I’m excited to introduce a new GIF-nothing major, but inspired by someone I met straight off the street while I was running. I caught some motion in my peripheral vision as I was passing by a car parked in the driveway. A woman was picking up a large boulder for landscaping purposes. “I didn’t know there was a CrossFit studio in my neighborhood!” I exclaimed. In what may be the first time I’ve ever not been scowled at and otherwise ignored, this genius and uber-aware woman offered to let me move some boulders myself-“Only $15 for a day pass,” she pitched. Hardy har har har I guffawed, already liking her.
Well, we talked about my cute dogs and it came up that their family dog was trained by Sit Means Sit-known to actual human beings as Shock means Sit and (this story was offered by my new found conversant who strongly dislikes them with no prodding by me) Sitting usually means Shock–she described how the trainer told her to shock her dog when he sat crookedly-which results in poisoning the cue of sitting (the dog hears sit and then expects to get shocked, resulting in slow sits that get worse as the abuse mounts). Poisoning cues is a topic that I’ve discussed before and this is exactly how you get a dog who is trying to do what you want to wind up hearing you say “Sit” and then be scared to do it because he has been shocked for sitting-he doesn’t know crooked until you teach it and if he sits at all it indicates that he’s trying to do what you want and therefor you shouldn’t punish him for it. You’re on the same team! Or you should be.
I digress. One of the things that came up was the great trick this trainer’s dog, backing up on a wall. “But it’s too bad you have to shock the dog to do this,” my new friend ruminated. I’ve been training (Free Shaping) Squirrel for six days, three minutes a day, for a total of 18 minutes of training to do this and she will perform the feat shown in this gif at least a dozen times in three minutes at this point. I’m not cuing her (I’ll wait until I have the complete perfectly executed behavior before naming it), haven’t touched her once during training, and she is well on her way to doing a complete handstand with nothing to lean against. I’ve always wanted to train a handstand and since Squirrel has practically nothing in the actual show at this point, it was easy to commit the training schedule to doing something I don’t really have a plan for.
I’m a big fan of doing things consistently even though it goes against my general nature. I basically grew up being told that the things that need to get done always get done so don’t sweat them too much. And this took me a long way-kind of a procrastinator’s version of follow your bliss. But with physical training and working with animals, consistent practice is super helpful. With that in mind I have gone on many programs of doing things for 100 days in a row. There’s an entire website devoted to starting 100 runs in a row in November-this gets you through the tough holiday season without having to think. Just do a 30 minute run of any nature and it counts. Just get out the door-my attitude when I start thinking I don’t have the time is to look at my watch and say what would the difference e if it was just 30 minutes later than now? Usually no difference so I head out the door.
Last week I heard that the Olympics are starting in 100 days and I couldn’t believe the banality of that news story. There is no reason for me to hear that unless I make use of the information-and here’s the thing, I did. I vowed to do 100 days of training every dog 3 times each day. This takes away all need for planning, being goal oriented, the stress of setting up different situations, and indeed getting my video camera set up to try to make a video.
The irony of course is that in less than a week I’ve gotten better at all of these elements of dog training and the dogs are loving all the extra attention and are thriving on the regularity of the training sessions. I have their circus set up in a spare room and in order to train the dogs efficiently I have given them each a spot to be while I’m training an individual dog. Then when I’m done with that dog I can immediately get the next dog started.
It doesn’t matter what I work on-and it’s a good thing too. As always I find that the dogs don’t know sit well enough to really use it as well as is needed. Improving a sit is always an easy way to burn up a training session. Keep it fun by pushing boundaries and the dog will be fully engaged.
I’m including a video of Squirrel playing with a snake that happened to be close by the circus ring one day. This has turned into each dog interacting with the snake in different ways. Moose swings it around and bashes its head on a box, lays still while the snake slithers over her (this is a great way to work on her staying in a “playing dead” pose). Mouse is jumping on the snake to make it squeak, Skeeter is grabbing it and running around it, Jingles wiggles on her back while it attacks her from the top, Coyote snuggles with it, and Squirrel-well, we can never quite figure out what Squirrel wants to do. Squirrel really is the three year old spoiled brat of the family. But here’s a video of what happened today.
