No Bowl November: Feeding Your Dog in Toys

On Instagram, someone posted that it is “No Bowl November”. I was not aware of this particular celebration but I have been feeding most dog meals in toys ever since we welcomed a new puppy a month ago.

Food toys are a great way for any dog to get their meals. A meal in a dish is polished off in seconds. Dogs are designed to work hard for their meals: hunting, killing and then more work to consume it as they have to separate the edible food from the less appetizing. All this work takes time and energy, after which the dog can settle down for a nice nap in the sun. We take all this away from the dog when we plunk food in a bowl.

There are many different options for putting the fun back in meal acquisition. Kongs are probably the most familiar food dispensing toy. The original Kong comes in a variety of sizes as well as level of durability. I always go for the black ones as they are the toughest. Here are some that I have stuffed with a mixture of canned pumpkin, yogurt, dog kibble and a little peanut butter. While you can offer them just like this, I also freeze them and then they are available in the freezer when I need one in a hurry. In addition to the Kongs,

there are many other options. Here are two. The one on the top is one made by West Paw. It’s got a bigger opening for dogs to get at the contents and can be easier if you have a dog who doesn’t want to work too hard. Usually once they understand how to work for their food, you can graduate to more challenging toys.

The toy on the bottom is a Busy Buddy brand. Here’s a 10 second video of our puppy the first time I put his kibble in one of these.

 

 

I had put some canned food smeared inside the toy for the kibble to stick to. You can see it will take him longer than a few seconds to clean that up. If I am going to use kibble (dry dog food) in a toy, I can just add a little hot water and wait for it to soften a bit. Then it will stick into toys rather than just spilling out. There are other toys which are designed specifically for dry food.

Sometimes I raid the recycling bins and make my own toys. Last Christmas was a great time to do this as we had boxes and wrapping paper galore. I put kibble in plastic bottles and stuffed wrapping paper in the top. I put kibble in wrapping paper, crumpled it up and put it in a cereal box. After I had a bunch of these, I put them all in a cardboard box and gave it to Eloise. She had played this game before so knew to work at the corrugated box and then the smaller ones to get the kibble. Her nose kept her going until she had every last piece.

While these toys are good at keeping dogs busy, I can never do other things while they work at them because it’s too much fun watching them!

A snuffle mat is another popular kibble toy, but it’s at the other end of the spectrum from free. Different companies sell them and some are more reasonably priced so you’ll have to shop around. When you first use a snuffle mat, you just sprinkle the kibble on top, but after the dogs know to snuffle around for the kibble, you can bury it deeper. Here is Eloise with a snuffle mat.

A good friend gave us this Buster Activity mat and it challenges dogs  in even newer ways. Each attachment is a different puzzle.

I love the way Eloise pulls the dowel out to open the envelope!  Admittedly, after a few times, I neglected to watch her and she started chewing on the dowel when the kibble was gone. I now replace the dowel with a bully stick. As much as she loves bully sticks, she usually keeps working at the puzzle until she gets all the kibble, then takes the bully stick to her bed to chew on.

Finally, here is Eloise, sacked out after finishing the Buster Activity mat…but she lay down right on it in case I wanted to put some more in it.  She wanted to be ready.

Before Wilder, our new puppy, arrived, I usually fed Eloise her breakfast in a dish and her dinner in a challenge. But these days, all meals are interactive.  The better to keep that puppy occupied!

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Fearful Dogs

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Yesterday I attended a “Living and Working With Fearful Dogs” seminar given by Debbie Jacobs, of fearfuldogs.com, and hosted by the Vermont Dog Club in Essex Jct, VT.

Something which was fairly astonishing to me was when she began by asking who was in attendance. In the room full of people, there was one vet, a few vet techs, a few people who worked in rescue, a few people who foster dogs, a few trainers….and then she asked who lived with a fearful dog and a slew of people raised their hands. I found that very sad.

Now I don’t know how each of those people defined “fearful” in their own dog’s case. The examples which Debbie used in her talk were not simply dogs who were, shall we say, sensitive, but rather dogs whose lives were seriously debilitated by fear. They came, I think in all her examples, from hoarding situations and pretty horrific environments (full confession: I look away at slides of those situations and plug my ears if it’s video… I just can’t).

