Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Classes are filling up fast - book your spot now!

The next block of classes is filling up fast - fewer little puppies this term but plenty of 4 - 10 month old youngsters looking to learn good manners!

We are still looking for dogs and handlers to come to the Beyond the Basics class on a Wednesday night though - learn Rally-O, heelwork to music, advanced clicker training and much more!

Beyond the Basics runs from 11th November at 7.30pm and we would love to have you and your dog come along.

Contact us: 07786 864 700 or email: info@wellconnectedcanine.co.uk

Monday, 26 October 2009

Firework phobias

This isn't a full blog on the subject, though its a topic very dear to my heart! Just a collection of postings that I've been putting up on various forums, most importantly to discourage the use of ACP as a 'treatment' for noise sensitivity.

ACP does not 'calm' them down, its a basic muscle relaxant which appears to leave the brain fully functioning and worrying. If you have given enough and the dog is not completely phobic then the drug takes over and forces them to stay in one place. However more informed vets would not prescribe ACP as the dog is still likely to be very anxious and forming anxiety memories.

British Small Animal Veterinary Association position statement

Acepromazine (ACP)
ACP has, in the past, been used as a short-term tranquilliser during phobic events. However, it does not have anxiolytic properties and will therefore not alter the impact of an event unless the animal is rendered unconscious thoughout it. It is believed that immobilising an animal whilst leaving it aware of, and emotionally responsive, to a phobic event may intensify the experience and lead to worsening of phobia in the future. Oral dosing produces unreliable effects, and onset of action may vary between 15 and 60 minutes (BSAVA Formulary). High doses may be required in order to sedate a dog during a phobic event. High doses may lead to hypovolaemia, hyperexcitability and extrapyramidal side effects in some animals (BSAVA Formulary). For these reasons ACP is not considered suitable for the management of canine noise phobias.

and a re-post of some info I added to a thread in case it helps

What I've found really helpful for him has been
working through the relaxation protocol (can email you a copy)

teaching a 'relax' cue

TTouch and massage sessions (from me)

individualised homeopathy

Valerian tincture (to begin with we used this twice daily in his food for about 6 months then weaned him off)

Valium given in small doses to block memory formation when something really scary happens like a huge set of fireworks or a thunderstorm

What didn't help us

DAP of any kind

skullcap/valerian tablets

CSJ calm down herbs

other 'generic' anti-anxiety stuff

t-shirts or wraps

ignoring him!

I think its worth emphasising that for Finn his nervousness/anxiety/stress was very strong and involved physiological reactions like constant pacing, panting, staring, drooling etc. The specialist we spoke to felt that the stuff that had not worked for us was simply not strong enough to get through to his system.

Personally if your dog is really scared I would only walk her when its daylight and early enough there won't be any fireworks. Walk her on a harness AND flat collar (martingale type prevents escape without tightening too much). It really depends on the strength of the reaction, but until this year there would have been no point keeping Finn in the scary location as he would not have come out of the panic state. This year though that has been possible and we can now stay out and play ball - its taken 5 years to get this far though!
Since things have started going off its really much to late to start desensitising - I'd download the mp3 file and save it for after the fireworks.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Clicker obsession warning!

Attending a recent seminar with the APBC, and explaining the joys of clicker training (and therefore learning theory) to recent classes has sometimes made me wonder if I am in the grip of a clicker obsession - and more to the point, is that such a bad thing?

Experiences at seminars and with other trainers
I am always surprised when other trainers feel the need to make it clear that they "are NOT clicker trainers". Its a shame that they seem to feel defensive about their identity, and also interesting that they haven't found these methods useful. It could be that the language of clicker trainers (a very diverse bunch themselves) implies other methods are substandard? Or that the more academic style puts some trainers off?

More specifically, as far as I am concerned, good training is all about clear communication and provision of information - based on learning theory. Whether or not one chooses to use a 'clicker' device is almost irrelevant in terms of training principles - though some trainers seem to feel otherwise. One of the beauties of clicker training for me has been the exposure of everyday trainers and handlers to learning theory and training principles - instead of blindly following set protocols of how to teach sit/down/come/sendaway now people are learning the principles and really understanding WHY things do/do not work.

Using an event marker of any kind does seem to dramatically speed up understanding on both ends of the lead, and reminds us that canines are not naturally verbal language creatures. For me, a clicker is simply the easiest way to use this principle in my everyday life. I also love the change in training relationship from luring/bribing/coercion to offering/encouraging/sharing.

Personal experience (Marco)
Marco Polo is the newest canine resident in our household, a foster dog for Wiccaweys who has been here just over one week. Marco is just 2 years old and was born profoundly deaf. Although he is now looking for a new family, one of his previous owners has taught him quite a bit of sign language. The interesting thing for me was seeing the difference between my own clicker principle trained deaf dog, and Marco - a lure trained deaf dog. Now obviously I can't attribute ALL of these differences to clicker versus lure, but I think several of them do seem linked.

Marco is very clear on the signs he does know - but each is a distinct behaviour, asking for linking sequences of even just two behaviours causes bemused and puzzled faces. He doesn't offer any behaviours apart from the stereotypical collie stare at my face, and has not transferred things like nose touch or paw touch to anything apart from a simple stationary hand target. Interacting with novel objects is beyond his understanding at the moment, as is following a target. Once we step outside the front door - his attention is non-existent (some nerves, mostly distracted) and he seems unable to offer any of his behaviours apart from a sit!

