Eden at school: Week two

Guion came with me this week for Eden’s second time in obedience class. This week, we went over the distinctions between capturing, luring, and shaping, and largely practiced teaching her how to go to her mat/a place in class.

(And here are some bad photos of us working with her in class…)

Eden in class | Doggerel

She didn’t show any fear about being in class this time, but she was VERY excited that there were other dogs in the room. We set her up in a corridor behind an ex-pen with sheets over it, to block most of her view. She would still get distracted from time to time, but overall, I was proud of how she was able to maintain focus on us, particularly considering her adolescent stage. (The fact that she was desperately hungry also helped! Train on an empty stomach, people!)

I always love this second week of class, because you get to discover what kind of dogs everyone has (since dogs aren’t brought to the first session). There was Willow, a beautiful, smart little spaniel mix*; Tessa, a giant all-black mix, who really just looked like a very tall, leggy flat-coated retriever; a one-eyed all-white American bulldog; a coonhound in a Thundershirt; a wire-haired fox terrier; and an extremely vocal Wheaten/Great Pyrenees mix (crazy looking! But cool) who had a hard time calming down.

(*I felt especially charmed by Willow. She was only 20 lbs., and seemed so darling and responsive. Part of me was all, “OMG. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a tiny dog??” Don’t tell the shepherds. Sometimes I have those thoughts.)

Eden in class | Doggerel
Guion loves working with Edie.

Eden also served as the demo dog for teaching a dog not to jump on people (one of her favorite hobbies whenever any human enters a room). The first dog that Erin, the instructor, chose for this exercise showed no inclinations to jump on her. I raised my hand. “We have a jumper!” I said. And Eden didn’t disappoint. But she also figured out the game pretty quickly, and within a few trials, she was sitting politely, even when Erin beckoned Eden to jump on her.

Eden in class | Doggerel
I’m trying to work with her on loose-leash walking in a tiny space. Not successful.

We have lots to practice this week for homework, but Eden loves interacting with us (and truthfully, the food) and learning new things, so she’s a joy to work with. The tricky part now has just been keeping Pyrrha sufficiently distracted in the yard or in another room. It can be hard to work with Eden without Pyrrha getting agitated/upset that she can’t play the training games too.

Multi-dog people: What are some of your favorite tactics for training one dog when you have other dogs in the house? How do you keep the other dogs from getting antsy?

Edie is the “demo dog” in her first training class

Eden started her first obedience class at Canine Campus this past week. Deven, the lead trainer, e-mailed me the day of and asked if Eden could come and be the “demo dog” for the first class. In the first class, the humans don’t bring their dogs and instead get to learn positive training techniques and clicker basics without the stress of managing their own pups for the first time. I think it’s a smart strategy. And I thought Eden would enjoy all of the attention and treats, so I said yes.

Puppy punk

(I wasn’t able to get any photos of the class, so this photo of the muddy-nosed pup will have to suffice.)

Eden got a little romp session with Fiona before we came to class, and I didn’t give her dinner, so she was arrived both a little exhausted and hungry. This class was the first time I have ever seen a fearful reaction from her. We’ve taken her to PetCo, to the busy pedestrian mall, on car trips, to various parks, the river, etc., and nothing has even slightly rattled her. But this class made her uncomfortable at first.

Specifically, she was uneasy about Deven taking her on the leash to go meet the other people, who were all sitting on chairs around the room, staring at her. She even jumped and let out a little bark when one person shifted in his seat. I was kind of astonished, and a little panicky-feeling, thinking, Oh my god. We adopted another shy dog; I had no idea. Deven, of course, realized this, and recognized that Eden was uncomfortable without me by her side. Edie immediately loosened up once I had the leash and was taking her around instead. “She just wanted to know that her mama was close,” Deven said. And this warmed my heart, because I haven’t previously felt that Eden was all that bonded to us. (In Eden’s defense, however, we’ve had her for only four weeks!)

