Training your dog the Positive way: An Interview with Kristina

A few weeks back we caught up with Kristina, owner of  Puppy Colours Academy. We were introduced to each other by one of our dog grooming clients and were delighted that we share common insights on dog training. Kristina is a certified Dog Trainer & Behaviour Consultant who teaches dog owners to train their pooch based on behavioral science using positive signals and positive reinforcement; she believes in humane, reward-based method that doesn’t require force on our beloved furry pals (how awesome is that!). In this post, Kristina will share with us more about herself, how it all started and of course, her thoughts on positive reinforcement training method.

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Kristina with Josh (left) and Milly (right)

BP: Hi Kristina! Tell us a little about yourself and how did Puppy Colours came about.

Kristina: My interest in dog behaviour and training was sparked by my dog Josh, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. When I brought him home, I realised just how fearful he was and I started to find ways to help him. My research led me to reward-based training methods using positive signals and positive reinforcement and it has worked wonders. His continuous barking has been significantly reduced. Separation Anxiety is completely gone. Food Guarding no more. 
 
I saw how Josh becomes happier and more confident each day and I decided to go to the US and learn more about dog behaviour and training at Karen Pryor Academy for Animal Training & Behaviour. There, I learned about understanding dog behaviours and training dogs using positive reinforcement in great details. I was so blessed to have Terry Ryan, the world-renowned dog trainer, as my teacher and great classmates from all over the world.
 
After I graduated from Karen Pryor Academy, I decided to start Puppy Colours Academy, a dog training school that focuses on real-life and social skills, problem prevention along with basic training skills using positive and reward-based methods

BP: You are an advocate and practitioner of reward-based positive reinforcement dog training. Tell us more about it and how is that different from other forms of training. 

Kristina: When we train using positive reinforcement, we do more than getting our dog to obey, we will learn to communicate so that we can understand each other. It’s a partnership based on cooperation and trust. Every cue that we ask, such as sit or stay, becomes a fun opportunity for the dog to do something fun and rewarding. 
 
I also like the fact that when we use positive reinforcement, we are guiding the dog to make good decisions instead of telling the dog not to do something. For example, instead of repeatedly asking a dog “NO, don’t jump”, we teach them a behaviour that we like and is incompatible with jumping. For example a “Sit”, a dog cannot jump when he “Sit”. 
 
Dogs usually jump because they want attention and when we shout and push them away using our hand, they think we are playing and get even more excited because dogs play with each other using their paws. If we communicate with our dog clearly that when they “Sit” they will get attention and when they “Jump” they will be ignored, they will soon learn that a “Sit” works better than jumping and will learn to make good decisions. It’s fun and effective, both dogs and their owner will enjoy learning together.

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BP: In your opinion, does training plays a part in pet grooming? Why is it (or not) important and what should dog owners know about the relationship between the two? 

Kristina: I think training is a big part in pet grooming. Many dogs find grooming unpleasant—and who can blame them? It can involve hair pulling, uncomfortable restraint and getting soaked with water (which some dogs dislike). Therefore teaching a dog to love handling (for vet checks and grooming) is part of my Puppy Start Right Curriculum. 
 
One of the most common things that dogs are afraid of is nail clipping. We teach dog owners how to teach their dog to associate being handled with good things. With repetition and a little time, dogs will learn that getting their nail clipped is a fun game, not frightening. 
 
I have even trained my dog, Josh, to stay still when the vet draw blood. I practice this many times at home before bringing him to the vet to have his blood drawn. He had his blood drawn this morning with no problem at all. He was relaxed and stayed still till the procedure was done. He did very well despite not getting any treat for this because he has to be fasted before he gets his teeth cleaned at the vet. Instead, he gets praises and attention from me. Well done Josh!
 
With training, the dog will learn to tolerate and even enjoy grooming. It’s better for the dog, better for the groomer and better for the dog-owner too.

BP: What is the most fulfilling aspect of the work you do? Any stories to share with our readers?

Kristina: One of my favourite is the story of Dylan, a Spaniel-Dachshund mix, who used to be fearful and reactive to strangers. He would bark at strangers out of fear. He also have some leash reactivity and will bark at other dog when he is on leash.
 
I came to assess Dylan and created a training plan that comprises a step-by-step behaviour modification training using counter conditioning and desensitisation paired with positive reinforcement. Dylan’s owner, Jacqueline, was really great. She followed my training plan and worked really hard with Dylan in between sessions. On the third lesson, I can see how much calmer and relaxed Dylan is during walk and when I enter the house. He no longer bark and greeted me happily with his tail wagging. Over the next few lessons, we practice with my dog, Milly, and my husband, Chee Hwa. Dylan did really well and greeted Milly and Chee Hwa politely and happily. By the fifth lesson, Dylan was playing with Milly and would go to Chee Hwa and rest beside him. Jacqueline was really happy with his progress. These moments are really special to me and keeps me inspired that we can help fearful and reactive dogs to become calmer, happier and more confident. Improving the dog owner and the dog’s quality of life. 
 
You can read what Dylan’s owner, Jacqueline, wrote about how Dylan becomes a calmer and happier dog here: www.puppycolours.com/what-they-say
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BP: If there’s one thing you wish every dog owner knows about dog behaviour/training, what would it be?

Kristina: If there is one thing I wish every dog owner knows about dog, that would be about understanding the subtle signs of stress. There are many subtle signs of stress that we usually miss like out of context lip-licking & yawning, whale eye (when you can see the white of the eye), sudden scratching behaviour and looking away.

Dogs often communicate that they are uncomfortable using these subtle signs but human often miss these early signs. Because we do not realise that the dog is uncomfortable, the dog has no other choice but to communicate her fear of discomfort using stronger behaviours like barking or growling. Because barking and growling usually stop people from touching or hugging them, the next time they are uncomfortable, they will just bark or growl, because the more subtle signs were not understood by human.

Dogs often show these early signs of stress when strangers approached them frontally, pat their head and hug them. In dog’s world, frontal approach, hugs and direct eye contact is threatening and not polite. Dogs usually greet each other by sniffing each other’s back side, avoiding direct eye contact. When I greet a dog, I always make sure I’m on their side (instead of a frontal approach) and I will let the dog approach me instead. If the dog approached me, I will pat their chin or chest – areas that are less threatening to the dog.

BP: What’s your favourite activity with your dog Josh? 

Kristina: My favourite activity with Josh is to teach him new things and do some nosework activities like searching for item or treats in the house. Josh loves to learn new skills. Everytime I say “Let’s train”, he will get up and sit in front of me readily with this “glow” in his eyes. This is a typical reaction from a dog that is trained using positive reinforcement, they enjoy learning and anticipate our cues happily and readily. Some of his favourite tricks is to weave my legs as I walk (like pole weaving in agility) and do a loud bark and a soft bark on cue.
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Thank you Kristina for your heart felt sharing despite your busy schedule! Interested to find out more about Kristina and her training methods & services? Head over to www.puppycolours.com.

(Photos credits: Kristina/Puppy Colours Singapore)

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