Conversations with River

 

IMG_1900-2Today, while I was asking my girl River a question for around the 20th time on our ninety minute public outing, I was thinking about how freaking boring our life together would be if we didn’t have an ongoing flow of conversation. Don’t get me wrong, I do not mean that I stand in a park and talk to my dog like some crazy dog lady (I would… never do that… ) but we do indeed have a back and forth stream of communication. Here are a few things I posed to her today; in long written word here, but we worked through them with body language and a few single words only:

1. “Would you like to enter this fenced park to go swimming in the lake? There are other dogs off leash there, and I know that can be uncomfortable for you, so I’ll let you decide.”

She chose to take a short walk around the area first so she could take in the environment and then pulled me towards the entrance. Once off leash, she ran to the lake and waited for the toy to be thrown without even glancing at another dog. Remember folks, this is my “extremely dog reactive” cattle dog bitch I’m talking about.

2. “That five month old puppy is approaching you. You know you have to ability to not react, and if you quietly lay down and wait for me to deal with the situation you can get back to the toy throwing sooner. Oof. She just stole your toy… Please stay there and I will get it back for you and be very, very happy with you.”

She did exactly that. A very sweet but slightly foolish Doodle puppy stole River’s toy less than a foot away from her feet not once but TWICE and River let it happen. She has learned over the last several years that I can help her handle these predicaments; she does not have to use her teeth or other scary displays on strange dogs.

Heel position right next to the water's edge: a very difficult thing to ask a swim-obsessed cowdog!

Heel position right next to the water’s edge: a very difficult thing to ask a swim-obsessed cow dog!

3. “I know it’s hard for you to think while swimming, but I would really like to do some Rally-O proofing exercises with you and reward all of your brilliance with toy throws. Can you work with me this close to the water and new strange stimuli and I’ll promise to make my other criteria lower?”

She responded with near excellent fronts, finishes, and short steps of heeling less than ten feet from the water! Rally exercises are still pretty new to her, so I was asking a lot, but she gave me her best.

You’ll notice that I never gave her a traditional command during these exchanges. In fact, during our actual verbal communication I did not give her a single cue word other than our Rally practice cues. Leaving other dogs alone, down stays while I got her stolen toy back, and her focus on me versus the humans and dogs in the park were all given. I let her choose what she wanted to do every step of the way and each action of mine was directly in response to her. If she hadn’t pulled me towards the entrance of the park, I would have kept walking down the trail and waited to visit the swimming area until others had left with their dogs. If she had made a move to react negatively towards that puppy (which, honestly, would have been warranted!), I would have moved us much further away and possibly left the area. If she hadn’t been able to focus on me enough in that environment to practice Rally moves, I would have abandoned the idea of difficult proofing until another time with fewer distractions.

These are just a couple of examples from one day, but the list goes on and on; I try to make me and my dogs’ time together one of mutual enjoyment whenever possible. I try to give them as many choices about their life as I safely and sanely am able to. Life with dogs is just far more interesting and rewarding when you treat them as a thinking being with thoughts and feelings about the world. Three years ago, I never imagined that my “super reactive” cattle dog could swim in a fenced dog park with other dogs around without having a complete fit every five seconds. But she did indeed play for over an hour today, with! other! dogs! around!, and I have the photos to prove it. All of our hard work towards building our relationship, trust, and teamwork is paying off. I haven’t needed to teach her any new cues lately. I have never used punishment based training methods for her dog reactivity, and I have never forced her to do anything around dogs she absolutely did not want to do. I did not flood her, I did not strap an e-collar on, she never wore a pinch or choke chain, I didn’t have to train a ton of commands and throw away all of her choices to follow them, and yet… I have a dog I can take to a public lake off leash without huge reactions. Her recall is pretty stellar, her focus is lovely, and she is a mostly happy (I won’t lie: there is still some level of stress around strange dogs and sometimes she can still get a snark in if it’s needed!) little dog who once tried to bite the face off every single strange fellow canine she came across. We constantly improve together thanks in large part to the talks we have like the ones we had today.

So: next time you’re out for a walk, try having a conversation with your dog. You might be surprised how much you can communicate and learn from them without ever opening your mouth.

Happy Valentine’s From Pongu!

This year, since we’re on hiatus from Rally/obedience and the weather has wreaked havoc on our agility plans, Pongu and I put together a goofy little trick for Valentine’s Day:

My original concept for that trick was to have Pongu drag his butt over the remains of Crooky’s Valentine’s card, but it turns out that (a) it’s really hard to shape a butt scooch when your dog doesn’t want to do a scooch (at least with Pongu, who is a very clean dog and super conscious of not making messes); and (b) the closest approximation I could get — a hover-butt Sit with a couple of squatty steps forward — was a tough workout for Pongu’s core muscles, so he could only do it about 5 times per session, which was not nearly enough to get the number of repetitions we needed to build the entire trick.

So, since I realized with two weeks to go that we weren’t going to get that version of the Valentine’s trick done in time, I went with a remix of the Birthday Box trick. The one new behavior that I built in for the Valentine’s trick is the selective shredding of the card, and that is the topic of today’s post.

Before starting this project, Pongu had a very strong foot targeting behavior and a moderately strong retrieve, but I’d never asked him to destroy things on cue. Thus, most of our time was spent modifying those two starting points (foot target + retrieve) to build the shredding behavior.

Thin-slicing with a clicker got us there pretty quickly — if I had sufficiently good timing to catch the moment where Pongu’s existing behaviors overlapped with the desired one, I could communicate what I wanted with pretty good efficiency.

Initially I was using an actual store-bought Valentine’s card for this, but it turns out that cardstock is tougher than you might imagine, and it took Pongu way too long to destroy it. Figuring that nobody really wanted to watch my dog struggle with shredding cardboard for a minute and a half, I switched to regular paper to speed up the destruction time. I used the same markers and colored pencils on the “demo cards” as I planned to use on the final version, just in case Pongu might need to get used to the smell/taste of those.

Here’s a sample session to show how we did it.

