Toolin’ Around

We weren’t formally a part of this month’s positive-training blog hop, but the theme — training tools — was right up my alley. Also enjoy these pictures of Titus, mostly taken by the friend who strolled around little Blue Job with us the other day.

Serious business snow dog.


…or not!

The positive-reinforcement training tool that has been on my mind recently is actually a method: Kathy Sdao’s SMARTx50 protocol, described in her (great little) book Plenty in Life is Free and also conveniently excerpted here. That acronym stands for See, Mark, And Reward Training. In very, very, very brief, the goal is to reward the dog for making a good choice or doing something that you-the-handler likes fifty times a day.

I don’t know that Titus ever saw more a proper flight of stairs before he came to live with me. To this day, he is very careful and cautious about our interior staircase and generally doesn’t attempt it without supervision and encouragement (and preferably a lead from Lilo).
But he really wanted to climb the Blue Job fire tower! This was as far as I let him go, but you can see him enjoying the view.

The protocol is beautiful to me: elegant, simple, and clear. It’s easy for the handler to understand and to implement in a way that even clicker training isn’t, necessarily, especially when you’re just starting out. And — importantly for me and for Titus, it shapes the handler’s mindset at least as much as the dog’s behavior.

On Little Blue Job, his second summit since July. It barely counts — we walked 2.5 miles and the elevation gain isn’t even worth mentioning — and you can see here how he still, still, still is not rock-solid on that leg, but we had beautiful weather and good company and a good workout from the horrid mashed-potato snow and even managed to get the tiniest little bit lost. A great success!

Titus can be overwhelming. It’s what I was looking for in a dog, but it’s also, you know, true. And Titus can find life, especially house life, overwhelming, too. We had made great progress during his first months with me. As long-time readers may recall, the month leading up to his injury was wonderful. But the injury and recovery period set us back on our heels in so many ways. Now we’re moving forward again.

And with greater freedom comes greater responsibility, both on my part to rebuild what we lost and redirect us towards where I’d like us to be and on Titus’s part to remember how to function as part of the household with — slowly, appropriately, but steadily — fewer management aids and restrictions. We can both be anxious critters; we both tend to feel that overwhelm. (Thank dog for Lilo, who has a clear, strong, and steadying sense of self!)

SMARTx50 helps keep my eye on the prize and also on the presence: on my good dog who is always trying the best that he can. It sidesteps the overwhelm and the sense of playing whack-a-mole with all the many pieces that we have to work on and instead says: Yes. Yes, that. That is perfect, right there. It has been an invaluable aid in helping us renegotiate life outside the crate and off the tether, and while I don’t use it as formally with Lilo, it echoes through every part of my training life and in every way, I am so glad.


6 thoughts on “Toolin’ Around

  1. I love that idea! I think that so much of positive training is training us humans as well as the dogs. Learning to remember that your dog is always doing his/her best and it’s up to you to shape that into what you want to see (but that’s a step further along). I think that I’ll try this with my dogs.

    How do you do it around the house with 2 dogs? I can think of lots of times when one is doing something that I want to encourage while the other is not. Yet, I suspect that both would think that the click was for them. How do you handle that part?

    Thanks! It’s great to see Titus looking so happy and brave! Those are some intense stairs!


    1. Oh, what a good question! And now I am picturing Labraduo shenanigans. Ha!

      You could definitely use two different-sounding clickers (like a box clicker and the Starmark one, etc.), one for each dog. I personally don’t use a clicker for this stuff. I like the clarity and precision of it while teaching something new or for any kind of formal shaping, but I tend to use a verbal marker anyway when we’re just living (vs being in A Training Session) and I think that’s easier to direct to a particular dog, either by using their name with it or else just through body language, etc. Or maybe it’s just that my guys are used to me acknowledging them in turn or otherwise independently during group training sessions and/or walks/hikes. I’ve used both dogs working together and independently to proof positions and stays, so the concept of one dog being rewarded and the other not isn’t new to them.

      I was so surprised that he wanted to do the stairs! See-through staircases are usually scary to dogs, but he was all over it.


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