Thursday, February 23, 2012


Ever heard of D.I.N.O.S. (Dogs In Need Of Space)?  What about M.D.I.F. (My Dog Is Friendly)?

If you haven't, you need to check this website out! NOW!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012


I'm an addict of dog behavior and training.  It was obvious last night as I was giving the orientation for the second Control Unleashed class I'll be teaching that every pore of my body oozes "dog."  I found myself speeding up as I talked about the stuff I will be helping teach and going off on well-deserved tangents here and there.

Bless the clients who signed up for class and listened as I laid out the class curriculum and gathered information about them and their beloved pups.  I warned them at the beginning that I could talk for days on end about dog stuff and gave them strict instruction to reel me back in if I fly away into D.B.N. land.  They seemed sincerely appreciative of my passion and we all had a few good laughs.  If I can help just 1 person in each class I teach to become more connected with their dog, I will die a happy trainer.  And last night I got the feeling that I was going to help each and every person (and their dogs).

I drove home feeling so high.  So happy.  So thankful.  So full of life.  This chapter in my life journey has brought me to where I am today and I am so grateful for many people and poochies who have helped pave the way.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Finished DVD: "Pattern Games" by Leslie McDevitt

When someone asks me, "Laura, what did you do on Friday night?"  I'll be proud to tell them exactly what, in fact, I did.  I finished watching Leslie McDevitt's Pattern Games: Clicking for Confidence and Connection DVD.  I know what their response will be.  Either, "Oh. Sounds like fun." or "Hmm.  That's interesting."  The thing of it is...well...I don't care.  Everyone knows that I'm a self-proclaimed D.B.N. so it should be a surprise that I spent part of my Friday night watching a dog-related DVD.  And in all fairness Aaron and I caught up on some backlogged episodes of 30Rock (golly, I love that show!).

Moving on to the DVD review...

Pattern Games is a wonderful, 1.5 hour long DVD put together by Leslie McDevitt  to present a series of "Pattern Games" that are helpful for dogs that are shy, fearful, reactive, worried, and/or aggressive.  She describes 6 specific games that are very rhythmic in nature and, therefore, predictable.  Anyone who truly understands dogs knows that they thrive on routine and predictability.  That is exactly what Leslie's games set you and your dog up to do.  She starts with describing the 6 foundation games and does a good job explaining how you can increase the criteria as you and, more importantly, your dog are ready.

In all honesty, the information I found the most valuable was Leslie's explanation of her LAT (Look At That!) game.  (Side note: I do not own her Control Unleashed DVD's, only the book, so maybe she gives more of a detailed explanation in her videos)

There were 3 things in reference to LAT that I found extremely helpful....
1.) The rule structure of LAT.  Leslie explained that it is extremely important to have the rule structure set up so that the dog knows that when you are playing the LAT game, he will never, ever, ever be going over to interact with the stimulus and the stimulus will never, ever, ever be coming over to interact with him.  If you do want interaction, be very clear with the dog that LAT game is over by using a different cued behavior, then a release word. I never heard LAT explained with this rule structure and, luckily, I never did this.
2.) When teaching the LAT game, start with a neutral object such as a water bottle, book, whatever!  It should be something that is boring to the dog.  After your pup is getting the LAT behavior down, next introduce a positive stimulus (something the dog likes - whether it's a human or dog) and work on repetitions   with them. Lastly, you will progress to doing LAT with the stimulus that is worrisome to your dog.  Remember #1 from not let the dog interact with the stimulus during the working LAT game at any point.
3.) Knowing when you should and should not cue the dog for LAT.  This is highly dependent on the environment and you should not cue LAT if there is more than 1 stimulus in an environment.  In other words, do NOT go to the farmer's market and work on LAT.

So, where do I go from here?  I'm actually going to reteach the LAT game from the ground up using an entirely new verbal cue.  Since I taught it wrong from the beginning no wonder Oscar has only done an OK job with the behavior!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Watching the Brain Work

It's amazing to harness the true intelligence that our dogs exhibit.  When we put aside our human thinking and reasoning and pull way...way...way back and give a concerted effort to think like an animal (in this case a dog), it's amazing how clear things become.  Dogs are very linear in their thinking.  It's a straight line from A to B.  They react to stimulus in the only way they know how and while that might drive us humans crazy, it's actually takes a lot of pressure off of us (the humans) and them (the dogs) and allows us to move forward.

Case in point: Oscar and the vacuum cleaner.

Ever since Oscar was a pup, he hasn't particularly enjoyed the vacuum cleaner.  I understand that.  It's loud.  It's big.  It moves on it's own.  He never went berserk or anything, but he would bark-bark-bark at it when I pulled it out from the closet and would bark-bark-bark at it off and on while I would move it around the house.

I can thank Grisha Stewart for helping >me< re-frame and understand why Oscar was exhibiting said behaviors when it was time to clean the house.  What was the function of the behavior?  Surely it wasn't distance decreasing behavior.  It was distance increasing in nature; he wanted Mr. Dyson to go away.
The Dyson DC07:
Once a cause of barking; now a cue for behavior!

Using my superior (!) human brain, I decided to start marking and rewarding him for offering any calming behaviors at the vacuum (looking away, sniffing the ground, turning his body away, taking a step back, licking his lips).  He figured out very quickly that those were good, self-soothing behaviors and I put the icing on the cake by tossing the food reward away from the vacuum...the increased distance was his functional reward.

Could Oscar move himself away from the vacuum to create that extra distance he wanted?  Of course he could, but in his mind, he definitely could not (A to B) so I had to teach it to him through shaping.

