You Get What You Click Part One: Choose the Correct Equipment

Life is frequently all about the timing.

Clicker training is also all about the timing. You get what you click. However, anyone who has started using a clicker knows it’s can be a challenge to get all the mechanics right.

It seems pretty simple, a little plastic machine that clicks when you push a button. It’s not rocket science right? True, but put a leash attached to a dog, treats and a clicker in your hands and then try to click the exact second a dog’s but hits the ground in a sit, deliver the treat and things can get messy!

The good news is it gets easier with practice and the right equipment helps a lot.

I see a lot of first time clicker trainers come to class carrying a plastic baggy of treats. One problem with that is you move around a lot in dog training and your treats need to move with you. What do you do when you click your dog, but your treats are way over there in a baggy? Remember clicker training is about timing, so you lose precious seconds getting to your treats.

So vital piece of equipment #1: Some sort of treat pouch. The object is to to get those treats onto your body with quick and quiet access to them. You’ve heard a good trainer has quiet face, quiet body and quiet hands? Add a quiet treat pouch to that too.

Pockets are a natural choice, although you know you’re a true dog person when you get out last years coat and instead of a dollar in the pocket you find a clicker and treat crumbs. Some people use waist packs, I even saw one woman wearing her kitchen apron!

I prefer an Olly Dog or Premier treat pouch. Both close by magnets, each has a spare pocket for clean up bags, your clicker, keys or whatever. They’re cute and durable.

Vital equipment #2: Some sort of wrist coil for your clicker. If you’re fishing around in your pocket for your clicker your timing is gone. But it’s a challenge to manage all the equipment in two hands. The solution? Put your clicker on your wrist. I actually prefer to use the kind of elastic band you use for pony tails. It’s thin and fits in my palm better. There are many kinds of wrist coils out there and anything that allows you to drop your clicker to free up your hand but still have quick access to it works great.

(A side note, I once saw someone who had their clicker around their neck on a lanyard. Seemed like a good idea, except when they bent over they clicker swung out and was close to the dogs ear every time they clicked. Please don’t deafen your dog by clicking close to its head.)

The next step to successfully getting what you click is your timing. Check back later this week to see some clever clicker games and some examples of why timing is so critical.

Until then why not leave us a tip on your favorite piece of training equipment?


How To Prepare For Puppy Class

So after all of your wonderful encouragement I enrolled Magnus in Puppy Prep.

This class seems to meet all of my requirements for a puppy class.

The list was:

  • All positive based instruction preferably using the clicker.
  • Strictly supervised play time, with dogs that were similar size to him.
  • Small class size, not more than eight dogs.
  • An environment that I was comfortable and could learn in.
  • Instructors with experience in spotting fear issues (Both mine and his.)
  • Instructors that would not take issue with my training a skill using my method, not theirs.

How Puppy Prep Measures up
The Calling All Dog’s program claims to be “the first (and only) positive reinforcement dog training facility” in the area. Though the puppy class is not specifically a clicker class the instructor, Nicole, does not mind if I use the clicker. I felt her reasoning, that most people in our area are not familiar with positive methods and are intimidated by a clicker, was fairly accurate to what I too have observed.

The class is 8 dogs under 18 weeks. Four are small dogs and one is a Cavalier, which I admit, I am excited about. Each class has an instructor and an assistant.

At play time the small dogs are put in a sturdy x-pen with the bigger dogs separate. (The x-pen at Maizey’s class was so close to falling over that it was as much of a danger to her as the other dogs were.) However, at the class I observed there was a very mild, beautiful Husky they allowed in briefly to play with the small dogs. Each group of dogs has their own instructor during play time so it was closely supervised.

My Concerns
Of course being me I still have concerns. The main one being, ME. (Insert my own eyes rolling here.) I am such an introvert, I don’t like crowds and to me the 8-16 people that will be there is a crowd. One reason I joined the puppy class was for my “socialization”. I know that to help Maizey I need to be more relaxed myself, and I think the puppy class environment, where I already know much of the info, may give me that opportunity.

Another concern is the fact that they have already done two of the six classes offered. Based on knowing me and meeting Magnus last week, the instructor isnt’ worried about us knowing the info. And I have the option to make up the classes in November when the next class starts. She felt joining late was the better option since over 50% of the dogs in that class are much larger than Magnus and we would both would worry about him playing with them.

Preparations and Conclusions
Now I am left with the next couple days to prepare. Treats, and I am sure a new treat bag are absolutely critical to have! (Insert mehusbandy’s eyes rolling here.) Practice of the skills Magnus knows and his vaccination record is also on the to do list.

But once again I beg the benefit of your expertise! What do you do to be prepared for puppy’s first class? I read a lot of your agility blogs and you talk about calming ring nerves, well I think I need to calm my class nerves! Any suggestions for that?

I know you all have much experience to share and I look forward to hearing it!


Uses For Doggie Zen

Contemplating potential Cavalier puppy #2 has me thinking of all the things I wish I did different or better with Maizey.

Maizey came home at nine weeks and I was determined to do things right with her from day one. I can think of many things I could have done different. But one thing I did well was instilling a good Zen from the beginning.