This is a speeded-up version (because nobody wants to watch the 45 minutes or so it took us over the course of a week to get to the final version in reality), but it shows the steps in accelerated format: (1) click for knocking the card over + nose touch to card; (2) click for nose touch while holding card down with foot (this is important because it distinguishes the behavior from a retrieve — Pongu can’t retrieve the card to me while stepping on it); (3) click for rumpling the card with a foot (partial step toward destruction) + open-mouthed nose touch to card (I would have clicked these separately but Pongu happened to offer them together on this repetition); (4) click for stomp/scratch of card (distinct from but overlapping with the mouthing — I wanted Pongu to get in the habit of using his feet to scuff up and hold down the card for easier ripping — so I rewarded that too); (5) click for open-mouthed nose touch while holding card down again; (6) click for biting/tearing the card (I could have clicked the first one at 0:30 instead of waiting for the second at 0:31, but I wanted a slightly more vigorous tear since Pongu didn’t actually need to learn the behavior at this stage. If he were still in the learning phase, absolutely the one at 0:30 would have warranted a click).

Once Pongu grasped the basic concept of “wreck this card,” it was just a matter of building in duration, speed, and intensity — all of which came naturally with increased confidence and use of more desirable reinforcers.

Then we added in the other pieces, and — voila! — the trick was done.

Online Class Review – “Get Focused!”

I will level with you, I totally suck at “review” posts.  But this past August I was lucky enough to score a Gold Level (working spot) in a Fenzi Dog Sports Academy class called “Get Focused” with instructors Deborah Jones and Judy Keller, and I loved it so much that I really wanted to try to write some words about how much the class meant to me.  (A new session of this class opens for registration on January 22nd, by the way.  Hint, hint!)

I, like many other people, jumped right in on the training of skills with my dogs: the straight sits, the pivot work, the targeting, etc…but overlooked the simple act of actually building handler focus. (Never mind understanding how to do so!)  When I saw that low confidence was actually listed as a reason that a dog might lose focus (among many others), I felt like the class might have actually been created for Perri and I.  It felt like where we needed to be.

The class is billed as a foundation level class, best taken early in a dog’s “career”.  It might have been easy for many teams to feel that they were advanced beyond the work offered in the class, or that the exercises were simple.  The exercises are simple ,that is the beauty of them.  They are the building blocks of an incredible foundation for a human and dog team, all we had to do was pick them up and start building at our own rate of speed.  It was beyond tempting to rush through the exercises.  I fell into that trap myself before my dog told me she was not willing to rush along with me.

At the Gold Level we were guided to do a lot of introspection about our dogs and ourselves.  Since I am a deep thinker and analyzer, probably to a fault, I really enjoyed this aspect of the class and found it to be very valuable.  The questions being asked helped me to answer a lot of my own questions and think about my roadblocks, not to mention the attention of two experienced and skilled instructors to guide me through.

Was the class a magic trick to “fix” Perri spacing out when she became nervous or worried about being wrong in a class or trial situation?  No.  Nothing works like that.  But Perri and I were dedicated students that worked hard on the exercises at our own level and speed.  I went into the class feeling like I knew why Perri loses focus: she has no confidence and shuts down and cannot focus.  But with “focus” in the spotlight, I was encouraged to do a lot of thinking on the subject and to think beyond the obvious.  I won’t say that this class and this class alone “fixed Perri”.  Perri is indeed blossoming and taking this class and everything that it had to offer us was definitely a part of that.

I have found my joy, and his name is Steve.

Years ago, when Steve was young and completely insane and I was new to agility and new to the special kind of insanity that is Border Collies, I had a trainer completely steal my joy. The club where I took obedience and rally also ran an agility program, and the instructors were some pretty accomplished people– multiple championship titles, Nationals, even someone who has been to Worlds. It was natural that I would just start off my agility journey there.

Very bad plan. Very bad. They begin with what they call Foundations, which is exactly the skills that it should be, but the problem is they have six young, green dogs all trying to

Big air Steve

Big air Steve

work, usually offleash, at the same time. Steve, young and overly excited about anything and everything that moved tasked with rear-foot-targeting a small board OVER AND OVER AND OVER again… well… let’s just say that didn’t keep him very occupied.

I did a lot of mat work with him. I did a lot of control unleashed games with him. But what it came down to was that there was no way for me to keep this dog under threshold far enough for him to learn much of anything with the class set up the way it was.

And none of the instructors either could understand that or were able to honor that and help me work around it.

We finally made it out of Foundations after several sessions and moved into Beginner 1. This class involved stringing several jumps together, maybe in a big circle. Stever dropped probably 85% of the jumps. So they found me special jumping instruction. She was going to teach my dog how to jump.

Never did anyone address that my dog was so over threshold that his brain was gone and the only thing his body wanted to do was GO AS FAST AS POSSIBLE.

I left class crying week after week.

I was taken out of the class and set aside and told to work on my relationship problems with my dog.

My heart broke. I got this dog to play agility with him, and I had failed completely before I ever got started.

They missed it. They missed it completely. The problem was not my dog, not at all. It was not me. I was doing everything I knew how to do.

The problem was the setting. The problem was instructors who just didn’t get it. Nowhere along the line did anybody suggest a different class, or private lessons. That was what he needed. No one said anything about thresholds.

Steve masters a different kind of teeter totter

Steve masters a different kind of teeter totter

I quit. I left class crying yet again and I never went back.

Finally after some encouragement from friends, I switched to another training club. I went to meet the instructor to see if my dog was broken. He wasn’t. He ran beautifully alone in her training building. What?

So we joined her classes. One dog in the ring at a time, for the most part. The rest of the dogs crated either in the building or out of it, depending on the dog.

And yeah, he was high at first. WOOHOO AGILITY! He crashed a lot of jumps. But as he learned the game, as he learned the environment, he started to settle.

And we made progress. I stopped crying. My dog learned. I learned.

Somehow, I had an agility dog.

We’re nothing amazing. I don’t like to trial, so he has a couple CPE titles and a couple legs in USDAA Performance 1 Gamblers (and I think 1 in Standard).

Here’s his first USDAA Gamblers run ever. (fast forward to about 50 seconds in)

Now most of the agility we do is on our own, just playing around in the training building, running whatever course is leftover from classes. I like it. He likes it. It works.

Recently I’ve put him back in Rally Obedience classes again. I love the instructor. I love the sport. Steve is a smartypants who pretty much knows all the exercises (he has one Rally Excellent leg, and I just haven’t managed to get out of bed to make it to another trial). But it’s good for him to go brain, and it’s good for me to go play with him in public.

And play we do. Sometimes, our play gets caught on camera, like it did before class last week. We were just warming up, fooling around, getting ready for class. The instructors husband caught us on film.