We've been working on teaching him a clicker sign as for my little deaf dog, but I had a feeling he wasn't really making the connection, and our initial attempts to get any sort of eye contact just in the front garden never mind on the pavement were going nowhere.

Change of tactic - quick session to sensitise to the LED clicker light and I got the feeling we were cooking on gas, much sharper focus and a thinking brain started to emerge!

Moving outside the front door, suddenly not only was I getting some eye contact, when we 'clicked' and rewarded his eyes were coming back to me for more. In that first 10min session we made it out onto the pavement and managed some basic moving-back-ups (game borrowed from Pam Dennison). There's a noticeable re-orient to the 'clicker' and a dramatic difference in his attitude.

So, am I clicker obsessed? I don't know, but I am certainly obsessed with any technique that can offer crystal clear communication channels between handlers and dogs!

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Surely they'll get used to *it*? Sadly not for many fearful dogs...

As readers of this blog will know, I have a special interest in fearful and/or reactive dogs since being introduced to this by my own Finn. A chance conversation with a friend over the weekend raised the possibility that simply by exposing a dog to their fear-inducing stimuli, they would "get used to it" or in more technical language "habituate".

We can see how this is unlikely to work when the dog is in a highly aroused state of fear/anxiety because the learning functions simply do not operate in these situations. We (humans or dogs) find it very difficult to learn new things when we are worried/anxious or stressed. The fear quite literally overules any other information. The technique of exposing the person or dog to lots of the fearful stimuli is called 'flooding' and is considered out dated and potentially harmful in the treatment of phobias.

In theory though, when we are dealing with a low-level fear, you would expect that gradually over time as nothing terrible happens, the dog might start to relax and learn that *tennis balls/children/footballs/car travel/raindrops/plastic bags etc* are not actually that bad. I can only really speak from personal experience here - but I have only seen this happen in young puppies under about 4 months. After that, I've found that it takes actual desensitisation and counter conditioning to really impact on the dog's perceptions and fears.

For example: Farah came to me quite scared of feet moving near her and especially over her. Lifting your foot to put on a sock results in a cowering little dog. After a couple of months it became clear that nothing was really shifting - so I used a combination of limited exposure to feet with clicker training to help her interact with feet. Farah learned that instead of feet being a potential signal for pain, they were just another object to interact with and earn 'clicks' from.

So, if your dog is nervous around toys/plastic bags/the hoover/anything at all - do think about finding a way to help them relax and reframe the objects, rather than just expecting them to get used to it!

Friday, 11 September 2009

Seminar: Wednesday 28th October "Loose leash walking strategies and how to use them effectively"

At the suggestion of some of our students (thanks folks!) we are offering bi-monthly seminars. These provide a little break between each block of classes, but also allow us to go into interesting topics in more depth.

Anyone at all can attend, there is a minimal fee to cover the hall rental and you do not have to have attended classes with us already.

For some seminars you may be able to bring your dog and offer them as a volunteer, but please always check with us first!

Our first seminar will be held on Wednesday 28th October
Topic: Loose leash walking strategies and how to use them effectively
Time: 7.00pm - 8.30pm (includes a short coffee break)
Location: Acomb Parish Church Hall, Front Street, York.
Volunteers wanted: yes please!

If you'd like to attend please confirm with Morag or Janet.

Week one of classes in York - we have arrived!

So the first week of classes is over and I can honestly say it was fantastic - an amazing group of owners and dogs with some amazing breakthroughs already, and a brilliant attitude in every single session!

This week we ran week one of all four class options:
  • perfect puppies - started with a session of no dogs, much easier for everyone to concentrate, ask questions and ease those first training class nerves. My little deaf girlie was a star demo dog and even grumpy man Finn came out to show his ever growing addiction to the clicker. All our pups this time round are at the older end of the scale (4 months) but plenty of learning time to squeeze in!
  • mind your manners - ran this class as half with dogs and half without, again its just easier for the owners to concentrate. This one is for older dogs (+ 6months) who are having some challenges or need to learn basic manners. We've got some VERY bright and challenging dogs in there, but the handlers have amazing enthusiasm and attitude, feel very positive!
  • beyond the basics - this is my dream class, and best of all I'll be sharing the teaching with Janet (TTouchtrainer) so I can get some much needed feedback on my own techniques. We revised clicker and targets, agreed to cut out lures as much as possible and got really focused on cleaning up behaviours, moving to voice only cues and started to teach some new skills too. Future sessions will include building a retrieve for dogs that just don't, and the level 1 Rally-O signs.
  • confidence course - the class that started it all off really, nice mix of repeating students and some new folks, though we have more handlers who are also trainers than regular students! We reviewed some of the foundation behaviours and worked on passive attention and bodywork. More active moving exercises next week.
I have some new flooring on order for next week to enable us to use more of what is a huge hall (must post pics soon) and get more active behaviours going.

We also have a good stock of our two recommended books in (both by Sarah Fisher and Marie Miller) and I'll need to order in some more of the Control Unleashed book! (see recommended books link on the side for details)

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

New Classes in York, UK.

Bringing kind, fair and effective training classes for dogs to York!

All ages and breeds of dogs are welcome.


Acomb, York on Wednesday and Thursday evenings


All classes run for 7 weeks and cost £60 per block. If you feel your dog would benefit from an introductory assessment or some one-to-one coaching we can arrange this before you join a class! You are very welcome to come and observe a session.

