Sunday, July 7, 2013

When I Need a Trainer

My trainer Jim Beinlich, owner of Cool K9's Dog Training, "playing with the puppies."


Trainers, you can love them, you can hate them, you can ignore them.

It's up to you, but I have come to one conclusion. If I am going to invest my time, money, thoughts and love into an animal who is bigger than me, the animal deserves the attention of a professional. By bigger than me, I don't mean by size, I mean ability, brain power, or capacity for trouble.

I admit, by nature, I have "trainer brain." Several years ago, I had a client who gave me that label. We were working on her horse, a chronic head tosser, and I had a huge break through with him. He was staying with me and the client came out twice a week for a lesson.

Cisco was a large, burly quarter horse, he had quite a bit of reining training on him by a well known   trainer, but he had flunked out of the program. He was too combative and not athletic enough to justify the battles needed to make him conform. By the time I got him, he only rode in a running martingale, along with a tight hand, and wore a tight drop noseband to keep his yawing mouth tied shut. He constantly slung his head and really helped me remember to sit back, since a whack in the nose was a constant possibility.

I had thrown away the noseband and martingale. I put him back in a simple ring snaffle and rode him with a lot of loose rein while I thought things through.

When I discovered the cure for his problem, I was so excited I could hardly stand it. By the time his owner, Tammy, came out to ride, I couldn't wait to walk her through my process. It was huge! It would change the way I approached every horse I threw a leg over.

I rode him first, and she was on her new horse, a snappy little cowhorse she had bought from our barn. I showed her how willingly he was going to his bit, demonstrated the simple, forward drive into a small, active circle I used as a correction and started to explain the mechanics of how and why it was working.

"He's kind of lazy, so if I ask for two or three times the acceleration into the circle, at the same time gather my reins, lift his inside shoulder and drive him hard until he stops tossing his head...." My client was looking off into the horizon, a day dreamy look on her face and obviously not listening to a word I said. "Uh, Tammy? I really need to show you this."

"Hmm?" She slowly came back to what we were doing."Are you getting him fixed?"

"Well, yeah."

"Good, when you've got him done, then let me know and you can show me how to keep him that way. Let's do some slide stops."

I was pretty irritated. I mean, c'mon, this was earth-shattering.

Tammy gave me a sympathetic smile. "Look, you have trainer brain and I don't. That's why I brought you Cisco."

"Trainer brain?" I was confused.

"Yeah, trainer brain. You're fascinated by why a horse does stuff and want to figure it out. I'm not. I like to ride and I like good horses. So, if you fix him, I'll be happy, and as long as you don't hurt him, I don't really care how it gets done."

Now there was a surprise. I had never heard that one before. Tammy was a kick ass rider and really loved her horses. I had assumed she wanted to know this stuff. I put the thought away until later.

One thing was clear though. Tammy had enough sense to get help for her horse. She knew it wasn't Cisco's fault he acted like a butthead, she had confidence in me to sort him out and I knew she would listen if she was creating his problems. It was a lesson I never forgot. If a problem is bigger than me, I get help from someone who knows more than I do. As far as I'm concerned, a trainer who won't get help when it's needed isn't really a trainer, he or she is a control freak.

So let's fast forward about ten years. I'm retired from the horse biz, but I'm still training my own horses and I have  been lucky enough to have my big, goofy dog, Brockle, enter my life. Boy howdy, does Brockle need training.

Dogs are so tangled in my life I'm not sure where I stop and the dogs begin. I was a weird little kid, living somewhere between the real and imaginary world. I liked my pretend world much better, which makes for a lonely existence. Dogs fit right in. Dogs will run and play with you wherever your head is at. My dogs were my friends, my brothers and sisters, my cohorts in crime.

It's funny, my trainer brain didn't ever kick in with my dogs. We just hung out. I loved watching my dad work with our hunting dog, Jud, but all I ever taught him was to stand on his hind legs when I shouted "Hi Ho Silver!"

My personal dogs were trained, but I didn't actually train them, if that makes sense. We just adapted to each other's needs and a mutual desire to stay out of the pound.

Then along came Brockle. He's a mystery mix, supposedly GSD and collie. Now it's starting to look like he's collie and border collie, with something kind of spicy thrown in. He's 27 inches at the shoulder, but only weighs 50 pounds or so. His fluffy, white, ticked with orange coat is fine, silky, and easily matted. He has giant ears, a great big head and a really long nose. He looks me straight in the eye and busts his butt trying to understand every word I say.

Brockle came with a few aggression issues, severe separation anxiety and a mischievous streak a mile wide. He is an overachiever and then some, out thinks me most days and is incredibly macho.
In very short order I knew Brockle and I needed help. I just needed to figure out what kind of help.

