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Monthly Archives: March 2016

Video: serious about their food!

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The daredevil puppies of the Shelby x Ruger Vacuum litter:

They are all serious about their food!

Boy puppies

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Finally, a boy was born! Oreck arrived as 8th puppy on March 26th at 2:11 Pacific time. Six hours and one minute after the first girl was born!  He is a little undercooked- you can just barely see in this photo that the bottom of his little pads are still pink- but he’s doing great and will soon have the dark pigment that his siblings have. He weighed 11.3 oz at birth and is already up to 15.7 oz.

3-28-16 Oreck

Hoover was born 9th, at 2:39 am. He weighed 12.4 oz at birth and has grown to 16.6 oz.

3-28-16 Hoover

The last Shelby puppy ever to be born- Kirby- arrived at 4:35 am. He weighed 13.7 oz at the time but is now the biggest puppy at 17.4 oz. The breeder put the same collar on this pup as the one I bought for Voodoo- premonition? We will see!

3-28-16 Kirby

The breeder will pick out my puppy first, from these 3 boys. That won’t happen till after they are at least 7 weeks old.  This is so the structure of the pups can be assessed and their personalities are better known. So for the next 7-8 weeks, I’ll be posting about all 3 since any of them could potentially be Voodoo.

Group B-day photo

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3-26-16 birthday group photo

First photo of Voodoo and his littermates and a very tired mom Shelby!  Giving birth to 10 pups is hard work!  I don’t know which of these are girls and which are boys, but Voodoo is in there somewhere (one of the 3 boys). I am over the moon excited!!!


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Shelby gave birth to TEN puppies last night and three of them were boys!  The birthing started about midnight my time (9pm their time) and I tried to stay up to get the “it’s a boy” message, but at about 4:30am after several girls, I couldn’t keep my eyes open.  The three boys were the last 3 puppies to be born so they have a March 26th birthday. I am SOOO thrilled!! Can’t wait to see their first photo and watch them grow up! End of May will be here before we know it and Voodoo will be home!

Would you want to be your dog?

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10-1 found some burrs edited sm

I have had a number of people comment to me “When I die, I want to come back as one of your dogs!”  So it got me thinking… Would you want to be YOUR dog?

Think about your dog’s life for a moment.  Do they have an enriched life?  How often do they get to experience something new?  A new place, a new activity, a new toy, working on a new behavior?  How often each day are their brains engaged in training or problem solving (like food puzzles, or other enrichment activities)?  Novelty is enriching. Lack of novelty is boring. Doing the same things, seeing the same sights, hearing the same sounds over and over, day in and day out is not an enriched life. Zoos around the world are learning that their animals are much happier and healthier when they get enrichment in their daily life, so it seems reasonable that the same would be true of dogs.

Also consider your interactions with your dog. How much time do you spend actively engaging with your dog?  I’m not talking about being in the same room or house together, I’m talking about DOING something with your dog. Going for a walk, training, feeding, playing, grooming, etc.  Go ahead, take a moment to add it up for a typical day or week. This is the amount of time the dog gets to practice listening to you and for you to listen to the dog and learn to read their body language and other communications.

Now imagine you are dropped in a country where the language and cultural customs are completely different from your own, where you don’t know the language or what you should or shouldn’t do to keep from offending someone. Now consider that you only have as much time to work on learning the new language and skills each day as you currently spend working with your dog. How long would it take for you to be able to communicate your basic needs?  How long would it take you to become fluent and socially acceptable?  Aren’t dogs incredible in what they can master in a very short amount of time?

Now consider HOW you communicate with your dog. Consider that the person teaching you the new language and skills uses the same training methods and equivalent tools and has the same skill level as you do with your dog training. Do you look forward to those language lessons?  What happens if you make a mistake? What if the trainer assumes you understand what they wanted, even though you actually have no idea what they want?  Do you get any say or choice in what you learn or how you learn it? Do you want to be your dog?