Perfect Puppies

For puppies of any size or breed up to 6 months of age. This course covers learning about your pup, building a good relationship and teaching all the important skills (such as coming when called, paying attention and giving up your slippers).

Mind your Manners

This class is suitable for any breed, size or age of dog from 6 months onwards whether you have training experience or are new to the wonderful world of training your dog. We focus on building a good relationship, how you can communicate effectively with your dog and the essential life skills (recall, sit/down, walking nicely on leash, good manners around people and dogs, emergency stop….).

Beyond the Basics

Ideal as a follow-on from the puppy or manners classes, you are also very welcome to attend if you have trained elsewhere and are looking to develop further. These classes cover advanced clicker training and shaping, heelwork to music, rally-obedience, good citizen awards material and tricks – anything that’s good fun to learn with your dog really!

Confidence Course

This weekly course offers you the chance to work with your fearful, anxious, reactive or easily distracted dog in a controlled environment while learning to use TTouch and Massage Therapy alongside motivational training methods. Course topics include: creating focus and attention in easily distracted or worried dogs; dealing with sudden changes/noises/movement; relaxing in exciting environments; teaching games and coping skills; learning to read your dog’s body language accurately.


Morag Heirs 07786 864 700 Email: Morag@moondrop.co.uk

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

New course running in York: The Confidence Course

The Confidence Course:
Training, TTouch and Bodywork to create a calm focused canine

Morag Heirs, trainer and bodyworker
Janet Finlay, trainer (APDT) and TTouch practitioner 1

This weekly course offers you the chance to work with your dog in a controlled environment. We use motivational training methods incorporating toy, food and environmental rewards alongside reward marking/clickers. We will not use harsh or aversive techniques.

**Course runs from June 11th to July 16th - we are currently fully booked**

We welcome any dogs with some basic training who are able to be in a hall with other dogs and people. If you are not sure about taking part please contact Morag or Janet to arrange an assessment.

Course Topics:
Creating focus and attention in easily distracted or worried dogs
Dealing with sudden changes/noises/movement
Relaxing in exciting environments
Teaching games and coping skills
Learning to read your dog’s body language accurately

Much of the material in this course has been adapted from Leslie McDevitt’s “Control Unleashed” programme and we strongly recommend you purchase the book (see links).

What to Bring!

  • Flat collar and/or harness (no choke chains, prong collars or stop/pull harnesses that tighten under the armpits please)
  • A plain webbing or leather lead (no chain or flexi leads please)
  • Lots of very small (pinkie nail sized) tasty, smelly treats
  • Clicker if you have one
  • Favourite toys
  • Water bowl
  • Mat or a thin blanket
  • Muzzle or head collar if you normally use these tools
  • Fabric or metal crate if your dog is accustomed to this

Some pictures from our confidence building course

Thursday, 21 May 2009

CU class Week Six

(sorry I missed out on week 5 - its been hectic!)

Pics to come later - can't find my camera cable at the mo.

Tonight's goals were to increase Max's levels of relaxation while also increasing activity and movement. I suggested that Trish work through the Relaxation Protocol (Karen Overall) stages right from the beginning of class, and whenever he was getting too hyped up to return to their mat and keep going with the RP. This was on the basis that Max has been settling very well doing the RP on a mat at home. Based on the fantastic results tonight Trish & Max are going to take their RP practice 'on the road' to help him develop calm focus in lots of situations.

First stage: Max practiced RP on his mat nearby, Farah and Mirri worked on parallel game, using two cones for 'touch' and a mat as another target, gradually we increased the speed and excitements levels.

Stage Two: Max worked in the box (two touch targets, a mat and a 'go round' target) while Mirri carried on - no dog right beside Mirri or Max. Then introduced Finn. Max was a little distracted, but used the Give Me A Break game to allow him to sniff Finn calmly through the barrier, then everyone went back to working. Max was mostly off leash!!
Developed this by having Max and Mirri (dogs who have the most work to do) working either side of a barrier, off leash, doing various targeting tasks. FANTASTIC!

Stage Three: one dog recalling while other relaxes (with barrier), then both dogs recalling slowly at same time. Moved to walking head on and passing close by with no barrier - all dogs managed this beautifully!

Great session, everyone was clearly progressing nicely and I hope that by transferring the RP outside Max and Trish will be able to make a big jump forward. Planning a socialisation walk for this weekend to keep the vibe going.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Living with a fearful dog...the reality and the heartbreak

Today I went home for lunch as usual, time for a quick training session with my dogs. Farah had great fun doing some freeshaping but Finn just couldn't work with me. Standing and staring, panting a little, tail curled under and moving from place to place.


Because it's raining today. Yup, it's raining. Heavy showers so a little like pre-thunder rain which unsettles him (although he loves being outside in the rain) combined with some distant low-flying plane sounds which could be a little like thunder. Finn has been noise-sensitive since I adopted him, especially to rain and thunder storms. Some time in the first year he was with me, he linked storms/rain and planes together and nothing I have done has really gotten rid of that association. Collies learn so fast but that's not always an advantage!

Finn is better than he was originally - no longer does he have to pace obsessively, drool great streams of saliva or jump at every sound. But he's not comfortable with rain which makes going camping rather tricky. I can honestly say I would give almost anything to make his life easier and less scary. We use valerian extract to help balance his anxiety levels, and we have tried many many other options but for Finn, it seems to be such a deep rooted sensitivity that the best I can hope for is to ease his reactions.

