Saturday, March 18, 2017

a little bit of filming fun

at the farm yesterday

it was for a hoof webinar series for Heart Equine Academy Online Learning for horse people!

I  pulled together a little making of video (there's volume  - but I captioned it too- all the learning all the time!) ... the horses and dogs were amazing ... the barn was scrubbed and scrubbed and scrubbed  and I think looks pretty darn good ...

Give it a watch and let me know what you think!

I'm going to be teaching over at HEART too - a confidence course - aimed at horse people but lots of great info and tools for anybody struggling with anxiety and fear (In fact we get into the difference between the two). It's a PACKED course ... with more being added all the time ...  fear is so pervasive in horses  - as is anxiety generally .. an auditing spot  is  $50  and  a working spot is $100  (and look at me making links to both levels so easy!) You already know I'd love to see you - but maybe there is another course you'd love to take? (ever wanted to draw better? there's a course for that!)

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Lessons from Terror ...

Dora had what for us humans would have been a very bad, no good, horrible week.

She has always been terrified of the vets (turns out she had her puppy shots there and for whatever reason that became a VERY BIG DEAL in the lizard, primal bit of her brain). My crew has been largely healthy lately and while Dora has come with us to the vets and worked on being comfortable and relaxed a few times my best plans to REALLY WORK on this kept getting pushed to the back burner. A great example of  real life procrastination to use for classes but not very good for Dora or for me. Sigh.

Then disaster. Her hind dew claw was growing strangely and hurting her. Because it hurt her she wouldn't let me touch it, or soak it, or even look at it pretty quickly. (Yup - you know we'll go back to the drawing board there too). The last last thing I wanted was to take her to the vets, knock her out, traumatize her and then have to repeat that process regularly. I thought a little, worked on handling a little more (not very successfully) and decided now was as good a time as any for Dora to be spayed. (beyond the dew claw needing attention a friend of mine had a run in with mammary tumours with her girl, I had a nightmare about Dora having a litter of coyote puppies and a rescue I work with had a case of pyometria - any one reason would be enough - four together was PLENTY of cause to pull it together). Anyhow - long way to say I called to book appointment - thinking we'd have time to work on "stuff". We ended up with 3 days. Whoops. So I kept working on handling and calm, and we went for a lot of walks. A lot. A whole lot of walks.

D day hit ... and off we went. I declined preoperative blood work knowing full well they wouldn't get it from her awake and I didn't want her under an extra 20 minutes. Sigh. We weighed her and off she went. I set myself up in an unobtrusive corner of the waiting room in case they needed me. Not 3 minutes until I got the beckoning finger - ":Can you hold her so we can get her pre- meds on board?" Of course. Then she and I sat and waited for them to kick in. She fought it hard but the drugs prevailed  and off to la la land she went.  I read and surfed the web and quietly waited hoping I wouldn't be called again ... but an hour later "she's waking up, she's really thrashing .... can you come hold her?". I have recovered plenty of post surgery patients and usually it's about 10-20 minutes before they crash for a solid sleep. Dora fought the return to sleep for a solid 45 minutes. The clinic staff nearly gave up and offered to send us home. Hell no - she'll get there ...  and she did. Poor fierce terror.  She fell asleep and I raced home for a couple of hours of peace.

She was happy to see me when I picked her up - wagging and walking determinedly if a little drunkenly.  My orders were to keep her quiet for 10 days. I laughed. They wrote a prescription for a tranquilizer.

Dora has been gracious and gentle and oh so very sweet. We've moved a large crate to my feet - where the multiple beds usually are and she snoozes away in there - even when the door is open. She shares the crate with Yen and Sally if they want. She is missing her walks and whimpers when we head out - but has adapted to being on leash amazingly well for potty breaks. Yesterday we walked around the house yard on leash. Very exciting!

We've made a point to take her out in the car to entertain her brain and she's slowly getting less scruffy and more plucked as we sit and hang out together.

She's not despairing over the change in her routines, she's not fretting over the odd ouchy she obviously feels. She's not even frustrated by being asked not to lick her wound. (I acclimated her to the Elizabethan collar carefully and slowly - when I walked away from her she had it off before I turned around). For a sensitive, feral, hard to handle, somewhat opinionated terror terrier  she's handled this situation with a grace and aplomb I did not anticipate.

Being afraid does not make the difficult things go away. Fretting and stewing and spinning does not improve the outcome. Planning, and thinking ahead, goal setting and being organized those are the keys to getting ahead. Sometimes  on a very bumpy route it's true but still essential elements to being successful.  The events of the past week have reminded me of all this. Through the brain of one very good, very gritty, terrier.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

I love ...

I love agility

I love nose work

I love having dogs that are easy to get along with and a pleasure to take places

and I absolutely adore having dogs that can run off leash, here,  in the middle of nowhere, with no concerns about them at all (we watch for hawks and coyotes though!)

