Toss Your Cookies!

by Deborah Jones, Ph.D.

Throwing cookies on the floor for your dog is a great training technique. Really, it is. Really. I know, it sounds kind of ridiculous. But trust me, it’s really a sophisticated and effective way to train your dog. It sounds so simple. And yet, it becomes complicated very quickly. So let me explain why you should be tossing cookies and how you should toss them.  

Why toss cookies?

We use a tossed cookie or cookies in training for a number of possible reasons.  The treat toss release is used to break up repetitions within a training session or to end a session.  In the middle of a session I may reinforce 4-5 times in position to build value there, then do a treat toss to break out and release pressure, then repeat the process.  When ending a session some trainers and dogs feel it is too abrupt to just stop, so tossing a handful of cookies gives the dog a nice way to transition away from the session.  

Cookie tosses can also be used to encourage distance and add speed to an exercise.  They prompt the dog to drive forward and away from the trainer, which is good for confidence and independence.  

A cookie scatter (dropping a handful of treats) is an excellent way to lower anxiety or stress levels.  This encourages the dog to sniff and hunt for the treats, which is a very nice way to add an interesting distraction activity if your dog seems mildly uncomfortable or uncertain.  

How should you toss cookies?

When you toss cookies think of it as bowling rather than throwing.  You will want to toss underhand and low to the ground.  If your dog is facing you toss the cookie off to the side at an angle, not directly over your dog’s head.  This will keep your dog from leaping up to try and catch it, and twisting in mid-air, which could lead to injury.  If your dog is parallel or perpendicular to you then you can toss the cookie straight ahead.  Bend forward as you toss so that the cookie travels low to the ground and in your dog’s line of sight.  

Use treats that will contrast with the floor surface.  If a treat blends in then your dog will need to search for it by sniffing rather than visual tracking and that can break the flow of your training session.  If your dog is having trouble finding a cookie help him.  Go point it out if you need to.  Also, choose a treat that tosses easily and will travel a bit of distance.  Things like chicken or cheese are not good choices for treat tosses.  They stick to your hands and also tend to crumble into tiny bits.  Some cereals work well, but others are too light to travel very far.  You’ll need to experiment a bit to find the right thing.  Finally, be sure that you’re working on non-slip flooring.  We don’t want our dogs slipping and sliding as they chase the treat.  

In order to make cookie tossing predictable for your dog always use a consistent verbal cue indicating that you are going to toss a cookie now.  My cues are not very creative so I use “get it!” before I throw the cookie.  Any unique verbal cue will work.  

Here’s a video tutorial showing proper cookie tossing mechanics:

Once  your mechanics are in good shape here’s a fun and useful discrimination to teach your dog:

What could possibly go wrong?

The biggest concern trainers express about tossing cookies is the fear that it will lead to increased floor sniffing.  But this is not what happens at all.  In fact, just the opposite occurs and you’re likely to get less floor sniffing.  Typically, sniffing is more about relieving stress and pressure than it is looking for food.  If your dog is sniffing rather than working this likely means you have a confidence or motivation issue to consider.  

When you use cookie tosses in a thoughtful and predictable way you are purposely lowering any possible stress that might build up during a training session, which takes away your dog’s need to do so on his own by disengaging from you.  It’s a way to be proactive in protecting your dog’s mental well-being by giving him frequent mental breaks during a training session.  

By using a consistent verbal cue for cookie tosses you are putting it under stimulus control.  This will make searching for cookies less likely when the cue is not given.  

To learn more…

Want to learn more about the hows and whys of tossing cookies?  This topic will be part of my newest class offering at Fenzi Dog Sports Academy http://www.fenzidogsportsacademy.com.  The class is titled Achieving a Balance Between Motivation and Control.  In it we will identify your dog’s core temperament characteristics and consider how those should inform your training approaches and decisions. We will explore a variety of training techniques for helping our dogs train in an optimal level of arousal, with just enough self-control to be thoughtful while still encouraging sufficient motivation and enthusiasm.  We will consider when and how we need to encourage more control, as well as when and how to encourage more motivation.  Our ultimate goal is for our dogs to be happy, enthusiastic, focused training partners.  

 

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Teacher vs. Coach:  Making a Real Connection

Deborah Jones, Ph.D.

