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!

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!

Avoiding life-threatening Bloat

Golden Retriever

Golden Retriever

What is Bloat

Bloat is a life-threatening condition which affects most breeds. It has an extremely high mortality rate, and can occur in any dog, at any age.  Simply stated it is when the stomach distends with gas and fluid (this swelling is called bloating), and then twists (turns), trapping the fluid and gas in the stomach.

It is also known as Gastric Volvulus or Gastric Torsion.

There are lots of theories on what triggers bloat. Some say it is all about genetics, and has nothing to do with food, exercise or stress. I have seen dogs bloat with no outside triggers, and I have seen dogs bloat as a result of feeding, exercise, training, stress and a combination of all of the above.

Things you can do to Avoid Bloat

✔ Never feed your dog within 2 hours prior AND especially after exercise, work or training

✔ Control food amounts

✔ Feed two meals a day

✔ Moisten your dogs food

✔ Do not free-feed food (leave it out all the time).

✔ If you have multiple dogs, feed them separately to discourage competition.

✔ Feed in crates.

✔ This allows them to have a “safe” environment to eat peacefully without worrying about protecting their food.

✔ Control water amounts before and after exercise and eating. We suggest about ten seconds of drinking.

✔ Give smaller amounts spread over time to discourage “gulping” and swallowing excessive air.

✔ Wait to give water until at least 1 hour after eating.

✔ Allow free water access all other times.

✔ Put small amount of plain yogurt on your dog’s kibble to encourage “friendly” bacterial growth for proper digestion, or use supplemental acidophilus.

✔ Keep on hand the number of the closest 24-hour emergency Veterinary care.