Why then with all these things mattering so much to me am I focusing on helping people's mental game in my current dog sport teaching life?**

Students  want to be more grateful, or less anxious. They want to win it all - or don't want to be overwhelmed with feelings of grief if they have a bad run. They ask about becoming better planners, or how to goal set. They wonder about trialing in new places or mentally coping with difficult people or difficult dogs/horses.  These are such good, important questions. There are fundamentally three reasons my focus has become the head side of things in my online work ...

 1) I end up doing all these things in nose work, or agility, or nice house dog, classes anyhow. I've ended up with years of practice of embedding some of my key principles into, hmm, let's call them "life lessons". As but one example - if you nag your dog and aren't happy with performance it's going to influence every single aspect of your relationship - relationship/play is where it's at for me ... and having your head in that game is an important element - no matter your sport!

 2) My fundamental belief in differentiation - that is the understanding that every single living being has it's own best way to get things done ... I have a Self Help Soap Box I drag out and jump on regularly ... Self help gurus are wonderful if they think the same way as you. If their methods work for you you feel golden and invincible. The sad, and real, flip side of that is no one method works for every single being. When we are talking about TWO partners it's even more complicated. A panacea, a cure all, for all is impossible. Many people become disappointed, not in the guru, but in themselves when methods fail - and quite honestly that breaks my heart.

 3) My worlds collided when I realized there is a need for people to help dog (and horse) sport people find confidence, courage and get organized. My day life for - eep - more than half my life- has involved a great deal of counselling and support for others. Many courses, certificates, and formal training in all kinds of things have added up an interest and background that serves me well while I design and write courses and then help people face down issues they struggle with. The range of my training has been enormous - brain development, depression, eating disorders, suicide prevention, sleep hygiene, good nutrition, building confidence play skills, conflict resolution, career planning, .... and on, and on, and on. It seems I am a life long learner.

My students, clients and friends keep bringing me back to this "stuff" too. We evolve together. And that's pretty beautiful. I have some natural empathy too - I have been nervous enough to not grab opportunities, I have lived what others have called a "life of loss". In the soap opera of my life there aren't too many challenges I haven't had a little close hand experience with.

Handle This is about to start at FDSA  - my 14th term with the school  and it's the introduction to planning and goal setting course - we start delving into more and more of the HOWS ... building from the whys of All In Your Head, and getting ready to drill into individual issues in Infinite Possibilities, No More Excuses and the other classes I teach

Come check out the school - come check out one of my classes! I'd love to see you there. I'll be kind, and helpful. I promise!

** full disclosure - I learned many years ago in both my day job and my rescue work that reinventing how, and what, I did helped me stay fresh ... the main reason you see new offerings from me fairly often!

Friday, January 27, 2017

And the wheels on the bus go around and around ....

Time keeps passing and Brody keeps aging.  And my heart breaks a little more with every "loss" we share. No more agility,  no more field walks, no more driveway walks, no more downstairs, no more going upstairs on his own, no more trying to go upstairs at all by himself.  His muscle mass is vanishing - the Arnold Shih Tzu  Schwarzenegger   is no more. He can't see and we just finished fighting off an eye ulcer. I am so very grateful to be able to love him still and so very very sad for the inevitable loss heading our way.

He spins in circles and then falls over - reminding me a bit of Ibby at the end of his life when he came back to us.
He gets stuck with his head on the wall or his body under the table.
He starts to whimper and ends up howling his agony.
We can't leave a pair of shoes out of place or a chair pulled out.

He still loves his meals, and cookies - but it's just WEIRD to be in the kitchen without him. When he is asleep he is gone, completely checked out. When he is awake he is happy to have a little wander, a scritch or cuddle and then very quickly he crashes again.

He is back to HATING being groomed and fussed with. ... backwards in time to his early early days.

Some nights he can't settle and paces and whines and I end up dozing the night away on the couch with him on the floor. Other nights he passes out so hard in bed I wake up wondering why I can't feel him lying against my legs and feel him breathing. Sleep is in short order around here.

I keep stopping and looking at him and wondering - hoping - despairing - that he will tell me enough is enough - it's time to go. I have watched death too many times, and made this hard choice too many times and I still catch myself hoping he will fall asleep and not wake as unlikely and unrealistic as I know that is.

Canine Cognitive Dysfunction is  one label the vets throw around with him (as well as renal failure,  grade four heart murmur, and more), There are many excellent articles to check out on the topic and I include some of the ones that caught my attention for you.

under diagnosis of ccd

9 step plan

symptoms list   (reading through it Brody has 22 of the list to some degree or another - I am very grateful fear is not one of his symptoms)

What I have found helpful is structure in his days - routines are as routine as we can manage , pain management and touch  (including TTOUCH work) and warmth are making the biggest day to day differences here.  For a dog who hated clothes he is much more accepting this winter of a blanket  or coat than he ever has been).