My gut feeling is that irrespective of whatever happened to him before I adopted him, I think that Finn was born with an overactive nervous system - he's just wired a little more tightly than many other dogs which combined with the natural collie sensitivity makes it hard for Finn to cope with our human world.

So today we just hung out together, did a little massage and TTouch, gave him some homeopathic spray and sat quietly. At least he seems to take comfort from my presence now instead of being oblivious to anything apart from his fear.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Thoughts on training methods/philosophies

I'm sort of starting this thread because I've been thinking a lot about it recently. From ending up in a discussion about choke chains with a woman who attended a clicker training workshop (she thought 'check chains' were really good if you knew how to use them properly) and then following up comments/discussions online about using e-collars and the like, I feel like my brain is going round in circles.

Some of the issues I find swimming around in my head:

  1. there are several straight forward laws of learning, which describe how pretty much anything with a nervous system and brain makes associations, learns to perform or not perform behaviours, and connects consequences or emotions i.e. classical and operant conditioning which give us precise terms such as positive/negative/reinforcer/punisher
  2. there are some behaviours that certain people consider to be 'pack' related or 'dominance' related and therefore are not about training or lack of, but should be prevented from occurring, or gotten rid of via aversives
  3. its difficult to choose between training methods based purely on the apparent outcome of training as we have no insight into the dog's mental state (assuming you believe such an insight would be useful or relevant)
  4. 'calming signals' as a term has become more and more accepted, but even for these behaviours there are multiple possible explanations for them, we are making assumptions about internal states based on our observations.
  5. some people have moral positions on whether it is appropriate to use aversives when teaching; for children, dogs, any other adult too! This seems to lead to very emotional discussions, and of course exactly what defines an aversive may well vary between person/dog/etc
  6. and sometimes we might have philosophical principles which guide how we interact with the world and people/animals
  7. almost any tool can be used as an aversive in training, but some are inherently designed to do so.
  8. Humans often get very caught up in and emotional about their training relationships, taking things very personally which increases stress levels - possibly leading to punishment in the normal sense of the word, seeing it as confrontational?

Like I said I've been reading and watching clips about folks that train with 'remote collars' - and mostly I'm left just not understanding why these methods would be a first, second or even a last choice? They claim, and appear to show that in some cases the stimulation level is very low, more of a vibration than anything. So presumably its acting as an interruptor? Fair enough, but still not convinced its needed! But once these things move onto higher levels....why train with pain?

I have used
  • flat collar
  • limited slip collar (not too tight though)
  • various harnesses
  • headcollars, various
  • vibe collar - well we're trying it anyway for my deaf dog

While the headcollars were useful when Finn was really reactive in terms of being able to hold onto him, and we did loads of work to get him happy wearing it, I don't particularly like using them. Essentially except when they are used as backup control for a very strong dog, they work IMHO by being aversive. i.e. dog pulls, headcollar tightens and pressure on face is uncomfortable, dog stops pulling, pressure releases and all is good??

I don't think I ever 'make' my dogs do anything. I only ask them to do things that they are capable of, and when I know I have successfully helped them understand the cue. If Finn didn't happen to recall straight away in a new park, I would assume that I have not yet taught a strong enough recall in the position of very exciting distractions. By thinking of that as 'disobediance' or 'stubborness' I'd be setting up a confrontational situation and presuming that Finn had made some kind of a choice?

Do I use 'no'?? Yes, actually I do, but I'm careful to make sure that 'no' means "don't do that, or even think about it, look at me to see what to do instead".

I guess I have underlying principles about trying not to use force/coercion on anything or anyone, about being non-confrontational, trying to communicate clearly and compassionately, building relationships and co-operation, being willing to listen to the other side.....so I find it hard to understand where someone is coming from when they think it is appropriate to use choke chains, prong collars, leash pops, e-collars, harsh voices, physical intervention/violence. But does that mean its wrong for them to be using methods that fit with their principles and philosophy???

I am very aware that I'm posting this on a motivational, rewards-based type forum :laugh: but its helpful for me to type it all out! And no I'm not planning to 'convert' to any of the more aversive methods, but teaching beginners classes is forcing me to think very hard about all this!!

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Car work part one

(note to self: also need to blog about Finn and Farah's amazing achievements this morning and at training class!)

We started the car work today with Finn, just a short 10 minute session.
  • Finn sitting on folded down seats in back of car - means I can reach to treat him
  • click and wads of food for just being calm
  • clicks and wads of food for choosing to lie down nicely, no panting
  • nose touch and paw touch for click + treat
  • engine on/off = click + treat
  • engine on, change gears, move handbrake etc - click + treat for staying calm at all stages [all going really well and clearly shows the previous work we did has 'stuck']
  • throw handful of food, click and move car forwards slightly, stop car before finish eating
  • repeat
  • repeat but reversing car (two reasons, not much space on my street and we need to work on reverse as well!)
  • stop car properly, click + treat for calmness
  • end session

Will see how it goes but may repeat this evening using his dinner kibble.

Monday, 11 May 2009

Our amazing weekend - clicker training fun day

Back at work after a fab day out at the Fun Clicker Training Day yesterday.