Does your dog get routine care?  Is he kept groomed so that he doesn’t have painful hair mats or long nails that push his toe joints into unnatural positions? Is he free of fleas and ticks and internal parasites? How quickly do you notice and treat illness and injury? Are his teeth, ears, eyes, and coat kept clean? Is he a proper weight? Do you know what the proper weight looks and feels like? Is he fed a quality diet? Does he get enough exercise to be fit and healthy?  Do you want to be your dog?

How much choice does your dog have? Does your dog get to choose when to go outside? Is he a willing participant in routine care or is there only tolerance or is force involved?  Is training a two-way conversation or a dictatorship?  Does your dog have the option to say “no”?  Do you want to be your dog?

There are 168 hours in a week. If you get 8 hours of sleep (does anyone really get 8 hours of sleep?) that leaves you with 112 waking hours per week for you and your dog to occupy yourselves. Most dogs DO sleep more than humans and depending on your dog’s age or breed, might sleep a LOT more than most humans. But their active time each day should be filled with as much mentally, emotionally and physically stimulating things as possible rather than the same ol’ boring stuff.

There is a big difference between “having a dog” and being willing to live the life you are giving your dog. Is it “just a dog” to you or do you feel that your dog deserves to have the best life possible? What can you do to make your dog’s life better?


Low profile ID collar

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ID collar smI created this low profile ‘ID only’ collar for Voodoo (not intended for attaching a leash) since I’ll be using a harness on him till he masters loose leash walking. It uses a slip on ID tag from boomerang tags, a piece cut from a 10′ sample of high flex 3/4″ wide biothane (I’ll need to create new biothane lengths as he grows). And a clasp from an “elite” wrist band from

If you decide to replicate this, please use this link to get to the RoadID website (I’ll get a site credit) This would work best with an adult dog, so you don’t have to cut a new piece of biothane as the pup grows, but with a 10′ length, I think I’ll get several collars out of it before I need more. And the clasp and ID tag should last a LONG time.

The biothane is from and comes in LOTS of colors! Get it 3/4″ wide to work with the RoadID clasp. It is waterproof, flexible, and doesn’t get “stinky” like nylon.

Training for distractions

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When the floor is food:

This ClickerExpo session was actually about training horses and the title of the session refers to working with horses when they are standing on grass or hay. But it uses many of the “leave it” and “zen” type concepts that are used in dog training. This is an especially important task for Service Dogs (and therapy dogs) that might encounter dangerous but tempting items on the floor or in the environment.  It was really interesting watching horses learn these concepts without any force or corrections or intimidation, just like dogs can be taught the same concepts.

  • Animal nose targets the back of the trainer’s hand to get hand to flip over and deliver treat- this means the animal is likely to reach for the hand with a closed mouth instead of grabbing with an open mouth and slows down the food grabbing from an offered hand after a click.
  • Wait till I bring the food to you (zen) More training for “don’t grab” which is critical when working with a very large animal like a horse that has teeth that can crush hand bones. (And dog trainers think German Shepherds have “hard mouths”!)
  • Wait while I play with the treat pouch/pocket. Just because you reach for the treat does not mean a treat is coming, especially if the animal reaches for it in anticipation.
  • Wait while other animals get treats first. Helps to call each dog’s name first.
  • Leave it when something drops till told to get it.
  • Leave it with other people (just because they have treats, doesn’t mean those treats are available).
  • Wait for head up when food is tossed into a bin/bucket/dish, click when animal picks his head up and then toss next treat into container.
  • Repeat with food on floor (head up is marked with the “get it” cue)
  • “Treasure hunt walk” (random goodies placed along walking path).

Novel stimulus = eye contact

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This session was about turning the odd, weird, distracting and sudden into a cue to look at the handler.  Dog sees something it thinks is weird?  It looks at the handler.  Dog hears something distracting? It looks at the handler. Dog fight outside the ring? Look at your handler.  Chair falls? Look at your handler.  How handy is this skill?!  It is not taught as an “ignore that or else” proposition. The dog is free to look at and focus on those things, but with training, it learns that life is full of weird stuff, but it’s not going to hurt me, so I can just ignore it and focus on my handler. Dogs learn to ignore other dogs and people, gun shots in some sports, music of all sorts, crowds, loud speakers, Judges, etc. because we teach them how to do that.  This is simply adding the generalization of “anything weird or sudden” to that long list of distractions that dogs learn to ignore when they go for a walk or step into a competition venue.

