Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Rules

On the heels of a lively online discussion about training tools and methods, I thought I would pass along some rules that come in handy when contemplating how to teach my dog (or any species). 

Rule #1
We don't get to decide what is punishing or rewarding-the dog does. In other words,  "The rat is always right"
Example-if you gave me a certificate for a hot air balloon ride for a job well done, for me, that would NOT be a rewarding experience.

A punisher in the behavioral sense is an event that STOPS a behavior. 
Example-if I touch a hot stove burner, I am unlikely to do so again. "Punishment" in common vernacular is something doled out as retribution. Very different in the behavioral sense.

How will you know if your training is working? If the desired behavior either increases or decreases (whichever you are going for)
Example-I ask my dog to "sit" and he sits.

If the desired behavior does not occur-YOU must re-examine your training plan. After all, are you not the one with the bigger brain?
Example-"My dog sits when I ask him to at home, but not at the dog park!" Ask yourself-have I trained him around distractions (adding item in one at a time)?, am I competing with the environment (can my dog think around squirrels, for example)? 

Rule #5
Get rid of labels that cloud training goals.
Labels such as "stubborn" "blowing me off" or "psycho" are constructs that get in the way of a clear training plan. Is this easy to do? NO! Living with a dog that persists in chewing, peeing on anything that does or does not move, howling, barking can be frustrating as hell. It feels really good to resort to shouting at the dog. However, while a good pressure relief valve this may be-it ain't training (unless it meets the criteria set forth in Rule#3). 

Rule #5
Perspective is everything. Read this blog by a human having an eye exam. Keep in mind that she knows WHY the various procedures are being done. Our dogs haven't a clue about why we insist they tolerate certain procedures.

One more thought-a training tool implies that once the training is complete, the tool is removed. Can your dog perform the requested behavior without the tool? That is a true test of whether or not learning has taken place. Suppressing a behavior and teaching a behavior may have the same end result, but are two different things entirely. 

Happy Training!

Friday, March 30, 2012

Some Random Thoughts From A Trainer’s Perspective About Dogs, Clickers, And Life Rewards

The most unfortunate thing about clicker training is the name
The word "clicker"conjures up a gimmicky toy, a fad, something cheap and temporary. Actually, clicker training employs the laws of behavior and relies upon the science of learning. It is both simple and complex. It is therefore also ironic.

Clicker training ROCKS
Once your dog understands the game “I do something and you tell me if I am on the right track and then reward me for it” only the sky is  the limit.  

Must I always use food as a reward?
No. You must, however, use something your learner finds rewarding. Food happens to be a. necessary for survival b. universally enjoyed c. easy to obtain and use

How can I tell the difference between a clicker trainer and a trainer with a clicker?

The most telling indication is that clicker trainers do not intentionally add corrections into the training process. There is no need, as the “no” is built in to the click. No click means “try again, dog”.  Leash pops, “Eh-eh’s” and the like are not only irritating and unnecessary, more importantly, they can weaken the cue. A cue is an opportunity-it is never an implied threat. 
A cue is an opportunity for good things to come
A command says  “Do it NOW or else.” 

Good training is fair to the learner
Tasks are sliced into tiny steps and then taught one step at a time. If you get to a sticking point, simply go back to the last step and then work your way back up. 
This ensures a fast-paced, fun, and effective learning environment. 

A clicker is a marker, not a remote control. 
It doesn’t make the dog do something. It does tells the dog something “Yes, this is exactly what I want”

Can anyone can call himself or herself a dog trainer?
Yes, anyone. Even the guy in the yellow suit standing next to us who looks like he should be getting back to selling used cars. Just because an individual has a lot of dogs does not mean that person understands dog behavior. The guy in the yellow suit may work around lots of cars, (get it? LOTS of cars?!) but that is no guarantee he has the skills to repair one.

So, what questions should I ask a potential trainer?
Where did you learn to become a dog trainer?
Do you hold any certifications and from what organizations?
Do you belong to any professional groups? Which?
What was the last seminar you attended or book you read about dogs or dog training? What tools do you use? 

But I don’t want to use treats!
Somehow the notion that a dog should work for us motivated only by the sheer joy of being in our presence became accepted as truth. 
Treats are not a "bribe" and they will not result in a dog that "only works for food" (oddly enough, I never hear "My dog only works to avoid a correction") or one that is "spoiled", nor will it result in a dog that "begs for food". Can all of those things occur around food? Yes. But that is not what clicker training is.

My dog "knows he is not supposed to ----------"
Dogs have a far different culture than we do. In our culture it would be considered the height of impropriety to sniff the genitals of someone you were just introduced to, especially at a business meeting (if you try this at your next company gathering, do let me know how it turns out) If you are a dog, however, this is a perfectly acceptable greeting. It is not “right” or “wrong”, it is simply a cultural difference. Teaching your dog to abide by the rules of your culture is the fair thing to do-do not expect that he already knows the customs of your country. In Greece, holding your hand outstretched, palm showing, is the equivalent to giving someone the middle finger in the United States. If no one teaches you this before you visit Crete, you might receive a punch in the nose from a parent while innocently asking their child to "halt" as a car approaches.

