Monday, August 31, 2015

Dock Diving/Stability

Saturday I took Seth to the Oregon State Fair to try Dock Diving! It was a very interesting and fun experience. X-treme Air Dogs is hosting the event at the fair and they have it set up so people can bring their dogs to give it a try. It's $15 and you can try multiple times between waves [their competitions] throughout the day. There is a trainer there to help you and help your dog. Seth thought the pool and the ramp were really weird. I didn't think about it being 'odd' to him, but I think it is a little more daunting for them transitioning from open water to a pool because they know they are "stuck" in the pool. The first time in Seth immediately wanted to try to exit the pool via one of the sides. He has a good recall so we got him back up the ramp. Speaking of the ramp, that was also weird for him. I think he was having a hard time gauging where the ramp ended. He jumped off of the dock once but I think it surprised him/I don't think he was prepared for the jump. After that he did not want to jump off of the dock. He would go off of the ramp no problem, but the dock was a no-go. I tried twice with him and the trainer even got into the pool but he just wasn't going to jump in. Unfortunately I had some other things I needed to do that day so I decided to walk some of the fair and head home. I think eventually he will figure it out, but we definitely need more time to work on it. There is supposed to be a pool opening up nearby in September specifically for dog swimming and dock dogs - so I am really hoping to be able to take him there so we can work on this!

Overall even though he only jumped in once, it was a great experience. It was also good "trial" experience because we had all kinds of people watching us as we fruitlessly tried to encourage Seth to get his ball from the pool.

Dock diving aside I also wanted to talk about how stable Seth is, and how much I really appreciate it.

It's been a long time since I have taken one of my dogs to a public event setting like the fair grounds. Generally speaking if I am going to a Saturday market or something I don't bring a dog simply because I don't trust other people with their dogs, and if I intend to buy things it's easier to not have a dog tagging along.

Seth had to hang out a lot while waiting our turn to try dock diving. We had several people and several kids ask to pet him. Seth was happy to get some attention and was very happy to interact with people and with children. I only had maybe two children who did not ask touch him, but it was quick and in passing. All of the other children and people we encountered were very polite and asked to pet him. Seth was super relaxed while we waited in line for our turn, he even was lying down on his side a few times while waiting, sniffing the ground and just hanging out. People walking all around us didn't seem to bother him at all. It brings me back to the day he got his CGC. We were in a room with probably 30 other dogs while we waited our turn and here he is lying on his back pawing at my friend Lynna's dog, like he didn't notice any of the commotion at all.

Saturday just really made me appreciate Seth's stable, easy going temperament. He was in his element with all of those people. He was happy to interact with folks who wanted to interact with him, he never once seemed worried or stressed out. It was just nice. It also made me really happy to give adults and several children a very positive experience with a dog. It made me feel good that the folks interacting with him felt good. Kids really aren't my cup of tea but I was glad to be a part of their 'good dog experiences'.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Oh, to be the squirrel!

This is my 200th post on my blog and I thought I would share an epiphany I had.

Our friends at ZoePhee mentioned "being more fun than the squirrel" on facebook and it really got me thinking!

I've been told in the past by a trainer before to be "more fun than the squirrel."

The truth is, if you own a head strong, independent dog with high prey drive - you will never be more fun than the squirrel. I'm not saying that you should just throw in the towel and not try to be. But what I am saying is that I have accepted that my dog, no matter what I do, is not always going to choose me instead of the "squirrel". Of course, the "squirrel" can be anything in life. This is kind of a metaphor for being the most fun thing ever, to be more fun than the thing your dog really wants! For your dog to choose YOU and NOT the THING!

What I like about IPO is that while I will never be as awesome as the bite sleeve/helper, my dog is willing to do the things I ask - in order to bite the sleeve. Because of this kind of training [if you heel you can bite, if you sit you can bite etc.] it has definitely helped with his impulse control and there has been a 100% improvement from the dog he used to be. By breed and genetics Seppel is an impulsive dog. He will always be one to act first and think later, but because of the training that we do he has gotten a lot better.

