Friday, March 26, 2010

Lest I get too prideful in the aftermath of ClickerExpo . . .

Cade and I did spend an admittedly decent portion of last night's agility class working on not screaming with excitement at the dogs running courses in the adjacent class. Tried to channel the "impulse control" workshop as much as possible. The road isn't necessarily a straight one on our journey, but he's trying hard and we'll get there.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Day Three: ClickerExpo

Sunday was the last day of ClickerExpo, so we woke up extra early to pack up the car, check out of the hotel, and head over for our morning park run. There were a couple smaller dogs about Maebe's size in the "small dog" half of the park, so we decided to let them all play. Cadence fell madly in love with a little sheltie mix and was prepared to follow her to the ends of the earth, but we eventually reminded him who he came there with.

Our first seminar of the day was by British trainer Kay Laurence on training self control. It is hard to pick a favorite of the many great lectures we attended this weekend, but Kay's definitely stood out and really resonated with us, as owners of pretty high-drive dogs for whom self-control has not always been a strong point. I know that this has been due to sloppy, novice training on our parts - an issue not helped by the fact that our two most intense dogs, Jade and Tristan, were our two first training experiences.

Kay discussed how we need to be aware of our dog's mental state when we train, because "what you click is what you get." You don't want to start shaping with a dog that is stressed or shutting down, otherwise that stress might become tied to the behavior. Similarly, you don't want too much arousal and lack of control built into the behavior either. This immediately made me think of challenges we have had with Tristan when building new behaviors. Tristan is so smart, picks up on things so fast, and I swear has an understanding of the English language to rival most teenagers. But when working, he can get too high too fast and shaping can turn into a frantic, frenzied mess. I can see now how we need to work with his state of arousal and only reinforce controlled behaviors. She also pointed out how we need to be aware of our emotional state, and what our movements are communicating to the dog.

Kay talked a lot about the benefits of play and games, but also how trainers frequently don't have good rules for play. Instead of cooperative playing with a shared toy (that, she encouraged us to remember, belongs to us after all, not the dog), tug games turn into a hyper competition for resources between person and dog.

Having been involved for years in two high-energy dog sports and witnessing the training (or sometimes lack thereof) that goes on at times in the quest for the faster, higher drive dog, this really hit home with me. I have for years been baffled by the pride that handlers take showing off their battle scars after a day of competition - bleeding bit hands, scratched up bodies, torn clothes, etc. I expect my dogs to know the difference between a tug toy and my hand, and to respect me enough to not assault me for the toy.

When they were running, Jade and Tristan had good bite inhibition if they hit your hand, but did get sloppy at times and "miss" the toy. Of course, I believe there is a good argument that these dogs aren't "missing" anything. Jade was an awesome flyball dog, and I loved running him. But he had bad habits, that I know I reinforced when I didn't know any better, and that ultimately affected the pleasure of handling him somewhat. Don't get me wrong - I loved working with him and treasure my memories of his racing days - but how much more fun would it have been to not get dragged to the ring, have to fight him for the tug toy between every race, etc. I don't think these behaviors did anything to particularly enhance our relationship, nor do I believe they made him faster or have more drive (a fallacy I believed in my early days of dog sports).

Kay demonstrated playing tug and chase games with rules that help reinforce self control. Handlers should tug with their dogs, then ask for a release. If the dog does not release, the handler would hold the collar gently, so as to prevent further tugging, and wait for the dog to drop the toy. The mistake many handlers make at this point is to either whip the toy away rapidly (making the toy once again seem like a retreating prey animal) or to immediately allow tugging again. Instead, the dog should choose not to pounce on the toy again, even though it remains in range, and should sit and wait for permission to begin the game again.

This is very similar to Susan Garrett's 1-2-3 Game and Brenda Aloff's switching exercises that I have been doing with Noodle since he was a young pup, and I am pleased that he does show a lot of self-control around play, even when very wound up. The detail Kay emphasized though was that "a sit is not enough." If the dog sits, but is still in a very high state of arousal - barking, trembling, anticipating the release, etc. - you need to wait for a sign of actual relaxation and impulse control before clicking and releasing to play again. I think a lot of times, us handlers reward, and maybe even desire, a sit with the dog trembling in anticipation, as we want to have a high-drive, enthusiastic dog. This reminded me that there is a difference though between drive and arousal, and we don't want to mistake one for the other.