Routine and practice are your friends
If you give a dog too much room for invention, his ideas of fun and amusement will likely not be ones you would suggest for him (unless you also enjoy digging holes, barking, and shredding things- I do not judge)

Will I have to carry a clicker and treats with me forever?
No. We use clickers to teach a specific behavior. The click marks the behavior, the food (or reinforcer) creates the association (good or bad) and what is reinforced will likely be repeated. In other words, given enough practice the behavior itself becomes the reward.

To gain control, you must give up control
I know, it sounds very new-age and annoying, but bear with me here. Push someone and they lean towards you to keep from falling over (the opposition reflex). Remember the old black light posters from the 1970's with the butterfly or a bird in flight that said "If you love something let it go, if it comes back to you its yours..." (Stay with me! I promise I am going somewhere with this) Set the environment up in such a way that the learner does what you want him to do of his own volition and you hold all the cards. 

B.F. Skinner (Walden Pond) says it like this:  “They are doing what they want to do, not what they are forced to do. That's the source of the tremendous power of positive reinforcement-- there's no restraint and no revolt. By careful cultural design, we control not the final behavior, but the inclination to behave-- the motives, desires, the wishes.” 

In other words, make it their idea. Come on-it's a dog. It's not that hard! Here's the thing-we constantly struggle with what we think the dog should be doing-in other words, we are fighting ourselves. The dog is simply being a dog. Manage his environment and set him up to behave in ways which you approve.

1970's Flashbacks? Why am I reading this blog, again?
Because you love your dog! 

Peace Out.

Monday, February 6, 2012

A Personal Lesson In Behavior

I wrote the following after reading about a controversial method (shock) to stop severely disabled persons from hurting themselves. The individuals behind the button administering the shocks had the best of intentions. Despite this, the system was abused, according to court documents. Some of the parents of these students reported success when nothing else had worked. Using force to control behavior often works. But at what cost? Because it does come with a price, not only to the recipient but to the giver. I have replaced the word "shock" with the word "force" in this article, as undoubtably shock will one day be replaced with some new instrument serving the same purpose.

How it started

I have (reluctantly if I may be truthful) somehow always found myself involved in causes related to mental retardation. My stepmother was a change maker in the field of mental retardation. She was the founder of a group that took mentally retarded young adults (back when they were called mentally retarded and not mentally disabled) on vacations to places like Disney World. This was before the integration of mentally disabled persons was common and many of them had never been on a vacation before.
She also fought, and I do mean fought (there were organized protests against the idea) to establish group homes for mentally retarded individuals in local residential neighborhoods. At the time, I didn't realize how brave my stepmother was. I would go to work with her and help as a teaching assistant in classes for mentally retarded children. I would go home at night thinking, "How do the parents do it?"

And then it was me

Before autism was so commonly diagnosed my son visited pediatric neurologists, MD's, pediatric opthamologists and other professionals in hopes of explaining his strange behavior. All scratched their heads in puzzlement, as my son could speak a bit and he obviously enjoyed being held and spoken to,  contrary to the image of autism the doctors held at the time-that of an unreachable child incapable of forming bonds with caretakers. My son's behavior history was complicated and chaotic. He had completed certain milestones right on schedule, and others were skipped completely. He went from never crawling to walking. He went from never speaking to a three-word phrase ("It's all gone") All the while screaming, biting, pinching and having tantrums not daily, but hourly. He never spent a complete night sleeping, but would wake at odd hours and go into the kitchen to methodically pull the labels off of cans or spread flour onto floors or countertops. My home was toddler-proofed and child-locked and yet he still managed to leave the room looking like a family of raccoons had broken in. The pressure never ended and I am not sure how I lived through it.

A chance encounter with a book provides clues

It wasn't until I picked up a book at my local library just to read, nothing more, that the mystery was solved.  I began reading the first page. Then slowly sat down and read the entire book over the course of some hours, crying at times because finally someone else described my son and what it was like to live with an autistic child. At the time, my arms were always scratched and bruised as my son lashed out in frustration of not being able to tolerate sensations too raw for him to bear-temperature change, sounds, and most of all, changes in routine. In the back of the book was an 800-number for a national autism group (this was before the World Wide Web), which I called first thing the next morning, trying to speak to the kind woman who answered through a throat strangled with tears of both relief and also great grief. The woman asked where I lived and suggested I seek a true diagnosis so I could get my son into an appropriate learning environment.

The diagnosis

Off to (a university near my home) for an evaluation we went, but only after a long drawn-out battle (the first of many battles with red tape) with DenialCare Insurance Company. The battle ended with a personal call to my home from the president of the company, reluctantly agreeing to foot the cost of the evaluation. I didn't win them all, but that one felt good and I learned how to negotiate and win against large entities with way more money and education than I possessed.

