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Spring Forth Dog Academy is now Crossbones Dog Academy!

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Crossbones Dog Academy Logo | Providence, RI

New year, new name. (Same shade of orange.) New for 2019: Spring Forth Dog Academy is now Crossbones Dog Academy!

So much has changed since Dan and I chose our business name “Spring Forth” in 2010. It was a play on words (think Springer Spaniel) accompanied by my pencil drawing of Tessie jumping. The logo was very personal.

Crossbones is a business name and logo combination I originally came up with in 2013. For a period of time, I used it as a brand while teaching agility classes in Rhode Island. (In fact, some of those students are still taking classes with me today!) I always loved the concept of Crossbones, but was afraid to take the leap and rebrand.

The biggest change in our business, one we never saw coming, is that it grew from two people to an entire team of trainers and support staff. As a result, we decided to update our brand to Crossbones. We wanted to reflect the spirit of how our organization has grown over the past eight years.

Our Evolution

People pursue careers in the dog industry because they want to make a difference for dogs. For example, a lot of people start out training dogs as a hobby, and then open a small business to teach lessons a couple nights each week. But in order to do that, they have to also devote time to marketing, administrative duties, and all the legal mumbo-jumbo that goes along with being a small business owner.

As we gained experience as dog professionals, we had an “a-ha moment.” The way to make the biggest impact was to assemble a group of talented, committed people who also understood that by teaming up with us, they could accomplish more. Our trainers can spend more time working with dogs and owners because our administrative team and facility assistants take care of everything else. In a nutshell: more time with dogs, less time in an office. As a result, we each help far more dogs and owners than we could if we all operated as one-man bands.

This summer, our team collaborated to put our ethos into words. We created a mission statement and list of core values that inspire us to show up each day and do our best. And in the spirit of new year’s resolutions, we’re sharing it in the hopes that it inspires you, too. 

MISSION STATEMENT: We provide exceptional care and a positive education for dogs and their owners.

Our Values

We model & encourage responsible dog ownership.

We provide enrichment & socialization opportunities for all dogs.

We teach effective, positive dog training techniques to strengthen dog & owner relationships.

We make an impact in our community by educating & supporting dog owners & team members.

We make a difference in the lives of dogs & their owners through education, empathy, & creative problem solving.

We work as a team, and believe that by supporting one another we can bring out the best in each individual.

We are a fiscally responsible company that provides a living wage to our team members.

We treat everyone with fairness, kindness, and respect and promote open communication.

We provide a clean & safe environment for clients, team members, & dogs to enjoy.

Remembering Tessie

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Tessie the English Springer Spaniel | Spring Forth Dog Academy in Providence, RI

Tessie at 3 weeks old.

This started as an Instagram post but quickly exceeded 2200 characters, despite my best efforts to keep it brief! I hope you enjoy it. –Katherine

March 30th is always a special day at Spring Forth HQ. Today would have been Tessie’s 19th birthday. Tessie is the dog in our logo and the reason I became a professional dog trainer. Without Tessie, there would be no Spring Forth Dog Academy.

From Humble Beginnings

We did everything wrong with Tessie for the first two years we had her. We were first-time dog owners and didn’t know any better. It might be shorter to write a list of Tessie’s behaviors that weren’t a problem, but here were some of our struggles.

She would push open the front door to chase motorcycles. She snatched a hamburger straight out of my brother’s hands. She chewed a huge chunk out of the bathroom door on her first Thanksgiving. She pulled like a freight train on leash. She whined anxiously in the car, occasionally escalating to high-pitched screaming. She barked out the windows at cats, birds, squirrels….

Tessie the English Springer Spaniel | Spring Forth Dog Academy in Providence, RII begged my parents to take us to training classes because I had read about agility, and all of the agility classes required a basic obedience class certificate. When Tessie was 2, we signed her up for obedience classes at the facility closest to our home. The training style was punishment-based at best, militant at worst, but we made progress.

The Turning Point

At one of those classes, a woman was using a clicker to mark her dog’s behavior. The dog was still on a prong collar, like all of the dogs at class, but seemed to be enjoying himself a bit more than Tessie was. I got a clicker at a pet store, found a few training articles online, and got started.