There's a big difference between riding lessons with the local dude string wrangler and private lessons with a working cow horse trainer. It was definitely in my favor that I already knew this. There's not anything wrong with group lessons at Petsmart, but I highly suspect Brockle and I would be miserable failures at a class like this. We would be thrown out with a dishonorable discharge and a Pomeranian dangling from my boy's jaws.

I asked the dog folks who read this blog some questions, irritated a few, but heard everybody, then wandered off and started watching videos. Yes, I watched them all. I watched lots of Cesar and Victoria, got tired of them, and moved on to some of the trainers recommended by you guys. I started reading books on dog psychology, dog's relationship with humans, the power of doggy love and so forth. Boy howdy, there's a bunch of opinions out there.

I came up with a few goals. I wanted to learn more about this positive reinforcement deal. I couldn't however, go with total positive training. For me, there has to be understood consequence between me and the critters I'm working with, we might be best friends, we might be companions, but I am the boss. Period.

I can't stand kids raised with only positive reinforcement. The ones I know have grown up to be unhappy, self-serving adults. Many are under achievers, and spend an awful lot of time waiting for someone to treat them the way they know (think) they deserve. I get that dogs aren't children, but I still want them to be accepted members of society.

My other goal was to find a job for Brockle. My ranch dogs were always the better for having a job beyond being a good house pet. I had a feeling Brockle would need steady employment or he would create his own. Like becoming a one-dog fighting ring, or a house renovator, a backyard excavator, a survivalist with a shotgun and land mines...

I watched a few dog/owner activities, both on line and in person. First off I looked at Agility, which I think Brockle would love. There's a little to much wild enthusiasm involved for my taste though and there was a heavy smell of politics in the air.

Dog dancing? Can't do it, I'd be worrying to much about my fat poking out of my sequined T-shirt to stay focused.

Sheep herding. Yeah baby, I could do that, Brockle would really get into it...but it takes sheep.

Cattle work, same problem, different critter, and if I have cattle to work, well, I'm going cutting, sorry Brockle.

Then I watched a Schutzund video. A little too military for my taste, but there are three, count'em three, events to train for. It appealed to me the same way cowhorse does. Training involves creating a well rounded animal, the finished product is a dog who knows his job, fits in wherever he lands and is a safe and reliable family member.

I also remembered a brief e-mail conversation I had with a local dog trainer and columnist, Jim Beinlich, for our newspaper. He had written a column about some clients who had come to him for help with their pitbull. The dog had started out by refusing to come for a treat when she was busy barking at a knock on the door. This had escalated into the dog trying to eat her way out the door and kill anybody who tried to enter the house. She was now snapping at her owners when they tried to drag her away.
The owners had been insistent that Jim use only positive reinforcement methods with their dog. He explained he would have used these methods if they hadn't screwed up the dog so bad she was in danger of being destroyed. Now she needed some negative along with the positive. I don't remember how it all shook out, but the point of the column was to get professional help before you create a sociopathic killer, not after, and to think long and hard about dictating your own approach to a pro, especially when it doesn't work. I became a fan.

I remembered he was funny, a little sarcastic and to the point. So I looked him up. He is the owner of Cool K9's Dog Training (look them up on facebook).
Jim, and his wife Bianca, are dog loving, Schutzhund training, obsessively hard working folk. Plus, Jim is a heavy metal musician, band and all, thus the blog name HMT (heavy metal trainer). I had a feeling I had found my trainer.

Dogs who work with HMT are like this.

Then they're like this...


Then back to this, within minutes




Turns out Brockle and I had met our guy. HMT knew my dog's name from day one, I'm not sure he knows mine yet. HMT's teaching approach is a lot like the Big K's, he works with Brockle, I watch, then practice a bit, ask a few questions, usually from the week before and then we go home and practice on our own.

It pays to watch him closely. HMT has a beautiful feel that I envy. I recognize it, because I have the same handle with horses. It takes years, desire and some natural ability to get that feel, lucky Brockle, jealous me. It makes me practice and observe though, I want the same timing, the same soft touch.

HMT makes training FUN, FUN, FUN! It's all a game, and my reserved, somewhat shy dog comes blowing out of his shell and launches into work. He can't resist HMT's wild enthusiasm and gets completely caught up in the game.

Not only that, but I'm completely caught up in it. I want to learn how to train my dog, I am intrigued with the concept and challenges of Schutzhund and am doing my homework like a crazy person.

The Big K taught me well  and I think HMT appreciates it. I promised him no more videos, no reading up on different training approaches, I'm learning from Cool K9's Dog Training and won't muddy up the picture with other dog trainers advice.

It isn't hard to do. I am seeing incredible improvements in Brockle's behavior and our communication. He was so intent during our bite practice he completely blew off the dogs in the dog park so we could play fetch, tug and out. When I threw his stick too far and it hit the opposite bank of Fountain Creek, Brockle tasted the water, sniffed the air and eventually criss-crossed the bank, nose to the ground, until he found it. Pretty huge for a dog who a few short weeks ago only used his eyes to find things. He's riding with me and the horses, off-leash and ignoring hikers, dogs and wild turkeys. All of this comes from HMT and the games he has taught us.