As the class progressed, Eden shook off her anxieties and started to perform, throwing sits, jumping, and playing with a ball. She also was off the leash, and I could sense that that enabled her to feel more freedom. I saw her fears melt away, and was reminded that her now-happy behavior was nothing close to what Pyrrha could do in a similar situation (slink around and cower, even with meatball coercion). Edie ran up to people who initially made her a bit uncertain, and she soon thought Deven was her BFF 4 Life (owing to the meatballs and clicker practice work that Deven did with her). She got to play with a food toy and charm the other people sitting near us. She didn’t want to leave the room when class ended!

I was proud of her, and she responded beautifully to Deven’s cues. Much of which I can’t take credit for! She’s just smart, and she figures out what you want her to do very quickly, a lot more quickly than other dogs I’ve worked with. I had several people come up to me and ask if she was always that well behaved. I said that she wasn’t and that she was just grubbing for treats. 😉

Deven reassured me as we got ready to leave. “Don’t worry about her fearful reactions at the beginning of class,” she said. “She’s young, and she was just in a new and weird situation. Clearly, she was able to warm up.”

Regardless, it was a good reminder not to take our new, confident dog for granted. She still needs lots of socialization and encouragement too — like all dogs do, regardless of temperament.

We’re looking forward to this class and working with Edie! Guion plans to join me for future sessions, but he wasn’t able to make it for this first one. More class notes to come!

If you’ve taken obedience classes, what did they teach you about your dog that you had not previously noticed?

The slow and steady work of making associations (Week 3, Reactivity Class)

Notes from Week 3 of the Feisty Fidos class
Deven Gaston, Canine Campus

I missed writing up a Week 2 recap, but you can read the fundamentals of this class on my Week 1 post (which I recommend, for anyone who has a reactive dog).

As Deven said, “This class is about as interesting as watching paint dry.”

Because that’s the long, slow, hard work of classical conditioning and making new neural pathways. During the past two weeks in class, we’ve just worked on clicking and treating (that’s where the operant conditioning mix comes in) the dogs for perceiving the trigger of another dog in the room.

Week 2, we worked with Deven’s shy, reactive dog Surprise, who remained still and didn’t want to make eye contact with any of the class dogs. (We’re all separated out in different rooms, and Surprise is walked around the center of the room.) This week, Deven brought in her bouncy, friendly mini Australian shepherd Rumba. Rumba was more of a challenge for the class dogs, because she was more active and clearly wanted to engage. (Rumba particularly seemed to want to meet Pyrrha!)

We practiced Patricia McConnell’s “emergency u-turn” several times each, in the class ring, and then we worked for the rest of the class on just clicking and treating for perception of Rumba, over and over and over again.

This class was a good reminder of two things:

  1. This is slow and steady work, and hundreds of repetitions are needed.
  2. Practicing this behavior “in the wild” is much harder, which is also why it takes so long to recreate these pathways.

But we’re in it for the long haul!

Getting to know Brynn
Pyrrha and Trina.


In other news:

We have been doing more evaluations of Brynn/Trina, and I think we’re not going to keep her, for a number of reasons. I know, after all of that fanfare!

Essentially, she is a lot more naturally shy than we thought. She’d been getting so confident and comfortable in our home that we were pretty fooled by her behavior, and kind of shocked during our outings to realize that she is naturally pretty fearful of new people, children, and other dogs on walks. She’s also afraid of getting in the car and strangers. (I think her super-relaxed behavior on the Downtown Mall that first night may have been influenced by drugs?? Ha. She had just been spayed a day-and-a-half ago at that time, and I think she was still pretty out of it, which led to her reallllly chill demeanor, despite the craziness of the environment.)

Again, these are not black marks on her personality, and we will continue to work with her and socialize her, but we are looking for a genuinely confident, “bombproof” puppy. Trina is not that, but she will still be a wonderful puppy for the right home.

As much as I want to keep her, I also know that I don’t want two leash-reactive, shy dogs. So. A hard decision. More on this later. It’s been a bad week, whew.

Getting to know Brynn

The trigger becomes the bell (Week 1, Reactivity Class)

Notes from Week 1 of the Feisty Fidos class
Deven Gaston, Canine Campus

Put herself in time out. #pyrrha #gsd
Our feisty fido, looking demure.