Afterwards we attended Kay's working lab on these exercises as observers. It was great watching Kay's different games and seeing how she worked with the dogs. Her mantra, that I have run through my head a million times already this week while working my dogs, was to ask yourself: "Is the behavior continuing or getting stronger?" It was her way of evaluating whether you were really reinforcing what you thought you were, whether your reward was actually providing reinforcement, or if the activity was self-reinforcing enough to promote it continuing. I have been using this to remind myself to check in and evaluate whether I am actually building a behavior, or just being a treat dispenser.

After lunch, we attended Alexandra Kurland's talk on "loopy training" or building complex behaviors. Among many things, she discussed how cues become reinforcers, and we can begin to build behavior chains by reinforcing one trained behavior with the cue for the next behavior. At the same time, it is important to not lose your criteria for each individual component of the chain.

The most salient part of this presentation, however, were two videos from a scientific research project of a dog responding to a "come" command that had been trained previously. In the first video, the dog had been trained to have a recall to a specific cue word using shaping and positive reinforcement. The dog worked with its tail up and wagging, head up, prancing happily and quickly around. The second video showed a dog who had been trained a recall using compulsion with a different word cue. The compulsion did not involve harsh correction, but rather collar pressure on a line pulling the dog to the trainer if it didn't respond. This dog worked slowly when it heard its cue word, with its head and tail down, looking visibly stressed and demotivated. Both dogs responded to their cue and came when called, but the behavior looked drastically different. The reveal at the end was that it was the same dog. It was a particularly moving example of the real differences between two training practices.

Of course, Karen Pryor was sitting directly behind me and Noodle during this presentation, so I became self-conscious about maintaining his good behavior and looking like I was a halfway competent trainer. :-) Fortunately, he was well mannered and calm again throughout the presentation, so he made me look good. I even got "tagged" (the token reward system used throughout the conference) by a fellow conference attendee for having such good dogs. Not something that I hear, say, when a stranger walks past our backyard fence, but they were pretending to be good fur-kids this weekend and I was very grateful!

As much as we wanted to catch the closing comments, we are also morning people who are at risk of turning into pumpkins before ten o'clock, so we decided to hit the road a little early. We packed into the car, grabbed some Red Bull, and headed home talking the whole way about how much fun we had, how inspired we were, and how excited we were to pursue new goals as trainers and dog owners. I feel new motivation and confidence in working with the dogs - I know I am following scientifically valid principles that not only work but build empathy and strengthen relationships in the process. I am feeling challenged to do my best in working both with the older dogs on some of their "rusty" spots, and in shaping my little Noodle into the best dog he can be. I'm excited and looking forward to the journey ahead.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Day Two: ClickerExpo

On Saturday, we woke early again so we could keep the same morning routine of exercising the dogs. Grabbed our coffee and headed to the park to enjoy another beautiful morning, and were happy to find once again that the dog park was empty. Cadence and Maebe were especially giddy this morning and were running full tilt all around the field. Cadence discovered the joy of herding robins, and was covering ground fast chasing the low-flying birds. It is such a delight to watch them run, just enjoying that simple pleasure. Afterwards we walked for about a half hour down the path and back, and headed over to the conference.

For our first seminar of the day, we attended a lecture by the agility instructors from Friday, Eva Bertilsson and Emelie Johnson Vegh, this time on Good Agility Practices (also bought their new book, Agility Right From the Start, which is wonderful). They discussed the importance of working with focus and intensity, with short, structured sessions. As a trainer, we should plan what we are going to train, practice the steps before getting the dog, and then only when we are prepared should we start working our dogs.

Afterwards, we attended the learning lab with these same instructors. In groups of three, we would choose a behavior we wanted to shape, plan how we would do it, practice the mechanics and timing, then observe each other working with our dogs. It is interesting what you learn when you have observers. Lowell caught me starting to deliver the reward just before the click, and our third group-mate noticed that I was not pulling my hand all the way back into neutral position near my body after delivering the reward, so I was venturing dangerously close to the dreaded "luring" territory.

Cadence did great with this workshop. There was a lot of movement and dogs working simultaneously, but he stayed on task the entire time. I quickly shaped him to perch on a small, wobbly, overturned box with all four feet. I overheard one of the instructors laugh and comment "Look at the smart little Border Collie." Certainly getting a dog on a box would be a relatively easy behavior to lure, but it is so much more interesting, and still quite quick, to shape the action. I love watching them think and figure things out, and they show so much more interest and excitement for the work when they aren't just following a treat at the end of their nose.