My trainer brain is very happy. This dog thing is pretty awesome. I'm not 100% sure, but I have a feeling it had to do with being willing to go to a pro when I saw I needed help. Finding the right one didn't hurt either.


13 comments:

deedee said...

YAY!

Jenn said...

"Finding the right one didn't hurt either."

SUPER happy you did!

Anonymous said...

Awsome!!
A dog has to have a job.
Or they will find one.

Amy Sheppard said...

This is great. My dog is brilliant. I'm always getting comments about how lovely she is. How well behaved. How gorgeous (shame no one ever says the same about me!). She is good. She will walk with you all day but settle in the corner for a couple of hours if you have non-doggy obsessed guests. She's good on walks and knows a few tricks. Is polite with people and happily falls asleep being stroked on the sofa and is very long suffering if my friend's toddler falls on her or smacks her in the face with a toy. All of this is great BUT she could not be left alone without destroying the front door. Really not ideal - especially when you live in a rented house.

Its all my fault really. I got her when I lived in Australia and brought her back to the UK when I returned to the mother country. I was living on a TB stud over there a d my boss was very against dogs in houses. She used to come in and sit with us but at night or when we were out she was chained up with a kennel. Then I came home and just expected her to be fine with being shut in a house when we were out. She was fine for a while and then I went off to university and she stayed at home with my mum during term time. She stopped being fine and my mum left it to escalate to massive damage (she is only a tiny whippet so the effort she put in to create that damage must have been immense) as she 'didn't want to distract me'. Love my Mum but sometimes I don't follow her thought patterns.

Anyway. Met a lovely guy and we moved in together. Pup came with and all was sort of OK. She came to work with me and was happy in the car outside with a walk at lunchtime. We could leave her alone for short periods but if we wanted to go out we had to make sure that it had an underground car park nearby so we could leave her in the car. Not an ideal solution. Then I started having seizures and could no longer drive. I had to leave her at home but we found a lovely dog walker in the village who comes and takes her out for an hour in the middle of the day. Sometimes she was fine and sometimes we would come back to find a dog with bleeding gums and nails and huge gouges in the door. It was heartbreaking.

Fast forward a year and we have a different story. We finally knuckled down to a serious desensitisation program and that helped but sometimes there would be relapses. I don't know if there was something triggering it - some noise from outside? But turning up the radio didn't help. Then I discovered Canicross - at its most basic it is running with your dog but they are supposed to pull you (we are getting there - whippets don't really get the concept of steady pulling). I found out that there was a 10mile paratrooper selection run endurance race on in 3 months and decided that would be our new goal. Canicrossers were welcomed so off we went training. And the door has only been chewed at once in those 3 months. Whereas before she would refuse to take any treats if she got even the slightest hint that we were going out she can be persuaded as long as it is tasty. We often used to come home to find the treats where we had left them but now she is diving for them as soon as you open the door to leave. The difference is remarkable.

She has plenty of exercise before we started training but I think the purposeful running with the harness has given her a 'job' and she is so much happier.

In other news we did the run yesterday in 28 degrees centigrade including two river crossings (not her favourite) in 2hr 23mins. Not exactly a blistering pace but 3 months ago I could barely jog half a mile never mind consider getting round ten. Come to think of it - I have felt better since I have had a worthwhile goal ...

That was a long winded way to agree but I think I am just super chuffed at our achievement!

mugwump said...

Amy - That is wonderful! I love the idea....everybody is fit and tired. Congrats to you for hanging in with a difficult problem too.

Deered said...

have started with a trainer today for our fearful, 27inch, 80lb, 11 month old rottie/?lab/?ridgeback x. We've had him 2 months and he's a shelter pup. Unfortunately the shelter were not entirely honest about his background and temperament and now we're trying to sort him out.

She said that there are good things from a lot of the 'popular' trainers, (ie Cesars' calm and assertive) however every situation is different, and she disagrees with aspects of the work of them too. For a lot of problems you really need the one on one to really see what is going on with the dog and the people.

She was also pleased we'd called her in before we had a serious issue, as she thinks it's still salvageable.
Job wise, at present we're going beginner obedience at our local club - that is where I was given the name of the trainer we are using, and we will continue with this for a while, as he's still too young to do some of the other activities, but we're going to be giving a few of the others a go soon, and wee where that takes us.

mugwump said...

