Hello! I'm Alexis and I've started an apprenticeship under a professional dog trainer in hopes of being able to start a career working with dogs myself. I'm interested in training everything from protection sports, service animals and pet dogs. Wyoung2153 kindly requested that I share a journal documenting my experiences. I already keep a dog training journal for myself so it's no big deal for me to share it, and hopefully it can help someone or you can help me! I work with my project dogs (dogs that are boarding and training at our facility) daily around the other trainers and on my own, but have scheduled supervised lessons with my master every Thursday. My intention is to update this journal Fridays to share what we went over and my observations. I will try to be as detailed as possible.
This first post is going to be a little long as it will include background information so please bear with me, or skip to the end if you're only interested in the nitty gritty training stuff.
As a quick and dirty rundown of our training methods, we use marker training; my mentor did his apprenticeship under Ivan Balabanov so his methods are very similar. We use four marker words: break, good, eh-eh, and no. "Break" is our release/reward marker, "good" is our "you're on the right path" marker, "eh-eh" is "you're on the wrong path" marker, and "no" is our "you were wrong" marker.
My first project dog is a beautiful and sweet little girl, Tesla. As for her background, she's a two year old white GSD with medium food drive and unknown prey drive, and no prior training, brought to us for boarding because her old owner cannot keep her. She grew up in the same home on horse property, where she would "herd" the goats which would start confrontations with the horses. Due to medical reasons, her owner is unable to work with her through these problems and sent her to us to get her out of her hair until we can find another home for her to save her from possible euthanasia. I'm already a little in love with her, so if it comes to that (or giving her to a shelter) I likely will assume ownership of her and pay to continue boarding her until we can get her a proper home. She cannot stay with me as I don't have my own home.
Wednesday was my first interaction with her. I just walked her on a leash and did treat stuff, working on a little bit of luring but no commands or real expectations yet. She took treats pretty quickly and within five minutes engaged in face licking and would follow me easily. After fifteen minutes she had enough of a relationship to lean against my legs for security whenever she was feeling unsure of something. She is fearful of people and sensitive to touch but obviously a little bit of work goes a long way with her. One of the other trainers (once I had established a good rapport with the dog that she was comfortable with me touching her) said that firm petting and pats would be beneficial to her to get her adjusted.
The nitty gritty training stuff:
Thursday my mentor had me bring her in the training room for an hour. He coached me on establishing leadership using my voice calmly yet confidently, and walking her around in much the same way. He gave me good insight on a litmus test for whether a dog is really taking to your leadership by having me walk her around the room, and seeing if she would stop and look to me if I stopped walking, as if to ask "what next?"
Next we worked on luring the down. She is spatially sensitive so gets a little sketched out by leaning toward her for the down gesture, so we kept things slow and careful. He instructed me not to use an excited "break" marker because she would kind of lunge forward for the treat (more anxious than excited) if I did, and was much more relaxed about it when I spoke softer. I did very little talking other than using her name and the markers (which she doesn't know yet), but did a lot of work using body language and tone of voice.
We worked on her coping skills next. My mentor would lean toward her from a distance and I would "eh-eh" and use calm and controlled leash pressure to bring her forward, as well as moving a step forward to get her just to follow me, and "good"s when she would look at my mentor and step toward him on her own. He also would stomp his feet lightly, and when she engaged him and did not shy away he would retreat and we would "break" her, move away and have her take a treat or two.
After that we had her walk on a flattened-out wire crate. We covered half of it with a blanket and just walked her over it four times back and forth. She resisted, but I had her on a slip lead with very little slack and good momentum approaching the crate. I did not yield or slow down when she pulled back, just moved steadily forward to make her understand that we're doing this and she's going to have to deal with it, pretty much. The first time she jumped over the wire part because she didn't want to step on it, but we got her to step on it a few times with repetition and me learning how to hold the leash properly and get her approaching at the correct pace. Then we had her stand on it with all four paws on the wire crate, treated her while she was standing on it, "breaked" her off the crate and treated again.
To end the session we worked on sit-stays, using only body language and the verbal markers. I could tell that the work we had done, while mildly stressful, really improved her trust in me. Her ears were completely forward and she was entirely engaged with me, held eye contact and was clearly trying to figure out what I was asking. She was extremely responsive and came to me without coaxing after each "break".
As for my personal observations, she is an VERY intelligent dog (or maybe all GSDs are that way
), I can tell because in a span of fifteen minutes we faded the down lure from me bending over putting my hand to the ground to a simple flick of my wrist. I think that her intelligence has also worked to her detriment until now though. She makes associations very quickly, but I would say she has a pessimistic outlook on life (a good survival mechanism, to avoid things that might be dangerous) so a lot of those associations are negative. My hope is to turn this around with controlled, structured scenarios where we can reteach her that she and her environment is actually safe, even fun.
I really enjoy that this dog is so intellectually sharp and nervy because it forces me to really focus on what I'm doing. Every little thing I do or say matters in a big way to this animal, so any small mistake I make is magnified, and therefore easier for me to catch and correct. On the flip side, little victories make a big difference too.
That's it for this entry! I highly appreciate any commentary and criticism. I'm looking to learn, for both my own sake and Tesla's.