Sep 28, 2013

Have you ever considered teaching your dog Brain Games? Shaping is a fun training technique that requires your dog to really think and try to figure out what it is you're trying to make her do. So much fun, and great mental stimulation. It's an awesome way of teaching tricks and useful behaviors. In Shaping, we reward each tiny micro-step towards a final behavior until we have the full behavior we are looking for. In teaching Helix to press the Easy button we began with just rewarding her for being in the general vicinity of the button, then for looking at the button, then for nosing it or touching it with her paw, and then finally for touching it hard enough to make a sound. She loved the game.

Jun 4, 2013

On being a matchmaker.

This morning I got a completely random text from a number I didn’t recognize. Viewing the text history in my smartphone I realized it came from a gentleman who had attended a seminar I gave about six years ago on Dog Bite Prevention. He was a scientist who studied human behavior and who was fascinated by both the similarities and the differences in human versus dog behavior. Over the years he’d texted me a few times with random behavior questions, presumably related to his work. This morning the text merely said “Hey, what do you think of Weimaraners?”. No hello, no how are you, no can I as you a question. I responded that I feel about Weimaraners the way I feel about New Yorkers or Doctors. Some I like, and some I don’t like so much. I added that if he was asking me if I think he should get one I would have no way of answering his question, as I know nothing about this man, his life style, his habits or work hours, about his likes or dislikes. He might as well have asked me if I thought he should get married or if he should buy a Honda or a Rav4. I did add that IF he was considering getting a Weimaraner he should probably be ready to spend a lot of times outdoors exercising and spending time with his dog, and that this kind of dog is likely to be fairly high strung and high energy. I also cautioned that anything I said would be a gross generalization as there are many variations and different personalities within the breed, and that without having meet a specific dog I wouldn’t advice one way or the other. Generally I wouldn’t advice a first time dog owner to get such a dog, but then again, how would I know if this guy had known ten Weimaraners already and knew that this breed was just what he wanted.
The scientist texted back, asking if I had any more specific advice. It must have been frustrating for a person dealing with specifics and facts all day that I wouldn’t be more concrete in my response. I texted back that I would advice him to seek out a number of people who has had this breed of dog and ask them what their experiences were (and in true solid science style it should be a large enough group to get a true reading). Furthermore I urged him to please consider adoption over a breeder and suggested he contact a breed specific Rescue and become an approved adopter (if the Rescue considered him an appropriated adopter), and then ask the Rescue to help him find just the right dog for him. I asked him to please not get one from a pet shop, and then I wished him the best of luck.
I’m guessing I didn’t help this guy much, but then again if he really wanted help selecting the right dog he might have chosen to hire a trainer to select the dog with just the right temperament, and perhaps even been open to getting the right dog as opposed to the right looking dog.
People often ask me which breed of dog they should get. I hate answering that question. And I wont. My absolute least favorite question about breeds is “which breed of dog is great with kids”. Just like humans they are all different and even though there are many similarities between humans and between dogs there are also so many differences. Of course I know what people mean when they ask me which breed to get or which breed I like, and I do have a dog “type” when it comes to the dogs I choose for my own household as everyone who knows me knows (my number one criteria is “slowly moving furniture”) but it’s so much more about a dynamic, about falling in love with a specific dog, about the dog that fits into your household, and let’s not forget that by speaking just about a breed we are discounting all the marvelous mutts out there who are “Heinz 57s”, or “All American”, or “Brooklyn Shepherds”.
It is not that I don’t want to give you advice on picking a dog. It’s that I want you to really, really think about what you want in a dog and whether or not you are the right person for the dog you like. If a friend of mine asked me if they should date a banker, or a Chinese person, or a Swede I really couldn’t tell them. Is he/she nice? Do you like them? Are they for sure not serial killers? Beyond that it’s whatever floats your boat. But don’t date a drummer and be surprised when he makes noise when he practices, don’t date a bartender and be upset that he works nights, the same way you shouldn’t get a Beagle and be surprised if he has his nose to the ground, or get a French bulldog and be surprised when he snores.  And definitely don’t be surprised if I won’t give you any specific advice on what or who you need if I don’t know anything about you. It’s a relationship with a living, breathing being you are thinking about venturing into. 
Fun at Camp Rikke!