Deered - I don't regret my initial "flooding" of dog training info. I can't tell HMT that I'm still fond of Cesar, (never really got on with Victoria) he is not a fan.
If you watch Cesar with the sound off you can learn a bunch. I agree with his calm, assertive approach too, I turn into the same thing with horses.
I think people forget, Cesar's whole intention is to help people get a handle on dogs they've essentially ruined. He tries to keep everybody safe and give the dog a secure home.This is while working with people who are dumb as a box of rocks when it comes to dogs.
I am glad however, to be working with a trainer who can take me to an entirely different level with my dog.

Cindy D. said...

I think it is super duper cool (yup I really just said that)that you have taken a dog that probably would have ended up as a problem dog for anyone else, and given him a whole new take on life.

I'm kind of with you on the whole positive reinforcement training. I feel like it has a place in my training program, but the dog (or kid or horse) also has to understand what consequences are, other wise how do they learn to make good choices?

Heidi the Hick said...

Trainer brain - I am not sure I really have it, naturally, but by necessity I have to develop it. I feel like it's a lot of work but it's worth it. I admit, we got a trainer for the pug puppy. I felt kind of silly... I'd trained a couple horses, sort of, to the best of my knowledge at least, and this tiny puppy I needed help with??? Well yeah. He'd be living in my house. I don't want to live with a tyrant. I'd never had a house dog before. Also I was kind of mental at the time, like antidepressant and anti anxiety and all that. So we got the trainer. I had been wanting to take the little fella out as a therapy dog but I was the one who needed the therapy and man, it all worked out so well.

And bein honest? I might even call a horse trainer out to help me over a few mysteries with my "broke" horses. All of us are teachers and students at the same time.

I am digging your dog trainer and totally believe you have found the right guy!!!!

Unknown said...

On Cesar: Read Malcolm Gladwell's essay "What the Dog Saw"...

...your idea of turning the sound of is a good one, and is verified by Gladwell's observations.

Mo said...

I turned to a Schutzhund trainer after my 5 yr old catahoula decided that all of her early basic obedience training was optional. She was trained with positive reinforcement, since she was so shy and reactive, but by 4 years old decided the recall command was optional. I think some dogs (especially hounds) are self-rewarding, and no positive reinforcement is as good as whatever they are smelling or chasing or barking at. The trainer told me i ruined the dog, and that the dog felt she could look for multiple options to avoid obeying my command. The retraining was painful to be involved in and painful to watch. started with the prong collar, then went to the shock collar. there was very little reward and a lot of facing the consequences. 12 weeks of weekly training, plus daily homework. We stuck to it, but really only saw results that seemed to stick after about 9 weeks. She finally realized that she had the power to stop the shock by focusing on us and performing promptly. Her confidence and happiness came back. Now she can heel without a leash, goes instantly into down and sit, and has a perfect recall. she will always wear the shock collar, and about twice a month, needs a ping to get her to focus on us in the face of a distraction, but she is a much calmer and more confident dog now. It is amazing how much stress goes away in your life when you don't have a barking, charging, out of control dog in your life. We can go for off-leash walks and jogs and know that we have more control of the dog than we did on leash before the training.

mugwump said...

MO,
I was interested (very)in having a Catahoula when I found Brockle.
What can I say, our eyes met through the wire kennel at the pound...and that was the end of my Catahoula dreams.

I read a kick butt article on what makes a good Schutzhund candidate, and Catahoulas were mentioned.

They are tough dogs because they are bred to be self-thinkers. A dog that fights boars, plays with the kids and guards the farm has to be able to think things through on their own.

This does not make a dog who is going to worry much about recall.

It's good your trainer was able o help you get a handle on your dog, but I think in this instance I would look at the breed more than the original trainer.

We aren't sure what Brockle is, but he checks back to me constantly to read my reactions. He wants to know how I feel about him, the neighbors, the weather, what's in todays news...and he is highly tuned to my immediate frame of mind. He thinks like a highly sensitive GSD.

While Brockle wore a prong collar for a while (to stop old responses), he's now just about restraint free.

This fits in with my notes for posts lately...there will be more on this.

Mo said...

Mugs, thanks for the thoughts on catahoulas. i unfortunately don't have that smart, independent thinker. i have the nervous, reactive dog-ruled by fear. my first dog was a husky/GSD cross, and the differences in the two are night and day. like most scent hounds, this breed often works independently of their human, so they don't seem to place a priority on one on one work. you sent the pack out on a scent, you found them by their baying at the prey. my dog doesn't even understand to follow my pointing and looking at an object, like when i see a rabbit up ahead. i say "get the bunny" and point and stare, she runs in what ever direction she was facing. she is loyal and keeps me in sight when out together, but literally tunes me out when her focus is caught by something else, that's why the collar will probably always be on her. I read many catahoulas are smart and savvy & fearless, i just didn't end up with that type. mine is driven by fear and all sorts of self-created issues about her environment. but as stated in the first post, the hard disciplined training where pain was involved, actually helped her learn a greater degree of calmness and focus in all aspects of her life, which is counter-intuitive to me.

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