Monday, September 19, 2016

Cohen hadokens!

So, because I wanted to a) do something with my husband and b) see if it could be done, I present to you a possible worlds first: a dog performs a hadoken on cue!

Okay, so it's a little button mashy, but I'm over the moon that she did it. Video gamers and dog training aficionados seem similarity impressed. Good dog!

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Commercials - Somfy!

Some of the commercials we filmed for Somfy were released. Yay!

Once again, very pleased with how these turned out. The people organizing the production and putting everything together simply rocked.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Commercial - Interac Pets with Credit, a Dogumentary

I couldn't be more pleased with Cohen's most recent commercial. The folks at Zulu and Interac did a fabulous job with it. It was a pleasure to be a part of it, from the very beginning to the end.

Please don't hesitate to share the video if it tickles your fancy.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Twenty Things To Know To Get Your Dog On TV



  (or movies, or commercials, or...)  

Do you think your dog has star potential? Are you interested in the possibility of doing commercial work with your pup but aren’t sure whether it’s right for you? Do you need some pointers about how to start?

This is an article that describes some of the basics of commercial work and how to make the most out of the opportunities that might be granted to you. It will touch on how to get started in the industry, what sort of training might be required, things to remember and the nitty-gritty aspects of working in it.

Commercial work takes many forms: still images for print or online, digital media, television, theatre, movies and more. For some projects, dogs or other animals may feature prominently; for others, they may exist in the background to add depth to a scene.  The end products can vary widely, but there are some common themes that run throughout the work.

This article is based predominantly on my own experiences; I welcome those who have their own to share as well in the comments below.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Fit Dog Friday tip o' the day

Gaping maw and excessive noise optional.
Fit Dog Friday tip o' the day: We do agility (and other high impact dog sports) with a fit dog. We don't do agility (etc) to make a dog fit. 

Agility shouldn't be the most intense workout of your dog's week. Heck, they should barely break a (metaphorical) sweat during practice. Practice is a time where you hone handling and obstacle skills. It is not a time where you tire out your dog. A tired dog is more prone to make mistakes, and mistakes can lead to injury.

Compliment your dog's competitive hobbies with strengthening and conditioning exercises outside of the ring. Body awareness exercises and tricks are perfect tools to teach your dogs how to use their bodies safely, and conditioning builds muscle where you need it so they can withstand the impact of jumping, turning and hitting contacts.

I'm a huge proponent of keeping our dogs at a healthy weight and keeping them fit year-round. Ribs should be easily felt and muscles should be well developed. Keep practice sessions short and stop before your dog tires. Our pets don't live forever, but this is one way to lengthen the quality time we have with them.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Dog training tip o' the day: No-reward markers

Today I want to talk about no-reward makers (aka NRMs).

In some circles, mentioning NRMs can elicit boos and hisses. This is because a NRM is technically a positive punisher. That is, it is actively applied in order to reduce the likelihood of a behaviour happening again. Many people are leery of punishment in dog training, and with good reason. So the use of NRMs is often discouraged.

But, I kind of like NRMs in certain situations.

A no-reward marker is intended to be a way to communicate to the dog that the thing they are doing at the moment is not going to earn them a reward. It's sort of the opposite of a clicker. Using NRMs comes naturally to people -- most of us say no, nope, or try again if our dogs make a mistake during a training session. It is a way to offer a bit more information to a dog if they begin to go down an undesired path during a training session.

In a perfect world, NRMs shouldn't be necessary. A dog should be set up to offer the desired behaviour during training from the very beginning through management and a conscientious approach to the session. In a perfect world, dogs should be crystal clear in what it is you are asking of them. However, I am not a perfect trainer.

I occasionally rush progression, or stall too long on a step, or just get lazy and let my criteria slide. My dog might begin to offer undesired behaviours that run the risk of being reinforced by subsequent steps within a behaviour chain before I've had a chance to address them. When that happens, mistakes can become entrenched within a chain and can be difficult to remove once there. If I remain silent and withhold a click, my dog may grow frustrated at not being offered a clear picture of what it is I'm looking for. She might grumble, stress up or grow frenzied in her responses if I remain silent. If I let her know that she is offering something that I am not looking for and that will not be rewarded, she can gain some clarity and try something else.

