Sunday, March 3, 2013

Acceptance and Teaching: Learning To Inspire Owners To Inspire Their Dogs!

I am honored to have fellow dog trainer and Animal Behavior College Alum, JennaLee Gallicchio owner of All Star Paws Dog Training Academy in New Jersey contribute to my blog.  

Jenna shares her personal story of enlightenment and growth in her own training style and how that has translated into tolerance and understanding for anyone dealing with the challenges of training a dog. You can find JennaLee on FaceBook: allstarpaws, Twitter:@allstarpaws or her website, All Star Paws.  Enjoy! 

Acceptance and Teaching: Learning To Inspire Owners To Inspire Their Dogs! 

Recently I watched a series of Webinars by a trainer that I really love which talked about inspiring your dog when training and rewarding your dog choosing behaviors you like, such as four feet on the ground before getting some loving.  I love this concept and use it everyday - today. There was a time when I didn't think or train that way. Now that I have seen the difference between 'managing' and 'inspiring' behavior and realize how much less work I have to put into the everyday activities (like feeding or putting leashes on, walking out the door and getting treats are pretty much all effortless and quiet at my house).  I work to pass this knowledge and peace on to my clients and I do this by educating about how dogs learn.

The challenge comes in when I am working with a client who has been educated by (and bought into) famous dog trainers on TV who talk more about managing behavior than inspiring it. Trainers like this also seem like miracle workers who 'transform' dogs and people want to duplicate their results. My methods may seem fru-fru or not make sense. So it's my job to work with where they are and remember where I started.

You see, I had one of those trainers too, except my trainer was in person. I will never forget her nor will I ever forget how I believed that yelling at my dog (Sydney, a super sweet springer spaniel mix) when he broke a stay, jerking on his neck with a prong collar when he didn't walk directly next to me or kneeing him in the chest to keep him from jumping, was going to get me the results I wanted. I know - awful! But I did it.

I'm not going to lie - it did get me results. But what it also got me was a dog who shut down on me when I needed to revisit or try to train something new. It also got me a dog who had EXTREME separation anxiety any time I would leave. I remember the moment when I realized that I didn't want to train Mattie using a prong collar.

Sydney, Mattie and I were walking a few yards from my house (Mattie was 5 months old) and both boys had their prong collars on.  I had just corrected (forcefully jerked the leash) Mattie for something and he whined (which I of course thought was normal and okay). I then looked down at Sydney and his whole body was collapsed.  I realized then and there that I didn't want to train Mattie to be like that. It actually broke my heart a bit. I took off the prong collars that day, and never looked back.  

I understand why people use choke collars, prong collars, electric collars they just want their dog to stop pulling when they are out walking. They knee them in the chest because "a professional" said that would work.  I know - I've been there I understand how much we put on the words of a professional, even if they don't feel completely right to us. "He's the expert. She's the professional." And so we do what they tell us because we are desperate and don't know what else to do.

Today I understand that there is a better way where both people and dogs can ENJOY training and have fun. After all why else did we get dogs?

JennaLee, Mattie & Ryder

So when I see a prong collar my gut reaction is to get angry... especially if I see it on a 12lb dog.  I usually need to count to 10 (sometimes 100) and remind myself that that person is doing the best they can. They (like me at one time) don't know any better and are desperate to get their dog to listen to them. Its not about abuse or trying to hurt their dog. It's what they think is training.

So in order to inspire dog owners to inspire their dogs, I need to first not alienate them for using tools that I don't like or disagree with. If I alienate or judge them then they just may come to "dislike" force-free positive trainers who use their clickers as their tool of choice.  (Which by the way I LOVE my clicker and would be very angry if someone told me I couldn't use it any longer.)

So when I get angry or frustrated I need to remember that education is the key to beginning change and positive experience (or seeing results) is what creates the willingness and desire to continue the change.  I just need (as another trainer said) sneak in the back door with all of my positive force-free methods and before you know it - the prong collar is gone. I do this by sharing my story and proving that my methods work one tiny exercise at a time.

I know that the more people who get to see their joyful puppy stay a joyful adult dog, that more will become as addicted to that end result as I am. I also know that their friends will want to know who their trainer is!

Mattie and Ryder

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Training with "Shaping": A True Story of Trust, Respect and Love

Training using the training methods of "Capturing" and "Shaping" are by far my favorite ways to train most behaviors. After all, I'm a clicker trainer. It's my specialty. Using a clicker is the best way to get fast results because it's quick and accurate. Speed and accuracy are key to success when using these methods.

