Remembering Tessie

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Tessie the English Springer Spaniel | Spring Forth Dog Academy in Providence, RI

Tessie at 3 weeks old.

This started as an Instagram post but quickly exceeded 2200 characters, despite my best efforts to keep it brief! I hope you enjoy it. –Katherine

March 30th is always a special day at Spring Forth HQ. Today would have been Tessie’s 19th birthday. Tessie is the dog in our logo and the reason I became a professional dog trainer. Without Tessie, there would be no Spring Forth Dog Academy.

From Humble Beginnings

We did everything wrong with Tessie for the first two years we had her. We were first-time dog owners and didn’t know any better. It might be shorter to write a list of Tessie’s behaviors that weren’t a problem, but here were some of our struggles.

She would push open the front door to chase motorcycles. She snatched a hamburger straight out of my brother’s hands. She chewed a huge chunk out of the bathroom door on her first Thanksgiving. She pulled like a freight train on leash. She whined anxiously in the car, occasionally escalating to high-pitched screaming. She barked out the windows at cats, birds, squirrels….

Tessie the English Springer Spaniel | Spring Forth Dog Academy in Providence, RII begged my parents to take us to training classes because I had read about agility, and all of the agility classes required a basic obedience class certificate. When Tessie was 2, we signed her up for obedience classes at the facility closest to our home. The training style was punishment-based at best, militant at worst, but we made progress.

The Turning Point

At one of those classes, a woman was using a clicker to mark her dog’s behavior. The dog was still on a prong collar, like all of the dogs at class, but seemed to be enjoying himself a bit more than Tessie was. I got a clicker at a pet store, found a few training articles online, and got started.

Holy smokes! Tessie was smart. In a matter of weeks, I taught her dozens of tricks…. back up, roll over, fetch, speak, hand targeting, and more. I wondered what would happen if I started using the clicker at obedience class, so I did. The result? Faster recalls, more attentive heeling, closer front position.

Tessie the English Springer Spaniel | Spring Forth Dog Academy in Providence, RIWhen we started agility the following spring, Tessie flew through the class levels thanks to the clicker training I had done with her. I continued to take competition obedience classes with her but ran into a road block: the stay exercises.

Tessie would never move out of position during the stays, but would whine like a teakettle the entire time. My obedience instructors with decades of experience had no solution. “You could try a shock collar, but even that might not work.”

So, we stopped taking obedience classes to focus on agility, and entered our first trial. We were woefully unprepared and struggled with the environment, but I was hooked. For five years we competed at local trials, learned a ton, and earned some titles.

What I Learned

Tessie the English Springer Spaniel | Spring Forth Dog Academy in Providence, RII could write an entire book about all of the lessons I learned from Tessie, all of the things I did wrong, and how I fixed many of them. When you’re a teenager who doesn’t come from a “dog family,” you get a lot of judgment (which sucks) and unsolicited advice (which almost always sucks). I think the most important things I learned were:

1. Only your opinion of your dog matters.

My early obedience instructor told my mother that we’d missed the boat and since we waited so long to train Tessie, she’d never do well in dog sports, and that we should just get a puppy and start over.

This is utter hogwash. It was a convenient excuse to cover the instructor’s lack of knowledge of how to address Tessie’s whining during stays. If your trainer doesn’t think your dog is awesome and isn’t coming up with constructive solutions for your dog’s challenges, get a new trainer!

2. It’s intensely satisfying to stick it to people who say “you can’t,” and I recommend doing it as often as possible.

Tessie the English Springer Spaniel | Spring Forth Dog Academy in Providence, RI“She’s just a pet dog, she’ll never win anything.”
“You can’t train an obedience dog with positive reinforcement, they need corrections.”
“You can’t make a living training dogs.”
“You can’t run a business, you’re too young.”
“You can’t be successful if you don’t go to college.”

Tessie won her competition obedience debut with perfect stays, which I retrained using that clicker that everyone said was only for tricks, not for obedience. She never lost a point on a stay exercise during her entire career. At Tessie’s final obedience competition, showing in Veterans, the other dog got up and started humping her during the sit-stay exercise. Tessie didn’t move a muscle. Not bad for a cookie pusher. She also went on to become the first English Springer Spaniel to earn a weight pull championship, a sport she adored.

As for all that other negativity, I think Spring Forth’s success speaks for itself. We have a team of six full-time trainers and assistants, so not only am I making a living training dogs, so are several other people! Since 2010 we’ve trained over 500 dogs to be more awesome, no physical corrections required. No pain, lots of gain.

Thank You

Thank you, Tessie, for lighting a fire in me that will never go out. I am forever inspired to help others avoid the mistakes I made with you and gain the enjoyment you gave my entire family for fifteen years. Be good, moo-cow dog.

