Ian Dunbar on “How Dogs Learn” – November 27, 2010

This is a great no-frills explanation of how dogs learn

Dogs are very efficient in their behavior. If a behavior is inherently pleasurable (eating, playing, chasing, etc), or if doing a particular behavior gets something pleasurable for the dog (like food, attention, or social interaction), the dog will display that behavior more and more often. If a behavior is not pleasurable, if it does not work to obtain something pleasurable, or results in something unpleasant, the dog will use that behavior less and less. Whenever you interact with a dog, you’re constantly giving her feedback about what works to get the good stuff and what doesn’t work.

If a dog jumps up and gets attention, even if the attention is that you push him, then he knows that jumping “works” -– that is, it gets him attention and social interaction. If a he accidentally bites you in play and you don’t end the game, then he learns that play biting “works” or at least is not a serious impropriety -– the fun continues. So you can see why it is very important to manipulate the consequences of your dog’s behavior to be sure he is getting the right messages from you. This is a big responsibility.

The good news is that we can easily use the way dogs learn to “sculpt” their behavior, by consistently rewarding the desirable behaviors we see and ignoring or interrupting the undesirable behaviors. Gradually, you will see your dog behaving more and more in desirable ways, and less and less in undesirable ways.
But what about, for example, dogs who jump all the time? Well, that’s just it: no dog ever jumps literally all the time. Even with a dog that jumps a lot, there’s a moment when she isn’t jumping, so reinforce that moment with attention and some food! If you don’t like what she’s doing, show her what you would like her to do and then reinforce the new behavior.

Repetition and patience are key elements in dog training. There’s never a magic moment when the dog understands the meaning of our requests. Animals gradually become conditioned through lots of repetition that certain behaviors in certain situations will or will not “pay off.”

We use these principles -– rewarding desirable behaviors and ignoring undesirable behavior or removing rewards when the animal behaves in an undesirable way – and there is no need to use physical punishment. Dogs make associations with you and with the situation every time you interact with them. Thus, an unfortunate side effect of using punishment to try to train animals is that, while they may learn to respond to cues, or to stop doing something you don’t like, they may also form negative associations to you, to the situation, the environment, to people in general, or to training.

Furthermore, often you don’t get the result you wanted from trying to use punishment to train. Take for example a dog jumping on people. It’s not a desirable behavior to people, but in the dog-dog world this is usually an appeasing, friendly greeting gesture. If you use punishment to try to get the dog to stop jumping, you have to use a severe enough punishment the first time that it effectively outweighs the positive associations of the friendly greeting gesture. If the punishment is not severe enough, then, you are not effectively damping that behavior. You may even unintentionally be rewarding it. Furthermore, even if you succeed in punishing severely enough, some dogs may try to stop the punishment by offering an appeasement gesture rather than by stopping the undesirable behavior– so the result might be more rather than less jumping.

So, using punishment to train is pretty inefficient, difficult to do correctly, and, in order to be effective, must be severe. A much more efficient, friendlier way to train is to teach the dog a desirable, incompatible behavior: ask yourself, “If this is ‘wrong,’ what is ‘right’? In the case above, you could train the dog to sit to greet people instead of jumping.

Please keep in mind, physical punishment can jeopardize your relationship with your dog or cause her to become defensive or fearful. Surely that is not your goal. Besides, dogs aren’t trying to be “bad” when they do something you don’t approve of; they are just being dogs. It is unfair to punish a dog for being a dog. It is up to you, as the human with control of all of the resources, to sufficiently and benevolently teach your dog the rules of the house and to train him to meet your expectations.

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Puppy Training Tip – “Find It” November 24, 2010

A wonderful exercise to teach – fun for the dog and for the owner – is “Find It.” At its most useful, it distracts the dog away from another dog or human.

To teach the exercise, put a treat on the ground, and say, “Find it!” After a few minutes of doing this, begin to throw the treats on the ground, or hide them behind doorways and under chairs. Then begin walking, and throw a treat on the ground in front of you and say, “Find It.” As the dog is finding it, begin walking away. She’ll get the treat and hurry to catch up to you. As she does, give her a voice signal to walk with you (“Heel,” “With Me,” whatever you like to use!) Do that again and again. The dog is either looking for the treat or looking at you. This gives her no opportunity to pick a fight! I like to do this with the dog on leash, taking great care NOT to pull the leash. The dog should learn to watch you – you should not be pulling him after you.

