Learning: Rally-O and Agility.
Teaching: Rally-O and Pet Obedience.
BSc in Animal Behaviour and Apprenticing in Toronto.
Science-based, force-free training and behaviour modification.
Sorry, I really can’t offer much advice. I’ve seen a lot of people teach their dogs “agility for fun” (or “urban agility”) without any experience. In all the examples I’ve seen, handlers have run their dogs dangerously (e.g., jumps too close, turns too tight for a green dog/handler, fat dogs taking very high jumps, etc.) without even knowing it. The only real suggestion I can give you is to be very cautious, and train slowly to keep your dog safe.
CleanRun may have some resources for teaching agility properly and safely, but I can’t recommend any resources in particular.
Sorry that’s not very helpful. Maybe one of my followers could recommend a good DIY agility training resource?
We went hiking this morning. Maulkin was great during his hike, though he made a few quiet barks when our trail came close to other trails with hikers. I think he only had two or three little barks the entire time, so it was pretty good.
On our way out to hike, we had some issues. The first was an Aussie on a flexi. On our way to pick up the car, Maulkin saw the dog come around a corner and barked immediately which got the other dog barking. I tried to redirect him, but he was very upset. I just assumed the handler would avoid us, since everyone else in the neighbourhood with a dog avoids other dogs plus her dog was barking way more than Maulkin. Instead she came right towards us. While I was focusing on Maulkin, Paul pointed out the dog was headed towards us and that we should cross the street. Maulkin moved away okay but needed a bit of leash pressure to start moving. Unfortunately, the woman let her dog have the entire length of the flexi, so they were walking down the middle of the road not even five feet from us and making a huge fuss! The handler laughed and called out, “They just want to say hi!*” and seemed confused and frustrated when I said very explicitly, “MY dog DOES NOT want to say hi!” Eventually, she called her dog away and left, but Maulkin stayed wound up for a few minutes afterwards.** I think Flexi dogs are Maulkin’s biggest trigger along with off-leash dogs being yelled at by their handlers. He’s very good at telling which dogs are out of control and a danger to him.
Our second and last encounter happened when we were picking up the car. I had popped into the office to grab the gate key, and Maulkin and Paul were waiting outside. There’s a dog walker who goes through that area. We call him the prong walker, because he walks about 15 dogs at a time all trailing behind him looking sad with most wearing prongs. Any time he thinks they’re likely to act up, he starts hissing at them and popping leashes. Maulkin is actually fine with the dogs he walks, but he gets very upset when the walker starts hissing and popping leashes. Really, who wouldn’t. Anyway, one of the walker’s dogs barked at Maulkin, the walker stopped his dogs to hiss and dole out corrections, and Maulkin barked once when the guy hissed. Paul called Maulkin inside and he came away easily, though he did bruff a few times under his breath before calming down. Personally, I don’t consider it a reactive episode if he barks at the prong walker, because that guy is just utterly terrifying.
*She was speaking on behalf of both dogs, as if she knows what my dog is like with other dogs!
**It was pretty upsetting for both of us. I mean really, you see me cross the street to avoid you, watch as I hug my dog and shove food at him from across the street, and you think it’s okay to just let your dog approach? Seriously!?
Maulkin was SO AWESOME in agility class! He was really fast, focused, and responsive. We kept the courses pretty straight-forward for the most part, but then threw in some trickier bits near the end of class. Maulkin was spot-on and didn’t slow down or plough ahead and ignore me when I cued him to change lines. Such a good boy!
On what was supposed to be our last little run, my instructor noticed that Maulkin ran better when I used my body to push him forward and slowed when I used my arms. She had me run a final time with my arms at my sides. It made such a huge difference. Maulkin was running well before, but he flew when I kept my arms down. I’m going to have to become much more precise at signalling with my shoulders if it helps keep Maulkin excited.
golai said: What is that on a per-weight basis? Honey is on 20 mg/day right now which is right at 1 mg/kg bodyweight for her.
Maulkin’s current dose is just shy of 1 mg/kg, which is apparently very conservative. When I get his weight back up, it should be about 0.88 mg/kg.
latticeofcoincidence said: may i ask what you have him on?
He’s on Prozac (Fluoxetine) 20mg once daily, down from 30mg once daily. If his drive doesn’t improve or his anxiety returns on the lower dose, we may try a different medication or combination of medications. I’ve been really happy with the improvement to his anxiety, though.
Maulkin had a follow-up appointment with the behaviourist on Tuesday. I think it went pretty well. He was much more calm in the waiting room and was able to settle on his mat. A few dogs came through, and he did really well focusing with me. There was a young lab puppy who really wanted to see Maulkin, and Maulkin wagged his tail and leaned out to air scent the little guy. I told the puppy’s family to keep him a little away just to be sure Maulkin didn’t growl at him. Maulkin sometimes thinks he likes puppies but then remembers they’re actually really annoying once they’re jumping on him.
The behaviourist didn’t have any new training/CCing suggestions, so we’re going to keep doing what’s been working up to now. We did decide to cut Maulkin’s medication from 30mg to 20mg daily. It’s a little less than the lowest dose recommended for his weight range, but we’ll see how he does. I’m hoping his drive will return on the lower dose, but it’s also possible his anxiety will return. We won’t know unless we try. I guess we’ll have our answer in another month or two.
We met the other neighborhood poodle on our walk this morning. :) A cream standard, to be exact, about 40 pounds. The owner was trying to be helpful but I was laughing inside at her advice…
“I don’t train mine with goodies. They’re so sensitive to you that you don’t need to!” And yet I vividly recall having to catch her dog when she let him off leash to greet Opal and he wouldn’t go back to her…
“Poodles don’t overeat so you can just put the dry dog food down and leave it there.” Weeellll that won’t work in our house, for two reasons…one, he doesn’t eat kibble. (Can you imagine free-feeding raw :/ ) Two, we have other dogs. (Three, free-feeding is just a bad idea in general.)
