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 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 2.1

Ken Ramirez followed by another Ken – Ken McCort. Ken McCort is an experienced dog trainer, lecturer and advisor and has also been involved with training and working with the wolves at Wolf Park in Indiana. For my dog training buddies back home, Ken’s dog training business is “Four Paws” – he must be good.

Anyways, Ken’s session was part of a series from four speakers on Behaviour Problems and the Companion Dog with Ken’s talk on “Prey drive”.

This was quite interesting and as with the other speakers, it was based on a real-case scenario. Ken’s was on a wolf-hybrid (he is an expert on wolf-hybrids) and he said that this was one of the actual wolf-hybrids he had come across. The scenario was based on predatory behaviour targeted at the children in the household with an end result that the dog was re-homed. He walked us through a plan (primarily based on incompatible behaviours) and how it was working but the predatory behaviour is always going to be there and on the day the wolf started stalking the children in the backyard enough was enough. I enjoyed this session and followed it on Day 3 with another session from Ken on aggression (another blog coming on that – great session).

This was followed by Malena DeMartini-Price a behaviourist who specialises in separation anxiety. This was captivating and I wrote pages and pages of what she did in the scenario of a 3 year old adopted female border collie called Lucy. When left-alone, Lucy had severe destructive behaviours, anorexia, howling, panting, drooling, pacing and shadowing. The owners recently moved house and the behaviours intensified. Lucy went to obedience classes and was 80% reliable on key behaviours of “Stay” and “Bed”. The owners had never sought help for the SA and Lucy had regular exercise and was on a high-quality diet. When crated, the behaviours were the same as when not crated.

There were two goals to the plan: short term of 1-2 hours absence so the handlers could go to the shops or out for dinner, etc; long-term they wanted 8 hour absences with a dog walker coming in during the day.

And then Malina stepped us through the plan – a four week initial period where everything was re-assessed followed up to week 12. At a little over 5 months the long-term goal was achieved. Malina stressed that any SA plan will take time and there is nothing that can be done about that, you can try medication to make it easier but it won’t reduce the time. There were a lot of key points but I will put them in another blog as I also saw Malina again (and that was an even better session than this one).

This was followed by Colleen Pelar (remember from Day 1) whose session was on “Human-directed Aggression”. Colleen didn’t have any specific case-study of her own but she did have some key points based on others’ experience.

Again, a lot of problems come from the owner – so often it matters who has the end of the leash. Too often people get the wrong dog. And no matter what, you can never promise that a dog is not going to bite (again) – but you can try and manage the circumstances when it may occur.

She had a venn diagram of where aggression comes from with the intersecting circles being: genes, environment and individual character. And for the success of the training plan, well it depends on compliance and non-compliance. And no denial of the seriousness.

This was followed by the three speakers and Ken Ramirez in a panel discussion. These are the points I wrote down:

On problem behaviours: What is the context of where the dog is going to be raised determines whether something may be a problem or not – e.g. killing squeaky toys vs. killing cats.

On handling dogs: It is not about strength, it’s not about power – it’s about being smart.

On diet: We are trainers, not nutritionists; however, a good dog = a healthy dog = a better dog to train (although it was acknowledged some studies have indicated a correlation between poor diet and aggression).

And that was it for the day, as the trade-show opened ($5 Kongs – woo-hoo)

And the doors are open ...

And the doors are open …

 

 

APDT Conference: Day 1

No quotes just straight into the conference.

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First up was what I considered a key-note with a key-message as Ken Ramirez delivered his session on “Tales from the Field: The Diverse Faces of a Professional Trainer”. I have heard Ken before and if ever you get the chance he is highly recommended.

This session included Ken’s thoughts on professional dog trainers, ethics and philosophy, balancing science and practical application, skills beyond training, finding your niche, and the future of training. Actually before I get into this, the opening included some pretty good stats on this conference, for instance there were close to 800 people at the opening session and from countries including USA, Canada, Australia (yay, me!), Chile, Brazil, Venezuala, UK, and Finland.

The APDT in USA has recently changed their name from Association of Pet Dog Trainers to Association of Professional Dog Trainers. This is more than just training for a paycheque but more about how one represents oneself in the industry. Practical experience is a valuable asset but so is a knowledge of the science and a familiarisation with the current trends. I strongly believe in this, which is why I continue to go to these conferences. Learning should never stop.

Ken also spoke about the importance of an ethical foundation. The end goal should be the animal’s welfare not just reaching a goal. I think this sometimes goes past us, which is why I am not a fan of say fading out a lure because the curriculum says we should do this after one or two sessions – who says this, the trainer or the dog?

And talking about methods in dog training, Ken’s experience is in zoology not dogs but in any training program a positive regime should be first; however, there needs to be acknowledgment that there is more to training than positive reinforcement. Ken is disappointed that so many poo-poo any other method of training and if we are truly professional then there must be acknowledgment and there must be knowledge so that a trainer can explain why they may use a specific method over another.