Before I get to my story, let me first explain just what "Capturing" and "Shaping" are. They are different, yet related and are often used in unison with one another. "Shaping" is using a marker, like a clicker, to mark and reinforce (with a food reward) tiny increments or approximations of behavior towards an ultimate goal behavior.  A "click" means the dog is moving in the right direction and no click means he is not and he needs to try something else. Using this training method, you can create complex behaviors like closing a door or putting away toys.

"Capturing" occurs when your dog just does something you like (for instance, he flops on his side as if dead) and you click and reward that full behavior. You then just wait for the behavior to occur again so that you can repeat the click and reward. What happens next is truly amazing. The dog soon figures out that a particular behavior is causing YOU to click and the dog repeats it, over and over. Trainers call that "offering behavior."  From this point, you can simply add a cue or command when the dog is "offering behavior" and in just a few minutes, you will have a behavior on command.

So now, on to my story. This story is about MacKinley, the most beautiful (and big) Greyhound I have ever had the pleasure to meet. I first saw MacKinleywhen he was walking down the stairs of the facility where I teach training classes. He was there for his first training class, my Canine Good Citizen: Clicker Style class.  As I mentioned, MacKinley is BIG; as large as an average sized Great Dane.  His head comes up to my chest and he is thin, yet muscular and sleek, and elegant and light on his feet like most Greyhounds.  But, unlike many Greyhounds, MacKinley was friendly, VERY friendly. Don't get me wrong, Greyhounds are not generally unfriendly, they just aren't  typically exuberant, especially if they have just retired from the Greyhound racing circuit asMacKinley had.

At MacKinley's side was his owner, Leah.  Herself thin and elegant. And, also a real beauty. They matched.

 After interviewing Leah, I learned that she had tried to register for my Therapy Dog class but it was full and she was counseled to take the CGC class to help towards their goal of becoming a Therapy Dog team. What at first was disappointing for Leah, actually turned out to be fortuitous because in this smaller class, I was going to be able to give them more one-on-one instruction. At this time, I also found out more about MacKinley's personal history. He retired in the Spring of 2012, was relinquished to a Greyhound rescue.  Leah came along very soon after and adopted him.  He literally went from the track into her home, his first home. As of January 2013, they had only been doing obedience work for about a month. Before that, for the previous 6 months, they had just bonded, nothing else. That is where the "Trust" part of this story began. And, that would prove critically important as this pair worked at the formal obedience training phase of their relationship.

I always start this class with an explanation of what the AKC CGC test entails along with a quick evaluation of where each dog stands on the test behaviors. Leah and MacKinley did very well on almost all the requirements. But where they needed work, to put it bluntly, those behaviors were going to be a challenge. You see, retired racing Greyhounds generally don't know how to sit. Why Greyhounds don't sit is a matter of debate. Some say it's because they are aren't allowed to sit or are punished for sitting so that they don't sit down in the starting gates. Some say, with their super long legs and highly muscled thighs, they just aren't comfortable doing it. I suspect it's a little of both. But the fact remains, the AKC CGC test REQUIRES all dogs to "sit." Therapy Dog International does not require dogs to "sit," but the CGC test does. And we knew that getting an adult Greyhound to sit on command when he has NEVER done it before was not going to be easy. So this was not a behavior we could simply "capture" because MacKinley had NEVER sat down before. He also didn't know "down" on command and his "stay" was not reliable.

When coming up with a plan to get MacKinley to "sit" on command, I ask Leah if he ever did anything similar to a sit; come to find out, he did. He "leaned." He often leaned against the sofa or even sometimes, a pile of pillows. That was important because when using the "shaping" method of training, we need to mark (with a clicker, of course) and reward any approximation of behavior towards our final goal. AND, (this is really important) I was NOT going to allow Leah (not that she would anyway) do anything remotely negative with MacKinley that could jeopardize the trust he already had and the mutual respect they were currently working on creating. I asked Leah keep her clicker attached to her and treats squirreled away somewhere close to carefully watch MacKinleywhen they were at home. She needed to be ready to reinforce ANY leaning he did. I also noticed that MacKinley pretty easily backed-up when she moved into him. We would also use this to reach the first week goal: Get Mackinley to "sit" on the sofa. 

And you know what, she did! When they came back to class the next week, MacKinley was easily sitting on the sofa (his back legs sticking straight out in front of him) with just a little forward pressure of Leah walking up to him. He had started offering the behavior and she had started attaching the cue/command to "sit" every time he did it. Leah was well on her way to teaching her dog to sit by "shaping." Over the next few weeks, we worked on downs (both capturing it at home and luring it while in class) and "release" as a precursor to a good, strong stay. All of which were progressing very nicely. Then one night they came into class and Leah had something to show me. Sure enough, MacKinley sat! While he wasn't doing it on command yet, he was randomly offering the behavior. And, he was DOING it, over and over. He was doing it just because he knew Leah liked it and when he did it she clicked and he got a treat. That is the power of clicker training. A few days later Leah posted this picture on her Facebook page...Enough said!

