Sunday, August 22, 2010

Crossing over

I love positive dog training, but it is hard. After taking it personally for so long when my dogs didn't listen to me and having it ground into me that my dogs wouldn't respect me if I didn't make them do everything I asked, I struggle when I don't get the response I was looking or hoping for. The biggest mistake I make is asking for something when I'm not that sure if my dog will give me the response I want. Basically, testing their response at the wrong times. For example: Goose doesn't like getting into the car for some reason. He doesn't seem to mind being in the car, but for the longest time wouldn't get in on his own and would sort of avoid the car when Billy and I were getting into it. Recently he did start getting into the car on his own, so I starting to try to call him to the car instead of going to get him and putting him in the car. I wouldn't call with his actual recall 'here' but I use an informal come if you want to cue 'comere.' When Goose turns and goes the other way, I take it personally. It makes me mad and it takes a lot for me not to start yelling for him, which sometimes I even try for a second (never works). I need to NOT do this. If Goose doesn't come on 'comere' I need to realize it's nothing personal, he just is feeling unsure about the car right now and I should just go get him. Better yet, I should bring him out on a lead and just lead him to the car and in the mean time work on him learning to love getting in the car. That way we could avoid the whole issue all together. I don't know why I feel the need to do things like that. I also do this with cue's like 'leave it' and 'drop it'. Goose will have something he shouldn't and I will want to see if he will drop/leave it when I ask. When he doesn't I get mad and don't want to let him get away with not doing what I ask, even though I haven't worked on it nearly enough for him to respond with any random object. These feelings and reactions are like hardwired into me. I mean I have gotten much better about it but I still make these mistake way too often and don't respond the right way when I do make them. This leads me to my biggest mistake number 2. Management. I'm too lazy about managing Goose's environment. Which is why I have all these opportunities to "test" him, when I know he is not ready. I need to get better about that. Also, the more stressed I am the more likely I am to get mad at my dogs. All these things are tied together and I am realizing this as I type this. I would be less stressed if I was better about not getting into situations where my dogs don't respond and in turn would be mad less often.

I am feeling like a very poor trainer at the moment. I think because I have been one.

Sorry Gooey, I will try harder!

AND Billy wandered away yesterday. For the first time in over a year. I don't know if anyone knows Billy's background, but he has a LONG history of running away. When Billy was about a year old or so he learned that he could get through the electric fence if he ran through it FAST. After he learned this, he began running away and running FAST and in a straight line. He would be gone in literally five seconds. I didn't help that he is a genius and could open doors in our house and let himself out. It got out of control and that's when I took him to a training school that claimed they could help me solve the problem. After Billy and I went though the program, which included a week board and train, they offered me a job. The training school used all traditional methods, starting with just choke chains and NO positive reinforcement at all, not even praise for the correct response. After I had been there for a year we progressed to using more tools including, prong and remote collars. last summer after contuniing to struggle with Billy's bolting problem I started training him with a remote collar. I hated using it but felt it was my only choice for keeping Billy safe. The constant worry and stress when Billy would disappear was getting too much. The remote training all but culminated when I experienced something horrible (and Billy something more horrible.) I was given the advice of setting Billy up to run away on the path he always took, which was out the sliding glass door and through the side yard. I was told to set him up so I knew he would run, turn up the collar, call his name, and if he didn't respond (which I knew he wouldn't cause he never did in that instance) hold it down on continuous stim until he stopped running. Everything went exactly as planned. I went upstairs to watch from a window and I had my Mom "forget" to close the door. Sure enough there went Billy. I called "BILLY!" and when he continued running I pressed down the button. Billy started screaming like I had never heard before, but kept running. Frantically, I turned the collar all the way up. Billy continued screaming and also continued running, running, running, and was gone. It was a truly awful moment, and thinking about it makes me sick. Not only had I scared the hell out of my dog and caused him extreme pain, he was also now missing. As I was driving around calling for him, I was seriously doubting this training. What was I doing to my dog???? Ironically, around the same time as we started using remote collars at my work, I discovered clicker training. My friend (and then co-worker) and I started researching positive reinforcement and realizing that there WAS another way. A humane and fun way of training. After a summer of research I made the switch. I don't know if it was the remote training that pushed me other the edge or if I would have found this training either way, but I am so thankful that I did.

