Zen Traps and Defaults

Level 2 Step 5: Zen traps and defaults.

Before I get to the deep stuff, a small brag. We’ve been testing through L1 Zen and tonight I was able to pour the entire 15 pounds of dog food into the dog food bucket without the dogs diving head first into the bucket. I suppose that’s a zen trap of sorts since normally I wouldn’t have dared such a feat, but they’ve been doing so well I thought I’d try to “trap” them. They passed!

No, my dogs are not on L2 step 5 yet, and since we’re following Sue’s advice to start over from the beginning we probably won’t be there anytime soon, but I had to jump ahead and read about what a Zen trap is. I’m glad I did because it allowed me to set the dogs up for their success tonight.

You have no idea what complicated ideas I came up with when I first read about Zen traps and defaults. Turns out a Zen trap is exactly what it sounds like. Which perfectly illustrates one of the things I love about the Levels-the simplicity. Sue does start out the step warning you, “Here’s where it’s going to get complicated. I’m going to ask you to think.”

Well, compared to the convoluted ideas I came up with her explanation was plain as day!

Step 5 begins by having you think of the area’s “of your life with your dog that’s crying out for hand Zen or floor Zen.” Then Sue urges us to have some forethought, to even write out the problem and a plan for explaining it to our pup. L2 Step 5 starts transferring Zen from a treat to real life situations.

For example, Magnus needs a serious dose of kitchen table zen. (For fun check out the fun conversation on our FB page about “You know you’re a dog person when. . .” one of mine was about Magnus and his desperate need for kitchen table zen.) Since dogs on the kitchen table isn’t exactly covered in a specific step in the levels and I really don’t want dogs on the kitchen table my whole life L2 Step 5 fits perfectly.

Sue says, “Get yourself (italics mine) ready to respond correctly then enter the room with the Zen trap in it. Work the pre-placed trap as you would any other bit of food on the floor.”

The kitchen table Zen trap looks like this, I leave a chair out so he would normally want get up on it to get on the table. Of course since we are starting a new Zen behavior I make things easier and leave off the cue.

After bringing him into the room I can picture two options. In option one he’s off leash and I sit down on a different chair with my clicker and treats and ‘read’ my new Levels book. I then have the opportunity to reward any choice he makes not to get on the chair with a very high value treat.

In option two if we get to this point and I feel like his leave it is solid enough for him to understand the cue I think I could cue “leave it” at the chair if he leaves it click-treat! If not I know I need to go back to the beginning and make it easier for him.

Hmm. . . interesting plan. I’m glad I have several steps until we’re ready for step 5 so I can refine it. Any ideas?

Other areas a Zen trap could help us are my bedside table and the cat food. Set ups would be similar, the key is preparation. Have my plan thought out ahead of time, treats and clicker in all the places I set up a trap. Both are areas where I want Zen to be the default, meaning he always chooses to never get into those things.

Turns out Sue was right again, she warned me and she is making me think!

As always I welcome any suggestions, refinements or overhauls to my plan. When we get this far I’ll be sure to let you know how it went! Hopefully I report back a full A+ pass!

One more thing, if you haven’t bought your new Training Levels books yet, you really should. They are awesome!


Graduation was Great! What Did We Learn?

Saturday was graduation day for Magnus Puppy Prep class. It was a really fun day, and I was a very silly, very proud crazymomlady.

He got a certificate, a fluffy stuffed toy, and some treats. It was a great time. I am so glad you all talked me into going!

But typical me, my favorite part of the class wasn’t the graduation march, complete with music, or the clapping and cheering. Although that was fun!

No my favorite part was my brave little guy working hard for me and loving it.

This last class was a review of the things we covered in the class. We got a chance to show the progress we have made over the weeks and ask for tips on how to polish up out skills.

“Follow Me” Lessons
At class we learned a “follow me” to start out LLW. It is basically a lure so your dog learns to stay close while you are walking. This turned out to be one of those techniques I didn’t really get at first, but in the end I learned more than I expected.

