Meet me in St Louis

Easy drive from Chicago to St Louis and pulled up at our boutique hotel in the Delmar Loop area of St Louis (or University City as it is known) the Moonrise Hotel. This really was a great hotel with friendly staff, free parking out the back, a super rooftop bar, and easy walking to lots of restaurants and the park.

It was an easy drive downtown, which we did one day to catch a ride to the top of the St Louis arch. To get to the top you ride in these tiny pods – about 4 minutes ride up and 3 to get down. Reminded me of an alien pod. But the view up the top was really good, even if it was a little overcast. You have to do a bit of stretching to see out the windows as they are not large but there was plenty of viewing space and time as only so many can catch the train (8 pods at a time) every ten minutes. In a while this will be a nice spot as at the moment they are doing a few works – maybe have to catch it again another day.

Also in St Louis Jim was off to a conference with the International Association of Canine Professionals. Very good conference with some great speakers. Very friendly – for people and dogs. No special blogs on this but I will no doubt attend another year. Also picked up some great videos and other equipment – dog training is an expensive business/hobby – and Hank is still a rat-bag so he’ll be made to watch the videos.

We had a great meal at a new restaurant and highly rated Mexican – Nixta. The food here was truly exceptional. Only thing that spoilt the evening the food came out too quick.

Something that really could have spoilt that evening if we did not have an excellent Uber driver were some protests that started after a police officer was acquitted of murdering a black driver after a chase. The roads we needed to travel were blocked but she got onto Facebook and with a bit of local knowledge guided us through the back streets (which we would never have achieved) and to our restaurant door.

The protests continued and even came out to the area where we were staying – didn’t see any problems apart from a a bit of yelling at a service station and graffiti on the footpath – one shop had a few avoid this store because they are racists painted outside – not sure what the problem was there; and there were a few ‘black lives matter – blue lives murder’ chalked onto the footpath. But really, if it wasn’t for that and the very high police presence you probably wouldn’t have known when we were out – but we also didn’t stay out late either.

A good burger and St Louis specialty – toasted ravioli (deep fried ravioli – at Blueberry Hill, which was a great spot with good meals, cold beer, music and even a darts room – can’t go wrong there. Chuck Berry used to play there quite a bit and his statue is across the road. We also had some pretty good BBQ at Salt & Smoke.

St Louis is on Route 66 and if travelling that way you should stop and explore the neighbourhoods. We didn’t get as much exploring done due to Jim at the conference (which is why we were there in the first place and this was about 20 minutes from where we were staying) and the protests. A few people said they were disruptive even to the extent that U2 cancelled a concert because the police and security could not guarantee a presence.

Good stop and more exploring next time and make sure you grab something from Ted Drewe’s frozen custard.

Now that’s a good idea

Totally refreshed and ready for a day on the Magnificent Mile – not for Jim but for Caro’s shopping. First stop was Nike as Caroline was planning to buy shoes first day to replace the pair she did not bring. Nice area around here with great shopping but what caught my eye were these statues of painted dogs everywhere. Turns out they are there in support of the Chicago Police Memorial Foundation and there are 102 of them painted by various sponsors – known as K9’s for Cops. Labor Day they will be auctioned off and removed. It was special to be here during this time to catch these one-offs – made you feel kind of proud.


Goodbye Fort Worth – Hello Austin

About a week back as I type this we left Fort Worth and picked up a rental to take us down the highway to Austin. No surprises there really as we have ventured to Austin previously and really enjoy it. But before we got to Austin we had to drive on by to visit a bucket list – the Salt Lick BBQ. This place always rates highly as far as Texas BBQ goes and this visit we made it a priority (well, it was quite easy with a car as we could cruise on past Austin, visit the Salt Lick for a BBQ feast, then back to Austin.

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APDT Conference: Day 5.2

You know what it’s like when you come home after five weeks overseas – it takes some time to get into the blogging again as there are so many things to do back home. But, I’ve finally decided it’s time …

Second last session for the conference and I listened to Julie Hecht on “The Science and Politics of Anthropomorphism”. Fascinating topic, supported very well with some great research and reference to this document – EpleySchroederWaytz2013

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APDT Conference: Day 5.1

Almost there folks. Just got back from some excellent pasta now lazing around  thinking about packing, watching the football, about to eat a bear claw, writing this post, and thinking about packing.