Circus Trainer Caught Using Negative Reinforcement
This is an older video I recently reviewed and shows some poor training techniques-it’s a bit amusing to remember how great of a trainer I thought I was yet still made these mistakes. I don’t care-I’ll show you my mistakes, seeing them makes me a better trainer, maybe it’ll help you as well! Continue reading →
When There’s No Time to Train, You’re Still Training
One demanding aspect of dog training, even when you have all the needed tools and knowledge, is to stay motivated. Most of training applies to life, especially the part where no matter what, it goes on. There will never be a time when you can say, “There, that behavior is finished.” Well, ok there is, but let’s not go there. My point is that one of the most noble aspects of life is to strive to get better-any token gesture is at least a respectful nod to the universe that you are trying. The universe likes that, or so these emanations streaming from somewhere between my chair and keyboard are asking me to share. Seriously, when I can’t get that forty mile bike ride to fit into my schedule I do a couple hundred pushups along with squats to the ground and exploding straight up with a high jump around my computer work. Not fun, but it hurts enough to make me think I got some exercise in. I also try to keep working because when I get blocked, boom-push ups! I don’t advocate using negative reinforcement for the dogs, but I can handle it myself. (Serious Digression: Except that I recently learned about an exercise called the Burpee-ten of those and I am panting for several minutes.)
How this relates to dog training is that sometimes, heck most of the time, there just isn’t, well, time to get a formal training session in. That’s ok! Studies actually show that short sessions are far better for dogs! My training philosophy totally utilizes this idea and when I am really rocking my proper training plan, a formal session should only last for three minutes anyway. Don’t have three minutes? One will do! Don’t have a single minute? That’s ok, too! Practice those sits. Your dog just wants attention, and he’s going to wind up getting it no matter what. People will complain about their dog-annnnd there is time spent on the dog. It’s also time spent having a negative thought. And nobody is happy about that time-except those jerks you need to weed out of your life. (Digression: Get rid of them through the training technique of extinction! So many problems in life are addressed through training, such a valuable life skill.)
Often I am confronted with a dog that is constantly told to stay out of the kitchen. The dog is being told what not to do, but there are then myriad other ways he can get into trouble. Proper training always asks us to find something to ask the dog to do rather than telling him what not to do. That is why sit and down are such valuable tools. Sit and down are incompatible with pretty much every problem behavior. If your dog is in the kitchen, or doing anything you don’t want tell him to sit.
In competitive bicycling, there’s a saying, “It never gets easier, you just get faster.” A little secret here-if you’ve built your dog’s stays up over time, anything you do in real life will be distraction training. You’ll want to work on all those triggers that get your dog to move out of place. A dog starts proper training of stay with the trainer simply standing up and then bending back down immediately, before the dog has a chance to break his “stay”. I laugh a little at my writing this as I am often forced to stay bent over and just keep popping bits of food into the dog’s mouth so that he stays. The point is to have the dog not get up, and to ultimately get the idea that as long as he’s sitting he’ll get food (which you eventually transfer to praise and simple respect of rules to make you happy). Get up, no food. Another trigger, take a quick step back and then right back to treat the dog. You’ll go on in this fashion, taking two, three steps back, to the side, etc. Get to the point where you can actually walk around the dog and you’ve really managed to get a good stay. Then you unlock the ability to experience the joy of discovering that walking around in the opposite direction is a TOTALLY different trick that has to be built up slowly. The good news is that with every one of these triggers you repress, the next one gets a little easier. Well, let’s not say it gets easier since you’ll be presenting harder distractions for the dog to fight through.
For the kitchen example, if you’ve built up your stays over time, you’ll be able to build up a stay to last for several minutes. No way anybody is going to sit still and just watch the dog for three whole minutes! Three minutes? Who has that kind of time? If I see a three minute YouTube video, I’m bored before I even start it! No, ask for that sit/stay while you are preparing dinner. Be sure to be sensitive to how long you can ask for this. I want to emphasize that you only need to do a minute to three minutes of training at a time for a really formal session, just one stay to get the door open to let the dog out (pretty advanced-work on that one!) is an incredibly useful exercise you have an opportunity to do several times a day. It takes a lot of effort at first, but over time this exercise will allow you to open the door for guests and have your dog sit attentively to wait to be released. No more rushing out the door in chaos either.
