Dog Training and Time

Nancy Tanner and Friends

© Nancy Tanner

This week’s post comes to us courtesy of the exceptional writer and dog trainer Nancy Tanner. Check her website and you’ll see she’s the Founding Owner at Paws & People, the Scent Project, and The World Treibball League. Nancy is the recipient (twice) of the Dog Writers Association‘s prestigious Maxwell Medallion, with a total of eight impressive nominations to her credit. She generously allowed me to repost this blog entry in its entirety (thanks, Nancy!). Please note all photos and text are the exclusive property of Nancy Tanner.


the misunderstanding of time

nancy Tanner dog 1 photo

When I am asked what is the biggest problem I see in dog training today, it is the same problem I saw  fourteen years ago, and thirty years ago, it is the misunderstanding of time.

Nancy Tanner dog 2 photo

It takes time to learn how to be a teacher to another species.
It takes time to learn how to learn from another species.
It takes time to build understanding.
It takes time to learn how to observe and how to apply what you observe.
It takes time to build a relationship with trust.
It takes time to get to know one another.
It takes time teach.
It takes an enormous amount of time to build skill on both ends of the leash.
It takes time to learn.
It take time to learn about humility.
It takes time to learn how to work together.
It takes time to learn about the things in training you don’t even know that you don’t know yet.
It takes time to learn about your own short comings.
It takes time to forgive your own short comings and learn how to move on with your dog.
It takes a life time to practice compassion.
It takes time, all of it.
Nancy Tanner dog 3 photo
You cannot rush a relationship.
You cannot rush the teaching or learning process, on either end of the leash.
You cannot rush maturity or the lack there of.
You cannot rush your skills, or your dogs understanding of your skills.
My advice to new dog owners, seasoned dog owners, and want to be dog owners – learn how to settle in, learn that nothing will happen over night. Learn that if you try to take short cuts and try to make it all happen to fit your schedule, or your desires, or your needs, it will come back to bite you in the ass, figuratively or literally.
                                                                                                 ~ Nancy
If you’re interested in sharing Nancy’s post via your own site or other social media, see the copyright notice on her site for details. And while you’re there, be sure to read more posts; she’s a terrific writer!

The Sociable Dog

Sasha 3-20-16 posing for spring CROPPEDBefore Sasha came into my life, I already had a reasonable collection of dog-related reference works in my office—about what you’d expect for anyone writing fiction involving dogs. Now that I have a Sheltie, my collection of resources has grown significantly. Being the research geek I am, I’ve collected just about every reference available related to Shelties plus books, videos, and websites dedicated to dog training and rescue dogs in general. The more I read, the more I realize how much there is to learn and relearn.

Every day with Sasha is full of learning moments—some repeats, some new, and some downright unexpected. Take interaction with children, for example. You’ll find plenty of folks who swear Shelties are great with children, including the volunteer who fostered Sasha for a few days. The volunteer assured me Sasha was “good with kids.” That assessment, though, was based on her observations of the dog with a single toddler over a span of a few days. As any researcher knows, it’s not possible to generalize results from a miniscule sample. In simple terms, this means I cannot accurately predict how Sasha will behave when interacting with children.

Experienced trainers and responsible dog owners emphasize the need for early socialization (which I’d argue is essential for humans and dogs alike).  Since Sasha is a rescue, I have to rely on what little I know of her past, what I’ve learned about the breed, and my own instinct when we come upon children as we did today at the park when two very small girls wanted to rush over to “pet the pretty doggie.” Fortunately, their grandmother was quick to remind them to never approach a dog without permission (I wish all adults were that smart about dogs). I’d been working Sasha on the 30’ long line in the field but quickly switched to her standard leash. Then I knelt and showed the girls how to hold their hands out toward Sasha, who greeted them with a polite sniff. In less than a minute, Sasha made it clear she’d had enough social time, although she was polite and quietly shared the sidewalk as everyone moved off in the same direction. (That bodes well for the upcoming Dogwood Walk benefiting the Humane Society of the Ozarks.)

Today’s experience reminded me that while Sasha feels safe with those in her household, she tends to be reserved but polite in public and has limited tolerance when others (of the human or canine variety) venture too close. So we’ll keep working to increase her comfort level with others while being mindful of her need for personal space. When it comes to children, that means taking her near the playground but not letting her be surrounded by overeager little ones. We’ll keep exposing her to different environments with plenty of room for her to move away from others if she needs to.

I came across a blog post that includes a succinct description of the socialization process as perceived by that dog owner. The infographic comes from the same post, by the way. Here’s what one dog owner thinks:

My understanding of the word, is that “socialisation” is a process of exposing the dog to a variety if things and circumstances. The Socialisation Process can be seen to be beneficial for the dog if the dog displays positive emotions and socially-acceptable behaviour towards what it is being socialised to.

socialisation-depends-onYou can read the entire 3-part post here.

For another perspective, let’s consider a professional’s point of view.  Starr Ladehoff, CPDT-KA (which stands for Certified Professional Dog Trainer — Knowledge Assessed) contributed an article to back in 2012. Here’s what she said:

Socialization really is:

  • Exposure to the world the dog will be a part of in a safe manner with rules and guidelines
  • Learning to be calm when the world is stimulating
  • Learning to respond to signals when that is not what they want to do

Yes! Socialization is learning and maintaining acceptable behavior in any situation, especially when they would rather not. It is learning to handle any experience they will normally encounter throughout their life without becoming fearful, overly stimulated, reactive or aggressive.

You can read the entire article here.