I think impulse control games and really any kind of training that involves allowing the dog the thing it wants in exchange for a task, etc, is awesome. I think they work in helping teach our impulsive dogs to think about their choices. However, as I said above, I have fully accepted my dog for who he is. He is not a working breed, he is not a herder, his brain does not always immediately go to me. I see it daily in the choices he makes. Like today, when running the blinds he insisted on "checking" the hot blind, he KNOWS what he should be doing, he could hear me calling him fruitlessly, but he still did what he wanted to do. I'm not trying to make excuses for him, but it's like with some things he just can't help himself, his self control is extremely limited. It's just the kind of dog he is and I am totally okay with it.

On the flip side, I have been learning how to do helper/decoy work from our trainer. Thinking about it today I realized, when I am wearing the sleeve, I get to be the squirrel! I get to be the squirrel for my dog and for other dogs, and that is awesome! It's a wonderful feeling to be the thing that they want most! I am really excited to continue to learn helper work. I don't know if I will ever be great at it, but I hope I can help my club out and be good enough to work their dogs even on a basic level. If anything I am enjoying learning to new things and adding to my training tool box. It's pretty freaking fun to "be the squirrel" :D

Monday, August 17, 2015

Three Years

I've said it multiple times, when I decided to take on Seppel I had absolutely no idea what I would do with him.

For those who might be stumbling upon this blog, I got Seppel from an internet friend who passed away. Through the efforts of a dog forum and his owner's daughter we had him flown to OR from NC.

I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

The summer of 2012 I joined another Pit Bull forum that had local members on it and I was re-introduced to the sport of Schutzhund/IPO. Seppel took to bite work immediately. The "club" was a group of people who got together on Saturdays and some weekdays. Unfortunately this club was 2.5 hours from my house and it was a really long way to drive for training. I ended up looking for trainers more locally and wound up finding my current trainers down in Salem. It's still an hour away but the drive is much more manageable, not to mention it has been totally worth it.

Seppel has exceeded any and all expectations I had for him. Before we started doing IPO I was really worried about what I would do with him. Training Seppel was very different from training my dog Seth. Seth picks up things fairly quickly and has been pretty easy to teach new things to. Seppel and I did not have the same kind of connection and I was really at a loss as to what to do with him because more often than not he really frustrated me. [I'm sure the feeling was mutual!].

Here we are three years later. We are in an IPO club. Seppel has his CGC, URO1, and a BH. We've got our sights set on an IPO-VO in October and and IPO1 next summer. He knows "all the things" when it comes to protection and could do all three IPO protection routines. We're playing catch up with Obedience and Tracking but he has also proven to be a great little worker and is a lot of fun.

I could not have lucked out more than I have. I'm so thankful to have a dog that I can compete with, in a sport that we both enjoy. He's taught me how to be a better dog owner and a better dog trainer.

I also could not have had a better dog to introduce me to the  Pit Bull breed. Seppel is dog selective but he is not all out dog aggressive. I don't know if he would ever actually grab a dog, but he's shown me in several instances that he could be aggressive. I believe if another dog wanted to go, he would be down. While he can be selective, he is controllable around most other dogs and can control himself when we are working. I am always really careful if I have him off leash somewhere, I try to be mindful and watch the area - if another dog comes into an area that we are in I will typically leash Seppel until the other dog is out of sight. Usually if I have his ball he's fine - all he cares about is the ball. He has a lot of energy but it is manageable. There have been days where I have been too sick to exercise him and he is okay although by day 2-3 he is pretty restless. Generally speaking if I don't do something with him daily he will follow me around and has a hard time settling down. Seppel is not a "real deal" apbt, but I think he is a very good "starter" dog for me in the breed. He is tenacious, he's always game to do whatever it is I want to do. He always wants to have fun and can usually handle anything I throw at him. As far as his personality goes I think he is everything a Pit Bull should be.

Seppel has absolutely changed my life and I am so thankful he's here!

He's even been teaching me how to be a helper!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

What to Look for in a Dog Trainer

Just what should you be looking for, when looking for a dog trainer?

I think this is something important to write about and share because when I threw this question around to a few of my friends they agreed this question is kind of subjective.