  • With practice, anything novel/weird can become a cue to look at the handler/ignore the distraction
  • Acclimation to the CONCEPT of novel things (including sounds) helps the dog prepare for weird things that happen in everyday life. Reduces reactivity to sudden environmental change.


  • Dogs are NEVER allowed to interact with the novel item (no sniffing, touching, playing, etc.) because they won’t always be able to interact with things in real life. They need to learn that novel things are no big deal even if they can’t be investigated (and that they don’t all need to be investigated to be determined to be safe).
  • Watch for sensitivities in dogs (could be to noise or movement or size/shape of something, etc.) How the dog feels about the item is top priority. Dog should start and progress at a distance where they are able to look away from the object and not be anxious about it or overly drawn to it. Be extra careful with known “triggers” and start farther away or quieter than you think you need to be.
  • The human should not be afraid of the item (fake snake/spider)
  • Use things with odd shapes, sounds, movement, scents
  • 1- Fixed threshold
    • Start at a distance where the dog has interest in the item, but doesn’t get “fixated” on it and doesn’t try to move away on his own due to anxiety about it.
    • You stand still and click dog for looking at the item and feed when dog turns back to you. If the dog doesn’t look toward you when you click, you’re too close.
    • Repeat several times rapidly (look, click, turns away, feed), then wait a brief pause to see if the dog will look away from the item on his own. Click/reward the dog’s choice to look toward you. (look at item, look at you, click, feed)
    • When dog is ignoring the item and staring at you, move to the next step:
  • 2- Dance with threshold
    • Take a step or two toward the item (just enough to get dog to look at it)
    • Click  while dog is looking at the item
    • Move AWAY from the item as you feed the dog in front of you
    • Repeat till you can get close to the item without dog interacting with it
    • Can use a new item or same item for next step
  • 3- Add a moving task
    • Moving around/near novel items is easier than having to maintain a stationary position (stay)
    • So have the dog do some moving behavior (heeling, jumps, get on/off an agility table, etc.) with the novel thing near by
    • Gradually reduce distance between dog and novel item as dog continues to work and be rewarded for working
  • 4- Add duration of stationary behavior
    • Work on stays (very brief at first) around/near novel things
    • Work on stays (very brief at first) while novel things move toward and away from the dog (people, remote control items, other dogs/animals, etc.)
    • Watch dog for any signs of stress. A solid stay behavior can over ride the dog’s desire to leave and can hide their anxiety.
  • 5- Work on these steps with as many different sights, sounds and smells as possible. When the dog sees something new and immediately looks at you, you know you are on the right track.  When they completely ignore that new thing and remain relaxed and happy, even if you get close to it, the dog understands the concept.

Animals in Control

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Animals in Control by Eva B, Emilie J-V and Peggy Hogan

This was a really fascinating session with examples by multiple species (dogs, horses, birds, etc.). I found I have been doing this without really being conscious of it most of the time. but I’m looking forward to teaching even more choice signals. I love having my dog be able to tell me exactly what he wants/needs!

  • ABC’s of choice: In situation X, if I do Y, then you do Z (must be predictable)
  • 3 types of communication/choice:
    • Request (animals can tell us what they want)
    • Choice (Animals can make educated choices between desired options)
    • “Green light/red light behavior” (Animals can direct when an action will start/stop)


  • A behavior that specifies the reinforcer (getting what is asked for) (water, going outside, leaving the area, etc.)
  • Animal is cued by the desire and/or opportunity (empty water bowl, need to pee, anxiety)
  • If the animal were to get something else, it wouldn’t be reinforcing (going outside when animal wants water would not be reinforcing or could alter the behavior if that consequence happens often)
  • Can help humans meet the basic needs/desires of the animals in their care and open lines of communication can reduce some problem behaviors.
  • How to teach a request behavior:
    • Teach the “alert/request” behavior you want to use and have it on cue (nose poke, chin rest, pawing, etc.) Be sure it is socially acceptable (barking in an apartment/hotel/seminar is not good). In some cases you can use or shape the behavior the animal is already giving you.
    • Read body language to determine what the animal wants (dancing by the door to go out, whining by empty water/food bowl, etc.)
    • When animal gives the current signals, cue the new behavior you want and then reward with what the animal is requesting (nose poke = going outside to pee/poop)
    • Ensure the signal behavior does not turn into other things (take dog out on leash for 2 min., if potty doesn’t happen, come right back in. Don’t let it turn into a request to play outside).
  • Sometimes the answer is no
    • You can teach the animal a “wait/not now” cue once the behavior/reinforcer link is strongly established. Just don’t use it too often.
    • Sometimes the answer is simply “no, you can’t have that”.