Maebe also had fun in this workshop. It was amusing to watch how different methods of transport affected her performance. At first, Lowell took her from crate to work station by the collar, and you could see the opposition reflex from the slight collar pressure build her arousal so quickly, I thought she would start bouncing off the walls when he let go. The woman next to me made a comment that I have heard repeated before about Maebe: "Wow, she's really a spit-fire, isn't she?" Yes, yes she is.

Of course, the spit-fire turned to princess when Lowell attempted the next time to transport her by carrying her to the station. He set her down, and she looked at him with disgust, clearly telling him, "You do NOT carry the baby!" He didn't try that again.

After lunch, Lowell and I attended Karen Pryor's talk on "Punishment and the Public." Despite pressure to do so, Pryor chose not to address the Cesar Millan phenomenon directly in her book "Reaching the Animal Mind." But, after encouragement to do so, she put together a presentation about the problems with Millan's methods and how to encourage change. Pryor was very diplomatic, and acknowledged that Millan does show that behavior can be changed, and is a very charismatic performer who she does believe cares about dogs. She also conceded that as a compulsion trainer, his timing and skills are very good. She then described watching him demonstrate his training at a presentation in Boston, which detailed the problems with his outdated methods.

I have seen Millan's show only a handful of times. In general, I find it boring and unimpressive, and have never seen him "fix" anything faster than you could with a clicker. Two clips in particular that I have seen though - straight from the Nat Geo website for the show - absolutely turned my stomach, and I thought they should be evidence in court proceedings, not popular television. One involved him dragging a dog up stairs, with much struggle and drama and stress (again, how very quickly can you shape a dog to go up stairs? I myself have done it in seconds with a pup who was afraid of steps). The second was the infamous episode where he basically hangs a wolf-hybrid, then marvels at his "calm, submissive state" as it lies heaving for breath on the sidewalk afterwards.

Anyway, what disturbs me greatly is that Millan may use methods I object to, but at least he follows the principles of using punishment fairly. His timing is good, he gives verbal warning, etc. However, the viewers who watch him and don't fully understand these principles then may proceed to imitate his methods, and ultimately end up abusing their dogs. It breaks my heart to think of the poor, confused dogs struggling to figure out what their would-be-Cesar owners are trying to convey to them.

But I digress. . . Pryor's presentation was very positive. As she pointed out, change tends to face various waves of resistance. She interprets Millan's success as a sign of the final bit of resistance before clicker training fully takes hold and is accepted as the effective, scientifically valid method that it is.

We decided to skip out on the panel discussion that followed, and took the dogs back to the park to enjoy another beautiful afternoon. We walked for a few miles, and shared exciting discussion about all we were learning and our goals for the dogs and ourselves as trainers. It was a very inspiring and motivating day. I could already see a change coming over the Noodle just in a couple days of intense work. He was more focused on me, less distracted by his environment, and increasingly ready to work despite any distractions. He was connected to me throughout the hike, even though I was not asking anything of him. I have this connection with my heart-dog Django already, and it warms my heart to see the bond getting this strong already with Cade after less than a year together. I know he is going to be a great companion, working partner, and buddy as the years progress.

We grabbed some dinner to eat in the hotel room, then crashed. Well, three of us did. Cade still had energy to burn, but his sister was having none of his attempts to initiate play. Finally he wound down and we rested up for our final day of learning.

ClickerExpo: Day 1

Friday morning we got up early so that we had plenty of time to get ready and to take the dogs for some exercise before a long morning for them of sitting through training lectures. Fortunately across the street there was a nice park with a couple miles of walking paths and two huge dog parks.

I am not a fan of dog parks, and generally will not take my dogs into one. I find that too many owners are not responsible, don't have their dogs under control, don't understand canine body language and communication, and I basically think they are often a disaster waiting to happen. Since we were there early though, no one else was around and we were able to let Maebe and Cade run off leash in the dog park area for a while. They had a blast - Maebe found some nasty chewed frisbee, and Cade just herded her and us as we stolled around. They burned off a lot of pent-up energy, which was a big relief to us.

