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CONSISTENCY IS THE KEY TO TRAINING- August 30, 2010

We all have our weaknesses: those soulful brown eyes pleading for just one morsel from your plate, the warm head on your lap while you tap away on computer, heavy with the weight of hope and expectation for a game of fetch or at the very least an ear scratch, or the more-empty-than-usual bed when a spouse is out of town that leads letting her sleep with you “just this once”.

Let’s face it, we love our dogs and sometimes that love, our need for connection, our and desire to give back some of the happiness they’ve given us causes us to cave in situations where we’d all be better served by sticking to our guns.

The thing is, dogs don’t do “exceptions”. Instead, they are constantly collecting and evaluating the feedback/consequences to their actions and if something they do works to get them something they really want, chances are they are going to try it again. Period.

If the “rules” you’ve outlined are occasionally (or routinely) broken, they really won’t be viewed as rules through a dog’s eyes. We may be able to comprehend the concept of special occasions but inconsistency in our responses causes confusion in a dog’s mind, sets them up to make mistakes, and causes us to become frustrated or angry because “he knows better”. Guess what? He doesn’t. He just knows that sometimes when he jumps up on the couch he gets to stay, and he hasn’t worked out quite yet why it’s okay with you sometimes and not others. And the occasional reprimand from you is worth it for even the possibility of one more evening curled up next to you in comfort rather than across the room on his bed.

So be clear and consistent when interacting with your dog, determine your house rules in advance, and then take the time to teach your dog what is expected of him rather than just punish him for mistakes (or for not following a rule he’s never been properly clued-in on in the first place).

Boundary training is an excellent place to start your new crystal clear communication. Not only does this make life easier when you are trying to come and go, but also it keeps dogs safe.

Teaching dogs to pause at thresholds rather than push past you and bum-rush the door is another great habit to teach your dog, and NOT because he may take over the world if he goes through the doorways before you. Rather, “Sit” as the default setting at doorways saves lives. It also gives you a marvelous opportunity to reinforce a polite sit and impulse control with a very powerful life reward – “let’s go for a walk”!

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Puppy Biting and Nipping – August 27, 2010

1. Puppies explore with their mouths just like babies explore with their hands.  Puppies have sharp teeth and weak jaws – so this is the time to teach them to bite gently – and then not at all – before they develop the strong jaws of an adolescent dog. It is important to teach your puppy to reduce both the force and frequency of his biting.

2.  To do this, play with your puppy.  Sit on the floor and purposely put your hands near your puppy’s mouth.  If you feel a hard bite, say Ouch! And stop playing. If your puppy stops biting, lure him into a sit and reward and start playing again. If your puppy ignores the ‘ouch’, and continues to bite, say OOOWWW and leave the room.  Come back after a 20 second time out and do a little sit/down training before starting to play again.

3. An excellent way to practice this is to tether your puppy in an area where he can’t have any fun except with you.  Sit on the floor and play with your puppy and when you feel hard bite, say Ouch! Then get up and leave the area for 20 seconds.  Repeat this 10 times in a row twice a day.  You should be able to play longer and longer between hard bites. Then start reacting to the softer bites as well.  If you have children, each person should practice this exercise separately, starting with the adults.

4. Another way to teach your puppy to have a ‘gentle mouth’ is to hand feed him.  Your puppy only gets the food when being gentle – and not grabby. If your puppy likes to bite and grab pant legs, stop moving immediately and interrupt him.  Call his name and then ask him to do something else such as Sit.

5. Be aware that when your puppy is excited, he’ll be more mouthy and bitey.  So first practice when he’s calm.  When he is calm, you can do a lot of gentle petting and give him a nice belly rub.  If he bites, then all petting stops for 20 seconds.  Another consequence to biting is 30 second time out in his crate.  Don’t do this in anger – it’s just a neutral consequence to his biting – “Oops – time out – in your crate.”

If you don’t see an improvement in reduced biting, consult a Certified Professional Dog Trainer in your area.

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Getting your Dog back in Control – August 25, 2010

As your dog enters adolescence, you may find that he stops listening to you.  Here are some tips to get your relationship back on track:

  • – List everything your dog likes and use these as rewards
  • – Use verbal language and emotional language (smiling, petting) to communicate with your dog

Work on the relationship:

  • – Control with a leash in the house
  • – Control resting areas
  • – Control feeding with Sit/Wait –use leash if needed
  • – Ask for Sit and Wait at doorways
  • – Spend time grooming – tether dog and praise while grooming
    • –  Take for a walk as reward for grooming or feed dinner
  • – Play with your dog and control the play
    • –  Teach sharing with retrieve, Play Tug and make it fun
  • – Stay in control of your attention – give attention when the dog is doing what you want
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Introduction to Clicker Training – Part 2, August 23, 2010

Charging the Clicker

By pairing the ‘click’ marker signal with a reward (small food treats), the dog learns that the sound predicts a treat.  This process is called charging the clicker.  You click and immediately give the dog a small treat.  Repeat 20 times.  At this stage we don’t care what your dog is doing; they just have to learn that the click predicts a treat.  After one or two sessions your dog will learn to associate the click sound with a treat.

