A new year has started again and it is soon time for our fourth series in Cranky Canine program for reactive (I’m always tempted to use quotes around this word!) dogs to kick in. Why did we start doing this program, what do I know about aggressive behaviors in dogs? I learned a lot from the most excellent Finnish trainers Tommy Wiren and Sari Paavilainen. My friend Sari is the owner of Koirakoulu Visio (translated Dog Training School with a Vision) where I worked part time years ago. I was involved in their reactive dog training sessions which at the time took place in the middle industrial areas with lots of space. This allowed a lot of room for counter-conditioning work and increasing the distance between the dogs and the triggers to keep the student dogs under threshold. All the dogs made tremendous progress with a combination of counter-conditioning and negative reinforcement (the bad thing going away). My best teacher, however, was my own dog Dea who could be a Bitch from Hell sometimes. My working dog was unpredictable when ‘not at work’, I always had to have eyes at the back of my head. We worked long and hard to manage her aggressive behaviors towards other dogs, and she taught me a lot. Or I should probably say she taught me everything. And she is greatly missed every single day, no matter what she was like at times, I would do anything to have her back with me.
I don’t think I would have ever become a professional dog trainer without Dea. I feel like congratulating those people with reactive dogs who seek out the RIGHT kind of help and information: you are about to begin an interesting journey into the mind of your dog. It won’t be easy but you are about to become one heck of an animal trainer!
As soon as I started Mindful Behaviors in Toronto I had my mind set on starting similar reactive dog sessions as my friend Sari does in Finland. But I needed to find another trainer with the same agenda, as there is no way you can do this sort of a thing on your own. After some probing I found my partner in crime in Caryn of Whatta Pup!, who is sharing her Cranky Canine experience on her blog. We both agreed on how challenging it can be at times to treat dog-dog reactivity in private sessions because you need to find a quiet environment for the set-ups, find decoy dogs and you cannot control the variables in the city environment. We were both determined to make a structured program, where we can add variables one at a time, and where we are in charge of the environment. Cranky Canine was born after twisting and turning for about 6 months. The funny thing was that when we were thinking of a name for the program, we spat out the name Cranky Canine almost simultaneously!
Reason #1 for why I like Cranky Canine is that students very soon realize that they have to dedicate a lot of effort into training if they want to see results. There is simply no magic to it. Luckily, people who seek out Cranky Canine have already realized that violence doesn’t reduce fear or anxiety. To an outsider (most 🙂 of ) our classes would look like regular training classes because we put a lot of effort in keeping everyone under threshold. This is something that is also IMPERATIVE for Cranky Canines at home: we cannot expect changes in behavior if the dog is constantly pumped up with stress hormones. Every single animal learns the same way: I cannot learn a new task at a new job if I’m chronically stressed! And it shows in class, teams who have put effort into management and a lot of volume into training are on their way to become much less cranky!
Reason #2 for why I like Cranky Canine is that you get to meet dedicated, nice people who progress to become better trainers. Our first series was a practice round with our existing clients, with whom we had worked before in private sessions. We learned a lot from them and they gave us very valuable feedback on how to better organize everything. We were very lucky to have such a good bunch of people to work with. Since then the Cranky Canine community has increased to 12 graduates, and it very gratifying to see more teams who can now see light at the end of the tunnel.
Reason #3 for why I like Cranky Canine is that every graduate will become a member of a community that we are trying to create in Toronto. Instead of being abandoned to their own devices after the training sessions are over, we encourage people to connect with each other and with us through our Yahoogroup and keep training. In a place like Toronto, life can be challenging for a reactive dog with all the unfortunate “friendly dogs” running around and the ignorance that still seems to prevail amongst the pet owners. It is up to us to stick together and try and educate others as well.
Reason #4 for why I like Cranky Canine is the very reason we wanted to do this in the first place: a controlled and systematic environment for practice. Of course it is different from having one of “the friendly dogs” gallop up to your dog without an owner in sight but a low-stress environment is essential for learning the tools before you can apply them under stress.
OK, that’s it for now! Oh yes one more thing, both Caryn and I will like Cranky Canine even more this year now that we won’t have to do it at the Jimmie Simpson Recreation Centre in Toronto anymore, which was a nightmare because of their appalling lack of administration skills!