We returned to the hotel and grabbed some seats in the ballroom for the opening presentation by Karen Pryor. We took seats near the back, at the end of an aisle close to a door, so if anyone got too impatient or fussy we could make a discrete exit. Fortunately, all my concerns were unwarranted, as both dogs settled down on their mats and behaved themselves wonderfully. I was so proud of my Noodle. He isn't a reactive dog in the least, but I figured he would just be SO interested in all the other dogs, other people, things going on. I expected he would be fussy, and might get frustrated. Instead, he mostly sat and looked at me, for which he received the occasional bit of kibble. He would watch passing dogs with moderate interest, but always kept his compusure.

The opening comments by Aaron Clayton and Karen Pryor got us excited for the great seminars to come, and it was a thrill seeing Karen Pryor talk after being such a fan of her work. I spotted other training gurus and authors in the audience as well, and felt kind of like a teenage fan-girl at a boy band concert. :-)

From there, we went to a seminar on agility foundation training, which was wonderful. I was pleased that the presenters also follow the handling systems, jump training methods, and agility practices that I am using with Cadence, and their presentation gave me lots of great ideas of more ways to build foundation skills with him. An intriguing concept they mentioned was using "tranports" in between exercises, and always paying attention to how your training interacts with your handling system. Rather than letting your dog bounce around you, spin circles, zoom around, etc. in between exercises, they suggested using "tranports" such as tugging, carrying, holidng the collar, etc. until you are ready to start working. These are all trained as specific behaviors, and don't allow the dog to develop sloppy habits that will interfere with the handling system. Lowell and I immediately recognized how Maebe will walk backwards in front of him and bark as he walks to a start line, and how then if she gets frustrated on course, she also resorts to that default behavior. It made perfect sense to not let these default behaviors get muddied up in the handling system.

We let the dogs take a break in their crates in the hotel room (still being good dogs, they remained quiet), while we ate lunch then attended a Shaping seminar by Joan Orr and Helix Fairweather. The content was very much Shaping 101, so a bit basic for us, but it is always good to review. Plus, both presenters gave shaping demos with audience dogs, and it is always impressive and informative to watch an expert at work. I find I can learn a lot about timing and breaking behaviors down into their core parts by watching someone who is very skilled at this.

Afterwards, we got the dogs again and went to the learning lab, where we got to practice some of these shaping exercises with Joan, Helix, and other Academy grads assisting. Most of the exercises were things I had already started to shape with Cade: eye contact, targeting, going to a mat, etc. But, this was a highly distracting environment, and I was pleased by his ability to focus and work for me even with all the commotion.

Our first day over, we went back to the park and took a lovely walk for about an hour. It was a gorgeous day, we were full of excitement about all we were learning and practicing, and delighted that the dogs were doing so well and having so much fun. When we returned to the hotel, we met up with some other dog trainer friends who were at the Expo and went out to a fun dinner together. We returned exhausted and excited for another day of learning on Saturday!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Travel Log: Lexington, KY ClickerExpo

Last weekend, Lowell, Maebe, Cadence and I loaded up the car and headed to Lexington, KY for Karen Pryor's ClickerExpo, a three-day conference on clicker training. Since the weekend was filled with so many wonderful experiences, I am going to have to recap a day at a time.

Thursday: Hitting the Road

Thursday morning we packed up, and made the always sad trip to drop the dogs who were not coming with us off at our friend's house for the weekend. Jade has stayed there many times and pretty much forgets about us immediately, though he did watch us through the fence as we drove off which was a little heart-rending. Tristan just takes things as they come, but Django was a bit clingy at first. Nevertheless, I know they are cared for well there, and do just fine.

We hit the road and made the 5 1/2 hour trip to Lexington in the afternoon. It was a fairly entertaining car ride as Lowell, who usually falls asleep immediately when a passenger in a car, forgot that he had taken a No-Doze and drank a large Red Bull, then wondered why he felt like he was on speed or something. He made for a much more animated road buddy as a result.

We rolled in to the Lexington Marriott around 4:00, checked in, unpacked the car, and took Cade and Maebe out for a stroll. Honestly, I was quite anxious about what I had gotten into by bringing a not-yet 12-month-old pup to a training conference with 400+ people and hundreds of well-trained dogs. There would be hours of lecture, busy training workshops, lots of distractions - I wondered how he would handle it all. He's a very even-tempered guy who tries so hard to be good, but is still a distractable adolescent with a lot of energy. I figured worst case scenario would be me hanging out at the park across the street a lot while Lowell told me what I was missing in the seminars.

