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Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Four Reasons I Should Be Famous

I've got a busy brain. Like, really busy. I am constantly seeking the most effective ways to help my clients train their pups and develop a great relationship and sense of teamwork. I read. I talk to other trainers. I try stuff out in my classes. I take webinars, online courses and attend seminars and workshops. I love that dog training is in a constant state of evolution. Dogs are even on the radar in the scientific community right now and it's freaking awesome. 

I have ideas that pop up continually yet I never quite put them out there. I don't name them. Claim them. Promote them as my own. So, here goes nothin'! These are four ideas of mine that I think are pretty awesome and I'm claiming them as work product. I hope trainers and students will use the heck out of them, and maybe remember that they're "Amanda Boyd" terms. One can dream...

#1: The marker word (to be used as an alternative to the clicker) should not be "yes." It should be "click!" I mean, duh! I don't know about other trainers, but I find it darn near impossible to get people to consistently use "yes" and understand the equivalence to the clicker. I've been beating my head against the wall for years on this one. I now hereby declare my verbal marker word for students to be "click!" It's consistent, easy and makes sense in a very obvious way. BOOM!

#2: The word for coming when called should not be "come." Or "here." Or whatever. It should be "treat." I mean, what the heck is a recall word? Well, it's a word that you say that causes your dog to stop in his tracks, turn and run to you as quickly as s/he can (hopefully in exchange for something good from the human). Guess what, people already have that word and it's "TREAT!" So, why not build on that? It's been conditioned. It's most likely 80% or more reliable. In my experience, very few students actually practice and effectively condition and protect "come" or "here" as recall words. How about "treat" for recall (and ya better give 'em that treat!) and "touch" (nose to hand target) for an emergency recall? Done, and hereby declared and stamped with a big ol' "AB was here." 

#3: The word for dropping something should not be "drop" or "give." It should be "out." Why? Because I tend to say "ow!" when my dogs grab on to me and it hurts. Not the high pitch puppy yelp that gets them all wound up, but just a short, low pitch and offended "ow!" So, they learn to let go when they hear that noise. Then it's easy peasy to transfer it to dropping an object without having to teach a new word that means something they already know. 

#4) Okay, we're moving away from words now and into other territory: mat training! This might not be unique to me, but I swear I haven't borrowed it from anyone intentionally. I've never seen it done and I just thought it up about a week ago. Most classes include some sort of mat training. Many of us introduce shaping to help with this. Trainers love shaping, but we all know how hard it is for students. They almost always revert to a lure. Which is fine: give them the option to shape, but don't be surprised if luring takes over. Often we suggest the students lure and cue a down on the mat quicklyl a few times, then step back and see if shaping works. But if we want the dog to quickly go to the mat without luring we can use...wait for it...opposition reflex! Bait the darn mat (yes, it's a prompt), hold the dog's collar (or put your palm on their chest), then release to race to the mat and eat. Basically a restrained recall using a mat as the target instead of the handler. Repeat 3 to 5 times, then go back to shaping and see what happens. 

I gave it a try with this pup for her first mat session. 

Okay, so not perfect but it has potential! I didn't notice that pesky little crumb of freeze dried liver working against me. Video is such a valuable tool! But I at least got a couple of reps and, lo and behold, I even snuck in my new "click!" verbal marker.

What say y'all? Are you pickin' up what I'm throwin' down? Anyone else already doing this stuff? I'd love to hear your comments!

Sidekick. Train happy!

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Foggy Doggy, My Truest Bluest Boy

Photo credit: Bailey & Banjo. 

This blog may end up in the "save it for therapy" category, but my heart is taking a beating today and I am compelled to write about it. You may want to have a tissue handy.

My dog Molly died nine years ago today. My very first dog, my best friend (and often solo companion) for over 13 years and the inspiration for my business and my life as I now know it, filled with dogs. Her death absolutely flattened me. Decimated me. Rendered me dysfunctional for the better part of a year. I lay in my bed and sobbed for at least two hours a day, every day. Sometimes twice a day. I burst into tears when the checker at the grocery store asked, "How are you today?" I stumbled through work, a zombie version of myself. 

I was comforted by so many who knew her and loved her and, as they say, time does (eventually) heal all wounds. After nearly a decade, I've learned to compartmentalize my pain. But even something simple, such as a Facebook memory, can pull me right back under that all-encompassing wave of grief.
Molly, the original sidekick.

When Molly was around nine years old, along came a fellow named Foghorn Leghorn, who came to be known as Foggy to his friends. He was seven weeks old. When I got home that day, I held him in the palm of one hand while I opened the door to the house. He was supposed to be a short-term foster (hence the goofy “temporary” name), but you know how that can go...

From day one, Foggy was meant to be my dog, and I his person. I've often called Molly my "heart dog," but with Foggy I soon learned it was possible to love more than one dog with all of your heart. Hard to believe that fat-bellied little pup just turned 13. He’s now the same age Molly was when she left me.

Today was a perfect fall day: crisp, clear and  my absolute favorite WA weather. I worked the first half of the day (with the dogs' help in most classes and lessons). After work, we romped in an empty field. I then spent one-on-one time with each of them: walking, sniffing, playing, training, more sniffing, sitting in the sun and simply enjoying each other’s unique company. 

When we got home today, Foggy's back legs looked as bad as I've seen them, especially the left rear, despite a relatively easy day for him physically. For months I've suspected that he's got spinal stenosis or a growth in or near his spinal cord.* He's still sharp as a tack mentally, though deaf as a post. It seems he will follow in Molly's footsteps: a keen and intact mind with a body that can no longer keep up. A mile is a long walk for him these days, and I remember those days with Molly as well. It was such a shock when Green Lake (Seattle),  a roughly three mile loop, became too far for her. 

Every moment is a gift. Sometimes the days can feel so damn long, but the years are so damn short. I'm viscerally aware of Foggy's decline. I'm hereby throwing myself headlong into his/our bucket list. For now, we'll snuggle on the couch as we wind down for the night. 

As far as the weeks to come, I absolutely dread the day. I'm not ready. I will never be ready. The thought of losing him...that day simply cannot ever arrive. It's something I've started to be so very conscious of despite my inability to comprehend it at all. 

To all those who have loved and lost a beloved canine, I know you know. I hold you all in my heart, and I know you hold Foggy and me in yours. 

*A request: please no advice re: medical or other treatments for Foggy. This ain't my first rodeo and I've got it handled. I will keep him happy and comfortable for as long as I can in the best ways I know how.