Holy smokes! Tessie was smart. In a matter of weeks, I taught her dozens of tricks…. back up, roll over, fetch, speak, hand targeting, and more. I wondered what would happen if I started using the clicker at obedience class, so I did. The result? Faster recalls, more attentive heeling, closer front position.

Tessie the English Springer Spaniel | Spring Forth Dog Academy in Providence, RIWhen we started agility the following spring, Tessie flew through the class levels thanks to the clicker training I had done with her. I continued to take competition obedience classes with her but ran into a road block: the stay exercises.

Tessie would never move out of position during the stays, but would whine like a teakettle the entire time. My obedience instructors with decades of experience had no solution. “You could try a shock collar, but even that might not work.”

So, we stopped taking obedience classes to focus on agility, and entered our first trial. We were woefully unprepared and struggled with the environment, but I was hooked. For five years we competed at local trials, learned a ton, and earned some titles.

What I Learned

Tessie the English Springer Spaniel | Spring Forth Dog Academy in Providence, RII could write an entire book about all of the lessons I learned from Tessie, all of the things I did wrong, and how I fixed many of them. When you’re a teenager who doesn’t come from a “dog family,” you get a lot of judgment (which sucks) and unsolicited advice (which almost always sucks). I think the most important things I learned were:

1. Only your opinion of your dog matters.

My early obedience instructor told my mother that we’d missed the boat and since we waited so long to train Tessie, she’d never do well in dog sports, and that we should just get a puppy and start over.

This is utter hogwash. It was a convenient excuse to cover the instructor’s lack of knowledge of how to address Tessie’s whining during stays. If your trainer doesn’t think your dog is awesome and isn’t coming up with constructive solutions for your dog’s challenges, get a new trainer!

2. It’s intensely satisfying to stick it to people who say “you can’t,” and I recommend doing it as often as possible.

Tessie the English Springer Spaniel | Spring Forth Dog Academy in Providence, RI“She’s just a pet dog, she’ll never win anything.”
“You can’t train an obedience dog with positive reinforcement, they need corrections.”
“You can’t make a living training dogs.”
“You can’t run a business, you’re too young.”
“You can’t be successful if you don’t go to college.”

Tessie won her competition obedience debut with perfect stays, which I retrained using that clicker that everyone said was only for tricks, not for obedience. She never lost a point on a stay exercise during her entire career. At Tessie’s final obedience competition, showing in Veterans, the other dog got up and started humping her during the sit-stay exercise. Tessie didn’t move a muscle. Not bad for a cookie pusher. She also went on to become the first English Springer Spaniel to earn a weight pull championship, a sport she adored.

As for all that other negativity, I think Spring Forth’s success speaks for itself. We have a team of six full-time trainers and assistants, so not only am I making a living training dogs, so are several other people! Since 2010 we’ve trained over 500 dogs to be more awesome, no physical corrections required. No pain, lots of gain.

Thank You

Thank you, Tessie, for lighting a fire in me that will never go out. I am forever inspired to help others avoid the mistakes I made with you and gain the enjoyment you gave my entire family for fifteen years. Be good, moo-cow dog.

The “Don’t Do It” List: Common Dog Training Mistakes

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Even though we focus on the positive here at Spring Forth, there are some behaviors (performed by both people & dogs) we recommend you avoid. Here are a few mistakes we see frequently enough to complain about them!

#1. You’re using low-value treats in high-distraction environments.

The "Don't Do It" Dog Training List | Spring Forth Dog Academy, Providence RI

Not training treats, you guys. Bedtime snacks, perhaps, but not training treats.

The value of your rewards needs to match the distraction level of your environment. Kibble and store-bought dog treats are great for your living room, but almost certainly won’t cut it in the “real world.”

As Tim Ferriss put it during his podcast with dog trainer extraordinaire Susan Garrett, “It’s a crowded bar. You’ve gotta tip with twenties.”

(Pro tip – download & listen to that podcast. You will learn a TON.) 

