Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Why We Lure

Here's an interesting question:
Why do we lure our dogs instead of mold them?

Well, to start with, let's look at what we mean by these two words:

  • To lure a dog is to use something he likes (such as a toy, or - most probably - a food reward) to guide him into a certain position.
IE: If you wanted to lure a dog to sit, you would place a goodie right on his nose, and push it back toward his rear end. Gravity should take hold and the dog's butt will naturally find the ground. It's a very hands-off approach.
  • To mold a dog is to physically prompt or push him into a certain position.
IE: If you wanted the dog to sit, you would lift up on his collar and push down on his rear end. The dog should go into a sit without too much fuss.

Both of those are very valid training techniques that you can use to get your dog to do all sorts of things; sit is only the beginning. However, with that being said, we are sold and in all sorts of love with the idea of luring, and not such big fans of the molding.

Now, why is this?

Well, let's explore the reasons!

I personally love luring because I can see a chain of events that results in a positive association between learning and the relationship I have with my own personal dogs. When I'm using the lure as a training tool, I can watch the wheels turn in my dog's brain as she quickly learns what I'm asking for. I fade lures fast, because she's so used to them that she doesn't need the crutch for long.

In puppies, I see a chain of events that is both cute and heartening. Here's how it goes:
  1. Trainer brings out treat.
  2. Puppy sees/smells and becomes interested.
  3. Trainer puts treat in front of puppy's nose and pushes toward his rear end.
  4. Puppy's thoughts: OOOOOOOH. GOODIE!
  5. Puppy's rear end lands on floor
  6. Trainer says, "Good Boy!" and gives the puppy a treat.
  7. Through a few repetitions, puppy learns a few things:
  • Everytime he hears this "Good Boy!" sound his human makes, food follows.
  • Everytime his butt hits the floor, he hears "Good Boy!" and a treat follows.
  • Puppy starts offering this rear end on floor thing to see if "Good Boy!" will follow.
About fifteen times after using the Lure>Good Boy>Treat as my method to get the dog to sit, I add the word "sit" to the sequence so that it looks like this ---> "Sit">Lure >Good Boy>Treat. About fifteen times after that, I start to fade the lure. (Meaning that I make the lure less obvious, until I don't use the lure at all.)

It's simple; it's wonderful, and above all - the trainer and the puppy should be having fun together. A positive thing is happening - it's not so much strict obedience as it is learning what works, bonding, and having fun. The great thing about it is that manners are learned along the way, and the more clear and consistent you are, the faster the puppy learns.

Don't get me wrong; there are downsides to luring. If you fade the lure too fast, the puppy won't have had the time to make the connection between the word "sit" and the action of putting his butt on the floor, and you may end up wanting to bang your head against the wall. Ooops! Just go back a level (add the lure again) and fade it more slowly the second time around.

The other downside is the one that makes me, as a trainer, want to bang my head against the wall. Some people... Well, they never fade the lure. To me, luring is a crutch, and I don't feel that anyone needs to make that much work for themselves - any dog can learn the association between "sit" and butt-on-floor, and to keep the lure in there forever is handicapping the dog.

So, what about molding? Well, I can keep this short and sweet - it works. It takes more repetitions and very good timing. If you have bad timing, it takes even more repetitions. If you're really bad at your timing or have a particularly nervous dog, it takes even more repetitions.

Also, for some reason, I see people who train with molding still molding their dogs into sits even three to four to five years down the road. That's a lot of work and a lot of repetition, especially when our canine companions are more than capable of learning a silly thing like "sit."

A very good trainer can probably teach his dog "sit" by molding just as fast as we can by luring, to be honest. Like I said, it just takes very good timing.

The deal with me is that I like it when the dog makes an association through a positive means rather than an avoidance one. Dogs who are trained through molding sit when they hear "sit" because they don't want their collars lifted and their butts pushed down. Dogs who are trained by luring sit when they hear "sit" because good things happen when they do. They seem to learn faster, are more eager to learn and play the training game, and in my opinion, it makes for a better dog-human relationship. For me, it's all about the relationship.

I really love my dogs.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Imprinting Stage I

Gypsy with her new litter of puppies.

I'm doing imprinting work with the puppies in the litter shown above. Imprinting, during the very early stages of puppy development has shown to seriously impact on the lives of the dogs. In fact, it has so much impact that the U.S. Veterinary Corps swear by it.

Imprinting makes the most of a few seemingly novel exercises, like placing the puppy in a specific body position. It may not seem like much, but the five simple exercises involved in imprinting skyrocket a dog's coping ability, so much so that a puppy who continues with this program, accelerating and sophisticating his training, can theoretically stand in the middle of a battlefield and still do his job, bombs and gunfire all around. (Note: Imprinting sets a dog up to be able to handle this, but here's the deal: The Military dogs go through much more training; imprinting is only the beginning. On top of that, no matter what program a dog goes through, there are still exceptions. Some dogs are quite simply too "soft" to be able to handle that kind of environment, no matter how good the training.)

We added a sixth step to our mix, because we feel that these five exercises, while great, leave out a very important step - it's what we would call a Symbolic Massage, or Body Desensitization. We run our hands systematically over the puppy, touching every area of her body. No area is sacred. We feel in between the pads of her feet, under her belly, over her ear flaps, etc.

In being handled this way, she's very unlikely to develop body issues - ie: many dogs have weirdnesses with their paws. They don't like them being handled and may get quite snippy when Mom or the Groomer pulls out the nail clippers. We simply aren't giving her the option to have this fear.

I've worked with any number of puppies at rescue organizations in my area, and I can tell you that not one of them were comfortable enough to allow even people they saw everyday to touch their paws in this manner. I don't want that to be an issue. So, why not start desensitizing from day one?

We like just hanging out, too. And it's still training, really. The pups get used to be handled by new people, and they also get used to our smells. But we're probably just there still because we love puppies. Don't tell anybody.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Dear Tennis Ball,


...I'm going to train Kittie how to pick you up. Don't think I won't manage it. I know she's terrified of you - maybe it's because you don't look like a squeaky raccoon or because you don't taste good, but she's going to learn how to chase you down and wrap her big, sharp canine teeth around you.

Heh? You for real, Moms?

Yeah, I said it.

Tennis ball, you are going down.

I not so sure bout dis....

My nervous Agility Star is going to learn Flyball - and that involves your destruction. I just thought you should know.

Okay, Mom. Whateverz you says.

But Tunnels is betterz