After a ten-day on site evaluation the diagnosis was clear and I was called to meet with the staff to discuss the findings.


He tested appropriate to his age level in some areas and some at the level of a toddler (he was seven) We sat in chairs placed in a circle as each expert read her bit of bad news. A social worker was required to be there. She cocked her head in sympathy and said "Mom, how do you feel about what you are hearing?" I just turned away from her, and continued asking questions of the rest of the panel.

But she would not drop her efforts to justify her presence in the group, asking again "How does this news make you feel?"

"How do you think hearing that your child that you brought into this world will never live on his own, will never marry, will never drive a car, will never hold a job, and will never have a child of his own, feels?" I still burn at the simplicity of her question in the face of such a dire and complicated diagnosis. This would not be my last encounter with people like this social worker, who rely on rote to avoid painful truths. I am not sure what she expected with her question.

In any case, after the meeting, I had some decisions to make. Medication for my son was suggested. I was warned that if I did not get these harmful behaviors under control now, my son would be "chemically straight-jacketed" as an adult. I became a reluctant student of behavior and sought help immediately from behavior specialists. I was very very lucky to live in a state where such options were available. My son now lives in a house with other autistic adults, supervised three to one (some homes require one to one supervision so I take this as progress) and holds a simple job in a place that uses respect and kindness in all of their interactions with my son and the others like him. No force was ever used to change my son's behavior. I chose to not use medication as none existed that showed true change, but rather worked by blanketing impulses.

"(insert some dire outcome) will happen if we don't use (insert some force based method)"

I look at it another way. The behavior of the learner may indeed be stopped more quickly (not changed, mind you, but stopped) if I would use force, but I would also be changed. And I am not willing to undergo that transformation. Management, reinforcing behavior, setting up the environment for success-all may take more time than using force but I will consider that time well spent.
I have heard that everything happens for a reason.
I have done things I am not proud of; I have not been perfect. But I hold one thing close to my heart, as evidence of good:
There are people willing to work to change behavior using kindness and respect and that makes the world a better place.
"If we hit hard enough, we clear a little place in the wilderness of civilization, but we make the rest of the wilderness still more terrible" ~ BF Skinner

Related Reading:
"Don't Shoot The Dog" Karen Pryor

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Why Should I Bribe My Dog?

"My dog should do what I ask because I said so. No bribes here!"
"Of course he's listening to you! You have treats!"
"Giving treats creates a dog that is sure to beg at the table"
If I had a dime for every time I have heard one of these statements, I would be writing this on a keyboard made of gold, just like Kanye.
Like most conventional wisdom, all of these statements are born of a toe dipped into the pool of truth. You certainly can teach your dog to only perform some of the time when you have a treat in your hand and you most certainly can create a dog who begs at the table. I have provided a step by step training plan at the end of this article to teach those very things (not that you'd want to!) But first, I want to talk about some of the reasons we may struggle with the idea of training with food. 
"My dog should do as I say. I should not have to use treats at all"
There is a pervasive belief in our culture that dogs live to please us. At the same time, we are told that dogs are out to take over ("dominate us" is the way this is usually described) the household given half a chance. I am not sure how these two beliefs can exist at the same time but they do and I believe that this dichotomy accompanied by childhood memories of strict instructions to never feed our dog from the table is largely responsible for the angst we feel when we consider training with food.
"Of course he's paying attention to you! You have treats!"
Here's what I say to this: Yes! Exactly! Food is a very powerful reinforcer. Why wouldn't he pay attention to me when there is the possibility of earning a treat? After all, what do we do when we plan a celebration? We include FOOD. We make special food for special occasions, share our favorite food in casual gatherings, prepare meals by hand for those we love, in fact, we rarely do anything socially with others without food being present in some way.  Yet we are appalled when a dog is also happy to see and eat food. Why? Is it that we think of it as a bribe and not a reward?
"Okay, you tell me why training with food isn't a flat out bribe"
Bribe: Something serving to influence or persuade.
Reward: Something given or received in recompense for worthy behavior
Common denominator? Both involve the giving of something desired in return for an action. 
The difference? One happens before the action, which is  usually an unsavory act (bribe) and the other after the action, usually a worthy act (reward) 
Let's not forget biology
A dog will work for his food, just as dogs have done from the beginning of time. 
Dogs that must find their own food do not lie around waiting for it to be delivered. Even dogs in the poorest countries that live off of trash heaps must work for their meals, dodging competitors in an attempt to get the best food first. It is not a life of leisure.
Clicker (or marker)Training
There are many good books and articles written about clicker training, making it unnecessary for me to explain the concept here. I have included some excellent resources at the bottom of this page so I will only make the following points:
Clicker training is not about the food. It is about reinforcement and creating a positive association between the cue (command) and the behavior (the "sit" or "stay" or whatever you are teaching). Think Pavlov and the power of association. 
Teaching in small steps and rewarding each successful step while gradually increasing the difficulty of the steps allows you to teach a dog anything he is physically and mentally capable of performing. As a bonus, properly rewarding those achievements creates a dog that enthusiastically participates in the training process; a dog unafraid to try different behaviors because if he is on the wrong track, he knows it instantly by virtue of not hearing the click. The click=yes=reward (usually, but not always, food) Why food? As we have already discussed, food is a very powerful reinforcer. It is also convenient and necessary (all living things must eat)
People new to clicker training are often surprised at the small size of the treats used. Most often they are the size of a pea. Training sessions are kept short so the actual food consumed is fairly small. You can always reduce regular feedings by the amount you give in training sessions if weight gain is a concern.
Now, as promised, here is a step by step plan to teach your dog to beg at the table and to only perform "sometimes" when food is used.
Begging at the table: Feed your dog at the table for breathing. He shows up, he gets food. Just toss your little fluffball bits of steak and other goodies as you eat dinner and I guarantee he will be back the next time around! Oh, wait...what? You only meant to do that once and he should know when not to beg? Sorry, your dog learns fast and remember, food is a powerful reinforcer. Toss him treats while you are eating and you will have a dinner companion forever. Bonus: you can easily teach him to also whine by tossing him a treat when he does to "make him stop"
Teaching your dog to only work "when he feels like it": Begin this behavior by holding the food out in an obvious manner (you may try waving it near his nose) as you ask him to do something over and over again. Confusing him is the goal here so it really helps if you talk to him throughout. Just assume that even if he does not understand every word, he surely understands what you mean. Here is an example:
Hold food out as you say "Sit!" As the dog moves towards the food, jerkily move it around, like a mosquito in flight, always keeping it in the dog's view as you provide a running commentary; "Nooooo, sit. Did I say come and get the food? No, I said "sit" SIT, sit, sit, SIT, sit sit. Noooooo, SIT, Fluffy. Fluffy...Fluffy...Fluffy... SIT. Oh, here. Here is your cookie. Next time sit when I ask you to.
Better yet, you could just consider that you hold all the cards and make the power of food work for YOU!

