Back in the 80’s Where It All Began!

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Seeing The Boss last night appearing for the Hurricane Sandy victims made me think back to the 80’s. (For those that aren’t as old as I am, The Boss is Bruce Springsteen!)
And one of my earlier newspaper appearances. It was around 1985, in Pretoria, South Africa, while I was the Head Trainer for a school called Canine Institute. What is interesting is some of the statements I made back then.

So I thought we would compare my statements in 1985 versus now in 2012, 27 years later.

1985 – “…owners had to learn to understand their dogs because most problems with dogs were caused by a lack of understanding on the owners part”

2012 – Mmm. Not much as changed! We still spend most of our training time teaching owners to understand their dogs behaviors.

1985 – “…dogs trained for protection had to have previous obedience training…”

2012 – No change there either. We still teach personal protection dogs obedience training, and even law enforcement and military working dogs are coming to that conclusion.

1985 – “…any dog could be trained, even very passive dogs as well as aggressive ones…”

2012 – That is not always true. In those days we could take higher risks, whereas today we have to consider liability and safety issues. However, we still train almost every dog that comes to us.

1985 – “Mr. Oosthuisen trains all the dogs in three to four weeks…the clients are given a lesson…the owner attends classes for eight weeks…”

2012 – We still train dogs for three to four weeks, but now I have a staff of highly trained instructors to help. And of course, as it was in 1985, follow-up training is still critically important.

1985 – “Dogs can be trained in any language”

2012 – We continue to train in many languages, and have dogs working in English, Dutch, French, German and Czech. We even have a dog trained in sign-language!

So while many of the training techniques are different; and we use far more motivational training systems, the basics are the same.

Of course, my hair has changed a little! And I have added a few pounds, but in 2013…..

For the record, I started training in 1973, almost forty years ago, with Bill Diamond in Johannesburg, South Africa. The German Shepherd is Bodger, who belonged to Aileen Rolfe. Aileen was one of the most wonderful clients and was the first to sponsor me in obedience and agility trials. Bodger also appeared in numerous movies, including Howling IV, until his death in 1990 (I believe).  – Thank you to Robin for sending me this picture.

Then, and now, I still consider it an honor to working with dogs and people!

What did You Not Understand About …..?

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Have you ever been to the doctor, and not taken the meds they prescribe?
Have you been told to slow down, but yet you still drive fast!

I have days when I tell students: “Don’t do this; do that”.

And then I watch them do exactly the opposite.

Let me give you an example. Ms. Smith (yes, you guessed it, not her real name) comes to me and says her dog potty’s in her house.

I suggest she crates the dog, until she is able to take it outside to go potty, and then either crates the dog again; or keeps it on leash.

Two days later I get an email – “my dog peed in the house when I was out”

So what part of “Crate your Dog Did You Not Understand”?

Let me be clear; I love my students; almost as much as I love their dogs!
(Shhhh, don’t tell them I love the dog more)

So I don’t mean this disrespectfully, but:

If you hire me to train your dog – well, actually train you; then why don’t you listen to what I say.

As a professional trainer my job is to teach, and I love teaching. So in effect, you are great job security! But if you want results, then listen to what you are being taught to do.

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As a side note; if you have ever been to my classes, you will find I spend quite a bit of time explaining why you need to do something, as opposed to just telling you to do something.My philosophy is that if I can teach you to UNDERSTAND, the likelihood of you following my direction is higher.

THE AKC advice for Observing the Trainer

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Dr. Mary Burch of the American Kennel Club (AKC) offers some advice on selecting a trainer and school by observing a class in action.

Seeing a class in action is a true testimonial!

I completely agree! So much so that for years we have encouraged people to come visit the school and take a tour. Check out the training, and see the dogs.

I would love to respond to the points raised by Dr. Burch.

Observe the instructor’s skill level in teaching humans

Instructors need to be experts in teaching people, not just dogs. Handler training makes up about 80% of the team.

Observe the instructor’s knowledge of dogs.

Partners staff undergo extensive training in general dog knowledge, sports dogs, animal husbandry and behavior modification.

Observe the instructor’s communication style with students—pleasant, reinforcing vs. bossy and sarcastic.

Our training staff are specifically selected and educated in teaching people in a pleasant, non-confrontational and positive manner. Sarcasm has no place in our school.

Observe the Organization of the class. How long on each topic, how many students/dogs?