Day 5 of the conference started with a session from Mary McNeight titled “Service Dog Training for the Pet Dog Trainer – Basic Program Structure to Ensure Success”. I met Mary at one of the previous conferences and knew her passion for training in the service dog industry and her business and expertise has grown over those years.

There are so many service dog training agencies in the USA but there is still a huge demand for more. Mary’s talk was about dog trainers working towards training people to train their own service-dog and the benefits this has to the people in need and also the dog trainer business.

She spoke about a lot of the things I cover in my workshop for the NDTF but I still found the session interesting. One of the things that she raised, that I found good, was to put yourself in the position of the person who is to get the dog. For example, she had us tape our hands then try and get some skittles (like M&Ms) out of a cup, which replicates how someone with limited hand mobility has to deal with life on a daily basis. And then use that with the knowledge that that person also has to handle a dog.

A lot of the things she also apoke about are so true – such as a commitment to training is 1-2 years, not overnight; and socialisation is so important. One of the things she also does in her training is to train all dogs to fetch a telephone as that is such an important skill for anyone who has a disability.

Dog selection is important and so is the person who is to train the dog – are they suitable now and will they still be suitable in the future. She said it’s like having a child with you 24-7.

I have many other notes but these are some of the key points. If interested in other things Mary mentioned, let me know. Because now I might pack, or maybe I’ll eat the bear claw, then I might pack.

APDT Conference: Day 4.3

Some basic but otherwise interesting stuff to conclude Day 4 – Irith Bloom with a problem solving session titled “Shut Up Already! Dealing with Excessive Barking.”

Irith was quite a good speaker so it made the session interesting. She classified the types of barking into one of the following:

  1. Alert barking – generally occurs in response to a new or sudden stimulus
  2. Demand barking – reinforced by attention and any attention is often good enough
  3. Anxious barking – often no obvious trigger and is likely to be emotionally motivated
  4. Aggressive/Fearful barking – usually reinforced by distance

She then spoke about each and offered some helpful training.

Alert barking – strategies included the blocking access (physical/visual), adding white noise to the environment, etc. She also likes to teach “Quiet”. And another stagey is “click for barking”. The way this works is Bark->Marker->Food. Repeat as many times as necessary with a goal to reduce the number of barks to one or even zero over time. Ultimately, ‘alert-worthy’ stimuli will cue the dog to go find the handler. She had a video of this with a dog barking at the door and showed even within a short duration the dog went to the handler rather than bark at the door.

Demand barking – is often highly resistant to extinction and any type of attention may be reinforcing. There also may be some form of anxiety involved so she recommends relaxation exercises – she adapts Dr Karen Overall’s program (I have used this and it provides excellent training). Irith also mentioned the following thesis from Debra McKnight – thesis. Strategies for demand barking include: keeping the dog happily occupied (food toys, puzzle toys, etc); impulse training (e.g. “leave”); look for and reinforce quiet behaviour; ignore (more effective if the behaviour is new); negative punishment (e.g.. leaving the room) – however, this could then result in anxious barking.

Anxious barking – often the toughest type of barking to deal with. It may appear random or be part of an observable stimulus pattern – trying to identify the antecedent and the reinforcement are difficult. However, if known strategies include avoiding the stimulus. Again, the relaxation training is of benefit. As well as the Karen Overall protocol, she also mentioned “relax on a mat” from Chill Out, Fido!, mat relaxation using marker from Fired Up, Frantic, and Freaked Out (she likes this one), bodywork or TTouch on mat from Control Unleashed. Off-switch games are of benefit, such as from Control Unleashed, tug (Jean Donaldson), fetch, etc.

The objective with anxious barking is to reduce the overall stress of the dog – so identify and eliminate as many stressors as possible. Further strategies include mental exercise and enrichment.

Aggressive/Fearful barking – occurs in response to certain stimuli. Strategies include: avoid triggers, block sight lines, white noise, strategic walk locations and/or timing; counterconditioning and desensitisation; watch; look at that; hand targeting; BAT/CAT/Treat-Retreat. And perhaps some desensitisation and counterconditioning for the handler reaction as well.