I’ve spent a good portion of my life in classrooms and teaching settings.  It took me nine years start to finish to get my Ph.D. in psychology.  And I loved most of it!  Those last few years were a bit tough, but overall, I really enjoyed my role as a student.  It suited my personality and interests to be a passive open vessel for knowledge.  I could sit back and just let the information pour in, and it was fantastic.  Throughout that journey though, there were a handful of professors who were more than teachers to me.  They became mentors and even friends.  Anne Crimmings and Marion Cohn were two standout psychology professors when I was an undergrad.  I’d like to think they saw something in me, possibly my determination and persistence, and went out of their way to offer help and encouragement.  Their guidance and belief in my ability to succeed supported me through very hard and scary times of change in my life.  More than anything, they helped me by being good role models for what I hoped to become as a person and as a psychologist.  

Once I became an actual professor I spent lots of time spouting information at packed classrooms.  Some of my classes had 500 students registered!  I could pontificate at them all day, but I didn’t really have a chance to know any of them.  They were like cattle, herded in and out.  I lectured, they took notes and exams, and I gave them grades.  They were a nameless faceless neverending mob.  I absolutely hated it.  It was a one way communication and it felt like a dead end.  

Luckily I was able to move full time to a smaller branch campus and into classrooms where 30-40 students was the norm.  Often I saw the same student in 4-5 of my classes over the course of several years.  I got to know some of them quite well.  My teaching style changed from being simply an information delivery system to a much more interactive back and forth conversation.  Every so often I would write letters of recommendation for students interested in graduate school.  They would tell me that I inspired them; mostly after I brought my dogs into class for demonstrations!  But hey, I’ll bask in the reflected glory of my dogs.

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Zen being the best teaching assistant ever!

All the time I was teaching college students I was also teaching dog training.  I discovered quickly that spouting knowledge at someone with a wild and crazy adolescent dog at the end of the leash was not very helpful, no matter how solid the information.  My scientifically impeccable explanations of classical conditioning did not help the person frustrated beyond belief with their dog’s destructive behaviors.  In addition to giving solid information in an understandable way, there needed to be something more in this 3 way relationship of owner, dog, and me.  There needed to be a real human connection.  The owner needed to feel like I was on her side, that I would be there for support, and that I truly believed they would be successful in reaching their goals.  

As many animals lovers will tell you, I’m naturally good with animals, not so much with people.  But the people are the gateway to helping the animals.  Finding a way to develop authentic connections with the owners was really the only way to truly improve the dog’s life.  And to me, this is the heart of the difference between teaching and coaching.  Having that personal connection with the dog owner and making sure they know I’m on their side and believe in their ability to be successful is absolutely necessary, in addition to having helpful information and training ideas.  It’s the same difference I found between the packed but fairly lifeless classroom and the interactive and much more exciting one.  

It’s been over four years since I started teaching online classes at Fenzi Dog Sports Academy.  During that time my approach to teaching has evolved more and more towards a coaching model.  Even after all these years of teaching experience, I’m amazed at how much more satisfying it is to become a true partner in the training process along with the owner and the dog.  It’s about so much more than sharing information and knowledge.  It’s about truly investing myself in the challenges and successes that my students face.  I’m honored when they trust me to be part of the process.  

If you’re looking for dog training instructors who can coach as well as teach then check us out at Fenzi Dog Sports Academy.  This is the finest group of colleagues I could ever imagine.  Each and every one of them is not only extremely knowledgeable, but also kind and compassionate.  Take a look at our upcoming schedule!  Browse through our course descriptions and take a look at the video trailers and sample lectures to get a feel for each instructor’s style.  You won’t be disappointed in what we offer.

https://fenzidogsportsacademy.com/index.php/schedule-and-syllabus

Thanks to Amy Cook for suggesting the topic.  

Got Focus?

By Deborah Jones, Ph.D.

As a dog trainer there often comes a point in your work with any particular dog where you realize that focus is a real thing and you don’t have it.  You have behaviors on cue and you have a dog that will work for food and/or toys, but you still have a problem.  A BIG problem.  It feels like you are doing 90% of the work to keep your dog in the game with you.  You may resort to bribing and begging and cajoling and cheerleading and acting like a clown on crack to keep your dog interested in training.  At this point you need an intervention.  A focus intervention.  You’ve neglected a key component of your working relationship with your dog, and now you are seeing the fallout.  Luckily, it’s never too late to develop focus.  

Focus is one of the cornerstones of good foundation training.  The problem is that trainers often don’t realize that something really important is missing until they try to work in less than optimal conditions.  That’s when your carefully constructed training house of cards collapses.  Your dog suddenly becomes a stranger to you.  His beautifully trained responses under perfect conditions crumble under the weight of distraction and reduced reinforcers.  What you thought you had was an illusion because you didn’t have focus.  

