Friday, October 30, 2009

Click a Chick

I'm been back from the Association of Pet Dog Trainers Conference in San Francisco since Monday, and am still reeling from all the great information I gleaned from the various speakers. It was a wonderful conference, and as always I learned a lot about different ways that I can be a better dog trainer.

The highlight of my trip was the opportunity to "Click a Chick". For years animal trainers have attended Terry Ryan's Chicken Camps in which they learned to clicker train chickens. Why chickens? Because they are an animal which most people haven't ever trained before, and so therefore won't come with bad training habits. Because people are less likely to bond with a chicken and give in to their emotions. Chickens are also very fast moving animals -- which requires the trainer to be spot on with their timing. And because the trainers aren't going to be taking the chickens home with them -- so therefore don't have to worry about how their training impacts the chicken as a pet.

While official chicken camps run for 4 days, the APDT version was only for a few hours -- however I really did learn a lot from the experience. I learned to remain still and only move when I was delivering the reinforcement (chicken pellets in a cup) so that the chicken was learning without being prompted and so that I didn't unintentionally create a visual cue. I also started to learn to move a little faster with my timing, and to reinforce more frequently.

I got video -- posted below. My friend Trish McMillan -- a behaviorist from the ASPCA, was my partner.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Sea Lions in San Francisco

Yesterday I walked on Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco and I heard off in the distance what sounded like Sea Lions. Following the noise I ended on at Pier 39 and saw dozens of floating platforms – each of which contained between 3 and 10 sea lions.

Apparently after an earthquake in 1989 they started to appear, found the area to their liking and invited their friends to join them. They are now protected and are a huge tourist draw.

It rained off an on that day, and as we watched the sea lions it started to pour, so we watched them from under an overhang. The sea lions didn’t seem to even notice the precipitation – the older animals lay on their sides and backs as though sunning themselves, and the younger sea lions played – lunging at each other with their mouths open, wrestling and shoving each other into the ocean.

San Francisco SPCA

I’m away from HAWS for the week, but definitely not away from animals. Each year I travel to a different city to attend the annual Association of Pet Dog Trainers Conference. This year it’s in San Francisco – a city I’ve never visited before.

A lot of shelter employees like to visit shelters in other areas out of curiosity to see what others in the sheltering world are doing. The San Francisco SPCA is fairly well known for having a state of the art, beautiful facility – with housing for the animals that is just as nice as the Marriot where I’m staying this week. I was interested to see if they actually lived up to all the hype.

I honestly have never seen such a gorgeous place for dogs and cats. The animals don’t stay in caging, but in rooms with glass windows and doors – honestly they were really more like suites. Most of the dogs and cats shared space with another of the same species, but they had so much space they really didn’t seem to mind. The dog rooms were about 8 by 8 feet, and the cat rooms only a little smaller. Most of the rooms were decorated with wall hangings, and had several beds. Some of the rooms even had TV!

Here’s a video of a cat watching a squirrel DVD.

Monday, October 12, 2009


"Did you see the Anoles?" I was asked the other day.

Considering it was around lunchtime, and that here at HAWS there very often is food sitting in our break room, I can't be faulted for the logical conclusion I made. I'd never had anoles before, but I assumed they were some kind of yummy baked goods.

Alas for my sweet tooth, it turns out that anoles are a kind of lizard, and they'd been surrendered to HAWS earlier that day.

One of the most interesting things about working at an animal shelter is the diversity of types of animals that we work with here. While I love dogs, I also love to learn about other kinds of animals as well.

Anoles are native to Florida, Cuba, Jamaica and other Caribbean Islands. They are pretty small compared to many other reptiles kept as pets; a full grown Anole will only reach about 8 inches from head to tail. From what I've read they seem to be a high maintenance pet -- requiring hot, humid conditions mimicking their natural habitat in the rain forest, a steady diet of meal worms and crickets, and are easily stressed causing illness. has basic information on them.

While it's interesting learning about different animals, I already know that Anoles are not the pet for me -- I'll stick with my dogs. And now I'm off to see what might be sitting on the break room table...

Sunday, October 4, 2009

How to Raise a Puppy

Although the majority of my blog posts are about the programs I do with children, I actually do work quite a bit with adults. While I truly enjoy spending time with kids and being able to pass along my knowledge and passion for animals, I also love that I get an opportunity to make a difference with grown-ups. And lets face it -- when you spend a lot of time with kids it's sometimes refreshing to be able to relate to someone in your own age range (although it goes the opposite way sometimes as well!)

Working at an animal shelter we see many cases where an owner gives up on a pet because they cannot understand why the animal won't conform to their expectations. In some cases their expectations may be unreasonable. In other cases it may just be a matter of showing the owner how to train their pet so that they fit into the household better.

Some of the programs I present involve education for dog owners. While I love animals in general and know quite a bit about many pet species, my background is in dog training and behavior. As a Certified Pet Dog Trainer it gives me a great deal of pleasure to be able to help dog owners understand the canine members of their family and find ways to make it easier to live with them. Let's face it -- we are two different species and what each species finds "normal" can be two very different things.

Today it was my pleasure to be able to run my "How to Raise a Puppy And Keep Your Sanity" workshop. 9 puppies, 3 kids, and 10 adults all came together for an hour and a half to try and learn a little bit about each other. We talked about socialization, housetraining, nipping, chewing, and toys.

The most fun was allowing the puppies to play off leash. It was actually more than fun -- it was an opportunity for the pups to play with each other in a safe environment, and learn how to interact appropriately with members of their own species.

The hour and a half went way too quickly -- there was so much more information I would have liked to have shared with the new owners if I would have had the time. But hopefully I gave them enough information to get a good start, and many of them intend to sign up for the puppy socialization classes HAWS offers -- which will give them an even better opportunity to create well mannered, well adjusted dogs living in their homes.