I learned I can fade a lure much faster. When our instructor saw how well he was doing she said to wait to treat him, in fact she had us walk about 15 feet before treating him. After that I realized I was treating about ever three to five feet, and he could handle much more.

Another reminder was the importance of what we communicate with our body language, tone of voice, etc. Now I already knew this, but when you get to watch someone experienced demonstrate what you are trying to do, it is the smallest changes that make a difference.

For instance when training loose leash walking I realized I always treated for correct position from my right hand. Watching our instructor I saw her lure withthe treat in her left hand. Much more efficient that reaching across my body to treat from my right hand. That small change in my posture is making a difference in both my pups loose leash walk.

Leave It
The class environment really lets you see progress that you don’t notice in your most common training grounds.

It was so nice to have mehusbandy with us for our graduation class. After class he commented how he hadn’t realized what great focus Magnus was getting.

I saw this in Magnus too, when we tried a leave it with the treat on the floor. This is one of those things that had slipped through the cracks when training at home. We have worked tons of puppy Zen but not with the treat on the floor.

So when she told us to try it, I wasn’t sure how he would do. Of course it was no problem!

In fact he added his own twist by offering me a down, staying off the treat and when I cued “leave it” he started scootching backwards with his belly on the ground. I had to laugh. Not my final picture of leave it, but a pretty funny thing for him to figure out on the spur of the moment!

But it was his focus during leave it that I loved. He is learning to look at me and not at what ever he is leaving alone. This is the same puppy I spent the first month laying on the ground hand feeding just to get a glance out of. He has come a long way!

We both learned so much and are looking forward to our next class!


Squeezy Cheese Cue?

When Meeka had to take Tramadol twice a day she got her pill with squeezy cheese. It was her hands down favorite.

Maizey also thinks that squeezy cheese is the junk food of the gods, so we ended up working A LOT of “squeezy cheese Zen”. Eventually Maizey knew if she wanted her bit of squeezy cheese she had to sit nice and wait for Meeka to take her pill.

Tonight I got out the most treasured of treats once again to give Magnus his pill. As I was bribing him to take the dreaded medicine I glanced down and what was my little girl doing?

A perfect squeezy cheese zen. Apparently the can, the smell or whatever it was, was enough to remind her if she wants her bit of treasured yellow goo she needs to sit patiently. Needless to say she got an extra helping of the yellow goo of the gods!

Tonight I miss my Big Girl very much.


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?


Training Challenge Week 7: A Reactive Maizey Victory

This is an exciting training challenge for me to post.

We have loved being a part of Ricky’s Training Challenge, it pushes me to be creative and I am learning so much from following the others challenge posts. (For a real treat check out Ricky’s challenge this week, his mom must be a super hero for hauling his chute around to so many places!)

As for the exciting part?

Maizey and I walked three miles past numerous dogs and how many barks did we have? 2, 406?

Wrong! Two!

Two you say? Yes literally two barks!

How can that be possible of the Princess-Of-The-Shrill-Bark?

Honestly I don’t know what brought the change. Let me tell you how it went.

Because I new this walk was for our challenge I chose a route that I knew had more dogs on it, but would not be TOO much of a challenge. On our street alone we must pass Mr.’s Red Pit Bull and White boxer, who feed each others fence fighting into a frenzy, the fluffy Aussie mixes whose main joy in life is frenzied fence chasing, my friend Baxter, whom Maizey believes is evil incarnate (she really hates all Labs) and Baxter’s friend Thelma who doesn’t believe any dog in the world is her friend. And that was just who was out on the night of our walk!

Because of the level of difficulty on our street I always take the precaution of having Maizey wear her Halti until we pass that major test. Usually we will have barking and lunging but with careful reinforcement it is getting less.

Until the night of the famous walk. That night we still had some lunging, but I added her leave it cue, and maybe that made a difference, because for the first block past six barking dogs-not one bark!