Our first class, as with most of Deven’s first classes, was dog-less. She gave us an overview of her training philosophy, the goals for this class, and particularly focused on getting us humans in the right mindset. Her teaching style reminds me a lot of what I’ve seen of Suzanne Clothier; she’s very frank and funny and clear. Deven always tells it like it is.

The phrase that’s stuck in my mind after our first class is: The trigger becomes the bell.

We’re going back to classic Pavlov in this reactivity class (the “bell” referring to the sound in the classic experiment, signaling that the reward was coming). This means that this is going to be a long, slow behavior-modification process. We don’t have labs where we can knock this thing out and create new neural pathways and associations. We have to practice this in real life, with real-life interruptions and mistakes and uncontrollable variables.

Training dogs out of reactive behaviors will take weeks and months, maybe even years. “This is not an exciting class,” Deven told us. “You are going to need tons and tons of patience and repetition and consistency. But it will work. If you stick with it.”

Key takeaways

  • Distance is always the biggest factor in intensifying fear. Dogs get into the fight/flight zone when they are too close to their triggers. The leash keeps them from flight, which is why so many dogs have on-leash reactivity; they don’t have the option of running away, so they decide to put on a “fight” display.
  • Distraction training (“look at me”) doesn’t really work. It doesn’t change the dog’s feelings toward the trigger, and in many cases, it can often make it worse.
  • Before implementing a new technique, always ask yourself, “Would this work for ME?” If this was how someone was trying to modify my behavior toward a fear trigger, would this tactic help or hurt?
  • With reactive behavior, be aware of the “audience effect.” Reactive dogs are embarrassing. We tend to treat them differently than we know we should when people are watching (e.g., a smack on the head, a jerk on the collar). Be mindful of this. It’s just making your dog more scared and confused.
  • Reactive aggression is NOT a character trait, and it’s NOT a choice: It’s a REFLEX. This is just the primitive part of the brain firing in the fight zone; the frontal cortex is not even engaged. Decision making is too slow for a dog confronted with a fear trigger, so they just react.
  • Remember that dogs start learning these displays over time. They will begin to generalize eventually. A man with a baseball cap scared me once? OK, I’m just going to react to all men with baseball caps from now on, just to cover my bases.
  • In classical conditioning, always remember that food is NOT a reward here; it’s a way to form an association. Remember with Pavlov: The dogs didn’t do anything to get food. The bell rang, regardless of what the dogs were doing, and out came the food. With this training, your dog’s fear trigger becomes the bell.
  • In this class, you are blazing a new path of associations. The old path (reactive behavior) has to grow over and become unused for the new path to remain intact.

As Deven reminded us, “The goal of this class: Your dog is comfortable in the presence of her triggers. This does not mean that she is comfortable interacting with her triggers but that she can remain in their presence without a display.”

It’s a lot to take in, but, wow, I am already really thankful for this class, and I am committed to the long road ahead!

Best dog training treat bag

I’ve been looking for a handy, non-dorky* treat bag to wear while training Pyrrha and the fosters. (*This may be oxymoronic. Wearing ANY kind of treat-dispensing pouch is probably the pinnacle of dorkiness. But whatever.)

If you’re a lazy trainer like me, you come up with lots of excuses as to why you aren’t training your dog regularly. One of my main excuses is that I hate having greasy, meat-scented pockets and fumbling with a plastic bag of treats doesn’t make for a very fast reward schedule.

Enter the Rapid Rewards Training Pouch, created by Doggone Good.

Rapid Rewards Training Pouch, by Doggone Good.

This thing is like the multi-functional Cadillac of training pouches. Yes. You didn’t even know that was a thing. Well, now it is. Look at all of these features!

Rapid Rewards Training Pouch, by Doggone Good.
Rapid Rewards Training Pouch, by Doggone Good.

Plus, it’s discreet (I bought one in black) and not huge, so you don’t feel like you’re wearing a fanny pack. I bought mine through our trainer, at Canine Campus, and I tend to clip it onto the back of my pants (mine didn’t come with a belt). I LOVE it. I particularly like the feature of the magnet at the top, which holds the top together, so you don’t feel like all of your treats are going to spill when you move.