Zen is one of the most important lessons a puppy can learn. It can be applied to many areas of life from things like not snatching up that prescription pill you dropped (potentially life saving for your pup) to not rolling in that dead stinky thing on the side of the trail. (Life saving in that it may save YOU from dying from the stench!)

Sue Ailsby has a great explanation of doggie zen she says, “Zen”, as we use the word in dog training, is so important as to be virtually the foundation of civilization. It means “self-control”. An untrained dog is a dog with no self-control. . . A trained dog understands that the way to get what she wants is to control herself, and a trained handler knows that true control of an animal must come from the animal herself, not from the handler.”

The other night mehusbandy called me out to see Maizey doing an impressive “leave it”, her zen cue. She was parking it on her bed and he had placed a chunk of his steak on the floor about 3 feet from her nose. Impressive? Certainly! But my favorite part was that she wasn’t even looking at the steak, but had him locked in an unblinking stare. What a good girl!

Zen can be shaped to be many things and I have changed my criteria over time, but one thing I have been working into her zen is instead of just orienting away from the desired object, she now needs to find my eyes and watch me. This was added for use of zen with the “mean scary-scary dogs!!”

Below is a list of some of things mentioned on a recent Training Levels yahoo group thread called “uses for zen”. If you haven’t checked that group out it is well worth a look!

  • default leave it on stuff on the ground, dogs and people.
  • food- ever need to set your plate down and grab something else?
  • prevent major fights between dogs
  • squirrel, swan, geese, duck, sheep, cat. . . any other small tempting animal
  • default for open doors and gates
  • toy zen
  • four on the floor greeting people zen
  • not chasing cars, bikes, skateboards etc

Truly the list could go on and on. So what is your favorite use for doggie zen? Check back soon and learn about Maizey’s next zen adventure. . . kitchen table zen?


What is Dog Reactivity Part 2- Maizey’s Reactivity Defined

Maizey is daily teaching me about reactivity. An interesting part of Maizey’s reactivity has required me to learn to distinguish between true reactivity and a very interesting behavior chain of “pretend reactivity”.

The first thing I noticed her reacting to was other dogs. This started in her puppy class. She reacts instantly to a strange dog, but once they meet she calms noticably and over time will become comfortable.

Maizey’s true reactivity has now transferred to many animals from cows to horses and even a moose! The most obvious sign of true reactivity in Maizey is what earned her the title “princess-of–the-shrill-bark”. It is a bark that is higher pitched and more intense than her normal bark.

Body posture is also a very evident signal in that she leans into the stimuli, stretching her body forward to the point where from nose to tail you could almost draw horizontal line down the length of her body. This was an important sign for me to pick up on as when I see that posture start I am learning how to help her stop the reacting before it escalates.

The reactive posture looks like this:

photo taken 9/2009 at 9 months old
You can see how she is hunched back on her haunches yet at the same time stretching toward the trigger. Her tail is a key signal here because it is stiff at the base and standing straight out from her body.

This is the face of one stressed out Maizey

photo taken 9/2009 @ 9 months old
Signs of stress can be seen in the tenseness of her jaw and what we call “whale eye” or “pop eye”.

Another less obvious sign shows up in a general jumpiness. This can show up even in completely calm situations, like when she is laying on the bed, hears a strange noise and visibly jumps as if startled. But it also manifests itself in true reactivity around other dogs. Mainly this shows up as her running and playing with all appearance of calm, but she startles easily at the other dogs movement and responds with a twitch, or jump. Then I know that she is still feeling stressed but on a much smaller scale and she is managing it herself.

For my own record keeping purposes I measure what I observe in her on a 0-10 scale. Its technically called the “Maymay can’t think anymore, help me Crazymomlady my brain is exploding” reactive scale. As is sits better on the tongue and the typing fingers, we’ll just call it the “reactive maymay scale” The stretched out princess-of-the-shrill-bark gets a 9-10/10 on the reactive maymay scale. Depending on other signs the jumpiness may get as low as a 2/10.

Knowing these signs, and many others, has an interesting place in our calming process because Maizey has learned a fascinating behavior chain that starts with barking. It looks like this: see something, bark, look at crazymomlady in an imitation ‘watch’, get a treat, immediately go back to barking and start the whole thing over again.

This is “pretend reactivity”. She is not really anxious over anything. She has simply learned, because I unwittingly taught her this and she is simply brilliant, that “watching” mom after barking gets rewarded. Thus you can see how discerning between real, (“help crazymomlady lady I’m flipping out and can’t calm down”) and pretend, (“oh good crazymomlady wants to play that game where I make an unholy racket over nothing and she gives me treats”) reactivity has become very important in our life.

So what does you 4legged friend look like when reacting to something? What are the signs you see  in them when they see something they aren’t happy with?

You will see just how vital it is to accurately read your reactive 4legged friend when you check back tomorrow for “What is Dog Reactivity Part 3- Anecdotal Evidence Illustrates Maizey’s Reactivity.”


What is Dog Reactivity Part 1

Reactivity in dogs is a very complicated subject. This will be the first in a series to explain what I have learned and what Maizey and I are doing to help each other learn how to calm reactivity, ironically in both of of us!