  • Might be a single option (would you like this? Yes or no) Animal can respond with a “yes” answer. Absence of yes answer can be the “no” response.
  • Might be a choice between multiple options (would you like this? Or this? Or this?) Animal can pick/select the option/item it wants.
  • Choice adds opportunities for the animal to control his life/environment and you can test the animal’s preferences (do you want to work for the toy or the treats today?)
  • How to train a choice behavior:
    • Animal must have experience with an ABC contingency. They have to know that they can control the outcome with their behavior and that things can predict the availability of reinforcement (basic clicker training) In situation X, if I do Y, then you do Z.
    • Might need to teach an indication behavior (nose touch, retrieve, paw) depending on choices
    • For different objects, the choices can be presented to see which the dog chooses (different toys or treats)
    • For a single option (a yes/no question) the animal’s response = yes and lack of response = no. (Door opened is the “do you want to go outside?” question. The dog going out = yes. Dog not going out = no and door closes)
    • When using items/targets to indicate different options, you’ll need to teach each separately before offering a choice. If the square means going for a walk and the circle means going swimming, you’ll have to pair each target item with its related action first.
      • Show square, go for walk, Show square, go for walk, Show square, go for walk, etc.
      • Show circle, go to the lake, Show circle, go to the lake, Show circle, go to the lake
      • THEN, once those seem to be known, try offering both. Where you go depends on the selection the dog makes.
    • If there is no choice- don’t ask. (Parent asks child- “do you want to put on your coat?” Kid says no, but parent knows they are going outside so the coat has to be put on anyway).
    • If there is something that has to be done (such as ear drops for ear infection) give the animal warning of when you are going to go get the drops. This allows the animal to relax for the majority of the day instead of thinking about running every time you move (having them on edge all day is very stressful).
    • If force will be involved (such as needed restraint for medical care before choice is taught), don’t use treats DURING the unpleasant situation. It can poison the rewards. Instead, give the reward at the very end, where it is paired with relief/escape/desired consequence. Rewards SHOULD be used if the animal has a choice in the process. If the animal is free to leave then rewards can be delivered for staying. If he knows how to do green light/red light behavior rewards can be delivered for that behavior.