You can buy the most recent model on the Doggone Good site for $18.99, and there’s also a version on Amazon for $21.50.

Highly recommended. I love this thing.

Do you use a treat pouch or other apparatus for training your dog?

Disclaimer: I was NOT given this product to review; I bought it myself, but I loved it so much that I had to share!

Fearful dogs class, plus training goals for Rainer

Last night, Rainer and I went to a one-time, one-hour class at Canine Campus, called “Rescue Remedies: Fearful Dogs.”

Rainer in training class
Trying to take photos in class never works out so well. This is the best one I got! Those are his ears.

Canine Campus is where Pyrrha went for her obedience class, and I’m a big fan of the trainer, Deven. Deven has had numerous shy dogs herself, and she seems to really understand them.

While Rainer was mostly unable to calm down for the majority of the class (lots of pacing and circling), I was really thankful that we went. Deven reinforced so many concepts that are easy to forget with shy dogs. The class was also really motivating to me to stop being such a passive trainer. Now that Rainer has acclimated to our lifestyle, it’s time to start actively teaching him things. I can’t just wait around and hope that he’ll learn something.

Rainer lounging at home
Safe at home.

This lesson was really reinforced coming and going to the class. The worst part of last night was getting to and leaving class. This is the issue: Rainer has a severe fear of getting in cars. Severe to the point of nearing the biting threshold.

My husband was gone last night, and I was stuck with the Jeep, so getting Rainer into it was quite the ordeal. It took me about 15 minutes. I was plying him with tons of treats, but as soon as he’d get within a foot of the car, he would freak out: jerk back, trying to pull out of the collar, biting the leash, etc. I was finally able to get him in when I put some treats on the car seat, and he got brave enough to put his paws on the seat, and I lifted his back end into the car. Once in the car, he rides OK; he’s so scared of it that he doesn’t move much at all.

The traumatic part of last night was leaving Canine Campus. After class concluded, I asked Deven and her co-trainer Mary to come out to the car with me and help me strategize. Mary started by treating him for nearing the car, and then throwing treats away from the car, giving him the freedom to back up when he wanted. This went on for 10 minutes, however, with Rainer showing little inclination to get any closer to the vehicle.

Instead of diminishing, his fear was only growing, and when we approached him, his entire body tensed up, and I could tell this was a dog who was ready to bite if we tried anything else. Deven clearly recognized this too and came back out with a sheet and a muzzle. I felt so dejected. I hated to traumatize him further, but we were never going to get him in that car.

We put a meatball in the muzzle, and I could snap it on him; this freaked him out. While he was trying to get the muzzle off, we put a sheet beneath his abdomen, and Deven lifted his back end, while I picked up his front end and put him in the car. He was fighting the whole way. The poor guy. My adrenaline was racing, and I felt so upset. And embarrassed. He was so upset.

Upon leaving, Deven reminded me that this is something we would need to work on every day. Rainer’s fear of getting into cars will not go away on its own. Seeing him in such a state of panic last night really brought that home. This is a dog who really doesn’t know anything about the world; everything is frightening and new to him. It’s our job right now to help him take those baby steps toward confidence.

Rainer lounging at home

So, that said, here are some really basic things I want to teach Rainer in the time that we have him:

  1. Car desensitization. Every day, practice working near and in the car. Treat him for approaching; treat him for just looking a it in the early stages. Move up to getting him to enter the car on his own.
  2. Name recognition. Treat him and praise him for giving us any attention when we call his name.
  3. Sitting for food. I know that this dog can sit, but we cannot get him to do it! I keep waiting for him to offer the behavior at meal time (luring him back with the bowl), but he won’t do it. I also wonder if this has something to do with his bad hips. Sitting could be painful for him, so we may need to find an alternate behavior.
  4. Grooming desensitization. Treat and praise for whenever he submits to brushing, touching paws, opening his mouth. Move up to this gradually; brushing is the easiest place to start.
  5. Leash manners. Learning how to walk politely on a leash; getting him not to freak out when we see other dogs (freaking out, for him, means frantic circling; no barking or anything like that, thankfully). Practice safe zone training (LOTS of distance between the stimulant) early on; only take short walks where I can control the environment without pushing him past threshold.