What do most dogs consider to be a $20 bill? Hot dogs, cheese, steak, boiled or baked chicken, meat-based baby food, kielbasa, breakfast sausage, or liverwurst. Bam, there you go – all stuff you can pick up at the grocery store the next time you’re picking up some snacks for yourself.

 

#2. Your leash is too long.

The "Don't Do It" Dog Training List | Spring Forth Dog Academy, Providence RI

A 4′ long leash is the Goldilocks leash. Not too long, not too short, “just right!”

If you ever feel the need to wrap the leash around your wrist (which is super dangerous, by the way) – it is too long.

Probably 95% of our clients need a 4′ leash. The pet store industry standard is 6′. Unless you are a very tall person with a very short dog, you don’t need that much length.

Can’t find a 4′ leash? We sell them in our retail store for a whopping $9. Stop by this week and pick your favorite color.

While we’re on the topic of leashes, here’s a bonus tip: if you’re using a retractible (Flexi) or bungee leash, you’re teaching your dog to pull. Learn more about teaching Loose Leash Walking on our blog, or join our Polite in Public group class for hands-on help.

 

#3. You’re teaching your dog that sometimes it’s okay to put paws on people.

The "Don't Do It" Dog Training List | Spring Forth Dog Academy, Providence RI

If one paw is okay, then why not this? The more paws, the merrier, right?

If you’re struggling with a dog that jumps up on people, don’t teach them to put their paws on people to earn a cookie. 

This creates a massive grey area for your dog. “Sometimes” it is okay to put your paws on people.

Dogs don’t do well with grey areas and “sometimes.” They do well with black and white: is is never okay to put your paws on people vs. it is always okay to put your paws on people. I just wrote a blog post on this called “Why Paw is Problematic.”

Get the jumping under control (our Self Control group class will help), teach your dog plenty of self-control, then introduce paw – and get it on stimulus control right away so your dog only does it when you specifically ask for it, like Strata demonstrates here.

#4. You’re repeating your cues.

The "Don't Do It" Dog Training List | Spring Forth Dog Academy, Providence RI

Want him to respond the first time? Then only ask him once!

“Sit, sit, sit, sit, sit, sit. Fluffy. Sit. Fluffy. Fluffy! Sit! Fluffy, sit!”

Stop! Get your dog’s attention non-verbally. Get up, move around, walk away. Praise as soon as your dog pays attention to you. While they are still looking at you, ask once. Repeating your cues teaches your dog to ignore you.

If you’re not getting anywhere and can’t seem to get your dog’s attention, ask us for help. We’re happy to help you troubleshoot! (You can learn more about adding a cue here.)

Remember: the definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing yet expect a different result. Don’t drive yourself insane. Change your training plan!

#5. You’re over-feeding your dog.

The "Don't Do It" Dog Training List | Spring Forth Dog Academy, Providence RI

Calories eaten out of a Kong are still calories, and you need to factor those in when deciding how much to feed your dog.

The “Feeding Guidelines” on your dog food bag has to assume that dog food is the ONLY source of calories for your dog.

No training treats, no rawhide, no edible chews, no peanut butter in a Kong, no table scraps, no biscuits. Just dog food.

Most of our clients need to feed about 30% LESS than what the dog food bag suggests in order to account for their dog’s hard-earned snacks. Yes, even if their dog is getting lots of exercise.

If you’ve got a “young adult” dog, also keep in mind that most dogs need significantly less calories after their “teenage growth spurt” around 6-8 months of age, so you will need to reduce feeding amounts around that time.

You should be able to feel your dog’s ribs easily without having to hunt for them underneath a layer of fat. If you have a smooth-coated dog, you should be able to see the last couple of ribs as your dog moves around and flexes her body.

How does this relate to training? Overweight dogs don’t feel good! The weight puts more stress on their joints and spine and can make sitting, holding a stay, or running on a recall uncomfortable or downright painful.

Over-fed dogs are also generally less motivated to work. (Some people think their dogs “aren’t food motivated,” which couldn’t be further from the truth.) Getting rid of your pup’s “spare tire” is likely to make them more interested in your treats, which will make training them a lot easier!

#6. You expect your puppy to communicate like a human toddler.