Happy Training!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

What Is A "Dexter"?

When we bring our dog Dexter out in public, at least one person is sure to ask, "What kind of dog is he?" Dexter is strikingly handsome, if I may say so, and I am certain it is his looks that spark their curiosity and not his antics at the end of his leash.

"Well...we think he is part Great Dane," we would respond, "but we don't know...blah blah blah...he could be a blah blah blah" and then the person might begin to speculate as well and soon we all ran out of speculations and everyone drifted apart, feeling vaguely unsatisfied.

One day, after the breed question was asked yet again, I laughingly replied, "He's a Dexter." To my surprise, the person nodded thoughtfully, and then shrugged, saying "Well! He's a big boy, isn't he! Have a nice day!" This then became our standard response. It was just easier to say "He's a Dexter!" and leave it at that and everyone is happy.

"Dexter" is also the name my husband and I give the breeds we come across that look like Dexter. You have seen a Dexter before, I am sure. We have all seen a Dexter. Big, black lab-ish dogs, usually with a blaze of white on their chest. You may even have a Dexter or know someone who does.

Truth is, we had no idea, nor did we especially care what our Dexter's breed make-up was. The only explanation to be found in the shelter documents that summed up Dexter's short past was the sad scrawl on the surrender form. It read, simply: "He is too much dog."

I had briefly considered investigating Dexter's heritage but what I had heard about canine DNA testing was not encouraging.

Completely inaccurate results!
A waste of money!
My chihuahua sized dog came back with St. Bernard in her profile-impossible!

I resigned myself to never knowing what  Dexter was made of, and truthfully it did not matter to me. I loved him for being what he was... a Dexter.

Along came Arlo

Arlo, for those of you new to my blog, was rescued from a caravan of trucks stacked with crates which were in turn stacked with dogs all headed for the meat trade in Asia. Now this dog's genetic soup interested me! Arlo looks like a puppy, but he is an adult dog. Anyone asked to speculate on his breed invariably tosses in a terrier or two. He is a medium sized dog, but on the smaller side of medium. His hair length ranges from short to shaggy to wispy. He is mostly reddish, but also blond, gray, and tan. In short, he is a mystery wrapped in an enigma. It was time to rethink my views on canine DNA testing.

As a naturally skeptical gal, I began to read and ask questions of people I trust. Here is the heart of what I found: The test is only as good as the number of breeds the testing company has in its database. I chose to go with the Wisdom Insight Panel at around $49. With over 185 breeds in their database, I felt I could get a pretty fair idea of what makes an Arlo, and if I was going to test Arlo, I might as well test Dexter at the same time. The test itself could not have been simpler. Two test sticks swabbed inside of each dog's mouth cheek, pop them into the prepaid addressed envelope, done.

"But my dog looks nothing like a -----!"

Phenotype-anything that is part of the observable structure, function or behavior of a living organism.
Genotype- the "internally coded, inheritable information" carried by all living organisms. 

