Instructor: Sarah Stremming
Based on Sarah's concept, The Four Steps to Behavioral Wellness, this course digs deeper into what our dogs really need. The Four Steps are: exercise, enrichment, nutrition, and communication. Learn how to exercise your dog in a way that truly feeds his mind and body (and how you can tell!), how to provide enrichment that emboldens the shy or fearful and encourages thoughtfulness in the adrenalized, how to be sure you are on the right nutrition path, and how to communicate effectively in life and sport. Also included are the foundational skills most foundation curricula leave out: waiting as a concept, happy crating, handler-attention in the face of social enticement, and more!
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Available as a prerequisite purchase - lectures only.
For more details, refund policies, and answers to commonly asked questions see our FAQ page.
Prerequisite purchase - lectures only.
Prerequisite purchase - lectures only.Number of slots: unlimited
Pre-class: The Four Steps to Behavioral Wellness
“Mind your Beeswax” game
“Happy Crating” exercise
Effective communication—marker signal for life and sport
“Reinforcement stashing part one” exercise
“reinforcement stashing part two” exercise
I+R for pesky behaviors
“Waiting is part of life” exercise
Decompression for Urban dogs
“waiting is part of sports” exercise
Thus far in the course you’ve learned what puzzle feeding and hard chewing can offer your dog in terms of enrichment. But puzzle toys are worth so much more than they are typically given credit for. As confidence-builders, as personality assessment tools, even as a means to decide how best to teach a particular dog. To explain this, I gave the same puzzle to five different dogs, and I will discuss the results found in each.
What I am calling the “baseline” puzzle is made up of toilet paper rolls, a tupperware container, and tripe nuggets. Here is the basic setup:
I gave this puzzle to each of my five dogs (I only left out the 16 year old who was exhausted from a frozen kong) and I found the results really interesting. Three of them required a greater challenge while two found the baseline too difficult. When a challenge was needed I first simply placed a small towel over the whole puzzle before presenting it to the dog, like so:
The two bitches pictured found even this far too easy, and so I presented them with a further challenge, a metal bowl over the puzzle:
It is our human instinct to step in immediately and help our dogs if they are finding a puzzle too hard. We want to show them how to solve it or even bust out our clickers and TEACH them how to solve it. I find it most beneficial to simply adjust the challenge to match the dog and allow them to solve it. When doing this we can gradually increase the challenge over time and our dogs learn that they can solve problems on their own. Interestingly the two bitches who requires more challenge are the easiest to shape, the best problem-solvers of the bunch. Subjectively, I’d say they are the most intelligent. These labels are not really helpful so when giving your dog puzzles to solve I’d steer clear of them; simply describe what you are seeing as I have done for each dog below:
Idigie 8 year old intact female border collie:
Baseline Puzzle Video
My observations are that Idgie goes straight to work getting what she wants with zero hesitation or solicitation of help. She does not stop until she is finished. She stuffs her nose all the way into the puzzle, and when it gets slightly stuck she utilizes her foot to pull the puzzle back off her face, showing good use of two tools: her snout AND her foot. She is unbothered by moving the puzzle around and spilling the rolls.
Idgie, Puzzle with Towel
My observations here are that Idgie immediately goes for the first tool that worked for her last time (her snout) and when she finds that isn’t working she goes for her second tool (her foot) and hits the jackpot. If I were struggling to teach Idgie a trick involving her front feet, I’d be giving her more puzzles that pushed her away from her snout and toward her feet as her first tools. The opposite could also be true; were I struggle to teach her a nose targeting type of behavior I’d manipulate the puzzle to reinforce snout usage.
Idgie Puzzle with Bowl
Here I observe that Idgie has learned. This puzzle is harder than the first one I presented her with and yet she solved it much quicker. She utilized her snout to move the bowl, then went straight to work with her feet to tip the whole thing over. That’s my clever girl.
Ghost, 4 year old intact female Australian shepherd:
Ghost Baseline Puzzle
My observations here are that Ghost dives right in, which is true to her personality in most things. She is less bothered than Idgie was by the puzzle getting partially stuck on her face, so she is less pushed to use her feet. She solves this puzzle quickly without solicitation for help or hesitation.
Ghost Baseline with Towel
Very interesting for me that in comparing Ghost and Idgie’s towel videos Ghost does not attempt to stick her snout down into the puzzle; she just goes straight to tipping it. Is that because she understands she can’t get through the towel? Perhaps, but I would wager that it’s because of how she ultimately solved the baseline; it was with tipping.
Stig, 5 year old intact male border collie:
The video isn’t great here; but Stig essentially noses it once, tips it with his paw, and it’s over. That he started from a down (un-cued) probably contributed to this. Very quick solution to the puzzle, no solicitation for help and no hesitation, though he seems to dive in with less gusto than the girls.
Stig Puzzle with Towel
Fascinating, and in hindsight I think I should have asked Stig to start in a down here. Ultimately, he gives up. I could have tried half uncovering the puzzle, starting him in a down like I said, or even placing a few kibbles on top to get him started. I think a slightly tougher iteration of the baseline would actually be smarter for him, like empty plastic bottles shoved in a box.