An example of the severity of the cases she works with became apparent when she spoke of keeping the dogs under threshold. She said that everyone has a different definition of threshold and so we should be careful when speaking to others that we are talking about the same thing. For me, “under threshold” is when the dog (or horse) can still focus on me and take food. They may glance away toward a perceived threat (ideally they don’t even do that). But if the individual animal feels they have to keep looking at the threat, then I need to increase distance between the animal and the threat so that they can relax and learn that it’s ok if that thing is in the distance. And then, to desensitize, we would move a tiny bit closer, with the goal being that the animal continued to be comfortable.

Debbie’s examples, however, were so traumatized that there was no way they were going to look at a human or take food from it. All they wanted to do was get away, hide, and keep as much distance as possible from people. Her Sunny dog, many years later, still does not want to be touched by people other than Debbie. He might play or go for walks when others are around, but even after her extensive work with him, he still shrinks back from other people.

For this reason, I really appreciated that Debbie expressed full acceptance for anyone who did not want to begin or continue to work with/live with a dog like this. She stressed that it was not fun.  After all, usually what we want from dogs is companionship. If what you have is a dog who really doesn’t want to be around people, you really have to have a different idea in your mind of what your relationship will be. She also stressed how difficult it can be on additional people in the household when a dog doesn’t like them (for instance a family member of the person working with the dog). There is so much focus on rescuing dogs these days, far too many people get into these situations with no idea of what they are in for and no skills/education to deal with it once they come to that realization.

Debbie repeated a couple themes throughout the day. One was patience. A slide with that one word popped up repeatedly.  Behavior challenges are not a quick and easy fix. These very fearful dogs are an extreme example…years and years of work in some cases. The other topic she returned to on several occasions was the most important place to start: keep them feeling safe. As I already said, these were dogs who did not feel safe in life so she did some pretty creative and extreme management toward that end: giving them places to hide, allowing them to stay indoors for months and eliminate indoors if they were afraid of going outside.

Her overall training approach is one of positive reinforcement and using food, food, food, although so much in life is punishing for these individuals that she did not pretend life was all positive reinforcement (and none of us should). She supported her talk and approach with evidence based science and references. Many of her references were familiar to me but I came away with some new authors to research and studies to look up: always good takeaways.

If you find yourself with a fearful dog, of any extreme, her talk is supportive and informative. She has two books available as well as a Facebook group of support. And please get a well-educated and experienced trainer to help you.

Debbie Jacobs

What If I Can’t Go to an Animal Behavior Conference?

I am cross-posting this to both of my blogs because all species are supported in these learning situations!

This weekend is Clicker Expo. That means the social media of clicker trainers is full of pictures and posts: meeting the giants of the industry, listening to inspiring talks, and watching training in action. It can be hard to watch from afar if you wish you were there. As consolation, I have compiled a list of learning opportunities that you can take advantage of from home.

Katie Bartlett and Rosie

First of all, many of us who do go to various conferences often write about them afterward. I’ve written in this blog about previous Clicker Expos, ASAT conference (Art and Science of Animal Training, formerly known as ORCA), NEI (Natural Encounters Inc), and Alexandra Kurland clinics at Cavalia’s home farm. But the master of taking notes and sharing information is Katie Bartlett. I do not know how she both gleans so much from the talks and then manages to put it all into understandable blog posts. If you can’t get to a conference, follow her Equine Clicker Training blog. She also blogs about her own training experiences and every word is worth your time to read.

Several conferences also video some or all of the talks and make them available afterward. Clicker Expo offers many of the talks this way. Word of mouth has it that ASAT will also be offering videos in the future. The Karen Pryor Clicker Training Store also sells videos from many well known trainers that you can watch from home.

This winter I have participated in several learning opportunities from home. Last year I splurged on both Expo and NEI so this is the year to pay the piper and not spend money on hotels and flights. It does not mean I had to forego continuing my education.

Last fall I enrolled in the Fear Free Pets program. Their program has been so successful that they are updating their site. When I went there just now, the site is “under construction” but the email I received from them states they’ll be back up next week. The course “aims to take the ‘pet’ out of ‘petrified’ and get pets back for veterinary visits by promoting considerate approach and gentle control techniques used in calming environments.” It is aimed at veterinary clinic employees as well as trainers who would like to help their clients with fearful pets. I found the information very helpful and wrote about it in “Fear Free Kitty” on my own blog.

Karen Pryor Academy offers ten different courses in training, dog sports, shelter training and also veterinary visits.  Access to these courses is for 12 weeks to a year, allowing you time to learn at your own pace and giving you the flexibility to fit it in around other responsibilities. I took the Smart Reinforcement course with Ken Ramirez last winter and have been thrilled with the use I have been able to get out of what I learned.

