Kekoa | Miniature Australian Shepherd | El Segundo | In Training
Kekoa is a one year old Miniature Australian Shepherd from El Segundo who has come to OffLeash SoCal's Two-Week Board and Train Program to perfect his obedience and manners around people. Kekoa gets excited during greetings and has expressed some interest in people and dogs in the distance so I will investigate how he can interact with other dogs in our training program as he gains more proficiency with his obedience.
Already he is having some issues with separation anxiety. Whining and crying in the crate. He doesnt like the crate very much so I will be spending some time working on his ability to self soothe and relax while inside the crate. We are going to first build our relationship and from there I can show him how he needs to behave. He already has some training and knows a few commands so we will strengthen what is already there and add more clarity in our expectations and our communication. The main goal is to show him how to listen but first we must communicate consistently. Kekoa will learn how to learn and solve problems on his own. Stay tuned for his two week transformation!
Today I diagnosed and observed Kekoas behaviors so we can formulate the best strategy going forward. He has some interest in other dogs and people but isn't particularly reactive. He is a very friendly and social dog but he just needs to learn how to greet people in an appropriate manner. His greatest weakness is separation anxiety. After drop off he was very stressed out and looking around trying to escape. It took me a little while to make friends with him but he did calm down.
It will be important to practice keeping him in the crate for periods of time when he comes home so that he can still find his calm when he is alone. He has a gentle and needy nature which isn't a bad thing! He just needs the proper guidance and reinforcement to make him more receptive to commands without hurting his feelings. Sometimes sensitive dogs like him can take things personally during training. They become frustrated when they have to comply with pressure from the leash for example. In Kekoa's case he wants to ignore the handler and go do his own thing when he is frustrated or bored. My plan for him is to build the relationship so much that he finds intrinsic value in our interactions. My advice for when he goes home is to use your affection like his paycheck. Not offering too much free love until he first obeys a command. This way he will always return his attention to his owner seeking that reward over something else in his environment.
Today my goal for Kekoa was to make him more comfortable interacting with me. He has some anxiety being in the crate and being in new places. Kekoa is able to calm down given some time and proper guidance. He has some prior experience with the positions so I am simply enhancing what he already knows and providing added context. For example he knows a sit but needs to extend the duration.
When we work on duration it is important to increase in easily achievable increments. If the dog can hold still and maintain a sit for 30 seconds, ask for 40 seconds next time. Kekoa enjoys interaction and affection quite a bit so paying him for his good work is very easy. While he maintains his sit for longer durations I reinforce him by telling him "good" and walking away from him, then back toward him so on and so forth. By coming and going I can show him the picture of me leaving isn't automatically his cue to leave the position. When I walk away I tell him good and when I return I also give him some physical affection to reinforce the idea that a greater reward comes when he waits for my return. When he has waited long enough I release him with "Break" and give him a lot of love and praise so he knows the thing he was just doing was a big deal and he should do it again.
Dogs are always seeking out their own advantage and it is up to us to show them their best interest lays just beyond what we ask. When he goes home it is important to remember he has a history of being able to ignore certain commands or get up and walk away from a sit without repercussions so practicing asking for duration in his behaviors in old familiar places like home where he could be free may be more difficult. It is ok if you can only get the sit for 10 seconds! Just ask for 15 the next time. Gradually increasing our criteria will get a better result than trying to force any particular outcome. Use your voice when the dog is waiting and tell him how good he is doing! Dogs need praise to understand when they are doing the right thing as much as to know that they are being good. We are marking a moment in time for them to recall for later. With consistency Kekoa will continue to get stronger with his obedience and it is apparent to me already that he can grasp the concepts and isn't confused by what I am asking.
Today my goal for Kekoa was to show him the things he already knows are mandatory and need to be automatic. We worked on heeling and having him follow my leg without added leash pressure. I am transitioning from the physical signal of a leash to the stimulation of an e collar. It is important for the early stages to make what we are asking totally clear so we dont confuse the dog.
Because Kekoa has a strong grasp already of his position I am asking him for something a little more challenging with the addition of a close wall to decrease the distance between us when we heel or I tell him to come. Kekoa is a sensitive dog and he needs patience but also for us to be careful about finding the level of stimulation that works for him. He knows the right answers but when he makes mistakes can lose some motivation when he is being reinforced with stimulation from the collar, so to help him out I keep my rewards flowing freely as he gets the right answers.