Another important note: You can’t train a behavior while you need it. So what this means is that you should not ask for those first sit/stays while you’re in the kitchen fixing dinner or opening the door for guests-set your dog up for success. Unless you want a good laugh at your expense. There’s no way they’ll be able to sit still through all of those enticing aromas. Best to have some practice sessions right where your dog should sit while you’re working in the kitchen.
Even with a known behavior, any change in environment requires re-training. Nearly every show I do with my dogs sees a dog being distracted at something in our surroundings and I have to go through some training steps to get the extremely well-known trick accomplished. Find that spot you want your dog while you’re working in the kitchen and start with taking a step back, two steps, etc. Eventually you can start rattling pots and pans around. If you feed your dog from the kitchen, this is a great exercise to practice while you get his food bowl ready. A steady stream of treats is called for-your goal is to have your dog never break that stay while you slowly build up the distractions. And remember, you aren’t keeping your dog out of the kitchen, you are asking him for what will become a well-known behavior, the sit.
I’d like to emphasize that your dog is going to get a certain amount of attention from you. If you wait for problems to arise it’ll be negative, but with a solid foundation of stays built up you can have a dog happily respond to you even when there is chaos all around. You’ll also have built a valuable response that could ultimately save his life if he’s about to run into traffic-an automatic response to “Sit” will stop him short.
We set up our new ring mat at a theater and showed the director the tricks that Moose and Mouse do.
This is the first time that they’re seeing the new mat and they go through some avoidance behaviors-it isn’t just the new mat….we are in a new space, the director is talking to me and I’m responding, we are doing tricks out of order, and who knows what else is going through the dogs’ minds. I’ll discuss the avoidance behaviors and things you can do to combat them with your own dog, but mainly this is a video of lots of two dog tricks, something you’ll rarely see as getting two dogs coordinated is way more impossible than just getting one dog to do what he’s supposed to do-and that’s already totally impossible.
In this video I am training Coyote to pull the mast of a ship up for the upcoming Mutt-Cracker (SWEET!). Well, I think that’s what I’m training. Watch the video to see what Coyote actually learns!
So much of life is like this-you are trucking right along thinking you know what’s happening and those around you just aren’t with your program. That’s why dog training is such a great Zen training tool-it’s like a controlled laboratory where you mix your view of the world, your goals, and the chaos of the universe. And you get immediate results to judge your views. The Chaos is provided by the dogs-and this is chaos light; remember that the dogs have been selectively bred for eons to respond to your training; and it’s still this hard!
It’s the Monday after Thanksgiving 2014 and we’ve been working hard putting our set together for the upcoming Mutt-Cracker (SWEET!), and this is just the dog portion of the show.
Our director claims he has several other sets we’re gonna cycle through so I’m looking forward to seeing what he gets together for the show. Usually I’m leary of even relatively simple costume changes, but here we go with some more chaos-as if six dogs weren’t going to cause enough of a headache.
I’ve been torturing myself over what the right ring mat design is for my show, only to finally realize that practically anything that isn’t cloth would be a vitally, even life-saving improvement over the striped fabric that I’ve loved up to this point. What I finally realized is that anything that doesn’t sterilize easily while laying flat is simply unacceptable for this circus act.
I was in an improv class when a classmate came in reporting on how she’d just seen the Jimmy Kimmel show– that I’d done a pre-taped bit for (thank you very much) when they were in Austin for SXSW. Anyway she went on and on about how during every off camera moment a guy would come out and sweep the floor of the set, and she kept saying stuff to the effect of, “How much dirt do they think is getting on the set in five minutes?” Well, I’d started making these dog videos around that time and one thing I can tell you is that a lot of dirt shows up. Anyway, they weren’t doing it because it hadn’t caused a problem in the past. Maybe just accept what the pros are doing, ok?
And another thing is that when you have zero dirt on a pristine looking set, anything that shows up is an infinite percentage increase; that one dirty dish in the sink? That’s the only thing I’ll notice now that I’m so old that I care about the kitchen being clean. Seriously, once I started looking at my set nothing looked good. Any stain on the floor covering and I’d have to wash it. And when trying to film training sessions for six dogs dirt getting ground into cloth is inevitable-unless you don’t have cloth!
