Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Teaching your dog to "Sit"

The first command most people would want to teach their dog, is the "Sit". This is one of the simpler commands to teach and forms the base of a lot of the obedience training you will do with your pet.

I've tried to explain this with a set of Back of the Napkin style pictures as you will see below.

Step 1:

Now, the above picture is quite self explanatory. There's a good reason why you need to use a firm tone of voice -- it establishes your role as the Alpha and illustrates your confidence. Its also a way to avoid the dog from interpreting your command otherwise. Remember the dog doesnt understand your words; it merely recognizes the tone.

Step 1 (Situation dependent):

Some dogs dont react to the treat being held over their head. In such cases the above step is applicable. Most dogs would react to the situation described in the previous picture and automatically sit in anticipation of the treat.

Step 2:

I'd like to talk about the concept of markers here for a while. A marker, such as the sound of a clicker or you saying "Yes!" each time your dog does "the right thing" is used to acknowledge appropriate behaviour. Remember to be consistent with your markers! i.e. Dont say "Yes!" once and "Hurray" the next time. Markers also help you build the bond with your dog as it starts to identify you as a fair person (who rewards when the behaviour is appropriate). The key to setting markers is to use them as soon as the right behaviour occurs. In our case, its when the dog's butt touches the ground.

Step 3:

The final step is one that should never be neglected. This is where you reward the dog by giving it one or more of the following:

  • toy (for dog's with a strong play drive);
  • food (for dog's with a strong food drive);
  • praise (give loads of it - dog's can sense the encouragement in your voice);

Remember that when petting - pet gently! Its very easy for a dog to get over excited and lose focus if you subject it to heavy petting.

Repeat this over and over again and you'll have an expert sitter. Remember to do this under distracting conditions as well and once you're sure the dog knows what to do, give it a correction if it errs. Lastly, do keep in mind the Leerburg rule of 30 - a dog needs to perform an action 30 to 40 times to internalize and learn it. So repeat, reinforce and reward.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Sparky's Matrimonial Pic -- ha ha!

Is this my favorite photo of Sparky's? Actually maybe. For a dog that won't stay still, the "Down, Stay!" command is ideal to click a photo.

Training your dog - assessing temperament and personality

Its been about seven months since I started training my dog and I thought this might be a good time for me to start sharing some of the basic knowledge I've gained about dog training. I often hear other dog owners saying that certain breeds or dogs of certain ages/sex/size are trained differently from others. This is really far from the truth. The fact is that the principles for dog training (and really all animal training) remain the same (consistency, repetition, recognition, correction) and the variation in your approach depends not on breed or age or sex or size, but on the drive and temperament of your dog. Its important that you determine the following:

  • Is your dog driven (motivated) by toys (Play drive) or food (Food drive)? Is he somewhere in between? Does he need a combination of the two?
  • When given a correction is your dog likely to just give you a stare and get back to what it was doing (hard dog), or does it shut down completely and slink into a corner (soft dog)?
  • Lastly, is your dog weak nerved? eg: apprehensive of strangers, new environments, easily scared. Or is it strong nerved? eg: seeks new smells/ sounds, is calm towards strangers and quite unflappable.

Think of your dog's temperament/ personality as a combination of these factors measured on a set of sliders. If you can get to understand your dog using these parameters, you can tailor your training experience to suit your pet. Your pet's drive determines what tools you use in training to motivate it. Its correction response will tell you the kind of corrections you need to give it when in training and lastly, its nerves will tell you whether you need to maintain a routine or create novelty in your training sessions.

I hope to be writing more about my experiences over the next few months. Sparky -- my lab is a dog with a strong food drive and tends to be a hard dog with weak nerves. For those of you who believe that training your dog is a chore or are avoiding getting one for the trouble you consider training to be; remember that training dogs generally tends to fun and is a great mental stimulation in itself. Its been a learning experience for me in the last few months and I am sure it'll be the same for anyone that's starting up around about now.

Friday, September 05, 2008

New Retrospective Activity - "Eye on the future"

Today, Jaggu and I spent some time debating the best retro format for a team that was taking some learning from a training program and was about to apply it onto a simulation. We were partly dissatisfied with previous activities we'd used, and on the other hand we also wanted to try our hand at something new. Since I was feeling inventive, I came up with a new Retrospective activity - "Eye on the future".

We tried the activity with great success in the retro that Jaggu was running; as did Rohith Rajagopal/ Siva Jagadeesan in the other retro that was running at the same time and apparently Pat Sarnacke tried this out in an end of release retro as well. So it looks like my friends have taken to my invention quite happily.

Coming to the activity; this constitutes dividing your whiteboard/ flipchart into 3 sections as the picture illustrates. The section on the left (illustrated by a book) signifies Learnings; the section on the right (illustrated by the delta) indicate things that the team will do differently and lastly the section at the bottom (illustrated by the cross) which indicates items that the team wishes to avoid. Pat phrased the purpose of each of these sections a little differently for the end of release retro that he was running. The rest of the format is pretty similar to other retros - brainstorm on stickies, group them, vote and decide on actions.

What I really liked about this activity was the fact that this very easily brought out action items for the team that they could carry forward to their next task at hand. I can easily see this as a roll off retro, an end of training retro, an end of release retro and I am guessing this could be an effective one to run when time is short and yet we wish to come out with tangible/ practical outputs from the time alloted to the retro.

If you decide to run this activity for your next retro and need help, please feel free to email me and ask and I'll be happy to assist. Do let me know your experiences with this cuz I'm eager to hear about them.
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