My Great Grandmother
 had lovely Mediterranean skin
and dark hair and eyes

My blue-eyed daughter
 freckles, but also tans
Your tiny mutt may look nothing like a St Bernard, but that does not mean he does not carry the genes of one. Some phenotypes such as the typical flat face of a Bulldog may vanish after just one crossed generation. Take a look at the differences between generations in my own family. My great grandmother was a very tiny woman (maybe 5 feet tall?) who likely weighed a scant 95 pounds. Dark hair, dark eyes with lovely Mediterranean skin. Me, I am 5'7" and let's just say I am over 95 pounds and leave it at that. My green-eyed black haired father could not tan. I have dark hair and eyes and tan easily (after burning first if I am not careful). My daughter, on the other hand, is blue eyed with reddish hair. She freckles in the sun but also tans, her father and paternal grandmother do not tan at all. She is also 5'7". My point? You just never know what cards you will be dealt in the gene shuffle.  

I tan easily but may burn first
I kept the dark hair and eyes
So...(drum roll) the results!

Dexter was found to be mostly lab. No surprise there. Despite my strong suspicion that he was part grasshopper, he is actually part... Rhodesian Ridgeback!? Wow.
The real Dexter is: (besides Devastatingly Handsome)

Mostly Labrador Retriever

With a good chunk of Rhodesian Ridgeback 

The other breeds that came up were:
Wire Haired Pointing Griffon (19%)

Welsh Terrier (12%)
Cavalier King Charles Spaniel (1%)

Keeshond (2%)
Beagle (less than 1%)
   Arlo's results

Turns out,  there is no terrier in Arlo's genetic recipe at all!
Here is the ingredient list for an "Arlo"

To make an Arlo: 

Take mostly Shiba Inu 
And Chow 

Add a smattering of:

Samoyed (12%)
German Shepherd Dog (8%)
Australian Kelpie (2%) and

Tibetan Spaniel (2%)
Have these results changed anything in our lives? Not really. I still treat the boys exactly as I did before.
Except now, if anyone asks "What's a Dexter?" I can tell them he is a "LabraRidgePointingWelshCavaBeagle!"

Happy Training!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Life With A Thai Street Dog-Week One (Or Do You REALLY Want A Smart Dog?)

One full week has passed since our little Thai street dog came to live with us.

Things I have learned:
Street dogs have obviously read the puppy socialization manuals regarding early exposure to all surface types. Wobbly, solid, slick, rough, icy-no problem. 
My little hipster (come on-Oregon is COLD!)

Street dogs have a strong working knowledge of how latches operate

Street dogs understand that garbage lids not only close, but more importantly, OPEN 

Street dogs understand that ex-pens, even ones that are five feet feet tall, have a giant exit point

Street dogs consider fences as a suggestion only

1st night:

I had hardly slept the night before, excitedly anticipating Arlo's arrival. Had I only known how important uninterrupted sleep would soon become!

His plane got in at six PM, so by the time we got home, gave him food and water and walked around the inside of the house a bit, it was time for bed. Because my husband must wake at the insane hour of  4 AM (a work thing), Arlo and I spent the night in the guest room. I had no idea how Arlo would react to being crated, given his past history and the fact that he had just spent the last 18 hours or so traveling here, most of it spent IN A CRATE. Nevertheless, sleep we must and so I placed him in a brand new crate, pulled right next to my bed. 

We then proceeded to spend one very long sleepless night -me placing my fingers in the crate and saying, "Shhhhh...shhhhhhh" as Arlo woke again and again, crying out through the night.  At around 1 AM,  in a sleep-deprived fog, I put him in bed with me, tethered to my waist with a leash (I had brought one up, just in case). I periodically heard Mark snoring peacefully in our room and was comforted by the knowledge that he, at least, could get a good night's sleep.

Day 2-
Introduced Dexter and Arlo through a baby gate. Dex has been through this drill many times and performed his job (sit and collect treats) perfectly. I watched Arlo closely for signs of fear and saw only curiosity and so I let them meet face to face. Both did a lot of polite sniffing and then Arlo stood on his hind legs, stiffly, growling as he tried to hook a paw over Dex’s neck. One quick squabble and it was back to circling and sniffing, then all was well. I had picked up all toys and closed doors to all rooms except the one we were in so that no one could abruptly meet in a small space. Took lots of small walks on leash. Too soon for off-leash. Tried the crate again and this time Arlo completely panicked-drooling, panting, scratching to get out. Back in bed with me. Heard Mark turning and yawning comfortably in our bed. Hmmm...interesting that he can sleep through this.

Day 3-
First on-leash walk with both Dexter and Arlo. 3.3 miles on the river trail. Everything was going as smooth as silk until a young couple approached on the trail, their collie mix straining at the end of her leash, head down and coming straight on at us. I pointedly moved OFF the trail to let them pass; the couple happily letting their dog follow; assuring me with a cheery, "Don't worry, she loves dogs!" at the exact moment I desperately called out: 

"PLEASE don't let your dog..." 

Too late. 

