Settling as Pet Owners and Trainers
This post is about our dogs and why they do and do not. Why training works and “not training” does not. How easy it is to settle, to miss, skip, overlook, ignore. And what is the cost of settling as responsible pet owners and trainers. Its a lengthy post as the background and evolution is important to the points. When we started this blog we wanted it to be a resource for people just like us who were just getting started. These are some of the best lessons we have learned. (so far)
Lilli is 3 yrs old. We have had her since she was 4 months old I think. Andrea got her specifically for the purpose of being my disc fetching dog. Freestyle and agility were not really in the plans at that point. We started at ground zero as it pertains to training dogs. In some ways that was awesome because we were a blank slate. At times it was overwhelming as there are a variety of styles and strategies from old school discipline to new school positive training, mirror training and pack leader strategies. We had one dog and that one dog got basic obedience training in the kitchen. We were thrilled at the success of sit, down, stay. Lilli was great at learning basic commands. A few months later we took an official obedience course with a local trainer. She fired us up to train for agility, which Lilli loved. Then we felt like freestyle would be the next obvious step for Lilli who had really showed a passion for disc play. We met again with a local superstar disc dogger who gave us some basic steps. We were thrilled with the progress. But one dog and two eager handlers was not enough so we opted for a second dog.
Leila , our red merle, arrived in a plane from Michigan. Cuter than any puppy I had ever seen. She was a princess, bred for confirmation, we were sure (ok- hopeful) she would work out as a disc dog with such fine lines and breeding. We left a few weeks later, flying all the way to Canada for a puppy camp with Susan Garrett. And it really changed everything for us. What Susan teaches is like dog training college. Truthfully we felt behind the curve on just the first day. We came home with a renewed energy and deeper understanding of the mechanics of training. Crate games by Susan Garrett for sure has been the difference maker in having our high energy dogs become great house pets. It wasn’t long though before we felt more lost than found. Unknown to us we had misunderstood any number of suggestions and tips given to us by Susan. Our enthusiasm and energy waned because we saw minimal success (really we were just expecting too much- going too fast)
Our First Biggest Mistake
We thought Lilli should teach Leila how to be a proper dog. Leila is an awesome student when it is time for training. Probably the best in our pack of four. She is also the worst. By letting Lilli and leila romp through her early months, Leila bonded with Lilli way more than us. And now Leila is such a dog’s dog that we can not be assured of her recalls in doggy situations. (more about this later)
Lesson #1 Bond with your dog (puppy or new dog) and establish a solid recall before allowing unsupervised free play.
Susan calls it second dog syndrome. Seems people get an awesome dog and sort of expect the same results with the 2nd. But novices like us had no idea the impact of a second dog. The dynamics change in ways difficult to see with human eyes. And we were dog dumb. We didn’t know enough about packs or dog behavior. I think it was Ron Watson (maybe Susan) who told us that dogs let loose on their own find all sorts of reinforcement from their environment. Reinforcement away from us creates unwanted (does not always mean bad) behaviors. Like Lilli chasing Leila created a Lilli who bites heels and a Leila who wants to be chased by every dog she sees. And for some reason Leila is the most inappropriate dog I have seen. She playfully jumps on every dog she sees and one day…that might not go so well. A dream for us would be to have leila spend time with an experienced pack so she can learn appropriate pack manners.
Lesson #2 Reduce free play/free roaming of young dogs to avoid unwanted reinforced behaviors. This also makes training sessions more valuable.
Ok so Leila was too young and developing really slow and we decided we wanted an older dog we could start playing with right away. We were warned. We didn’t listen.
LET ME SAY RIGHT HERE – there is nothing wrong with anything we did or anything you do. Dogs can be dogs and however it works for you and your dogs is fine. As it pertains to having (in our opinion) properly trained dogs these are the issues we have and are experiencing and choose to address for our pack.
We got Kai, a beautiful black bi with brindling aussie. We didn’t know any better. I am certain if we were to do it over again with what we know now we would not have taken Kai bear. Not because she isn’t wonderful, but because we realize we want disc maniacs. Like Moxie and Lilli. We were not great judges of drive and mostly because of my soft heart we made Kai part of our pack. At the time Kai would barely even look at a disc. (She is now a talented disc dog)
So a week later we were heading north to see Susan again. But before Canada we would stay a few weeks in MI with Ron and Apryl of Pawsitive Vybe. This was like mind blowing canine disc training for us. What we learned there took us from the backyard and into competitions with all four of our dogs. We can not wait for another week at Pawsitive Vybe and I will explain why in a bit. First you should know we left MI and continued to Susan’s Camp. Intermediate training! We focused on Leila and Lilli and mostly left Kai in the borrowed camper(thanks Lynda). And it was like being there for the first time. I mean she said a lot of the same stuff and it was like we were hearing it for the first time. The light bulb came on there. That’s why going to Ron’s camp again will be so valuable. It’s like these guru’s impart the basic ideas the first time and then the second time you hear it you have the foundation to begin to really practice the principles. My friend Andy Steed used to say we are different people every moment and so a story told over and over is experienced differently in each telling. We were different people attending camp the second time and left much better equipped.