A focused dog always meets you halfway; often even more than halfway.  He wants to do what you want to do when you want to do it.  He is eager and enthusiastic and becomes resilient against distraction.  He can work with reduced reinforcers because you have built in a tolerance for long chains of complex work.  He doesn’t just tolerate training; he insists on it.  So, how do you train for this mythical focused creature?  Carefully, thoughtfully, and systematically of course!  We have developed a series of exercises and games designed to help you teach your dog how to focus.  

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There is, however, one magic bullet solution to gaining a focused training partner.  Are you ready?  It’s simple, and incredibly difficult at the same time.  The number one rule to get focus is this:  Never train an unfocused dog.  Early on in the focus training process we introduce this rule.  It’s not complicated.  Never train an unfocused dog.  It’s an absolute.  There are no exceptions to this rule.  Never train an unfocused dog.  There will never ever be a situation in which it is okay to break this rule.  It is the most important focus training commandment.  Never train an unfocused dog.  If you can stick to this rule, we can show you how to get all the rest.  

Want to know more?  Join me on Thursday December 21 at 9 pm Eastern time for a Let’s Get Focused! webinar.  I’m going to talk about both the general concept of focus as well as present specific focus exercises to help you get started.  There will be plenty of time for questions at the end of the presentation.  If you can’t make the live version a recording will be placed in your Library to watch any time.  

Click the link below for information on how to sign up:

https://fenzidogsportsacademy.com/index.php/self-study/webinars

 

 

 

To live in this world
you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it
go,
to let it go.
In Blackwater Woods by Mary Oliver

 

To Love What is Mortal

By Deborah Jones, Ph.D.

 

We know the deal when we get a dog.  In all likelihood that dog will die before we do.  We will enjoy the warmth and total joy of puppyhood, survive a typically rocky adolescence, and develop a lifelong relationship that gives us happiness and pain over the years.  And then some day they will be gone.  

 

Those of us that are trainers form even stronger bonds.  Our dogs become our working partners, our teammates, our travel companions, our walking advertisements for our work.  We know that even though we think we teach them, they teach us so much more.  Every one is a different unique individual with something new to show us.  

 

We also know that every so often a really special one comes along.  People often talk about a ‘heart dog’.  That one that you will have the hardest time losing.  The one you will think about and talk about for years.  The one where the pain of loss stays with you forever.  Personally, I think they’re all heart dogs, yet still, some do make a much stronger impression than others.  

When we love another living creature we willingly open ourselves up to pain and loss.  There’s no way around it.  We might try to deny it or ignore it, but it comes with the love.  We can’t avoid it.  Yet we seem to be continually surprised at the strength and depth of every loss.  Every person’s grief is their own to carry through the rest of their life with them.  We can try to ignore or deny it.  We can distract ourselves in a huge variety of ways to try and avoid it.  But grief is a patient creature.  It will outlast your feeble attempts to pretend it doesn’t exist.  

People will try to minimize your grief and pain.  “It’s just a dog”.  “Go get a puppy and you’ll feel better”.  “There are more important problems in the world than this”.  “Are you STILL upset about your dog?”  These people, either consciously or unconsciously, really don’t get it.  We love who we love and the grief over losing them is real and strong.

Sometimes we have to actually make the decision to help our dogs die.  What a horrible and wonderful ability that can be.  To release a dog from pain or fear is a blessing.  To hold that power and make that choice is a horrible responsibility.  In my case, to make that decision due to serious aggression was the worst choice to make and yet the only choice that could be made.  Every day I regret that choice and every day I know it was the right one.  It’s a special kind of hell that I relive over and over.  

I assumed that I would outlive Helo.  But I never would have guessed that on a sunny summer afternoon he would kill his housemate and I would have to make the decision that, at 3 years old, he was not safe to live in this world.  

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In the beginning I didn’t want to love him.  I was so broken and depressed after my son’s death that I didn’t want to be responsible for anyone or anything.  But he was there, he seemed destined to be mine, and he needed me.  Apparently I needed him just as much.  He helped me in ways I could never have imagined.  He helped me find a way to keep living when I didn’t want to.  He was my silent companion for hundreds of miles of forest trails.  I started to heal as we hiked.  I was sure we had many more years of companionship and adventure together; until we didn’t.  

I have no idea why this horrible thing happened to us.  I have no idea why two of our dogs died within 12 hours on a normal beautiful day.  I only know that if I had to do it all over again, I would still love Helo like my life depended on it.  It did.  And I know that letting him go was awful, but had to be.  Something else I also know is that there is no moving on or getting through this.  There is only carrying it with me as I keep living.  

