Training Tuesday: Vacations and the Hidden Curriculum​

German Shepherd puppy wearing a graduation cap and looking at cameraAs a philosophy professor (my day job) I spend a lot of time thinking about the hidden curriculum. The hidden curriculum includes things that get taught and learned, without anyone intending to teach or learn them.

For example, if I asked you to name a bunch of philosophers, you might mention Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, or Locke. It just so happens that all of these philosophers are white guys.

Sadly, it is not hard to find philosophy classes that only cover things that white guys wrote. In these classes, the explicit curriculum, which the professor intends to teach, concerns the ideas of great philosophers like Aristotle and the other guys on the list.

But we need to be careful about what the hidden curriculum is saying. It would be a shame if the students ended up learning that philosophers are white guys (which might be happening since white guys comprise the vast majority of philosophy majors).  No one intends to teach this, but most teaching and learning is not intentional.

Why am I talking about the hidden curriculum on a “Training Tuesday” post while Milo and I are on vacation?

Because there is lots of overlap between teaching people and training dogs. I kid you not, working with Milo has made me a much better professor. In this case, though, it is the other way around, thinking about teaching humans and the hidden curriculum is making me a better dog guardian.

Dogs and people are learning all the time. Just because a student doesn’t sit down to learn that philosophers are white guys in the same way that they sit down to learn that Aristotle lived between 384-322 BCE, doesn’t mean that they don’t pick up both messages. They don’t stop encoding memories at the end of each lecture.

Imagine using punitive methods to train a dog to sit. The explicit curriculum is about teaching the dog to sit when it’s told to do so. The hidden curriculum teaches the dog that mistakes are dangerous, that the handler is not a friend, and that the world is scary and capricious.

On the other hand, training the same behavior using positive methods, exemplifies a very different hidden curriculum. Dogs trained in this way learn that it is good to try new things and that working with their handler is not only safe but is more like play than like work.

Just because Milo and I are on vacation (and I forgot a bunch of our training equipment at home), it doesn’t mean that he isn’t going to learn anything on this trip. In other words, there is a hidden curriculum embedded in our relationship and Milo is learning that curriculum even when we are not formally training.

There are some things I do not want him to learn on this trip. For example, I don’t want him to learn to ignore my recall when we are on the shore of a beautiful big lake, and I don’t want him to learn to grab a hotdog when I am toasting it over the fire (you know how this one got on the list…).

There are also lots of things I do want him to learn, even though they are not in any training plan. I want him to learn that he and I can have delightful adventures together, that there are lots of happy, friendly people in the world, and that no matter what we’re doing or where we are, I’ve got his back.

Milo doesn’t stop learning just because I stop training.

black and tan German shepherd standing in clear water and holding a large stick

Milo has already learned that Lake Huron has an abundance of excellent sticks.

Training Tuesdays: Tracking around corners and heeling in the front yard

German Shepherd puppy wearing a graduation cap and looking at camera

Last week I strengthened my resolve to treat Milo like the smart and accomplished fellow that he is, which is a challenge because he will always be my fuzzy-pants, darling baby.

But, I managed to set the bar high and he leaped right over it (mostly).

Tracking. I worked him on tracks that were about 200-paces long with two corners and two articles. Milo the AwesomeDog earned his name on the corners–he corners like he’s on rails! I was so proud of him.

We stumbled a little bit over rewards on the track though. I drop kibble on the track every 5 to 10 steps. On the 10-step intervals, Milo tended to swerve off the track and sniff around. I suspect he was concerned that he missed a piece of kibble–his combination of intelligence and gluttony led to an occasional screwball performance.

When he did this I stood still and let him work. He always got back on track. I contemplated correcting him because we have a ‘no personal sniffing’ rule, which he might have been breaking. But I held off to give him a chance to figure this out on his own.  Milo takes joy in sniffing. I want to be the person who helps him flourish as a sniffer, not the person who scolds him for sniffing poorly.

german shepherd dog on a brown lawn walking around a corner with his nose on the ground

My friend Jess caught this pic of Milo on a corner.
I’m at the other end of that yellow leash.


Focused heeling. Why should Milo’s middle name be Heisenberg? Because by observing him in heel position I knock him out of heel position. Hahahahahaha.

Ok, so the joke isn’t funny. And gets the quantum mechanics wrong. Everyone’s a critic. Whatever.

Here’s the deal. In the house, Milo sits in perfect heel position. Anywhere else he sits about six inches too far away and at a weird angle, and he tends to glance away at butterflies and buzzing bees. In those distracting situations, I have to pay close attention and reward him like crazy when he gets it exactly right.

But, for me to know if he is getting it exactly right I have to look at him. And when I twist my body so that I can see him, I push him out of position. By observing him, I move him out of the position I want to observe him in. (You’re welcome. Jokes are always so much funnier when you explain them.)

