Saturday, May 1, 2010

A Day in The Life a Dog Trainer

Today was a beautiful WI spring day. The sun was out, there was a breeze and the temperature was in the low 70's. The perfect day to work with dogs!

I had 3 appointments, 2 behavior sessions and one new puppy appointment.

Behavior session one was a GSD, Troy, who was adopted. Very little is known about his history as he was a stray at a rescue in Missouri that made his way to Central WI. He is thought to be about 2 years old and that is what is known. One of the issues that has crept up and then reared it's ugly head is BIKES...motorized and not. We have made an attempt at counter-conditioning, but he goes over threshold immediately upon seeing one, so trying to get him to take any treats is out of the question. We are trying to use the CAT method (Constructional Aggression Treatment). Basically we want him to learn his barking, lunging and carrying on is of no value to him, and to get him to have a different emotional response to them. Ideally we would be giving him a treat (and possibly click) in the presence of bikes, but while he is still sub-threshold. This is not at the moment an option since he is too fast to go over threshold.
Session one lasted approximately 45 minutes with a few breaks due to being outside, and the need for water and to cool down-for both Troy and the bike riders.
We have started out with one bike, and Troy and handler about 60 feet away. The instant he saw the bike he was barking, lunging, circling on his leash. The bike rider kept riding in a circle so he was heading toward, then perpendicular to Troy, who kept up his behavior. When Troy was less intense the bike would at first totally go away (so Troy could not see him). After 15-20 seconds of quiet calm and no bike, the bike would reappear at the same distance, continuing to move until Troy was less intense. This actually happened much quicker than we thought and after about 20 minutes we stopped making the bike go away, but rather had it stop moving. The lack of movement seemed to keep Troy quiet and calm.
Each new session of movement from the bike, Troy was less and less reactive so we began moving them closer together. By the 45 minute mark the bike was about 20 feet from Troy going totally perpendicular to him.
Our major "problem" was Troy caught on to the cue for the bike to move and he would begin to bark or pace BEFORE the bike moved, so we had to switch to some hand signaling. (Smart little stinker)
In the last 10 or so minutes we began to offer Troy a treat if he came to his owner, but did not make any attempts to get it to him. Basically we wanted to check in on his emotional state and to our surprise he was happy to take the treat with the bike so close.
For session one this was a huge improvement. At the end he finally just laid down in the grass and watched the bike go by so we ended the session.
Tomorrow we will start and see if we can go back to the counter-conditioning first, and see what happens from there. All in all we feel good about our day.

Session two was with a cute little lab who has been having some very reactive moments with other dogs. He has had some very negative dog-dog interactions in the past, so we need to help him have a better emotional reaction to other dogs.

I had the owners go outside and use one of their other 2 dogs, so Gus could have a lot of success with what we were doing and his owners could learn the technique without being forced to do so around strange dogs. At one point the neighbor dogs were out and all was fine.

The other end of the issue is a dog that cannot walk on lead without pulling. So we set out with a clicker, treats and a bait bag-normal buckle collar and 6' nylon leash. I had the other owner go the end of the block with the other dog and had them walk toward one another. As soon as our little lab friend began to move out toward the end of the lead, I had her turn around and click as his head turned toward her and treat him. He very quickly got the game of "See the other dog, turn my head towards mom, get a treat!" What a great game and they were off walking up and down the sidewalk with lab at mom's side, paying attention. So to up the ante we switched to the other family dog (with whom the lab has had a few altercations-most often started by the other dog) and had them switch ends of the block. Now both owners were armed with a clicker, bait bag and treats and off they went! They were totally surprised at how well the dogs did overall, but especially at how they were able to walk without any training collars and no pulling!

We then addressed the dog-dog issues in the house and set up a game plan. I showed them how to give each a dog a treat upon hearing their name and they were able to get all three dogs sitting to take a treat on their turn and to get their more assertive dog to stop shoving the others out of the way and to wait for her turn. With a few other management tricks they should see a much more peaceful home shortly.
Again another happy successful session.

Our new puppy session was with a 14 week old Golden/Mini Poodle cross. We set up some training tips and management ideas to work with and the cute little guy should be a dream puppy in no time, especially with his owners desire to have a great start on their path together.

My dogs sadly got no time to work today, but tomorrow is another day!
I am glad to have a career I love!