Monday, May 4, 2009

Linda Koutsky seminar

The Linda Koutsky seminar over the weekend was fantastic! If you get a chance to see her, do it. A word of warning: her training style is not for trainers who only want to put out a minimal effort or those who are reluctant to stray from the “traditional” approaches to obedience training. Her methods are geared at making interaction with the trainer the ultimate reinforcer, not a cookie or a toy, and at challenging the dog to truly perform, not just go through the motions of the same old routines over and over. The results are great but you will sweat! (Which totally justifies everything I ate all weekend. Honest.)

I went looking for ideas to bring Phoenix’s obedience work ethic (not sure I like that word but can’t think of a better one) up to his full potential. He likes obedience and is a happy, cheerful worker. Obviously, he’s doing fairly well in the ring so far but I feel like he is occasionally just phoning it in and not as truly engaged and driven as he could be. I’ve seen this dog in total focused drive (and lived to tell about it) so can tell when he’s giving me everything he’s got and when he isn’t.

Linda believes in “hands on” dog training: touch is vital both in the context of correction and reward. I won’t forget the video she played of rats who zoomed through a maze to reach a person who would “tickle” them. No food involved! Her corrections (get those jerk, yank and ear pinch visions OUT of your head right now, out I say!) build the dog up to try harder the next time and with more drive.

It’s impossible to mimic another trainer’s style completely and you’ll drive your dog insane if you switch methods every time you go to a seminar, but I brought home a list of ideas from Linda that I can’t wait to plug into Phoenix’s training. I admit I use food entirely too much, don’t play nearly enough and have obviously made a complete mud puddle out of some of the concepts I’ve tried to teach. It’s a good thing I’m taking my second furlough from work next week; I’ll have lots of time to train.

Major thanks to Renee for inviting me and Michele to come down and to the Greater Kansas City Dog Training Club for hosting the seminar. And HUGE thanks to Linda for all the inspiration and new ideas. She has no idea how much Phoenix is going to thank her. Or maybe she does.

Rilda, there was no spoon fetching. But if she knew about that, she'd like it.

Here are just a few highlights from the weekend:

• Flash sessions with 20 other dogs on the floor and Phoenix never tried to eat anyone who got in his face. Not once. And he had plenty of chances. Good boy.

• Doing hand-touches and realizing Phoenix can levitate 4 feet off the floor. Is this really a behavior I want to encourage?

• “Small dog people have nothing to complain about. They get to have little crates, little cars, little dumbbells, little gloves, little food and little poop. You bought it, you train it.” (Does this sound like Natalie or what? Seriously, when she was about 3, Nat looked at Phoenix and told me, “You bought him, you train him.” I love that kid.)

• A 30-foot bungee cord with a toy on the end, stretched to 50 feet, then released, for building drive on go-outs. AWESOME! Phoenix wants one for Christmas. Protective eye-wear not included but I still have both eyeballs and no stitches were involved. Marsha, the weasels would love this. Linda called it "lure-coursing go-outs." I think Michele was just waiting to drive me to the ER.

• Michele wearing her neon yellow “I train with Melinda Wichmann” T-shirt Sunday. Make it stop! At least she had excuses if Cider messed something up: A) she trains with me, which explains EVERYTHING and B) Cider was probably blinded by the shirt.

• Tickling rats.

• Eating too much spring salad at lunch. Then going back for more.

• Speaking of eating too much, the Italian buffet Saturday night. Incredible. Just throw me in a wheelbarrow and roll me out the door.

• Don’t rehearse a behavior you don’t want. (Okay, probably a bad one to put right after two references to over-eating.)

• Ring carry-over is about honesty. Does your dog REALLY work that well at home or are you relying on crutches (food, leash, etc.)?


  1. Sounds like a great seminar. I'm trying to grasp the "no food", "no toys" concept on how to go about training. It will be interesting to watch you and Michele put some of these new ideas to work. Italian? You were in the heart of beef country, don't you know?

  2. She does use food and toys, actually lots of toys. It's just not cookie-cookie-cookie for every little thing. It was a lot of play where you get very involved with your dog. Phoenix loved it. I still have all my fingers and my clothes didn't get shredded.

    There was beef in the meatballs and doG knows I ate enough of them!

  3. Hey Melinda...been following this since you emailed it me! I have always loved your writing. Here's the thing...Remy's recalls are OUTSTANDING and I have never used a cookie on this. He has a special 'recall' toy that he goes nuts over. Will this transfer to the ring? I will let you know this fall (his obedience debut!)

  4. The weasels REALLY want to try the go out toy! Food, dogs, food, playing with your dog, food... what more could a person need???

  5. But I like cookie cookie cookie for EVERYTHING!! G Okay, as long as the dog can do without, cause I can't!! Sounds like a fun weekend and I'm glad you all made it home safely!