The What, Why, and How of Dog Training

By Deborah Jones, Ph.D.

As a dog trainer, especially with a puppy or young dog, you have an overwhelming task.  You need to decide what to train, determine how you will motivate your dog to work with you, and consider the constant question of how your dog feels about working with you.  People err on the side of doing too much all at once (flooding), doing random bits and pieces when they think of it (scattershot), or analyzing ideas endlessly in order to avoid mistakes, then doing nothing (paralysis).  

So where do you begin sorting all this out?  It can really help to have a template or guide to follow.  I’ve spent lots of time thinking about just these issues in training my own dogs.  With every new puppy came the panic “what if I forget something really important?”  In order to quiet this anxiety and keep myself on track I developed a structured way to approach training.  It works for me and it can work for you.  In this blog I’ll address the three main components of my approach: what, why, and how.

WHAT

This is typically the thing that concerns most trainers “what do I teach and what order should I teach it in?”  But in my view, this is actually putting the cart before the horse.  Teaching specific behaviors is not high on my list of training priorities for most of my dog’s first year.  I’m much more interested in teaching concepts instead.  Concepts such as developing a working relationship, becoming operant, focus, and learning how to learn are best instilled first.  Once those are in place, learning specific behaviors is pretty straightforward.  

There are a number of exercises and activities that can help develop and strengthen a concept.  For example, to develop a strong positive working relationship with my dog I establish clarity and consistency in the way I provide reinforcers.  Using specific markers and reinforcers in a clear and structured way makes me predictable.  I also work very hard on discovering the types of play and games that my dog enjoys and make myself part of that activity.  I will be mindful of pairing myself with all the good stuff my dog loves and receives so that my dog develops a strong positive emotional response to me and the chance to interact with me.  I’m fun!  I have good stuff!  And the route to all the great things comes through me.  

WHY

The why refers to your dog’s motivation to work with you.  Why does he do what you want?  We can motivate through the attainment of something that is desired or we can motivate through the avoidance of something unpleasant.  Both can work, but I know which one I would prefer as both the trainer and the trainee.  

With positive reinforcement based training we teach our dogs that cooperating with us in training is definitely in their best interest.  It can lead to outcomes that they really want.  Our superpower is in the thoughtful and sophisticated use of reinforcers.  It’s much more complex than “throwing cookies”.  Though sometimes throwing cookies is exactly the right thing to do!  

Each dog is a unique individual and our training must take that into consideration.  We need to customize our general approach to take advantage of our dog’s desires and use them in a skillful way.  Done well, training based on positive reinforcement is complex and subtle.  And it leads to an eager and enthusiastic student.  

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HOW

In this case the question is not “how do I train a specific behavior?”  There are a huge variety of ways to teach anything.  That’s actually the easiest part of dog training!  

This how refers to the question “how does my dog feel about what we’re doing?”  The emotional experience of my dog is of the utmost importance to me when we train.  Just being able to perform a behavior is not enough, particularly if there is anxiety or stress involved.  That behavior can easily be poisoned.  And if I train often when my dog is in a less than optimal emotional state, I can poison the entire experience of working with me.  

You will often see some subtle, and some not so subtle, signs that your dog is not in a good emotional state or has combined a negative emotional state with training.  It may be as easy to overlook as scratching, yawning, sniffing, or an increased interest in distractions, or as obvious as leaving the training area if given the opportunity.  

Conclusions

Not sure how all of these ideas come together to help you develop a step by step training plan?  Then join us in Performance Fundamentals at Fenzi Dog Sports Academy.  Classes started December 1, but are open for registration until the 15th.  See the week to week progression we recommend to help your dog become a well-rounded, eager, enthusiastic teammate.  

https://fenzidogsportsacademy.com/index.php/courses/49

I remember when I first attempted shaping with a dog; about a thousand years ago.  I followed the general description of the training game in Karen Pryor’s ‘Don’t Shoot the Dog!’.  I had a box, a clicker, a dog, and treats.  And I waited, and waited, and waited.  My dog stared at my treats.  I stared at my dog.  Nobody looked at the box.  I did, however, manage to teach my dog to whine and drool.  Brilliant.  Not an auspicious beginning.

These days, however, shaping is my favorite way to train.  When I say that I get all the typical responses “I don’t have the patience for shaping”, “my dog gets frustrated with shaping”, “I don’t want my dog throwing out a bunch of random frantic behaviors”, “my dog shuts down and stops working if I try to shape”, and so on.  Like Shrodinger’s cat, these statements are both valid and invalid at the same time.  They are true because that is the experience these trainers had; but they don’t have to be true.  These outcomes and subsequent negative associations with shaping come from a simplistic and unclear view of the value and subtleties of the technique.