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The 2018 STAR Puppy Challenge

00Group Classes, Puppies, TrainingTags: , , , ,

AKC STAR Puppy Testing in Providence, RI | Spring Forth Dog AcademyAre you ready to commit to the training and socialization your puppy deserves?

Join our AKC STAR Puppy Challenge! Any puppy under 1 year of age can participate. Read more about the test here.

The STAR Puppy test makes a fabulous training goal for new puppy owners. It will set you & your puppy up for a lifetime of teamwork, solid communication, & fun! By meeting the criteria for the test, you’ll provide your puppy with a foundation of basic manners and age-appropriate socialization.

Preparing for the test will expose your puppy to many situations he’ll need to be comfortable with for the rest of his life. The test includes scenarios like grooming, being handled by strangers, wearing a collar or harness, going for walks, and more.

This test is a great first step toward the Canine Good Citizen program, trick dog testing, or dog sport competitions – but it’s also a great way to make sure you’re being an active participant in your puppy’s education.

So, we’re challenging you to commit to taking the test with your puppy. To be eligible for the STAR Puppy test, you must attend at least 6 manners classes with your puppy. Our goal is to test at least 25 puppies in 2018. Will your puppy be one of them?

Puppies are eligible to take the STAR Puppy test after attending six manners classes with their owners, and the test is free as part of your Flex Class Pass.  You can take the test after class on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays. We’ll also be adding special “STAR Puppy Testing Events” to our group class calendar, too.

Upon passing the test, you will receive a special medallion from us and we’ll take your pup’s “graduation photo” and post it on Instagram and Facebook. You will also receive a certificate, medallion, and puppy handbook from the American Kennel Club.

To sign up for the challenge, contact us or talk to one of our team members at the front desk!

Fear of the Clicker: How to Train Your Dog Through It

20Training, Tutorials and How-To GuidesTags: , ,

Fear of the Clicker: How to Train Your Dog Through It | Spring Forth Dog Academy in Providence, RI

Fear of the Clicker: How to Overcome It | Spring Forth Dog Academy in Providence, RI

Does the sound of one of these send your dog running for the hills? Read on for some tips to fix that!

Most dogs take to clicker training like ducks to water! But occasionally, one of our students goes home after Orientation, eager to start the training process with their dog, only to discover that their dog is afraid of the clicker.

Fortunately, there are a variety of ways to teach a dog that a click isn’t so scary after all. Here are some of the techniques we’ve used to turn this fear around.

Setting the Stage for Fear-Free Clicking

First, make sure you’re using the highest value treats you can find. This will help all of these techniques work better! Even if the first couple of clicks startle your dog, pairing them with a very tasty snack may change your dog’s mind quickly.

Fear of the Clicker: How to Overcome It | Spring Forth Dog Academy in Providence, RI

Left: a box clicker, which is pretty loud. Right: an i-Click, which makes a softer, quieter click.

Be sure to use an i-Click, the type of clicker with a raised button, rather than a box clicker. i-Clicks are much quieter than box clickers. (See photo at right for an example.)

Unless your dog is scared of being outside, we recommend that you start training outside. This makes the click sound less unexpected.

I think some owners inadvertently startle their dogs by clicking in a quiet room when the dog doesn’t expect any unusual sounds. Dogs are used to hearing random noises while exploring outside, so the click sound won’t be as sudden.

It is true that you can train using a verbal marker rather than a clicker. However, some research has shown that using a clicker speeds up the training by about 30%. Anecdotally, we have found a strong correlation between owners who use the clicker and faster progress in training. So, it’s worth trying to work through your dog’s dislike of the click sound.

More info

The “Don’t Do It” List: Common Dog Training Mistakes

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Even though we focus on the positive here at Spring Forth, there are some behaviors (performed by both people & dogs) we recommend you avoid. Here are a few mistakes we see frequently enough to complain about them!

#1. You’re using low-value treats in high-distraction environments.

The "Don't Do It" Dog Training List | Spring Forth Dog Academy, Providence RI

Not training treats, you guys. Bedtime snacks, perhaps, but not training treats.

The value of your rewards needs to match the distraction level of your environment. Kibble and store-bought dog treats are great for your living room, but almost certainly won’t cut it in the “real world.”

As Tim Ferriss put it during his podcast with dog trainer extraordinaire Susan Garrett, “It’s a crowded bar. You’ve gotta tip with twenties.”

(Pro tip – download & listen to that podcast. You will learn a TON.) 

What do most dogs consider to be a $20 bill? Hot dogs, cheese, steak, boiled or baked chicken, meat-based baby food, kielbasa, breakfast sausage, or liverwurst. Bam, there you go – all stuff you can pick up at the grocery store the next time you’re picking up some snacks for yourself.

 

#2. Your leash is too long.

The "Don't Do It" Dog Training List | Spring Forth Dog Academy, Providence RI

A 4′ long leash is the Goldilocks leash. Not too long, not too short, “just right!”