IAABC offers a rotating list of courses that vary from genetics and DNA; to shelter dog behavior; to writing. Some include the option of mentorships with leaders in their fields. I have just completed Eileen Anderson’s Writing course which I audited, although the option to submit writing to her for comment was also available. I haven’t taken a writing course in 30 years and it was quite a thrill to be focusing on my own writing again. With luck, readers of this blog will benefit from my renewed attention.

The Pet Professional Guild offers monthly webinars. Last week I attended one titled “Scent and the Assistance Dog” which was fabulous. I’ll confess I haven’t been equally impressed with some of the other presenters but the webinars are reasonably priced, especially if you are a member.

For anyone who teaches other people (this includes all of us who help people train their animals), TAGteach is invaluable. I received an email recently that they have a new (free!) course that offers an introduction (or a refresher) to TAGteach principles.

Percy and I with Alex

I have to include Alexandra Kurland’s online course in this list. Alex is the one responsible for the clicker in my hand and the treats in my pocket. Reading an article she wrote in 1999 started me on this journey and she has kept me going in the right direction. Her course is a comprehensive presentation of her training principles.

Finally, I have just begun “Horse Biz Boot Camp” with Cadence Coaching. This is my first experience with this type of coaching, but I was invited to join by Marla Foreman who had a two-for-one offer. Since my goal this year was to find ways to increase my income (to be able to afford more conferences next year!), certainly some help in the business side of things will be beneficial.

The ones I have listed here are all opportunities I have taken advantage of myself. There are many others. These and others range in price from free to hundreds or thousands of dollars. If you have any you would like to recommend, to me or to other readers, please give a link in the comments below.

It always seems like winter is a good opportunity for spending time on education and yet I never fit it all in. So many good books to read, webinars to watch, courses to take. And here it is March and the days are already lengthening to the point where it’s light after dinner.  But it’s snowing again…

Does Management Fail?

One of the very first things I tell clients, as a matter of fact I almost always say it during our first contact via phone inquiry, is that there are two paths we can take to deal with any problem: management and training. I believe those two things are equally critical to success and so I was surprised to read somewhere recently that a common phrase in dog training is “management always fails”.

On one hand, I understand and completely agree with the statement, but on the other hand, it seems to trivialize the importance of management. So here is the way I see it, and why I continue to point it out early in my relationship with someone wanting training help from me.

First, I loosely define management as physical constraints: a leash, a fence, a crate and a baby gate are all examples of management which I often suggest*. (see note below) I say that we always need to use management until the training takes place. This is because of one of the laws of behavior.

a behavior which is repeated has been reinforced

a behavior which is reinforced will be more likely to be repeated

 So, if the dog is repeatedly behaving in such a way that the person calls me for assistance, then the undesirable behavior must be being reinforced.

1207886480433131649gerald_g_rabbit-svg-hiExample: the dog who doesn’t come when she is called and instead runs off. If she continues to run the other way when she is called, something is reinforcing that behavior. It could be chasing rabbits in the woods; or playing with the neighbor’s dog, or getting into the trash somewhere; or any number of other things. Whatever it is, it’s more fun to do that, than to return to the person calling her name. If the person was more fun, the dog would choose to run back, instead of away. As long as that reinforcement continues, the behavior of running away will also continue.

Now of course my job is to help the person understand how to train the dog, which I will do by teaching the person how to use great reinforcers such as treats and play and a great relationship so that the dog begins to choose those things instead of chasing rabbits and eating garbage. But the problem is habits which were built through history of previous reinforcement.

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When we begin, the scale is tipped heavily toward the bunny chasing. A couple treats for coming when called will just barely begin to adjust the balance. If the dog goes out the next day and chases bunnies again, we’ve just lost all the advantage we gained with treats. We need a history of many repetitions of treats for coming when called to give the scale a chance to become balanced. And if we want a reliable recall, we need the scale tipped heavily on the recall side, not just balanced.

The only way to give our treats a chance to balance out is to prevent further reinforcement for bunny chasing. So we keep the dog on a leash, or in a fenced yard (visible fences only please!). Now the dog cannot chase bunnies, and with daily practice of recalls in the house or in the yard, we pile the recall side of the scale with treats, and games, and fun. Day after day we pile on more and more until the scale is weighted so heavily in favor of responding to recalls that it overwhelms the bunny chasing side and the history of reinforcement has built the habit of coming when called.

curious dog with tennis ball

So, the management is a success in my carefully designed world. Why then, do trainers say “management fails”? I believe that expression refers to someone who relies on management only, without the added benefit of training. People who do not train their dog to come when called, and rely solely on management, are bound to be disappointed. Guests visit, and don’t know how to body-block the dog from pushing out the door and the bunny hunt is on. The leash gets dropped while the person ties a shoe and zoom, the dog is gone. Children come to visit and the dog is so excited that she jumps up on the baby gate which comes crashing down and now the dog is free to go.

