If you spend enough time around me, especially in dog related settings, you may notice that you pick up a few words from me. One or two of my clients have noticed this for sure. These words may be a matter of semantics, because no matter what I say, I will still train the same way, but being mindful of my words helps me to stay in the right mindset. This helps me to be true to myself, as you may recall, is a big reason why I chose this name for my business. Real Terms indeed.
Cue vs. Command. What does the word command bring to mind for you? For me, it sets the stage for a militant handler, a "you better listen or else" type. One of the hallmarks of clicker training is that the dogs are given the choice to listen! Since listening to us gets them what they want, they listen more often. A cue is simply information that we give the dog, information that by doing a behavior that is associated with that signal, they will earn something they want. They don't obey out of fear, they listen just in case this time is one where they get a treat. Sometimes, the line is still blurred. There are plenty of kind handlers who talk about commands, but are not enforcing them with force. I mean, I even sometimes have to remind my dog a couple of times to lie down when he is distracted. However, he gets treats in these situations and will offer it more willingly the next time. It truly is a mindset to get into. What happens if the dog doesn't listen? With a command, the handler raises their voice and may threaten punishment. With cues, the handler looks at why the dog didn't listen, and takes it as a learning experience of what to train more in the future before putting the dog into that situation again.
Reinforcement vs. Reward. This is an important one. A reward is chosen by the giver. The receiver may have a couple of choices, but it is ultimately not their decision. Sometimes rewards work and sometimes they don't, depending on the value and how much the receiver actually wants it. The example I use is if my co-worker wanted me to stay on top of paperwork, she decides to reward me with Sweet-tarts. I don't ever seek that type of candy out, so it is not terribly motivating to me. A reinforcement, on the other hand, is always chosen by the learner or receiver, and they are the only one who can decide if something is reinforcing or not. Sometimes, it even depends on the environment. A dog may work well at home for kibble, but might need boiled chicken when working in public. Some dogs will work for praise, although usually not in a high distraction environment. Most dogs will work for food, and some prefer to work for a toy. It usually depends on context. A dog who is outdoors might want to work for a Frisbee. Or, a dog might not be hungry and won't find food terribly exciting, even if they normally love it. I usually don't find pie as reinforcing after eating a giant Thanksgiving dinner as I do the next day for breakfast. Back to my example, if my coworker wanted to reinforcement paperwork done on time, she could bring me coffee, or tacos, or Reese's Peanut Butter Cups.
Manners vs. Obedience. I still talk about obedience, because it is what people know and understand, but I try to gently guide clients towards manners instead. It's another one of those word choices that makes me think. Obedience is a good thing, until the dog is offering it because they are too scared not too or have been pushed hard into it. Truly, most of my clients don't actually want obedience. They want a dog who can make good choices and just be a cool member of the family. When I look at criteria that a clients wants, most don't need their dog to snap to to listen. They want their dog to be calm, to greet guests nicely, not to beg at the table and to walk nicely on a leash. They might not actually ever need a dog who walks at a perfect show ring heel. They just want their dog to not be pulling their arm like crazy or to be wrapping them in a leash. We have made a cultural shift away from using the word obey in marriage vows. Most parents and teachers don't expect kids to be obedient either. They want kids to be respectful, to listen to expectations and to face the positive or negative consequence of their choice. Our dogs are the same way.
I even sometimes think about the cues I use in my own dog training. I realized, not too long ago, that my Leave-It cue had been poisoned, or made to have a negative connotation to my dog. Not that I even ever punished him harshly, but even raising my voice hurt his feelings. So, we retrained it, and not call it Mine/Trade. He leaves what I don't want him to have with the knowledge that he will get something he really likes.
At the end of the day, it doesn't really matter which words we use, as long as we are kind to our dogs. We owe it to them to be patient, to be allowed to make good choices, after those choices have been heavily reinforced. Our dogs are going to love us as long as we are fun and kind to them.
This time last year, the weather was just a bit warmer, although it was just as snowy. I had taken a couple of favorite dogs with me when I went snowshoeing. I rang in the New Year with a dog who was afraid of fireworks.
Over the past year, I have sat for around 40 different dogs, as well as some other critters. Of those dogs, about half of them are purebred and about half are mutts. Some come from shelters, some from good breeders and some come from less than awesome beginnings. Some of the dogs were friendly, love everyone types and some I had to approach a little slower. The smallest one weighed in at 3 lbs and the biggest was 195 lbs. But each one of the dogs I have met are well-loved, and dogs I am happy to call my canine friends! Dog sitting boomed this year, and what may have started as a hobby is quickly turning into something I love doing.
I've had some fun where training is concerned as well. I finally got brave enough to apply for Karen Pryor Academy Dog Trainer Professional program and I got in! I was afraid of being rejected, but getting in was the easy part. As life often is, am I right? Dakota was my training partner, and he and I learned a lot together. He and I are more worldly, after our four trips to Calgary. My passport got some use and Dakota aced his border crossings. It was pretty pain free. He performed beautifully at the workshops, and helped me to pass my training assessment. Dakota and I both have a bunch of new Canadian friends!