Remember to talk to your dog a lot and tell him he is doing good when he listens to his commands so that he is finding the training to be fun and engaging. I am in a process of showing Kekoa that the same things we are asking for with the guidance of leash pressure need to be done without a leash at all. In these early stages it is important to make sure Kekoa understands what we are asking so we keep the training session limited to a few skills at a time that we will later combine into the full obedience. Remember to limit the time training to 10 or 15 minutes as Kekoa is young and still developing his attention span. This will keep the sessions more fun and engaging for him and his handler as well.
The consistency in rewards and reinforcement will allow Kekoa the freedom to make choices on his own and find the answers on his own as well. We are acting as a chaperone but only to help guide Kekoa into the problem solving skills he will use to overcome any anxiety or ill manners by returning to the island of comfort and peace we are creating in our presence while he is behaving. The goal of reinforcing your commands with praise and affection is to show the dog that listening is a positive experience he enjoys and he will connect the dots the rest of the way when he dislikes being disobedient. The choice being binary and black and white makes it a clear and easy choice for him to make.
Today Kekoa and I worked at a park with other trainers around their dogs. There were passers-by, people playing games in the distance as well as other dogs and their owners. The focus for today was to show Kekoa the place command around some more distractions. He already has a good grasp of how to learn and his owners have done a good job with what he knows already so it is my goal to take that knowledge and show him a lot of new places to practice and apply his skills.
Kekoa is a somewhat anxious dog in his training and while I am going as slow as possible there is an element of not allowing him to avoid his work by being too easy on him. Remember to hold Kekoa accountable when he leaves his positions or avoids the commands. This doesn't mean be unfair to him....in fact being consistent and offering the same reinforcement to the same mistakes time and again is more fair than changing the criteria for the answers. So long as the results are able to be predicted by the dog then our consistent signals when they make mistakes wont add extra stress unless they dont know how to answer the question being asked. For example in my video for today Kekoa is given some stimulation the same time I ask him to "come" and you will notice how quickly he is motivated to find the correct position by my side where I reward him.
Unless the dog already has the answer we wont be able to "demand" or "force" the dog to do anything. The acquisition phase or learning phase is all about showing the dog pictures using a variety of tools and techniques that make it clear when we get to the proofing or "testing" phase of training. I have carefully observed by his reactions that Kekoa knows how to correctly respond to "come" and so applying stimulation resulted in his finding the answer. Should the dog be unable to complete his task or guess many different answers it shows me perhaps I need to show him more examples before adding higher difficulty back in. Be observant and read the dog! They will tell you what you need to know.
In Kekoa's case this may be a different set of issues when he goes home. He is more subdued for me because he misses his owners but in their presence he may have the opposite issue and be over the top. In any case the answers we have taught him remain the same. Follow commands and it is easy rewards relaxation and praise. Dont follow commands and there will be reinforcement until you do. Consistent responses yield consistent results. Good luck!
Today I worked on off leash obedience in a park with Kekoa around lots of people walking and small children at the playground. Kekoa is very good at ignoring distractions for the most part but as he is sensitive I praise him quite a bit for making an effort. Remember he is still very young and the stress of maintaining his focus when he wants to run around and greet people takes a lot of energy for him to maintain. In the clip that I posted Kekoa does break his position to go say hello to a baby but I simply ask him to come back to a sit and then explain to the family that they can say hello but he needs to maintain his obedience while they do. At drop off we discussed Kekoa greeting guests and especially small children with too much energy. It is ok to pet and love on the dog but only after he has been invited for affection. If we allow it to be the dog's choice they will potentially make poor choices and revert to old habits. Enforce the same greeting ritual for all new guests and family members until everyone knows the proper way to reinforce the dog for training. If we allow new people or family members the chance to break his rules however well meaning there will be a drop in the results from training. Training is all the time!