That’s when I started thinking about the idea of being able to clean the floor with a cloth and some Odorban, my preferred disinfectant. Well, I went to a LOT of trouble making a circle out of plywood, then cutting it up and putting hinges on it so that I could fold it and transport it easily. OMG! It looked GREAT!!! It had six layers of high gloss exterior paint in vibrant colors that were super washable….It was easy to set up, though a bit heavy, and it made unicycling and some of my other human skills like the rola bola much easier….the thing was that the dogs hated it. They would actually stop wanting to take their turn during shows! I don’t care what anybody says about how good the show looked, if the dogs don’t do their tricks it’s a net loss on show quality.
And one other thing-I wasn’t in love with the design I’d come up with. I looked online at other circus mats but nothing really looked that great. So, once again, I figured anything I came up with would be an improvement on what I had. I have always been of the school of thought that you need to have a complete plan before starting work, but I’m now finding that that is simply too much pressure for me. Once I realize how hard something is going to be or contemplate that I can’t know exactly what “the BEST” way is to do something it leads to a lot of not starting-but we all know that you can’t walk a thousand miles without taking the first step. “Right,” I’d say, “But I’m not walking a thousand miles, I’m making a Ring Mat.”
Anyway, I was talking with friend who was like, “You’re an ex-math teacher….” “Geometry….” BLAH BLAH BLAH…. and I grabbed a pencil, string for a compass, and a straight edge and made the design that has made it onto the ring mat.
The weekend before Thanksgiving I made a circular door for a dog agility tunnel-I’d always thought that a door would be good to turn the tunnel into a dog-containment object that would fold down into a small space-the tunnel is like a compression spring with fabric covering the openings-it compresses down and is only about six inches thick, yet expands to about eight feet of length to contain dogs.
The reason I bring up that tunnel is that making that circular door was a good excuse for painting my design in those very bright colors that I love for the show in order to have a prototype of the mat design to determine if I really liked it. Then if the design didn’t work out for my purposes, I’d still have a nice-looking door. I spent quite a bit of time cutting out the door and getting the hinges on and then painting it-and I’m no painter….I hate the precision needed, all the prep work of finding the right color, just getting the right brush size-I always just want to get the most paint on so I don’t have to do a second layer. I could go on, believe me.
But I’ll tell you, somehow having a design I liked made all of that a fun, satisfying experience. I cut the lines in way better than I’d ever done before, and made sure that there wasn’t too thick of a layer of paint so as to lessen the brutish brush marks I normally wouldn’t care about.
The door came out looking great and is a really nice accent to the show set, while also being a very useful tool in controlling the dogs and keeping them safe, while making transitions from dog to dog not only smooth but actually an entertaining trick for the dogs to do during the show.
Ok, so the design was good. How to make it onto the floor? I’d bought some vinyl remnants that were a fairly good color of red for $5 a square yard while the typical price was $35 for the perfect pieces. A good start. I got the white while I was at it and any artist will immediately note that mine is a four color design….I say that because over and over as I showed the design to someone with any experience working with real-life artistic materials, they immediately commented with, “That’s a four color design.” It had always been a positive comment until I showed it to my mother who was going to be doing the sewing. When she said, “That’s a four color design,” her tone made it obvious that this is a complicated pattern.
She also immediately, as her very second sentence in her contemplation of the project, said that she couldn’t sew a circle, a problem I was totally sympathetic to since I’ve had continual problems with getting a smooth “perfect” circle as I’ve been pursuing the goal of having an actual Circus Ring.
But then she made the mistake of showing me a quilt block that she’d been working on….that had a circle in it. Ha! Your own pitard, mom!
Anyway, over Thanksgiving week we made some patterns of the individual pieces of my design, which I’d luckily thought to do in it’s full six foot diameter on a new tarp. I buy these tarps in bulk to protect the living room floors of families kind enough to invite my show into their homes. I go through quite a number of them, often preferring to buy a new one instead of cleaning the old one before that weekend’s show docket. It’s good to keep them looking sharp anyway-just because.
My mom got the outer red and white blocks done by Sunday all on her own but then that yellow in the middle-that was what we didn’t know how we were going to do. It seems so simple, yet the devil is in the details-the joy as well. Weird how that works. We went through lots of theoreticals and every way to do it was problematic so I finally got down on my hands and knees and started cutting that yellow into a circle that would fit the hole in the middle. There is nothing like not knowing what I’m doing to allow me to get started.