As you can see, we have a lot of work to do. But I believe in him and in his potential to overcome a lot of these fears, with our patient help.

Our little obedience school graduate

This past week, we had our last class at Canine Campus. Those six weeks really flew by! We all learned so much—us humans most of all. Pyrrha herself made great strides in confidence and I daresay she might even miss the madness of that room and all of those beautiful dogs.

Pyrrha graduates from Canine Campus

(*Pardon the photo quality; I took my old point-and-shoot and the lighting was off the whole time. You can get the jist of what was going on, even with the blurry shapes, I think…)

For our last class, we practiced “leave it” amid distractions, which Guion and Pyrrha are attempting to demonstrate below. (Clearly, this is still a behavior in progress.)

Pyrrha graduates from Canine Campus

And then I got to practice recall with her, also with distractions (an open jar of peanut butter, a person, and lots of dogs around the room).

Practicing "come" with distractions

This class gave us a great training foundation for us to build upon in the months and years to come. I think Pyrrha has made immense strides in confidence since we started this class, and I couldn’t be more pleased. With that added confidence, she also just seems like a happier dog. She seems to understand more of what’s expected of her around the house; she’s more eager and gregarious on walks; she even actively seeks out other dogs to meet. This is such a HUGE transformation since she came to us in May.

I’m looking forward to continuing to build upon our training relationship. Proud of my little graduate!

Pyrrha graduates from Canine Campus

Eating out of toys

One of the best recommendations I’ve received from our trainer is this: Feed your dog all its meals out of interactive toys.

Her reasoning is as follows: Dogs, in their most natural state, spent a lot of physical and mental energy finding, stalking, killing, and consuming their meals. Today, dogs eat out of bowls in the kitchen and barely use any brain power or calories during dinner. We waste a huge opportunity for physical and mental stimulation when we just plunk down a bowl of kibble and let them scarf it down. Instead, she recommends, feed your dog all its meals from interactive toys that make them “work” for their food and solve problems in the process.

For a few weeks now, we’ve been trying this recommendation and feeding Pyrrha from a variety of toys. Verdict: Very pleased, and why didn’t we try this sooner?

The presentation of the feast
The presentation of the feast.
Eating out of a ball
Making it roll.
If I make it roll this way...
Only use those bowls for water now.
Getting a little help from Guion
Getting a little help from Guion.
With the Kong
With the giant Kong.

Now, Pyrrha eats her meals in about 5-20 minutes (depending on the toy difficulty), instead of in a mere 60 seconds, as when she was eating out of a bowl. She’s learned how to solve problems on her own and adapt to the changing rotation of toys. She’s very engaged in mealtime now. Even though our floors are now slobbery and coated in food remains, I think this new feeding ritual is totally worth it.

Do you ever feed your dogs out of interactive toys? And why, after having read 60 books, have I never read this recommendation in a book before? It’s such a great idea and such an easy incorporation into one’s daily routine! I’m a big fan.

Pyrrha’s first day of school

First day of school at Canine Campus
Canine Campus: Trainer Deven working with Anka.

Last night, Pyrrha attended her first “day” at school!

We have enrolled her in a general obedience class at Canine Campus and I’ve been really grateful and pleased with everything we’ve been taught so far. Deven (shown above), the head trainer, studied with Pat Miller and Suzanne Clothier, so she won me over from the start. Speakin’ my language, you know?

Deven is also very experienced with shy dogs, and that also put me at ease. On the first night of class, people attend without their dogs (since dog training is really just human training in disguise). We talked with Deven about Pyrrha’s various issues and fears. She said that the goal for this class might just be to get Pyrrha comfortable in a new and distracting environment. The training facility has several break-out rooms with dutch doors, so we could move into those rooms and still hear the lesson, but Pyrrha could be essentially removed from visual distractions.