Check out how much fun Rex the Frenchie and Barkley the pit and having tugging on a poor little stuffy doll. They are very appropriate in their play and are both adjusting their play styles and intensity to match each other. Well done, Pumpkins.

Dec 18, 2012

Cutie Puppy Gracie

Gracie, a young pointer mix puppy, has gotten so excited about clicker training and Shaping Games that she keeps offering fun behaviors that can easily be turned into great tricks and useful behaviors. Today, she offered a few steps of walking backwards and we quickly turned it into Moonwalking the entire length of the room. Luckily her family is awesome and completely onboard with teaching Gracie fun stuff in between her basic manners so we are all having a lot of fun working with Gracie. Here, she is learning that what she is doing is called Moonwalking and that taking more steps in a row could get her more treats. I adore this puppy!!

Dec 16, 2012

Lucy leans Go Lie Down

Lucy, my adorable client with the most amazing eye lashes has learned to go to a specific place on the couch when she hears the cue Go Lie Down. Her owners are now able to sit quietly and eat, uninterrupted, or they can pay for a food delivery or sign for a package without it being a combat sport to try to keep Lucy away from the door. Lucy is a quick study. She loves the training we've done with her and she happily complies now that she understands what's expected of her. Everyone is happy.

Nov 24, 2012

Fergie learns to respond calmly and politely to the door bell

Fergie is a very sweet and exuberant Wheaten Terrier. His family is patient and dedicated to having a polite and compliant dog and they are great a doing their homework between sessions. With two young boys in the house there's a decent amount of traffic coming through their home and Fergie has been getting very exited and "grabby" when the door bell rings, so here we are teaching him a different, more composed response that won't scare visitors away, and that will also work for Fergie.

Oct 21, 2012

Featured in Animal Fair this month

Dog Trainer Rikke Brogaard Creates The “Kid-Dog” Family

Rikke Brogaard with her Great Dane kid, Olive.

If you’re looking for a dog trainer in the New York City area who specializes in positive methods, a great relationship with your dog, and has tons of fun doing it, then Rikke Brogaard is the trainer for you!  She’s aCertified Pet Dog Trainer and a professional member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT), and keeps herself updated with the latest dog training trends and animal-related vet and scientific updates at yearly conferences and regularly attends educational seminars. Brogaard has studied with some of the leading trainers and behaviorists in the country and is the NY State volunteer Trainer and behavior consultant for MAGDRL, the Mid Atlantic Great Dane Rescue League.
A dog training theme that is close to Brogaard’d heart is the dog-child relationship and helping families make the transition from being a “dog” family to being a “kid-dog” family (or the other way around) without adding extra stress to an already stressful time. She made the training transition herself when she brought her seven pound baby home to a household with two 150lbs Great Danes, that were used to being the only babies (of the furry kind)!