As a trainer, this outcome is not your fault.  If you are taking the purist paradigm of being perfectly still and letting your dog struggle to figure out what in the heck you want, it’s probably because that’s what you were taught to do.  There are ways to prepare for and set up shaping sessions so that you can tip the odds in favor of your dog having quick success, which then builds on itself.  With success comes confidence and enjoyment, for both of you.

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Here are a few ideas for making your shaping attempts more successful:

1.Keep all shaping sessions to 30-60 seconds.  Use a timer because it goes a LOT faster than you think.  When the time is up toss your dog a few cookies to end the session.

2. Practice with a new unique shaping object each day for a couple of weeks.  I do this with all my puppies.  Reinforce ANY acknowledgement that the object exists.  Looking at it, moving towards it, sniffing it, all count.  Don’t worry about a specific target behavior; your target behavior is interaction of any sort.

3. Look at the object, not at your dog.  A mutual staring contest isn’t what we want here.

4. If you haven’t reinforced anything in 3 seconds do a treat toss for your dog to chase.  Watch closely to see if he looks or moves towards the object as he returns.

5. Use jackpots to make particularly good repetitions memorable.  I do one cookie for a normal behavior, but 5-6 for something much better.

6. For dogs that tend to get stuck reinforce body movement .  Mark and treat every ear flick, weight shift, and tail swish.  We want to make them “twitchy” so they come to understand that offering behavior is good.

7. Location of treat delivery matters quite a bit.  Feed where you want your dog to be for 4-5 repetitions, then do a treat toss to reset.

Shaping is a complex and sophisticated training technique.  It can allow us to train things  that would be difficult to impossible to get any other way.  A dog that understands how to shape is much easier to train than one that isn’t.  He’ll meet us halfway in our training efforts.

I have so much to say about shaping that I have developed an online course that begins December 1 called Beyond the Basics: Shaping Advanced Skills.  Working (Gold) spots are filled with a variety of excellent trainers & dogs.  If you want to follow along you can observe all the teams as we work through shaping challenges.  You also get a huge amount of lecture material and video demonstrations.

https://fenzidogsportsacademy.com/index.php/courses/5022

 

 

 

 

 

Rocky is a Moluccan Cockatoo who belongs to my friend, Lara.  Before I met Rocky I had a fairly healthy fear of large birds.  Those beaks and feet seem pretty dangerous to me.  They move fast and I have no idea what any of their body language means.  Are they happy, excited, annoyed, feeling homicidal?  I have no clue.

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Hello Rocky!

After 25 years working with dogs I feel pretty confident that I can read canine body language quite accurately.  After years of close observation I see all those subtle signs that many others miss.  That slightly lowered head or ear flick screams out to me.  But birds?  Not so much.

Over the last several years I’ve had a handful of opportunities to work directly with Rocky.  I still have a very healthy respect for the power these birds possess.  And also for the fast changes in attitude and emotion they can display.

I’m learning that what I do so naturally with dogs can be the exact wrong thing to do with a bird.  My rapid fire marking & treating can make them nervous.  Quick movements put them on edge.  Simply figuring out the safest and most efficient way to present treats can be complicated.

I’m also learning that these animals are brilliant.  Not just smart, scary smart.  My ridiculous training plans are no match for their cognitive skills.  I need to up my game.

I regularly tell my students to keep their training sessions short and stop before the dog wants to stop.  And I think that’s very good advice, in general.  The idea of keeping sessions short and interesting is a valid one.

But here’s what I learned from Rocky…

Arbitrarily ending a session when the animal is highly engaged is punishing.  No matter what I think, if my animal is enjoying the session and wants to continue working I should respect that desire.

The last two times I worked with Rocky things were going well and I decided it was time for a break.  When I went back to begin a new session Rocky said “no thanks”.  He said it by sitting in a high perch and ignoring my offer to interact.  His behavior was clear.

Being a rather clueless primate it took this happening not once, but twice, for me to realize what was going on.  To anthropomorphize a bit, I was rude to Rocky.  I basically walked away in the middle of a conversation with him, then came back later and expected him to pick up again just because I was there.  That was definitely not in line with my desire for cooperative training.  To my credit at least it only took two of these experiences, highly aversive to me, until I figured it out.