If the dog has a solid recall, the open door, the dropped leash, the faulty baby gate are not a disaster. You simply call the dog back, give her an awesome treat for responding and the problem is prevented.

“Management fails” is similar to saying “life happens”. The careful dog owner should plan to use both management and training. Because training alone can be risky as well. If I am walking next to a busy road, I do not rely on my recall alone to protect my dog from traffic, even though my dogs are off leash at home all the time. We live far from the road and there is very little traffic on that road. I know there is plenty of buffer zone for my dog to wander away from me and be called back and still not be anywhere near the road.

Whether you rely more heavily on management or training will be specific to you, your dog and the environment. My dog’s leash manners are not good enough for a dog who might live in an urban environment where she had to be on a leash all the time. But that isn’t the environment I live in. My dog’s recall is very reliable even at long distances because our environment allows her to be off leash in woods and fields.

I always invite people to tell me what their daily life is and what their goals for a perfect dog are. Then we decide together, along with the dog of course, what should be trained to perfection, and when management will be called on.

note: In addition to physical restraint, there are other management tools I use such as stuffed kongs for enrichment, to help fulfill a dog’s needs and prevent boredom, but for this topic, I was just referring to limiting the dog’s access to reinforcers for behaviors we’d like to eliminate.

Fear Free Kitty

Today I received these pins from the Fear Free Certification Program. I completed the course in the end of October and was gung ho to write a blog post about it. But the election happened shortly thereafter and, well quite frankly Fear Free was the opposite of the way I felt. But it’s time to put one foot in front of the other and work for what we want, which is precisely what we are trained to do as Positive Reinforcement trainers.

The Fear Free Certification program:

aims to “take the ‘pet’ out of ‘petrified’” and get pets back for veterinary visits by promoting considerate approach and gentle control techniques used in calming environments.

from the Fear Free website.

I was interested in taking the course because as trainers, we focus on preparing our animals for potentially unpleasant experiences well in advance of the experience itself. That said, my history with animals has given me plenty of experience with the “but we need to do this now” situations. I have traveled with veterinarians to horse farms and all too often the people involved have not done the necessary preparation work so the doctor has to do what she has to do in order to get the job done. As a result, that tends to be the approach taken with all patients. Even if the animal behaves well for the usual handler, someone new arriving with the smells and sounds and differing body language of a veterinarian can put even the most cooperative of animals on edge.

Yet here was a course claiming to have techniques to use in that very scenario. I wanted to see what their suggestions were and with luck, help the people I work with “take the pet out of petrified” for their veterinary visits. The course was designed for dogs and cats, but I am always inspired for other species, regardless of the specie I may be learning about in any given situation.

As it turned out, I learned a lot which I hope to be able to share it with veterinarians I work with. Personally, I learned most about cats. And telling you about this will require me to make some confessions.

My cat George has never been a priority for training. I don’t expect him to come when called or anything else. I enjoy having animals who live most naturally in their surroundings and George has it made in that department. He is never confined unless he chooses to be. He has plenty of opportunities to hunt (I am perfectly comfortable with his thinning of the bird and mouse population and in fact that is precisely why I have a barn cat).  He is fed and has a warm barn to sleep in with his choice of hayloft with lots of hiding spaces (his preference in the summer) or heated tack room (his preference in winter).

But when it was time to take the yearly trip to the vet’s office, poor George definitely got stressed. A very friendly cat who always shows up at chore times, he never suspected that one day out of 365 when I’d scoop him into a cat carrier. And it got worse from there. We usually have five or six dogs at any given time and I like to save time and money by taking everyone in at once. My car is canine packed…and then George’s cat carrier gets stuck in an empty available spot. He’s quite safe, but invariably has a dog or five staring at him for the trip. When the course pointed out that one should not swing the cat carrier but cradle it against your chest, I thought of George swinging frantically as I generally had a leash or two in the same hand as the cat carrier. Poor George.