As earlier mentioned, it was a pretty good session and well balanced with some good video.

And now there is only Day 5 to go – these conferences are so value for money (even more so if you include a holiday with it) so if ever you are thinking of going to USA for holiday, look at planning around the conference. The next one is in Connecticut (NY way), then Dallas (Texas is great and you can fly direct to Dallas), then if you really want a holiday – Las Vegas. So start saving now.

I am in LA now with three days to go after a long but highly enjoyable five weeks away. Will get the Day 5 summaries posted soon.



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APDT Conference: Day 4.2

Nearly finished, only a few more sessions to go. Next on the schedule was a session with Dr Aubrey Fine who works with children and uses dogs in therapy. His session, which I found quite interesting to learn about attention disorders in children, was “Understanding and Working with Child Learning and Attention Disorders”.

I think we all know of the benefits of dogs and with my work with assistance dogs I have seen it first hand. ADA has been using dogs helping kids with reading difficulties for a few years now and it has been with great success. Some of the things Aubrey touched on form the basis for the reading program. Primarily, all children are children first and if children can’t learn the way we teach, perhaps we should teach the way they learn. Dogs are great at this because they do not judge and are more accepting of individual idiosyncrasies. Labels are for jars, not people.

Aubrey then went on to explain ADHD and Autistic Spectrum Disorders, which is an order of self-regulation – I don’t stop and think. Here are a few slides on ADHD:

A few more facts – not every child with ADHD is the same; ADHD remains throughout adult life in about 75% of cases; children with ADHD are often socially and emotionally younger than their age (about three years).

Aubrey has the child working with the dog, teaching obedience and learning the social skills as shown in the slides. It is important to watch for over-stimulation and manage excitement and impulsivity.

Here are further slides related to autism – autism spectrum disorder

ASD is a lifelong disorder but people can learn to overcome. Dog training provides a second leash on life. Regarding the leashing of the dog to the child, Aubrey mentioned that in many cases running away was reduced greatly in about three months.

Summing up, Aubrey’s final thoughts were that it is all about companionship.

APDT Conference: Day 4.1

Day four of the APDT conference and another day of selections. I took a bit of everything this day – scientific, behavioural, and something different.

First up I did two sessions with Simon Gadbois who could be considered an expert in canid behaviour. Simon’s first session was: “Canine Neuroscience”, which was followed by “Aggression and Aggressiveness in Context”.

To save me having to take copious notes, which I would have, here are the two powerpoints –  apdt-2013-gadbois-aggressio apdt-2013-gadbois-canine

What I have done is jotted down some of the notes I took and included is the slide that they were relevant to or when mentioned. I’ll start with the neuroscience talk, which I found captivating and it was interesting to hear some of the thoughts from someone who actually researches and bases his theories on science.

Here the points to add to the notes:

  • There is a direct link between the brain and behaviour [10]
  • The brain learns well to punishment [13]
  • Is there a Fixed Action Pattern? Maybe there are action patterns but they can be loose or rigid (i.e. not fixed) as there are so many variables [13]
  • Social stress is stress coming from the environment [25]
  • Play is a real buffer for stress [32]
  • The animal needs to know there is more than +R. It must have a contrast for learning to occur. Those who say they only use +R will be using from elsewhere in the matrix – they may not know it but they will be [39]
  • Feedback must be given [40]
  • Play can be one of the best forms of motivation but how it is used is important – switched on or switched off [45]
  • The cue / anticipation becomes more important than the reward [45]
  • Lack of feedback creates frustration – give them information.

And that was a great session followed by the one on aggression. Again, here are the points to add to the powerpoint:

  • Aggression is not a still picture it is a movie – what happened before and after [7]
  • Personality is made up of: temperament (always there); and character (can change) [7]
  • In wolf packs it is not the higher status wolf that eats first, usually the others will eat, the higher status will see that the food is edible and then move in and the subordinates move out
  • The tone you use when communicating makes so much difference
  • Smelling v Sniffing [20]
  • There are two types of aggression:
    • Reactive – difficult because you don’t really know why; more classical conditioning
    • Proactive – you know why and this is generally very self-rewarding; more instrumental
  • Dominance hierarchies do exist [34]
  • The point of a dominance hierarchy is to avoid conflict – if there is no DH then there would be chaos [35]
  • Panksepp [41]

Hopefully you can take something away from this. It was great to listen to someone with such an academic background.