Our classes are generally 8 to 10 dogs, with two (or more) instructors to a class. Some classes have a ratio of two dogs to a trainer.

Observe the Curriculum—does it teach all you want to learn?

Our curriculums are specifically tailored to the level of class, as well as to ensure all topics are addressed. While we do not pre-publish our class curriculums, you are welcome to discuss them with our staff prior to signing up for class.

Do the dogs look happy, eager to work vs. bored or nervous?

We focus lots of attention on training the dogs to be happy, excited and passionate about class.

Do the human students look happy, eager to work, or frustrated?

Come see for yourself!  Few people ever think our classes are slow.

Is the instruction presented and sequenced so that students and dogs are having success?

Our classes are carefully structured by our Training Director to build on a foundation in baby steps.

Teaching methods—for example, do you spend all the time listening to the instructor talk?

Clearly we love to teach; and some of that involves talking. But we also focus on theory, explanations and practical application of the drills. Instructors will explain, then demonstrate each step. Then the students are encouraged to do the same, and supported if they struggle.

Observe the instructor’s ability to handle any behavior problems or student questions.

Instructors are trained to answer questions and maintain safety. They can also call in an assistant or senior instructor if needed. With 30 years of training behind us, there is not a lot we haven’t covered.

The AKC further suggests: “Observe the instructor’s teaching before signing up for a class. Don’t make the decision about which class you and your puppy or dog will attend based on factors such as the class being the closest one to your home, the cost, or the day of the week the class is held. The instructor you choose will be providing your dog’s basic training and the foundation for all other training that follows. Interviewing the instructor and observing a class before enrolling will ensure that both you and your dog get the training that best meets your needs.”

I could not have said it better myself!

We offer classes most weekday evenings, and on Saturday mornings.

Click here to see the Class Calendar

Click here to see a list of Upcoming Classes

Look at Me

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Every parent has said this a few times!

“Look At Me!”

It is one of the most common phrases we use when trying to get someones’ attention.

For some, it even brings up emotional reactions. Like those when your mother would call you by your full name.

But the truth is, it is simply a way of getting the other person to pay attention to what you are saying. And this is the point of this blog.

If I call my dog, and he (or she) ignores me, this is disrespectful. And without respect, it’s very difficult to establish boundaries.

Last night I was teaching a puppy class, and working with a young handler Crystal. Crystal had a small breed, and was trying to get her dog, Pluto, to listen to her. Except  Pluto was more concerned about the other dogs, people, smells, kids, shopping bags, etc. You guessed it, anything except Mom.

Part of the problem here is that the dog is also insecure, and becomes defensive whenever anyone is close by.

So the situation develops like this:

Dog looks around. Mom stresses out.
Dog sees “danger”. Mom stresses more.
Dog becomes defensive. Mom stresses more.
Dog growls at “threat”. Mom tries to calm dog.
Dog tries to pull away from mom. Mom stresses more.
Dog runs behind mom. Mom cannot see dog.
Dog growls at “threat” again.
Mom leaves with dog.

This is not a good thing. Lets look at the issue:

  • First, mom is stressed beyond breaking point. (Have you ever felt that with your dog?)
  • Second, dog thinks everyone is out to get him.

Can we blame mom? After all, she is trying to control her dog. Or is this the dogs fault?

Actually the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Mom needs help, and Pluto needs to trust Mom.

I believe that 80% of dog owners need education in understanding their dogs.

Pluto is struggling with insecurity based defense. He sees a threat in everything. He is scared, and his way of dealing with this is to display aggression.

Crystal needs to take control and be a parent. That means Pluto needs to learn to trust that mom will protect him; but also that mom is the leader. He needs to pay more attention to her and less to his surroundings.

This is where “Look at me” comes in.

Teach your dog to focus on you, by building the behavior using food or treats.

  • Step 1: Start by using their meal. At dinner time, instead of giving them a bowl of food, take a piece of kibble, tell your dog to SIT and give them the piece of kibble. Wait a few seconds and repeat. Do it until you have given them at least a dozen kibbles.
  • Step 2: Hold the next kibble to your face, and wait for your dog to look at you. The instant they make eye contact, say YESSS! and give them the kibble. Do this at least a dozen times.
  • Step 3: Take the kibble, hold it to your face, step backwards and say WATCH. You dog should follow and will probably sit. If not, be patient! Lure them by offering the kibble, then bring it back to your face. When they come to you, sit, look up and make eye contact, say YESSS! and give them the treat. (Instead of WATCH, you can also use the command, LOOK or FOCUS.)

