Training Thursday is not so much a blog theme here as it is a way of life in our house, due to the fact that Balton’s regularly scheduled class is held on that day of the week. But heck, we need some prompting for some new writing, and it just so happens the boys and I have been busy in our canine continuing education.
Earlier this month I had the good fortune of attending a two-day seminar with Dr. Sophia Yin, who spoke about fear and aggression in dogs. It was a dense, fun, and wonderful two days spent, and I’ll be presenting about my lessons of the seminar to Lucky Dog Animal Rescue volunteers next weekend. While I’m no substitute for Dr. Yin, I soaked up lots of new knowledge and had some existing knowledge reinforced. I’ll present some snippets here after I’ve met with LDAR’s volunteers on the topic!
One of the cool takeaways from the weekend being able to do some interactive practice with Dr. Yin’s Learn to Earn program. The program is a super foundation for establishing leadership as the resident human, and teaching a dog impulse control. Both products of the program are pretty important for dogs with or without behavior issues, and so we’ve been practicing its principles with Balton at home, to help better his focus with real world stressful situations. I also have been more aware of how to effectively apply classical and operant conditioning to our work, and recognizing when each is most appropriate. This has been a great help for Balton and me over the last few weeks.
Some time ago I had written about how when we go to our Relaxing Rowdy Rovers class he starts out motivated and focused, and then is too stressed to offer any behaviors by the end of class. It occurred to me that having him offer behaviors when both inside AND outside his condo was causing him nothing but 45 minutes of pressure and demands. So now, when we’re in our condo we do straight classical conditioning to stimuli (sounds, people and dogs walking past but out of view, seeing an occasional stimulus in his periphery). All I ask is he lay on his mat and we reward for relaxed behavior. Then, when called out to the classroom and presented more challenging encounters with stimuli, we do operant conditioning and ask for sits, downs, walks, etc. The last two weeks he has come out of class much better than in weeks past, and I think this system is helping.
Meanwhile, at home we practice impulse control and manners by having him work for pieces of kibble at dinner, and I’m really trying not to use his bowl at all, which seems to be making a bit of a difference out on walks, too. 🙂 And, last night my father-in-law came to visit, and Balton was able to contain himself and relax while on leash from a safe-but-close distance while taking treats from me while “hanging out” for about an hour, thanks to the merits of classical counter-conditioning and desensitization.
Learn to Earn will also be part of efforts in the next few months while we prep for Intermediate Agility with Ollie. He did great with obstacles during our beginner class and has enough competency to move on to the next level, and really seems to have fun with it!
Trouble is he has been known to blow me off on the few occasions I tried to go off leash with him in the ring, so I’d pretty readily say he could use some impulse control. He’d finish a jump but instead of taking a lead from me to go on, would saunter on up to a dog walk in a sort of “eff you mom, I’m off to the next piece of playground equipment!” manner. Partly amusing, mostly mortifying. This isn’t quite one of those examples, but it does illustrate how we still aren’t entirely agili-pros.
What strikes me most in working with my two dogs, sized up differently and both on seeming opposite ends of the behavior spectrum, is how a combination of science and skill really goes a long way, and how good we all feel at the end of the day using force-free methods. Dr. Yin says in every interaction, the dog learns something and the human learns something, and I believe that more and more with every interaction. Guess we’re all learning and earning in this together.