APDT Conference: Day 3.2

Still got a day and a bit to cover in the APDT Conference, so here is the next instalment, a further session with Malena DeMartini-Price, this session titled “Separation Anxiety. Don’t Run, it can be Done!”

Another excellent session that followed up on her previous and unfortunately, not enough time to cover everything. Malena had excellent video, which in my view outclassed the Robert Holmes’ NDTF sessions on separation anxiety (or canine separation anxiety disorder).

She started with how she classifies the level of anxiety into Mild, Moderate or Severe. Moderate is the most common form she sees.

Mild = panting, whining, intermittent barking, mild chewing (eg. bedding), excessive greeting (calming down quickly), mild depression, some shadowing (following), no key owner attachment

Moderate = anorexia, constant barking, howling, moderate destruction, elimination, excessive greeting (10-45 mins), panting, sweaty paws, moderate depression, wild door dashing (or blocking), frequent shadowing, pre-departure anxiety

Severe = self-mutilation, escapism, salivation/drooling, severe destruction, excessive water consumption, excessive shadowing, severe depression, aggression, diarrhoea / vomiting

Following from the previous session she summarised the plan she uses. The question everyone asks is how long does it take? There is no one-size fits all answer; however, it is dependent on the dog’s learning curve, the owner’s ability to suspend absences (she states the plan cannot work well if the owner is not prepared to work on the program, i.e. suspend being away so you can work on the plan), there can be no guarantees, and that mild does not mean quick (as an example, Malena provides the following as a guide: mild = 6-12wks, moderate/severe = 4-6 months and up).

Why can’t the owner continue with their usual routine of going out everyday to work? Well, for the following reasons: the plan is difficult to execute and makes it muddy for the dog, the dog suffers daily, constant anxiety inhibits learning, departure cues very salient/in constant use, owners take advantage of ability to leave dog alone, owners practice safe absences less over time, plan takes more time to complete, and as we have seen so many times in dog training – the owner gives up.

However, what does work (suspending absences): reduced stress for the dog, departure cues no longer salient, owners highly motivated to practice, plan completed more quickly, better case resolution.

When the owner says they can’t suspend their absences, then as a trainer, work together to find some solutions. Malena listed some of these such as doggy-daycare or dog minders but the list is really endless.

Another question that gets asked a lot is whether to crate the dog or not. Malena rarely uses crating unless there is an affinity to the crate. She prefers confining the dog with baby gates or similar. The point in the program is not to confine the dog but to desensitise it in a gradual manner to lower the dog’s threshold. The program is based on using the baby-gate area as an area for desensitising but the end goal is the dog will be free to go anywhere. The confinement permits the intermittent absences otherwise the dog will continue to shadow, etc.

She effectively has a two phase program:

Phase one = non-follow routine (stay and mat); establish the non-confinement area; introduce interactive feedings toys; regarding departure cues, the only one that is needed in phase one is the keys, the rest can come later. With the food interactive toys it is also important that the dog runs out of food, which teaches the dog to relax when left alone not just eat.

Phase two = there is no set number to how many repetitions (this is where the intermittent departure commences – see later for a summary); pause between repetitions so the repetition does not become a pattern as this is not ‘usual’ behaviour to the dog.

In Malina’s first session she provided a case study of Lucy the border collie x. Without going into intimate detail she always commences on a four week plan then reassesses. During this time there is feedback and communication between owner and trainer and expectations on the owner. Initially there should be 2 x 30 minute training sessions a day, building on duration increases.

Exercises include an increase on the use of ‘stay’ and ‘bed’ as this has three benefits: breaking shadowing, mini-absences, the dog gains confidence and sees it as a game. There is also a need for enrichment exercises with interactive feeding and games. And the desensitisation process using the baby-gate.