Marking the Behavior: When the dog does the right behavior, and we say YESSS, we call this “Marking”. (Your dog “hit the mark”).

I am told I have to issue a warning here. If your dog tries to bite you; if they jump at your face, then clearly you need professional help. (Your dog could use some help as well) Contact me! (Seriously, did I need to tell you that?)

Well done!

You have now taught your dog to “Look at Me”.

This is the first step to teaching them to focus on you and not on other environmental issues.
A dog that focusses on his owner is learning respect, obedience and control.

Have fun!

Do we pass the AKC Trainer Test?

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THE TEST!

Normally, I hate tests! They stress me out, make me nervous and generally mess up what could be a great day! But I will make an exception, just for you!

Last week I was reading a blog by well-known Animal Behaviorist, Dr. Mary Burch. She is the Director of the AKC CGC program, and has been instrumental in improving the quality of training.

(http://caninegoodcitizen.wordpress.com)

In her blog, as well as in her book, she offers advice on Choosing the Right Trainer.

(http://caninegoodcitizen.wordpress.com/2010/03/30/choosing-the-right-trainer-for-you/)

I decided to put myself, and Partners Dog Training School, to the TEST!

TIP: I added some comments to educate you, and your friends in what else to look for; and what to ask!

Choosing the Right Trainer

1.  How long have you been training dogs?

My answer: About thirty years.

Tip: Ask how much of that time was spent as a professional, full-time trainer, actually making a living from teaching dogs. In my case, 20 years.

2.  What kinds of classes do you teach?

My answer: I teach obedience, protection, agility, dock diving, service dogs, detection dogs and search & rescue.

3.  Have you put any titles on your own dogs?

Yes, French Ring Title, AKC Tracker Dog Title, Schutzhund title, Obedience title, Agility Title, AKC CGC titles.

Tip: Ask if the trainer actually trained the dog from scratch, or did they Title a dog that was purchased as an already Titled dog.

4.  What dog sports do you participate in or have you participated in?

My answer: French Ring, Agility, Dock Diving, Herding, Obedience.

5.  What is your basic philosophy of training?

My answer: I believe in positive reward based training, but with an element of minor compulsion training. By the way, some trainers believe in exclusively training using positive, and others use more compulsion, so this is a complex question. In addition, I will use different techniques on different dogs and in different situations. I almost always chat with clients prior to training, to ensure they are comfortable with my approach and reasoning.

Tip: Ask the trainer if you can observe them teaching a class, or teaching a lesson.

6.  What kind of equipment will we be using in class (e.g., collars, etc).

My answer: We use all types of equipment, from collars to martingales. Generally we try to match the equipment to the situation, and in some cases, we also have to work with what we have.

7.  Do you use food rewards?  Corrections?  If so, can you tell me about these.

My answer: Yes, we use food reward, mostly to build the behavior through motivated repetition. And yes, we do use limited (soft) corrections. As a specialist behavioral school, we are often the point of last resort, and this leads to us having to find solutions to very difficult answers. Many other trainers refer their failures to us, and we are proud of the fact that we succeed in most of these cases.

8.  Are all sizes of dogs together?

My answer: No, we train like-with-like. And each dog has its own kennel, its own crate and its own training session. Dogs need to feel comfortable around other dogs.

9.  Do you know your drop-out rate? How many students graduate from your classes?

My answer: Our drop out rate in the basic (level 1) classes is about 1.5 in 10. In the advanced classes, we have very few drop-outs, as these students have trained with us for a while, and are loyal and committed clients.

10. After the beginning class, do many students go on for additional training?

We are especially proud that more than half, roughly 6 in 10 students, advance on to other classes. Some of these are more advanced, and others are part of our sports program. We specifically developed our agility, dock diving and protection sports facilities to accommodate the needs of our students interested in further training for their families.

Tip: Ask trainers what investment they have in providing sports training for clients. Do they actually work out of a school? Or do they just use a public park?

I have one more TIP to add to this. Ask the trainer to connect on Facebook, and read through the posts. Remember, you are interviewing someone who will in effect be working for you, and its important to know them on a personal basis. My Facebook, as well as that of the school, is open for all to see.

