Back To Training


Aiden left this afternoon around 3:00pm to continue his formal training. It is so quiet around here without him. Reece and him spent hours playing together, now the poor little guy is curled up asleep. I am not sure if it is to catch up on all the sleep he missed while Aiden was here or if it is because he misses him. Aiden will be back for Easter though so it won’t be too long until our house is full of play once more.

On another note, Reece turns 3 months this Friday. He turned 12 weeks on Saturday and has grown so much since we got him 4 weeks ago. He now fits his puppy coat better and has pretty much grown out of his puppy collar. I think he will be a similar size to Aiden because he really seems to be following his growth pattern. He goes to the vet on Friday for his second set of shots so we will know then how much he weighs now.

Reece had his third puppy class with Dogs In The Park on Sunday and did very well. He knows how to sit with very little convincing and he comes as soon as you call him. On Sunday he began to learn the “touch” command and also began learning doggie zen– when the dog won’t take a treat in front of them until the “take it” command is given. He did pretty well with the doggie zen when we did it, but when someone else tried it he was happy to take the treat…lol! He still has 5 more classes to go though, so lots of time for more practice.

A Medley of News

Looking at my blog today I realized that I haven’t posted in over two weeks and there is so much new to say. Aiden has now had four stay classes and is doing wonderfully! He is understanding now that I will not pay attention to him if he is not lying down in a stay position and it takes very little time for him to go back down after getting up for a moment. When we first began it could take as long as 15 minutes for him to lie back down, but now it sometimes takes as little as me just turning my back on him. I am so proud of my little guy, he is only 9 months old now, but acts so mature and adult-like. This Sunday we will be missing our class, but I will continue to practice while we are away. Last week instead of just staying, the dogs are now learning to relax as well.

On Wednesday Cessna and I began a Foundations class with Dogs In The Park. In this six week class she will learn some of the basic obedience skills needed for becoming a competition dog. I know she should know her basic obedience commands, but in this class we are taking it a step further by asking her to do them completely off leash and slightly differently. She is learning to stay like Aiden is in his class, but instead of only doing down-stays we are instead practicing a stay they are not as good at…this varies depending on the dog. For Cessna it is the down-stay, she does stays well in a sit position, but she isn’t as good about staying in a down when asked. To her, it is good enough to have her bum always on the ground, she doesn’t see why it matters whether she is in a down or a sit as long as she is staying. The class began with us practicing stays, then we moved on to teaching our dogs to come to the front of us. Cessna caught on quickly to this, so we moved on to trying to get them to touch a “target”. She was not so good at this, she became impatient and started to paw me and bark in frustration. The next skill we worked on was heeling, because she is already able to heel well on the left we began to teach her to heel on the right (just a note, that all of this class is done off leash). Cessna took a bit to figure out what I wanted, but soon got really good at it so instead of just standing and waiting for her to get into the right side heel I began taking steps away as she approached my right side. I guess after a bit she will begin to just walk along beside me without any issues. The class ended with us introducing the dogs to the barrels holding the bar they would later jump over. We walked through and whenever the dog walk over the bar we clicked and gave them treats. Once they were good at this we began walking around the barrels and getting them to walk between and over the bar. I think this class will not only give Cessna different abilities and learning opportunities, but that it will also improve her guide work because she will learn to focus better and listen to commands easier.

My final update is about my friend Jess who has now returned from Beijing and is at Leader Dog in Michigan getting her new guide dog. In Beijing she ended her paralympic swimming career on a high note, breaking her personal time records. She is not yet sure what she will fill all her free time with, but in January she will be starting massage school which will hopefully lead to a position on the National Paralympic team as their massage therapist. She has been at Leader Dog since September 21st and received her new partner in crime on the following Wednesday. Glacier is a 1 ½ year old male yellow (more white) lab, weighing in at 67lbs. I have not yet gotten a chance to meet him, but we are going to visit her on Sunday and will hopefully get some pictures to share. Even though Jess and Glacier have only been together for a week and a half she says they have bonded more in that time than her and Jetta (her previous guide) bonded in six months. Jetta was a wonderful guide dog, but she was not an affectionate or playful dog. Jetta is settling nicely into her retired life with Jess’s parents in Sault Ste Marie. I will update you all on their progress as time goes on.

