals!
In the second unit of the Karen Pryor Academy, we learned about behavior fluency. Fluency means that when an animal perceives a cue, they start the behavior right away (low latency) and they perform it precisely (precision) and quickly (high speed). Fluent behaviors are pretty impressive to watch. I wrote a bit about how I was working on fluency with Paco in my post about playing training games.
In this third unit, we are covering three more aspects of fluency: distraction, duration and distance. Those characteristics are all for the most part self explanatory. Distraction refers to being able to perform the behavior in distracting environments, duration means holding/continuing the behavior until released and distance means being able to respond to the cue even when the handler is not directly next to the animal.
These three aspects of fluency – I’ll call them D/D/D – are also impressive to watch. A dog who can respond to a “down” or “wave” cue from across the room is likely to be quite the crowd pleaser. As you can guess, mastering D/D/D takes a decent amount of time and practice. You have to work on each aspect individually while temporarily relaxing your criteria for the others. They all sort of build on each other, so once you have one mastered, you can begin working on the next and then inevitably adding them all together down the road.
Like pretty much any dog who is just starting to learn, Paco needs work in all three categories. He started out by being easily distracted, jumping up as soon as he performed behaviors and only really responding when he was right next to you. I am happy to say he has improved a bit since we have been practicing. By slowly adding distractions to our sessions – never adding too many at one time – he has become less sensitive to them. By shaping duration (basically rewarding him for holding behaviors for different amounts of time) I am now able to give him certain cues and know he will hold them until I release him. He is even getting better at “sit” and “down” from a few feet away from me. Slowly but sure, he is shaping up to be quite the great little performer.
I didn’t realize it until I took him out on the town the other night, but these skills are really going to help me improve my photographs of him. Before, I would give him the sit cue and as soon as I would back up to take the photograph, he would follow me (which you might have noticed because of the amount of close ups I have of him – ha!). I am looking forward to the day where I can plant him somewhere and get whatever shots I want! And have him be happy about it, of course. The whole point of teaching him D/D/D with clicker training is for him to hold these behaviors and respond to cues from far away and not worry about distractions because he wants to, not because he is worried about what will happen if he doesn’t.
Here is a photo from week one of working on D/D/D. I plan to have many more for you moving forward, thanks to Paco’s new found modeling skills!
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.
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.
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.
For some reason I have always been a fan of winter. Maybe it is because we are lucky enough to have seasons here in DC so by the time winter rolls around I am way sick of sweating and air conditioning, or maybe it is because some of my favorite fostering memories are from the fall/winter (it is, after all, about this time two years ago that I brought Mr. Baxter home!). Whatever it is, as the air starts getting crisper and the final leaves fall from the trees, I immediately find a spring in my (now booted!) step.
This year has been no different. I am, as usual, crazy busy, but my time with Paco has continued to be fun and exciting as the cold sets in. We’re finding new ways to work together since during the warmer months our go-to training location was his front yard. We also haven’t let the cold stop our other activities together. Paco is a surprisingly fantastic running buddy, and the colder it gets the happier we are that we won’t have high temps holding us back from keeping up the pace during our runs. Cold weather running has always been my favorite (versus the summer – ick, no thanks!), and with a simple wardrobe addition, Paco is set to join me.
Don’t get me wrong – Paco is a good running buddy but he also snuggles like the best of ’em (as if I didn’t make that clear in previous posts). In between training for KPA and running and hiking and playing tug, you can find Paco right here:
I find winter – and of course the Thanksgiving holiday – to be an excuse to look for things around me that I should appreciate, like awesome running weather or sunset skylines like this one from my house’s balcony. It might not be full of beaches, sunshine, tans and flip flops – but for this crazy dog lady, winter is a reason to celebrate!