We picked up our registration materials and cruised quickly through the store with the dogs. They handled all the crowd and commotion in stride, though they were really excited and interested in everything.

In the hotel room, they wrestled a little bit, but were quiet and on their best behavior. We looked over the agenda for the next day, and all got to bed early.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Dog Games

Cadence got an early birthday present last night. We kept hearing about these Nina Ottosson dog games and how fun and great they are. Since we have more dog toys than we know what to do with, we decided Noodle's birthday was a good excuse to splurge and try one of them out. After watching the many videos on-line, we decided to try the Dog Finder game, which has a series of plastic bones in tracks. You hide treats under them, and the bones need to be moved to the end of the track before they can be lifted out and the treat revealed. To make it harder, you can also put a second bone in the track, so they need to remove the first one, then slide and remove the second.

It arrived last night, so we decided to give it a try. It proved to be an entertaining evening and it was fascinating to watch all their minds at work. You learn a lot about how each of them thinks and how they solve problems.

Cadence surprised me the most. He is a fast learner, and very "operant" in that he has been trained almost exclusively using shaping so offers behaviors pretty readily. However, he isn't quite the intellectual that Tristan is - not really a "thinker". I wasn't sure how good his problem-solving abilities would be, or how long his little noodle-brain would stick to the task. So, I was delighted to see him figuring the puzzle out, thinking about it, not getting distracted, and he did quite well uncovering the treats.

Jade tried next, and as predicted, he was the most successful at getting the treats, but primarily because Jade, with his way-high prey drive, tends to resort to violence fast. A couple violent whacks with his paw did a lot to dislodge the bones, and fortunately, prove the manufacturer's claim correct that these things are very durable. Next time I might try to not allow so much paw use, and see if he can think it through, but I was curious to see how he would initially approach it.

Tristan was next. We expected he would be the best at it, and so were not surprised to watch him problem solve his way through the puzzle. He was the first one who I think was comprehending the pattern and starting to figure it out.

Surprisingly though, Django was at least equally good as Tristan, if not better. He also figured out the pattern and a fairly systematic approach to getting the bones out. Tristan, like Jade, did resort to some paw use to help further his efforts, but Django slid and removed the bones almost exclusively with his mouth, which I think took more thinking and patience. Django is the only one we've really taught a formal retrieve to, and I have trained him to hold and fetch a lot of strange objects for fun, so I think he tends to use that as a tool more often. In fact, the first few times he removed the bone, he sat and held it for us waiting for praise, rather than pouncing on the treat revealed in the track.

Maebe was last, and I think we finally found something that she doesn't just excel at. She dislodged a few, worked at a few more, than tried to resort to her usually-effective Princess problem-solving method which involves batting her eyes at her daddy waiting for him to just give her what she wants.

The games are pricey, but I think well worth it if you want to have a fun, indoor activity for your dog. It was fascinating comparing their various methods and seeing how their minds work when they have to figure something out on their own. We learned a lot about all of the dogs and laughed a lot.

Of course, the batteries on the video camera were dead, but we'll have to tape our next game night.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Taking the Pressure Off

Eight years ago, we got our first puppy, Tristan. At the time I was working as veterinary assistant. Part of my job involved trimming clients' pets' nails. Consequently, I spent a lot of time rolling around on the floor with thrashing, stressed out dogs who hated nothing more than the nail clippers. I was actually quite good at it. I never had a dog come in that I couldn't trim along with the help of another canine wrangler, and I knew how to give close trims without hitting the quick. I never ever made the dogs bleed.

Still, I disliked the whole wrestling match scene and the stress it caused on the dogs, so I was determined to raise my puppy right. I handled and restrained Tristan from the time he came home. I played with his toes while rewarding him, and gave his little puppy nails mini-trims at least weekly. By the time he was a few months old, he would stand still as I lifted each paw and trimmed his nails. He was perfect.

Until he was about a year old.

One day he just took one look at the clippers and basically said, "You know what? Not without a fight." And the wrestling matches began.

Granted, it is easier emotionally to subdue somebody else's dog than it is your own, but I had tangled with the worst of them. Yet nail trims with Tristan were like endurance events and strength competitions rolled into one. Both Lowell and I would struggle with him and ultimately would be lucky to get two paws done. We tried a Dremel tool to see if that was better, but with Tristan's sensitivity to sound, it was much worse. We dragged out the tastiest treats, but he would refuse food. It was ugly and discouraging, and T's nails progressively got longer and longer. (I must add that Tristan is fine with handling and restraint in other situations, like vet exams, but toe nail trimming is particularly horrifying for him for some reason).