As the trainer, it's me who shoulders the responsibility for this lack of clarity. If I found myself having to rely a great deal on NRMs, it would be in my best interest to step back and assess where I'm going wrong in my approach. However, as the occasional stopgap measure, I find them useful.

In brief, NRMs:
... Should not intimidate or demotivate a dog. Some dogs will wilt if they are used. For these dogs, they are the wrong tool for the job.
... Should not be used to stop unwanted and/or nuisance behaviours.
... Should be cheerful & motivational or neutral. They should be free from disapproval.
... Should prompt the dog to stop what it is they are doing and check in with you.
... Should be used sparingly at best, and avoided if possible. Relying on them in every training session is unnecessary.
... Should be avoided when you are teaching a new behaviour. Errorless learning is the better choice. You want your dog to understand what is right well before you focus on what is wrong.
... Are best suited to polishing behaviour chains wherein a mistake earlier in the chain runs the risk of being reinforced by subsequent steps in the chain.

So, that's my spiel on NRMs. What do you think? When do you use them? Have you changed in your approach to NRMs over time? Have you ever put much thought into how you use them? Let me know in the comments.

Happy clicking!

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Dog training tip o' the day: Stimulus Control

Dog training tip o' the day: Do you have a dog that starts throwing every trick he knows at you when training time starts? Are you trying to isolate a single desired behaviour out of an assortment of offered ones? Time to work on stimulus control!
Stimulus control: 
"A conditioned stimulus becomes a discriminative stimulus (or cue) when it is followed by a specific learned behavior or reaction. The response is said to be 'under stimulus control' when presentation of the particular stimulus fulfills these four conditions: the behavior is always offered when that cue is presented; the behavior is not offered in the absence of that cue; the behavior is not offered in response to some other cue; and no other behavior occurs in response to that cue."
When we teach a dog something new, the first thing we look to do is get the behaviour. Once we have the behaviour, we add the cue. Next, we polish the behaviour and fine tune it -- you can also add a new cue to this improved behaviour at this point, if desired. Then, you need to get this new behaviour under stimulus control.
Since stimulus control comes later in the learning process, it's often something that novice trainers forget about or choose to bypass because they're pleased with the behaviour as it exists already. But if it's ignored or only completed part way, you can end up with one of those dogs that throws everything they know at you, ad infinitum, as you reach for the cookie jar. Sound familiar? Some people find enjoyment in their dogs doing this and will reinforce this "throw everything at the wall and see what sticks" approach. If you do, that's fine! However, you may never end up with clean behaviours, or with a dog who eagerly waits to hear what you have to say.
To get a behaviour on stimulus control requires that you go back to the teaching process. Pick one or more simple behaviours and methodically establish the criteria for each cue. This means:
- you want your pup to sit when you say sit
- you don't want your pup to sit when you say something else
- you don't want your pup to sit when you say nothing
- you don't want your pup to do something else when you say sit
Only reward if your dog is performing the desired behaviour when you use your desired cue. If they do something else, whoops, no reward this time, nice try buddy! Try again! If your pup is making mistakes multiples times in a row, or more than 10-20% of the time, the exercise is likely to hard. Try to make it a bit easier on them. Keep these proofing sessions very short and spaced a few hours apart, at least.
You can have fun during this process. You can also take it to new heights by alternating what you're doing when you offer your verbal cue. Spin or hide out of sight or whisper or sit on a couch or work in a new environment to change up the picture for your dog and to further cement the "sit means sit" association in your dog's head. Once your dog has a handful of actions under good stimulus control, he & you should have a significantly easier times going forward in training because he understands that specific behaviours are linked to specific cues and only cued behaviours are rewarded.
Problems with stimulus control are often seen as problems with over-arousal during training sessions. Stay tuned for my next Dog Training Tip O' The Day for some more ideas on how to address over-arousal.
This was something that was asked as part of my recent call for submissions for dog training tips. Thank you to everyone who asked about it. If you have a question of your own, feel free to submit it here, on this page or via private message. Happy clicking!