 

 

(and before anyone says it, yes, he forges terribly and no, I don’t care)

And what do you know, my old agility instructor, the one who broke my heart and stole my joy? She saw it and she commented on the “long way” that Steve and I have come and that it was “impressive”. And that would feel good if it were coming from somebody else, coming from someone who supported us and believed in us from the beginning. But she is somebody that we worked hard *despite* of, somebody that broke us down instead of lifting us up.

Steve and I? We didn’t need to work on our relationship. We have that in spades and we always have. We just needed somebody who understood what we needed to help that relationship shine in a particular environment.

I am so lucky to have this amazing dog in my life, and I am so very very grateful to have found people who would build us up, who would work through the hard stuff, who would sing his praises and help me toward achieving what I wanted with him.

That is what everyone trying to train a dog deserves, whether you’re just trying to learn basic manners in a beginner obedience class or you’re trying to learn a complicated game like agility. Respect. Honoring of your special relationship with your dog. Encouragement. Knowledgeable advice appropriate to your situation. We are not all cookie-cutters. We all deserve to be treated and taught as individuals.

Continuing Education – Capturing mistakes on video

I am very new to the sport of agility (like, 2012 new.)  So when I saw that the topic for today’s blogging event was “Continuing Education” I thought, “My education is nowhere near to being complete, let alone moving into the phase of “continuing!”  I also thought over the many ways that an agility enthusiast can pursue learning our sport: classes both live and online, books, videos, seminars, workshops.  Team Unruly writer Michelle wrote a great post last February about Continuing Education through seminars.  (Go check it out!)

But for somebody so green as myself, I would have to say that a lot of my education comes straight from watching my three dogs.  Over the last three years I have learned all about “it is never the dog’s fault” and how true those words are.  If my honest dog does something, or does not do something, I respect them as the mirror of my own errors.  It took me a while to learn to think this way, every time, but it is the truth.  I like to maximize the “lessons” that my dogs have to teach me, so for me a very important tool in my education is to video my training sessions and runs at trials.

A lot of people don’t like to video themselves, the reasons are numerous. It can be tricky to wrangle in a helper to take videos for you, or to set up a device to capture your training sessions.  It adds additional work to our training session structure to set up the camera and have it positioned correctly.  Knowing that we are being video’d can make us feel additional pressure, even if there is not another person present to run the camera.  And quite honestly, it can be humbling and embarrassing to watch ourselves make mistakes.  It is not a whole lot of fun to see ourselves messing up an agility sequence or confusing our dogs, so maybe we prefer to not capture that on video.

I am a person who constantly asks “Why did that happen?”.  That train of thought can spiral into obsession and over thinking (I cannot help myself!), so having a video of exactly what did happen is very helpful to me.  If I feel like a training session was unsuccessful, reviewing a video can teach me Why.  I can watch everything that I do, I can watch my dog respond to my actions, I can better review the quality of the behaviors that I am training.  There are many times that I am making subtle mistakes that I truly do not remember making.  Having a video allows me to become aware of those mistakes.  It allows me to pinpoint specific weak areas.  It teaches me how to better structure my training sessions, moving forward.

Capturing my runs at a trial on video are just as valuable.  My own stress and excitement jacks up at a trial and clouds my memory, and my reactive girl Molly can become very high on the environment.  We are quite a pair and my biggest mistakes at trials can come from overhandling Molly.  I was not even aware that I was doing this until I started to consistently get my runs on video.  I started to watch myself panic, overhandle and stress her out.  If I video what I am doing out there at an agility trial, and I can pick out the same mistakes over and over again and be honest about myself with that information, I can learn and improve.  When I walk a course I am far more mindful to identify the areas where I might overhandle Molly, so that when we are actually running the course I am less likely to fall into the trap of doing so.

“Eventually people will realize that mistakes are meant for learning, not repeating.”

I don’t think there is a more constant way to learn from our own mistakes than to be able to watch them in all of their glory.  To be able to see what we are doing with our dogs and not just recall it whisper-down-the-lane style form memory.  And if we do not understand what exactly went wrong, we can take a bite of humble pie and show it to somebody with more experience who can help us learn.  Agility moves so quickly.  I say things that I don’t remember saying, (“Did I really say tunnel and not jump?!”), I move my hands and body in a way I do not remember (“Did I really overhandle there?!”) but a video helps me to be aware of these things and move towards being a better partner to my dog in the future.

[Check out other great blog posts on the topic of Continuing Education here at the Dog Blog Action Day page!]

The Problem of the Force-Free OTCH

One of the evergreen topics in competition obedience discussion (at least for now — I remain hopeful that in another ten to fifteen years we’ll finally have killed this one off) is whether it is possible to achieve an AKC Obedience Trial Championship (OTCh) via force-free training.

The simple answer is “yes.” It has been done. It will be done again — in the very near future, probably, since I know of at least two prominent R+ trainers who are closing in on theirs.

The complicated answer is “yes, but.”

The truth is, nobody who asks this question — which is, in fact, not usually phrased as a question but as an assertion that “you can’t get an OTCh without using forcible compulsion” — really cares whether someone else has done it. If they actually cared, they would already know the answer. We live in the age of Google. The answer is not hard to find.

But the people who ask this question don’t want that answer. What they want is to confirm their own belief that it is necessary to use force in pursuit of those titles, or at least that it is necessary for their own personal circumstances. Instead of saying “this is what I choose to do,” many of them will say “this is what I have to do.” They don’t want it to be a choice. A choice implies moral agency. Not a lot of people have the honesty to admit that they chose to use pain compliance when another option was available.

That’s why you’ll see so much goalpost shifting: “okay, fine, so that one trainer did it, but she was only able to do it because she had herding dogs.” Or: “okay, she did it, but it took her a really long time.” Or: “okay, so she got an OTCh, but she didn’t win the National Obedience Championship.” The line has to be moved to wherever it might make force “necessary” again.

This problem is not limited to competition obedience, by the way. You’ll see the same pseudo-innocent question being asked about IPO titles and regional/national/international competitions. You’ll see it asked about field trials. In any area of seriously competitive dog sports where R+ training is not already the prevailing norm among top trainers (i.e., in any sport other than agility and canine musical freestyle), some version of this discussion will pop up.

And arguing with people who ask that question is a waste of time. It is a huge waste of time.

The reason it’s a huge waste of time is that naysayers do not actually want to be persuaded that it’s possible. As a result, they’re right. If you don’t want to do it — and you don’t want to do it badly enough to first develop the necessary skills and then put in the long, long hours of work on top of that, then hey, guess what? It’s not possible. Not for you. Correspondingly, saying that it’s possible for Person A does not mean that it’s possible for Person B. You can never prove that it’s possible for Person B until that person actually does it.