This can be extended to include the “Recall” or “Come” exercise. Throw the treat, and just as she’s picking it up, call her name. When she looks at you, say “YES,” (marker word) and hold a treat for her to come and get. Do it again and again. After she starts to be reliable, you can add the word, “Come.”

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Puppy Training Tip- Coming When Called – November 22, 2010

Teaching your puppy to come to you is one of the most important behaviors he should learn. Start early, to take advantage of your puppy’s early desire to be with you.

Sit on the floor with your puppy on leash so he doesn’t go too far. Toss a toy and then call him back to you. Praise him and give him a treat. Make this a fun game. Don’t say COME yet. You don’t want to call your puppy to come until you are sure he will do it. Otherwise he won’t associate the word with the correct behavior.

Now stand up near your puppy. Get his attention and walk backwards. He should start moving toward you and if he does, praise and give him a treat. Just back up a few steps for now. This is a very important behavior to teach at kindergarten level before you ever try at college level (outside with you far away).

Now stand away from your puppy a few feet. Get his attention and start moving backwards as before. We are building up difficulty slowly with distance. Starting out next to your puppy makes it easier for him. Starting farther away from your puppy makes it harder.

You can start saying COME once your puppy is easily moving towards you. You want to say your puppy’s name and make sure he’s looked at you first before saying COME. If he doesn’t turn his head toward you, he’s not going to come so get closer. If it is difficult to him to turn to you when you say his name, go back to Chapter 4 and practice!

Practice this inside and start adding distance and working in different rooms. Play hide and seek – make it easy at first. Always make coming to you the most rewarding and fun thing your puppy could ever do. Start adding distractions. Put a toy on the floor or have someone else pet your puppy and call him away from those things.

• Always praise your puppy when he comes to you
• Teach your puppy that ‘Come’ means – run to me, there’s a party over here!
• Only call your puppy to come when you KNOW you have control over making it happen
• Always balance distance and distractions for level of difficulty – so work at a level where your puppy can be successful. If there are distractions, work at a short distance away. If there are no distractions, you can be a little further away
• Don’t call your puppy to ‘Come’ for anything she doesn’t like
• Never call your puppy in anger
• Call your puppy only once – and then make her come or walk away
• Always praise and reward your puppy for coming to you- make sure you reward and praise a lot!! (a full 20 seconds of petting for example)
• Never punish your puppy for coming to you – even if it takes awhile for him to get there.

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Puppy Training Tip – Teaching Sits and Downs – 11/18/10

1. Start by sitting on the floor with your puppy where there are no distractions. Place a food treat right at your puppy’s nose and move your hand slightly up and back and as your puppy’s head follows, his butt should hit the ground. When that happens, say YES and give him the treat.

2. Don’t say SIT yet. Your puppy doesn’t understand English and we don’t want to say the word “Sit” until we know he’s going to do it, so he associates the word Sit with the correct behavior. So practice a number of times until your puppy is easily going into a sit. Once you know your puppy will sit, say SIT just before his butt hits the ground. Repeat this 2-3 times in a row and the next time, don’t put a treat in your hand but put your hand at his nose the same as before. You want to fade out the food lure as soon as possible, but still reward him after he sits.

3. Eventually, start saying Sit before he sits and before you use your hand signal. Say Sit, pause, then use your hand signal. Repeat about 5-6 times and the next time, say Sit and wait for your puppy to sit. Immediately say YES and give him a treat. This is the way to get the behavior on a verbal command without needing the hand signal all the time.

4. Make sure you don’t lift your hand up too high with the treat which will cause your puppy to jump up. If your puppy backs up instead of putting his butt down, use your other hand to block him from backing up, or try working in a corner so he can’t back up.

5. To teach DOWN, start with your puppy in a sit. Use the same luring process but move your hand slowly from his nose towards the floor. You may need to move your hand in towards his chest and then back towards you to help him slide down. Every dog is a little different so go slowly and experiment with how you have to move his head so his body slides into a down. Repeat a few times before adding the word DOWN. Don’t say DOWN until you know he is going to do it.

If your puppy starts to go down but his butt pops up, just start again. Working on a slippery floor may help him slide into a down more easily.

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Clicker Training – November 16, 2010

Many of you may have heard of clicker training. Here is a brief introduction.