Animal Fair Media learned a few tricks of the dog training trade when we sat down with Rikke Brogaard to get the details about her special training techniques.
AF:   What inspired you to become a dog trainer?
RB:  I was completely intrigued with behavior as a child. I found a book called Manwatching by zoologist and ethologist Desmond Morris on my parent’s book shelf and I was blown away by finding out how much you could tell about people and animals simply by reading their body language. I also watched every animal program I could find on TV. It wasn’t a lot since I grew up with three available TV channels in Denmark (that’s how it was back then; it has since changed a lot, obviously). People like Jacques Cousteau and Jane Goodall became my heroes, but back then I didn’t really have focus enough to narrow down what I wanted to do. When people asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up, the answer was just “something to do with animals”. I had a horse, and a great poodle-collie mix named Bessie, from the time I was two years old and there are so many pictures of me with that dog glued to me.
I took a bit of a detour working first as a flight attendant and later in the Music Business for years until I decided to commit to doing what I always wanted to do: something to do with animals. By that time I had narrowed my focus to dogs and I began looking into what exactly it would take to become a great dog trainer and I also soon realized there were two very different schools of thought on dog training. Punishment based versus reward based. I knew immediately that I would be a Positive Trainer and started reading everything I could be Jean Donaldson, Patricia McConnell, Pat Miller, and the like. I sought out Pat MIller who became a mentor to me and I took every training academy she offered and got my handling chops by volunteering at places like  the ASPCA and for Rescue Organizations before I finally felt comfortable enough taking my first client. More than ten years later I still think it was the best decision I’ve ever made, career wise.
AF:    What is your training technique?
RB:   I’m a positive trainer, all the way. I think many people think that positive means permissive but it doesn’t. It also doesn’t have to mean treats, treats, treats, all the time. Rewards are anything your dog likes. Food is obviously a huge currency for dogs (and for humans, as is money… because it buys us food).  I just don’t think there’s any reason to use force to train a dog, a child, or a human. I find it much more awesome and impressive when I see humans and animals interact and comply with each other just by responding to a kind request. That means there’s a real relationship there, and isn’t that the whole reason we have dogs, kids, and partners?
I generally use either a clicker or a verbal marker, or in case of a deaf dog either a thumbs-up or a smile, or whatever else the owner and I can come up with that is practical. I recently worked with an awesome woman who was a quadriplegic, so we used a Manners Minder as a treat dispenser and used the sound of the treat being dispensed as a reward marker. The client only had to press the remote control with her thumb to mark the desired behaviors and we used shaping to teach all the behaviors we wanted. It was awesome!
AF:  What are your Top 5 Training Tips for someone at home?
RB:  If I had to pick five training tips for someone at home … in no particular order:
1.  Capture great behaviors when they happen spontaneously. We know that behaviors that are rewarded are repeated, so take advantage of that by marking the good stuff when it happens. I tell people it will literally triple their training effort if they just remember that. Dogs pretty much do all the stuff we want: sit, lie down, stay, come, all the time.  All we have to do is put it on cue. So simple, and so overlooked.
2.  Management, management, management. Don’t wait for your dog to mess up and then react to it. Manage her environment from the beginning so she has much less opportunity to do something wrong. Show her what it is you’d like her to do instead of waiting for her to do the wrong thing and then punish her for it. It only makes everyone resentful and grumpy.
3.  Play with your dog!! It builds relationship, it helps your bond, it’s fun, it wears the dog put, it reduces stress. Training also falls under play for me. I want all my dogs to think we were just having a great time and playing when they learned to come to me when I call. Learn about “Shaping” and about nose games. We spend all this time trying to get a Beagle to stop sniffing everything on a walk, but their noses are awesome so why not use let them use them in a way that works better for all of us? I’ve never seen a dog owner who wasn’t totally blown away, excited, and proud when their dog just managed to find an object we’d spent ten minutes hiding from the dog, or when their dog finally “got” the behavior we were trying to shape them to do. Shaping (reinforcement of successive approximations) is a little like playing that “Hot and Cold” game with kids where they have to try to figure out what you want them to do.
4.  Have realistic expectations. I think people would spend less time being upset and annoyed with their dogs if they understood how dogs learn and how their brains work. It would make them understand what their limitations are and capabilities are. Dogs are not telepathic geniuses. You need to give them gentle directions and if they understand what it is you’re trying to say they are very likely to do it if they’re physically able. Just standing there, waving your arms and legs and repeating some weird word the dogs doesn’t understand – is not going to do it. I find that people are totally relieved and amused when we have this conversation. It makes so much sense to them once it’s explained. And speaking of realistic expectations: If it has already taken you twelve years to try to get your husband to put the toilet seat down and you still haven’t succeeded, then it should be massively reinforcing to train a dog. Much quicker. Apologies to the gentlemen on this generalization. To make it fair: the male to female equivalent could be when men are trying to get their wives to just say straight out what they want or need instead of letting them guess and then being disappointed when you don’t do it right.
5.  Call a good, certified, Positive Trainer. When you get a dog, any dog, why not just put a few hundred dollars in the budget for someone qualified who can walk you through how to best set everyone up for success. It doesn’t have to be super expensive but someone could potentially teach you so much about your dog in just a few hours and it could make it so much more pleasant and easy for you going forward. If you can’t afford to have someone come on a regular basic, at least just have a great trainer come in and help you read your particular dog, explain to you about canine body language, so you will always be able to read how your dog is feeling and doing. Also have them talk to you about stressors and about how stressors can push your dog beyond their bite threshold, etc. Oh, while most advice is well intended, not everyone who offers their opinion at the dog park is a dog expert. Just sayin’.

