PupPod Interview with Vanessa Melrose, Owner of Think Pawsitive - Pet Training

Professional dog trainer and behavior consultant, Vanessa Melrose, talks about her experience using PupPod over the last 5-months with her three dogs (and cat). Vanessa's impressive list of certifications include KPA CTP, ABCDT, APDT, AKC CGC & STAR Puppy Licensed Evaluator, and Certified C.L.A.S.S. Evaluator.


[PupPod] This is Erick Eidus from PupPod and I’m here with Vanessa Melrose from Think Positive Pet Training. And we are going to talk a little bit about PupPod. She is one of our customers. So Vanessa, why don’t you tell us a little bit about your business?

[Vanessa] I run Think Positive Pet Training, we’re based in San Diego. We do everything from early puppy training all the way through competition dogs’ sports, therapy in service dogs, we do all kinds of K-9 performance sports like agility and we also work with other species as well.

[PupPod] What was interesting to you about trying PupPod with your dogs?

[Vanessa] I love always finding new things for my dogs and learn something new something like shaping games are really great. I like that they always present a new challenge and helps further our communication the dogs. I love the interactive component and how they can play the game independently as well.

[PupPod] Tell us a little bit about your animals. You have three dogs and a cat that are all playing PupPod.

[Vanessa] I do, I have a cat who really loves to play the game. She’s been great at it! She has a bit of a weight disadvantage with the heavier toy but she loves to play. I also have a senior Chihuahua, who has one eye. She has some depth perception issues but she’s gotten used to playing with the toy really well. I have a three year old cattle dog who’s mainly deaf. She has about 10% hearing in one ear, but the game has been great in helping her get her sound location a little bit better and just learn to gain from something into her environment. I also have another Lab dog who loves to play the game as well.

[PupPod] How did you transitioned them from learning the game of treats to using the PupPod with the Pet Tutor as a way to deliver meal for a longer period of time?

[Vanessa] I think it’s great for mental and physical stimulation, providing a good amount of exercise and a great amount of thinking. I have largely transitioned in feeding my pets their meals through the PupPod games. So they have transitioned off of treats onto whatever we’re able to fit in the dispenser.

[PupPod] How long are they playing?

[Vanessa] They started about 3-5 minutes at a time, multiple frequent sessions about 3-5 times a day. At first 3 minutes was really even pushing it with some of them so just short and brief exposures really did the trick. About an average time frame now is about an hour or an hour and half of constant playtime.

[PupPod] How much food do they earn over that period of time?

[Vanesa] It certainly varies. With my Chihuahua I’ll just cut her off at a certain time frame so that she doesn’t over eat. I know you can dispense the amount of food you want but we usually keep it pretty full. The lab and my cattle dog their fare with their meal in about that time frame anyway so I don’t worry too much about the portions.

[PupPod] What level are they playing at?

[Vanessa]  They are pretty consistently all at Level 4. I have tried them at 5. My lab is the only one who has made much headway on Level 5 but they’re getting there.

[PupPod] What’s the time interval set that you use?

[Vanessa] I use 10 seconds. I have the treat dispenser placed pretty up high so my dogs are at a pretty fast paced, sniffing out, searching for it and returning to the toy when it comes on so it’s pretty fast paced for them at 10 seconds.

[PupPod] So the sound plays at every 10 seconds, but then on Level 4, how are you noticing their shaping behavior change as they are learning to discriminate between the treat sound and the second sound that just doesn’t pay reward?

[Vanessa] The cue differentiation plays a big role on my Chihuahua as she doesn’t have the best stimulus control in the world, so she is learning to get over that bump. The rest of my other dogs have done really well learning the cue differentiation and will now wait out that tone.

[PupPod] You said your cattle dog had hearing issues. Can you talk a little bit about how you track their work, how they gain work with the hearing issue, maybe with the “lights only mode’? Have you tried that?

[Vanessa] Yes, so she was the dog that I thought would be more successful with this at first. She is certainly successful, but she did have a harder time at first with the sound location because she only does have 10% hearing. She did have a couple of issues with what to interact with, however within the first couple sessions, I would say within the first week, she was targeting the toy for her reward. She does very well and successfully with the “lights only” mode. We’ll put her on in a dimmer room with the lights out, and she absolutely loves that game but we are still working on her sound location so we’ll play it with the audio and visual.