But I just smiled and nodded and watched D play with the other dog.
Also, funny thing, the lady was fine with calling Delta a boy until I told her his name, and then no matter how many times I said “he” she couldn’t remember that D’s a boy. I’m tempted either to REALLY throw people for a loop and dress him in pink and get even more insistent about reminding people about how he’s a boy, or get some ridiculously “masculine” gear for him, except that would just enforce the gender binary so naah. If I get him new stuff maybe it’ll be pink. Just for fun.
So funny story only not: Maulkin has always been mistaken for a girl since he was a tiny puppy. I think it’s because his face looks like a female GSD? But anyway. We accidentally ordered some really great pink leashes in at work, and I bought one because they were so soft. Magically, more people started calling Maulkin a boy! Now I go out of my way to dress him up in pink, frilly things; and people almost always assume he’s male. It’s reverse psychology or something idk.
It depends on your resources. Because dog training isn’t a regulated profession, anyone can call themselves a dog trainer regardless of their knowledge or abilities. To be a good dog trainer, you’ll need some form of education, but it doesn’t have to be formal education through an academy or university.
Personally, I have a BSc in animal behaviour. It’s given me an edge in understanding learning theory, ethology, and neurology which can be useful in helping my students understand why and how counter-conditioning works, for example. However, I could have gotten the same knowledge on my own through independent study and not gone into debt. If you have a full scholarship or someone willing to pay for your schooling and want to pursue that route, than definitely go for it. Otherwise, there are cheaper and more efficient ways to gain the knowledge you’ll need to be a great trainer. If you can only afford to take a couple of classes, look for scientific literacy classes. Scientific literacy is a hugely valuable skill, because it enables you to critically examine new information as it becomes publicly available. That’s not to say you won’t make mistakes and learn some wrong information, but it will help you avoid that more often than if you were less critical.
Getting academy accreditation is another option that might be a good stepping stone. Accreditation is great because it adds some prestige to your business, but honestly, the average pet person won’t actually know or care about your certification. I haven’t gone through KPA training, so I can’t speak to the quality of what they teach. I do think the vast majority of what they teach is available for free, but you might benefit from the structure of an actual program and not having to dig through all the information on the internet trying to find what’s good and scientifically accurate. I will tell you that I’ve not been very impressed with the KPA trainers I’ve met. They have great knowledge of learning theory, but none of them have really seemed to understand canine ethology or physiology. (The one I’ve watched most closely is terrible at luring/target training, and tends to get their dog a bit frantic while working.) If you choose to get your certification, keep in mind it should be the beginning of your education, not the end.
Another option, depending on where you are, is apprenticing. If you can find a good mentor, apprenticing may be your best option. A great apprenticeship will teach you learning theory, training styles, dog ethology and physiology, and how to run a business. If you pick the right mentor and really assert yourself, you may even be offered a full time position when you’re done. (Some mentors only take on apprentices to work with them, while others will pass on their skills and send you out in the world to do your own thing. It’s something you can discuss before signing onto a program.) Just like getting certification or a degree, you shouldn’t settle for whatever you learn in your apprenticeship. There’s always something new, potentially better to learn. If you strive to continue learning and improving, you can become an amazing dog trainer.
You could also combine accreditation and apprenticing by working for a large company, like PetSmart or PetCo. The advantages to this are you’ll earn a wage while you learn, you’ll have a mentor, and you’ll have a job when you’re done. The downside is your education probably won’t be that good. I’ve met some pretty good pet store trainers, but most of them range from mediocre to just awful. You’ll definitely need to combine independent study with anything you learn from a large company. What training methods you can practice will probably also be constrained by your contract. If you disagree with the way you’ve been asked to teach a behaviour, you may not have much freedom to experiment with something better. (Certainly not as an apprentice!) But this might be a good option for gaining some experience and learning how to deal with people. Dog training is much more about teaching people than teaching dogs.
Probably the most common route to become a trainer is to do independent study and start your business yourself. This is an especially great option if you don’t have much money for taking classes and there aren’t any great trainers taking apprentices in your area. The biggest benefit is you can start right away, and you can decide for yourself how to structure your programs. (Will you do only one-on-one training? Board-and-train? Training walks? Specialize in reactive dogs? Hold only puppy classes? Small, intimate classes or large, broad classes? Teach obedience or behaviour modification? Maybe teach a sport, or focus on pet obedience and household manners?) The downside is you won’t have any guidance if you get stuck, and there’s no one but your students to be critical about your training. That means you really need to know your stuff, and you have to be very critical of your own methods. The more freedom you have, the more stressful it will be to get started; but maybe that suits you.
So my advice is to pick a route you think will work for you, and stick with it. No matter how good you get, never stop learning or you’ll get left behind. With any route you take, also consider getting certification through an independent organization like the CCPTD or APDT. A great organization will encourage and guide you to improve your understanding of dogs and training, so they can be very beneficial once you’ve established your business.
liolia said: Is it safe for him to be off the leash like he is here?
He’s not off leash. I’m standing just out of the frame holding his long line. (My partner is taking the photos.) But I have had him off leash at this conservation area before, and it’s as safe as you can get walking your dog in the middle of the woods.* He has great recall and never approaches strangers or wanders out of sight, so there’s no real chance of him getting lost or stolen. I definitely wouldn’t let him off leash if there were other people or dogs around or if I didn’t feel he was sufficiently trained for that environment.
*Which is to say, there are coyotes and other predators, steep ravines, a swamp, and a stream that runs fairly deep in places. Just like there are cars, broken glass, aggressive dogs, and poisonous chemicals we encounter on our daily walks through the city.