Dexter exploded as Arlo gamely jumped in to help by hopping up and down and releasing a volley of high-pitched dog curses in Thai. As I pulled my beasties away, I caught the retreating shocked expressions of the couple, each muttering and shaking their heads at my dog's "bad" behavior. I imagine this is a common event in their lives. They probably blissfully stroke their dog's head at night while thinking, "How did we get so lucky?" Oy. And okay, snarkiness notwithstanding, I "know" that they don't "know" and that's just the way it is right now with dogs and leashes and saying "hi"

Night 4
Big night-let Arlo run off leash with Dex. We are on almost seven fenced acres, so the boys could really stretch their legs. Dex runs like a cheetah-body stretched full out as he glides through the air on impossibly long legs; Arlo churning the earth as he tries to keep up. Brought ex-pen into guest room (five feet tall). Took Arlo less than three minutes to climb out like a monkey. Tethered again. Guest room again.  Heard Mark laughing as he watched a sitcom in bed in our room just next door. Gritted my teeth and suppressed a strong urge to smother him with a pillow as he slept.   

Present Time
Dexter's crate on the left, Arlo's on the right
Last night was Arlo's eighth night here. I put a lid (okay-it's chicken wire that I attached, myself) on the ex-pen and moved Dexter's crate  next to him. We are still in the guest room, but I actually slept through an entire night! own bed? A girl can always dream...!


My boys

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Long Journey Home

This story begins in the northeast of Thailand in a place called Nakhon Phanom. On August 13, 2011 Thai police infiltrated a group of dog smugglers carrying over a thousand dogs-some stolen, some strays, some taken in trade for cheap goods. The dogs had been crammed into small wire crates which were then stacked and loaded onto four trucks. Many of the dogs died during the transport and of those that survived the suffocating journey thus far, some of the unluckiest would die only moments before safety arrived as the smugglers desperately tossed crates from the truck bed in an effort to gain speed and avoid being captured.


While better off now than with the smugglers, the danger was not yet over. The remaining dogs, many unhealthy to begin with, now faced fast-spreading illnesses in the overcrowded conditions.

August 13, 2011
Excerpt from the Soi Dogs- Facebook :

"But although they have been saved from dog-trader gangs, no one can guarantee they will be safe and survive in their crowded cages while a shortage of food threatens their lives.
Some of the animals were reported dead or injured. The rest are at Nakhon Phanom Animal Quarantine Station.
They looked exhausted after they were moved from the small cages to be put in the station's only big cage. But that cage, which has a maximum capacity of 500 dogs, now has to house 1,800. They have inadequate food and water, as the station does not have the budget to feed such a huge crowd of dogs.
"Police believe all the dogs would have been transferred to a ship waiting in Ban Phaeng district of Nakhon Phanom before going across the Mekong River to be sold in Vietnam"

September 18, 2011
Soi Dogs-Facebook

John Dalley, Bee and others visited Nakon Pathom this weekend where the dogs seized from the dog meat smugglers are being held.
The dogs in this photo album are up for urgent adoption. There are around 800+ dogs there and it is critical that the most needing cases are adopted as soon as possible.
If you have ever considered adopting a dog the time is now to step up.
Logistics re: export etc. will be handled by Soi Dog Foundation as required.
Contact Bee her on Facebook at:
September 18, 2011
From: Jenn-Soi Dogs Volunteer
To: Chris Waggoner
Would the one sitting on the right be of interest?”

To: Jenn—Soi Dogs Volunteer
From: Chris Waggoner

To: Cindy-Soi Dogs
From: Chris Waggoner
Hi Guys,
Just wondering where things stand with the little pup. He was one of the dogs from up north.
Subject: Re: Dog
From: John-Soi Dogs
Date: Tue, October 18, 2011 10:12 pm
Doing well and desexed on Monday. Lovely dog.

The planning to get him to the US begins...
Date: Wed, October 19, 2011 7:59 pm
Subject: Re: Dog
From: Cindy-Soi Dogs
Hi Chris,
Are you definitely interested in adopting his little guy? Can you let me know, J-- is on his way to the UK at present. Whereabouts are you?
On 20 October 2011 10:41, <> wrote:
YES.  I am in Bend, Oregon. 900 miles from Los Angeles.
Subject: Re: Dog
From: Cindy-Soi Dogs
Date: Wed, October 19, 2011 10:28 pm
Hi again Chris
Have heard back from shelter. The little dog's name is Benji (male), he was sterilised on Tuesday.At this stage they think it may be too soon to transport him next week s he's still on treatment. However we will double check with our  vets this afternoon. I will let you know.
On 20 October 2011 11:43, Cindy-Soi Dogs wrote:
Chris-Flight volunteer has confirmed is wiling to take. Have just heard back.
Am still checking with shelter whether it will be possible. Cheers
On 21 October 2011 11:31, Cindy-Soi Dogs wrote:
It looks like we can get Benji on the same flight with our flight volunteer (Jacqui) who departs on October 26th. Her flight arrives in LAX at 6.55pm on 26th.
And yet another journey begins...this time home

HKT Airport, Thailand
Phuket, Thailand-loading into plane

Staying at the Sheraton-nice!
Jacqui (my flight volunteer angel) after a VERY long flight. Sophie is not sure what to make of Benji!