Well, fast forward to this past weekend and what happens?  Oscar starts throwing behaviors at the vacuum cleaner in the form of walking backwards from the yellow monster.  With glee, I mark and reward him and I see that happy boy come back in the vicinity and repeat.  He's got it!  Way to go, buddy!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Finished Book: "Don't Shoot the Dog" by Karen Pryor

At long last, I have finished reading Don't Shoot the Dog: The New Art of Teaching and Training by the world-renowned Karen Pryor.  Anyone who is involved with positive-based dog training has surely read this book and with good reason.  It is fantastic.  Truly, ultimately fantastic.  And the book isn't specifically written to speak to dog's written as a guide how you can use reinforcement in everyday relationships.

I found myself delightfully flipping through the pages, becoming infused with the obvious passion she has for teaching using reinforcement.  I especially enjoyed the chapter titled  "Untraining: Using Reinforcement to Get Rid of Behavior You Don't Want" where Karen speaks of "Eight methods of getting rid of behavior you don't want, from messy roommates to barking dogs to bad tennis to harmful addiction, starting with Method 1: Shoot the Animal, which definitely works, and ending with Method 8: Change the Motivation, which is more humane and definitely works too."

By no surprise, there is an entire chapter at the end of the book devoted to clicker training.  And in this chapter, on page 166, as Karen was talking about the explosion of popularity with clicker training in the early 90's, I became extremely happy when she highlighted, "Steve White, a K-9 police officer in Seattle, developed a clicker-training system for training patrol dogs.  One of this canine graduates caught three "bad guys" on his first night on the streets (and his tail was wagging the whole time, a characteristic of clicker dogs)."  This couldn't be more dead on.  I see this in classes all the time.  Dogs who are clicker trained have a perpetual wagging tail during training session.  It's a true delight to witness (and it's hard to get upset when training with a happy dog!).

Also included in Karen's book are her infamous 10 Laws of Shaping that, upon reading, made me get up off my couch and do some quick shaping with my beloved boy, Oscar.

In closing, this book is a must-read for anyone seeking to improve any relationship in their life...whether it's with their dog(s), spouse, co-workers, horse, cat, neighbor, etc.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Finished Book: Excel-Erated Learning by Pam Reid

In preparation for my CPDT-KA exam, many of my colleagues recommended that I read Excel-Erated Learning: Explaining in Plain English How Dogs Learn and How Best to Teach Them  by Pamela J. Reid.  I quickly found myself on Amazon early January and added it to my collection.

I have to say, it was a delightful read.  There is a lot of great information and I will most definitely need to re-read the entire section on reinforcement schedules due to the high rate of alphabet soup that is used throughout the explanations.  Whew!!

One thing that I did like about the book...and let me preface this by saying that I do not practice these techniques at that Ms. Reid took the time to explain two of the quadrants of operant conditioning that tend to get a lot of heat; positive punishment and negative reinforcement.  What I appreciated is that she explained each of these in a very cut and dry fashion and said that using them can be effective, however there are much better ways to get behavior.

This is a fantastic article to add to the D.B.N. Library and I'm thankful to those of you who suggested it to me.

On deck: the remaining chapters of Karen Pryor's Don't Shoot the Dog!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Lots and lots and lots and lots

I've been totally slacking with blog entries lately, but I swear, it's excusable.  I've been working my ass off lately (and luckily I have a lot of ass - otherwise it would be gone!).

For starters, my #1 job (a.k.a. my day non-dog job) has been extremely busy.  It's a good thing and we are growing, which is awesome.  I got to go to LA this week for a pretty kick ass client of the better perks of the job, for sure.  On top of that we are working on an insane global program for one of the world's largest handset manufacturers which has been amazing to be a part of.  For the first time in my career I am working at a company that is actually helping pave the way this company will market itself at retail; not just getting some design intent package that I have to value-design, engineering, prototype and produce in a ridiculous time frame.

Second, I just finished teaching the first session of BehaviorWorks' Control Unleashed class.  It was way more than fun, it was AWESOME.  The group of people and poochies in that class rocked and, while I helped, they really took the reins and ran with the information I gave them.  So, so, so happy for all of them!

Third, there have been a lot of changes going on at the dog training company I work for.  All good stuff.  So, I've been spending the majority of my "doggy" time helping with planning and marketing for them.

Fourth, I had to get everything ready for my CPDT-KA application.  I found out this week that I was approved after going through a whole rigmarole with getting my vets to fill out the form.  Thankfully everything worked out and I will be testing in March.

Fifth, as related to #3, I've been doing a fair amount of studying for the exam.  Learning theory, ethology, reinforcement schedules (holy alphabet soup!).  So, any free time I've had has been spent with a glass (or two, or three) of wine on the couch in my living room.

Sixth, I started re-reading Suzanne Clothier's "Bones" and I thank the heavens that she wrote it in the fashion as she did so I can pick it up for a couple of minutes at a time and get infused with goodness.  I need that book right now more than ever.

There are a lot more things that have been pecking away at my time the past couple of weeks (both my husband AND sister have pretty serious job interviews for starters!) and I haven't forgotten about those of you that follow my blog.  As always, my pups have been there for me through this craziness and I have enjoyed their reliabililty and honesty (Oscar "visiting" me when I'm at my laptop for two long with those "It's time for Frisbee, Mom" eyes and Fanny doing her pre-dinner laps around the house).

There are lots and lots and lots and lots of good things coming up in the next few months.  I can feel it in my body, I can feel it in the air.  I really, truly can.  A culmination of events is coming together -- in perfect time, perfect harmony -- and it just feels damn good.