Luckily I’m resourceful enough to work around the AwesomeDog Uncertainty Principle (eat your heart out quantum mechanics). I bought a few big cheap mirrors that I can use to observe Milo without compromising my own position. By leaning a mirror against my house, another against a tree, and a third against my car, I can observe Milo and reward him when he’s got it exactly right. Yes, it looks bizarre, but Milo is doing really well and that’s what matters.

Just a quick update on our two other goals. We’ve been attending Rally class, which is fine, and working on Milo’s attitude toward nail trims, which is still going slowly. I’ll have more to say about these projects in later posts.

Our goals for this week are simple: more of the same.

Cheers!

Training Tuesdays: April 24, 2018, Milo needs a challenge

Hi fans! This is a short post because it’s grading season, and I’m up to my eyebrows with student work from my Philosophy 271: Animals in our Lives and Philosophy 458/673: Feminism, Bodies and Biology classes. I had the pleasure of working with two groups of fabulous students and so the grading is not that bad. But, holy smokes, is there ever a lot of it.

I had an epiphany this week—I’ve been treating Milo like a baby and he’s bored. I was so focused on splitting his training tasks into tiny pieces that I was slowing him down and frustrating him.

I had this epiphany because my friend Liz said, “Carla, you need to give him more difficult things to do.” Does it count as an epiphany if someone straight out tells you something? Probably not technically, but this week had an ‘epiphany-feel’ about it.

After that fateful conversation with Liz, I gave Milo long tracks with multiple articles—he did a great job. No more waiting for him to find an exact heel position. I simply demanded it and he stepped right up and met my higher expectations. And in Rally class, which we just started, I demanded serious attention, which he gave me.

Note to self: “Do what Liz says more often.”

So, this week the plan is to do more of those things: long tracks, precision in heeling, and focused attention even in a distracting Rally class. I am feeling hopeful.

You might remember that I’ve also been working on getting Milo to tolerate a manicure. In the last couple of weeks I’ve come to see that Milo deeply despises have his nails trimmed. So, I’m keeping us on a baby steps schedule for this counter-conditioning procedure–tiny steps and lots of hotdogs.

Next week I’ll fill you in on our progress. Cheers!

Black and tan German Shepherd sniffing brown grass

Milo has what you call a “deep nose” when he tracks and that is a good thing.


 

Training Tuesday: April​ 17, 2018

German Shepherd puppy wearing a graduation cap and looking at cameraThe theme for this week’s training plan is “When the ice melts.” Mother Nature dropped a few centimeters of slush on us last week, which is now frozen solid. Living on a curling rink has put a little hitch in Milo and my training giddy-up. But, this too shall pass. Here’s my weekly report:

Last week’s plan:
• Practice indicating articles in the house
• Do a few steps of focused heeling
• Do some counter conditioning for handling Milo’s paws to make nail grinding easier.

What we did:

I had to rejigger my plan on Thursday because the article indication and heeling went faster than I expected.

Article indication
After one day he responded to an article, in every room in the house, like this:

I think we’re ready for the track.

The focused heeling was fine. I added some more steps.

Paw handling was our biggest challenge.
• The trouble is that I started out using cheese as a reward. When Milo smells cheese, he goes into hyperactive, happy overdrive, which is not the frame of mind I want him to be in for nail trims. I want him happy, relaxed, and still. We switched from cheese to kibble on Thursday, and things went much better.

This coming week’s the plan is:
• Mix up 5, 10, 15, and 20 steps of focused heeling on low-distraction parts of our walks. We’ll move to a field when the ice melts.
• Tracking is on hold until the ice melts. When we start up again we’ll practice on a 100 step track with one right turn, one article on the track, and one article at the end of the track.
• Add touching the (turned off) grinder to each of his nails with lots of reinforcement.
• Keep doing a couple of Rally signs on our walks.

Stay tuned for next Tuesday’s training report!

Training Tuesdays

On the Road with Milo documents my sometimes-literal journey to understand how people and dogs can live well together. I’m learning from philosophical and scientific research on human-canine relationships; expert dog trainers, breeders, and handlers; and my own relationship with Milo the AwesomeDog.

Milo and I are companions. We train and compete in obedience and some dog sports. And we spend as much of our summers as we can camping in Canada’s national and provincial parks. My posts on this blog range from critiques of scientific papers to reviews of campgrounds, but in one way or another, they’re all about the relationship that Milo and I share, and hence about the relationship between humans and dogs.

Training is all about relationship—attention, communication, friendship, and teamwork. This spring and summer, my goal is to train with Milo more systematically. To document our progress, hold myself accountable, and regularly remind myself that the point of the training is to develop my relationship with Milo, I’ll post weekly updates about what I’m planning and how we’re doing. These will be my “Training Tuesdays” posts.