Brink, 10 year old neutered male border collie:
Brink Baseline video
I can’t help but chuckle because this dog just cracks me up. Besides cute, what do I see? I see a dog that is trying to solve the puzzle the only way he knows how: by offering behaviors to get me to offer the reinforcement. I believe he is well aware of the fact that there are cookies in this object, but his history tells him to act in such a way that makes me help him, not in such a way that allows him to help himself. I believe in this video he is offering interaction with the novel object in the room in much the same way he would with any other non-food object I introduced him to. It simply does not occur to him to try to get the food himself; it DOES occur to him to try to get me to give him the food. Rather than continue to verbally prompt him (that is probably reinforcing the behavior of trying to get me to give him food) I step in and remove rolls until he can get the food himself. With gradual increase of difficulty I think Brink could solve any of the above puzzles, but he would need some time to undo his solid history of “do stuff to get the lady to pay you.” He’s a good guy, that Brink.
Felix, 22 month old intact male border collie:
Felix baseline video
Oh my sweet Felix! I think his video is the most interesting because he is the only dog that shows hesitation. He starts out interested in getting the food but early on the whole contraption rattles and he decides it is a little scary. What I love here is that he keeps trying. I do decide to make it easier for him by removing some rolls and visibly dropping more treats in, and that allows him to muster up the courage to tolerate a little bit of rattling and get the treasure! For a dog to overcome apprehension himself is invaluable; we can never teach him the lesson that he is capable of conquering his own concerns, but we can set the scene for him to realize this through careful puzzle toy work. He indicates before long that he’d perhaps rather play with one of the rolls than keep overcoming his fears to get the food. That’s learning history right there: he has more history of shredding toilet paper rolls than of eating food out of rattly contraptions. In the end I do play with him with one of the rolls, hoping to leave a YIPPEE! taste in his mouth about the whole experience. This kind of work has been important for him his whole life; he is generally bothered by rattly things, particularly if they involve clanging metal. Graduating to some of the puzzles below is a goal for him.
So, give your dog a puzzle. See what you find out. Gold students, post your videos and your observations. If your dog is familiar with this type of puzzle get creative and try something new. Here is a good iteration to attempt if your dog is relatively unbothered by metal (use all plastic if he is bothered by metal):
And a tougher iteration:
Silver students, I have started a Puzzle thread. Post away! Let’s talk about what you find out.
A sampling of what prior students have said about this course ...
BH305 Testimonial: I took this class with a reactive flyball dog, looking for techniques to help her be calmer and improve her well-being both in the ring and at home. Sarah's treatment of the dog's well-being through multiple aspects of enrichment and decompression were illuminating and provided me with more tools to help my dog. She is doing much better, both at home and in the flyball ring, and I look forward to continuing to help her improve and be happy and well-adjusted in the future. -Joy A
Before I took this class I thought my dogs had a pretty great life. Now I realize I was doing a good job looking after their physical needs but not as good a job providing enrichment in their lives, including challenging them mentally. What I learned in this class has made a significant difference for my three dogs. We've been dealing with inter-dog aggression issues and since I've been implementing my learning they've become less anxious and are playing together nicely. Life with them still has its challenges but they are my life and their lives are better now because of Sarah and this class. Thank you. Laurel B
Sarah concentrates on the well being of the dog and the rest falls into place. What an awesome class! I hope her attitude towards dogs' emotional states catches on like wildfire so more dogs can benefit. Anyone who has taken this class and worked through the material is coming out with a much stronger relationship with their dog. Thanks for offering such a great class. Stacey M.
We as dog trainers are generally so concerned with training skills and getting our dogs competition-ready, sometimes we forget that they still need to be dogs. Incorporating Sarah's steps to behavioral wellness into our routine has had a huge positive effect on my dog and on our relationship. Simply relaxing and having fun together on a decompression walk and improving my communication have done as much recently for our ring performance as time spent training actual skills. And we are both much happier! I would encourage everyone to take this class. Kara K.
This course has really enriched my relationship with my dogs, the way I regard them, the way I consider them, the way I train and play with them. In turn my feelings for them have changed...deepened I guess. And in turn I can see that they too have picked up on these new lines of communication and thoughtfulness and have become so responsive and attentive. Cathy C
This class should be a required course, no matter your dog's age or temperament. After years of struggling with the crate, my dog is finally seeking it to relax in rather than seeing it as a working space. This course got me out into the woods on decompression walks, which probably helped me just as much as they helped my dogs.
This is a great class for all dogs owners, regardless of which sport(s) you play in (if any). This class teaches you how to be better observers and caregivers to our faithful and forgiving friends. Their lives will be much better for it. Molly B
This is a phenomenal class. I cannot sing my praises enough here! Every dog can benefit from this class. The results for my dogs have been amazing. They seem happier and more relaxed in general and our recent trial results have really reflected all the positive changes to their lives. JoAnna F