Category Archives: Training Concepts

Conditioned Relaxation Is NOT Massage.

OK……. Conditioned Relaxation is one of those hot topics going around. And, in case you’ve been living under a rock for the last 6 months…… you’ve seen it. Or, at least heard it described. The typical view of CR goes like this:

“CR is using massage to get a dog relaxed.”

Massaging a dog until they relax IS NOT putting relaxation on cue!

I mean….. Yes……. you do need to use massage to get the dog relaxed. But that shouldn’t be the way it stays forever.

Look at Sit. I can push the butt to the floor to “create” sit. But if someone says “Did you teach your dog to sit?”, you wouldn’t say “Sure, watch.”, then push their butt down.

If you’re still pushing their butt down…… That dog don’t know sit!

There in lies the rub (pun).

People see the massage wrong.

The first mistake people make in CR with “touch” is they pet, scratch, or stroke the dog. And that might be “relaxing”…… But not on a Therapeutic level. If I went to a massage therapist and they gently stroked my hair…… Not what I need.

Then, once people realize the therapeutic benefit of touch, they begin to go to “work” on their dogs.

AND IT WORKS!!!

Then comes the second mistake.

Since it works, they keep using it.

Like people that say “My dog knows sit”, but they have to have food in hand!

You can get your dog relaxed but you’re still relying on the inducting method.

You’re still pushing on the butt, or grabbing a cookie for sit!

Like all solid obedience commands….. You want to wean of needing to induce, or coerce!

Have had a number of conversations over the past couple of weeks that has made me realize that people don’t “get” the idea that it’s an “obedience command”.

Some examples:

Woman dreads the toll booth, cause her dog blows up.

I, after suggesting crating the dog till they’re past the issue, said “Cool, work his CR until you can use it a the Toll Booth”.

She asked, “How am I supposed to massage him from the drivers seat at the toll booth?”.

Last night, I was doing a little clinic for a local rescue. Several of the volunteers were clients. And I was talking about dealing with difficult dogs. CR came up. I got a gut feeling the above example wasn’t a lone misunderstanding. And, I said…. “You guys know that CR isn’t just massaging your dog till they relax”.

And, holy shit……. almost every single one of the people that I HAD TAUGHT were shocked. Like…. kinda upset.

Like…… “What the fuck do yo mean it ain’t massage?!?!??!”

Now I know break things down well. And, I know that I am very careful in my teaching to avoid misguided learning. And, if my own clients, I taught myself, are confused about that…….

There’s no way folks out on the interwebs trying to self teach aren’t fucking that up.

And there’s no way the skeptic “CR is bullshit” crowd isn’t using that as reasons to dismiss.

Hell, that WOULD be bullshit.

You can’t give your dog a 10 minute deep tissue massage every time you drive through the toll booth!

But…. you have to induce it to “capture” it.

Food goes up- butt goes down. Once that’s reliable you name it sit. Once they “know” it….. you fade off the food.

CR is the same…. Massage to induce relaxation. Name it. Fade off massage.

Both are oversimplified….. there is more to food luring & CR but, you get the point.

Anyway, if you’re still reliant on food lures, leash pressure, or butt pushing…… Your Sit isn’t “finished”.

If you’re still breaking out the massage table for a long session…… Your CR isn’t finished.

Yeah…. It’s kinda the defining feature.

But it’s not the “END”.

For more info on CR:

Go directly to the source. Kayce Cover!

Chad Mackin covers CR in his Dogmanship Workshop.

And I do it in several of my workshops as well!

Non Verbal Training

So…… I’ve been going on and on about Kayce Cover’s methods. And, if you;ve been following along then you know that involves a lot of talking. Like a TON of it. In fact…. in all of her method it’s the part that catches the most objections. I even wrote an article trying to explain how I think it might work.

But…….

I also believe that there’s value in training with the old school “Koehler Duct Tape” over ones mouth. I’ve realized the impprtance of body language fluency for a long time. But, lately it’s REALLY been bubbling up to the front of my brain.

I have been a Koehler Long Line Foundation fan for a long time. And, that involves a bit of “shuttin up” to have the desired effect.

Score 1 for non verbal.