The area behind the the baby-gate needs to be seen by the dog to be a Disneyland – this obviously requires desensitisation, which is day 1.

Day 2 hang-out in the gated area, then step out and return (remember the earlier advice on the keys). Do this every few minutes (remember trying not to establish a pattern) and keep below the threshold.

Day 3 exit the gated area for 30 seconds but in view of the gate

Day 4 exit the gated area for 2 minutes but in view of the gate

Day 5 exit the gated area for 5 minutes stepping briefly into a partially obstructed view.

And you can see how it progresses. Week two built up to out of sight, then touch the door, then open the front door.

Week 3 progressed to open the door then exit for 2, 5, 10 seconds and progressing. And as the weeks progressed the desensitisation built up to eventually driving away in the car. After the four week program Lucy had stopped her shadowing, was happy to sleep in areas other than the owner’s bedroom, lost interest in the food but happily slept during absences. The owners indicated that when they both left, this was more difficult on the dog so those exercises were doubled.

As you can see through this it takes a lot of time and patience on the owners behalf but if they want to succeed they can reach the goal, although there are no guarantees. I can’t remember if I mentioned it previously but Lucy could remain by herself for the day after about five months and to make it easier a dog-walker came in also.

I probably found this (and Malena’s case studies) to be two of the best sessions with practical advice based on real-life scenarios and not the my-dog stories. Other highlights were the scientific studies, which I will touch on later so there is more to come.

Here are a few slides rom Malena’s lecture …

Home » APDT Conference: Day 3.2 » Separation Anxiety


APDT Conference: Day 3.1

It’s Thursday night over here, nearly caught up with the blogging … kind of.

Anyway, I followed the Ken McCort session with one from Virginia Dare titled “Lessons Learned in Prison: Collaborative Training in Pet Prison Programs”. I was expecting a little more from this as I have an interest from the Assistance Dogs Australia who run a pups in prison program. However, it was more a session on training dogs than working in the prison environment, so here are the notes (I didn’t take anything further except for 200-150mg of L-theamine for anxiety) – virginia_broitman_dare_lessons_learned_notes

This session was followed by lunch then Grisha Stewart on “How to Use BAT in a Growly Dog Class”. Now this session was much more captivating.

I haven’t been to previous sessions on BAT so I found this session interesting as Grisha gave an overview of BAT but then went on to detail how she incorporates this into growly dog classes. There was some good video on how she sets sessions up and conducts exercises. Here is a copy of her notes – grisha-stewart-growly-handouts

In very, very short the principle of BAT is to have the reactive dog notice another dog, then defer to the handler without reacting to the target dog. It allows the reactive to get on with its business without crossing over the threshold of too close. If the dog does react, the handler will have to do something to remove the dog out of the forcefield as Grisha described it. As Grisha said, we have a lot of dogs on leash that are reactive because we take away their choices – BAT is designed to give the dog back the choice.

She described four versions of BAT –

  1. Distance and treats for engage
  2. Distance and treats for engage and disengage
  3. Distance for engage and disengage – the preferred
  4. Follow the dog

If using the treats with either version one or two, Grisha recommends moving to version 3 as soon as possible to avoid the reactive dog from falling into a pattern that the exercise is just a trick for a treat.

What I also liked with Grisha’s videos and detail was using a long leash – she ties two leads together. I remember using this system with reactive dogs on a long-line many years before BAT existed in name but it was based on the same principles. What I did was remove the lead from the handler, who stayed with their dog, and I was trailing behind holding the long-lead – I had a lot of success with this.

We then did an exercise in balance, which I can’t really describe properly but it replicated what happens when a dog pulls on the lead and the handler moves forward, what it forms is a ‘V’ as opposed to the ‘I I’ we would prefer to see. If this occurs – Slow-Stop-Rebalance. Slow, don’t slam on the brakes (she said think of slowly putting on the brakes to stop at a set of lights), and make the leash ‘smile’.

Good session followed by Malena DeMartini Price on separation anxiety, which I will probably get around to posting tomorrow as there was quite a bit (and the videos were great).

At the start of the day

At the start of the day

At the end of the day
At the end of the day