(Corollary: do not claim that you could do it unless you have done it. Just don’t. This is, thankfully, a rare occurrence, but it makes me gnash my teeth on the infrequent occasions that I see someone saying that it would be “easy” to achieve that level of training with R+ methods. Saying that just shows a profound ignorance of how difficult it actually is to achieve an OTCh. Getting that title is not easy. Not with any method. Claim otherwise and you will be dismissed as delusional, and rightly so.)

Crooky doing his best impression of an armchair OTCh. Reality behind the keyboard: he barely got an RL1 and his scores sucked.

Now, having noted that it is possible to get an OTCh with force-free training, the obvious follow-up question is “well then, why haven’t more people done it?”

That’s a fair question. It is also one that’s impossible to answer, because each person has their own reasons and unless you actually survey each and every one of them individually (and they all answer you honestly!), we’ll never know what they’d say.

But here’s my guess.

1. The structure of the championship favors longtime competitors.

To earn an OTCh, you must beat all the other teams in your field and finish in first place at least once in Utility B, once in Open B, and then a third time in either of those classes. On top of that, you must also earn 100 points by beating other dogs on a schedule that varies depending on the number of other dogs you’re competing against.

Your absolute score doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters for the OTCh is whether you beat the other teams in the class.

In my opinion this is a pretty sociopathic way to structure a championship in a dog sport, but the AKC didn’t ask me for any input, so that’s how it is. You beat other dogs and handlers, and you beat them a lot, or you go home empty-handed.

One of the effects of this championship structure is that somebody who’s been doing competition obedience for 30 years has a pretty sizable advantage over somebody who’s been doing it for 3 years. More experienced competitors tend to have more refined training skills, more ring experience, and often more carefully selected dogs. This translates to a considerable advantage in head-to-head competition, which is what the OTCh is all about.

Most R+ competitors I know of, and I definitely include myself in this number, are fairly new to the sport (or, at the very least, are new to doing it this way). Their training mechanics often aren’t that sophisticated, in large part because they haven’t been doing it long enough to develop their skills to that level. Most people who have been doing it for 30 years, meanwhile, have been doing so with some degree of force. They have had a long, long time to practice, hone, and perfect their skills. In a purely mechanical sense, setting aside all value judgments, they’re better trainers. Consequently — and unsurprisingly — they beat the pants off the newbies.

It doesn’t mean their methods are better. It means they’re better at using those methods.

If you look at a compulsion trainer and an R+ trainer who have the same amount of experience and the same skill level and the same dogs, my personal experience has been that the R+ trained dogs are not at all handicapped in their performances. In fact, what I have personally seen is that the R+ dogs tend to be better. But there are not that many trainers out there with 30 years of experience doing it this way, and that makes a big difference at the OTCh level.

2. It is often difficult to find extremely skilled R+ trainers in a sport where that is not the norm.

If I want to train with an OTCh-level handler who uses compulsion-based methods, I’ve got my pick of two or three within decent driving distance of my home. If I lower the bar to UD/UDX handlers, I’ve got even more.

If I want to train with an OTCh-level handler who trains force-free, I have to train online, because the one and only R+ OTCh handler who used to teach classes in my area retired and moved to another state last year. There are other R+ obedience instructors in my area, to be sure, but they’re not OTCh handlers. Only maybe one or two are at UD/UDX level, and those are about two hours away — too far to drive for regular instruction.

And this is in an area with a strong, solidly entrenched culture of R+ training for other sports (for example: if I want to train with world-class handlers in agility, I’ve got no end of awesome choices within 90 minutes of home). I can only imagine how much worse it is for people who live in regions where there isn’t such a vibrant R+ dog sport culture.

If you want to compete seriously in a sport, you have to learn from the best. R+ handlers who want to compete at the top levels in obedience and don’t have a force-free OTCh instructor nearby have a couple of choices: (1) learn from the most motivational and least forceful of the mixed-method trainers in their area, then try to invent their own solutions to problems that their teachers would normally solve with force; (2) learn on their own (or online) and, to some degree, make stuff up as they go; or (3) switch over to mixed methods.

Options #1 and #2 impose some real, practical disadvantages. The Fenzi Dog Sport Academy is starting to fill in the gaps and make #2 much more feasible (and it’s beginning to build an impressive record of student successes to prove it), but there are still some things that are best learned (or discovered) via in-person classes. Thus, people who stick to their guns regarding training methods will likely be at a disadvantage not because their methods are inherently flawed, but because they don’t have mentors who can help them through the inevitable bobbles and weak spots that will pop up during a dog’s sport career. They’re slowed down by having to constantly problem-solve along the way (with the trial and error that unavoidably entails), instead of just taking someone else’s established solutions and implementing them.

Option #3, therefore, may seem like the only viable choice for a Seriously Serious competitor who would like to be force-free, in a perfect world, but doesn’t know how to make that happen and isn’t willing to risk failing in public as they learn to invent their own solutions.

The net effect here is that some of the Seriously Serious competitors, believing that force is necessary to win as a practical matter even if they don’t like it and accept that it’s not theoretically necessary, switch to alternative camps. This leaves a disproportionate number of less serious competitors in the R+ bucket. These people, who may be perfectly happy to continue playing for fun and who never wanted to chase after OTChs in the first place, may then be perceived as the best possible outcomes with R+ methods, simply because they’re the only ones left trying to do it.

3. Some R+ handlers get driven out of the sport by a hostile environment.

I think this is changing in obedience — either because the sport culture is finally starting to shift or because obedience entries have dropped to the point where nobody wants to chase away interested newbies anymore — but it’s definitely very much still true in bitesports (and possibly in field training, although I don’t do gun dog stuff so I am 100% speculating on that front) that there is a lot of entrenched hostility toward “cookie trainers” in some quarters. And that is still at least a little bit of a Thing in competition obedience, too. I’ve gotten the snarky comments on the sidelines at trials myself (and I wasn’t even competing!).

Some of this is a self-created problem: waltzing in and blithely making idiot mistakes while lecturing everybody else about how they abuse their dogs is not going to win a whole lot of friends in any endeavor. Don’t add to the problem, I implore you, dear reader. If you go into a new sport where you don’t actually know anything and don’t have any accomplishments (or, really, even where you do), please please please do not pull that crap.