As I listened to the course describe how cats like small enclosures (though regardless of the popular youtube videos, George showed zero interest in a couple boxes I offered him. I decided it was because he had all those nice natural tight spaces in the hayloft). In any case, I vowed to do better by him in the future and promptly ordered him a smaller cat carrier than the old dog crate (held together with baling twine) I’d used in the past. AND I got one with a door in the top, just like the ones recommended, so the kitties can stay in their safe space for at least part of the exam since the doctors and techs will have access.

img_8133When the new carrier arrived, I happily carried it out to the barn to begin to get him accustomed to it so it wouldn’t be a shock when he had to be put into it. I feed him on a table in the kennel/feed room of the barn where the dogs can’t interfere. I put an old saddle pad in the crate base and set it on top of some mineral storage drawers, up high, just as they recommended.

I had to remind myself that George is bigger than the average cat. He managed to eat the kibble I sprinkled in it but there was no way he was going to stay there afterward, scrunched under the shelf.

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I moved it down lower, to where he usually ate and fed him there for a few days. He always climbed in happily to eat whatever kibble I put there but I never saw him in it otherwise. Of course, he never hung out there previously.

At this point, temperatures were dropping with the onset of winter and he began asking to go into the tack room at night. Last winter I wrote about how George quickly trained me to let him in or out of the tack room by scratching frantically at the door and we had to go through an extinction burst (several) to eliminate that habit. Now he just sits by the door and waits until I see him and take pity on him by opening the door.

I placed the new cat carrier in the tack room. He was quite pleased with this arrangement since I’d never offered him a bed before, and for several nights he curled up in it. Unfortunately, when I progressed to the next step of putting the top on, he stopped staying in. He’d perch there to eat any kibble I put in, but not sleep in it. It may just be too small for him, or maybe I need something which takes up less room than the saddle pad since he takes up a lot of room himself.

As with all training, there is obviously more work to do. I am grateful for the opportunity to help George be less stressed for his vet visits, though I can’t promise him he won’t be stuffed in the car with all the dogs. As I said, he’s a very friendly cat and he has an impressive purr motor which he fires up for the techs as soon as he’s out of his carrier so I don’t think he’s too miserable. img_8195

Elusive Illusory Choice

Much has been written, discussed and preached about choice in training in recent years. Those of us who use positive reinforcement consider “choice” to be one of the benefits of doing so. I say that my animals have choice because I use cues, instead of commands, a distinction which to me means that I give a cue, and if the animal chooses not to respond, the only consequence is a lost opportunity to earn a reinforcer such as a treat. I do not repeat the cue (unless I think the animal has not perceived the cue for some reason), or punish, or apply any pressure to get the animal to do what was cued.

The importance of that is the information I receive when I observe the animal’s response. If I say sit, and the dog does not sit, there are many possibilities for why including distractions, pain, unclear cues, and stress among other things. So I have to then try to figure out what the issue is, and work from there.

A recent example was when I purchased a new dog bed for Eloise. A little background: when we moved here three years ago, I put a lot of energy into making the dog kennel in the barn be a very reinforcing place to be. I knew from experience that the dogs needed to feel safe from horses’ feet, and everyone else needed to feel safe from doggie mayhem. I included a dog kennel/feed room in the barn design, complete with a dog door out the back to an enclosed area so they could see me in the arena while teaching. I put a steel framed dog hammock in the kennel and fed lots of treats over long periods of time when the dogs went in and stayed in, while leaving the door open so they had choice of whether or not to be in. The training worked like a charm so that Eloise practically begs to be let in there and, until this winter, stayed in there happily for hours at a time, even with the door closed, which after all, was the point: to securely separate dogs and horses.img_8356

So why, this winter, did I keep finding her curled up in a hay bale in the wash stall, instead of in the kennel? This was after horses had been turned out and I left the kennel door open, both so she could choose and so I had easy access to tools that were kept in there. Sadly, I think not having her Beetle friend to curl up with meant she was not as warm as previous winters, even though she had “his” sleeping bag and fleece blankets just as before. My daughter clued me in to some reflective beds, designed to reflect a dogs heat back to them. I ordered one and when it came, Eloise was very, very, pleased with it when I put it on the floor next to me in the house . She started curled up but soon was sprawled out like a summer day (see photo at top!). When she got up, I put my hand on it and was amazed at the heat! Happy with the result, I took the new bed to the barn and set it up on the hammock (on top of the sleeping bag and fleece as further insulation).