Reactivity is really just the manifestation of stress in a dog. It involves stress hormones, such as adrenaline, in much the same way those hormones affect humans. It involves learning how to deal with new and scary, or perceived scary, situations.

A reactive dog is one who reacts strongly, in human terms we may call it overreacts, to certain stimuli in the environment. Dogs can be reactive on many levels and to many things. A Labradoodle we met yesterday was reactive to men with canes, hats, beards, or any combination there of.

An interesting case, that one, because the man to whom Luke the Labradoodle reacted to was someone he knew, but when seen with his hat and cane the man became unfamiliar and “threatening” thus Luke’s eruption of barking.

Reactivity can be shown in any number of ways from vocalizing, body posturing, and even completely shutting down. A dog showing these signs of reactivity is really showing you dog signs of stress. And needs your help as the 2legged member of the team to learn how to calm down and feel confident again. Learning to identify these signs is the first step in learning to help your 4legged friend to calm their stress.

There is a valuable 4legged lesson here and it is that stress in life, no matter how many legs you have, is inevitable. But living over threshold and stressed out is unhealthy and miserable regardless of what species you are so learning these calming skills can only benefit us all.

For more information on what Maizey’s reactive journey looks like come back for: What is Dog Reactivity Part 2-Maizey’s Reactivity Defined


The Millions Of Ways To Train A Dog

It has been said that there are a million ways to train a dog. Spend any amount of time online and you’ll quickly know this is true. So how can the average girl know which way is best for her four legged friends?

I honestly have no idea.

But I’m trying to figure it out. Although there is so much science in training, training is not an exact science. You will meet people who are pure clicker trainers or cross-over trainers. Some subscribe solely to one persons philosophies while disdaining all others. And the debates can get quite heated, to say the least.

My philosophy? No one is one hundred percent right one hundred percent of the time. For sure not me! I  do think that dog training should be less about what the two legged member of the team thinks is the best sounding theory and more about what works for the four legged team member.

Each of our pups is so individual and what works for one won’t work for the next. And the challenges for one will not be the challenges for another. For instance Meeka rarely barks. Except at airplanes of course! But when she does bark it just takes a little “uh-oh” and she quiets right up. But Maizey is a whole different picture when it comes to barking.

Since I needed new skills to know how to help her hit the calm button we took a lesson with a local trainer. It was invaluable. She gave us many new skills to use and helped me access some calming skills I had laid the foundation for but didn’t know how to apply and use.

One of the new tools we are using is a Halti. Having never used a head halter on any dog, and certainly never expecting to use one on my little girl this took some getting used to. For me. Maizey was fine from day one and now rarely even fusses it at all. Now I know many out there in the positive world will frown on my use of such a “cruel” and “harsh” device. All I can say is results show the big picture and after hours of use now I can see it really does increase my control. More importantly it decreases her drive thus giving her more control. Along with the other things we learned in her lesson I am already seeing a quieter and more peaceful Maizey.

All theorizing aside, results are what really matter to me. Having a happy calm girl is what really matters to me. Will I keep doing all that I am now? As long as it works and keeps her happy and calm. And if it changes? Well, I’m really used to going back to the drawing board. I seem to spend a lot of time there!


Migraines Don’t Motivate Me But My Girls Sure Do!

I been down with the sickly migraine so things have been really quiet around here. It’s times like this, when I am feeling like laying low, that I’m thankful I have two such low laying girls to hang with me! And times that make me highly question my thoughts of getting a “higher drive” dog for our next four legged friend.

Of course the reverse proves true too. On our recent jaunt down south, during a chat about what motivates me to get out and train, my friend looked at Maizey laying upside down in my arms snoring away and commented, “well she’s really not much help!” So true! It’s much harder to roust out when they are content to curl up with me where ever I am. A pup that needed more activity would definitely drive me to give them just that.

This got me thinking about what really does motivate me to train and exercise my pups. The number one thing on the list would definitely be their needs. After two days of laying as still as possible and moaning about my head Maizey just couldn’t take it anymore and made it clear we really must walk today. (That GIANT clock some sadistic maniac planted on my blog that is so clearly mocking me by screaming, “You are running out of time in your 30 miles in 30 days challenge” also helped!) And so out we went.

So the “What Motivates Me To Work With My Four Legged Friends” list:

1.) They are so much happier with regular mental and physical exercise
2.) I am so much happier when I regularly mentally and physically exercise with them.
3.) I am so much happier when they are happier!
4.) When I am irregular in working with Maizey it seems to be a “two steps forward, one step back” situation. Meaning: she doesn’t lose her skills, but for example on a walk it takes her much longer to work out “the wigglies” and get down to paying attention and doing dome good work if its been a couple of days since she walked.
5.) I stay so much more organized if we work a little everyday, so our work time is much more productive.
6.). . .7.). . .8.). . .

And so the list will continue. I would love any hints as to what keeps everyone else motivated to keep teaching and learning those “4 legged lessons.”

My 4 legged lesson of the day?

Turns out walking helps migraines much more than moaning! Thank you girls!