Anyway, the point of this whole story is after I trained Billy with the remote collar I went back to school and he got to come for the first time (my senior year of college). I stopped using positive punishment (as best as I could and it is HARD when it's such a habit), and began retraining Billy. I retrained his recall and watched as he began to actually enjoy being with me. He was now actually able to choose to be with me, rather than being forced. So, back the the point... after that transition, Billy stopped running away. I never knew if it was due to the remote training, the positive training, or a combination of both, but he stopped bolting. I slowly gave him more and more freedom and really began to trust him off leash around my house. He would always choose to come back inside after being let out. I'd even let him wander into the woods for a minute and he would always come back. That is until yesterday. We had family over for my sisters birthday, and my uncle brought their new rescue puppy to learn some manners from Billy and my parents dogs, I was distracted by giving him advice and watching the pup with my parents dogs and Billy slipped off. At first I thought nothing of it. I figured he was going into the wood for a minute to do his business and would be back. After a few minutes someone asked where Billy was, I looked around and my heart sank. Where was Billy? I started calling him and he was not coming. I knew he was gone. I couldn't believe it. It had been over a year since this had happened. Although wandering off is not the same as making a wild break for it, it was still very disheartening. I got in my car and starting driving around calling for him. It didn't take long for me to find him, trotting along the road (thank god we live in a pretty rural area). It's going to take a long time before I can trust him again. I realize it was my fault and I should have never taken my eye off him. If I had kept him partially engaged, even with a name call here and there, I know he would have stuck around. I'm guessing he was sniffing around and saw an animal and it was just the call of the wild. Billy is half Husky and almost everything I have read about Huskies says they can never be trusted off leash, I think even if Billy is 99% trustworthy there will always be a risk of things like this happening. He just loves to run and explore than anything else in the world.

He has been such a challenge and I am proud of how far he has come. (especially after having a vet recommend we put him down when he was a puppy) I have learned so much from him and am grateful for all the challenges he has given me even though the stress probably will cut a few years off my life. Being able to share my life with a dog like him makes it all worth it in the end.

truly my heart dog

Doing what he does best!


  1. OMG you're human :)

    I have Chaya (Amber), Goose's sister. I've never had a Border Collie before and I'm learning quickly.

    I have never really trained a dog before either and maybe that's a good thing because I am only learning click and positive reinforcement, but I see myself set Chaya up for failure sometimes too. I want her to know things that I haven't reinforced enough, like 'drop it' (whatever it is).

    I love to read your blog and I am so impressed with Goose and all he's learned (because he has a great trainer). You motivate me to work with Chaya daily and she's really coming along.

    Chaya is in puppy class with littermates Bandit and Meg (I don't know their litter names, 2 Merles though), all of the puppies in this litter are so great.

    Thanks for sharing some of the not so easy or great parts of dog training. It's helps me a lot.

    Keep up the great work,


    Btw, Here's a video of Chaya swimming:

  2. Well, It sure is good to hear a story similar to mine, right down to Goose not wanting to get into the car and the lazy/insulted part. I think Q only started to WANT to get into the car over the past few weeks, and YES I did set both of us to fail by calling him to me when he didn't. Just like you, he also seemed to like the car.

    I have made most of my BIG mistakes when first getting Miya but I still continue to struggle due to a life long teaching of negative punishment, I can still feel my ears burn with anger when they don't do as I wish on occasion; as you say, "it's hard wired". Often, I think it would be so nice if I could just glide into clicker training, like it was an extension of how I had been taught, instead of (nearly) complete retraining. Then I realize how lucky I am to have this wonderful opportunity to find a MUCH better way of living and being.

    Remember Perry, you are NOT alone.

    Thank you for sharing your story so that I might not feel alone either.


  3. Humans are smarter than dogs. Yep… no offense to dogs, but even the dumbest blonde you know is smarter than the smartest dog you know. That’s good news, because if you want your dog to be a good student—to learn to sit, stay, heel, come, fetch; in short, to obey your every command—you have to be a good teacher. To be a good teacher, you have to understand how your student thinks. Because you’re smart, this will be a breeze.