The "Don't Do It" Dog Training List | Spring Forth Dog Academy, Providence RI

A busy puppy will not stop what he is doing to signal that he needs to go outside and potty.

At many of my Puppy Day School evaluations, clients lament that their puppy is not signaling to them that he needs to go potty. My response is that signaling to go outside is a double edged sword, so be careful what you wish for.

First – young puppies should not be expected to signal in any reliable way that they need to go outside. They don’t know they need to go outside… they think they should just eliminate when they feel the urge. It’s your job to anticipate their needs and take them out frequently. (Very frequently. More frequently than you probably think.)

Many of my clients persist in teaching their dog some sort of signal, such as pawing at the door or ringing a bell. What happens most of the time? The dog signals because he wants to go outside, not because he actually wants to go to the bathroom.

Going outside and romping in the yard, or going for a nice walk, is way more interesting than lying on the floor listening to your conference call. So, owner beware – most folks ultimately decide that teaching a signal to go outside is a mistake.

Where have you erred?

Have you made any training mistakes you’d like others to learn from? Tell us in the comments section below!

 

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What Makes a Great Training Treat?

02Helpful Hints, Training, UncategorizedTags: , , ,

Dog Eating Treat

Be sure to pick a training treat that your dog enjoys!

At last, here is my written answer to the number one question I receive from owners learning to use clicker training with their dogs… what makes a great training treat? Here are the things I tell my clients to consider when choosing treats to use while training their dogs.

Size

You will be using a lot of treats when training your dog. In order to avoid weight gain, cut your treats into the tiniest pieces possible. My rule of thumb is that treats should be no larger than the size of a pea; for itty-bitty dogs, the treats should be half that size. I can tell you that there is no commercial dog training treat on the market that I have found that is small enough for training. I buy the usual “training treats” like Zuke’s and soft Tricky Trainers from Cloud Star and break them in half. Any soft treat can be cut into smaller pieces.

Texture

As a general rule, I do not use crunchy treats when training my dogs, and I suggest that my students avoid them too. Crunchy treats make a mess and encourage your dog to sniff the floor and hunt for crumbs, taking their attention from you. Dog biscuits are okay as an occasional snack, but leave them out of your organized training sessions. Soft treats are much easier and faster for dogs to chew.

Every once in a blue moon, I do encounter a dog that strongly prefers crunchy treats to soft ones! For those dogs, biscuits made for “small breed” dogs and freeze-dried treats tend to work quite well.

Taste

The golden rule of dog training is this: your dog decides what is reinforcing. One dog’s favorite, most desired treat might be mediocre to one dog, and revolting to another. Experiment with different flavors and textures of treats: sweet, salty, meaty, crunchy, chewy, mushy. Make a list of treats that your dog enjoys and try to build on it.

Offering your dog a treat they do not like can actually be punishing to them. Imagine a food that you hate: perhaps cilantro, sardines, or jalapeños. Now imagine that you walked to a nearby convenience store and all they had for sale was that food, and that food only. How likely would you be to go to that store again?

Ease of Handling

You need to be able to get treats out of your pocket or bait bag quickly, and shuffle treats around in your hand with ease. If they are sticky or goopy, it will slow down your training.

Cheese is a very popular dog treat, but warm temperatures (such as your body heat) can cause it to become melty or oily. Keeping cheese in a cooler until you use it will help tremendously.

That being said, dogs tend to love certain types of food that is not very easy to handle, such as canned dog food and peanut butter, and with a bit of ingenuity you can still use these things. You can use a spoon to deliver it to your dog. A long-handled wooden spoon works great for tall handlers with small dogs. A refillable squeeze tube like a GoToob is another great way to dispense soft, mushy food.

Visibility

In certain situations, you will want treats with a certain appearance. If you are tossing treats on to your dog’s mat or into the crate, you will want to make sure there is a color contrast between the treat and the surface you are putting it on. So if your dog’s crate is black, use light-colored treats so your dog can find them quickly. Time spent sniffing around, hunting for treats is time wasted. Similarly, if you’re tossing treats, you may not want a round treat that will roll away from your dog.