Dog Sports For Fun: Why Sports Training is Worth it – Even if You Never Compete

"But I don't want to compete!!!" 

I hear it all the time. People take their dog to training classes or see a private trainer to fix problems and get the basics. And then they stop. Just like that. The problem is fixed. The dog civilised. Why do more? 

Well, there are some VERY good reasons to continue training after 'the basics' have been installed. Let's look at some...

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How to Train Two Dogs Simultaneously

Do you have a new dog or puppy? Are you struggling to find opportunities to train with them because your older dog kicks up stink? When a second dog is added to a household, things can change in unexpected ways. One of those is that training stops. 

Why is that? 

Usually it is because the first dog objects strongly to being 'left out' while the new addition receives attention and play/food.

This is both difficult to deal with and causes us to feel guilty. Training is no longer fun and rewarding for us so we stop doing it. Rest assured, the guilt thing is totally normal. If you've not had two dogs before it can be a bit of a shock and the dynamics certainly get turned upside down.

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Managing Errors in Behavior Chains

Clarity is critical for any learner. Whether we use an errorless learning approach, or we use a method of training that incorporates highlighting errors to our dog, it is still essential that we maximize the likelihood of success through careful set ups. It is also necessary to always be prepared to rapidly change strategies, as soon as we notice our dog is not becoming more confident, and more successful, throughout our training sessions.

Before we dive into the specific issues that can occur in our attempts to create successful and confident complex behavior chains, let's look at the broader area of managing errors.

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The Lemonade Conference Free Lunch Panel on Mental Health for the Reactive Dog

 On Feb. 11th, 2022, the first day of The Lemonade Conference, our free lunch panel was on Mental Health for the Reactive Dog. Melissa Breau was joined by Amy Cook, PhD; Sarah Stremming; and Sophie Liu, DVM. The recording from the live stream is available below. 

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Positive Herding 101: Dog-friendly training (an excerpt)

This is an excerpt from the book Positive Herding 101: Dog-friendly training by Barbara Buchmayer, shared with permission.

As I read the short email in 2011, I had no idea that destiny was knocking at my door. The message was from a woman in South Africa asking if I would help her train a herding dog using positive methods. She had never trained a dog for herding, nor had she even worked a herding dog. In fact, she knew virtually nothing about herding. I immediately realized it would be foolish to get involved with this project because we would be limited to using email, video, and Skype to communicate tons of precise information and complex concepts. Yet I was deeply into figuring out how to train herding using positive reinforcement and I knew it could be done. So the question became: could two people with the same vision, but very different backgrounds, turn a rambunctious border collie pup into a useful herding dog while 9,000 miles apart?

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Reactive Trainer? And Why Does it Matter?

This is something that many people new to positive reinforcement (R+) training struggle with: Why can 'fixing' behavior problems (or any training problem) seem so much harder using
positive techniques than using punishment or force? I mean, you're rewarding the hell out of the behaviors you want so why are things still turning to custard? 

Because using positive reinforcement to change established behavior requires that we become PRO-active rather than RE-active trainers – and that is the challenging bit.

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1493 Hits

Competition Dog Sport Trial Prep: Does Generalization Really Matter?

I have been spending the last two years playing with and training my young Labrador Retriever, Dare. He just turned 2 in July and he is a lot of fun!

We are just getting started dipping our toes into the competition world and trial prep is at the front of my mind. The inability to get the same performance in the trial ring that we have in class or at home is a source of frustration for many a handler. That feeling of complete helplessness in a trial ring when you and your dog are disconnected, your dog is struggling, you feel eyes (real or imaginary) burning holes of judgement in your back, and you can't understand why your dog is behaving the way he is, is not a fun place to be. I have been there. If you don't believe me, here is proof. Me with my Novice A dog in the obedience ring.

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The Science of Multiple Markers (and the concepts associated with them)

Why use multiple markers?

For our dog to select the appropriate behavior for a given cue or context, their brain needs to have established associations among sensory stimuli, selected behaviors, and rewards. In training scenarios, typically the rewards are treats, toys, personal play, or a behavior the dog enjoys, and we associate these with the specific behavior/s we desire.

