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positive reinforcement

Why We LOVE Clicker Expo

Why We LOVE Clicker Expo

It has been a crazy (good kind, I think) week coming off of one of the biggest events of the year in the life of many positive reinforcement dog trainers: Clicker Expo 2017 in Portland, OR.  Over three days of dog nerds from around the country geeking out together to the genius of the gods of the positive reinforcement training world, an impressive lineup including Ken Ramirez, Dr. Susan Friedman, Kathy Sdao, Hannah Branigan, and so many more!  

Charissa and I came back from this immersion with lots of new ideas and inspirations.  Some of these ideas may not seem so practical once we come down off the CE high induced by exposure to the greats of our industry and a significant lack of sleep, but we'll see.  It was a wonderful trip.

Attending training conferences also never fails to inspire me to fine tune my training with my own dog.  Roo is a wonderful pup, and as much of my time and energy is devoted to helping other humans and their dogs build positive relationships together, he often gets the short end of the stick.  But after Kathy Sdao encouraged us to consider taking more time to do activities that "keep our candle burning," I am trying to be more intentional about spending time with my own heart dog - he is, after all, one of the reasons I love training as much as I do!

The first concept I put into action was based on Hannah Branigan's presentation "High Precision, High Scores."  In this lecture, she broke down the behaviors sit, down and stand and discussed how to get the precision movements you need in order to offer peak performance in the obedience and rally ring.  I decided I should go back and take a look at how my dog performs the "sit" behavior to see if he was doing it the most efficient (and precise) way.  Turns out, it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be, but still could use a little bit of improvement!  Here's our first session working on this.  I am selecting for a "tucked" sit where his hind legs come up to meet his stationary front legs instead of a "rock-back" sit where his front feet follow his rear back.

So sorry for the terrible video quality!  Can't seem to fix it, but if you want to see this clip in better quality, check it out on our instagram feed here.

Next, we tried some concept training, inspired by Ken Ramirez's lab on this topic.  We started with Match to Sample, which is teaching the dog to indicate the object that is the same as the object you present to them.  Roo had this concept in less than a 10 minute training session, and I started introducing novel objects as well.  This game is built on other skills (follow a target, settle at station, respond to a cue, etc.) that we have worked on previously.  Check this out!

How cool is that?!  Can't wait to see what else he learns next.

These are just a few of the fun tidbits we brought back from Clicker Expo.  We can't wait to improve our class curriculum, our behavior modification protocols, and our client interactions based on our new ideas.  Learning new things helps us to be the best that we can be, and we can't wait to pass along that benefit to our students and their dogs!

Happy clicking!

Puppy In The Park

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Puppy In The Park

I just need to brag about some great students for a minute! Over the summer months, we met weekly in City Park, Fort Collins, for Puppy In The Park drop-in class.  This class was for graduates of my Puppy Basics and Puppy Confidence classes who were looking for extra opportunities to practice the skills they learned in new and more challenging environments.  And let me tell you, between baseball games, family reunion gatherings, and distracted PokemonGo players wandering through our makeshift classroom, the learning environment at City Park has certainly provided lots of great challenges!  

Cassie's mom sent me these pictures from one of the classes, and looking through them made me so proud!  These pups have all made great progress since we've started working!

Cassie the Australian Cattle Dog

Cassie the Australian Cattle Dog

Ryder the Australian Cattle Dog

Ryder the Australian Cattle Dog

Anaali the Golden Doodle

Anaali the Golden Doodle

Briar the Labrador Retriever

Briar the Labrador Retriever

Stinson the Hungarian Puli

Stinson the Hungarian Puli

Chief the German Shepherd

Chief the German Shepherd

Great job, everyone!  Keep doing fun things with your pups!

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Micro-Adventures

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Micro-Adventures

Adventuring with your dog is more than just weekend warrior-ing it up on a mountain trail.  It's a lifestyle, a culture; a thought process through which you plan out your whole day (*ahem* life).  I'm not joking - I often wake up in the morning and plan my errands, workout, lunch break, client training sessions, and workflow based on what things can involve the dog and what things can't.  And when my husband and I talk about future plans, the logistics surrounding the dog ("How would we get him to New Zealand if we ever moved there?" // "Roo would totally love to go backpack around Europe with us for a year, don't you think?") are always part of the discussion.