I felt like a puppy training failure. Meanwhile during this time, I brought an adult street dog, Django, into the house who we have no idea of his background, training, idiosyncracies, fears, etc. The first time I went to cut his nails, he obligingly lied on his back, feet up, and happily watched as I peacefully cut each nail. Where had I gone wrong with T that I had such a trimming nightmare with him?

Tristan's long-standing physical and structural problems also made the nail trimming sessions worse. I hated the mental stress the wrestling put on Tristan, but even more I was afraid of hurting him during the struggle. I knew I could pay groomers or vets to trim him, but I worried they too might use too much force with him. I pretty much gave up, and decided that his nails would just get worn down as much as possible by our frequent walks, and hoped that would be enough.

The other night I was cuddling on the couch with a very sleepy T, and was playing with his paws and noticed a couple offensively long nails that were driving me nuts. I asked Lowell to sneakily get me the trimmers, and hoped I could get one clipped before T noticed what was happening. I succeeded, and let a now-slightly-disturbed T get up and scurry away. We commented that maybe that is what we should do - sneak up on him and do a nail a day. But then T walked back up to me. I petted him, and because I couldn't resist the opportunity, picked his paw up and clipped a second one. Then I let go again, let him scurry around the living room again, and got an idea.

A few months ago, I went to a seminar with a highly-regarded positive trainer, who discussed the use of negative reinforcement in training. Basically, this means removing something in order to reinforce a behavior continuing. The most commonly used example of this is the famous ear-pinch method of retreive training, where the handler stops pinching the dog's ear if the dog picks up the dumbbell. Which is certainly not a method I, or the people I have learned from, would ever condone. But, her point was negative reinforcement does not have to be aversive and painful or cruel. Her description of it was "pressure on/pressure off."

Shortly afterwards, I read a great article agreeing with this. It is true that punishment temporarily may alter a behavior, but reinforcement, both positive and negative, builds it. The article suggested training new agility dogs the teeter by having them put a paw on, then immediately allowing them to get off. Then build to putting two paws on, getting off, three paws on, getting off, etc. She found with dogs that were nervous about the teeter that this worked much faster than even luring with yummy treats. The dog was in control of the situation, and if they offered the behavior that was wanted, they got the reward of having the pressure released.

I tried this concept first with my puppy, Cadence. One of our favorite walks around our neighborhood involves a pedestrian crossing over a dam on the river. The dam has metal grating and the rushing of the water is rather loud underneath. Cade wasn't sure what to think the first time we encountered it, so I lured him across with cookies at his nose. Still, the second time we took the route, he was wary. So, if he stepped a paw on, I praised, turned around, and ran back off the dam with him. The next time he took a couple steps, and we turned around and celebrated off of the dam. With about four repititions over a few seconds, he marched across the whole dam like it was no big deal. Pressure on/pressure off: When he offered the behavior I wanted (stepping on the dam) it caused a small bit of stress due to his uncertainty. He was rewarded for his behavior though by having that stress relieved (getting off the dam). He figured out he was in control of the situation, and quickly overcame his hesitation after that.

So, yesterday I attempted a toe nail trimming session with Tristan in a new way. We weren't going to power through, hold him down and just get it over with. Instead, I took his paw, trimmed a nail, let go immediately while praising him and let him run his victory lap of the living room. He came right back to me and allowed another nail clip. I let go, and repeated the process. After finishing the first paw, I went about my business and let him be for a while. Later on, we did the second paw. I rapidly was able to build up doing multiple toes before he needed his "de-stress run" until the last paw where he stood calmly and let me trim each nail with no fuss whatsoever. Using the pressure on/pressure off method, I was able for the first time in seven years to trim his nails by myself, with no cursing or fighting whatsoever.

The whole experience made me think about being flexible in our training and paying attention to what the dog is telling you. I knew Tristan hated these wrestling matches, but it didn't occur to me that I possibly could have done it without restraint. It turned out the solution just involved me to re-think the problem and be creative in how I approached it. I wish I could claim that I had made a big training breakthrough, but once again I think it is a better example of Tristan shaping me. He has us all seriously outranked.