Teaching is training – training an animal how to live in our care; how to live in our world successfully. The cornerstones of any animal care must be: health program, nutrition program, environment and behavioural management. The primary reason for training (for the benefit of the animal) is: physical exercise, mental stimulation and cooperative behaviour.

A professional trainer must be well-read and well-practised. They must understand various techniques, they must know when and how to adapt, they must be versatile and be able to speak about the myriad of techniques. Ken was quite critical of trainers who call themselves positive trainers, yet they spend their time criticising any other method or trainer without any acknowledgment that those methods are based on science and do work. You don’t have to use them but you have to be able to explain why you are using what you are in any specific situation and why it is the best for that particular session.

Training is successful because we adapt to the needs of the animals and the needs of the situation.

Ken also gave some practical experience of where his niche lies – as that is what we should do, find what you are good at, where your skills can be best used and be passionate.

Ken’s practical examples are based on “exotic” animal training for a purpose and they are great, he also spoke about his mimicry training with dogs (I have heard the full session on this before and it is fascinating to watch and hear – he is drafting a scientific paper on this). If I get around to it I might add some to this blog, otherwise come to one of my NDTF lectures as I have spoken about some of Ken Ramirez’s training in the past and now have some new examples.

Highlight of the day without a doubt.

Hope You Had a Good One … Mate!

Thursday January 26 2012 – Happy Australia Day 😀

So, did you get up to the traditional Aussie stuff – wear some thongs, drape an Australian flag out the window or on the car, wear some green and gold, watch the cricket, have your own game on the road out the front, fire up the barbie (as in BBQ and not the doll), kill off a few stubbies of VB, eat a baby lamb or one of our national animals, get excited because you have a day off and start to feel ill for the Friday sickie so you can have an extra long weekend, go to the beach or the park, go to some local celebration or even better a citizenship ceremony, or just kick back and do naff all wondering why you have a day off?

Well, I tried to cram in as much as I could – pity there was only a sprinkling of Australiana involved. Started on the Wednesday night when we went to the Espy in St Kilda (gets a tick) to see one of our friends in a local band (another tick) – Faith and Gasoline (check them out on youtube), this was after some very nice Asian at Chinta Blues and Asahi beer (no ticks there). A few after show beers at the Prince of Wales (another tick), drank Carlton draught (tick) in a pint (no tick) and finished with a Jack Daniels and dry (if it was with coke could almost have scored a tick as at the distillery they told us Australia is the third largest consumer of Jack Daniels).

Did the right thing and caught a cab home. Very friendly driver- has been driving cabs for about five years and settled here as a refugee from Ethiopea many years ago. Spent three years in a refugee camp before coming to Australia – some of his family went to USA, others Norway, but he loves Australia and finds it so safe and friendly (ticks all round).

Australia day very tired, walked the dogs, went back to bed, crumpets for breakfast (not really a tick) with the vegemite still in the cupboard (bad, bad) but I did have honey (okay, not as Aussie as vegemite but at least it’s traditional and you know what is in it). Lunch we headed to Pollywoodside (tick) but didn’t go on board (close to a tick) and ate at the Boatbuilders (tick) with a burger and fish and chips (two ticks there) but had a Pepsi (doesn’t count as a tick). Followed up by a look around DFO (they would love to give it a tick but I don’t think DFO earns a tick).

Home and went to the park with the dogs (tick) and a throw of the American football (no ticks there) but we did listen to the cricket in the car (tick – needs more Kerry O’Keefe and less Geoff Lawson). Still on the sport theme flicked on the Foxtel for a bit of ESPN USA sport (no ticks – can’t help it if I’m not really that enthused by tennis) and sat down to some very nice risotto (no ticks) and a catch-up on Deadwood (if Gus Mercurio was still alive he’d fit in well like he did in Cash & Co and Tandarra – look those up young-uns, these were about Australian Deadwoods so would have earnt a tick but because Deadwood is American there are no ticks).

And that was about it, excited to be Australian and knowing that I have the Friday off without taking a sickie – ready to put to use my new rotary hammer from Bunnings (tick).

It’s Not as Simple as Black and White

I have two bitsa dogs – an old black one: Dixie, and a young whipper snapper white one: Dusty. Both I rescued when they were about five months old – Dixie from the RSPCA and Dusty an impulse buy from the Lost Dog’s Home last Christmas. I don’t know their history but I am sure Dusty was raised on a diet of sugar and red cordial.

But Dusty is a loving little dog and enjoys a snuggle in-between chewing up anything that fits in her mouth (although she has kind of grown out of that now – we hope as we have a new couch on order). And she loves the off-leash park but best of all she loves to go for a swim, then a roll in the dirt until she is completely camouflaged. I think she just wants to be like Dixie. See for yourself 😀