On Training Tuesdays, I’ll report what we did during the previous week, plan what we’ll do the next week, and muse about things that went well or poorly.

German Shepherd puppy wearing a graduation cap and looking at cameraMilo’s puppy kindergarten graduation photo


 

This week’s plan

I’ve already decided that this summer we’ll work on Rally Obedience, and train for Schutzhund obedience and tracking titles. I’m adding a “Living well” category for things Milo and I can learn that will make our lives easier and more fun. This could include tricks, house manners, and things like handing for grooming and veterinary procedures.

Rally

  • Nothing formal yet
  • We’ll just practice a sign or two on our walks

Tracking

  • Article indication off the track (2 minutes a day)

Obedience

  • Between 2 and 15 steps of focused heeling with giant rewards (5 minutes a day)

Living well

  • Paw handling with very high reward rates (2 minutes a day)

Glossary

Article indication. Milo and I will be doing Schutzhund-style tracking. In these tests, he needs to tell me when he finds articles dropped along the track by laying down with his front paws on either side of an article. I’ll teach him this in the living room. When he’s got it, we’ll take it outdoors onto a track.

Paw handling. Milo does not like getting his nails trimmed. I can wrestle him through a manicure, but I would rather not. It stresses us both out and is detrimental to our relationship. So, we’ll do some counter-conditioning to teach him that it is a good thing when I grind down his nails. All I’m going to do this week is call him to his paw trimming spot and ask him to give me a paw (he already is happy to do these two things). Then, I’ll hold his paw in the same way I would when grinding down his nails and give him a treat. That’s all. Easy-peasy. The trick is yummy treats and tiny little baby steps.

Summer training plans

I’ve decided that this summer Milo and I will train for an obedience title and a tracking title, and take another Rally obedience class.

BH (Begleithund Test)

line diagram tracing a heel work pattern

BH heelwork pattern

This is the first obedience title that one can get in the sport of Schutzhund. I’m interested in a BH because it seems difficult but doable. In addition to a temperament test and a traffic test, the BH involves a long heelwork pattern. Milo and I can already do all of the elements of this pattern. The trick will be to link them together and keep him focused for the duration of the exercise.

 

Tracking

Tracking is on the list because Milo is an olfactory genius (proud dog mamma talking here). He loves to sniff and it seems wrong to deny him the opportunity to develop this talent. It is also a lot of fun to work with him on a project that he finds so engaging.

black and tan german shepherd with his nose down in green grass

Rally class

Milo and I could get some more Rally titles. But Rally classes provide more important benefits than titles. They are great socialization opportunities. These classes provide a safe and controlled environment with lots of new dogs and new people who Milo can practice ignoring. Also, this instructor helps me work on being a more confident handler. I can always use this sort of help.

I called this post “Summer training plans.” This is not yet a plan, only a list of interests. More detailed plans are on the horizon.

My plan for this week is to make the plan. I’ll:

  • look into upcoming Rally classes and Rally trials,
  • set up a weekly tracking and training date with some like-minded friends, and
  • make a first pass at dividing the BH and tracking training into tiny little manageable bits for me and Milo work on.

 

Rally Obedience: E​ngagement and trust

Milo and I just earned a score of 96 / 100 at the mock trial that was the final exam in our advanced Rally Obedience class.

I wish Milo the AwesomeDog could read because this post is all about thanking him for being such a wonderful partner.

attentionMilo was super engaged during the trial. This means that he was paying attention to me with laser focus. He was not asking, but demanding, that I give him a job to do and he put his whole self into doing what I wanted. He didn’t just walk, he pranced. He didn’t just jump, he leaped. He was beautiful, and we were a team.

One of my classmates praised him for being so “sharp.” She said, “his eyes are always on you, even when you’re talking to someone else.” I don’t think she realized how grand, and complicated, this compliment was.

It is not just his nature to pay attention like this. He and I worked through some difficult things together, and we developed a solid relationship. We both know that we have each other’s backs and that the world is better and safer when we’re a team.

Also, we practice engagement almost every day. We spend more time training this than anything else. I say “look,” he looks me in the eye, and I give him a treat or a game of tug or a cuddle. We do this before breakfast, on walks, when we go to new places, and when we’re watching TV at night. You can train a dog to pay attention to you. When you have that under your belt, everything else gets easier.

When Milo is engaged it is a big deal–he’s 90 pounds of muscle and smart as a whip. It’s a big deal because he’s trusting me and putting all of his brains and brawn at my service. That trust and willingness to work for me with his whole magnificent self is a gift for which I am profoundly grateful.

Thank you, Milo.