After I’d gotten about a sixth of the way around I realized that the outer circle that was already sewn together wasn’t totally flat, which made the inside hole a little smaller than it should be. So what we did was sew just that section of the interior yellow on the outer blocks, and then I cut the section 180 degrees, across the circle from the sewn part, and then we could be sure that the inner circle would reach across. We continued in this manner until we got all the way around and had a completed bona fide circus ring that would fit perfectly into even a small living room, perfect for the shows we love best-birthday parties and libraries. Having such an amazing “State Fair Quality Show” (a kudo ejaculated by a traveling circus performer who happened to see my show in a living room of one of his family members he was visiting for his nieces birthday party) show up in such unlikely places just makes me giggle when I think about the joke. It’s like having Van Halen show up for a backyard BBQ, is the philosophy I am working for.
The result is really great looking and best of all, the dogs already love just being on it-it must feel really good on their feet and with the foam mat I put underneath they love rolling around on it and their feet seem to get a good grip so they don’t even slip-something I’d kind of worried about.
This video is Coyote’s very first experience with the mat and you can see that he doesn’t even think about it as a problem.
This is a really good example of how to train a sit and stay. I’m doing it with six dogs and you can see how chaotic my dogs are and how effective positive reinforcement is at directing them to a perfect sit. Eventually. One day they’ll hear a bell and just immediately go to their designated spot. This is what I am starting with.
At this point in time I’ve just started training all six dogs to sit in order-this is actually the second training session, the first is also posted on my blog page. Anyway, you can see me working the dogs’ triggers (watch Mouse especially for the improvements)-one thing is that I’ll reach for the food and they’ll break their sit and I’ll stop my hand. I’ll get them to realize that the hand moving means nothing so they’ll start to make eye contact while I bring my hand down. Eventually I’ll put the food down below their head and only when they continue to make eye contact will I click to indicate that the treat is available for consumption and release them to get the treat.
Another thing to note is that I ignore all of the chaos especially presented by the puppies, Coyote and Squirrel. All of the jumping and running around are simply ignored-Note also that I miss many many opportunities to give them treats when they do get into position. I’m pretty good at training and have amazing coordination, but it astounds me how much better I could be if I was faster. In my defense, there is a LOT going on with the six dogs all expectantly vying for attention.
Another item to note is that the dogs have really never been asked to sit still-my goal has always been to have them doing tricks and you can see evidence of this as, throughout the video, the dogs keep jumping into the ring and presenting tricks, and how Mouse keeps going up into a Sit High or raising just one paw-trying out their tricks to see if that’s what I want. They just can’t believe that all I want is a simple sit.
Counter-Intuitively, I believe that training them to sit still will create more eagerness for them. It should also allow for much faster transitions in the actual show. By managing the dogs’ sits better they’ll be able to focus on when it is their turn to come out in the ring to perform. Even if you don’t care about starting a circus, imagine how great it would be if, while on a walk with your dog and your dog sees another dog and starts pulling at the leash and barking, you could say sit and your dog would just sit. How great would that be? That’d be amazing. Sit-it’s the key to a well-behaved dog.
Ok, that’s enough writing-subscribe to that YouTube channel and I hope to
Well, sometimes I just can’t think of anything to work on with a dog and we just pretty much play. I was worn out and didn’t have the energy and bandwidth to really focus on improving anything with Coyote today and here is the result.
Coyote was thrilled, but then he’s thrilled anytime he gets attention (and a Frisbee)! Enjoy this exuberant display of rapid fire behaviors! I chose to play, “The Man on the Flying Trapeze” for Coyote because, well, he always gets the girls.
And he isn’t even the cutest dog I have. That would be Squirrel, but Squirrel is just too bossy and therefor annoying. She is always like “Hey! Get over here!” Coyote is more like, “Hey-wouldn’t it be a LOT of fun if you took this ball out of my mouth and threw it for me?” (over and over again) Well, people wind up being so impressed with Coyotes antics not to mention feeling that he deserves a good massage for working so hard that it’s no time at all before he’s getting all the pets and attention. There’s some great dating advice, guys. Work on some self-improvement and you’ll be more appealing.
You really learn a lot from dogs when you really pay attention. There’s some kind of saying that gets the idea that everything in the universe is contained in every mote that you care to look at closely enough. Like, if you’re stuck outside of New York, don’t worry you can still get all the artistic enjoyment of that metropolis of cutting edge and historical art by watching a sunset. Pflugerville is obviously exempt from this consideration, but I digress.