But even if you are polite and respectful and humble, there’s going to be some hostility. Some people are threatened by the idea that it’s possible to succeed without inflicting pain on their partners. Some people legitimately don’t believe that you’ll get anywhere and don’t care to have you waste their time while you figure this out. Not everyone is gentle in expressing those opinions.

And sometimes that makes R+ handlers give up on the sports that are most hostile to them, because pretty much all of us are doing this for fun as a hobby, and it is not actually a whole lot of fun to have people constantly being dicks in your face about not putting a prong collar on your dog. Dog sports are hard. There’s plenty of disaster and demoralization to go around without your fellow club members adding to your woes. Everybody needs encouragement and support sometimes, and the people who don’t get it are likely to drop out. In some sports, those people are primarily the “cookie trainers.”

So they leave, and the perception becomes “lol those guys can’t hack it,” and the myth lives on another day. The more you have to be a pioneer for unpopular and under-explored techniques in a given environment, the fewer people are going to have the fortitude to stick it out.

4. It’s a numbers game.

How many people who start out in competitive obedience go on to get an OTCh?

I have no idea what the actual number is, but let’s say the answer is 1 in 100. Let’s pretend that one person out of every hundred people who takes a basic competition obedience class will go on to compete, and will keep doing it long and successfully enough to get an OTCh.

The other 99 people drop out because they lose interest or life gets in the way or their dog doesn’t have the capacity or they don’t have the capacity. Or maybe their first-ever Novice A run is a disaster and they get all humiliated and demoralized and nobody bothers reaching out to pull them back into the game, so they quit on the spot and never go back. Whatever. Something happens and they don’t make it to the top.

Now, how many of those people train force-free? Let’s say that the number is 15% (again, I’m totally making this up out of thin air, but we’ll just pretend that’s the number and run with it). So 15 out of those 100 people are R+ handlers, and the other 85 are not.

What are the odds that the one person in a hundred who gets an OTCh is also going to be one of the 15 people who trains without force? Not great! Especially not great in light of all the other disadvantages we’ve talked about!

If the numbers were swapped, and it was 85% force-free and 15% not, then R+ OTChs would soon become so commonplace that they wouldn’t be remarkable anymore — which is more or less where agility already is. (When was the last time you heard anyone ask whether it was possible to get a MACH without a prong?)

But instead, in this sport, the non-compulsion handlers are the minority, and they’re also a minority made up disproportionately of newbies with dogs who weren’t specifically bred or chosen for success in this venue (crazy pound mutt holla!), and so, not surprisingly, there are not a whole lot of them getting OTChs or winning NOC. There are not a whole lot of people doing those things period.

If there are only 15 people trying to do X without compulsion, and it would be no surprise if a randomly selected group of 15 people with identical skill levels, experience, resources, and dogs would not be able to do X with compulsion, then that is not exactly a fair benchmark. The fact that none of the 15 R+ people succeeded might not tell you anything other than that it’s unlikely that any group of 15 similarly situated people would do it.

 

I could go on — I do think there are some other things that factor in here — but if you ask me, those four points cover most of the big reasons that you don’t see more force-free OTChs. As the requisite knowledge spreads, access to excellent instruction improves, the sport culture changes, and the numbers shift, I expect that R+ OTChs will start to seem less noteworthy. They’ll still be awesome, because any OTCh is awesome, but it’ll become unremarkable in the same way that an R+ MACH is unremarkable. It’s a great achievement for dog and trainer, but it’s not like throwing the first bomb in the revolution.

So what are you to do, if you are an advocate of force-free dog training and firmly believe that it’s possible to achieve the highest levels of obedience without compulsion?

Simple. Not easy, but simple. Prove it.

That’s it. That is the whole thing. Do the work. Develop the skills. Campaign your dog. Show people that it can be done, because talking about it convinces no one.

Even if you don’t make it to an OTCh — as Pongu and I will never make it, because after some 18 months of training in competition obedience I’ve finally been forced to admit that my fearful dog’s mental problems prevent us from ever approaching that level — it is worth making the attempt.

Pongu will never have an OTCh. He will probably never have a CD in AKC obedience, for that matter. He’s a scaredy dog. Obedience, or at least obedience with the scores I’d like to see, is just plain too hard for him. Admitting this caused me a fair amount of heartburn, because I wanted so badly to go out there and prove that we could do it, and it was a bitter pill to swallow that we couldn’t.

But I don’t regret the training, because I did learn the skills and I did show my dog to top levels of competition (albeit in Rally, not obedience), and I did at least get to demonstrate that this approach works to push a pathologically fearful dog far beyond what any other method could have done. A lot of dogs like Pongu never even get to live semi-normal pet lives. Pongu went far beyond that. So we did get a success story. Not exactly the one I was aiming for, but a success story nonetheless.

And I learned enough to convince myself that yes, this can be done. I might not have convinced anyone else. Yet. But I’ll keep on learning, and I’ll keep on practicing, and someday, it’ll happen.

Because that is what we have to do, all of us, if we want to change the world.

Go Forth and Encourage

Just for a minute, I want you to think about who inspires you. It can be one person, it can be multiple people, it can be a group of people. Who inspires you to get up every day? Who inspires you to do better, to be better?

More importantly, who are YOU encouraging – who are YOU inspiring?

encouragers

The dog world is complicated, even if your dog is “just a pet.” What do you feed them when there are so many options on the shelves, so many colorful bags promising that each one is better than the last? Which vet do you go to when each person has the best one in the entire area? Which trainer? Which collar? It can be dizzying.

This is why controversial trainers like Caesar Millan are so popular with the general public: they relate to the owner first instead of berating them how horrible they are for using prong collars, or how stupid they are for feeding Science Diet. They are charming, they validate the owner, their problems, and their feelings. You can be the best dog trainer on the planet, but if you’re rude to the people you’ll lose the dogs.

Now, imagine how you felt as a new competitor, before you knew everything – the world of specialized dog training and competing is even more dizzying. It’s downright cut-throat. People are cruel to their competition, often treating new people who have questions as if they are worse than stupid, they are in they way. They are a waste of time. It’s a wonder that anyone gets involved at all, much less stays involved.

I am still wholly new to the competition world. I started approximately six years ago with a backyard bred pit bull, and he and I were going to conquer the world. It was tough figuring out the world of dog competition, and I thought I had what was a good group of people – until I became a real competitor. It wasn’t until I felt like I hit rock bottom (or rather, I felt like I was the rock on the bottom of someone’s shoe) and was ready to leave that I met people worth knowing.