The training journey is just started though. I still have one more step for certification. I have classes starting in the new year, and I couldn't be more excited to start them! I've worked with a few training clients this year, and love nothing more than to see people follow through with my advice and tell me it works for their dog!
Dakota and I personally had a pretty phenomenal year as well. We ran in six agility trials, and we moved up to the next class. Dakota, at 10 years old, is getting faster every trial! He loves it and I love it, and my heart hurts in advance the day we have to retire from it. I hope he tells me when it is too much. He earned six titles this year, and just continues to love the game!
We also earned a title in Musical Dog Sports Association Freestyle Dance. It was a class we too, that I thought would be a good way to pass the time a few winters ago, and we have found another sport he loves! It is a good retirement sport for him and it has upped our agility game by a lot!
We did our first barnhunt trial this year, and I truly went into it thinking I was doing it for kicks, but Dakota showed me! When he is feeling barnhunt, and he almost always is, he stands on the tube as an alert! It is pretty hilarious to watch and is fun for him. He is one Q away from a title, and I can't wait for the next trial.
Dakota earned his AKC trick titles this year, without a ton of work on our part. He loves tricks, and I am trying to think of new ones to teach him.
It may not have been a perfect year, but I charged forward in following my dreams and making them a reality. Dakota gave me a few scares, but he is a tough boy and is such a willing partner, I am forever wanting to improve myself just so I can be the handler he deserves. I'm finding myself tonight again hanging with a couple of my favorite dogs, one of them is Dakota, and I am so thankful for my 2017. I'm not where I want to be just yet, but I am well on my way there!
It turns out, for a human, I am pretty well trained. Dakota has made sure of it. One time, a friend was at my house. She was astonished when I was sitting on the floor, petting Dakota and knew that he was asking to go out. Or, later in the evening, when I knew that he was wondering if he was going to get a chewy that evening. What she didn't understand is that when he has to go out, he keeps looking to the door. When he wants a treat, he licks his lips every time I stand up. I can tell by the way he is watching me that he wants to be closer to me, and I can tell when he is content to just be. He is sensitive to pressure, and I am pretty good about knowing how hard to push him to get him to move in a certain direction.
However, sometimes, I don't pick up on these cues as well. I just recently realized that Dakota doesn't care to have his collar grabbed, even though the only time I grab his collar is when I put his leash on him for walks or car rides. He LOVES both of those experiences. Thinking about it, he also leans back, backs up, breaks his sit, when I grab his collar. So, I started a counter-conditioning plan to get him more comfortable with me grabbing his collar. I feel pretty terrible that I didn't realize that this was even a cause of discomfort until recently.
I'm lucky I have a patient human trainer in Dakota. He never loses his temper with me, and he gives me lots of second chances. I can read that he likes ear scratches, but doesn't like being patted on the head. I understand that he comes to expect walks or training sessions in the evening. I know when he wants food, play, outside time, water and sleep. I would say that I usually know how he is feeling, and try to keep him safe when he is feeling worried or anxious. I know his ear twitches, tail position and facial expressions. I can see the moment that he understands what I am asking of him and when I am moving him too fast. As much as I have taught him, he has taught me just as much.
Now, my next step of being a well-trained human is learning to read other dogs. I know Dakota well, just because of the connection we have. But I am pretty good at reading my client dogs too. I have one that is fearful of skateboards, even though he barks and growls at them. I have one that wants to be near to me all the time, but doesn't want me to look at or touch her. I have one that wants me to go to bed at 9:00, because he is ready to cuddle for the night. Of course, I usually can read when any of them want to go outside or are begging for supper and treats. I appreciate all of the dogs in my life that are willing to train me to be a well trained human.
It all starts with the dogs I have shared my life with and the lessons learned from them. I'd say, I've been crazy about dogs since I was maybe seven or eight. My parents were not dog people, and we didn't get one, until I fixated on getting a puppy. Shadow came home around my tenth birthday, and we were in completely over our heads. Shadow was an oops puppy from our neighbor's spaniel. Her other half was some kind of herder, most likely border collie. Shadow had boundless energy and not a ton of outlets to use it. This was back in the day when training books were full of information like pushing down on the dog to make them sit, collar pops, rubbing their nose in accidents, punishing a dog for failing to recall and that dogs are supposed to listen just because we are their masters. We might not have been that bad, but there were mistakes made. Even writing it out, I am cringing so hard. Yet, Shadow still loved us. I taught her to do tricks for treats and impulse control by sitting before I threw a tennis ball. Teaching her stuff was super satisfying and I did learn a lot from her.
When I started college, I missed Shadow, and this eventually drew me to the local animal shelter. Of course I ended up with a dog, Miss Marley Mae. She was magnetic, and I was drawn to her. I took her home, and she was a wonderful dog, in spite of me and my mistakes. I was still a believer in making her follow my commands because I was the alpha. I read books by a particular celebrity trainer who cemented that view point. She never did walk nicely on a leash and walks were frustrating for both of us. She was smart, driven and loyal, but never had a great outlet for that intelligence. I loved this dog with all of my heart, and when she ended up with aggressive cancer, I was devastated. I managed to teach Marley some life skills, and I know that she loved me, but I look back over her time with me too, and I am full of regrets.