First day of school at Canine Campus

Last night, we showed up about 15 minutes early, because I wanted Pyrrha to be able to scope out the place before everyone else arrived. She acted with her typical vigilance and extreme alertness–and looked a bit on edge whenever a new dog came into the room–but Deven instructed us all to not let any of the dogs meet each other. After Pyrrha understood that none of these dogs could come up to her, she started calming down–and even looked somewhat happy and eager (lying on the ground with her tail swishing, mouth open, playful expression).

First day of school at Canine Campus
Sorry for the poor photo quality. Weird lighting in there.

We have a class full of fun characters: A handsome Welsh springer spaniel named Rufus; a sassy JRT mix named Hannah; a very bright shih-tzu named Tsunami; an older merle border collie; an adoptable mix named Buster (seen in the background of the photo below); and Anka, an all-black German shepherd mix puppy, whom Deven is working with in the first photo. It was SO tempting not to snap all their leashes off and watch them romp around and play. But, that’s not why we were there…

First day of school at Canine Campus
I’m trying to get her attention. It’s kind of working!

Once class began, we moved Pyrrha into one of the break-out rooms, since it was clear that she could not focus on us when she was out in the big room with all the other people and dogs. This seemed to work quite well. We practiced some basic cues, like our “look” cue, targeting, “give,” and some loose-leash walking. I’m always amazed at how much I learn from just hearing Deven talk about these principles. I’ve read too many dog training books, but I’ve learned far more in two classes with Deven than I did in a year’s worth of reading. I know all of these things, these various theories, even how to teach these cues, but seeing Deven put it in practice and actually trying it with Pyrrha has made such a world of a difference.

First day of school at Canine Campus
Over-exposed Guion, working with Pyr in the break-out room.

The other big thing I learned last night is that my husband is a GREAT trainer. He might be naturally better at it than I am. This is extremely hard for me to admit. I am supposed to be the “dog lover”! The amateur “expert” on training! I read 60 books! He read 0! But, no. Guion is just inherently good at this. His timing is better than mine is; he doesn’t repeat cues; he waits for her to figure it out before jumping to the next thing. Ugh! Haha. I am proud of him. I really am. Just a little envious, that’s all.

Pyrrha came to class hungry, so she was VERY eager to learn. It was exciting to see her so engaged and focused on us–but I think that was mainly the hunger speaking. Still. It was nice to see her aptitude to pick up new cues and behaviors. I think she might be pretty smart after all. 🙂

First day of school at Canine Campus
Getting some praise from Dad.

We learned more than I think she did. But I guess that’s the point? Very much looking forward to our next class!

Pyrrha is going to school

In the front yard

This past week, I decided that it was time for our shy princess to go to obedience school. We have signed her up for a 6-week basic obedience course at Canine Campus, a local training facility.

I feel confident about the head trainer, who is certified with several training organizations and has trained with Pat Miller, who wrote one of my favorite step-by-step training books. I e-mailed with her about what she thought about Pyrrha’s suitability for the group class, since Pyrrha’s history with strange dogs is not a good one. She assured me that the dogs aren’t supposed to interact with one another, and a portion of the class is just teaching the dog to focus on you and not the rest of the room. Alternately, she said that if the group class turns out to be too overwhelming for her, we can funnel our payment for the class into either private lessons or another class. She said that shy dogs have often done well in her nose-work class.

I expected that I’d take more initiative training her at home, but I have been so busy lately in the evenings that I haven’t put in nearly as much time as I have wanted to. Pyrrha knows her name, “come,” “sit,” and “down,” but that’s it–and she really only responds to me; she won’t take any commands from Guion, unless it’s clear that he has something delicious in his hand.

That said, here are my basic goals for these next six weeks of training class:

  1. For Pyrrha and Guion to build a better relationship and for her fear of him to be mostly eliminated. (Guion will be coming to as many training classes as he can.)
  2. To jump-start my incentive to train with her on a more regular basis.
  3. For Pyrrha to be able to interact in a room with distractions, other dogs, new people and be able to focus on me.
  4. For Pyrrha to gain confidence.

Our first class starts next week, so you’ll be sure to hear lots from me on how that goes!

Has your dog gone to school? What was your experience like?