The next time I worked with Rocky I decided to keep going until he showed signs of wanting the session to end.  I was working on teaching him to target a block of wood attached to the side of his cage with his foot.  I broke the behavior down and worked first on orienting his body to the block.  Then I started working on foot movement.  Within a few minutes he was regularly raising his left foot.  Then he stopped, turned towards me, slowly raised his foot and held it there while staring intently at me, for at least 30 seconds.

Rocky foot

If you look closely at this photo you will see his raised left foot.  

He stopped taking his pine nuts out of his dish (I provided his reinforcer by dropping them in a bowl) and just stood there, foot raised.  And I just stood there, staring back at him.  Never have I wished so much that an animal and I could share the same language, just for a minute or so.  Even though we were working so well together, the divide between us was so vast.  I felt like he was showing me “yes, I get that it’s the foot, now what?”  And I wanted so much to be able to say “touch the block of wood”.  How easy would that be?

But animal training is never that easy.  It’s always challenging to communicate with another species.  Heck, it’s challenging enough to communicate with the same species!  As I stared at Rocky in that moment I was at a loss.  He asked me a question and I had no answer.  I don’t remember an animal ever clearly asking me a question before.  I wonder if he thinks I’m stupid.

Here’s one of my early meetings with Rocky.  He’s a fun loving guy!

After spending time with the birds, and some other species as well, I’ve concluded that dogs are so incredibly easy to train.  They are still fun and challenging, but they are typically fairly straightforward and cooperative.  We don’t appreciate them nearly enough for meeting us more than halfway in our training efforts.

I have to thank my friend and fellow training geek Lara Joseph, owner of The Animal Behavior Center in Sylvania Ohio.  She has a wonderful facility and has been very generous in allowing me the opportunity to learn from her and work with her animals.

You can learn more about what Lara has to offer at:

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Garbage Soup

Not a dog training blog, but a cooking one today for a change of pace!

Today was the right day to make garbage soup. Garbage soup consists of the leftovers in the fridge that are getting to the end of the lifespan and either need to be used asap or throw away.

Today was the right day for two reasons. First, the fridge definitely needed cleaned out. There were lots of bits of things squirreled away in the corners. And it’s time for a big grocery trip to restock basics. Second, the weather is perfect for soup today. Around 60 degrees with a nice breeze and a bit overcast. As summer comes on strong, soup weather will be gone until fall. So now might be the last big soup making of the season.

I’ve been making garbage soup for 40 years. The beauty of it is that there is no recipe. It’s completely based on what you have available. So it’s truly never the same soup twice. But there is a general plan that I follow depending on the ingredients I find in my fridge and pantry.

The general plan includes:

1. All the stuff in the bottom crisper drawer of my fridge. Usually onions, peppers, carrots, greens, mushrooms, and so on.

2. Beans. I use canned. If I was more energetic and thriftier I would use dried. Again, this depends on what I have in the cupboard. Usually black, garbanzo, lentils, white, kidney, and so on.

3. Canned or frozen veggies I want to use up.

4. Grains. Quinoa, rice, barley, couscous, sometimes pasta or potatoes instead.

5. Vegetable broth. When I’m feeling really energetic I make my own and freeze it. But store bought is fine. I also usually add a bit of tomato paste to the broth to give it a richer flavor.

6. Spices. Always garlic, sea salt, pepper. After that it depends on the direction the soup takes.

I never measure anything. That’s the true beauty of this! But somehow I always end up with about 10-12 servings. I usually put 4 single servings in the freezer for lunches or dinners on future lazy nights.

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So here’s what I found today: Onions, peppers, kale, carrots, garlic, ginger, peas, garbanzo beans, veggie broth & barley.

Once I look everything over it helps me decide how to proceed. However, there’s no wrong way to approach this. Because I had garbanzo beans I thought I would go in a Mediterranean direction. I had several onions, red pepper, a chile pepper, and some garlic cloves that I chopped up and then sauteed in olive oil.

Unfortunately, I got involved in chopping the carrots and let those all burn :-{

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Luckily I still had an another onion and some garlic left, along with more carrots, so I sauteed those again.

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Then I added the chopped carrots (4) to the onions & garlic, along with enough veggie broth to cover. I covered with a lid and let it cook until the carrots start to get a bit tender.

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Next I added the rest of a container of veggie broth and some tomato paste. This is where I also add the spices. I had some turmeric, ginger, cumin, coriander, and cayenne, so that took the whole thing in a more Indian direction.

There was some very sad looking kale in the fridge, so I cut the stem out and chopped that up.

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I added some leftover peas and the kale. Sometimes I have swiss chard or broccoli or green beans as the green. Whatever I have.

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And finally I added the garbanzo beans.