In many of my social networking groups, I see discussions about clubs seeing less and less entries at shows, and I also see how some of these “newbies” are treated on the same discussion board. They are greeted with rude comments, they are mocked, and they are made to feel horrible for simply asking a question. Then I see how they are treated at shows – and it’s just about the same way.

Why are seasoned exhibitors treating new exhibitors like idiots? Why are we not stepping up to help them, to inspire them? Experienced exhibitors need to be ringside and be there to jump in and help a new exhibitor who is clearly struggling. We need to be there to be cheerleaders, to be a guide, to be encouragers. Even more so, experienced dog people need to be there to encourage the common “pet person,” even if they do not want to compete. We need to empower them to do better, instead of belittling them for getting a well-bred purebred instead of a rescue dog.

My group of people are not only my direct competitors, meaning that we are both in the ring chasing after that blue ribbon, but they are my greatest friends and my biggest cheerleaders. We give each other high fives for high obedience scores, and we cheer for each other when the other’s dog win best of breed. We celebrate the big wins, and we encourage the small victories.

These are the kind of dog people the dog world needs. We need to empower, we need to encourage, we need to befriend.

So, as you reflect on the people who encourage and inspire you, ask yourself, who is it that you encourage and inspire?

inspire

Living in a Backward World

upside downGoogling “common dog behavior problems” will bring you to several sites with neatly put together lists of the most common problems dog trainers encounter. Barking, jumping up on people, getting up on the furniture, being hyperactive, and eliminating in the house. All of these are incredibly frustrating to many owners and cause them to seek out help of professionals who are trained to help “fix” these problems.

When Dahlia arrived in our lives we were amazed this dog was dumped and even more amazed no one snapped her up at the shelter. She was quiet. I spent the first few weeks thinking she might have been “de-barked” and it wasn’t until we met up with some fast-moving ATVs on a trail that we heard her make a sound. She didn’t jump up on people. She had no interest in getting up on the furniture. She was pretty much the exact opposite of hyperactive. And she was completely house-trained. She was, in essence, some family’s perfect idea of a pet dog.

Which was why I broke her of half of those habits.

First up…the furniture. As far as I’m concerned, my dog belongs on our furniture. What’s ours is hers. My husband, especially, likes to lounge on the couch with a dog. But nothing we could do would get her up on the couch when we were home. Oh, she’d get on the couch when we were gone. We could see the hair on the couch, after all. And once we parked down the road and crept up to the house and looked in the windows, only to find her lounging on the couch like she owned the place. But get up on it when were home? No way. We suspected there were rules to follow in her former home. So we did what any sane owners would do. We coaxed her up using bits of meat. The first time we managed to get her on the couch she looked like this.

couch1

She was panting, she hung off the edge, she clearly could not wait to get off the couch and did so at the first chance she got. I can imagine the family that should have her rejoicing. Instead, I pulled out some high value treats (hello steak!), something Dahlia absolutely could not resist, and started working with her, getting her riled up, getting her excited. And then I went to the couch and held it just out of her range. She was forced to put her feet up on the couch to get it. REWARD! I held it up again. REWARD! It wasn’t long at all before she was putting her feet up on the couch without my coaxing her. Little by little I made her stretch a bit further to get that treat until she absolutely could not get it without putting a back foot on the couch and leaping for it. Once she did that, REWARD! Rinse and repeat. Then I started to add duration to it, requiring her to stay on the couch for longer and longer times and rewarding her for it. And finally, I asked her to lay down. She was rewarded heavily for each step of the way. Now she spends most evenings looking like this:

couch

And she steals my chair any chance she gets. I’m ok with this.

Next up? Jumping on me. It’s not that I love a dog who jumps up on me. I don’t. But a dog who jumps up on me for fun? And more important, on command? Now we’re talking! This started because I wanted some way to get her excited and something to reward her for in agility class when the dog gives it their all but there was some loss of communication and so things go wrong (my instructor calls this “screw-up cookies” — make the dog do something else and then give them their reward). She wanted something exciting for the dog and let me tell you, sit and down and sit pretty are really not the most exciting of tricks.

So I taught her to jump up on me on command. And this one was really not that difficult. Because Dahlia is nothing if not desperate for food. I often joke that the only reason I got a fluffy dog is so that the hair stops people from seeing all her ribs because my dog acts like she has been starved for centuries around people. So teaching her to jump up was simple. I showed her a treat, got her excited for it, let her sniff it, let her try to get it, and then held it up to my chest. BAM! Dog with paws on my chest trying to get the treat. REWARD! Rinse and repeat until I could slap my chest and she jumped up and put her paws on me.

And finally…barking. The bane of so many dog owner’s existence. The thing that has caused neighbors to get angry, animal control to be called, numerous calls to trainers, and the use of some pretty awful things to get dogs to stop.

My dog? Was silent. Someone would ring the doorbell and she’d happily trot to the door, tail wagging. After meeting her for the first time, our landlord said that he hadn’t been sure we had actually gotten the dog he gave us permission for because he’d never heard her. The mailman, some two years after moving into our place, said “Oh you got a dog!” and was stunned to find out we actually had her all along. Our groomer is always disappointed that we’re the first to pick our dog up because “Why do the quiet ones always go first?” I will admit, there are times I am happy my dog is quiet. We do runs in agility without her barking her fool head off (something that would drive me batty). We can go camping and not worry about her disturbing other campers. There are huge advantages to having a quiet dog.

Which is why, of course, I broke her of that habit, too.

Ok ok, so there were reasons for teaching her to bark. Barking in itself is exciting to dogs. It’s part of why once a dog starts, getting them to stop can be quite the chore. It’s why when one dog starts to bark, the others have to join in. Barking is fun! It might be loud. It might be annoying. But boy is it fun. And Dahlia really needed to learn how to have more fun, especially for agility class. After all, this is a dog that one person told me looked like she was about to share bad news on CNN. She was serious. Serious serious. Get her to bark and…well…

bark-nobark

Just look at the crazy eyes that barking gives her! It excites her. My agility instructor knew this and suggested we teach her to bark on command. There was only one problem: She didn’t bark often enough for me to figure out a good way to teach her. She didn’t bark at the door. At the mailman. At dogs who passed by. At other people. She just didn’t bark. So how do you teach a dog to bark on command who does not naturally bark?