How Does the Clicker Help Me Train My Dog?

When your dog does something you like, you mark it with a click and give the dog a treat.  Rewarded behaviors will be repeated so the dog will continue to do things that earned him a click in the past.  The clicker communicates the following information:

  • – I like the behavior you just did
  • – You have earned a reward for that behavior
  • – That behavior is now over

For example:

The dog starts to go into a sit position.  The dog hears the click as he is sitting and gets a treat.  You can either repeat that cycle or move onto a new behavior.  If you accidentally click, just feed the dog and start again.

Getting the Behavior to Happen

We use 3 primary methods to get desired behaviors.

  • Luring
  • Capture
  • Shaping

 Luring: Holding a food lure in your hand you motion the dog into a position such as sit or down.  Luring techniques are useful when first teaching a behavior but they must be faded quickly in order for the dog to truly learn.

Capture: Good trainers are observant. By observing the desired behaviors as they naturally occur and click/treating them, they will occur more often.  An example would be clicking as you notice your dog going into a down and then rewarding him.

Shaping: By shaping you would click and treat small portions of the desired final behavior.  For example if you were shaping a sit you would click/treat any small movement starting with the dog’s head coming up and the butt heading towards the floor.  Finally you get the complete sit behavior and click and treat for that.

Naming the Behavior

With new behaviors that the dog does not know well, we train the behavior first before we call it anything.  Naming the behavior (putting the behavior on Cue) is the last piece of the puzzle.  Dogs are not verbal and do not understand English!  So be patient and get the behavior to happen reliably before giving it a name.

 

Training a Simple Behavior – “Touch”

Charge up your clicker and then hold your non-clicker hand with a flat palm facing your dog, holding your target hand close to their nose. As they touch their nose to your target hand, C/T.  Using the concept of shaping, you may need to start by clicking and rewarding for just initial interest in the target hand, or just turning towards it.  Be patient. Eventually your dog will move his nose to your open palm.  Once they are freely touching the target hand, only click for actual touches.  Repeat 10 times, moving your hand slightly to the left and right and gradually further away by taking a couple of steps.  Keep repeating the variations.

Your dog is learning that it’s their actions that are causing you to C/T and the desired action is the nose to palm touch.  Your dog has now learned their first clicker behavior and you have had a chance to practice your clicker timing and treat delivery.  Once the dog can do several touches with you moving your target hand you can add the verbal cue “Touch” to the behavior.  Only say the cur once as the dog is in the process of touching the target hand.

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Introduction to Clicker Training – Part 1, August 19, 2010

The use of marker signals, like clickers, to train animals has been in use for over 60 years so it’s hardly a new concept.  However if you haven’t clicker trained an animal before, it’s brand new to you, so here’s how you can comfortable using a clicker to train your dog.

If you have ever seen the animal acts at places like Sea World and Marine Land, you have seen how effective this sort o training can be.  Clicker training has its roots in the science of classical conditioning – think Pavlov’s Dogs.  Because it’s based in science, you will find it a fast, effective and efficient method training.  While dogs of different breeds can behave differently, no dog is immune to the principles of learning theory and it is using those principles, that we will train our dogs.

Clickers are not ‘magic’ – they are just simple tools.  Their main advantage is that they are cheap, easy to carry and use, and they produce a unique sound that can be used as a marker signal.  Owners of deaf dogs will often use a small flashlight as a marker signal and marine mammal trainers use whistles.  All these markers perform the same task; they provide the animal being trained with information.  In order to be an effective training tool, your maker signal needs to meet certain requirements.

Unique:  It’s unique signal sounds stands out from the everyday background sounds like human speech.

Consistent: It sounds the same no matter who is training the dog.

Immediate: It needs to pinpoint the exact behavior at the precise moment the dog does it.  Mechanical markers are more precise than verbal ones when you want to pinpoint a behavior.

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Clicker Training – August 17, 2010

Clicker Training

Clicker training is an excellent way to teach your dog new behaviors and a great way for kids to get involved in training.  Here is some basic information.

 

What is clicker training? 

A positive reinforcement training technique using a primary and secondary reinforcer that includes shaping so the dog takes an active role in the training process.  Primary reinforcer is the treat.  Secondary reinforcer is the click.

Advantages of clicker training:

Clicker training provides clear concise information for the dog.  It has a unique sound that stands out to the dog.  Timing is easier than voice for most students and lessens unneeded chatter at the dog.