To keep the concepts universal and fair for Kekoa we need to maintain a clear understanding of the boundaries for every single person. Dog's have difficulty in separating the context of when it is or isn't ok to jump and play on their own so it is up to us to make the picture the same for him every time that way using the problem solving skills I am instilling in him he will make the right choices as you present them to him. Remember Kekoa isn't a robot and he will likely make mistakes but consistency is the name of the game and we want to aim for small consistent victories over asking the dog for too much and allowing him to fail. Kekoa is sensitive but that just means we need to balance the praise with the commands so he always keeps in mind how rewarding the experience is. If he is reinforced too much with too little pay out in terms of affection he will very quickly loose interest. So in order to keep things interesting and fair for the dog remember to tell him "good" while maintaining a position or behavior well and sometimes as a bonus tell him "break" when he has held a position for a long time or done a particularly good job ignoring something. This helps to show him the "jack pot" is with us and not out in the environment and this way he will look to us for further guidance merely because he has been conditioned to expect a reward from our direction. This is a win-win! Remember the dog and you both should be winning for the most success.
Today we went to the Santa Monica Pier with a few of our other trainers and worked on all of the obedience skills around a lot of distractions. Kekoa knows all of his behaviors very well at this point and it is a matter of reinforcing the obedience when he feels uncomfortable and wants to get up and come find his handler.
Kekoa is somewhat sensitive to pressure so keep in mind we are encouraging him to do well, not demanding it. The reinforcement from the e collar is to provide communication so that he knows what to do and remembers to behave when he is overwhelmed, but we do not want to use it in place of positive encouragement with our voice. Several times today Kekoa stayed in his behaviors and didn't walk away because I reminded him and praised him with my voice and never needed to use the e collar, but when he is so nervous he still continues to get up and leave that is when I apply the stimulation to remind him what I am saying is important. The more environmentally stressful a particular place is the more you will find you are using the stimulation to reinforce your commands and that is ok! Just remember to practice in low as well as high stress environments so he doesn't get too used to one particular kind of place. More exposure to various things going on without anything negative happening and Kekoa will learn to ignore all but the handler in those places.
He places a tremendous value in interacting with his handler so if you can let him know you appreciate his efforts often and with enthusiasm you will find you are able to overcome a great deal of stress without ever reinforcing it and then when you DO need the added help of the e collar he will listen that much faster and more confidently. The practice of confident walking in the world is making him tougher and more capable of relaxing and enjoying himself in any new place he visits so keep in mind this isnt just for training behaviors it is also for showing him he can have comfort and peace no matter where he is and doesn't need to feel anxious. The best reinforcement happens when the dog is making all the decisions and the more comfortable he is around stress the more he will choose obedience on his own terms.
Today, Kekoa worked on his obedience with a new person who he hasn't met before. This was a good way to generalize the behaviors so that he can recognize there are ways for the picture to change while still having enough of a pattern for him to be familiar with. Dogs are pattern oriented animals and their mind is best described as seeing in pictures. They need to see picture after picture of a new concept under different perspectives before they can make sense of the idea in new places spontaneously. A good way to think about this is they wouldn't necessarily make the connection that a blue car and a red car are the same thing. The difference is enough that they may treat them as totally unique. It is our goal through training to show them they are both cars, and there are more pieces of information they can use to identify a particular environment or situation as being within their frame of reference. When new people handle Kekoa (or in the case of the owner familiar people with whom Kekoa has had bad habits of ignoring his commands) the training has helped make him more capable to distinguish the process of obedience itself as being familiar and comforting besides the specific person issuing the obedience and this is important because of his separation anxiety.
Today we practiced Kekoa remaining calm and relaxed in the home. Whether someone is at the door or you are watching tv or doing the dishes the dog needs to have an expectation of remaining behaved regardless of the circumstances in the home. We can of course ask the dog to sit or down or go to a place if there is commotion at the door or we are sitting down to dinner but in order to make the behavior as strong as possible we must practice during activity and inactivity both. We want the dog to seek out the comfort of the familiar when presented with new information so provide as many opportunities to behave as possible. Anywhere the dog is expected to behave we need to rehearse our commands and reinforce them when they aren't performed. The home for most dogs is a place that they haven't had to be accountable before so keep in mind the sessions should be short and Kekoa should be crated for periods of time inbetween being out. When he is crated he needs to remain quiet and relaxed. When he is being quiet feel free to come praise him or take him out via the "come" command, use "heel" to walk him to a place and then "place" him there. He needs to be well practiced in the concept of controlling himself before he should be trusted to be out for extended periods of time. Even when he has perfect obedience in the home, time in the crate will become tranquil time for him to relax and rest and we can condition him to actively seek out and enjoy his alone time by discouraging nervous behavior in the crate and making it routine to listen to commands when he is out.