AF:   What animals do you have at home? Name (why you named), Breed and where you got them from!
RB:  I have a six or seven year old Merle Great Dane named Olive. I got her (and most of my dogs over the past fifteen years) from The Mid Atlantic Great Dane Rescue League (MAGDRL). Olive is the most mellow dog I’ve ever had. I refer to her as “Slowly Moving Furniture” and jokingly say she was bred to be on the couch with a remote control and a beer. She is my Soul Dog and I use her all the time as a Buddy Dog for shy or fearful dog. Super solid dog. I had a list of all kinds of cool names when I got her but after having her here for a week my daughter Dea (who is almost 11) and I realized that none of the names on the list fit her personality. She needed a sweet, mellow name. We’ve had so many Danes because we also foster for the Rescue sometimes. Dea says she wants a “small dog that does something” next.
AF:  What is the funniest trick you ever taught a dog? Why?
RB:  I tend to like really goofy tricks for my own dogs. I’ve taught loads of fun tricks for client’s dogs but they are mostly the standard tricks, Roll Over, Prairie Dog, Play Possum, etc. Olive moon walks, which is cute because she’s so big. She will also tell you that she represents the Wu Tang Clan (Rap Group) if you ask her. I can ask her which group she represents and run down a list of Rap Outfits and hip hop names and when I get to the Wu Tang Clan she goes; “WU WU!!”. I know, silly. I also taught Pat Miller’s dog Dubhy a cool behavior chain. At the verbal Cue “Are you sleepy?” – he would sit up on his haunches and rub his eyes with his paws, walk over to a small stool and say his prayer, and finally walk over to a blanket on the floor, grab the corner with his teeth  and wrap himself in it, putting himself to bed. He actually knew parts of those behaviors already, I just tweaked them and put them together in a chain.
AF:  What animal charities do you support? Why?
RB:  I volunteer for MAGDRL, a Great Dane Rescue, as much as I can. I’m a single Mom so between work and my kid I don’t have a lot of extra time but I am a volunteer trainer for the Rescue and I do evaluations and transport when they need me. I sometimes foster dogs for them if I can. The last foster dog was Rufus. At 182 pounds, Dane lived with us for a year before he was placed in his perfect, forever home. He damn near ate us out of house and home but he stole our hearts. Best cuddler, ever.
I also volunteer when I can for Unleashed NYC, an experiential leadership program for girls, empowering them to be social change agents, using animal welfare as their leadership laboratory. Girls learn they must address the immediate problem of saving pups from being euthanized, but also work towards long term sustainable change. It’s the brain child of Dr. Stacey Radin; she’s unstoppable.
AF:  Do you train cats?
RB:  I only train dogs. Of course I’ve dabbled in the occasional cat, hamster, pig, and a few other little critters, but I’d love to get into clicker training cats more and other species. I really want to go to a multi-species workshop or to Bob Bailey’s Chicken camp. Alas, work wise, it’s all dogs for me. Oh, and the kid. I came home recently and she had surprised me by cleaning the whole loft while I was gone. I immediately praised her and grabbed the car keys and took her to Beacon’s Closet (her favorite place on earth) for some shopping. I know good behavior when I see it and I am definitely trying to see that particular behavior repeated. On the way to the store she busted me “I know what you’re doing”. But it worked. There was lunch waiting for me yesterday when I got home and she casually mentioned that she’d seen there was a sale at the LF store. That’s when I explained to her about intermittent reinforcement.
Rikke Brogaard will have your dog rolling over, sitting, and behaving like a champ in to time!
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