If you ever feel the need to wrap the leash around your wrist (which is super dangerous, by the way) – it is too long.

Probably 95% of our clients need a 4′ leash. The pet store industry standard is 6′. Unless you are a very tall person with a very short dog, you don’t need that much length.

Can’t find a 4′ leash? We sell them in our retail store for a whopping $9. Stop by this week and pick your favorite color.

While we’re on the topic of leashes, here’s a bonus tip: if you’re using a retractible (Flexi) or bungee leash, you’re teaching your dog to pull. Learn more about teaching Loose Leash Walking on our blog, or join our Polite in Public group class for hands-on help.

 

#3. You’re teaching your dog that sometimes it’s okay to put paws on people.

The "Don't Do It" Dog Training List | Spring Forth Dog Academy, Providence RI

If one paw is okay, then why not this? The more paws, the merrier, right?

If you’re struggling with a dog that jumps up on people, don’t teach them to put their paws on people to earn a cookie. 

This creates a massive grey area for your dog. “Sometimes” it is okay to put your paws on people.

Dogs don’t do well with grey areas and “sometimes.” They do well with black and white: is is never okay to put your paws on people vs. it is always okay to put your paws on people. I just wrote a blog post on this called “Why Paw is Problematic.”

Get the jumping under control (our Self Control group class will help), teach your dog plenty of self-control, then introduce paw – and get it on stimulus control right away so your dog only does it when you specifically ask for it, like Strata demonstrates here.

#4. You’re repeating your cues.

The "Don't Do It" Dog Training List | Spring Forth Dog Academy, Providence RI

Want him to respond the first time? Then only ask him once!

“Sit, sit, sit, sit, sit, sit. Fluffy. Sit. Fluffy. Fluffy! Sit! Fluffy, sit!”

Stop! Get your dog’s attention non-verbally. Get up, move around, walk away. Praise as soon as your dog pays attention to you. While they are still looking at you, ask once. Repeating your cues teaches your dog to ignore you.

If you’re not getting anywhere and can’t seem to get your dog’s attention, ask us for help. We’re happy to help you troubleshoot! (You can learn more about adding a cue here.)

Remember: the definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing yet expect a different result. Don’t drive yourself insane. Change your training plan!

#5. You’re over-feeding your dog.

The "Don't Do It" Dog Training List | Spring Forth Dog Academy, Providence RI

Calories eaten out of a Kong are still calories, and you need to factor those in when deciding how much to feed your dog.

The “Feeding Guidelines” on your dog food bag has to assume that dog food is the ONLY source of calories for your dog.

No training treats, no rawhide, no edible chews, no peanut butter in a Kong, no table scraps, no biscuits. Just dog food.

Most of our clients need to feed about 30% LESS than what the dog food bag suggests in order to account for their dog’s hard-earned snacks. Yes, even if their dog is getting lots of exercise.

If you’ve got a “young adult” dog, also keep in mind that most dogs need significantly less calories after their “teenage growth spurt” around 6-8 months of age, so you will need to reduce feeding amounts around that time.

You should be able to feel your dog’s ribs easily without having to hunt for them underneath a layer of fat. If you have a smooth-coated dog, you should be able to see the last couple of ribs as your dog moves around and flexes her body.

How does this relate to training? Overweight dogs don’t feel good! The weight puts more stress on their joints and spine and can make sitting, holding a stay, or running on a recall uncomfortable or downright painful.

Over-fed dogs are also generally less motivated to work. (Some people think their dogs “aren’t food motivated,” which couldn’t be further from the truth.) Getting rid of your pup’s “spare tire” is likely to make them more interested in your treats, which will make training them a lot easier!

#6. You expect your puppy to communicate like a human toddler.

The "Don't Do It" Dog Training List | Spring Forth Dog Academy, Providence RI

A busy puppy will not stop what he is doing to signal that he needs to go outside and potty.

At many of my Puppy Day School evaluations, clients lament that their puppy is not signaling to them that he needs to go potty. My response is that signaling to go outside is a double edged sword, so be careful what you wish for.

First – young puppies should not be expected to signal in any reliable way that they need to go outside. They don’t know they need to go outside… they think they should just eliminate when they feel the urge. It’s your job to anticipate their needs and take them out frequently. (Very frequently. More frequently than you probably think.)

Many of my clients persist in teaching their dog some sort of signal, such as pawing at the door or ringing a bell. What happens most of the time? The dog signals because he wants to go outside, not because he actually wants to go to the bathroom.

Going outside and romping in the yard, or going for a nice walk, is way more interesting than lying on the floor listening to your conference call. So, owner beware – most folks ultimately decide that teaching a signal to go outside is a mistake.

Where have you erred?

Have you made any training mistakes you’d like others to learn from? Tell us in the comments section below!

 

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