The final leg of Benji's journey is less than two hours away. At that time I will pick him up at the airport near my home and will give him his brand new name.

He will live with me, forever.

I hope you will follow his story as I continue to write about our days together. After all, we are all on a never ending journey. Who knows where life will take us next?

Happy Training,


For more information about Soi Dogs, please watch this documentary Soi Dogs, The Movie
To read about the rescue of Arlo and the other thousand dogs, click this link. Warning-graphic content.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Good Things Come To Those Who Crate

Question: What is one of the most useful things you can teach your dog to like? If you answered "being in a crate” you get a big crunchy dog treat!
I love crates.  
Crates allow us to leave a young dog at home without having to worry that he is eating our electric cords (or cool red swivel chair) while unsupervised.
Crates allow us to house train a puppy (or an older dog) easily, clearly, and humanely.
Crates give our dogs a safe haven-a place to go without concern that another dog or the family cat will invade their space.
Crates are especially useful if you have a shy or timid dog; one that is afraid of visitors or children. Or perhaps for those times when Aunt Alice, who is not fond of dogs (and may actually secretly fear them) pops in for coffee. A crate is also a wonderful place to safely park a dog who is in training, to avoid his practicing undesired behaviors (jumping, charging the door when the bell rings, etc.)
But isn’t a crate a little cage-like? Won’t my dog feel claustrophobic?
If your dog has never seen a crate before, and you pop him into one with no warning, the answer is probably a resounding YES!
He needs time to adjust and learn that crates are good places to be in. This means that crates are never used as punishment and are never used to confine a dog all day long while you are at work. 
Don't get me wrong. I am a big believer in confining dogs to appropriate spaces-if you must confine your dog while you are at work there are other options, some of which I will get into later. The bottom line is, a dog who would otherwise panic when left home alone can sometimes tolerate this state if he is left in an appropriate space and not left to his own devices.
Consider this as well- your dog may one day need medical care. Overnight stays at the vet hospital guessed it... crating (where it is called something else yet again, but it is essentially crating)  
What is a crate? 
Plastic crate
Some are wire (my dog's personal preference) and some are a combination of hard plastic with a wire door. Some are made of fabric and are collapsible and portable. The fabric crates are for dogs who…well…let’s put it like this; my Stoli (a Siberian husky) once chewed his way through a fabric crate in just under five seconds. Know your dog before choosing the material for your crate. Some dogs prefer a darker space, some are better with the more open wire type of crate and some types are not appropriate for your dog at all (in our case, fabric crates)
Why do they work? 
Wild canids, as a rule, generally seek out dens.  A den provides a means to avoid predators and  provides a safe shelter (sound familiar?)
Think of this; if you grew up during the era that I did, it was not uncommon for homes with dogs to have a litter of pups from time to time. These dogs usually chose a closet or the dark quiet spot under a bed to give birth. After the pups were born, the nursing mother licked each puppy, stimulating it to eliminate (in fact, newborn pups must have this stimulation in order to eliminate-remember this if you are asked to bottle feed any orphaned puppies-of course, you are free to use a soft warm wet cloth for this purpose) the end product which she then consumes (you can skip this part as well!) The result: a clean "den". In fact, most dogs given a properly set up environment will not eliminate in their sleeping area, making a crate the perfect merge of natural canine behavior and house training.
A fox prepares to enter her den
Exceptions to this:
Puppies from pet stores, dogs left crated for too long, crates that are too large, or dogs with medical conditions.  
A pup and his makeshift "den"
Pet store pups have no choice but to eliminate in their cage (I use cage here because the purpose of the enclosure is to contain the dog on a full-time basis) sometimes making the transition to a crate difficult. The key to success with this type of dog is to crate for very small increments of time, taking the dog out to your preferred potty place at least 