Clicker training creates an enthusiastic working dog.  The dog learns quickly because he is an active participant in the learning process through the use of shaping and high rate of reinforcement. 

This is an excellent technique for team training that gets more of the family involved.  It’s a technique that is easily transferable from person to person.  It does not rely on social status, strength or intimidation, like some other techniques.

Clicker training is fun.  Students quickly start to focus on their dog’s brilliance.  They learn they have a ‘smart’ dog.  Classes tend to be quieter so there is less noise and a nicer training environment.

Facts and myths about clicker training:

It is more difficult for pet owners to learn.  Not true!  If the curriculum and classes are properly designed and organized, beginners do as well at learning to use the clicker as with other techniques.  Once people try it, they are hooked.  The instructor’s commitment and presentation make all the difference!

You need the clicker forever – Not true!  You wean away once your dog has learned the behavior.  You can fall back on the clicker for refresher training any time.

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How to Have a Better Behaved Dog – August 15, 2010

We all want wonderfully behaved dogs, but it doesn’t happen on its own just because we wish it.  It takes time and effort to create the kind of dog and relationship you want. Here are some basic principles that can help you have a better behaved dog.

  • – Have realistic expectations about your dog. No matter how good your dog is, things will get peed on, chewed or scratched/dug up. Barking / meowing, door dashing and/or pulling on the leash can happen with even the best animal.  Accept the fact that dogs are living beings and not china dolls to sit in the corner.  If you have a dog, some time during his/her life, you will loose something of value. 
  • – To change behavior you have to be patient and persistent.  Change will not happen over night.  Sometimes it can take weeks or months to change behavior.  The more time you spend and the more often you work with your dog the quicker the change. Despite what some books say, most puppies can’t be housetrained in 7 days.
  • – Recognize and meet your dog’s behavioral needs.  Dogs have needs for exercise, social contact with people and other animals and mental stimulation. Problem-solving toys, can provide mental stimulation. Games such as ‘find the hidden object’ and events such as agility can provide all three. 
  • – Make it easy for your dog to do the right thing.  Arrange the environment so that the behavior you want is easily produced. The more often desirable behavior happens the stronger it becomes. For example, minimize distractions when you’re trying to teach your dog something new. Put scratching posts where they are easy for your cat to find and use. 
  • – Make it difficult for your dog to do the wrong thing.  Arrange the environment so it is hard for your dog to make mistakes.  The more often unwanted behavior happens the harder it is to change.  Close the blinds to keep your dog from barking at those that pass by.  Scoop out your cats’ litter boxes every day.

Realize that animals don’t do things out of spite, for revenge or just to make your life miserable. They do what works – that is, what meets their behavioral needs, gets them rewards or allows them to escape or avoid bad things. They sometimes do some things because they are ill.  Dogs counter surf because they occasionally hit the jackpot of a sandwich or chicken leg.

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How to Create a Motivating Toy – August 11, 2010

People will often lament that their dog is not “into” toys. Some dogs will not innately want to play with toys but you can create the desire within them with a little work on your part. If your dog is really motivated by food and has never shown any interest in toys, an option available to you is to take the motivating toy you have chosen to work with and simmer it in a pot of liver, or chicken broth to make it more attractive to your finicky hound. BE LEERY–if you choose to go this route, be very careful your dog is never given an opportunity to be alone with this wonderful smelling toy or THEY MAY EAT IT. The key to training old Rover to play with you and your toy is that you are SINCERELY interested in playing with your dog. If you are truly not having fun, your dog will quickly realize this and will be even more reluctant to join in. So be sure that you are both enjoying yourselves.

  • – Choose a throwable toy–i.e. one that you can toss, but won’t roll too much, like a tug rope, or a ball in a sock or a stuffed animal.
  • – Attach this toy to a light line, string that is about 5 feet long.
  • – Put the toy in a drawer in of your living area–example, in the kitchen or somewhere else that is easily accessible at all times.
  • – Before each meal start to act a bit loony. While saying really fun things to your dog (like “oh no”, “what is it”, “do you want this”, “where’s your toy”, etc.) walk, dance, skip…basically act goofy while you make your way over to the special drawer.
  • – S-l-o-w-l-y open up the drawer while continuing to say nutty things to your dog.
  • – Stop talking momentarily (a pause for effect) and then pull the toy out of the drawer, like you just unexpectedly came across a $50 bill and run with it into the next room.
  • – Swing the toy above the ground while acting nutty to show the dog what a great time you are having with this fun toy.
  • – Dance around for a few more seconds and then toss the toy out like a lure on the end of a fishing pole.
  • – Drag it around but BE SURE THE DOG DOES NOT GET HIS MOUTH ON IT.
  • – This whole process should only take 1-2 minutes the first time you do it.
  • – End your fun game, which didn’t include your poor dog, by running back to the drawer, your toy in tow snatching it up and quickly putting it back in the drawer with a phrase like “oh no, it’s gone”.
  • – Then proceed about your regular routine as if nothing out of the ordinary just happened.
  • – Re-enact this bizarre performance 2-3 times a day. After the second day, allow the dog to get his mouth on the toy if he is really interested–but only for a few seconds. Pull on the line to try and steal it from him. Once you get it away (be sure you are taking it from him in a very informal, fun way), play with it a little more by yourself before quickly putting the toy away.
  • – Gradually progress, letting him play with you and the toy (tog of war style) a little more each time until you have a dog who loves to see the toy come out.
  • – Do not allow him to play with this toy at any other time except during this routine.
  • – Ideally, you should remove any other toys that are lying around the house during this time. Leave out only things your dog can lie down and chew on by himself, such as his chew bones.
  • – Before you know it you will have a dog who is as nutty about this toy as you apparently have been!
  • – This method works particularly well on new puppies.
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Touching Your Dog – August 9, 2010