Lesson # 3. Learn everything at least twice. Come back in 6 months and Learn it Again.
Now we have a fourth dog. And for me, three of the most important lessons come here. Moxie is an absolute maniac. She is fast and furious, a cattle dog is not an aussie. That’s not one of the lessons though. Moxie is Andrea’s dog. And she is working with Leila as well. Lilli and Kai are my dogs. Kai has become a frisbee fan. She LOVES to vault and she loves to chase discs. She still has a weak bite and not nearly the intensity of Lilli or Moxie. Leila at 16months old is just starting to catch long discs. She seems like she needs a few more months to grow up yet. Moxie came into the world a frizbeast and Lilli has a very long trick list and here start the final lessons.
Lesson #4 Focus on Fun when training for competitions.
Last month I got caught up in trying to compete. It’s a normal human reaction. I went to the first few for fun, did well, and then felt like I needed to keep doing well. I started to feel pressure to do things right and found myself not having fun in practice. After a few weeks of being frustrated and delivering poor throws (poor dogs) I sat down and thought it through. Having fun was way more important than competing. So the next week I just went out and played and it was the most fun I had in a while. It inspired me to edit the routines I had created for Lilli. Instead of trying to jam in all the cool tricks she could do, I narrowed it down to the ones she and I do very well and have fun with. I’m going to sneak in a tip here about competing in disc events. Practice like you are competing to get a real feel for the status of your routine. Go to a strange field, play music and have someone time it.
Back to Moxie and on to the next lesson.
Lesson #5 Don’t settle and don’t settle for unwanted behaviors.
Moxie has a horrible shriek. Andrea and I both hate it. Susan says barking is a low cost behavior for dogs. Super easy to for them to do. No work at all. It’s the one behavior that really brought up this topic for me. The things our dogs do well are the things we hold strict criteria for. The unwanted behaviors are things we have not yet chosen to address. Our dogs sit at the door because we hold that as a strict criteria. Lilli will bite at Leila’s heels when they are playing together because we have not yet addressed it. All the dogs will go to their crate when asked because we maintain that rule. Leila will not recall 100% if there are other dogs present because we have not yet trained the wanted behavior. We get what we train and we get what we don’t train. A dogs behavior is absolutely a reflection of the trainer. And repeated behaviors are naturally reinforced. This is a reminder for me that I am responsible for my dogs behavior. I can’t really ask or expect from them anything I have not taught them. Once they know the behavior I do expect it from them. If I don’t, they won’t.
What are the costs.
The cost of not training. The costs can’t all be measured and thankfully many will never be realized. There are horror stories and funny stories. Lilli use to chase ducks into the middle of ponds. We stopped that. We lived in fear until we did because Lilli could not swim at the time. I would be swimming to the middle of some nasty body of water to rescue my doggie paddling dog. Leila might one day meet a dog with no patience and big teeth. We are always yelling at Moxie to shut up. Using her name in vain, because we have not yet trained her to shut up. This will likely confuse or water down the power of the recall. Lazy is what that is. I speak for myself of course. Yes we are busy, busier than ever! Our business and our dogs has reached an all new demand. And plenty of people say just let your dogs be dogs and that’s fine. We do. They are dogs. And we are responsible for their training and their safety in a world of cars, wild environments and untrained dogs.
The next step for Andrea and I is to take a look at the unwanted behaviors and decide what we will address and how. And any behaviors we don’t address are the ones we choose to live with. We’ll do this with a consideration for the costs of allowing certain behaviors to continue. What will that look like over time after years of reinforcement?
And Finally Lesson #6 Rescue a Dog
Leila was our first and last puppy. We will be getting Lilli (this week) and Leila fixed. Kai and Moxie already are. The world does not need more dogs (you know what I mean). There are millions of abandoned super stars, cuddle monsters, and abused pups in shelters all over the country. In time we will get more dogs and they will all be rescues.
So at the heart of all this is being responsible for our dogs. We have learned so much from our pack. We were in over our heads and maybe we still are. But we love our dogs and they seem pretty happy too. We will continue to learn from the great friends we have who are enthusiasts or gurus who love to share their knowledge. And we will make time to teach and share what we know with others. We’ll be back to see Susan and Ron this summer I am sure. Sorry this one rambled on a bit and I hope the post helps some other up and coming dog lovers in their dog training adventures.