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How to Foster Livestock Guardian Dogs - Building Confidence Through Teaching Basic Skills

My first clicker moments with worried Ms. Roo.

I love to talk about and share the wonder of my training journey with dogs. For me, there is so much to say that I often find myself challenged by how to distill it to a manageable, memorable summary of what my purpose is.

In many circumstances, when people watch me train they tell me it looks like "nothing is happening"; I hear this a lot. Well, think about this. In playing a musical instrument, the length of a pause, how long a note is held, or how loudly a key is played influences the entire piece. A casual listener might not notice the subtle differences but an accomplished musician will. In watching my training videos, learn to search for the subtleties.

Watch the dog, always watch the dog. Look for a shift in the respiratory rate, the changed shape of the dog's eyes, the tail carriage, tightness of the body, length of stride, the overall speed of the dog, and on and on. All these tiny pieces are parts of the symphony I strive to create every time a dog chooses to interact with me. If you see a change in the dog's body, back the video up and try to define what I might have done, intentionally or not, that prompted this change. Does it help us or work against us, in terms of the dog's apparent comfort and what you may imagine my training goal was? And then, string all the pieces together to get a feel for how you think the session went for us and what you might have done differently.

And...for every "symphony," I strive to create there is always a portion that reminds me of a child's version of playing chopsticks, two fingers at a time. Does this matter? As long as the dog is happy, my vote is no. Mistakes will slow down the acquisition of new skills, so if I was training an agility dog my mistakes might make me tear my hair out! But with LGDs, one of the biggest training goals I have is to use ANY trained behavior, shaped behavior, captured behavior to foster confidence in the dog and a generalized sense of enthusiasm in the opportunity of working with me. If I am afraid of making mistakes, my goal of becoming an accomplished trainer is impacted. I have never been accused of having patience, at least with myself, so I want to be a great trainer right now! Yesterday, even!

"A mistake is an opportunity to try again, this time with more information."

Steve Martin - trainer - Natural Encounters, Florida

Being Trained by Rufio – My Natural Encounters Adventure: 

Foster Dog Roo - Day 5

Roo came to me from a residential situation. She spent a lot of time indoors, and through necessity, closer to things that worried her than she would have preferred. She was an anxious, skittish girl when I met her. Just in this very short time, she has decided I might be worth a second look; I love our snuggle fests and walks through the pastures, all with her off-leash. She lets me tag along because we are going where she wants to go.

Because we have begun a nice partnership, I decided to take it a step further. I took her, on a leash, into a building and turned her loose; worried dog, big eyes, fast and furtive. Rather than let her drift on her own and wonder why we are here, I give her some things to consider - snacks. Thankfully, Roo is a girl who appreciates tasty things; this makes our training easier than it often is with LGDs. I start by dropping treats on the floor. When she gives me - anything - I verbally mark it and feed her. In working with her, it became quickly evident that Roo had a training history she felt good about. I showed her my hand (most dogs will glance at a hand) and she touched it with her nose. Smart girl! I brought my hand up in front of her in an attempt to prompt her to look into my eyes; she sat down and looked at me with a clear expectation of being thanked for doing so. You bet!

Behavior - Mark - Reinforce

Behavior - Mark - Reinforce

Behavior - Mark - Reinforce

With every repetition, with any behavior I am willing to mark and pay for, Roo learns how to manipulate me. In every instance that she understands how to do this, her confidence in herself, in me, and in her new situation builds and builds. This is my training goal on this day.

Debbie Jacobs ( is a remarkable trainer who I learn a lot from through her Facebook posts and online course. In one of her brilliant, recent posts she shares that B.F. Skinner, the father of behavioral science, stated that learning produces a changed being. She further states that neuroscientists have confirmed this truth.

I don't need Roo to stop doing ANYTHING - NOTHING; that has no place in my training relationship with dogs. I want to help her learn the skills of responding differently to a multitude of common life circumstances that have challenged her in the past.

Debbie goes on to use the analogy of teaching children to swim; parents didn't ask her to teach the children not to drown - she was to teach them how to swim! And then, how to swim in fast water, slow water, deep water, fresh water, salt water; the list is endless.

It is my goal that Roo will leave me having learned how to swim! I will teach her she can boldly go into situations she used to feel overwhelmed by with jaunty confidence. What fun we will have all along the way!

Training is a party, a celebration, a dance of respect and improvisation.

I hope you will enjoy this short video of our first formal session together:

How to Foster Livestock Guardian Dogs - My First Clicker Training Session with Roo:

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