When working on your dog it will help you both to relax if you choose a quiet warm room with no distractions, away from other people and pets.  Do not restrain your dog.  If he walks away it means he’s not comfortable with what you’re doing. 

Speak in a quiet reassuring voice.  Breathe slowly and deeply.  Start on an area where he is comfortable being touched.  Always be gentle and gradually build up to longer periods of touching time.  Stop when your dog becomes bored or resists.  You don’t want him tensing up.  It can take time to build up trust and confidence but when this is achieved, it will deepen the relationship between you and your dog. 

A good way to get started is by using a quick, light flicking motion against the direction of hair growth.  Using a relaxed, cupped hand, gently go over the body as if flicking off dust.  This touch is ideal for fidgety or touch-sensitive dogs.  After a few seconds of this, you can move on with your hands in a raking shape (the heel of your hand and fingertips in contact with your dog) and make long strokes.  Start under your dog’s tummy and work up towards his back.  Your dog should now be settled and ready for the next stage. 

With one hand lightly resting on your dog, use the flat of your other hand gently to push the skin around in a circular motion. Start off quickly, and then gradually slow your breathing and your hand movements.  As you slow down, be very aware of your breathing – concentrate on making single circles and felling the skin sliding over the top of the muscle. 

Do this randomly all over your dog’s body, and use only enough pressure to slide skin over muscle.  Gradually work towards the more sensitive areas, such as the paws, then gently spread the toes and work between the pads.  At any time you can gently slide your dog’s ears between your fingers and thumb.  The ear contains all the acupressure points of the body and by these gentle sliding actions the whole body is affected. 

As you gain more experience, experiment with different light touches.  Some dogs find fingertip contact very pleasant but others may find it uncomfortable.  Watch your dog’s face and body and be sensitive to any changes.  If your dog finds any of the touches too invasive try lightening the touch. 

When you’ve finished, gently make long strokes over your dog’s whole body to join up the areas you have been working on.

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Teaching Your Dog Not to Jump – August 5, 2010

Jumping is a perfectly natural dog behavior.  However, it may not be the way you want your guests greeted when they come to your house.  You have already worked on sit for petting with a person approaching and here are some ideas for addressing the specific situation of people walking in the door at your home (which is different to your dog)

 

  • Prevention-If you know someone is coming to your house, put your dog away    while your guests   arrive.  When their coats are off and your guests are comfortably seated, release your dog.  If is best if you initially have a leash on your dog and you ask him to do some sits/downs/tricks.  This diffuses the need for a greeting ritual

 

  • Alternate behavior– Give your dog something to do that is incompatible with jumping on your guests.  Ou can ask your dog to sit or lay down at the door or send your dog to his mat.  These will all work, but will require practice.  Your guests will be one of the most intense distractions your dog will face.  Your work on Leave it, Sit and Down will help

 

  • Four on the Floor Some people prefer to teach their dog an active greeting as long as he keeps all four feet on the floor.  You can train your dog to do this by C/T each time his feet hit the floor.  Extend the time that his feet remain on the floor by withholding the click (just like you did for increasing the length of sits and downs)

 

  • Consistency – It is imperative that you be consistent about the behavior that you expect from your dog when guests arrive.  Put a sign on your door to explain what is going on.  This will not only give you a few extra seconds to put your training plan in place, but will also educate your guests about what is expected from them.  Make sure they understand that they should not reinforce the dog (with pats or smiles) for inappropriate behavior

 

  • Leave dog treats outside your door.  Show your guests how to lure your dog into a sit.  Your guests can then throw the treat down the hall to get the dog out of the vicinity of the door.  If your guests are consistent in asking for a sit, your dog will begin to offer a sit when he hears someone at the door.
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