While taking the dog on an international trip is pretty extreme (notice I didn't say "out of the question" ;) ), there are dozens of smaller ways to include your dog in your daily life that don't require getting the Center for Disease Control involved.  The beauty of these "micro-adventures" is that you can fit them into your schedule, and adjust them to the skill and physical ability of your dog.  Let me give you an example of what I mean through a review of Roo's micro-adventures from today:

First thing this morning, we waved good-bye to Charlie's parents who visiting!  Roo came along and enjoyed being part of the excitement.  He then got his normal walk in City Park, Fort Collins.  

Image stolen from Charlie's parents' Facebook. ;) 

Image stolen from Charlie's parents' Facebook. ;) 

Next up was dropping Charlie off for work and getting in an early morning grocery run.  Roo came along and sat in the car during the grocery run (hence the early morning part before the sun warmed the temperature up) and then licked Charlie good-bye.  No pictures of this except one we took in the car to help with a school project for Charlie's cousin Emilie.  And of course, Roo was involved (and possibly trying to eat "Flat Emilie").  

After this, I finished a challenging business project after weeks of procrastination and Roo took a power nap.  To reward us for our efforts (+R works for people too!) we ate lunch in the sun, then took off together on my bike to run some errands in Old Town since both of my stops (the bank and the wine store) were dog friendly establishments - just one of the many, many, many reasons to LOVE Fort Collins.  

First stop, the bank!  Kudos to the Wells Fargo College + Magnolia location for being so cool and dog friendly!  Roo loved the attention and love.  :) 

Second stop, Mulberry Max for the essentials: Fish Eye Cabernet for me, dog biscuit for Roo (not pictured because he already devoured it).     

Final stop before home was City Park again.  Roo enjoyed a nice peanut butter kong in the shade while I did a leg workout (ouch).  

After the workout and kong were finished, we rode home together, both worn out but happy and smiling.  You could conclude that the lesson in this story is that I spend too much time with my dog.  Perhaps I do ;).  But I think a better lesson to take away is that doing awesome things with your dog doesn't have to be earth shattering or magazine-cover-picture-worthy.  It just has to be fun for the both of you. 

These micro-adventures took maybe 10 minutes each (with the exception of the 40 minute workout), and while it was great to be able to string several together in one day, that it certainly not the norm for my schedule or always ideal depending on your schedule and your dog.  The point is, do what you can!  Find the little things that your dog can be included on, and make it a fun outing!  I know first-hand how bringing the dog along can turn a mundane errand like standing in line at the bank into an interesting and exciting event, for both you and your pup.  Start small.  Work up to it.  And consider these guidelines as you get started:

1. Always consider the time of day, the temperature, and your dog's physical comfort before embarking on an outing.  For our bike trip today, I was constantly monitoring the temperature of the surface Roo was running on, staying in the shade as much as possible, and offering him water at every stop.  A bike ride in the heat of the day is not something I would have put him through if it was 90 degrees outside.    

2. Be courteous and ask if dogs are permitted when you enter a store or business, even if you are pretty sure that they are allowed.  I knew that the two establishments I visited today were dog-friendly, but I still checked with the first employee I saw by asking "Is it ok to bring my dog in?"  This does more than just get the answer to your question - it demonstrates a care and respect for the business that goes a long way towards keeping places dog friendly.  

3. Always be prepared to clean up after your dog, whether you are outside a store or (heaven forbid) inside.  Again, your care and respect for the business and its facilities is part of what keeps places dog friendly.  If your dog isn't able to discriminate between appropriate outdoor potty areas and indoors, it isn't a good idea to keep taking it to those places where it can make those mistakes.  Don't give up on adventuring together though!  Just find other places that would be more suitable as you work things out together.             

4. Remember, adventuring is about having fun, for both you and your dog.  If your dog is stressed in an environment (While we were walking from the bank to Mulberry Max today an ambulance came down the street with its sirens on, and the tall office buildings really amplified the sound. Roo just looked up at me and seemed to ask what the fuss was about, but it could have been very startling or stressful for a dog not used to that volume of noise so close.) then don't push it, or work up to it in small steps, and consult a trainer if you would like help getting your dog comfortable in that environment.  Similarly, if you are stressed out by taking your dog to a particular place (for me, that's the dog park!), then don't do it!  There are plenty of fun activities to choose from, and you don't have to suffer through something you or your dog doesn't enjoy.  You will be happier doing the activity you can enjoy, and your dog will thank you for that too.  :)

What "micro-adventures" do you and your dog enjoy together?  Let us know about them in the comments so that we can maybe try them too!  

Happy Micro-Adventuring!

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