Well, I narrowed it down to a grand total of two things that I knew caused Dahlia to bark:

1. The UPS truck. I don’t know if I’ve spoken of this before, but Dahlia has a rather strange love of the UPS truck. She sees it and she goes nuts. Please note, this is only the UPS truck, not Fed Ex, not U-Haul. Just UPS. Seriously, she goes nuts (for Dahlia at least!).

2. The horses outside the agility barn.

The latter was something I could control. It only happened once a week, maybe twice, but I knew the horses would be there and I knew she would bark at them.

So I started with simply showing her the horses and letting her bark. Really nothing more than that. I would walk her to near where the horses were and as she noticed them, I’d say “Where are the horsies?”  You’ll notice in this video that she’s seen them herself but when she pauses and turns away, I ask her the question and she goes back to barking at them. By this time she was starting to recognize that the phrase meant there were horses nearby and she should bark at them.

We did that for a good long while until just my saying “Where are the horsies?” would result in her looking for them, then barking once she saw them. Once I got her looking for the horses automatically when she heard the question, I started shoveling treats in her mouth for barking at them. So I would ask her where the “horsies” were, she would look around, bark, then I would give her a food reward. The actual presence of the horses was an intermediary to her getting food.

I knew I was onto something when I asked her where the horsies were and she didn’t even look for the horses. She simply barked and looked at me instead. In essence, I had eliminated the actual need for the horses’ presence. She now knew that barking was something she would get rewarded for and so looked to me instead of trying to find the horses.

We’ve worked our way up to her barking for going on a walk, for going on a ride, for all sorts of food. We make her bark for her dinner every night. Sometimes I reward her at the first bark, sometimes I make her bark again…bigger…more excited!

And what has that gotten us?

dahlia barking1. A dog who barks more often. That’s right. She now barks at the doorbell. She barks when my husband gets home and she’s really excited. She’s even barked when she’s getting impatient to go on a walk. She has a lot more to say these days.

2. A dog who is easier to get excited in agility class. I ask her “Where are the horsies?” and she immediately goes on high alert, is focused on me, and is up and ready to go.

3. A dog who is happier. It’s like barking freed up some part of herself. She may have more to say now than she used to, but she loves barking. And if that makes her a more joyful dog, then I’ll put up with a few more woofs than I was used to.

Well, we get this:

It’s sometimes strange living in this backward world, hearing about all the trouble folks have with these issues and realizing I’m the weird one who taught my dog to do them. But it’s been the best thing for her. She’s happier. She enjoys agility more. We have a better bond and more fun. I wouldn’t trade my formerly quiet, formerly far too serious dog for the one I have now in a million years.

The Care and Feeding of Your Friendly Dog Trainer

great_dane_torn_couch

Fortunately this is neither my Dane nor my couch!

So there you are…you are standing in your living room amidst the remains of your couch, now reduced to upholstery fabric and foam (is this really what they make these out of?   You expected something a little more substantial, given the sum of money you are still paying to that trendy furniture showplace downtown–no payments for the first six months!)  Fergus, your prize Sherpa Double Doodle that cost you more than you paid for that couch, is looking innocently up at you from the scattered tumbleweeds of fiberfill.  “That’s it!  Fergus, you are going to a dog trainer!”

So what should you know about dog trainers?  How do you talk to them?  Not all dog trainers are created equal.  Some have eons of experience, while others do this as a hobby for the neighbor’s dog.  Some have certifications, accreditations, memberships, etc.  Some believe in all positive training methods, while others believe that the shock collar is the only way to go.  Obviously, as a Karen Pryor Academy graduate (that’s the KPA CTP on my name), I’m going to hope that you go with a good dog-friendly trainer.  There are plenty of good articles on how to find a dog trainer, so I’m not going to dwell on that here, except to suggest that you do your research and find a trainer that you are comfortable with.

When you make that first phone call, be reasonable!  Dog trainers are, on the whole, very busy people.  Most keep odd hours and are not necessarily available to drop everything to answer the phone right away.  Usually (hopefully!), this is because they are working with a client, driving to a client, taking careful notes and doing research for or about a client, or, and this happens occasionally, they are outside taking some much needed time off with their own dogs.  Do not be afraid to leave a message.  Most really will get back to you very quickly!

Be polite!  “Hi!  I have a dog in need of training!  What are your rates?  What methods do you use?” works much better than, “I have a dog that needs to be trained.  I can’t afford your exorbitant rates, but if you don’t help me, immediately and for free, I will be forced to take him to the nearest shelter and it will be ALL YOUR FAULT!”  Let me assure you that, when faced will caller #2, I will hang up the phone.  I will not feel even a little guilty about it—life is too short to deal with a stranger’s attempt at emotional blackmail.  I don’t make a lot of money doing this.  Trust me—if there’s a Lexus parked outside, it’s not mine!  My jeans get jumped on and torn, drooled on, probably have remnants of cheese and hotdogs in the pockets despite repeated washings.  I do this because I wake up in the morning and love what I do.  That said, I have to pay for my house, my car, my horse (yes, I have an expensive non-dog hobby too!), and all of the seminars that I try to attend in my not-so-copious amounts of free time.  I simply cannot do this for free.  My prices are as reasonable as they can be while still covering (sorta) my expenses.  If my prices are out of your range, please tell me.  Perhaps we can work something out—a payment plan, or even some bartering.  But do not try to engage my services while attempting to devalue them.  It will just put us at odds, and you will not get very far with me.

Not my Scottie…or my guinea pig! No Scotties or guinea pigs were harmed in the writing of this post. (Note: If I owned a Scottie, I would feel compelled to name him Haggis.)

Be realistic!  Haggis the Scottish Terrier is probably never going to be the dog you can leave loose in your house with your daughter’s beloved pet guinea pig.  Haggis may try to convince you differently, but I believe the guinea pig should have a say in this as well!  Likewise, Snapper the Cocker Spaniel may not want to be hugged and grappled by all sixteen of your grandchildren.  He’d probably be much happier quietly working on a Kong in his crate until the chaos dies down.  Dog trainers can help with specific problems, and we can teach both the dog and the owner a common language so that they can live together happily—but we can’t change your dog’s personality!

Have an open mind!  I am a “clicker trainer” and I explain that right up front with my students.  It is a method that has worked well for me, and I believe in it.  I would love to explain how it works and how we can use it in some completely mind-blowing ways to communicate with your dog.  It takes some skill and timing, and it feels clumsy at first.  Remember when you first learned how to drive a stick shift?  It feels like that! Believe me, I do understand!  Like everything, it takes practice.  I can’t tell you how many times I have clicked, and then lobbed the clicker at my confused dog.  Or dropped the leash, the clicker, the treat, and everything else while fumbling to…oh…what was I doing, ack CLICK!  Trust me, it gets easier! And at the end of it all, you have a dog that is very tightly bonded to you (no, not just your treat pouch).  You have a partner.