We don't ever surprise him - a radio is on quietly all day and there are no sudden noises if we can help it ( a sudden noise sends him into a howling fit - not always but often enough)

 I tried a few of the supplements suggested by friends, vets and articles - either Brody did not like them or they gave him, the little iron gutted wonder- gastric distress. I'd encourage you to try them though  each dog's journey is going to be different.

I miss "my" Brody very much - that sober steady reliable rockstar who could always be counted on no matter what he was asked ...  I want to rage, rage so hard against the fading of his light, instead I cuddle him and cry in the car alone ... and cherish every single day with him.

Monday, January 09, 2017

This "Fad" of positive training ....

I honestly can't even recall who first ignited my interest in positive training ... I suspect it may have been a university prof's reference to Skinner and his work with operant conditioning  watching old old film of pigeons choosing to do behaviours to earn pellets of food fascinated me - why would anyone train a pigeon?  

Perhaps it was learning about the Baileys and their work - particularly around shaping - oh how I do love shaping ...

It wasn't Don't Shoot The Dog - or Karen Pryor - although once I decided that I needed to know more about positive training I certainly read everything of hers I could get my hands on 

Anyhow - all this is a roundabout way to say I am not sure when I started thinking about it ... but it's been decades since I have been exploring the formal elements of positive training. 
Positive training helps all the animals in the family accept new things with equanimity

You really can't grasp the real meaning of being a positive trainer until you have a working knowledge of the Operant Quadrant developed by Skinner (google seems to think) 

reinforcement increases a behaviour - it is not a treat unless that treat increases the behaviour that came before it 

punishment reduces behaviour 

in the context of the quadrant the terms below get very confusing for some people - but think of it like math 

positive means you ADD something

negative means you SUBTRACT something

these examples (adapted from may help you understand or they may confuse you thoroughly  - sorry if it's the latter!

Positive punishment (P+) – we are adding an [aversive] stimulus which will reduce the frequency of behavior. Spanking, shouting, and hitting  can be examples of positive punishment.

Negative punishment (P-)- we are removing a [desirable] stimulus to reduce the frequency of behavior. If a dog jumps on a person to greet them, and the person walks away when the dog jumps, negative punishment has been employed – that person is removing their attention to reduce the frequency of jumping in the future. 
Positive reinforcement (R+)- we are adding a [desirable] stimulus to increase the frequency of behavior. A dog sits and gets a click and a treat. A horse gets a wither scritch for good under saddle work. You go to work, and are reinforced with a paycheck.
Negative reinforcement (R-)- we are removing an [aversive] stimulus to increase the frequency of behavior. Your alarm clock goes off continually until you get up to turn it off – the behavior of getting up to turn off the alarm clock has been negatively reinforced. A dog runs away from the handler and an electric shock is administered until the dog begins to return to the handler (removing the shock to increase the frequency of dog checking in). Spatial pressure on a horse is removed to encourage a horse to load into a trailer"
Pressure has been the heart of horse training for years ... I am not trying to train with no pressure and release at all - I am trying to say Thank you  sincerely and honestly as often as I can  and being as responsive to my horses needs as I want them to be to mine 

Many "positive trainers" use three (or less) of the four quadrants  and stay away from positive punishment (thanks for the great catch Blanche!), others work hard to stay in R+ only. Dog trainers are further along  the spectrum than horse people  in terms of numbers who are aware/working to consciously choose a quadrant to operate from.  
With this cute face around who could be punishment oriented?

Why have I embraced positive training? It's a great question and the answer is layered. I like having a positive relationship with my team. All species. I have a nasty temper - well managed and diminished now but still in my core and my temper doesn't make me feel good. Training in anger feels wrong to me. Putting anger out of the equation makes me a more thoughtful, planned and organized trainer. It's helped me set goals more concretely and it reminds me respect is a two way street. 
It has changed my life for the better - and because of that I hope it has changed my animal's lives and my student's lives. I am not perfect. I yell. I get cross - I have smacked a horse or dog a couple of times in the last two decades but positive training has made me a better person and I am grateful for it. 

Just a few more random thoughts that I feel bear mention in any discussion of positive training: 
Positive  Training is not clicker training - although clicker training is positive  - to hear someone say they are a positive or R+ trainer does not automatically mean they use a clicker ... 
Positive training is not permissive

Positive training respects that only the learner can determine what the reward is ... 

Rewards are not necessarily food although food can be very effective for many situations

Timing is everything (no matter the species)

Reward placement makes a huge difference to impact ... (again no matter the species) 

The last two statements are why so many people struggle with, or fail at positive training ... no matter the species they are working with. 