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Once I mix it all together I will bring it to a boil, turn it to low, cover, and cook for 2-3 hours. Let it cool and put in the fridge/freezer. It’s really MUCH better when it’s reheated the next day.

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Some of the variations I make include:

Mexican: using black beans, quinoa, salsa, peppers. Top with crumbled tortilla chips.

Chili: kidney beans, more tomato paste, beer, peppers. Also top with crumbled tortilla chips.

Italian: minestrone with kidney beans, pasta, zucchini or green beans.

French: lentils, potatoes, mushrooms, onions, garlic.

Cream: potato, broccoli, corn, carrot, cauliflower, whatever. Usually add onions, garlic, mushrooms, white beans. All cooked up and pureed in the Vitamix.

Any type of beans along with rice as the grain is quick and easy.

Hope you enjoyed this post and are inspired to make your own garbage soup. It’s fun & easy!

To borrow from the Beatles… But of course, I’m talking about dog training. Learning is a science, but not an exact one. Mainly because every new dog presents us with a new set of challenges. Sure, in the lab we can precisely control all extraneous variables, but not in the living room with the puppy.

So, I’ve got this great new puppy. Helo is very bright and seems to be thoughtful enough, until he’s not. Of course, he’s also 4 months old and that speaks for itself. It seems like I’m training him a lot. But if you added it up it’s likely 10 minutes a day split into 2 sessions, and then the little bits and pieces that happen as you go through the day. Even without that much time investment, he’s learning lots of things. I always forget between puppies how anxiety-provoking and overwhelming it is. What am I forgetting? What do I need to do today so he’s not ruined? Have I missed something vitally important?

I’ve done this a few times and I know what I’m doing, sort of. I’m not 100% convinced I’m the best puppy trainer on the planet, but I have a good idea of what he should learn and the basic order he should learn it in. And I’m confident that he will learn it all in time.

So today we had possibly the worst focus training session EVER. Ever. With any dog, even dogs I don’t own. Focus is my specialty. I know how to teach focus. I write books and teach classes on this stuff. WTF happened? My brilliant puppy jumped at my hands, offered his latest trick (take a nap), leaped up on a stool, then on the sofa, then back to jumping at my hands, over and over so quickly I could not get a moment to simply reinforce focus. I have a feeling I could have done better with a dog just off the street, not the baby that I’ve lovingly nurtured for months. Not the puppy with whom I’ve carefully laid such a thoughtful foundation. Gasp! He’s doing it wrong! Shock and disbelief!

I need to get ahold of myself. I can come back to this later. Time to move on to a different behavior. We’ve been working on foot targeting and introducing the dumbbell. The foot target session goes extremely well. We move from a foot on the furniture slider on the floor to being able to raise the slider, then switching from the slider to a paw pod. Very quick progress in a couple minutes. The dumbbell has been slow going. I can’t recall the last puppy I’ve had who didn’t have a pretty strong natural retrieve. Helo’s got a natural “chase it and run away with it” behavior. That’s not going to work for me. The shaped dumbbell is going very slowly, but today I got teeth on the bar!!!! Yay!!!! Teeth on the bar is a big giant step! A nice huge breakthrough!!!

So my morning training consisted of a crappy focus session. Clearly, I need to analyze and rethink my approach there. Nice progress on the foot target. And a breakthrough on the dumbbell. Not bad for a morning’s work at all. Have to always remember not to just focus on the errors, or give them more weight than they deserve. Sure, they’re not as much fun, but they are very instructive. The problems force me to be more thoughtful and creative. And that can only be good.

My Performance Fundamentals class at Fenzi Academy http://www.fenzidogsportsacademy.com started Offered Focus this week as well. They are having the typical issues that I have seen and know how to fix. So I ask myself, if this was a student’s dog, what would you do? So easy to fix someone else’s problem! I shared my very bad training moment with them so they would feel better about their own struggles. Nobody is perfect, everybody makes mistakes, and we all struggle sometimes. Yet it still gets done and we get better. The dogs get trained, sometimes in spite of us!

It’s a good thing he’s so darn cute! That counts for a LOT some days.

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It’s not often these days that I’m motivated to put in the time and effort to craft a blog post. I typically say everything I want on Facebook or in my books. But after the Facebook posts regarding the American Kennel Club’s fiasco stating their view on the use of shock collars (first they stated they were not a good choice on television, then retracted that by email) and the ensuing flame war of the past few days I feel like this topic requires a full blog.

So, first things first. If you are strongly in support of using shock collars on dogs there is no point in your reading this post. You will rabidly disagree with me on every point and be aggravated. If you have a more moderate view or are “on the fence” about their use then I invite you to listen to what I have to say and give me the opportunity to explain why I am so vehemently against their use.