Today we worked on impulse control around the door by maintaining obedience. We call this Door Manners and he should practice this routine coming in and out of every door to really make it automatic to wait. When he gets to a doorway while heeling we ask him to sit and cross through, then return a moment later and heel him through the doorway. It isn't necessary to do this routine permanently but make it consistent and a part of training when out and about in public. At home he must always wait a moment by sitting as you open the door and put your keys in your pocket or etc. We heel the dog up to the doorway and then ask for a sit while we go about our business. This is a helpful skill for when we want to load our groceries inside or carry our beach umbrella to the car...you name it! Anything you can imagine having to go back and forth doing...the dog should be expected to wait until invited to come along without the hustle and bustle triggering him to break the behavior.
When we ask for sit press the button on the remote simultaneously to saying the command in the beginning stages of practice. If the e collar is set to a level he is responding to he will be motivated in his sitting and the command "sit" will mark when he is supposed to be motivated...meaning the command and the e collar reinforce each other. A single button press is used to reinforce a command simultaneously to saying it, otherwise if the dog has broken the behavior we apply the button as a series of quick presses while we ask for a new command. When the dog complies with the command, whether it's to sit again or to come to sit or to heel so you may walk them back to where they broke position...you only press the button in quick succession while the dog isnt complying...so the moment they DO comply you stop pressing and you praise! This helps them to understand yes and no more clearly.
Kekoa hasnt been eating much at meal times but I leave his food in the crate and he tends to eat more overnight. He is still having regular bowel movements and normal energy/mood.
Today I took Kekoa to the Home Depot to practice his self control around stressful triggers in the environment. Being outside on a crowded street is different than being in the echoing building with the slippery floor AND a crowd. Kekoa is like most dogs in his stress with new places like this but he also has a very good mind and listens to his commands. He will likely struggle with maintaining his positions initially because his attachment to the owner is even greater than his attachment to me and thus far wanting to return to my side is his greatest weakness. He is much improved and continues getting stronger, however. Remember to take Kekoa to new places and practice having him sit, down or place while waiting at a distance. Practice going out of his line of sight for a moment and then returning to praise him and say good. Return to the dog and touch him every few minutes to help him understand his reward comes back to him and he doesn't need to go looking for it. If we make these sessions short at around 10 or so minutes we can work on increasing the duration the dog waits in his position by 30 seconds or so every time.
So it will look like this: Heel the dog to a location, Sit, Down or Place him as is appropriate, then walk away and look at your watch. Increase the distance, the time and most important the amount of distractions when you practice. Return to the dog every 30 seconds initially, then every minute, then every 2 minutes, then every 5 minutes, and if you can get him to stay waiting for 10 minutes while you are out of his line of sight then you are at a very strong level. The goal is short increases to duration and distance and small increases in distractions when we work. Dont feel the need to throw the dog into tough situations every single time, but be aware that adversity is what makes Kekoa mentally tough and maintaining his obedience for duration at a distance and with distractions will make him more calm, comfortable and happy for the rest of his life.
Today Kekoa and I practiced all of his skills while out walking and worked around distractions like joggers, passersby and other dogs. In order to make sure Kekoa has a fluent understanding of the commands and isn't just making guesses I like to ask for "Down", "Sit" and "Place" at odd intervals as well as "Come" and "Heel" when he has been sitting or down in a place etc. The idea being I can ask him to sit and continue walking....then ask him to come....and when he arrives I tell him to sit once more and walk away, then I return and we heel away together. Variations of the order we work the skills and differing combinations of the skills being worked engage Kekoa's mind and will make his understanding of the various pieces of the puzzle much stronger. Ask Kekoa to perform obedience when there is a potential distraction. Instead of noticing a dog across the street and hoping he just ignores it, the more productive way to engage Kekoa is to command him in some fashion, this way he connects focusing on that dog as failing to perform a skill he knows how to perform rather than just asking him to stop what he is doing. We can of course say "off" when we notice fixation or staring but then we should follow up with a command to heel or sit etc that asks the dog to pay attention to a specific task at hand rather than to ignore alone. It is far easier to redirect attention than to make it go away completely.Also keep in mind that despite how well Kekoa is behaved there will still be other dogs or people that do not have the best intentions or the best manners either and we as handlers need to be mindful of potential harm to our dogs even if our dog is trained perfectly. If you recognize danger in the form of an out of control loose dog or perhaps someone with mental health issues being scary to the dog as much as distractions are important to expose him to so he can ignore them....asking him to ignore actual threats of bodily harm is also unfair. Be sure not to put him in harms way thinking he is being afraid for no reason! Use your judgement as a human being to make the assessment and if it feels unsafe it is better to be safe than to have any unfortunate incidents. That being said if we are careful to advocate for our animals then there are so many enriching environments for them to visit with OffLeash skills that the practice exposing Kekoa to stress and making him more confident is worth the effort. We want him to be confident around things that aren't truly dangerous and reliable enough to listen and obey us so we can help him navigate the world and enjoy everything there is to offer.