I am the proudest dog mom in the world right now, Farah was perfect, utterly attentive, super keen depsite having to work off lead in front of an audience (has been a problem lately) and Paddy said she thought we could crack the formal retrieve in just a few sessions. In the afternoon she learned to nose a football toward me, and then to put front paws on a skateboard and move it!!!

Finn officially achieved my most important goals for him. It may have taken five years but its been worth every single heartache, shed tear and difficult moment. This may not sound much to anyone with more normal dogs....but he walked into the hall on a loose leash and could turn back for a treat. We walked calmly past four strange dogs and he went straight into his crate. He coped with other dogs running about, even with someone playing tuggy and being excited. He worked off lead for me in front of everyone, and then in the afternoon was able to learn exciting things and play tuggy/ball even though another dog was fairly close to him.
Even more amazing - he was working for a friend of mine in the afternoon and he was totally chilled.

Which gives me even more hope that we will crack our remaining challenges: car travel and children+footballs :)

Thursday, 7 May 2009

CU Class Week Four

Our goals for this evening were to introduce Mirri (reactive lurcher) to the parallel games, work on group relaxation and find a way to help Max with being less distracted around dogs and other excitements. Both Mirri and Finn find it difficult to cope when other dogs are being excited, moving quickly etc and typically would bark/lunge in varying degrees of intensity. We are hoping to use the parallel games to gradually expose both dogs to increasing levels of stimuli in a controlled manner. Max on the other hand just finds movement of dogs/people really exciting and goes over threshold pretty easily - for him its less about fear/anxiety but produces very similar reactions.

[Pictures to be added later]

We started off with a modified version of the CU Campfire exercise: doing passive relaxation on mats in a circle/close by one another. Our version started in our respective corners, then moving one at a time closer to one another, always separated by the ring gates. Within about 5 minutes we were all within 6 feet of each other *big clicks*

Moving onto parallel games we alternated between dogs to build up the criteria. Initially one dog stays stationary and plays Look-At-That while the other works on heelwork and attention, swop over, then both moving calmly. Any other dogs are relaxing and watching from the sidelines. Main achievement was having both Max and Mirri doing short recalls simultaneously!!

Last week we briefly tried a variation on the Give-Me-A-Break game where Max would play Look with Finn, then be released to go play. When any sign of reorienting to handler lots of rewards etc. It didn't work basically because a real dog was just too much....so this week we tried using 'stuffies' - life size stuffed dogs. This is an idea borrowed from TTouch, because for some reason dogs always seem to respond as though they are real, initially at least. For Max we started with me as the object of interest, he played great Look games and when released only jumped a little, and did reorient. After 4-5 repetitions he was switching back to Trish so fast!!! Repeated the same process with the stuffies, while Mirri watched from a safe distance.

We did the same thing for Mirri with the stuffies, and then introduced a real dog (my deafie Farah). The interesting thing was Mirri was clearly thinking the whole time, and was much happier staying by Janet. When she did approach Farah it was lovely and calm. Another big success!

Next week I hope to do more movement work, and plan to have two dogs relaxing on mats while another heels around them - will see if we need barriers or not!

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Introducing Farah: Training and shaping with a deaf collie

Meet Farah - my very special little girlie! She is about 3 and a half years old and came to me via Wiccaweys Border Collie and Working Sheepdog Rescue. Farah was originally handed into a pound by her family (her collar tag read "My name is Farah and I am a good dog, but very hard of hearing") and unfortunately was due to be put to sleep (PTS) at just 4 months of age. Thankfully a small Irish rescue stepped in, and she found her way to the UK and Wiccaweys. Just 2 months later she came to live with me and life has never been quite the same.

Farah is, as far as we can tell, completely deaf. I haven't pursued BAER testing because she seems so profoundly deaf that its unlikely she can hear much at all. She knew 'thumbs up' as a good girl sign when she came to me but nothing else. Despite being so young, Farah was very worried by feet and just lifting your foot to put on a sock caused her to run out of the room in fear. Thankfully we are mostly past this stage and I'll tell you more about that in another post!

We train using reinforcement methods and as far as possible I have tried to use clicker training and similar principles. We have a special sign for a 'click' and also use a small led keyring as a 'flicker' marker. (will try to post videos of our signs at some point) We found the DDEAF website incredibly helpful, but were surprised by some deaf dog owners/trainers who felt clicker didn't work. It became a personal challenge to build Farah's confidence to the point where she could offer behaviours including anything where she wasn't watching me directly. One of the bonuses with having a deaf dog is you are forced to be entirely hands off otherwise she can't see your signs!!

I'll post more about our training style and signs soon, but for now I just wanted to introduce my lovely little girlie and tell you about our latest project! Having mastered the bow - if I bow at her she offers a bow back, we're now attempting to teach 'cross paws'. Using an idea from Kay Lawrence, I have adapted my target sticks. I have one with a ball on the end = nose touches only, and another with a large bulldog clip = paw touches only. We introduced the paw touch target tonight.....first hurdle was that she offers multiple superfast behaviours i.e. nose bump, paw touch, bow, nose bump and it took a couple of attempts for me to get my timing right - also dependent on her seeing the sign or torch light of course! She is now targeting with her paw from a stand/sit or down so we're pretty happy with that. Next step will be to selectively reinforce just one paw - probably the left since she seems to be a left pawed dog!

Lots more updates to come soon!

Saturday, 2 May 2009

Control Unleashed Class Night Three

We were a little smaller for this session since Janet (TTouch trainer) and Mirri couldn't make it. However that did mean we could try out some more demanding exercises because Max is pretty familiar with both of my dogs.