Then….. although a huge fan of Kayce’s Conditioned Relaxation, I have run into some resistance on some more gamey combative dogs. One of her long time students. and most vocal advocates, Mark McCabe reminded me of an old protocol I had gotten away from, once I found Kayce’s more “direct” method. This method sometimes called “Sit On The Dog” (the worlds stupidest name) essentially, is sitting with your dog and teahing them to be calm and still when you’re calm and still. Although I don’t stay with it forever, and want to get to the more direct, communicative, active conditioned relaxation that Kayce teaches…… It turns out to be a good, simple first step.

Score 2 for non verbal.

Then……. On the way to teach a Tug Seminar last week, I was deep in dog training thought. I was watching an Ellis DVD that I have watched a 1,000 times. And, I heard him say that “If we were really taking our time, we would do a non verbal out UNTIL they’re fluent THEN name it. Just like we do positions with food” (paraphrase)

That struck something.

I have made my little contribution to the dog training world by suggesting that instead of fading the “dead toy” signal off the verbal command for out, that we just “separate” them. Keep a verbal only out, of course…… But, also keep a non verbal, body language out. This is a lifestyle training thing. I like to help the dog remember that a sudden stillness from a being is them asking for the cessation of activity. That makes a dog much more fluent in interactions with other beings!

But, I always split them AFTER teaching the out with both a verbal AND dead toy.  Ive always said if your game was good, you don’t need words.

As I was teahing that workshop I kept hearing myself say “The words don’t matter till you teach them”, and “Body language drives the game, till they learn the words”. And, as always….. Spent a LOT of time trying to get people to match their words to their actions.

Then, it hit me…..

Teach it non verbally FIRST.

Then, all the person has to do is focus on the movement. And not get distracted with a bunch of other stuff. Get your game clean….. THEN…. name everything.

Score 3 for non verbal.

I always felt like when I meet a dog, i just want to hang out. Observe. Not ask them for a ton. Just let them be. And be “with”.

Everyone has heard the old “No touch. No talk. No eye contact” rule. But a lot of other trainers are stating to suggest things along the same line. Cesar Milan. Suzanne Clothier. Nelson Hodges. Margot Woods. Bill Koehler. Mark McCabe. All different trainers from different backgrounds, suggesting a non verbal approach.

But….. How does that gel with the other big influences in my world view that are leaning towards MORE cognition? MORE language?

I think I have reconciled it in my head.

I’m not ready to commit to it as being “My official protocol” or whatever. But…… It’s really starting to gel in my mind that way.

First- Be with your dog. Learn how your body language and behavior effects them. Become observant. Learn to speak THEIR language. (I have been experimenting with this and getting HUGE results!)

Then- Teach them your language. Teach them the words that name and explain the interactions you are already fluently having.

After you are BOTH fluent in each others language…… Then, you can get to a level of communication that will seem unreal.

Whether that’s using so many words people think there’s no way it’s possible.

Or……

In complete silence!

Experiment for yourself.

I still am.

Selective Attention & Behavior Modification

Watch This…. Then we’ll talk:

Ok….. So……. What does that have to do with Dog Training?

Well, there’s a lot of attention on Kayce Cover’s method lately. And with good reason…… It’s pretty damn effective.

But….. (and I love you Kayce) the amount and style of communication just flat puts people off.

It put me off. I was right away fully into a lot of her method. But, man, that naming everything……. And the staccato style of intermediate bridging she does…… I just couldn’t do it.

Then, I worked with her and her instructors in person. And, it totally worked. I don’t care who you are….. You can’t say that shit doesn’t work. I SAW it. And, believe me…. I was trying not to. I really didn’t want to change my position on it (aka start doing something new).

So…. now I know for sure it DOES work. But…. WHY?

I felt I needed to figure that out.

The obvious argument against it, is that the dogs don’t know what the hell you’re saying. And….. To a point…… I think they may be right.

Look, I think dogs do understand WAY more than the joke in that video. Clearly. I think they can learn a ton of words. And easily make Binary choices. Hell, I’m seeing dogs now giving cognitive feedback now that blows my mind.

BUT…..

I don’t think they fully understand entire soliloquies.