Your own view of the socialization process might vary depending on your personality, your dog, the bond you share, and the environment in which you live.  For my part, I want Sasha to learn to be calm, confident, and responsive wherever we are. And that means daily training and time spent in different places with myriad distractions. Every day we both learn something new!

All in a day’s fun

Strong winds pushed us to and fro this morning, making our daily walk more of an endurance test than an enjoyable stroll. We soon retreated to the relative shelter of the back yard where Buddy the Cat joined us for play time. (Note to self: buy a video camera to capture the antics of these two!)

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With storms on the horizon we headed inside for training time. Buddy joins us for every session and expects his share of treats, which of course he gets. After a quick review of the basics, we moved on to practice what we learned in our second Intermediate session. One thing we’re working on is the auto-sit, which Sasha seems to do naturally. (Have I mentioned how smart this dog is?)

We’re also working on the straight sit, something Sasha manages often but not always. The trainer showed us the skip-sit exercise, which involves holding the leash in your right hand and treats in the left, then stepping off with your right foot first and drawing your left foot up in alignment as you stop. By holding the treat at your left side, your dog should line up straight in the heel position. Moving your hand a bit left or right seems to help guide the dog into the desired straight position. We’d be making more progress here if I would remember to step off with my right foot as instructed. My challenge: that contradicts 20+ years of “left foot first” military training!

Fortunately, both of us were much more successful learning the place command. If this is a new one for you, too, here’s a video you might find helpful:

During our training sessions I use Blue Buffalo’s Blue Bits treats because they’re soft, moist, and I can easily break them into tiny bits. She’s partial to the salmon but likes the chicken, turkey, and beef treats, too, so I buy a combo pack. Sasha loves Fromm’s salmon-with-sweet-potato treats at the end of a workout; they’re crunchy and big enough to convince her it’s a well-earned reward.

Between six sessions of Basic Obedience, the Intermediate class (four sessions to go), and daily workouts, we go through a lot of treats! Since Sasha doesn’t share my preference for vegetarian fare and prefers the savory meat-flavored treats, our trainer suggested using hot dogs. I’m willing to give it a try if I can find a low-fat, low-calorie hot dog that’s not chock-full of icky artificial stuff. (Is there such a thing?) If making your own hot dog treats sounds like something you want to try, head for the kichen and your oven of choice.

Microwave: Start by cutting your hot dogs into small bits. For a dog of Sasha’s size, that might be the size of a nickel cut in half or even smaller. Line a paper plate with paper towels before spreading out the bits. Some folks prefer to cover the bits with another layer of paper towels to help absorb moisture and minimize any mess.

Cook times will vary depending on the amount of hot dog pieces and your microwave’s size/power settings; I’ve heard everything from 2 to 10 minutes. Cook until you reach desired crispness. (Sounds like careful monitoring is essential here!) Once prepared, these treats can be stored in an airtight container on the counter, refrigerated, or frozen.

Traditional oven: Some folks prefer to bake their treats. If that sounds appealing to you, here’s a video showing you the steps. Note you’ll still need to monitor the time to achieve the desired crispness!

Do you have a favorite homemade dog treat? Share in the comments!

Training, Sasha-Style

Dog training real and imagined

If you’ve been following the blog you might remember that I enrolled Sasha (my Sheltie rescue) in Basic Obedience.  She already knows the commands of sit, down, stay, come, etc. and the class was intended as socialization time to help her acclimate to both people and dogs. The basic class turned out to be a great learning experience for both of us. We’ve discovered, for example, that she reacts fearfully toward clickers—which made being in a room with a dozen people clicking endlessly quite a challenge! I resolved that by moving her away from the rest, just far enough that she could relax and focus on me.

I also learned her patience has definite limits. She’ll willingly repeat an exercise three times. If I push for a fourth attempt she looks downright exasperated by what she apparently thinks is my inability to learn something! So while everyone else was doing (seemingly) endless repetitions of one exercise, we practiced a variety of commands on the leash.

Another learning moment for me: this dog gets downright cranky when she’s tired or hungry. The trainer recommended we don’t feed the dogs before coming to class, suggesting that a hungry dog will be eager for treats and consequently eager to learn. That meant Sasha didn’t get her evening meal on training night. Instead, I filled the treat pouch with her favorite yummy treats and some cheddar cheese, which she loves. That should have worked, right? Not with Sasha, who was clearly uninterested in any of the exercises that night. And she wasn’t pleased when other dogs, drawn no doubt by the alluring scent of cheddar, edged close to me—far too close, apparently, from her point of view.

In the past month I’ve learned (the hard way, of course) that I have a dog unwilling to train when hungry, disinterested in multiple repetitions even when offered cheese or tasty salmon bits, and definitely not the kind who’s up for an evening  out. We’re an “early to bed, early to rise” household, and Sasha tends to head toward the exit near the end of class when we’re practicing loose-leash walking around the training arena.

I’m taking all that into consideration as we move into Intermediate Obedience. Due to a quirky schedule, we’re actually starting Intermediate before our final basic class session. I chose a Saturday noon class so she has time to enjoy her morning meal and a neighborhood walk before we dive into training activities. We’ll continue to use the “three times and move on to something different” strategy for training. And thankfully, the trainer for the Intermediate class is shifting folks away from clickers in favor of verbal reinforcements, which will please Sasha (and me, too).

Next on our training agenda: object differentiation, which means Sasha needs to understand that fetch means more than looking at an object. And in between frequent short bursts of training time, Sasha is enjoying a happy life with a family who loves her (even the cat).

Sasha 3-20-16 posing for spring