Ian Dunar fun and games seminar was packed. There were many dogs and people, at lest 35 dogs in a single area, literally side by side. The sessions were mentally demanding as part of two 8 hr days. The workshop was best geared for participants who’s dogs could cope with the acoustics (microphone sound checks and building echoes) plus high traffic of “beings” with un-crated dogs in close proximity.
I would not consider this a workshop on free play, or dog-to-owner play, but a build up of games that could be incorporated in training sessions as a group for structured interaction. At its core were a variety of tidbits that would enable owner/handlers to proof “sit, down, sit, stand and stays” so that weak areas could be ferreted out (measurable and observable behaviors) and critiqued (via a response reliability scale). By doing this one would know what criteria should be increased for more precise outcomes.
Dr. Dunbar had some great tips for those obedience trialing or trainers who are interested in bringing a little more zing to their programs to proof what they are teaching via game playing format.
Overall the information provided options to reasonably progress in training from A-Z a tad more efficiently through working on exercises with their dogs, without becoming hung up on behaviorist lingo. If you are contemplating competing or intend to compete soon in obedience, this is the place to be.
Several take away points, in a succession up of many many tips:
– Don’t let little problems become big ones. Deal with comfort zone issues, barking and whining now! Communicate verbally what you want (its ok to speak to the dog) and phase out too much food for too little criteria, because in the ring you will most likely not be able to feed, or feed immediately. Build duration gradually but thoughtfully…. which games help to accomplish. Ultimately you want to be able to obtain approximately seven commands for one reward in order to proof efficiently.
Mantra reiterated during workshop sessions:
– “Reward good behavior”, which is when the dog is pretty much being no problem at all.
– “Work off leash when possible” so you can to strengthen outcomes, but do so conscientiously and deliberately. Take it in baby steps with shorter distances first. Practice verbal and distance commands with your dog looking at you often. (Dunbar suggests check-ins every 75 feet…. I am more comfortable with shorter distances since our walks are limited to busy areas and roads close by). Slate out footage based on what space you have available to you to safely train. “Be practical in keeping your dog safe”.
– “Have an emergency command” that keeps your dog in a stationary position as a back up. Always have that proofed first before adding more commands, and go back to the safety emergency command, with an added hand signal to reinforce as part of your training line up.
– “Teach various tones for commands”.
– “Randomize sessions and tasks to avoid anticipation” which cause most dogs to break stays etc or fail when in competition. Look for signals that indicate when breaks will occur…..i.e. if your dog starts to lose attention it will break.
– “Use incompatible behaviors” to off set the naughty ones as part of redirection. (Reactive Champion mentions DRI and DRO in avoiding aggression, fifth paragraph from the top on her 6/23/13 blog. A great read that ties into the issue of reactivity, aggression and problem behaviors).
– Also Dr. Dunbar reminded us that “behaviors change by consequences (reinforcement) not antecedents” (i.e. triggers or cue). Therefore, turning your back on a problem and doing nothing (ex. pant-leg biting, hand biting in frustration, barking, jumping up, etc.) and “hoping the issue will extinguish is rubbish”. Look out for problem areas and work on them immediately as they occur. (if one cares to review the technical lingo: Antecedent -> Behavior -> Consequence refer to Krittercorner.)
Dr. Dunbar had a strict no barking rule for these sessions. Surprisingly after 20 minutes and some extra work by a few, there was silence in the room. He suggested teaching “shush” by putting it on cue. He specifically noted, “the first twenty minutes at any new location a dog will generally behave at its worst, after which things usually settle out”. Give a dog an opportunity to get acclimated. How you help your dog to achieve success is based on the way you handle acclimation, integration, and what you decide to reinforce rather than ignore. “Working a dog can be one of the best ways to ease anxiety” when out and about. Always work on getting and maintaining attention.
Remember “punishment only attempts to tell a dog what it has done wrong, and doesn’t tell what it’s done right”. Gain the behavior you want by rewarding what it is the dog does right. i.e. “Tell your dog what you want it to do; not what you don’t want it to do.” However, If praise means nothing to your dog, you must increase the value of praise via associating praise with good things. It is helpful to take the praise response and turn it into a reinforcer. For example, command -> praise ->and then give treat, followed by a release to go play. Keep in mind treat does not equal release.
It was a pretty intense weekend with lots to think about! One thing to take note of, but not touched upon, is the fact that human skill sets diminish and individuals fall back into poor unwanted old habits once they become exhausted and not on their game over the long haul of a day.
It’s pretty important to keep sessions short and sweet for both handler/trainer and dog. After all, when competing you usually are in the ring 4 minutes to 12 minutes at a time on average. It’s hard to put a big smiling face forward with some exuberance in working if you or your dog are exhausted mentally or physically. Proof your work as a team, but pace training into short spurts so you can put your best foot forward each time you work to help reduce sloppiness and retain attention.
What a super helpful seminar for the little things that add up to big things. I am sure all the dogs who participated slept for a week! All the dogs and handler teams awesome and it was so nice to see all elements progress as part of stronger teams.