Don’t forget your sense of humor!  Be willing to laugh at yourself.  Be willing to laugh at your dog.  Be willing to laugh at me!  One of my favorite training moments was when I was teaching Cherry (my beloved American Staffordshire Terrier) the difference between touching a target with her nose and with her paw.  She was getting frustrated, and I wasn’t reading her frustration level very well.  Finally, after being asked to touch the target with her paw, enthusiastically bopping it with her nose several times, she got fed up, picked up the target (a tupperware lid) and threw it at me!  I still have that lid.  I laugh every time I see it.  But I also learned a very valuable lesson that day.  Cherry now can easily touch a target with the requested body part, and even now knows which paw (right or left) that I want her to touch the target with.  Your dogs will teach you as much as you teach them, but you have to be willing to laugh and learn.  And if you want a quick smile, go watch Fenton, the deer-chasing Labrador retriever, who clearly had better things to do than return to his owner!  Whether the owner realized it or not, he was getting a quick and public lesson from Fenton.  Fenton finds chasing deer to be far more rewarding than returning to his owner for what would otherwise have been a quiet walk in the park.  All of our dogs have a bit of Fenton in them!

And finally—PRACTICE!  I can tell immediately whether or not you have worked with your dog that week.  It’s obvious.  Even if you tell me you practiced, if your dog is telling me a different story, I am inclined to believe your dog.  This does not mean I am going to call you out on it.  I am far more tactful than that!  But I might suggest far more structured practice times.  We all have busy jobs and busy lives.  My own dogs don’t get as much attention as I would like (one of the drawbacks of working with everyone else’s dogs!).  I’m not going to judge you, just like I hope my dressage coach doesn’t judge me for the occasional weeks that I don’t even climb onto my horse, far less ride him.  But understand that training your dog, as with many things, is a progression, and you are not going to move forward unless you put in the time.  I can teach you, and I can coach you, but I can’t do it for you.

Teeterphobics Anonymous: How Widget Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the ‘Bang!’

Way back when I first got Widget, I took her to a great puppy playgroup once a week.  This particular group happened to be frequented by a lot of Seriously Serious agility folks and their new “he’s gonna be my MACH dog!” puppies, so along with the standard playgroupy socialization things, we also did a little bit of stuff designed to expose our dogs to some stuff they might encounter in agility.

THIS IS WHERE WE LEARN TO EAT OUR FRIENDS!!

Dim room + maniac puppies = blurry photos

Even as a baby, Widget was an alarmingly fearless little animal who was willing to try everything. Would she run through the baby play tunnel we put out? Obviously! Would she walk across the elevated board (just a piece of wood held up by a couple stacks of books)? Of course, and then for good measure, she would tug while standing on it.  Stack of blocks to knock over (to simulate the sounds the equipment makes)? Fun! Running through a jump standard? Sure, why not?

And then one day, the lady who ran our class was like, “Hey, let’s try out some baby teeter stuff!” and pulled out her wobble board (a piece of wood with a halved tennis ball glued to the bottom: it tips, but only slightly, and is just designed to expose a dog to the feeling of the ground moving a little).  All the other puppies happily pounced on the board, rolled around, played tug while standing on it and otherwise behaved like model pre-agility pups. Widget walked over, put a paw on it, and when it wiggled, she gave me huge whale eyes, ran over to the corner of the room and refused to engage for the rest of the class. “Is she….sick?”, my instructor asked. “Um, maybe?”, I responded. It was so out of character for her to be scared of anything that ‘sick’ seemed like the most logical reason.  But a couple of weeks later, we tried again: same thing. And then a couple of weeks after that, we tried getting the puppies up on the fancy moving exam table (the class was held at a vet’s office, and they had a cool exam table on an elevator platform so it could be raised and lowered at will). Again, Widget was not having it. She was very adamant that a) the ground is not supposed to move, WTF! and b) Widgets do not like to feel like they are out of control. “You better watch out–you’re going to have a teeterphobe on your hands!” said one of my classmates, who was no doubt envisioning Widget running against her pup three years down the line and feeling a little gleeful about it.  At that point, I did what was, in retrospect, probably the smartest thing I could have done: I backed off doing teeter stuff completely. For the next eight or so months, Widget and I worked on a bunch of other pre-agility skills, but the closest we came to doing teeter stuff was doing some basic contact training. This was not easy: I am a problem-solver type, and what I really, really wanted to do was to build all kinds of different wobble boards and do some crazy thing where Widget ate all her meals off the boards and had to stand on the board before we went outside and and and…..Luckily, for once in my life, I did not succumb to my crazy, and so for several months, I just pretended that the teeter did not exist and would never be a factor in our lives.

And then, about a month ago, I decided to start reintroducing The Dreaded Teeter. Widget has gotten a lot more physically confident since our puppy class; we’ve also done a ton of shaping, and a TON of 101 Things To Do With A Box and its variants.  One of the things I do with her all the time is set a novel object out and reward her for interacting with it in different ways: basically, anytime I bring anything even vaguely durable in the house (cans of tomatoes, new brooms, boxes of mail), I put it down on the ground and click/treat Widget for figuring out new ways to interact with it.  I warn you that this kind of creates a monster: these days, any time I have anything new within Widget’s sight line, she is like, “WHAT IS THAT CAN I STAND ON IT CAN I BITE IT CAN I GO IN A CIRCLE AROUND IT, YAY FUN GIVE ME TREATS!” However, it also creates a puppy who is brave around new objects and whose first instinct is to try to engage with new things rather than shying away from them. This is a very useful thing for a jack-of-all-trades sport puppy: if they’re presented with a treiball ball or a lure-coursing lure or an unfamiliar agility obstacle, they’re pretty likely to go over and see what’s cookin’, rather than shying away from it. Just as a backup, I put the “go over and look at that new thing; you will probably get some treats out of it” behavior on cue (Widge’s is ‘go check it out!’) So between all those things, I felt hopeful that we could get some teeter back in our lives without it becoming Big Scary again.  However, I still went (and am still going!) very very very slowly. Here are a few things that we did/are still doing; hopefully, the combination of these things will result in a dog who, in a few months, thinks the teeter is the best thing since sliced bread.

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