We revised look at that and the 'leave' game - Max is happily ignoring several treats even when thrown past his face so we're starting to add in the verbal cue now. Farah is pretty good and Finn is getting there - moral is that I need to practice more!!

We spent much of the night doing variations on parallel games - hopefully there are a couple of pics showing the set-up we used: basically we set up the trellis' to divide up our hall longwise.

Activities we played with

  • relax on mat - one dog either side of gates, getting progressively closer, playing Look At That each time the other dog moved

  • one dog relaxes on mat, other dog works on stationary active attention (tricks/targetting etc)

  • Both dogs work on relatively stationary cues

  • one dog on mat, other dog heeling

  • one dog active attention on the spot, other dog heeling

  • both dogs heeling

  • moving towards barrier simultaneously

  • one dog relaxes and watches while other recalls slowly, then faster: swop tasks

We mixed up short bursts of these activities with the other CU games, plenty of breaks for dogs and handlers etc.

Max coped incredibly well and is doing well learning his on/off switch at long last. Farah was a little star as always, totally unfased by anything anyone might be doing and just so keen to work its like she has lasers instead of eyes. Working a lot on send-to-mat activities with her just now.

Finn was superb, chilled out in his crate when he wasn't needed even though Max was running around (a major trigger) and watching calmly while Max recalled when Finn was on his mat. *super proud mum moment*

Next week I hope to increase the parallel games to two dogs running simultaneously and help Max do more off leash work too. Will be interesting bringing Mirri back in, but this is definitely the work she seems to need so fingers crossed.

Thursday, 30 April 2009

Dogs Stolen - Please Read


Angela Briggs van was stolen with her two dogs; Chester and Drift inside - this is from Angela:

It happened outside Bierley Community Centre, Bierley, Bradford at 10.20pm Tuesday 28th,

I have been up all night searching for them, I or the police haven't a clue where the van is or where my boys are, I am absolutely destraught as I write this - its now 03.56am Wed 29th. As soon as its light I am off looking again, goodness knows where but I have to find them, I have alerted police, dog lost so far,when light I will ring dog wardens, RSPCA etc etc. Printing posters as I type this. It must have been a planned thing as as soon as I got out of the van with a view to going and locking the gates after taking our heelwork to music classes, he jumped in it happened so quick but yet in slow motion I was/ am in absolute shock, Karen who was thankfully with me at the time managed to get a glimse of him but he had a white mask on thats why I think it was planned, probably just after the van but my boys were inside.Van is White Vauxhall Vivaro Reg letter "PAW" ... As yet there is no word of either the van or, more importantly, the dogs. Drift is a short coated red and white Collie, Chester is an old dog, black with lots of grey hairs on the muzzle and chest. If you live in the area please keep your eyes open for the two of them, obviously don't know if they are still with the van or have been dumped out of it somewhere.
Angela has been in contact with all local rescue agencies, vets, radio etc but as yet nothing
Oh god what has happened to them........



Car fears part 2

So how often does Finn need to travel and how necessary is it...
  • to see our specialist vet in Leeds (about 45mins each way) usually every 6 weeks for acupuncture and homeopathy follow-ups but can be less often
  • once a week or less to go with our dogwalker when I am out of town at meetings etc
  • Monday evenings 15mins trip to dog training classes
  • once or twice a week to go for longer walks
  • usually every other weekend for 1-2 hours to go hillwalking
  • rarely to go to the small kennels we use

When we initially worked on our DS and CC (desensitising and counter conditioning) I was able to not take him out in the car at all - we went to see our vet once and after that did most stuff over the phone where possible. From my learning I think that for CC and DC to be useful you really need to minimise any other exposure to the stimulus. Our challenge now is two-fold

1. no other close by person to assist (Janet has offered and is brilliant but lives in Leeds!)

2. unsure if I can actually eliminate car trips from our schedule for long enough that the DS and CC has a chance to work...

Thoughts on duration of a no-car-travel period would be really helpful :-)

Have also been re-reading some stuff on fear etc in dogs (and loving FearfulDogs.com ebook) which has sharply reminded me once again that Finn is not in any sense a 'normal' dog nor is it reasonable for me to expect that from him. Perhaps I have been pushing his boundaries because of selfish desires to do more walking/CaniX etc. Regardless, one of the main reasons for being able to travel in the car is for his enjoyment of walks when we do arrive - he is such a happy relaxed boy out in the countryside.

Another possible option which I will discuss with my vet tomorrow is going back onto the Valerian tincture which was so helpful in taking the edge off many of his other fears and phobias.

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

More fears and phobias (children and footballs)

Tonight's gentle walk turned out to be more of a training exercise than I planned, but thankfully I grabbed a treat bag and clicker before we headed out! As usual there was me + sensitive fearful Finn + deaf wannabe-traffic-herder Farah. Usually on these walks I can focus on Farah's training while Finn bimbles along taking in the smells. Tonight we ended up doing some good work instead! I've tried to condense a long story into a series of challenges that we faced and a bit about how we coped with them (this post has already vanished once!)

1. setting off to the post box, once on the slightly busier road Finn appeared not quite right (tail tight, ears tense and pulling a little on the leash) so we stoped, played some Give M A Break CU games and touch the post box :--). Worked very niely and on we went.