Last week Leah and MacKinley took the CGC test. Yes, they PASSED! I couldn't have been more proud of MacKinley and Leah! And when you see the two of them together, there is no doubt that this human/dog relationship is based strongly on Trust, Respect and so much Love....with help from a little "shaping"and "clicking."

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Yesterday was my 29th Wedding Anniversary.  And the only thing I did for it was make my hubby and me a cake.  But what a cake it was.

With so many Facebook requests for the recipe, I've decided to post it here and share with my circle of interested friends.

This is a recipe from Joy Wilson, aka Joy the Baker. She just published her first cookbook, Joy the Baker Cookbook. You can read her blog at

Chocolate Beet Cake with beet cream cheese frosting


      2         medium beets, unpeeled
      1         tsp. vegetable oil
      6         oz (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened, plus more for greasing to pans
      1         cup packed brown sugar
   3/4         cup granulated sugar
      2         large eggs
      1         tsp. pure vanilla extract
      2         cups all purpose flour, plus more for dusting the pans
   2/3         cup unsweetened cocoa powder
      1         tsp. baking soda
   1/2         tsp. baking powder
      1         tsp. salt
1 1/4         cups buttermilk


      8        oz. (1 brick) cream cheese softened
      1        cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
      2        Tbsp. finely grated beets, mashed with a fork
   4-5        cups powdered sugar, sifted
      1        tsp. pure vanilla extract
   1-2        tsp. milk, depending on desired consistency
   1/2        tsp. fresh lemon juice
                pinch of salt

Butter two 8- or 9-inch round baking pans. Cut out a circle of parchment paper to fit bottom of pan; place in pan. Butter parchment paper. Dust pans with flour; set aside

Roasting The Beets:
Place a rack in the center and upper third of the oven. Preheat oven to 375ºF. Place beets on a piece of foil. Drizzle with vegetable oil. Seal foil. Roast beets on a baking sheet for about 1 hours or until tender when pierced with a knife. Remove beets from oven. Open foil; allow beets to cool. Use a paring knife to peel beets; finely grate. Measure 3/4 cup of grated beets for cake and 2 Tbsp. for frosting. Set aside.

Beating The Batter:
In the bowl of an electric stand mixer with a paddle attachment, cream together butter and sugars (or use an electric hand mixer). Beat on medium speed until pale and fluffy, 3-5 minutes. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Stop mixer and scrape down sides as necessary. Beat in beets and vanilla until thoroughly combined.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Add half the dry ingredients to mixer. Beat on low, slowly adding buttermilk. Once it is just incorporated, add remaining dry. Beat on medium until just incorporated. Cake batter should bethick (not pourable).

Divide batter between prepared cake pans. Bake at 350º for 23-25 minutes (9-inch pan) or 30-32 minutes (8-inch pan). Cake is done when a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove cakes from oven; allow to rest 10 minutes. Invert cakes onto a cooling rack to cool

 Whipping Up Pink Frosting:

To make the frosting, beat cream cheese in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment (or use an electric hand mixer) for 30 seconds, until pliable and smooth. Add butter; beat for 30 seconds, until well combined. Beat in beets. Add powdered sugar, vanilla, milk, lemon juice and salt. Beat on medium until smooth and silky. For a deeper pink color add leftover beet "juice" or up to 1 extra Tbsp. of grated beets. Refrigerate for 30 minutes before frosting.

Icing The Cake:

To assemble the cake, place on layer on a cake stand or cake plate. Top with a generous amount of frosting. Spread evenly.  Top with second cake, then frosting. Work frosting down sides of cake. You will probably have extra frosting left over. Refrigerate for an hour before serving (it will make cake easier to slice). Cake will last, well wrapped in the refrigerator, for up to 4 days. Makes one 8- or 9-inch layer cake. Serves 12. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Still Grieving, Still Guilty

It's been almost a month since I lost my beloved Bowie.  I'm still in so much pain!

I have tried to love another...I have been caring for Bowie's sister, Angel for almost a month. I have decided not to keep her.  It's not her, it's me.  I just don't love her like I did Bowie. She deserves to not live in her sisters shadow. She deserves more.

And I still and think always will feel so guilty.  A day has not gone by that I have not relived those few moments before the accident. Each time, I make different decisions and there is always a different which results in Bowie being back in my arms. Stupid, stupid, stupid.  I was so stupid. I know I will never make those same mistakes again. I'm just so sad that it took losing Bowie to learn that lesson.