Friday, January 8, 2016

Dog training tip o' the day: On the use of tools to facilitate your training

Dog training tip o' the day: Tools can make your dog training better. However, without a proper plan to fade the use of the tool, it can quickly become a crutch.
Tools can give you a leg up when it comes to controlling your dog around distractions. They can be things like collars, harnesses, leashes, targets, platforms and any other things you use to guide your dog to perform a desired behaviour. They allow for greater control and communication and can be used while you work on the requisite training to fill in the gaps. Then, most importantly to me, you need to fade the use of the tool.
We humans are excellent tool users. Sometimes, however, we get a little lazy. Applying a tool can often provide an immediate change in behaviour (sometimes for a honeymoon period, sometimes in perpetuity) so it can be tempting to continue to rely on it on an ongoing basis. To me, this is, well, lazy at best and unfair to the dog at worst.
Ideally, the goal when using a tool on a dog is to get the tool off the dog as fast as you can. Commit to harnessing the extra power the tool affords you and work with your dog whenever you're using it. Don't fall on your laurels and forget to actually train your dog. As with everything, the additional work you do with your dog in the short term pays off in the long term.
Happy clicking!

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Dog training tip o' the day: Extinction & extinction bursts

Dog training tip o' the day: Extinction & extinction bursts
Extinction refers to the process of no longer providing reinforcement for a behaviour and in the absence of reinforcement a behaviour will cease. For instance, if Pavlov stopped offering meat powder after sounding the tone for a period of time, the dogs would cease to salivate since the association between the tone and the food is no longer being reinforced. This is why ignored behaviours often stop -- the dog is no longer being reinforced for offering them.
However, some behaviours are self-reinforcing, and therefore very difficult to extinguish. For example, a dog often finds barking to be a pleasurable response to various stimuli (barking is FUN!) so even if you ignore a barking dog they're very unlikely to stop this behaviour since they're reinforcing it themselves. That's not to say that you can't train a barking dog to bark less, but it requires a different approach than to ignore it. You need to find and stop the source of the reinforcement while rewarding an alternative behaviour instead.
Then there are extinction bursts. If a dog no longer receives reinforcement for a behaviour, they will increase the intensity of the behaviour in an attempt to earn the reinforcement once again. If the behaviour is still not reinforced after this more fierce series of attempts, it will become extinct.
You can also use the increased intensity of behaviours during extinction bursts to improve them by riding the crest of the burst and reinforcing when the dog is still fervent in its response. We use this to improve hand touch or targeting behaviours and more.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Dog training word 'o the day: Premack.

This post is ever so slightly verbose, so here's a nerd photo of Cohen to compensate. 
Dog training word 'o the day: Premack.
From Wikipedia: "Premack's principle suggests that if a person wants to perform a given activity, the person will perform a less desirable activity to get at the more desirable activity; that is, activities may themselves be reinforcers. An individual will be more motivated to perform a particular activity if they know that they will be able to partake of a more desirable activity as a consequence. Stated objectively, if high-probability behaviors (more desirable behaviors) are made contingent upon lower-probability behaviors (less desirable behaviors), then the lower-probability behaviors are more likely to occur. More desirable behaviors are those that individuals spend more time doing if permitted; less desirable behaviors are those that individuals spend less time doing when free to act."
In dog training terms: It's no secret that performing certain actions can be rewarding to dogs. Chasing squirrels, jumping up, sniffing a tree can all be intrinsically rewarding for certain dogs. If you ask your dog to perform an "unfun" behaviour prior to being released to perform a fun behaviour, the unfun behaviour can be reinforced by what follows. Often the environment has a stronger ability to reward our dogs than we ever could hope to offer with the cookies or toys we may have in our pockets. So use it to your advantage! Ask for eye contact and a bit of self control before releasing your dog to (safely) run amok!
The beauty of Premack is that it also benefits from classical conditioning, conditioned emotional reactions and the transfer of value. For instance, eye contact can be reinforced by being released to chase squirrels. If the eye contact is routinely rewarded by extremely valuable reinforcers, offered eye contact becomes considerably stronger and, at times, innately reinforcing itself due to it now being associated with huge rewards and excitement. The "unfun" behaviour is now fun. Nice!
Like all classical conditioning, there is a degree of regular maintenance that is required to keep associations strong between action and reward. But once you learn to use it to your advantage, maintenance becomes second nature.
Sorry for the possibly obtuse, overly-sciencey sounding post today. Hopefully this nerdy photo of Cohen will make up for it. Premack has been on my mind a lot these days. I use it a great deal to build off-leash reliability and control, which to me is the pinnacle of dog ownership.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Dog training tip o' the day: Good advice on good training takes a while to take effect.