One part of the brain plays an important role in learning such stimulus-action-reward (antecedent-behavior-consequence) associations. However, another part of the brain is focused on reward-prediction error.

So, what is reward prediction error (RPE)?

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Dog sports are team sports (and why that matters to train and compete in dog sports successfully)

It's easy to forget that dog sports really are team sports. Not a lot different to competing in the doubles kayak or pairs figure skating. It involves two individuals working towards a common sporting goal. Sometimes in dog sports we erroneously put too much emphasis on one member of the team—either we think the whole competition is about our dog's performance, or we put too much pressure on ourselves.

As the human in this partnership, it is often useful to divide our job into two distinct roles: one as team-mate and one as coach. Progress in training, and success in competition, can often be greatly improved if we look closely at specifically fulfilling the responsibilities of each of these roles.

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1937 Hits

How to Be Successful with Your Sporting Dog

The sporting dog group encompasses many beloved breeds, including some of the most popular. Whether you already own one of these wonderful dogs, or are considering a breed from this group, it's important to understand what these dogs were bred for so you know what to expect.

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One Trainer's Journey: From "Building Drive" to Understanding Optimal Arousal Levels

When I first learned to train for competition obedience, all problems were solved with more "drive."

Drive was loosely defined as getting the dog as "high" (aroused) as possible. I.e. tugging, playing, chasing food, games..anything that increased a dog's arousal level.

...Which is pretty dangerous when you pair a dog with a genetic predisposition to becoming over adrenalized with a trainer that has no concept of what the words "drive" or "arousal" really mean, and what they do to a dog chemically and emotionally!

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1760 Hits

The Cooperative Care Certificate Program is Here!

It's here! It's finally here! After countless hours of effort and angst, I have a new thing to show the dog training world. And of course, now I have even more angst about whether or not the training world will love my new thing as much as I do! When you create something out of thin air you become quite protective and attached. It's time to let go now though and share the Cooperative Care Certificate Program, developed and maintained in partnership with Fenzi Dog Sports Academy.

Check it out at www.cooperativecarecertificate.com

The Cooperative Care Certificate is a virtual video titling program for dog owners and trainers. People who are interested in earning the certificate will train 10 essential husbandry exercises to a passing level. The essential exercises are 1) chin rest, 2) lie on side, 3) restraint, 4) wearing a muzzle, 5) handling feet & nails, 6) handling mouth & teeth, 7) medications, 8) injections & blood draws, 9) eye exams, and 10) ear exams. . . That covers a LOT of ground! In addition, there are 3 levels of increasing challenge for each exercise. 

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Want a Relaxed Down Stay? Stop Rewarding It!

My young golden Excel was super quick to learn stay. He'd lay down on his station or on the ground at my feet and stay there – all while staring at me intensely. 

If I ignored him, he'd sigh loudly or flip onto his hip or put his chin on the ground. I remember how he would purposely look away from me, with his eyes rolled toward me to see if I was going to give him a treat. Or he'd look away and snap his head back toward me in anticipation of the reward. He was offering all the relaxation behaviors I spent months rewarding him for in an attempt to train a relaxed down stay. 

Instead of a calm dog I had a dog that was constantly working, offering behaviors, and seeking reinforcement. Not the picture I wanted.

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10097 Hits

When Roast Chicken is Not Enough…

In recent days, I have had conversations with a few friends who seemed to be all saying the same thing – "My dog and I just don't seem to be having quite as much fun anymore." 

These are great trainers, who adore their dogs, and have always had great relationships with them! Bitten by the dog sports bug, they have been very committed to growing their own knowledge and taking extra classes, going to private trainers – having fun doing All The Things! 

Only now…..there is this.

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Why Should You Care About Cooperative Care?