On a happy note, I now have a fenced in yard.  Arrow does not know what to do with his new found freedom...Although I am still very paranoid about escape and probably will not allow unsupervised romps for a very long time.

So, please this  holiday season hug your furkids a little closer and more often. Never take them or their  good behavior for granted. And if you wish to do something to ease my pain...please make a donation of money, food, blankets or toys to your local animal shelter in memory of my beautiful Bowie.

Thank you

Monday, November 12, 2012

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Bowie Memorial

Hello Everyone. I can’t tell you all enough how your words, thoughts, concerns, blessings and prayers have warmed my heart these last couple of days. And I know many of you have been waiting to hear something from me regarding the loss of our Beloved Bowie.  Well, I haven’t been ready and quite frankly I’m not really sure I am ready now nor may I ever be. But here goes.

Any of you who know me well, know, that I have said over and over that I didn’t want a puppy. Not to keep anyway. That’s why it was so easy for me to take on the responsibility of helping my friend Carol Hein-Creger socialize some of her puppies that didn’t have forever homes yet.  The puppies are fun and cute, playful and energetic and very easy to give back after a week or two. I didn’t want a puppy.  I am all the times espousing the virtues of “adopting adults”.  You’re saving a life. You know what you’re getting. They might be already be partially trained…You all know the schpeel.

And then I met Bowie.  She didn’t have a name when I first met her and I started calling her Macy (with Carol’s approval). I actually thought she was kind of homely when I first saw her.  At least compared with the other Belgian Tervuren puppy I had cared for. Bowie had a REALLY long face and gigantic ears and little beady eyes.  Her coat was all fluff, except for a strip down the middle of her back, which was longer, more adult like hair.  Her tail was so long it dragged on the ground.  But then I got to know her. And before my eyes, by way of my heart she became beautiful! Bowie was so outgoing and super friendly. She wasn’t wary or reserved like most Tervurens I had met. And most importantly Arrow really liked her. Yeah, of course, he was his usual calm, suave, cautiously curious self when he first met her. But didn’t take her long to break open his heart and for the first time in months, since Darla had gone to live in New Jersey, I saw Arrow playing with exuberance and joy. He, of course, would play with Bowie but he was also playing with his toys again.

And then there was the fact that, in spite of what I thought was going to be my husband’s response, when I asked David if we could keep her, it didn’t take too much time or thought before he said YES! We could keep “Macy”, along with the caveat that we would have to change her name.

The name change came with much thought and negotiation because although I loved the name Bow, to go along with Arrow, but it just seemed to masculine to me.  What when David suggested Bowie, I knew we had a winner.

So, I now had a new puppy, Bowie and she was great!! And what an attention getter she was.  I had to start scheduling extra time if I were going anywhere with her because everyone wanted to meet her and ask about her.  I soon learned that I was going to have to get the correct pronunciation of Tervuren down.  Her training was coming along great and she was a true Velcro dog, who stuck close by and happily turned and came running whenever you called her name.  She had just recently discovered squirrels and I realized that soon I would not be able to trust her off leash during the day when the squirrels were out. She had also just recently taken to running towards people, especially children who came down the side walk. I knew that I needed to step up her recall training in the presence of distracters (squirrels & people). But I just hadn’t yet gotten around to it.

So, do I carry some responsibility for what happened on Thursday night? Absolutely! Was Bowie’s own youthful exuberance and friendly nature partially to blame? No doubt! But what happened Thursday night was a confluence of events that all came together in one terrible, horrific split second. One second that I can never get back.  Accidental deaths are so devastating! I know from experience.  My father died in a tree cutting accident 14 years ago.  That was the most painful loss I have ever experienced. Bowie’s loss is a fairly close second.  It’s hard to explain why that is, but I don’t think I need to explain it. It just is. We are all grieving (except for Winston who is clueless and probably thankful he won’t be herded into the corner anymore). Arrow is sullen and extra quiet and staying extra close. David is crushed! And me, well if you see me smiling, please know there are tears, many tears, when there is no one else around. 

So, today I want to honor the memory of Bowie and all the furkids who bring so much love and joy to our lives. 

If you have been thinking about getting a new or additional pet, today is a good day to act. You see, I didn’t want a puppy…But there was something special about Bowie. So, please visit your local shelter and see if you can’t find your someone special. And if you have all the doggie love you can handle right now, Please think about making a donation of money, blankets or food to your local shelter in honor of Bowie Pizzoferrato.

Now please take a moment, grab some tissue and view this video that my wonderful husband, David put together of our favorite Bowie pictures.

Thank you everyone and hug your furkids and commit to training, now and for a life time… for me and for Bowie!