Dog training tip o' the day: Good advice on good training takes a while to take effect. Don't dismiss a method or methodology after failure to prompt change in the short term. 

It takes time for behaviour to change, especially when first the behaviour of the handler needs to change to create change in the dog. I know from personal experience that it's easy to grow discouraged and possibly suspect that the advice received is incorrect for your personal set of circumstances. However, before deciding to move on from a strategy, make sure to give it a fair try first.

I remember years ago when still very much a novice trainer and Cohen still a young dog that I was having trouble with reduction in the quality of attention and leash behaviour immediately after rewarding Cohen for good behaviour. I turned to some acquaintances to help troubleshoot the issue and one of the pieces of advice offered was to offer a series of rewards in quick succession at random intervals to encourage sustained attention. I tried it for a week or two, didn't see much improvement and shelved working on it for a while after growing discouraged and demotivated. Now, well, I have great sustained attention, and I owe it largely to that advice. It just took a while for the picture to become clear. If anyone would ask me for advice on the issue the words I would offer would mirror those that I received years ago with the added caveat of "don't give up!".

The memory of demotivation and "well maybe it's just not going to work for us" is still clear in my mind. For those of you who ever feel similarly, time and consistency are often the two missing ingredients to creating change. Keep at it, and try not to be discouraged.


Thursday, November 19, 2015

Dog training tip o' the day: Train smarter, not harder.

Dog training tip o' the day: Train smarter, not harder.
The best dog trainers in the world are able to get phenominal performances out of their dogs. Their dedication to their craft is commendable and awe-inspiring. Perhaps surprisingly, they do not spend all day training their dogs.
Great trainers' training sessions are often no longer than five minutes.
Great trainers normally enter their training sessions a plan as to how they will work to improve a selection of behaviours.
Great trainers do not drill behaviours repeatedly, ad nauseam.
Great trainers keep written and/or visual records of their work to track progress and help better prepare subsequent training sessions.
Great trainers ensure that their dogs have a solid understanding of foundation behaviours before moving on to something advanced.
Great trainers do not reward substandard behaviours because if they do, behaviours will remain substandard.
Great trainers know when to end a session and to ignore the allure of "just one more...".
Great training is as much art as it is science, and very few people are able to reach the upper echelons in a given sport. We may never get there. However, we can learn from those who have. We can take these lessons and apply them to our own training and move just a little closer to becoming great ourselves.

Friday, October 23, 2015

OMG. Meditation!

We shot some footage for a commercial at the start of September and it was just released this week. Pretty neat!

Training the eye close (in reality, just a blink) was a challenge. It was nice to have a project to work towards in the weeks leading up to the shoot. It was also stressful as I would try a few different things only to find our progress unsatisfactory.

Good dog! Yay meditation!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Ode To A Blown Coat, a poem

Ode To A Blown Coat

This is a poem about dogs who blow coat.
(Poodle owners, this is where you can gloat).
If you’re lucky it’s twice,
Or if you’re not, then it’s thrice
Per annum when all dog fur floats.

It creeps up on you slowly at first,
And it moves from bad then to worse.
You move room to room,
With your vacuum and broom,
But the roaming fur can’t be reversed.