Gunner was my second shelter dog, and far away from Marley. Gunner had been in the shelter for a long time, and probably hadn't been socialized before that either. Gunner was afraid of his own shadow, was standoffish for a long time, and had major separation anxiety. I knew I couldn't use fear, punishment and intimidation with this dog, and I was lucky enough to start clicker training him. This was my turning point. At the end of a six week class, where Gunner had spent most of it hiding under a chair, he had learned more behaviors and would offer them faster than Marley ever did. It wasn't that he was smarter, it was that he was being allowed to make choices and was gaining confidence. We started agility, learned some tricks and I saw his confidence increase and his anxiety lessen. Gunner also left me too early, but I was a believer in positive reinforcement and clicker training. The summer we were home and working on stuff, I even taught our cat how to sit and spin!
Then, there is Dakota, my third shelter dog, the one I made promise that he would stick around for a few years. When I brought him home, he immediately bonded to me and wanted to work! We learned our basics through clicker training, earned our Canine Good Citizen certificate easily and started agility. Dakota is food motivated, enjoys pleasing and loves to learn new things! It makes him almost as happy to be right when learning a new skill as the treat does. Through our almost nine years together, Dakota and I have spent varying degrees of time working, but it has always been something that gives me an incredible amount of satisfaction. I live for working with him, teaching him new things and taking classes together. While I am proud of what we have learned together, sometimes I still feel badly and wish that I was as good of a handler as Dakota deserves. I know I have made mistakes with his eduacation too, but I also know that with each new dog that comes into my life, I am a little bit better of a handler than the last time. It was this realization that led me to start looking into becoming a professional trainer myself.
For the past three years, I have read every dog book that has been recommended to me, with a never ending wishlist of more that I want to read. I follow trainers on YouTube, read their blogs, hang out with dog people and have a hunger to learn more. I've watched several online webinars and have taken a few online classes, with a bunch more I want to take. I ended up enrolling in Karen Pryor Academy Dog Trainer Professional Program, and one of the first thing I realized is that there is still a lot that I don't know! I think the desire to learn more is what is going to keep me sharp. I know I can dwell heavily on my regrets of mistakes I have made with my past dogs, but I would rather look forward, look at what I shouldn't do and keep on learning. As you can see, this has been a journey and a passion of mine, not a phase. I want to keep learning as much as I can, with as many dogs as I possibly can meet.
Hmm, you may be thinking. Real Terms Dog Training Solutions? That's an unusual name for a dog trainer business. I'm sure it is eating you up to not know why that is the name. Well, are you ready? I'll tell you!
It all started back when I was finishing up my bachelor's degree. I was living in Dillon, Montana and I was seeing the finish line! I had changed my major a few times in college, but finally and happily settled on a BA in English Lit and Communications. I was convinced that I was going to be a journalist. It was the latest career choice in a long line of career choices, but that is a story for another day. I was doing an internship at the local paper, and my editorial column was...Real Terms!
After graduation, I put in lots of applications at newspapers, and not a one of them were terribly interested in me. The one that interviewed me told me I needed more life experience and to get out of my little corner of the world. The others all wanted me to have a masters degree at least. Looking back, I am glad I didn't pursue it, an expensive degree in a dying industry.
I took that one newspaper's advice and did get out of my corner of the world. I ended up spending a year in Tanzania, working in an orphanage and expanding my comfort zone. I finished that experience and that was how I ended up in Billings, to make a long story short. I work with kids all day and dogs are my reward. But, as much as my heart bleeds for kids who have it rough, I feel at my most whole when training dogs.
I pursued a certification program as a dog trainer and continue to learn all that I can. Sometimes all that teaches me is how much I still have to learn. I want to work with people and their dogs and I want to help them out.
Does that explain the name yet? No, but it kind of gives you an idea of the journey I have been on to find the name. First thing first, know that I am not recycling my old newspaper column name. Yes, I am using the name again, but it is not for lack of a better name.
So, how did I come up with that name? It is actually pretty simple. If you take my name, Rachel Tremis, you can find the words Real Terms. I think that's pretty cool! This is me, trading one dream in for another, and the name is that reminder to always go for what I want, and to remain true to myself.
You put it all together, and you have me. I want to help regular people learn how to be the person their dog deserves and I want to keep dogs in their loving homes. It makes my heart grow three sizes when someone takes my advice, acts it and then tells me it worked for them! I want to find the answers to all of your dog training problems and I want to be able to give them to you in an easy to understand way. I want to be that friendly, genuine person who you and your dog both enjoy. I want to be a source you know you can get easily understood information from. I want you to be glad you picked me and to appreciate my name and training model!
Hi, I'm Rachel. I'm crazy about dogs and want to see all of them living the best life possible. Most of my free time is taken up by dogs, but when I am not working with my own or others, I also enjoy cooking, volunteer work, reading and Netflix in my pajamas.