When you watch this video you will see what it is about dogs, and life, that I love. Exuberence, athleticism, striving for achievement, happiness, focused attention. Heck, the list would just go on and on. I don’t want to try to describe the world’s most beautiful display of perfection when you can just click the link and see it for yourself. And remember, this is just like one minute of a training session and not all that special of one anyway. I was asking him for more behaviors than I normally do for a treat, but then these are the things he knows really well. What we are talking about is working on chains of behavior and that brings us to the crux of dog training.
I came to this session not having the energy to really train, but needed to do something with Coyote. So I started and didn’t have anything in mind, a real mistake most trainers will tell you. But here’s the thing. I started playing with him and didn’t have a goal in mind except to have some fun and get him a little directed attention and exercise. Only while watching this video and writing about it do I realize that we made some really good progress on getting Coyote to do a chain of behaviors in order to get a treat. I was like, “The camera is on and I’ll just try to get several things to show how well Coyote knows these things.”
Anyway-just get out there and play with your dog. Even if you have a plan the dog isn’t going to know what it is and if he has fun with you now, it’ll build up some assets in his emotional bank account that you can draw on when he gets frustrated or distracted. The idea is that because you’re normally so much fun, that even if there’s another dog to bark at, if you ask for his attention he knows that he can benefit by giving it to you.
I want to emphasize that by following my training advise-well, you get the kind of behavior in this video…..maybe I shouldn’t say that if I want to make a living training dogs.
Here are some tricks from Jingles’ Genesis Story. What happened was Jingles’ Mommy needed to go hunting to get Jingles something to eat. Jingles’ Mommy told Jingles, “Jingles, you stay right here in this box. I’ll be back soon with something delicious for you to eat.” Jingles said, “But Mom, I’m hungry right now!”
“It’s good to be hungry,’ Jingles’ Mommy told her. “Always remember, A Hungry Dog Fights Harder.” Jinges’ didn’t understand. Jingles said, “I thought I’m not supposed to ever fight?” “That’s right,” Jinges’ Mommy said, “Remember. Stay right in this box and you won’t have to fight.” Jingles’ Mommy looked at her and added, “Stay in this box you’ll be safe.”
Well, after Jingles’ Mommy was gone, Jingles got bored. Jingles poked her head out of the box and looked around. She was sooooo bored! A squirrel came over and challenged Jingles to a game of chase. Jingles said, “No way! My Mommy told me to stay in the box!” The Squirrel said, “I understand. You’re just a little baby.”
But Jingles wasn’t a baby! The Squirrel was already bounding away laughing at Jingles! Jingles said, “Hey!!! And she chased that Squirrel right up the tree!”
Jingles went straight back to the box and got right in so she’d be safe. Her Mommy was going to be SO proud of her when Jingles told her how good she’d been!
Jingles was tired after chasing that Squirrel and in all the excitement, she wasn’t even hungry anymore! Jingles snuggled up in the bottom of her box where it was nice and warm and went right to sleep.
Jingles woke up a little bit later and was REALLY hungry.
To Be Continued
It’s been a lot of fun creating this routine. Jingles had to really learn to wait for her cues, one of the hardest things for her to do. She was always the forgotten dog in previous households-being the fifth and smallest papillon in one family! She’s still the smallest Pap around, but she has the biggest heart! You’ll see her fall a couple of times in this video and yet she doesn’t even think about taking a break. There have been falls I’ve seen her take in the past where I’ve been really concerned about her, but she showed no signs of any type of injury or even pain. Several times when this has happened, I’ve taken her out of active training rotation for two weeks and just worked on her stays and low-effort behaviors requiring more thinking than athleticism.
As you’ll know from reading other posts, I believe that working on eye contact and staying in sits and downs through lots of distractions and triggers is really the most important thing to work on. This type of attention is the foundation that all behaviors are based on. It is simply impossible for your dog to know what you are asking him to do if he isn’t paying attention. Heck, it’s hard enough to communicate when he is paying attention to you!
Don’t wait for an injury to work on eye contact, but don’t let lack of space or inclement weather prevent you from training-You can work on eye contact and stays just about anywhere!