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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General New Puppy Information – 11/14/10

Socialization is the most important part of puppy training. Introduce your pup to as many people, places, and friendly dogs as you can. Have strangers feed your dog some treats. Get your friends and family to do the homework with you and show them how to teach Sit, Down and Stand. Good places to bring puppies include: Cub Scout or Brownie meetings, shopping centers, baseball and soccer games, and your friends’ houses. Have a puppy party at home, invite lots of people of different ages and ethnicities, and practice the handling exercises like we did during “Pass the puppy” in class. Read about socialization in your handout.

Bite Inhibition – Step 1: React to Hard Bites
Biting is a normal puppy behaviour. It is important to first teach your puppy to bite softly before teaching him to stop biting people altogether. Allow soft bites for now. When you feel a harder one, screech “Yiiikes”. This week’s rules are:
1) Allow soft biting.
2) When your pup nips hard, screech “Yiiikes” then get him a safe chew toy to bite on instead.
3) If he continues to bite hard despite “Yiiikes” then give him a one-minute time-out.
ANY biting of faces or clothing counts as a hard bite.

Preventing Food Guarding: Hand Feed Meals
We want our puppies to like having people around them when they eat. Sit next to your pup’s dish and feed him kibble, one handful at a time. Now and then, approach your pup while he is eating from his dish and drop a spoonful of cottage cheese or meat into it. Occasionally remove the dish and put in an extra-tasty morsel before putting the dish back down. Do this exercise once a day, during a meal.

Chew Toys – How to Keep those Puppy Jaws Busy and Tired!
Provide safe, fun chew toys to keep your puppy busy chewing only the right things. Kongs, Goodie Ships, and hollow Orka toys are great because they can be stuffed with food to keep your puppy interested. The Bustercube is a great kibble-dispensing puzzle that will keep your puppy busy for. Chewber is a terrific safe multipurpose toy – it is a frisbee, tug toy, chew toy and food dish, all in one. Nylabones come in a variety of natural and synthetic designs, and the company makes some especially for puppies. Tire Biter is a hardy nylon tire that you can wedge treats in, smear a bit of peanut butter inside, or play fetch with. High quality chew toys are a smart investment – they are safer and last longer than low quality toys, and they help protect your household belongings from destruction.

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Teaching your Dog not to Jump – 11/11/10

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. Here are some ideas for addressing the specific situation of people walking in the door at your home.

• 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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Teach Your Dog to “Check In” – 11/10/10

Start with the normal attention work, using the dog’s name. When you get to the point that the dog looks quickly at the owner when asked, we make it harder.

So the first sequence is:
• “Fido” (he looks) “yes” (treat)
• Repeat multiple times. The humans must work on timing, both at class and at home.
When the behavior is relatively reliable, start with distractions – preferably a human.
• Human appears. Owner says “Fido” (he looks) “yes!” (treat)
• Repeat that several times – well, many times. If at any point Fido looks at the owner when the “human” appears WITHOUT HEARING THE CUE, the owner says “yes!” and gives a jackpot – lots of praise, and multiple treats.
• Now, you use a (benign) dog as a distraction and go through the same sequence.

Adding Movement: The U-Turn
After the dog gets to the point where he’ll look at a human and look back (with or without the cue) at his owner, we teach the U-turn. This uses several physical cues. First, there’s the attention cue (dog’s name?), then the owner bends her knees, uses her right hand (if the dog is on the owner’s left side) as a lure (with treat or without), and pivots to the right. The dog should follow the lure, making a U-turn around the owner’s body, and follow the owner as she walks away. Of course, we start with no distractions, and then work our way back up again.

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Calling Your Dog-Part 2, Nov 7, 2010

The major steps in teaching the recall are to introduce the cue and then practice in a huge number of different circumstances. Vary how far away you are from the dog and how many distractions there are. When you make one aspect harder, make the other one easier. You might use a long line for safety or as a gentle reminder of your existence, but don’t use it to tug your dog to you. If you need the line very often, you are pushing her too fast. Set your dog up for success.

1. Introduce the cue to your dog. Do this somewhere where you know the dog will come to you. Have a treat handy, behind your back, for example. Have your dog about two or three feet away. In a friendly voice (not a command or a question, but an invitation), say “Puppy, come” (the dog’s name here is Puppy). Then show her the treat and take a step backward. Lean away from her, not into her. Leaning in is doggish for “stop.” Puppy runs over, gets clicked for showing up, and gets her treat. Not just one treat, but several, one at a time (only one click). Make it a real party. If she likes to be petted, now is a good time. But be careful — she may often like petting, but maybe not all the time. Watch what she does. If she ducks away from your hand, now is not a good time.