once an hour during the day and at least every three hours at night.  With consistency, your dog’s natural dislike of  eliminating in his sleeping area will hopefully kick in.
Dogs should never be crated for more than four hours at a time (with the exception of night-time for adult dogs only)  Anything more than this is too much. Puppies are in a class of their own- they have not yet developed sufficient control over their bladder or sphincter to sleep all night in a crate without soiling. Yes, this means YOU getting out of bed in the wee hours to let your puppy out (try to keep in mind how cute and adorable your pup is and how soon this stage will pass as you stumble out of bed)
Crates that are too large will allow the dog to eliminate in a corner, defeating the purpose of crating (not soiling his sleeping area) The crate should be just large enough for the dog to stand up and turn around in. Most crates come with inserts to use just for this purpose.
Of course, your first step in determining why your adult dog cannot hold his bladder/bowels is your veterinarian, right? Yes-it is.  Especially in the case of a dog who has a long history of perfect elimination habits. Do not let well-meaning people convince you that your dog is doing this out of spite. Dogs do not defecate/urinate out of spite. I don’t care what anyone tells you-they don’t. Period.
Wire crate
How to teach your dog that crates are awesome
Start with the crate on a non-wobbly surface (trust me-test this BEFORE your dog tries to enter) with the door open (remove the door, if possible) Lay some little treats around the exterior opening. Let your pup eat them. That’s it.
Lay a treat just inside. Let your pup sniff and explore and eat the treats. That’s it.
Toss a treat inside. Then out. Then in, then out until your pup is happily going IN. Add the word “In” as he goes in and “Out” as he goes out. That’s it.
Place his food in the crate. Let him go in and eat. Then come out.
Place his food in the crate and close the door. When he is finished, open the door.
In other words, make the transition gradual and reward him for staying inside. I am purposely not giving a timeline or formula because each dog is different. Go at your dog's pace. If he is uncomfortable, take a step back to where he was comfortable and stay there a bit. When he is okay with being in the crate with the door closed and alone, you may also add some soft background music, or a talk radio station playing quietly.
Rituals are good
I have a nighty-night ritual. Dogs who go into their crate get a nice cookie or yummy treat when they go “in” at bed time. If I must crate a dog during the day (and I do this periodically even when not necessary just to keep things fresh) they get a stuffed Kong or a special chewie to work on.

What can I use instead of a crate?
If your dog is small, you can use an ex-pen. Another option is to designate and dog-proof a room. You can supplement this by hiring a dog walker to come in during the day to give your dog a nice break.
Make good use of baby gates and place delicate items out of reach. Think child-proofing. You wouldn't say "Well, my toddler should know better and stay out of the cleaning products because I TOLD her to! Just who is in charge here?!"  right? Of course not. You would place latches on doors and baby-proof your home. Yes, you must do this for your dog, yes, even if the dog you had before this one never ever got into anything he was not supposed to unless you gave him permission to. You either got lucky or time has gently erased all of the adjustment period you had with that dog away.

Finally, keep in mind that being alone is not a natural state for a dog to be in. Some dogs can and do adjust to being alone-many others do not. Dogs are individuals, just like people are. My oldest son could be trusted to responsibly cross a street when he was 5. My daughter was 10 before I let her cross a street without a walkie-talkie (this was before 10 year olds had cell phones)
Finally, a dog who chews furniture, drywall, electric cords, and the like when left alone is simply trying to soothe himself. He may be bored, teething, anxious, or just plain having doggie fun. He is not "trying to get back at you for leaving him alone"
Dogs just do not have that brainpower and we should be grateful they don't. If they did, we would all be in BIG trouble.

Happy Training!

Crates made to look like furniture
Best variety
Example of a dog-proofed home
Kikopup's "Teach Your Small Dog To Love Going In A Purse" (same concepts used to teach crate training-for those visual learners out there!)

Monday, August 29, 2011

Sometimes...a cigar is just a cigar!

How did we become so unforgiving of dogs who growl? Where did this attitude come from? Is it a result of the mistaken belief that a growl is a sign of an attempt by the dog to "dominate" the household?

And a nip-as my east coast friends would say...fuggitaboutit!*

Just a couple of generations ago, a child who ran home crying because, "Rover BIT me!" would be met with a sharp, "Well, what did you expect? I told you to stay away from that dog!" instead of a lightening-fast call to a litigation attorney.

 A growl is information

Dogs are social creatures and most will not bite when a growl will do. The problem occurs when there is a blind assumption by us that all dogs can and should tolerate whatever we dish out, as unflinching as a robot.

What are you saying, Chris? That I should just ignore all growling?

The short answer is "no". Take the growl as an indication that something is making your dog very uncomfortable. Is the dog ill? In pain? Frightened?

Especially if this is a new behavior that comes on suddenly, the first stop should be your veterinarian. Hopefully your veterinarian is also a veterinary behaviorist or has access to one (most are happy to consult with your veterinarian- many times as a professional courtesy-as in free of charge) who will determine if this is a medical issue or one that can be solved with the help of a good trainer.

There are many good dog trainers who are well educated in canine behavior. There are also many who simply add the term "behaviorist" to their brochure because it is trendy (like the woman I met once who assured me in a hushed tone that dogs who are afraid of brooms were most certainly abused at some point in their lives).

Do your homework and ask questions! Where did they receive their education? There are some really good self-taught individuals out there-and also some that are not.

If your trainer suggests methods that merely suppress the behavior by using "corrections" (keywords to look out for are "alpha" "pack leader" "dominance" "red zone dogs") my advice is to keep looking. Most of the time, you must change the underlying behavior in order to solve the problem.

Aggression met with aggression results here to find out
Need a board certified veterinary behaviorist? click here to find one in your area

*Let's be clear-we are talking about a nip, not a serious, damaging bite. That I have to even make that distinction speaks volumes on how we view dogs who behave like...dogs.

Happy Training!