Posts Tagged With: recall

On Failure

I fail. A lot. I fail while training my dogs every day in one way or another. My dogs fail, too. But the important part isn’t that we fail, the important part is how we handle it.

I taught my dogs through free shaping and games that failure is OK and nothing to worry about. If you do it wrong, you don’t get a reward, but we are still playing and you will probably get it right on the next try, so hurry up and try again!
Similarly, when my training plan fails this is nothing to worry about. It doesn’t mean I’m stupid, worthless, will never be able to train this, have a dog that cannot be trained or any other nonsense that the inner critic tries to feed me. We are still playing and my next plan will probably work better!

by mariathehedgehog335

by mariathehedgehog335

I set out to do a few Recallers games in a public place where we usually wouldn’t do them. I brought Ruby out of the car and started tugging, but I could feel his heart wasn’t in it and he even stopped to look around twice. Guess what, if the dog isn’t tugging happily in a certain place you cannot use the tug as a reward. OK, so we were left with food. He was more focused when working with that, but I still felt like I might lose him at any moment. He was on leash, so “loosing him” meant just loosing his attention, but attention, to me, is everything. Since I was fast, rewarded him often and also released often to environment, this didn’t happen, but if I were to lose intensity for a second he would be off to sniff the bushes in no time.

While this would look like a successful training to an onlooker, it was a failure to me, because we are way past the stage where I need to work for his attention (or so I thought). Failures happen and all good trainers are OK with that. They even use them to their advantage. Here are some types of failures:

1. Dog failing at the task. Perhaps failing multiple times. Perhaps not succeeding at all.
2. Reacting inappropriately to dog’s failure because of lack of training plan or lack of knowledge.
3. Inability to get dog excited about training.
4. Loosing dog to the environment (loosing focus & wandering off).

For me, the #3 – inability to get dog excited is the hardest failure to bear emotionally, followed really closely by #4 – loosing dog to environment. These used to be our biggest problems in training and while we don’t get them very often these days, they can still happen as evidenced by my experience with Ruby.

Dog training is an interesting activity. It teaches you so much about yourself, your character, your fears. It can expose your weaknesses like perfectionism, impatience, comparing yourself to others, comparing your dog to other dogs, focusing on the negative, difficulty in expressing joy and approval, worrying about what will others think, wanting to look good, anger, frustration. These were all mine if you were wondering… Some of them in the past, others I’m still struggling with. I probably forgot some, too.

I think it’s amazing that dog training is bringing all of these flaws to the surface in the context where I am motivated to work through them. Sure, it hurts when I bump against “comparing myself to others”, but by working through it I found self-love, appreciation for the journey that is mine alone, and also more love for others. What could be better than that?

I know you have your own struggles, some are with knowledge, others with mechanics and still others with internal critic like mine. You are not alone. Dog training is an unexpectedly emotional experience for most of us.

Look back at the struggles you have already overcome. Perhaps you spent months to teach your dog to play with toys. Perhaps your patience was tested by a puppy piranha. Perhaps you learned to control your frustration better. Perhaps you taught your dog “sit pretty” after 8 months of patient work. You did it!

Remember also that not everything was hard. Perhaps your puppy slept through the night from the time you brought him home. Or he loved food. Or he wasn’t afraid of traffic. Or learned Sit fast. Or you could take him with you for a coffee without much training at all. Every single thing that is easy for your dog is difficult for someone else’s dog and therefore not something that should be taken for granted. When I felt really hopeless and thought that Ruby will never be happy to work with me with other dogs present, I wrote a list of all the things that were great about him, including snuggling 🙂 It helped.

Um... we were supposed to be going in the same direction!

Um… we were supposed to be going in the same direction!

This problem in front of you is just like one of those you already solved. With a little creativity and perseverance it will become one of the problems of the past. If this post reminded you of the problem you have successfully overcome, go ahead and write it in the comments so we can celebrate together 🙂

PS: What do Silvia Trkman and Susan Garrett have in common? They see problems as puzzles, waiting to be solved. They replaced the feeling of frustration with curiosity and a game-on attitude. I came to believe that all great trainers do that – it’s what puts them in the right state of mind to find solutions.

Thanks Monika for Ruby’s agility photo! Those are some great memories 🙂

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Day 5: Recallers!

Sorry guys, I need to interrupt our regular programming with a little bit of advertising for Susan Garrett’s Recallers program, which is about to open in the next few days. I totally understand if you say you don’t need it because your dog’s recall is good enough or if you say it’s too expensive (because, let’s face it, it’s not that cheap). But at least sign up to see her free videos which she will most likely take down once the registration closes. At least that’s what she’s done in the previous years. You’ll need to enter your name and email address, but the information is worth it. (Note: I get absolutely nothing from Susan or anyone else for advertising Recallers, I just think it’s a great course.)

There is lots of fluff in those free videos, but Susan is one of world’s greatest dog trainers and in between the fluff and marketing you will find golden nuggets – completely free of charge. In particular I encourage you to watch the 2nd video (It’s Your Choice game) and play it, even if just for fun, with your furry friends. It’s amazing to see their little brains figure out how to get the cookies.

Although Recallers is comprised of more than 30 “games”, It’s Your Choice is at the heart of most of them. We are basically setting up a million situations in which dog can either choose us (and get an awesome reward) or choose environment (and end up not being able to enjoy it anyway). We set up situations so that the dog cannot possibly self-reward if he chooses incorrectly. Imagine it like this: with every game we’re strengthening the brain pathway that leads to dog choosing us over environment and after a while the dominant pathway (which chooses environment over us) starts to atrophy. We end up with a dog who now has a much easier time choosing us over environment, because the “good” pathway is now stronger than the “bad” one.