I think sort of like in that Frazier video, they “get” portions of what we are saying. But, I think they know we are trying to get something across to them.

And THAT brings me back to the basketball video.

Us giving a stream of feedback that they partially understand but know is supposed to be more meaningful, gives them a task to focus on. Figuring out what we are trying to say!

You know how people give “Incompatible Behaviors”? You know, if a dog’s sitting they aren’t jumping on you sort of thing.

Well, I think this may be a sort of “Incompatible Thoughts“. As in, if the dog focuses on trying to understand me, they may miss their own gorilla!

I don’t really know. I just process thoughts like this.

Hell, maybe it’s just totally distracting white noise?

But it sure didn’t feel like it. Felt like more. But how much?

I’m not ready to say they got the full English version.

But, I think I am ready to say it’s inducing “Selective Attention”.

Feels right.

We’ll see.

But, don’t take my word for it. Hell, don’t take anyone’s word for anything! Go test.

And learn some shit!!!!!!

(if you haven’t been exposed to Kayce yet, you owe it to yourself to investigate. It’s paradigm challenging for sure, but worth looking into!!!  http://synalia.com/ )

 

 

Extinction Burst

You walk up to the elevator.

Push the button…… Wait.

Push the button…… Wait.

Push the button…… Wait.

“One more fucking time, and I’m taking the stairs” you say.

Push the button…… PUSH THAT STUPID PIECE OF SHIT BUTTON 55 GOD DAMN TIMES!!!!!!

Quit, and take the stairs.

That’s the extinction burst.

It’s the burst or “trying” that happens just before the quit.

OK. So what’s this got to do with dogs.

When people are training, I watch an epic “Race To The Extinction Burst” play out.

Here’s the scene. They are teaching their dog to stay. The dog breaks once every 3 minutes. The person calmly replaces them. The dog starts to have his extinction burst AND STARTS BREAKING EVERY 5 SECONDS. The people mistake it for them being “dominant”, or “falling apart”. They get exasperated. And start sounding that way when they replace them. Goes from a real easy “no”, to “UUUGHH God Dammit…. NOOOO”.

Dog thinks…… “Hmmmm……. I think Mom/Dad’s about to quit”

And, they’re right. Mom/Dad quits.

And, they just taught their dog to really be persistent if they want a human to give up.

Son of a bitch.

I Think dogs still watch body language. And intention. So, they subconsciously understand what they’re seeing. They can tell you’re breaking.

But, even if you believe that dogs are just classical conditioning machines, you have to see that your frustration at their extinction burst preceded your quitting. That teaches them what your frustration means. THE QUIT IS COMING!

So…..

Understand that when your dog is going through that, you just have to hold on. If you don’t show your quitting “tell”, they will eventually give up and “take the stairs”.

If you do that consistently in the beginning, the dog will have the clarity of knowing you don’t quit! And the whole game of “obedience chicken” will cease.  Remember, It’s not the “structure” dogs need. It’s the Clarity.

This concept of consistency, and clarity in training, will make HUGE headway to that end.

Now, get your poker face on and show your dog you don’t quit!

Why “Break Sticks” Are Shit.

If you’re a dog trainer with an interest in rehabbing dog aggression……

Please. Throw the “Break Stick” away.

Look, I know why you have them. It’s a logical mistake to make.

You want to break up a fight that involves at least one committed dog. (a concern you NEED to address if you work in rehab). Well….. Who has the most experience in breaking the toughest dogs apart? Dog fighters.

Yep.

If a dog gets fanged in a pit, the ref breaks them. If a dog in a roll (practice fight sparring match) starts to get hurt, you break them. Hell, if there’s a management failure in the yard and two dogs get going, you break them. These guys have hands down THE MOST EXPERIENCE breaking game dogs.

How do THEY do it?

Break Sticks.

Ergo….. You want to break game dogs fighting. You use a Break Stick, no?

NO.

Yes….. They are effective. IF……

You have 3 people to the 2 dogs.

One handler goes in for hind leg suspension (another pass down from the pit) on each dog. This kills their ability to punch back in and re-grip. That’s good. It means, All you have to deal with is the current grip. The 3rd, (and sometimes 4th) person, go in and use the break stick to mechanically separate the grips.  And it works! Well. It breaks the dogs.