In my next blog, I will look at the questions Dr. Burch asks when observing a class! 

Be a Parent, not a Grandparent

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When interacting with your dog, it is perfectly okay to spoil them.

But remember, love them as a parent!

The Task of a Parent

Parents need to teach their kids what is appropriate behavior. No child is born with an understanding of the complex requirements we have of society. Use encouragement and motivation. Guide them in a direction of what is acceptable and what is not.

We also need to remember that expecting a child to act as an adult is not only difficult; it is ridiculous. (For that matter, there are many “adults” that act as kids!)

Dogs are no different! Puppies need to learn what to chew on; when to eat; when to play and when to sleep.

As the pet owner, you are the parent. And as the parent, you are responsible for teaching them.

Older Dogs

Older dogs that have been raised with few boundaries, need to learn how to act. And while most are willing to learn, there are a few that either have no wish to learn, or are so established in their behavioral patterns, they have no wish to change.

The Task of a Grandparent
What is the task of a Grandparent. Actually, this is quite complex.

In many societies, Grandparents are seen as the “elders”.

They have extensive experience; have learned many life-lessons and are generally well educated. In many cultures, education is not book learned; it is learned through practical hands-on training. A “student” is taught through constant repetition of the correct behavior.

“You learn what you see!”  (Sound familiar?) 

In behavioral training we refer to this as modeling, and at our school we apply this concept extensively. Older (more experienced) dogs teach younger (greener) dogs.

Respect

Something these cultures have in common is a great respect for the elder. Students value their leadership, teachings and knowledge. Students are comfortable with following and obeying the elder; and elders feel appreciated and needed.

In the Western world, this has changed. While many see the elders as knowledgable, the proliferation of electronics and social media has created a belief that the younger generations know more. Now the child believes they are “more educated”.

I am not sure I agree with this. Yes, sure, we know more about computers, games, sport, etc.. But are these truly life lessons? Does this mean we know it all? Is this a new culture?

Grandparents as Spoilers

For many families, the Grandparent has been relegated to the background. (In some cases, the Grandparent is completely missing, but that’s for another discussion.)

Grandparents now fill the role of being the “spoiler”, meaning they spoil the kids, they don’t educate them. This is not necessarily wrong; simply it is what it is. The problem is that some dog owners become Grandparents.

Entitlement Generation

So is this change in our culture possibly the source of our “entitlement” generation? Have we developed a new culture? One in which first the grandparent; and now the parent; is no longer the teacher? Worse, the student believes they are now entilted?

We need to get back to being the parent! Parents still need to teach! And children need to learn. Grandparents should be a part of that process, even if they are more in the support role. After all, they have a lifetime of experience to offer – let’s put that to use!

What has this got to do with Dogs?

By now, you are wondering what has this to do with dogs.

Let me explain.

Dogs are like children. For many, they are our children.

They need calm, confident and motivated leadership.

They need to be educated.

They need to learn restraint.

They need to learn what the rules are in life – what we tolerate, and what we don’t!

Parents not Grandparents.

So while you want to be seen as a dog lover; remember to be a parent first.

Relax and Breath

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Sometimes it’s good to take a seat and relax. Breath, calm and quiet.

I’m reminded of what is important in our lives.
Most days I’m going at a frenetic pace, 12-14 hours. And I love it.

But there are times when it’s nice to sit back and watch a little mind at work.

The concentration, the focus, the ability to do it for themselves.

And while this is my own daughter, and clearly I’m biased, she truly is the most beautiful princess.

So relax, breath and enjoy the quiet!

Exciting Update to our Blog

I love writing; and I love teaching!
This is what has brought me down this path.

Call it ego, or call it a passion for imparting knowledge, I want to teach you and everyone that wants to listen, some of the things I know.

Over the years I have learned much. Many of those lessons have come at the expense of the people around me, and some have come with much love.

For some time I have wanted to write. I have thought about writing a book. But that takes too long!

So I decided I would blog – actually a friend suggested I should blog.

So here we go! In my blog I plan to be as honest as I can. Even when some of the writing may seem constroversial.

Anyone that knows me, knows I can be opinionated and pushy. And yes, sometimes that does upset people.

But I also believe in being respectful, kind and compassionate.

So, thank you for taking the time to read my blog. And heres looking to the future!