How I Got There
The story of me and dogs did not start very promising. When I was a little boy, there was a small dog running loose in our neighborhood that started barking at me and chasing me whenever I came near its home. It never seriously hurt me, though I remember it biting my pants on a couple of occasions. So it probably was just having a lot of fun going after me, and I was playing the chasing (and screaming) game very well. I was horrified. Yeah - it was pretty irresponsible of its owners to knowingly and repeatedly let their dog chase a 6-year-old child, but those were different times back in the 70s: no (enforced) rights for children and no helicopter parenting. The main problem really was: that dog's place was on the way to my best friend's house, who was basically just living around the block, less than 50 meters as the bird flies and 150m to walk. Avoiding that dog added quite some distance. We had pets (guinea pigs, rabbits) that time, but chances of me ever becoming a dog trainer were pretty poor. That was going to change.
When I was eleven, my father got us a German Shepherd puppy from a local breeder. Curiously, by then, I had already grown accustomed to the idea of having our own dog. Some gas station chain was giving away stickers and sticker albums to reward loyal customers, including one set of stickers with dog breeds. I learned about the different breeds and, in conclusion, was determined to get an Irish Setter. Oh well - the cute Shepherd puppy let me forget that disappointment very soon. We had no clue how to raise and train this dog, and therefore things could have gone much better. Main advice we received: don't try to teach anything before the dog is one year old. That's great advice for raising dogs in kennels but really poor advice for owners of a family dog. So the little puppy growled at us when we came too close to his food bowl - sooo cute. Of course he did not drop that behavior when he grew up. Every opportunity he had to escape and explore the surroundings on his own he used and didn't return for hours. And he was an incredibly smart guy outwitting us over and over again. We totally failed with that one, but the dog and I were best friends nevertheless. Eventually, due to other circumstances, my father had to give him away.
However, this dog got us involved with a nearby German Shepherd club, and while my father left again (club politics...) I stayed to learn more. I observed other skilled trainers, read some books about the history of the breed and Schutzhund training. And I started training dogs of my clubmates who were, perhaps for other reasons, similarly successful as we were with our puppy. So, the first dogs I titled and participated in competitons with were not my own dogs. At the same time, I started learning to be a 'helper' (decoy). The word 'helper' actually poorly describes the person who, to a large degree, controls the protection training. Now I got bitten all the time, and I wasn't scared anymore. As a teenager, I visited all kinds of seminars in the region, particularly helper seminars. One of the instructors, helper trainers they were called, invited me to visit the club he was working in. Soon after that I joined the club as a protection work helper and also training one dog. During that time, I learned lot from the helper trainer and another experienced helper and dog breeder in this club.
School took me to another part of Germany. I rented a student room on the countryside with the possibility to keep a dog. 'Mona' was my first own dog, and with all the knowledge and experience I had acquired I trained her to be titled multiple times in Schutzhund and tracking, breed surveyed, shown on conformation shows, and working with one of the children in our club on a Schutzhund competition for young handlers. She was a very smart and reliable dog, often used as a demo dog for showing training ideas, techniques, and concepts. But don't worry: she loved working and had a lot of fun in this role. Other dogs followed. I became a helper trainer myself and remained in that role until I moved to the US. Since then, I have given many Seminars in several countries, trained with dogs of different breeds and dog trainers around the world, preparing and handling dogs for dog shows, participating in and sometimes winning international shows in Germany and abroad. This hobby can get pretty excessive.
In 1999 we moved to Finland. For a while, I continued working with my wife and some friends in the local club. Training conditions are pretty harsh in this country especially for someone who just moved here from the rather warm Washington DC, I got very busy with my job, and there were a number of obstacles to take (helper training camp, training license) that I did not have time for, so I decided it was time for me to retire from this activity. My wife who has a similar story to tell (except that she has never been afraid of dogs) is still training our dogs.
Motivations for Creating DogScroll
Combining my interests in dogs and computer programming, I wanted to create something useful for all dog trainers. I could try sharing my ideas on dog training, teach my methods. But that would be better done working in a training group or perhaps writing a book. And, after such a long time, they have also gotten a bit rusty, too, while activities and methods have developed further. Instead I thought of creating a tool, something that assists you independent of what you do, where you are, and the training method you are using. Keeping in touch with trainers from different countries doing different sports, and my wife actively training dogs, supplying ideas and acting as a first-hand tester, we can closely meet dog trainers' requirements.
DogScroll is not trying to be a training instruction guide. That would be a pretty ambitious objective for an app - there are many activities and methods, and you don't learn training by recipes. You learn by understanding your dog and by getting your dog to understand you.
DogScroll is a tool that helps you with that. There are a number of observations we made as dog trainers and instructors that inspired us to create DogScroll:
- as a beginner you are easily overwhelmed by a lot of advice that is difficult to put in context or process at once; some advice is good, some is (as we have seen) bad or misunderstood
- learning also means memorizing a few things, taking notes, and, so far, there haven't been any good tools for it
- there are many good training methods but successful training depends primarily on your ability to understand and adapt to the individual dog
- while typically focusing on one or two exercises, it is hard to realize when your are stepping on the spot and it's time to adjust your approach
- similarly, seasonal or environmental factors are not always obvious
- as a training instructor you get to know the dogs that you regularly work with, but it is very hard to remember for all dogs how a previous training session went and how you wanted to continue in the next one
- many successful trainers make training notes
- paper is not really a practical medium to carry around with you in the field
DogScroll's primary focus is on training. The following principles and functions are what DogScroll is built and will continue to be developed on:
- supporting any activity from basic house training to competitive dog sports
- independent of training methods
- take training notes
- record environmental factors
- go back to earlier notes
- support discussing training notes
- plan next steps
- keep track of both the success of training sessions and the progress towards a particular goal
- visualization of data
- have your dogs's key information with you where and when you need it
- posibility to manage a larger number of dogs
If you haven't used DogScroll yet just give it a try. Android™ users can get it on Google Play™. iOS users will have to wait just a little bit longer - the version for iPhone® will be available in the near future. Let us know if you find it useful, if something is not working for you, or what you are missing. We will be glad to get your feedback and we will continue developing DogScroll to meet the dog trainer's needs.