This is truly a “hot button” topic with me (pun intended!) I feel very strongly that it is not only ethically wrong to use such a strong aversive device but it is also typically misused and causes more harm than good. Even when used “correctly” the possibility of undesired fallout is huge. So let me address some of the reasons I feel this way.

1. You can call it by whatever name you want (electronic collar or remote collar are common) but the fact remains it works by shocking the dog. Calling it an electronic collar suggests that it works similarly to a DVR or something. And calling it a remote device suggests that it works like a TV remote. No on both counts. It’s a shock collar, it provides an electrical shock and should be called what it truly is. Why quibble over the name if it is accurate? Unless there’s a reason to try and candy coat that fact.

2. If it didn’t hurt it wouldn’t work. Again, calling it discomfort sounds better than calling it pain. Talking about a tingle or a buzz or a nick sounds so mild and benign. But if it is truly so mild then why use it at all? If there are other, less unpleasant to the dog, ways to get the result, then why insist on using this one?

3. I saw this one on Facebook. “You can’t win field trials without it”. If winning field trials is more important to you than the well-being of a living creature then I don’t really know what else I can say.

4. People often say that good trainers use them properly. The problem with this is that everyone thinks he or she is a good trainer. I see people every single day who can’t get the timing of a clicker right. At least the worst thing that happens there is poor quality training. Bad timing on a shock collar can be extremely harmful. And they are widely available for anyone to buy.

5. The use of an aversive device does not build a bond of trust and cooperation between dog and trainer. Just the opposite. Would you truly trust someone who could possibly shock you at any moment?

6. The use of an aversive device suggests that the trainer doesn’t have a very large range of training options. It’s a pretty extreme choice. Why not try other, less unpleasant options first?

7. They are necessary in order to save a dog’s life. People often cite dogs running away or chasing prey as justification for their use. Again, there are a number of less drastic and unpleasant ways to train around these issues. Counterconditioning and systematic desensitization will work well for these problems.

8. If a shock collar is used to punish behavior then it doesn’t give the dog any information about what is appropriate, only what is not. For long-lasting behavior changes it is important to reinforce desired behaviors, not just punish undesired ones.

9. Just because a dog stops reacting doesn’t mean he has been properly trained. He could simply be overwhelmed and stressed, so he shuts down. That’s not training, that’s bordering on abuse.

10. It is often stated that shock collars are “just another tool in the toolbox”. And it is also stated that you have a woefully incomplete toolbox without one. But, as my friend Ken McCort says “I would prefer my dentist use novacaine rather than whiskey.” As we develop more sophisticated tools we leave the old ones behind.

11. Also, in our first book in the Dog Sport Skills series (with my co-author Denise Fenzi) we talk about the fact that we don’t want to add tools to an old outdated toolbox. We are now designing a better, more modern version that doesn’t include archaic devices like shock collars.

12. I don’t think that people who use these devices are evil. I’m sure they run the gamut from perfectly nice to perfectly awful just like the rest of the population. But I do think they are misguided and that they are making a very poor choice. I don’t believe that anyone has the right to shock another creature and I am mystified at how people justify this to themselves. It’s a hard line that should not be crossed.

13. I’ve often been told that I simply don’t understand how shock collars work and that if I did I would change my mind about them. I’ve been told that I’m overreacting. As a behavioral scientist I understand, better than most, exactly how they are intended to work. And, in my opinion, even when used as suggested they are still unacceptable.

14. I read this week that people who are against the use of shock collars are like PETA. They want to take away rights regarding animals. I don’t know what PETA’s agenda is but I doubt that mine is the same. My agenda, not at all hidden, is to make the use of these devices unnecessary and socially unacceptable. I want people to understand that they are dangerous and cause much damage. If I could make them illegal I would. If I ever get 3 wishes that will be my third wish! Right after a long healthy life and the money to enjoy it :-}

15. Dogs are sensitive and intelligent creatures. Using a painful stimulus in an attempt to alter their behavior is simply overkill. They are smart enough to respond well to positive training techniques. Anything more is not necessary.

16. Pain increases aggression. It can exacerbate an existing problem or even cause a problem where none existed before. The idea that a shock collar is an appropriate treatment for aggression is just ludicrous. That aggression can be focused on whoever the dog is looking at when he gets shocked (another dog or a child, for example).

17. We know how to do it better! There are so many really good positively based techniques available. Why not try those first? If you do those properly there will be no need for a shock collar.