2. kids kicking a ball in the back garden of a house way across the street from us, definitely not that close. Finn starts to freeze up slightly. Stop and do TTouch zigzags, bring him in beside me and c+t (click + treat), walk on using Balance Leash (will post pics soon!) and c+t for any signs of reduced tension at all. Within a minute or so almost back to normal and focusing nicely.

3. kids in our normally quiet fields up by the horses. Finn seems okay but I notice he's not running around like a happy collie, lots of displacement sniffing I think. Move on through the fields, at a safe distance do a minute of cued relaxation and massage.

4. near the exit of our walk there are three kids playing football. After little moving around we get a comfortable distance - about the length of a football pitch! We play Look at That, then release to go sniff. Try for some passive relaxation but its too much. Feel good that we coped, but grumpy that we can't walk where we wanted to!

5. on our way to the alternative exit past some gardens that back onto the fields, there are some little kids playing in one garden. Out of sight but definitely in hearing!! Hmmm, some zigzags, some simple attention behaviours and then *woo hoo* we find a stick! The one thing I forgot to pick up was a toy, so we make the most of the stick and play games as we pass by the gardens (still a good 20feet away from them though). This is great - although Finn is stressed he is able to play with me, not too hard mouth/eyes and no running ahead to escape.

After all of that we just need to get home - thankfully no more challenges on the way, but we do stop to do some quality sniffing and play touch the tree trunk on our way :-)

Hopefully I will be able to sort out the cd of sounds on Friday and then we can begin the counter-conditioning/desensitisation process in earnest.

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Re-evaluating car fears in a fearful dog

My older collie Finn came to me with a lot of baggage, fears and outright phobias which in some cases we have had to use medication to cope with. To put it into perspective at one point he had become so fearful of overhead planes that I had to seriously consider having him put to sleep as his quality of life was so appalling. Thankfully we have largely moved on from that dark place, although he remains over-sensitive to most noises.

One of our ongoing challenges is travel in the car. For various reasons, partly a small almost accident (4.5yrs ago) and mostly Finn's amazing ability to link fears and escalate them, Finn has struggled with car travel for much of the time he's been with me. His reactions are relatively unpredictable but he is most likely to react on a narrow, twisty road especially if the surface is bad or rough - however he has been known to have problems on straight but rough roads and its difficult to tell from a map or SatNav what the surfaces are like!

When I say reaction, I mean that he starts to pant, sits up in the boot (fully enclosed) and starts to look distressed, pressing against the side of the car (perhaps for reassurance? he does a lot of compression seeking when he is worried). Obviously as I am driving I don't always see this stage, nor is it always possible to stop the car. The full expression of his panic is frantic tearing at the bodywork of the car/dog guard etc. He is incredibly strong, and totally unable to hear anyone at this point. The dog guard is now bolted into the body of the car, and I have built a wooden protector as the back seats have been shredded resulting in cuts to his mouth etc :-( All of that took just 3 minutes in one episode.

We have been working with homeopathy, acupuncture and TTouch and initially this year I felt we were making some progress. Coping better in general and able to tolerate some more dodgy roads. Unfortunately as with all stressors, if other environmental stimuli upset him (low flying plane or child kicking a football) when we are away, then the return journey can become very difficult. He displays much of his anxiety in a physical way (low back, right side and right hip) which while the acupuncture relieves this, doesn't seem to stop it building back up again!

Re-evaluation as of this week:
I wanted to try and move Finn into the body of the car so I can observe him more clearly while driving, plus he seems worse if the car body is fully packed and he can't see me. After quite a lot of struggling with various sized crates I've had to opt for putting the back seats down, Finn in a harness and clipped on a medium length leash to the bolted down dog guard.

Yesterday was our test run - journey 1 to a local moor for our run together, short trip of less than 10 minutes each way. Journey 2 is the 15-20 min drive down a main road to our training class which Finn loves.

Thanks to all of the counter conditioning work we did two years ago Finn really loves jumping into the car, will do tricks in it etc and in fact is a chilled bunny until we start actually moving (as now I was working on my own with him and its hard training and driving at the same time!)
However once its clear we are going somewhere, a fine trembling starts up over his body, some panting, slightly unfocused eyes. Varies in ability to take food. Pressing body against the car. The trembling seems to stop within about 3-4 minutes and he is clearly less distressed on return journeys??
What I have learned: my inability to observe Finn previously led me to believe that he was in fact coping better than he really has been. Clearly he is distressed by travelling on any road and until I can help him cope better in easy situations its unfair to expect him to cope on a difficult road. I am working hard not to overblame myself for this, and am trying to focus on moving forward with Finn.

Next steps: make another appointment for acupuncture and homeopathy consultation in an attempt to reset his system. Discuss our options with the vet again.

Am also having a chat with a behaviourist up in Iverness, Scotland, later this week about another specialised CD of children/footballs etc for Finn and will mention the car travel issue then too.

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Control Unleashed style classes

I came across Leslie McDevitt's amazing book "Control Unleashed" (or CU) last year and, like reading Pam Dennison's books,its been a life changing experience for me and hopefully my dogs too. CU is both a programme, a set of training games and a philosophy all in one. It seems to draw its roots from non-confrontational training principles that build communication and trust between dog and handler. One of the aspects that most attracted me was the idea of using what your dog wants to do in a constructive manner - the Premack principle made very obvious!