Last year my cat, Tricky, had a very serious injury to his tail. So serious that amputation was considered an option. The injury required an immediate trip to the emergency vet clinic. I had to wrap an injured and bleeding Tricky in a towel, place him in his travel crate, drive him there, and hand him over to strangers. All while he was in quite a bit of pain. Tricky stayed at the emergency vet being evaluated and receiving treatment for about five hours. He had an x-ray, his wound examined, evaluated, treated, and wrapped, and he received injections of pain medication and antibiotics. He came home wearing a cone.

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4455 Hits

Teaching Your Dog to Wear a Muzzle

Teaching your dog to be comfortable wearing a muzzle is a good idea for a number of reasons. One of them is safety on a hike: if you don't trust your dog 100% around dogs, critters, people etc., having her wear a muzzle will help you relax. If your dog doesn't like strange dogs invading her personal space, but you would like to take her hiking in places where you will occasionally encounter off-leash dogs, having her in a muzzle keeps everyone safe. (Having her on a leash doesn't do that, because strange dogs may still run up to her.)

When I have Grit off leash in an area where we might encounter dogs or people, I usually have her wear a muzzle. She is good with dogs who keep out of her way or greet her politely, but she is not the kind of dog who appreciates rambunctious dogs who come barreling up to her.

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Is Silence Disconnect? Introducing Silence to Obedience Work

 A student recently asked how to introduce silence into her obedience work without her dog feeling punished. As a long-time obedience competitor, I do not consider silence to be punishing, but it does appear that some people see it that way. Where is the confusion coming from?

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What To Do When It All Goes Wrong: Dealing with Frustration & Failure in Dog Sports

Dealing with disappointment in the heat of the moment is tough. 

When you expect success and glory and are instead embarrassed, mortified, or otherwise upset it's a pretty human reaction to get upset, distressed, angry or uncomfortable. 

There are a whole lot of techniques and tools that we can apply to the aftermath of such a stressful moment. In that exact moment, though, when you look at your canine partner and think "WHO ARE YOU?" or "I CAN'T BELIEVE THIS" or whatever other negative thought stops your brain from functioning — well what can you do?

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3874 Hits

Stress-Free Husbandry: First steps for more cooperative nail care, grooming, and more

This is an excerpt from the book Cooperative Care: Seven Steps to Stress-Free Husbandry by FDSA Instructor Deb Jones, PhD. Available now!

Step One for Cooperative Care: Place Conditioning 

It is important to have a dedicated place in your home where you will practice the majority of your husbandry work. You want somewhere that your dog can easily recognize as a husbandry training location and that you don't use for any other purpose. This enables your dog to make decisions about whether or not he wants to participate, as well as understand what he can expect from you.

A grooming table is an ideal place. It is clearly recognizable to your dog as a training place and the height will keep you from ending up with a backache from bending over. If you don't have a grooming table, any elevated surface, such as an ottoman, can work. Choose a surface that is solid, sturdy, stable, large enough for your dog to easily lie down, and that has a non-slip surface. Your dog will be spending a lot of training time there so it should be as comfortable as possible. The most important aspect of your training place is that you set it up so your dog has a way to get on and off by himself. This is what gives him the ability to leave if he's uncomfortable. You can set up your table next to a chair or other piece of furniture to make it possible for your dog to jump up and down safely.

Occasionally, using an elevated surface simply doesn't make sense. For example, maybe you have a giant breed dog. In this case, it's a good idea to set aside a location with a specific floor covering to delineate the space. A foam yoga mat or some children's play tiles would make a good floor covering for your place. Again, make sure the area is large enough for your dog to lie down comfortably.

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7205 Hits

Unintended Consequences: Understanding Poisoned Cues

In positive reinforcement training, a cue is something that indicates to the learner (your dog) that you would like her to do a certain behavior.

Most cues in dog training are verbal or visual. But cues can be olfactory (a dog training in scent work sniffs the odor and sits) or auditory (a click in clicker training), or environmental (you take your dog out of the car at the trailhead, and she knows she is going for a walk). A touch can also be a cue.

The dog learns that when she hears, sees, smells, or feels the cue, and performs the correct behavior, she will earn a reward.

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5273 Hits