In corners, fur tumbleweeds hide.
And the dander, it flies into your eyes!
Clothes are carefully chosen
To match the fur interwoven
Into all that you keep stored inside.

Dogs' coats soon look modestly bare,
Matching the slight disrepair
Of your home and your floors
Of your couches and doors,
And ev’rything still covered in hair.

“Why do you do it?” they cry!
“Endure the stress and the sty?”
...Our dogs are our hearts
And we don't wish to part.
The fur is a gift to remember them by. 


I'm getting devoured in fur right now, so I decided to write a poem to memorialize this trying time of year. This is a little reminder that I am a dog trainer, not a poet. But, hey, fun! 

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Dog training tip o' the day: "How long should I use treats for reinforcement?"

Dog training tip o' the day: "How long should I use treats for reinforcement?"

This is a question that gets asked a lot when training dogs. Obviously you don't want to ever have to be reliant on treats whenever you need to ask your dog to do something. Many a trainer has weighed in on how best to ensure your dog's behaviour be reliable regardless of whether you have a pocketful of chicken or not. I feel like there's another question underneath the first, which is,

"How long should I be reinforcing to my dog?"

People use treats for dog training because they are a primary reinforcer, that is, they are intrinsically valuable to a dog. They all need to eat, and most enjoy eating a great deal. But food is not the only reinforcer available to you -- there's play, praise, access to the environment and more. I almost always start training with food due to its intrinsic strength, but if food was the only reinforcer available in a trainer's arsenal then the trainer would find themselves very limited indeed.

The way I look at training is that you use a high degree of reinforcement to lay the groundwork for behaviours, ideally so much so that they become ingrained in a dog's behaviour patterns. For instance, when I ask Cohen to sit she complies almost instantly, and almost subconsciously -- we have done so many drills that compliance is almost guaranteed. Once that initial groundwork is laid then I'm granted more variety in the way which I choose to approach reinforcement, but I will Always. Reinforce. My Dog.

There is a constant mathematical formula running in my head evaluating where my dog is being reinforced and by how much. (Remember, behaviour that is reinforced is more likely to be repeated.) Is going after that scrap of garbage more rewarding than listening to me? What about running after that squirrel? What about that small child smeared with ice cream? The jogger? The puppy? These mental calculations may sound like a lot of work, but they're easier than they seem, especially with practice. Then I choose the appropriate type of reward for the situation.

This is where training and having a good relationship with your dog really shines. Training is the ultimate bonding experience. It teaches both you and your dog to communicate with one another and strengthens that special relationship that exists between a person and their four-legged best friend.

As you spend more quality time with your dog you become intrinsically rewarding to them. Your dog will look to you for guidance and feedback because that is the pattern you've created over the months and years of hard work. If your pup is anything like Cohen, she will enjoy spending time with you and earning your attention because listening to you is both entertaining and fun. And if your pup is not like mine yet you can certainly create this type of relationship if you're dedicated to building it.

This to me is the true payoff for training. All that time spent running drills for off-leash recalls and heeling eventually pay off by teaching both you and your dog how to listen to each other, and more importantly enjoy doing so. My presence is rewarding to my dog just the same way her presence is rewarding to me.

So, let's again look at the question, "How long should I be reinforcing for my dog?" By now I'm sure it's obvious what my answer is. You should plan to always be reinforcing to your dog.

When you first get your unruly puppy it might be tough to win out over all the distractions of the world without waving a piece of tripe in front of your dog's nose. You'll find yourself frustrated and wondering if you'll have to rely on these methods forever. But through being consistent and building up a relationship with your dog (ideally one free of intimidation and physical punishment) you'll find that less and less you'll have to struggle to keep your dog's attention. It's a beautiful day when you realize that your dog is voluntarily giving you her attention because she wants to and enjoys doing so. Building this reaction is a lifelong process and is probably the most worthwhile pursuit in building a relationship with your dog.

Of course, everyone enjoys the occasionally cookie too.