Even though I love Recallers and it’s quite possible that it saved Ruby’s life when he started chasing a cat in the city center, I will be the first to admit that it’s not suitable for all people. To get the most out of it you need to know how to motivate your dog or your dog must be one of those who goes crazy for food or toys. Lots of owners don’t even know their dog is crazy about food or toys simply because they haven’t tried hard enough and for those Recallers will work brilliantly. But if you have tried everything and your dog is still meh, then it won’t work so well. You can still sign up and you will get value from it, but I advise you to pay close attention to your dogs emotions. It’s easy to become too focused on ‘self-control’ aspect of exercises. But it’s über important to see excitement even when we’re playing games of control. Fail to get excitement and Recallers won’t work.

Last but not least, if you plan to do Recallers, start working on Crate Games today. I am not a Crate Games addict and I should really remember to play them more often than once per year, but when you’re teaching the dog about real-life choices between work and distractions it doesn’t get much better than using CG (well there is one other trick I like to employ, but Crate Games are more fail-proof). When Java was a few months old and went absolutely bonkers when Ruby was chasing a ball and NO TREATS could get her to pay attention to me I used Crate Games to get her to offer waiting with crate door open and feeding her those same treats that she wouldn’t take before. I can’t believe I didn’t get my camera out to video that session. The difference in her behavior was spectacular. She has been doing Crate Games from 10 weeks old so she was used to making good choices in that context. That’s how I was able to throw her #1 distraction at her and she still did her job. With time this translated into making good choices outside of the crate. It’s all about strengthening the right pathways.

Borrow the DVD from a friend, or go over to Susan’s store and get a discounted DVD by entering 5MINUTESCRATE. The Crate Games are described in the course so you don’t HAVE to buy a DVD, but trust me you want to start working on those right away. Get an overnight delivery – do what you must. This really should be listed as a prerequisite before you enroll for Recallers as it can take a while to build sufficient value for Crate Games before they will be useful for training with distractions, which is where their real power to atrophy the environment-choosing brain pathways lies.

I will admit I don’t appreciate Susan’s marketing strategy. I also don’t appreciate not being told that Crate Games will be used before I enrolled in the course. But the information is excellent and Susan gives detailed explanation, troubleshooting and reasoning on which her decisions were based. Call me silly, but I’m willing to overlook questionable marketing tactics to get to the good stuff.

Did I get a perfect dog after Recallers? Are you kidding me??? I love Ruby to bits, but he is still a pretty naughty boy 🙂 If I don’t regularly set up situations to keep reinforcing good choices, the environment pathway can become too strong, but when we do train he will recall from anything, at any time. He will never be an easy dog, but now I know how to make my life easier IF I am willing to pay the price of thinking and training.

Just go and watch those free videos, OK? 🙂

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Become The Life Of A Party In Three Easy Steps

In my previous post Confessions Of A Party Pooper I explained how my dog’s behavior on walks deteriorated because I wasn’t using rewards effectively and have become less fun than environment. Now it’s time to make a plan for improvement.

I have a very analytical mind and this post contains my thinking about a problem so continue reading at your own peril. But first here’s another photo taken by my wonderful sis 🙂

(c) Stisnprtisn!

(c) Stisnprtisn!

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Confessions Of A Party Pooper

For some time now I knew I had to do something about it, it couldn’t go on like this anymore. But I was lazy. I was afraid that it will take a lot of work. I was afraid that I have fallen out of favor and could never get the old times back. I was afraid that what I would try wouldn’t work and I would be disappointed. Yes, it was mostly Fear. I don’t actually believe that Laziness exists, but let’s leave that for another conversation.

Environment holds many rewards

Environment holds many rewards


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Teaching A Brilliant Recall

EDITED: Click here to go to my most recent review of Recallers

Some people say that they would never trust their whippets off leash in unfenced areas. Some do, and trust that their hounds will come back when they’re ready to go home, and indeed many people get by just fine with this plan. They also let their whippet chase prey animals because hey, what can you do, right? They were bred to hunt small, fast moving prey.

And then there are others who are committed to getting a great recall on their dogs, sighthounds or not. You probably guessed where I stand on this 🙂 Great recall was my plan from the very first day Ruby came into my life and we worked on it diligently. So by the time he was one year old he was recalling away from all sorts of distractions, right? Wrong.

It wasn’t until we joined Susan Garret’s Recallers course that Ruby got motivated enough to come under all circumstances, including while chasing birds, cats and bunnies. The amazing thing about it is that he already knew most of the 30+ games that comprise Recallers, so he didn’t really learn a lot of new things. We just had to get a little bit better at each game and together they worked like magic.

That was in 2010. In 2011 Susan repeated Recallers and gave a free pass to everyone who created a video of their experience of “Recallers 2” in 2010. I created a video which you can see in the post How I Fell In Love With Agility – Bonus Chapter. Not only did it get me into Recallers 3 for free, but the video was among 5 winners who got a ton of prizes. You can see the winning videos from 2011 and the prizes here.

Today the voting started again. This is my video:

It got among first 15 videos, 5 of which you can watch today on Susan’s blog. The rest will be posted tomorrow and the day after.

Take a look, vote for your favorites, and if you’re looking for a way to improve your dog’s recall, get into Recallers 4 when it opens. We had a lot of fun the last two times and we’re taking it again. I just get much more committed to playing the games every day if I do it as a part of a group.

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