2. Practice from further away. Do the same activity from 6 feet away. You say “Puppy, come,” then get her to come to you somehow. She doesn’t fully know the cue yet, so you want to make sure that she comes to you. Legal moves on your part are: waving the food in front of her face and running away; making kissy noises; clucking with your tongue; clapping your hands, etc. Illegal moves: walking over and grabbing her by the scruff of the neck or in some other way making “come” a scary word.

You don’t have to have a party every time now, but at least twice a day, take a full 30 seconds to reward her for coming to you. Continue that procedure for a long time, at least a few months. On times when you just give one treat, you can practice a few times in a row. To get her to go away from you, throw a treat and make sure she sees it fly. Then you can call her again.

3. Practice not luring her to you. When your dog has a clue about what “come” means, start calling her without waving food around or making smoochy noises, from the same distance as before, or closer. If she doesn’t start coming to you in a few seconds, make noise or get her attention and run away. Toss the treat to make her leave you, then call her as soon as she’s gulped it down.

4. Practice as part of living. Call her to you whenever you are about to do something good to her or for her. Feeding time is a great example. If you want to take her for a walk or let her out into the yard, those are good times, too. If she knows sit, then call her to you, ask for a sit, then give her dinner, let her out, or clip on the leash. Remember, only call her for the fun stuff, so don’t call her to give her a bath!

5. Practice from even further away. Work up to ten feet, or fifteen, if she’ll do it. All indoors, with low distractions. Reward generously.

6. Practice with distractions, closer in. Now make it harder for her by increasing the distraction level. We don’t want to make it too hard, so have her closer to you, say 5 feet away.
Keep increasing the level of distraction and the distance until you have the recall you want. Make sure that any time you call her, you are willing to do what it takes to get her to come to you. This may mean running away (one of my favorites) or running up to her, showing the treat, and then running away (safer method). It may mean waiting her out, if she’s not entertaining herself by not coming. When she doesn’t come when you call her, you are simply moving beyond what she is ready for. Simply make it easier for her in some way and build reliability slowly

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Q and A with Mrs. G, Part 2 – 11/1/10

Read Part 2 of my interview with Mrs. G.
Check out her cute pups at www.poopypuppy.com.

Mrs. G: Joanne, what is the biggest training mistake that humans make when training or interacting with their dog?
Joanne: Well, the first that comes to mind is speaking to your new puppy in English and expecting him to understand what you want him to do. Looking at him saying, “Sit, Sit, Sit,” will not teach him how to sit.

You must get the behavior first, usually with a food lure, and once you are predictably getting the behavior, THEN add the command just before the behavior happens. Being consistent with this order of things will ensure that your pup will get the connection between the action and the command that goes with it.

The second biggest mistake is ignoring your puppy when he is being good and providing all kinds of attention (even negative) when he is doing things that you don’t want him to do.

Reward spontaneous acts of good behavior and these are the behaviors that your puppy will soon chose to do on his own, without prompting from you.

Mrs. G.: How should one go about choosing a training venue?
Joanne: Whenever possible, use personal references and observe a class .

Mrs. G.: What if a dog owner cannot afford classes and/or cannot fit them into their schedule?
Joanne: Other good options are books, DVDs, dog training websites, YouTube and even some TV shows. Look for shows that use positive reinforcement training.

I’m happy to provide reading recommendations to anyone who wants to contact me at Happy Dog Behavior Training.

Mrs. G.: What’s your favorite training experience?
Joanne: I love teaching puppy classes. Nothing is cuter than a room full of puppies playing. But mostly I love enlightening and helping new dog owners. It makes my day whenever I get an email telling me of a client’s good progress with their pups or telling me that things have improved since our session.

Mrs. G.: If you had one thing to say to dog owners about dog obedience, what would it be?
Joanne: Be patient and kind to your dog. Don’t try to try to train when you are tired or frustrated. Don’t get angry at your puppy. If you are feeling frustrated, take a break and play.

If he does something wrong, teach him what you want him to do instead. If your puppy isn’t responding to you, consider that you are probably working with too many distractions. Think about how you can make things easier for your pup by starting out in a quiet environment and moving into more distracting environments as they understand what is expected of them

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