But she continued to curl up in the hay. I thought it might just be a new habit, so I closed her in the kennel…and her response was to stand very sadly by the door looking out. Hmmm. I could not figure this out. Luckily, we then had a warmish day and I did not putimg_8349 her little blanket on when we went to the barn. That morning, she was on her new little bed. The next morning, with her blanket on, she was back on the hay bale. I can only deduce that she was getting static electricity or some other reaction when wearing the blanket combined with the new bed. When I cued her to get on the bed while wearing the blanket, she would stand perched on edge of the hammock, next to the bed, not in it.

When I look at photos of her, she looks much warmer without the blanket on the new bed, than curled tightly in the hay, so I have decided she’s better off that way. And when it’s bitterly cold, she can choose to go out the barn dog door, and into the dog door to the house…and she’s curled up in MY bed, warm as can be, when I come in from chores.

What is important to me is that Eloise can choose between several good options. Too often we say an animal has choice but it is similar to the choice given to a child when she can eat her dinner or go to bed hungry. Yes, that’s a choice, but not a great one. If the meal is truly unsavory to the child, she must choose between the lesser of two evils. I’m not saying that’s always a bad thing. Sometimes we may need to set that up in order to keep an animal or ourselves safe. But we need to be careful of how often we do that, and if we do, we need to admit that the animal may not truly be choosing to stay with us, but we’ve made it uncomfortable or scary to do otherwise. In some circles, this is known as “make the right thing easy and the wrong thing hard”.

Because Eloise has these options, I was able to notice when something made her uncomfortable, as opposed to a situation where she was just locked in the kennel, or “commanded” to go in and stay in. I am much happier knowing that she has choices of where to be. She usually chooses to be with me, but if it’s too cold, she can choose to go in the warm house.

Another interesting situation of choice is when I let Case, the young Border Collie, out for a noontime break. He is a very busy boy and the only time he relaxes is in his crate (I actually tested this the other night. My husband was reading in front of the wood stove, I was reading on the couch, Eloise was curled up with me. Case was loose in the house for a rare Christmas event. He did not stop moving. For an hour. He walked around the house, sniffing, investigating, walking. When he approached a person his tail and his whole back end wagged happily. He’d get a distracted stroke on his side for a moment and then he’d be off again, wandering around. There’s a reason he lives in a crate!) He goes to the barn for chores in the morning and afternoon but I like to let him out at noontime when I’m home. I open his crate and he shoots outside through the dog door. I return to the kitchen. He has free run (I don’t recommend this and I do keep an eye on him from the windows but he doesn’t leave the property). He wanders around like he did in the house the other evening: sniffing, investigating, leaving yellow stains in the snow. When he is ready, he comes in the house and finds me. Rather than deal with his restlessness, I go downstairs and he goes right into his crate, at which point I hand him a bully stick and close the door.

His choices are between being outside loose, or in his crate. Yes, he gets a bully stick when he goes back in, but I feel that’s a fair trade. If, instead, I didn’t feed him his meal until he went in, that would be less fair. He needs to eat so that wouldn’t be much of a choice. But the option of being outside, for as long as he’d like and coming in when he’s ready, even though it means being confined to his crate for several more hours, tells me that when he comes in, he’s perfectly comfortable being confined.

I think the conversations on choice are good. I think we learn a lot by having them. Giving an animal choice does not mean they get to do whatever they want all the time. I could cue Eloise to go in the kennel and she would, even when the hay bale was preferable. If Case is outside, and a car arrives, I can open a door and call him in. But remaining open minded about what truly are fair choices is on an ongoing thought process and listening to their responses can teach us a lot about them.

Indoor Training

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If this photo of our weather station is any indicator, winter has arrived. With complete snow cover, temperatures well below freezing and wind chills around zero (Fahrenheit), it’s time to get creative with our training opportunities.

For the horses, that means training which can be done in the barn and in short enough training sessions that hands don’t freeze. I continue to hunt for gloves which can keep my hands warm, dry and also allow me to manipulate my fingers well enough to extricate a treat or two from my pocket or pouch. So far, they elude me (if you live in temperatures similar to, or colder than above, and have any you recommend, please let me know!).

img_8227For the dogs, it simply means finding activities which don’t take much room so that we can continue to train indoors where it’s toasty and warm, (and pretending to hibernate in a hay bale during chores).

One thing which I find very helpful to work on during winter downtimes is husbandry skills. Whether it’s teaching a dog to do a chin rest in preparation for ear ointment, getting a horse comfortable with a deworming tube, or teaching a dog to file her own nails, all can be done in super-short sessions and all will make life much easier in the future.

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To give myself some new projects, I’ve just signed up for a fun, 12 Days of Christmas training series from Donna Hill. Check it out!