Sally would not have been the star she was filming Saving Dinah without positive training. 

So many good links on this for people who might want to read more  (so many amazing dog trainers discussing positive training!) (horses and general clicker thoughts) (dogs and the foundation pillars on which positive training should be built) (well stated blog that covers my feelings when I get slammed for working to live in a positive training realm) (me on a soap box about flexibility and patience in training all species)

Some videos you might enjoy  (horses and reinforcement  discussing food)  (an aamazing example of timing - and one way to teach "drop")

Friday, January 06, 2017

The thing is ...

When you ask me what you'd do and then do the complete opposite that's your prerogative  ... your right ... your choice ...

Ask me often enough and ignore what I say, suggest, and/or recommend you run a pretty serious risk of getting written off as an askhole ...people who ask questions for the sake of hearing themselves talk not for the sake of listening to the answers,

Sampson listens well. 

I enjoy discussion, I love conversation, I appreciate opposing points of view but when it comes to keeping your animal companions as healthy as possible I don't offer my point of view casually or lightly - I offer it, more often than not with explanation, for a reason.

Little people are on lead line here. Period,. Don't like it? Get off. 

That reason is to protect you, and your animal partner. And, your relationship.

Winning big ribbons at Nationals

Asking animals to do more than we would do ourselves in similar circumstances (work through sickness say) is not thoughtful or kind, or relationship building. Asking them to do what we might CHOOSE to do ourselves (run when sore is a good example) is a clear statement about hierarchy and power. They don't get to choose in that situation,  they are stoic and amicable and want to do what we want them to.

Stop asking me for advice and change the conversation to self justification ... you may not feel better but I will ....

Soap box away., for now!

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Building to success ....

So you've got this dog.
It's a nice dog. It's a sports dog.

But it's not the same dog at trials or in class as it is at home.


What to do? What to do?

Well, if you've known me for any length of time at all you know what I'm going to say I bet. Set some goals, make a PLAN and get to it!

Let's take one specific thing to illustrate my meaning.

Seeing as how this is my agility blog let's talk about weaves.

You've got weaves, let's say in your garage, no problem... offside, near side, calling to you, sending away from you whatever you do you get nice looking weaves with some action ....

I thought I might be able to play in our garage ... umm I can hardly walk in our garage now!

You can work around the clock there with nary an issue  ... but oh lord anywhere else and you'd think you'd never taught weaves before ....

the struggle is real and you are not alone (be it weaves, scenting containers, dumbbell work, recalls, stays, contacts or whatever) and there are specific concrete things you can build into your program to help you .... honestly - let's break it down!!

So - your goal is going to become some variation of: doing whatever it is as well else where as at home!

Things to think about building in and upon

distractions - things that flap and move, things that our dogs would rather have (food, toys, other dogs, people). Build distractions up AFTER your dog is comfortable doing the weaves (or whatever) in each setting...

here is a little video example of toy distractions being scattered around

footing changes - concrete, padded floor, carpet, dirt, grass - all are very different to our very olfactory motivated canines! this is so much more important than people think of ...  I know when I started trialing I would have panicked to find myself on a horse arena floor - now I'd relish the challenge.

terrain changes (uphill, downhill?) if you always do things one direction the first time you turn it around you may feel like you are starting all over ... that said it will go much more quickly!

So in the above example  I might open the garage door one day and work weaves, then a few days later throw a couple of toys out and work weaves,... then perhaps both open the door and throw toys out ...  suck a friend or family member to come and putter in the garage for 3 minutes and weave then, ask them to stop and stare at us another time, put a big piece of carpet under the weaves another time .... tape the poles to change colour or pattern or put little balls on the top of the poles another time

While I was building distractions in the most familiar place ever I might also take the poles out of the garage one day - on the driveway, on the lawn, in the dining room ...  I might take the poles to our beer store (see number 6 in the link to understand that comment!)

If I was expecting weaves in a new location (let's say class) at the same time as this was going on I'd have one of two choices and what I'd do would depend on the dog and our mutual experience ... umm actually I'd do one ... but that might involve renting the space, or privates or something other people might not be able to do

1) I'd keep it really broken down and simple  ... start as if i was starting all over again ... I'd expect it to take much less time than the first time it was taught but I would teach weaves again as a discrete skill

2) I'd pretty much take what I got and ignore the weaves ... so run past them if they got missed or whatever ... if I chose to take the time to "fix" the weaves in a run I would then work on weaves alone for the time I had - in other words move towards 1 again!

I would absolutely NOT be worried they'd never come because at some point I'd be sure to  do number 1 and then all would be good again ;)

I also wouldn't fuss too much when they didn't work at a trial or in class -I'd just back up a degree and build confidence again.

What would you do?