[PupPod] Did you noticed a difference in how your younger dog and older dog approached the game?

[Vanessa] Not so much. They’re all fairly experimental. In fact they thought Lab may be the most inexperienced with the game, however he’s proven to be the most persistent and is very food motivated. He’s the one who’s remained the most constant in his progress which surprised me. The two younger ones are still pretty young (at 3 years old and another at one and a half) and they’re used to learning new things and experimenting. That is what I love about the shaping games, the more we use them the more we can provide on that note and the quicker it is for them to learn new things so it’s a great addition to our program.

[PupPod] Tell us a little bit about how you introduce it to your clients or how you think PupPod might be useful for some of your client’s dogs?

[Vanessa] I think it can be useful in a variety of applications that your average dog can benefit for both mental and physical stimulation. It can be a great relationship bonding experience if you have the App and are learning as well as the dog is learning when it’s the right time for you to reward after the app marks the dog’s correct behavior. I think that that’s a really valuable tool. I have used it in cases of mild separation anxiety. I’ve used with older dogs as we know that we can work on decreasing that cognitive decline assumption by providing these mental stimulation outlets for them and keep them the problem solving skills. We are really working on that with them. I have used it also with dogs who need help with dragging out their food. Sometimes maybe they eat their food too fast, or maybe they’ve put on a little bit extra weight and aren’t moving around as much so we can drag out that meal time. Really shy and fearful dogs can learn a lot of confidence building skills from this and learning to interact as well.

[PupPod] Have you found any other products that can get a dog to interact for an hour and a half like this or is this kind of breaking new ground?

[Vanessa] I think this is one of the more innovative toys that I have seen. It’s tough to find a toy, specially a food dispenser toy that will ask for that amount of time and also provide an adequate amount of energy. You can set up if you have the remote feeder to choose a treat sound over any desired location like if you’re traveling back and forth and really built more exercise into it if needed which is not something a lot of other things can provide.

[PupPod] A lot of times I get questions from people where they say “I have a big dog and I’m worried my dog is going to destroy the toy and get to the batteries.” From your perspective, have you seen any dogs get obsessed with the toy once they learn the mechanism of how to get food from a second source?

[Vanessa] I think it is a valid concern for many people. However, I think it’s important to emphasize that at least initially, the toy should be given under supervision. That way you can prevent any distraction of the toy and teach them how to appropriately interact with it. I have found in my experience with my own dogs and also some client’s dogs that once they learn to associate the marker with the game and their treat they pretty quickly start putting those pieces together and it’s no longer an object to obsess over rather an object to interact with.

[PupPod] You’ve spent some time also using PupPod without the Pet Tutor, although there’s a lot of benefits with the automation with the Pet Tutor. What were your thoughts on working on the app to cue the human to provide treats at the right time? Do you have any feedback on that?

[Vanessa] I think it’s a wonderful teaching tool for the average pet owner who maybe doesn’t know much about positive reinforcement training or mark and reward training. It’s really important to have that marker go off when the dog elicits the exact behavior that we’re desiring to play this game. I think that having the app telling the owner when to dispense the treat really helps put them on the same page, understanding their dog’s communication and also making it a fun two way game relationship.

[PupPod] Anything else that you want to share being that you’ve used the product for about 5 months?

[Vanessa] I love it. I love that it can be used with multiple pet profiles. I love that our pets are enjoying it. And I’d love to see more applications in using it and seeing how the game grows and develops.

[PupPod] Do you have any observations on how your cat interacts with PupPod differently than the dogs? Or is there anything that surprised you?

[Vanessa] I was surprised in her tenacity. I really didn’t expect her to push the limits as much as she did in order to get the treat. Initially the first couple sessions she would simply just walk by the Pod and it would go off, and they she’ll get her treat. She thought it was pretty cool and stayed around but once she got to the level of “motion detection” where she had to actually push the toy, it was really fun to watch her experiment her nose, pressing her head against it, and eventually had to use her paw. She has a lot of fun with it. It was fun to see all different animals with all different backgrounds learn and experiment.

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