As an experiment myself and another trainer (http://ttouchtrainer.wordpress.com/) are running a set of classes based on the CU book and DVD's, and the underlying philosophy. Basically its for our own dogs who are at various stages, and also to help a lady with a challenging rescued collie boy. We've run two sessions now, one of the interesting things has been realising quite how far my fearful/reactive collie Finn has come. While Max and Mirri are fairly excited and can be a bit barky and unfocused, Finn is now working as the calm dog distraction for them!!!

So - week one we covered passive attention (massage/TTouch/breathing) while on a mat, a little bit of on leash walking using ring-gates (photos to come!) to provide a safe enclosed space within the class, and 'whip-lash' turn behaviours and re-orienting. We also began to teach the 'look-at-that' game which is essentially a cued visual targeting game which encourages the dog to look at an exciting or worrying stimulus, and then back to the handler.

The lovely thing is with having just the three and now four dogs in the class, there's plenty of space for everyone and much less of a tense atmosphere. Even 10 month old hyper-collie Max was able to chill out on his mat for a few minutes and by the end of class looked positively relaxed.

Week Two: we revised Look At That and taught it to Mirri - all the dogs were clearly engaging in the game and offering quick glances at each other *yay*. Of course there was plenty of mat-work and passive attention, but we also managed more active work too using the ring-gates again. We worked on on and off leash walking, re-orienting, targeting hand from a distance and then onto targeting the mat as prep for a 'send to mat' exercise. **I just love how the CU games essentially turn life into a series of targeting games!** W also worked on teaching leave. Now all the dogs in class know some version of leave, but I figured it was worth trying it Leslie's way :-) Following clicker type principles we are working on the behaviour before adding in any cues. Stages are below as from the book and DVD (this assumes the dog knows some version of doggie zen)

  • place hard treat on floor under shoe, wait for dog to stop digging under foot and mark/reward any other behaviour esp eye contact

  • place treat beside foot - if dog moves towards treat then cover quickly! as above

  • drop treat near/beside foot from very low height, cover with foot if needed.....

We're aiming to get to the stage where you can throw a handful of food and the dog simply looks up at you - then we'll add in the cue!

Lots more I could say but will leave you for now.

Friday, 24 April 2009

Introducing Finn

Finn, short for Finnegan, who is now around 9 years old and was adopted from Bothwell SSPCA near Glasgow in 2004. Finn's history suggests he was owned by a gentleman with mental health and alcohol problems who repeatedly left him out to stray. The dog warden picked him up as a 'problem stray' and Finn ended up with the SSPCA for several months during which time he contracted very bad kennel cough and displayed clear signs of kennel stress.

Finn was the first dog I adopted and over the first couple of years we have worked through aggression and reactivity toward adults, children and other dogs. Finn has been severely noise sensitive and displayed various phobias (going out in the dark for example) which we have worked through. Finn is a true soul dog and has changed my life in so many ways
I have excerpts from a training diary I kept which I will try and post up later!

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Simple things that make our lives easier...

The dogs and I went on a fairly stiff walk on Sunday (Pen-y-Ghent in the Yorkshire Dales) as part of our training for tackling the Three Yorkshire Peaks at the end of May. My dogs always wear limited slip collars which prevent them backing out, and with no buckles that could accidentally pop/release or break. Very strong collars that carry all the necessary ID (I love these ones http://www.lupinepet.com/).

I walk with a rucksack plus waistbelt and a carabiner, the dogs wear their walking/running harnesses (http://www.ruffwear.com/Web-Master-Harness) and the leash clips to my waist keeping my hands free. The other beauty of this system is that even if they did escape the harnesses (very unlikely!) they still have collars on.

While resting on a handy patch of grass near the car park a gorgeous young dog came by (a Northern Inuit I think) on a harness much like mine, flexi leash and with two runners. The dog was interested in my two but everyone was very polite and they headed on to their car.
Next moment - the young husky-type comes bounding over and rather exuberantly says hello. Clearly the harness was removed to get dog into car and the smart dog took the opportunity to escape.... Cue a good ten minutes of chaos as the husky-type got more and more into the game of avoiding his handler, made much easier by the fact that the dog wasn't wearing a collar. The whole situation eventually ended when one of the runners rugby-tackled the dog. Not a great way to maintain your relationship and could have been so easily prevented....

You might have noticed that many dogs are actually not that keen on having their collars grabbed, especially if we don't give them much warning. We work round this in training class by teaching all the dogs that the cue word "collar" means we're touching the collar + a tasty treat is delivered. We work up to practicing grabbing the collar as you might need to in real life and making it all part of a really fun game. So if your pup or dog doesn't like being touched on the neck/collar and is telling you - why not reframe the whole experience for both of you and see it as a training opportunity!

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Hello world!

So this is my first time blogging per se, I use livejournal to keep up wih friends around the world but hopefully this blog will give me an outlet for all those thoughts and questions about the canine world.

The Well Connected Canine is going to be my new business venture, to be officially launched once I have completed the dreaded PhD (homeopathy for ADHD in children for anyone who might be interested) at the end of 2009.
I will then be continuing my training in dog training/behaviour and bodywork (TTouch, massage and acupressure) and offering my services part-time in the York area.

I'm also a homevisitor/checker for several rescue organisations which gives me the opportunity to meet lots of animal people and discuss the important aspects of taking on a new family member.

I'll post more soon about my own dogs, and then start getting into training sessions etc!