Kekoa and I worked on the three Ds today: Distance, Duration and Distractions. In order to continue growing and enhancing Kekoa's new obedience abilities we can try experimenting with the three Ds when we train. Add distance to his behaviors and walk away from him farther and farther without triggering him to break his obedience. If he does break, reset him and try adding more distance again but not quite as much. We aim to slowly increase to avoid making a habit of breaking from a given behavior. Add duration to the length of time you ask Kekoa to perform a given behavior. Ask for 30 seconds longer every time and if he is having trouble then ask for 20 so on and so forth. When he struggles we meet him halfway but then slowly increase the challenge again. The goal is to be able to leave the dog in a given position for however long we need him to be. The final D of distractions is unique because it isn't necessarily about more distractions all the time but also about the kinds of distractions. Things the dog is attracted to are distracting in a different manner than things the dog is fearful of. So consider the unique distractions of an environment and try to expose kekoa by heeling with him closer and close until you can see he is nervous/excited....and in that place or the safest closest point (if you are in the street, find the closest sidewalk for example) you then need to work the obedience while in that proximity to help ease his mind. This game of obedience is so predictable that it helps him to cope with the unknown and beyond that being rewarded amidst the source of stress/excitement helps to show the dog they dont have any reason to worry afterall. Be careful of any true danger and only go as close as he is able to still work well. We don't want to overwhelm but slowly build up and become strong in a lasting way.
Today I took Kekoa to film his Final video. There were many distractions ranging from crowds of people to the ocean to loud music and more. He did very well! Kekoa likely won't be exposed to this many distractions regularly once he goes home but he should still practice in different environments to maintain his skills. He was able to heel off leash, maintain an extended sit and an extended down/place. Kekoa still wants to say hello to people and make new friends but he is able to control himself and stay sitting while they pet him. The skills Kekoa has learned are now automatic in his behavior and the training that I will share with his owners at Drop Off (Turnover) will help to keep him working well. I am very proud of the work he has done and how much focus and attention he brings to his obedience. When practicing with him in public it would be wise to take him to places you would like to spend time with him in advance of whatever particular outing. For example bring him alone to an outside dining area or to a park before bringing him to a larger gathering of people at that location with more going on that can potentially distract not only Kekoa but his handler as well. Spending time with Kekoa one on one is a safer and easier way to practice than jumping into a big crowd before you feel comfortable commanding the dog with all of his new obedience. Remember you are both learning and it's easier to build slowly and carefully than it is to try and fix mistakes! So take your time and enjoy the process.
Today's lesson is about the difference between "Break" and "Good" and when to use each reward. Throughout this process the dog has been conditioned to maintain his good behavior when we tell him good, and to discontinue that behavior and return to us for a reward when we say break. The way we use break is similar to gambling with a slot machine in Las Vegas. We are looking for the dog to work every repetition expecting the possibility of a jackpot but without having to receive one every time he does something. It is the anticipation that helps motivate him and that anticipation is strongest when the dog is rewarded predictably but also intermittently. By showing him his behavior results in something massively desirable to him he will repeat those behaviors continuously. When we reward him with a jackpot every single time the value of our jackpot diminishes so in order to preserve that reward while also encouraging the dog to work harder we "Break" him when we is working particularly well to mark the best behavior and he will make the association on his own of "this got me a big reward I like doing this". It is him connecting the dots of his behavior with the reward that causes him to repeat it with more and more enthusiasm and this helps to make the process of earning his rewards more satisfying as well. Instead of just being work to get a reward the game of obedience becomes rewarding in and of itself because it is so strongly associated with the jackpot feelings he gets in the end. Remember to use break when he is working very hard and good to reinforce him staying in a behavior. Good luck!