Once upon a time….
I had a dog, the best dog ever, that wanted to play with me more than anything. He didn’t care about other dogs or even people but rather, just wanted to do whatever I wanted to do. Everything he did was at 90 miles an hour and at 110%.
Side note: Everything he did was LOUD – boy could he bark at the start-line and on the agility table like no other. He was 50% Aussie and 50% Border Collie - yep he was a “Bossy” and he never let me forget it.
Honestly, this dog was amazing but he was an extremely tense dog. He did settle but he never “relaxed” – that is the best way I can describe him. He was an easy dog to live with, but he was always on alert. Always being tense worked against him physically and I had to work hard to keep him flexible and strong for agility competition.
We competed in USDAA agility at the performance level because jumping higher seemed to be physically challenging for him. My goal was to keep him playing the game we loved as long as it would not have lasting effects on his body. I started trying a bunch of different things to help him use his body better, maintain flexibility and relieve tense and sore muscles. This is where canine fitness came in. Force was retired from agility at age 9. We continued his canine fitness program and his love of chasing the flying squirrel. He finally relaxed at age 12 when he lost his hearing and he lived to be 13.5 yrs. old. I would not trade a single moment I had with him and I miss him every day. Every day I am reminded of the gifts he gave me - the gift of canine fitness, the gift of teaching others, the gift of teaching what I love every day.
After seeing some amazing benefits working on canine fitness with my dogs and a few friends dogs, I started Pawsitive Performance as a side business training a few people here and there about canine fitness and teaching small group classes on my off days and in the evenings. I didn’t really have a system or a preference on how the behavior was obtained as long as it was a positive experience for the dog. Quadrants??? What are those?? I was just trying to get information about canine fitness out into the world and really feeling my way through it as best I could. I have a good eye for movement which continues to improve my skills with canine fitness today. I used a lot of food luring back then mixed in with some shaping, capturing behavior, rewarding what I liked, ignoring what I didn’t want etc. I was on the right path, but my methods needed to be refined.
In the years that followed, I strived to find the methods that worked for me, that I believe in and that I could share with others. I often heard from my students that fitness took too long and that it was frustrating. In came target training – simple front and rear foot targeting. I don’t know how or what turned me in this direction, but it was a like a giant “light bulb” moment. WOW what a difference it made to canine fitness for those that were willing to train it. All of a sudden there is a language between the handler and the dog that really worked, made fitness exercises more efficient and improved the overall process while also leaving frustration behind.
When asking for front feet on a FitPAWS K9FITbone and rear feet on a disc was now so simple.
Cue “toes” for front feet on the K9FITbone and “feet” for rear feet on the disc – easy peasy. It was so AMAZING and so clear that this was the missing piece to canine fitness. It takes so much less time to cue the behavior than it does to “jockey” a dog into position with a food lure. Many of my students would spend so much time jockeying, that they never actually did the intended exercise.
But still, I really wanted more tools in the toolbox. I wanted more answers to “making canine fitness efficient for both dog and handler, and how do I develop better communication”. I learned from many trainers taking what worked and tossing out what didn’t work or what didn’t feel right to me. This is a process that every trainer has to go through.
Drama even as a young puppy had a good library of “offered” behavior. What he didn’t have was all of those behaviors on cue and under stimulus control. Hmmm a new piece to the training puzzle. In comes the Karen Pryor Professional program which taught me better clicker mechanics, how to properly add a cue to a behavior, better ways to set up an environment to obtain the desired behavior and overall better communication skills when training my dog and when helping my clients train their dogs. Again, more “tools in the toolbox”. I get such a rush out of showing a handler how better communication using clear signals reduces frustration and obtains the behavior faster. Truly, this is what I live for. I made it my mission to become a Karen Pryor Faculty member so that I could help others communicate better with their dogs and help them build their own business based on a strong foundation.
Today my methods of dog training or tools that are used, are chosen by observing the dog and handler in front of me. I train canine fitness, obedience, basic manners, skills training, behavior modification and more. Bring me a behavior you are struggling with, and I will fix your problem by breaking down that behavior into understandable and doable steps for the dog. It is important to understand the behavior being taught and in what context the behavior will be used. There is no “one size fits all” in dog training. There is no one “magic tool” that works with every dog. A good trainer has many different tools in their toolbox. It is how those tools are used that really matter.
If you are my client today, you might see a variety of training tools (simply stated below):
- Shaping using a clicker/marker
- Capturing by setting up the environment to obtain the behavior
- Targeting a prop with a body part
- Hand targeting
- Pressure and release
- Luring using food in fingers
- Luring using food in a closed hand (“follow”)
- Luring using a target, prop or hand
- Reinforcement strategies including food from hand, food from a Pet Tudor, food from a bowl positioned further away, Zen bowl, IYC - just to name a few
- Reinforcement strategies using a toy (yep, a toy – this takes skill when asking for precision movement)
- Delayed reinforcement (once the dog understands the concept)
The training tool I choose, will get chosen with “buy in” from the handler. Afterall, I am in the business of training humans to train their dogs so the tool I use has to be a tool the dog owner is willing to learn and get better at. I don’t make all my students use a clicker just because it is my preferred method. I am in this for what is best for the dog, not my own agenda. That said, I am more than willing to help you learn ways to improve your skills and communication methods when training your dog while working inside your comfort zone and skill level. What I find is that many students start to see the benefits of better communication want more. Some of my best students started off as pet clients and are now really good trainers. I find that many performance sport handlers, don’t actually know how to train their dog. Helping these handlers to improve the mechanics, have a clear idea of the goal behavior and work toward that goal, is what I live for.
My promise to all my students is that I will always seek MORE education about training dogs - what does science say, training philosophies or systems, behavior modification strategies, etc. Understanding ‘all the tools’ means that I can easily toss them aside or proudly stand beside them. Further I will work to improve my mechanics and ability to teach each and every one of you.
~ Bobbie Lyons, CCFT, KPA Faculty