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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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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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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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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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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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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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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Thresholds & Dog Training: When is your dog actually over threshold?

 If you manage a stressed dog, you likely think about thresholds quite a bit.

You think about whether your dog is "over threshold" in a given situation, and you may be continually planning how to keep him "under threshold" as much as possible.

Even if you don't have a dog with a tendency toward fear, reactivity, or stress, you want your dog to be in an optimal emotional state for learning, and that may lead you to thinking about what might push your dog "over threshold" and cause you to have to switch gears.

But just what is this "threshold?"

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Using Trial Experiences to Improve our Nosework Training

As I've always said about Nosework, we are half the team! That means our success at a nosework trial has more to do with us than our dogs. There is so much involved — setting up training plans, handling, strategy and our nerves — we can make or break the search! Once our dogs know their job and have the skills, we need to focus on OUR skills and to glue it all together from start to finish to excel at a trial.

If you've trialed recently, and were disappointed with the results, it's time to take a look at your own performance!

By reviewing our trial experiences we can 1) own our mistakes, 2) improve our handling, 3) learn to read our dogs better, 4) develop our mental game, and 5) set appropriate goals.

Let's discuss each area in a little more detail. 

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Supporting Sensitive Dogs: 13 Tips to Help You Have a Successful Seminar

Editor's Note: This is adapted slightly from a post Sarah shared on facebook after a seminar with Julie Symons where she worked her dog Zoe. Included is video from that seminar, shared with both Sarah and Julie's permission.

Author's Note: These tips are not only great for "sensitive" dogs, but can be adapted for all dogs. Thank you Julie Symons' for creating such a safe place for learning, and for being open to adapting exercises to suit Zoe's needs. This was a big deal for her! First impressions really matter. After these first couple exercises, she was literally pulling me into the building the rest of the day! 
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The Last Nerve: 11 Tools for Tackling Handler Show Stress Head On

Dogs are fun right? Showing, and seminars and workshops should be a time to relax and enjoy – the time we get paid back for all the hard work we do the rest of the time.

A celebration of all that is good, as it were.

We are learning, and sharing our passion with our best friends. Even through the stress and worry it's often glorious and educational and all the things we love most about having dogs in our life.

Sometimes though it feels like we have Pavlov sitting on one shoulder ( aka bob bailey) and nerves and anxiety sitting on the other.

Why not tackle the ring nerves and show stress head on and see what you can do to reduce them? 

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