  • These behaviors give the human permission. It could be permission to clip nails (by offering a paw), wash an eye (by pressing eye to cloth), drop a teeter during training (by choosing to lower his head), give a belly rub (by rolling on his back), etc.
  • In most cases, the green light is a duration behavior the animal does and “red light” is implied when the animal stops the green light behavior (removes the paw, moves eye away, raises head up, getting up and leaving)
  • Sometimes it’s helpful to teach a “red light” behavior and have the “green light” be implied. If dog gets anxious about something on a walk, stopping and/or backing up can be the “stop” signal that lets the animal communicate his anxiety about what is coming up. If the dog doesn’t stop/back up, the green light is implied and the walk can continue.
  • Why teach these?
    • Useful for getting the animal to offer desired behavior in spite of something unpleasant (offering a paw for nail trim even though dog doesn’t necessarily enjoy nail trims)
    • Gives the animal control to stop something unpleasant if it gets to be too much
    • The control paired with reinforcers for desired behavior can turn the unpleasant into something the animal not only tolerates, but enjoys!
    • Gives us information about how the animal really feels about the situation
    • Can make us better at reading body language
    • From another session at a different Expo- having choices for unpleasant things was explained this way: “We all know we have to go to the doctor and dentist, but few people enjoy those visits or the resulting procedures. We still go, but we know we always have the choice to not go (even if greater illness or even death would result). But imagine how much more scary those visits would be if you were kidnapped, physically restrained, strapped to the chair/table and had zero idea what was going on!” This is, unfortunately, how most dogs see vet visits. And when they KNOW something is going to be unpleasant (nail trim, ear cleaning, etc.) and force is used, it becomes even more unpleasant. But when you teach the animal to be a willing participant in these sorts of things whenever possible, there is MUCH less stress on you and the animal. This video is just one example of this in action:
  • Teaching the permission cue:
    • You may be able to capture yes/no reactions as you are working with the animal. If he pulls away, that can be your signal to stop and move away. If he moves closer, that could be a “yes” signal.
    • Can use shaping to teach the animal the behavior you want (paw in hand) reward for duration of paw in hand
    • Slowly add the negative while rewarding paw remaining in hand (presence of nail clippers, nail clippers get closer to paw, touch nails, tap nails, clip a nail, etc.)
    • Paw being pulled out of hand is a “red light” response and you remove the clippers and the rewards. Paw in hand brings back the rewards and then the clippers at an easier step in the process.
    • You can also teach a specific “stop what you are doing” cue if you prefer. Nose on the target means you stop. With “nose not on target” being the implied consent to continue.
  • If the “green light” behavior has duration, you need a cue or marker that indicates when you are done. “Okay! Great job!”
  • Ensure you are giving a true choice
    • It should not be “the lesser of two evils”
    • If something is unpleasant, be sure there is a choice to be made (or don’t ask)
    • The animal should not be so desperate for the reward that it over powers the ability to choose (food for an animal that is or thinks it is starving, such as due to medication)
    • A super highly reinforcing reward can “over shadow” true feelings of anxiety or fear, but doesn’t remove those feelings. Use lower value reinforcers to ensure you are getting true “buy in” and choice to participate.
    • Take frequent breaks to assess the progress- does the animal beg you to continue? Or does he leave?

Errorless Learning

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Notes from the Errorless Learning session by Dr. Susan Freidman

  • Errors punish effort (Paul Chance, 2003) They slow down learning and generate undesirable emotions (frustration, aggression, giving up)
  • Prompts are information, not bribes
  • A reward may or may not be a reinforcer (word use is important) It is understood in +R language that “reward” means reinforcer, but it’s not an accurate word. A Christmas bonus is a reward, but it doesn’t reinforce a specific behavior.
  • “Errors are not necessary for learning to occur. Errors are a function of poor analysis of behavior, a poorly designed shaping program, moving too fast from step to step in the program, and the lack of the prerequisite behavior necessary for success in the program” (B.F. Skinner, 1968)
  • To set up errorless learning:
    • Make the wrong choice more difficult (small, farther away, visually faded, etc.) and make the right choice as likely as possible.
  • In testing example: In the errorless learning set-up, the animal made 25 errors out of 5000 attempts. In the trial and error set up, the animal made 3,000 errors out of 5,000 attempts. The trial and error sessions had many more stress and frustration behaviors in the learners.
  • Shows that when an animal makes a mistake, the error is in the set-up, not the animal.
  • It is deliberate and thoughtful redesign of the environment for the purpose of getting the learner to do the correct behavior (earn reinforcement) more quickly and without frustration. Can be achieved while working them toward a more complex goal.
  • Reducing errors is the TEACHER’S responsibility.
  • For behavior change/reduction (problem behaviors) you MUST look at the ABC’s.
  • The source of behavior is always (at least in part) the environment (external stimulus or reinforcer) A or C of the ABC’s
  • Know what signals, precedes and motivates and you’ll find what to change in order to change the behavior.
  • When you don’t use prompts and lures, you are going back to Trial and Error learning. You still want to fade them quickly, but they are the best way to GET the correct, markable behavior.
  • Free shaping only works with a highly skilled trainer AND highly skilled animal.
  • If pressure is used, it must be information only and not aversive (which would impede learning). Always start with least possible amount and work up if needed.
  • When an animal doesn’t do a well-known behavior, pause, then cue some easy and very likely to occur, well known behaviors that you can reward before asking for the original behavior again.