Well at this point I was flying high with pride at me little girl. I switched to her buckle collar to do some loose leash work. So when we walked past the black lab in a rod iron fence who always sends her over the top and still barely a lunge and not a peep out of her, I pretty much figured someone had replaced my girl with a voiceless impostor!

Still though it got better! Through three miles, past two dogs loose in their front yards, and others in their fences, the only time she barked was at the Big Black Scary Boy on the corner. Since it was dark by then and he wasn’t there the first time we passed, he even scared me! So she got out her two barks, but with a leave it she trotted along with me.

A big part of helping reactivity is always being aware of the environment, looking out for triggers and being prepared to deal with them. This can be very tiring, but by choosing a route where I could anticipate where many of the “big mean scary dogs” would be I could be prepared. So I started rewarding for attention early, putting the most distance possible between us by moving to the far side of the road, and then when I saw her start to orient to the dog I cued a leave it marking correct response with a calm, yet emphatic “Yes” and reinforcing fast and furious until we were past the dog.

Did adding her leave it cue make the difference? I have avoided using it with reactivity for fear of poisoning one of her strongest cues. Perhaps that could still happen, I will certainly have to keep an eye on it. Maybe she is maturing, and that is helping her be more confident.

Regardless, I was happy with her progress and happier still when we had a repeat performance with slightly more reacting on another walk later last week.

I just get giddy thinking of it again tonight. There is a 4legged lesson there, one I visit over and over: our pups joy is our joy, their success our success.


“It’s All Tricks, Relax.”

Sue Ailsby has a list of Sue Eh?’s Training Rules. They are all fabulous, but this is my favorite:

“It’s all tricks, relax.”

This is easier for me with Meeka than with Maizey. Meeka already knows everything she needs to know to be a peaceful member of our community.

Working the Training Levels with Meeka is more an issue of working the continuing education and fitting the Levels skills into her day to day routine. This has an interesting effect on my training with My Big Girl because I find myself training with much less structure than with Maizey. (Okay I admit, really Meeka has no structure, if anything she is probably structuring my training!)

This video is a good example of that. It demonstrates a very tempting Zen, or Leave It. We were just hanging out in the back yard as a family and as usual I did have some training goals in mind for the Baby Maizey. (Her car seat was new and I had been playing ‘get used to the car seat’ games all around the house before we actually did a real life run in the car.)

I usually view Maizey’s training sessions as a time to play games with Meeka. Whatever pops into mind that’s what Meeka is ‘working on’ for that day. In my mind “it’s all tricks” with Meeka and that makes it really easy to “relax”, as the rest of the rule goes.

So because I put no pressure on myself about Meeka’s training and it’s all fun and games I end up doing things with her I never planned. This trick video is just such a case. Meeka has never done this trick before, but has a firm foundation laid with Leave It and can generalize behaviors very well.

So with out further ado, and keeping in mind: “it’s all tricks, relax!” Here’s Meeka:


How ‘Bout 21 Miles In 30 days?

Our 40 Miles In 30 Days Challenge is over. It turned out to be a 21 miles in 30 days challenge. But it was 21 miles we really enjoyed. And a great thanks to everyone who joined or supported us!

One thing I like about the challenges for myself and the girls is that at the end it gives a great chance to look back and evaluate how it went. This time I just got distracted. There are so many things I want to learn and so little time sometimes I have a hard time focusing!

I also found that with the weather getting nicer we were doing many more outside activities, and while not the physical exercise of walking, it is still good time together. Especially the training we are doing out on the yard now.

Its interesting how even the daily life lessons are different now that we are out and about more. A small thing, but very important to me, is the time spent in the garden which has led to a whole new kind of Zen, garden zen. As in, “No Maizey you and the Nellie monster can NOT have the zoomies in my newly planted garden!” Another garden lesson, “go out!” As in, “UGG! Quit rolling in the newly watered seeds and getting all muddy! In fact just GO OUT of the garden!”

Have I mentioned not all Cavaliers are princesses?

And overseeing it all is my serene Meeka, surveying her kingdom.

As for walking challenges? We will do a new one, and maybe next time the miles won’t win!