I chose the trainers that I train with based on experience and certification. I was also looking for someone who specialized in the sport of Schutzhund. Jennifer has been in the sport of Schutzhund for 20+ years and is a Schutzhund judge. To become a DVG judge you must:
  • Be a minimum of 25 years old and maximum of 55 years old
  • Be a DVG member for a minimum of 5 years
  • Have at minimum, 1 year as training director (club or LV)
  • Have been a trial chairperson for a few trials
  • Only be a judge in one organization
  • Have titled two dogs from IPO 1 to IPO 3 or (VPG) and one of these dogs (or another dog) must have a BH and an FH
  • Have been a helper (in some cases theoretical knowledge is enough)

Ryan is a level 3 helper which is the highest certification you can receive. It means that he is certified to work competitions on the National and International level. He too has 20+yrs of dog experience.

For what I want to do, both Ryan and Jennifer are more than qualified. When I first met them for training I was able to see how they worked with both my dog and I. We share similar ideals and philosophies when it comes to dogs and I am comfortable with the way they train. Jennifer has used e-collars on some of the dogs she trains but has never made me feel pressured to use one. What I like about both Jennifer and Ryan is that they treat dogs as individuals and there is no one training method they use. Most of their training is motivational reward based training but they do use some aversives. I am not purely positive but I do not use harsh corrections with my dogs. I prefer to use rewards and motivation in my training. They are happy to accommodate that and I have never been pressured to do something with my dog that I am not comfortable with.

As a person who may not be looking at a specific sport here are some things I think are important to look at when considering someone.

-What are their qualifications? Do their personal dogs seem well trained? Have they titled dogs in any sports or conformation? How long have they been working with dogs? What is their training background? How much experience do they have training dogs?
****While having titled dogs is not a requirement for teaching the basics, if this person has done nothing with their dogs - how do you know they are capable of training your dog? A title essentially shows that the person was capable and willing of putting the work in to train their dog for something specific. It is a way to show the effort that they have put in in training the dog.
-What breeds do they have experience working with?
****You want to find someone who has experience with multiple dog breeds, also someone who sees dogs as individuals and doesn't approach every dog the same. Not every dog thinks the same way.

-What methods do they use?
****Be clear in what your intentions are. Does this trainer use aversives such a prong collars, choke chains, or leash corrections? Does this trainer use a clicker? Does this trainer use positive reinforcement only? I strongly encourage researching various training methods to decide what you think is best for your dog.
-Can you audit a private session or class?
****You should be able to watch this trainer train to decide if they would be a good match for you and your dog.
-Talk to people! Meet with various trainers, talk to them about your dog and what you are looking for. You don't have to settle with just one person, interview several and then decide who might be the best match for both you and the dog.

As I said previously, what we all seek in trainers is dependent on the individual and what they need.

At this point in time, you do not have to have any special qualifications to become a dog trainer. There are schools: Starmark Academy, National k9 School for dog trainers, Florida Dog Trainer[E-collar], Animal Behavior College just to name a few. There is also certification via CCPDT. However nothing is required and anyone can claim to be a dog trainer. As a dog owner it is our responsibility to research and advocate for our pets.
****Experience is more important to me than a piece of a paper. Many trainers have years of experience under their belt but have not gotten any special certifications. I wouldn't rely on a piece of paper to determine whether or not a trainer is a good one.

I would not recommend any type of "boot camp" or training where you leave the dog with the trainer for X weeks. While it's great to send your dog off for training, YOU need to be there to learn how to train YOUR dog! Not to mention you don't know how they are treating your dog if you are not there seeing the dog daily. An exception would be a place that boards & trains, while having you as the owner out multiple times a week to learn how to work your own dog. Overall I just don't think that type of training is necessary, you are better off scheduling a private lesson once a week so you can work one on one with the trainer to learn how to teach your dog specific behaviors.

In closing, for the goals I have personally I would not seek out a trainer who did not have titled dogs. Often times the trainers I recommend to people are active in the dog world, they either do obedience or they show in conformation as well as various other dog sports. Especially for training basics I feel an obedience instructor, or someone who competes in obedience, is more than capable of teaching basic commands because obedience as a sport is just an extension of the basics - sit, down, heel, stay etc.

I hope this is somewhat helpful. I didn't want to get into it too deeply but hopefully this gives you a place to start when looking for a trainer!