In a crazy twist of fate, and work, and friends who are attentive to upcoming seminars, I had a chance to attend two seminars given by Dr. Ian Dunbar last week.
I could write a long, winding post about how I felt to finally meet my idol, and make a check on my bucket list. In fact, I tried to, but it was cheesy. So let's leave it at this: 18 years ago, I picked up a book by Ian Dunbar for the first time, and it set me on the path I am on today. Getting to hear him speak, and finding that he is even more engaging and interesting in person, with so much information to give, was life-altering. Also, several of us took him out for drinks after the second seminar, and he's just as funny and magnetic in a casual setting. Since then, I've tried some new things, at work as well as with my own dogs. Here are some of points I am keeping in my head when I'm faced with a dilemma and I wonder, "What would Ian Dunbar do?"
- Talk to your dogs. Don't get so technical that you forget to just notice your dog being wonderful. - Give information to your dogs. Saying "no" or "off" doesn't necessarily communicate information; yes you can redirect, but you can also give more information with one word. So dog jumps: "sit". That tells the dog not only to stop jumping, but what to do instead. We practiced it with a 6 month old Lab today... it was a revelation. A slow-moving, "retriever time" revelation but he got it right!
- Repeating commands is okay. Repeating commands is okay. What? It is. This has blown my mind.
- If you use a correction, you better have excellent timing and have a strong training history. Most of the time, if you feel you have to correct with a leash jerk or similar correction, you probably have not trained enough/trained for that scenario/whatever. Basically, if you feel the urge to correct, go back and train instead.
- HOWEVER. It's all well and good to say that you know a better way, especially on the internet. But it has to be proven. Can you train a dog to do the task faster and better using positive techniques than someone using a shock collar? Great! The shock collar trainer should listen to you. But don't start telling the shock trainer that he or she is wrong unless you have been at least as successful at what they are teaching.
- An emergency recall really is two behaviors: stop running away or towards that traffic, and come towards me. So teach an emergency "sit". "Sit" in a calm voice = kibble. "Sit" in a louder volume = liver treats. "SIIIIITTTT!" = steak. Teach that increased volume means increased speed and urgency, as well as better rewards.
- Don't forget to be "jolly" with your dog. If your dog reacts to other dogs, start dancing and singing backwards. Also rhythm helps to counteract fear, so if you are nervous around dogs (because of your dogs reactivity, or the other dog's response... or both, ie - ME), sing a song or recite a poem while you dance backwards. The dog will look at you, puzzled, turn away from the other dog, and the situation will begin to defuse. Also, associate another dog in the distance with a game of tug. BRILLIANT, since I have a tug machine.
- I asked him a question at the end, having been pondering it for years. The question was, why do neutered males appear to target intact males, when the intact males have not been rude or weren't even paying attention? The answer was so simple that I actually slapped myself on the forehead and exclaimed, "It's so simple! Augh!" The reason is that males tend to target other males; an intact male smells like a male dog... a neutered male doesn't. The neutered male doesn't register as a male, let alone competition.
- You may have to reward behaviors you don't like for a while in order to reward the behavior you DO like.
- Later, while I picked his brain over beer and cocktails, I asked about Scorch's whining/vocalizing in the ring. I've never subscribed to the bark/quiet way of working on a barking problem, possibly because I never gave it enough thought and because I didn't teach "quiet" properly. Ian had me willing to give bark/shush a try (he likes shush better because it's hard to say it angrily). We talked about the possibility of teaching whine on command (challenging, but it's easy to elicit from him so I think I'm up for the challenge), and then properly teaching shush. In obedience practice, we can work on "heel, shush" and then wean off of the shush. (We also discussed teaching a different word for each glove position... good stuff).
I have lots more to write about what I've worked on so far, but I had a big breakthrough today. Scorch knows how to bark on command, sort of, but I don't like it because he has to get himself worked up to do it and then he starts barking at every word I say. So we went outside to work on it. While we were heeling, he was barking and worked up, so we stopped heeling so I could give him permission to bark.
When told to bark on purpose, Scorch's eyes lit up:
Really? You WANT me to bark? Even though I'm a maniac?
Yes Scorch, yes I do. And I am going to reward you even as you ricochet off of my chest. Ow. Here's a treat.
OMG BARK BARK BARK!!! *spit flying everywhere*
Treat treat treat. Ow. My fingers. OK Scorch, let's calm down. Heel up.
*heels up while barking* Ooookkkaaay. Heel.
*heels while barking and spitting*
OK. Time to work on shush.
*shows Scorch a treat* Shush.
Okay this isn't working. What would Ian do? (*British voice in my head: "put the treat right under his nose as you say 'shush'. Lure the behavior you want.") Okay. *treat under nose* Shush.
HOLY CRAP. Repeat. Alternate. Use the treats to get the answer I want. Walk around. Practice Suzanne Clothier's relaxation protocol. Bark. Shush. Heel. Bark. Don't treat the responses where Scorch leaps into the air. Bark. Bark. Shush. Wait three seconds before rewarding. Shush. Bark. HE'S GETTING IT. OH MY GOD HE'S GETTING IT.
We've done three training sessions. Scorch still takes some working up before he will bark... he's only starting to understand that one can bark without being wound into a frenzy. But his command discrimination is progressing at an amazing rate. Holy hell, it's working! He is SHUSHING. And he is amazed that he GETS to bark. Which is my favorite part of all... I love it when my dogs think working with me is one of the best parts of their day.
Stay tuned for progress, and also for Norman's new job that he's thrilled to be allowed to do: carrying paper towels. Channeling his tendency to want to put alligator jaws on discarded paper towels has been a world of difference.