So…. Why should you NOT use it?

1- Most people didn’t know that above scenario. They just stick a break stick in their pocket and will somehow utilize it to make things OK. They don’t understand the 3 to 2 principle. They don’t know or practice that teamwork concept of “wheelbarrow” and split. If you aren’t in a yard with multiple trained, people all, of who have Break Sticks in their pockets. All of who, know the drill and can fluently assume one role or the other in rhythm with you…. It’s worthless. Trying to separate a game dog (let alone 2) by yourself with a Break Stick is futile, and dangerous for ALL involved.

2- Even IF you understand AND practice the above method with ALL your staff (shut the fuck up, no you don’t)…….

YOU STILL SHOULDN’T USE BREAK STICKS!!!!!!

When you use a Break Stick you are mechanically separating the dogs. Ever hear of “Restraint Frustration”? “Barrier Frustration”? Well, when a dog is in HIGH DRIVE, and wants to get at something and can’t, it’s drive goes UP!!!!!

Think about it. Leashes make dogs more reactive. Fences make dogs more reactive. On, and on. Those are things preventing them from accomplishing their goal. And it makes them want to go at it more.

Hell, that reaction is so strong, that trainers utilize it. We tease dogs with food to increase drive for it. We try to wrestle the tug out of their mouth to make them want to grip it harder the next time!

When you pry their mouth off that dog….. Guess what they want to do MORE now?!?!?!

Yep…… Bite.

And THAT’S why the Pit men used them. It’s the only way to reliably separate a game dog and NOT DIMINISH IT’S WANT TO FIGHT!

Hell, it increases their drive to fight through frustration. And for Pit men, that’s a good thing.

For you, in your home. Or daycare. Or rehab facility……. Not so much.

So unless you’re looking for a tool that takes more dogs than handlers acting in coordination, that INCREASES aggression after the fight…….

Please.

Throw the Break Sticks away.

(How TO break a fight is a tricky and dangerous subject that can’t really be done in an article. But check the services page for avenues of instruction.)

 

Winning in Tug

So….. Do you let the dog “win” while playing tug or not?

Do you EVER let the dog “TAKE” the toy?

That, is the question.

This is such a readily answered question in dog training, that even folks without dogs have an answer for it!

So….. Where do I stand on the issue?

There is no “winning” the toy!

I think the question itself shows a misunderstanding of tug!

It’s like playing Frisbee with your friend. If you suddenly “let them have it”, it’s not a reward. It’s a bummer. They don’t want the Frisbee. They want to play with YOU WITH the Frisbee!!!!

And THAT is the fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of tug. It is not truly competitive. It’s “cooperatively” competitive. And there is a huge difference.

For people that aren’t into contact/combat sports, this may be a difficult analogy…… But……

If you’re into wrestling, and you’re having fun and wrestling with your favorite team mate…… It may LOOK competitive, but it’s not. It has elements of competition. You’re pinning them. They’re throwing you. But, if your practice session was over the first time you scored a point…… You’d be bummed. Not excited.

Yes. In tug you will make them miss sometimes. And yes, you ARE trying to rip it away from them. And they ARE trying hard to keep possession of it.

But this is where perspective is important!

If you let them have it…… They should be bummed. They should punch it back into you! If you throw it they should grab it and bring it back. Not cause they know how to “fetch”. But, out of sheer frustration! They want “The Game”!!!! Not the toy!

It’s like looking at a kid playing a video game. From the outside it may look like they are playing with the joystick. But they aren’t. They are playing the video game WITH the joystick.

The tug toy is the joystick.

YOU ARE THE GAME!!!!!!!!

“Turning off” the game isn’t “winning”!

It sucks.

Look at your game as developing engagement with you, NOT the toy.

Test your theory by letting go! If they get frustrated and punch it back to you….. You’re engagement is solid! Your game is strong.

If they think they “won” and leave with their “prize”…..

Your game needs some work!

The only winning in tug is the handler grabbing that damn thing!

Now go make your dogs day and teach them to play tug with YOU!