Stay Class

Sunday Aiden and I had our first “stay” class. He is the youngest dog in the class by far, but did quite well. He was also the only lab in the class which meant treats were a big distraction! He impressed us though, staying for more than 10 minutes straight most times. This was only our first group session so with time he will improve even more.

Today I met up with a classmate, who also used to be one of my professors. Our dogs were tethered to posts on opposite sides of a driveway and we walked back and forth between them…only giving treats when they were staying in a down position. Both Aiden and Tyson did well, getting up at times, but we didn’t need to wait long before they laid back down. I can already see an improvement in Aiden’s stays and am curious to see how well he can do them after the 8 weeks of class. I can really see the benefit in training a dog using solely reinforcements, but am wondering if whoever gets him in the future can keep this up. He is a very fast learner and I am finding that he seems to be learning the concept of “stay” a lot better using this method than the usual one of “punishment”.

For those who aren’t familiar with this method I will describe what we do. I will ask Aiden to lay down and then only tell him once to “stay”. I will then walk away and only return when he is staying in a down position. When he stands or does anything other than lying down I will keep my back turned to him. When he returns to the down position I immediately go over to him and give him a treat and then continue this cycle until the end of our session when I will “jackpot” him which means he gets treat after treat and then can be released from the “stay”. The opposite to this method is “punishment” where I would continually go back to him and put him back into a “down” position. The theory behind the “reinforcement” method is that a dog will begin to understand that he only gets attention when he is doing the desired behaviour and will be ignored when he is not.

I will update everyone on his progress as time goes on

A Week of New Beginnings

This week has been a week of many doors opening for me. On Monday I met with a local dog trainer (www.dogsinthepark.ca) who I will be apprenticing with, while also helping her with her service dog organization, K9 Helpers. This organization works to train dogs for people with various psychiatric conditions.

As the client support staffer within K9 Helpers, I will be working toward taking over the administration aspects of the organization, while also working within their intake and follow-up programs. When the public calls the office to inquire about the program I will be the one to call people back with the information they request. Using my social work degree I will be able to help the organization re-work their application process, as well as by acting as a liaison between them and the individual client teams. I am really looking forward to the opportunity I have been given to not only use my social work degree, but to also learn things about an area I am passionate about, service dogs.

This week in my apprenticeship I have begun to learn clicker training. I am currently using Cessna as my trial dog, since I might as well work on problems with her before trying to help others with their dogs. She seems to be taking well to clicker training so far, she is beginning to learn what the click sound means and is beginning to re-learn the importance of focusing. On Monday we worked on teaching her that she will only get a treat when she pays attention to me and not to what is being thrown in front of her. Thursday we began to work on teaching her to “choose to heel”. She is a very smart girl, but quite impatient at the same time. She wants to please most of the time, but gets bored easily by training sessions and therefore begins to focus on the person with the treats rather than on the person (me) who she needs to focus on. I think after a while she will begin to learn the meaning of the clicker and the importance of focusing on me and her work, and not on the world around her. I think these training sessions will do wonders for us both; for my shoulder, for my frustrations, and for her overall desire to work hard and help me, help her to enjoy herself even when we aren’t out playing fetch.

Today was a crazy warm day, it got up to 40 degrees celsius with the humidex. Our dogs are not finding this weather too pleasurable, but they will learn to tolerate it after a while. Aiden is having the roughest time adjusting to the warm weather, he was born just before Christmas so this warmer weather is terribly tough to get used to. We went to the mall this afternoon to try and give him a bit of a break from the warmth, we have an air conditioner in our bedroom and a large fan at the end of the hall to help the air circulate, but it still seems a little warm in here. He did quite well at the mall, but I found it hard on my shoulder when he would continually pull down to sniff something. I decided to try a halti for a few seconds just to see if it might make a difference. He hated it, but it at least gave my shoulder some relief, but then we came upon his sister with her foster mom and she was so excited to see him that he also got excited. In that few seconds I pulled back on the leash to try and get him under control, but instead of restraining him the halti came off and the leash went flying over my back and almost hit a woman in the face. I was so shocked at what Huib told me had happened, that I didn’t get a chance to say sorry, but I am sure she understood that it was an accident…an embarrassing one on my part, but definitely an accident. No more haltis for our little guy, I think I’ll just have to find a better way of getting him over his need to pull down on the leash.

“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.”
– Albert Einstein