Thursday, September 15, 2011

Dog Aggression Seminar - A Trainer's Vacation

When I decided to spend a week in Florida with my good friend, D, I wanted to pack in as much fun as possible.

I wanted to hit the beach, preferably with her two crazy dogs, Koda and Ava.  As a fun bonus, we saw lots of dolphins everywhere we went.

I wanted to take advantage of our close proximity to Disney, and go to a crazy theme restaurant.

Lastly, I wanted to learn more about aggression in dogs.  What vacation would be complete without that?  Dr. Sophia Yin and Sarah Kalnajs are two of the top names in dog behavior, and they were doing a seminar together in Orlando.  So D and I packed the car and drove 6 hours to get there for the two day seminar.

Day 1:

Dr. Yin started the seminar with a half day talk on learning theory in animals.  While this was review for me (I have a bachelors degree in Animal Behavior) I got to see some hilarious videos.  You see, Dr. Yin doesn't just train dogs.  She is well known for her group cat training classes, her exceptionally well trained chickens, and her success in training zoo animals for practical tasks like medical check ups.

I'd have to say the chickens were my favorite, especially seeing them run a mini agility course.  Here are a few of her videos, which can be found on on her website.

Chicken Training Camp is a great way for clicker trainers to perfect their skills.  Yes, I want to go.  Desperately.

Another great chicken training video.

The second half of the day was going to be Sarah reviewing dog communication signals.  I own her DVD The Language of Dogs, and would recommend it to any dog professional or owner, regardless of their job.  This DVD has made me incredibly aware of the signals dogs give to indicate stress, fear, and potential aggression.  It has kept me from a few dog bites that I wouldn't have seen coming previously.

So, while this would also be a good bit of review, Sarah is known for having great video footage, and she's my favorite speaker.  Unfortunately, Sarah only made it 5 minutes into her talk.

I didn't do it!

Sarah is the inventor of the greatest waist leash known to man.  I'm not kidding, this leash is God's gift to dog trainers.  A 100lb dog can pull their hardest, and I might scoot an inch if I didn't plant my feet.  Sadly, someone stole mine from work, and my new one is on back order.

Skye on the waist leash at last year's Strut Your Mutt

At each seminar, Sarah begins with a demo on the waist leash.  She has an audience member come up to be a dog.  First, she holds the leash in her hand and asks the "dog" to pull hard.  This usually results in her arm being jerked and maybe a hop to stay balanced.  Then the same person pulls her on the waist leash, and you can see the difference. 

Well, the first person to come up wasn't pulling hard.  Like, maybe a Chihuahua on leash.  Sarah asked for a rottweiler to come up and try, and she got one.  This tough looking woman came up and took the leash.  Sarah turned to the audience to explain that this would be a closer picture, but before she could finish speaking the "rottweiler" threw her weight into the leash and gave an almighty tug... before Sarah said go.  I was in the back, but I saw Sarah fly through the air and heard a crash.

The women in front all screamed and got up, but Sarah stood back up and we all breathed a sigh of relief.  She hit her head on a chair, but said she was fine.  After a few minutes, everyone settled down and Sarah started joking around.  D and I were a little shocked, to say the least, but at least she wasn't knocked out.

Then, someone from the audience called out "Sarah, how's Skyler doing?"  Skyler is Sarah's soul dog, who just finished radiation treatment for brain cancer.  The treatment went well, but Skyler only has about a year to live either way.  Sarah immediately started bawling and left the room.

I was ready to start a riot, to say the least.  First a head trauma, then you ask about her dying dog, whom she had to leave behind to come to this seminar- REALLY???

Well, it turned out that Sarah hit her head pretty hard, and had to have it checked out.  So she left, and Sophia came back to do the second half of the day.  Sarah ended up having a concussion, a strained shoulder, and re injured her foot.

You have bad luck, Auntie Jenny.

Sophia was great and had plenty of information to fill both seminar days, which we all really appreciated.  I was very disappointed, as Sarah was the reason I picked this seminar, but I learned quite a few things.  More than anything, I want to start clicker training the pups for a few new tricks.  Hopefully we'll have some fun new video soon to show off these tricks, assuming Skye wants to cooperate. 

All in all, it was a great week.  I tried some fun foods, failed at paddle boarding but succeeded in seeing lots of wild dolphins, and gained a new appreciation for my dogs.  Koda is a wild man.

Kangaroo dog.
Have any of you ever been to a disastrous event like this?  I feel like these things only happen to me.  I hope I'm wrong!


  1. Eegad, poor Sarah! Well, you got some beautiful pictures out of it and I'm sure Dr. Yin was worth seeing.

    I use a waist leash too sometimes, but it goes around my waist so when the dog pulls I get bruising around my iliac crest! Looks like this one is a different design--probably better :)

  2. Holy dog! I don't know whether to laugh or cry at this story ... but I'm glad that you at least got to see your friend, got something out of the seminar, and there weren't any plagues or pestilence or anything. Did someone smack that woman upside her head? What a moron!!!!!

  3. I would love to try a waist leash!


  4. I don't think you could make stuff like dis up. :( I sure hope dat Miss Sarah is doin' better now.

    Woofs and Licks,
    Maggie Mae

  5. I've been looking for a good waist leash - where can you buy it? I checked out her website but the link seems to just take me back to the home page. Going round in circles...

  6. quick question (with i'm sure a long answer) what do you suggest to do with a dog (who i think) has leash aggression when we walk along our "normal" route?

  7. Haha Annie & Paul's Mom, that is a pretty loaded question. I may write a blog post this in the near future, but in the mean time the blog "success just clicks" has some great posts on this problem- it's a lot more common than you'd think! Here are a few to check out:

    *I think the harness/head halter is important, and a clicker is extremely helpful. The other tools are beneficial but less important.

    *Watch me is a critical command for reactivity. I've had many clients see incredible improvement using this behavior alone.

    Keep an eye on the blog for a post on this in the near future- great question!

  8. I loved the chicken movie. Sorry about your trainer taking a hit on the head. I have a waist leash for Dexter but haven't had much luck with it.

    A dog vacation and training sounds like a great time.

    Mango Momma

  9. Whoa! Chicken training! You just blew my mind.

    But wait - yikes! Some person acting as a Rottweiler caused poor Sarah to fly through the air and get a concussion?! That's scary. Hope she's feeling better.


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