Monday, November 5, 2012

What a Difference a Good Trainer Can Make--Finnaversary month eleven

My computer has been acting up so I must apologize that the month eleven update is late.

When we adopted Ranger I knew very little about training a dog. We'd had dogs growing up and I remember them as nice dogs that came when they were called (mostly) and would sit when told (usually). We lived in the country and the dogs did what we expected them to do. They barked to let us know we had visitors and barked to scare away coyotes. They were friendly to visitors and that was about all we asked of them. I don't remember that we did much training.

I knew that living in a suburban environment my dog would need more training than our country dogs did so I started looking for a trainer and I started reading books. Having no idea what the heck I was doing I first tried the "trainer" at the local big box pet supply store. It didn't take me long to decide that I was NOT going to use her as a trainer. Without my permission she forced a capful of lemon juice on Ranger when he barked. Ranger didn't react to it with any more than surprise. As far as I could tell she could have given him a capful of water and it would have had as much effect; but her intent was to punish him for undesirable behavior. She also made me feel very incompetent.    Clearly not a good fit.

Shortly after I'd adopted him the Kitsap Humane Society had offered a new pet owner class with some basic behaviorism. I'd learned a lot and really liked the woman offering the class. I thought she might have good insight into where to find a suitable trainer. As luck would have it she was just forming a new basic training class. We enrolled at once. She was a really good trainer. I felt competent, and I was learning a lot about how Ranger learned. We finished basic and enrolled in Beyond the Basics by the end of which Ranger had his CGC (Canine Good Citizen). Each class ran for six weeks meeting once a week  for about an hour.

Working with a good trainer Ranger went from a well-socialized unruly teenager to a confident well mannered teen in twelve weeks. And I had learned a lot about training. I continued reading a lot of books, watching videos, and generally improving my training skills. I was able to do a fair amount for Finna on my own but I was also smart enough to realize that my skills were not up to the task of completely rehabilitating such a damaged dog. As I explained to the trainer we're working with, I have a lot of knowledge and limited experience.

Finding the right trainer for Finna was crucial. I needed someone with a lot of experience working with fear aggressive dogs and one that was committed to positive reinforcement. I couldn't see any good result coming from punishing Finna for behaving badly because she was frightened. Especially not after the amount of time we'd spent teaching her that she was safe with us and we wouldn't let anything hurt her.

Two trainers in the area were highly recommended by people I trust (specifically the behaviorist we consulted when we realized how many issues Finna actually had/has and the Chinese herb veterinary that prescribes Finna's herbs.) I researched both trainers, carefully pouring over their websites and looking for reviews. In the end I chose Shade's Dog Training http://www.shadesdogtraining.net/about_us.htm the neatness with which she captured her journey as a trainer through brief bios of her dogs was the factor that put her at the top of my list. That and her honest assessment of her dog Shadow who sounded like even more of a handful than Finna. I figured a trainer who had clearly been there would be a great choice and I've been right.

Shade makes me feel competent, hopeful, and clearly understands Finna's unique needs. She can clearly see that if we'd had Finna from puppyhood she'd be an awesome dog today. With her guidance and knowledge sometimes we take Finna back to puppy training--for example, gently tugging her collar and rewarding her in the direction we tugged (tug left, treat left, tug right treat right, etc.). It's an exercise that teaches the puppy to move in the direction they feel the tug a great foundation for polite leash walking. Shade corrects my timing a lot but it never feels like I'm being told I'm wrong instead it's a partnership where she's helping me do it better. It's the same kind of feeling I want Finna to have.

With Shade's guidance we are seeing slow but steady improvement in our damaged dog. Finna still has a very long way to go but more and more I'm seeing indications the awesome dog she might become in time. I'll leave you with a video of Finna's latest learning. On Shade's advice we began teaching Finna to walk on the treadmill. We went into the process knowing that it would take as long as it took but for Finna who had no negative associations with a treadmill it took a mere five training sessions. Frankly, it's taking longer for her to accept wearing a new harness than it took to teach her to walk on a treadmill. Of course, Finna has a different notion of how to use a treadmill than I expected. Notice in the video that while I'm rewarding her for walking on the treadmill and asking for specific ways of using it she's off leash, free to leave at any time, and she's having fun.

Finna uses the treadmill