Positive Reinforcement Training – December 30, 2010

Don’t risk punishing your dog!

Punishment, coercion, domination does not work to teach your dog what you want him to do.
If you want to teach cooperation, good manners, tricks, obedience behavior and have a loyal companion, use management and positive reinforcement. Punishment generates evasion, aversion, defiance or aggression. Yes, it may stop a “bad” behavior (temporarily), but it doesn’t teach good behavior. Your dog will choose one of two ways to react to punishment:

• He will stop acting or avoid (sometimes this is what you want) but this often becomes what is called learned helplessness (cringing, eye averting, slinking, unresponsive dogs)
• He will retaliate. Aggression as growling will become snarling will become biting.

So how to get the dog not to bite, chew, jump up, pee on the floor?
Management and positive reinforcement

Management means never putting your puppy/dog in a position where he can make a mistake. And positive reinforcement means immediately following any “good” behavior with something that the dog will work for (food, play, praise, etc.). We each want a dog that chooses good behavior, that listens to us, and that lives with us as a friend. How could punishment create such a dog?

Studies demonstrate that learning is strongest and best retained when the learner has figured it out for himself. We know this is true for us, and behavioral science has shown that it’s true for all animals. Positive reinforcement creates learners who “think” or puzzle out what they can do to get reinforced. So they quickly learn, that if I sit this human will give me a cookie.

Reinforcement can be given for a good behavior and equally valuable for training, an important reinforcement can be withheld for a “bad” behavior. If your puppy bites too hard, don’t punish. Instead remove the reinforcement – your hand! The puppy is playing which is fun (reinforcing). When he bites which he likes to do, you say “ouch!” and remove the reinforcement briefly (your hand). When he stops biting in surprise you return the reinforcement your hand and attention. In this case you remove a reinforcer and then give a reinforcer. The puppy chooses gentle play because that’s the only way he’ll get to play.

Dogs do what works! What does this mean to the dog? What works means that your dog believes that what he just did got him what he wanted. The dog freely chooses a good behavior because he wants the reinforcement. Isn’t this how we all want to live? Its fun, its humane, it’s a creative challenge to figure out how to set your dog up for success and to steer him away from failure. There is no good dog switch hidden somewhere under your dog’s fur coat. But the friend your good dog can be is worth the challenge of learning the skills of management and positive reinforcement.

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Socializing Your Puppy – December 27, 2010

With winter heavily upon us, it is especially important to make an extra effort to socialize your winter puppies!

Ongoing socialization is extremely important to prevent behavior problems. Socialization is especially important before the age of 3 months, but should also be done throughout your dog’s lifetime. Gentle socialization plays a huge role in preventing aggression and fearful behavior.

Lack of socialization can lead to hyperactive behavior, barking, shyness and aggression. The younger you begin socializing your dog, the better, but all dogs can be gradually brought into new and even initially fearful situations and learn to enjoy them.

Socialization is a lifelong process. For example, if your dog does not see any dogs for months or years at a time, you would expect his behavior to change around them when he does finally see them again.

How to expose your dog to something new or something he is wary of:

• Make sure that you remain calm, and up-beat and keep his leash loose, if he is wearing one.
• Expose him gradually to what he is fearful of, never forcing him. Allow him to retreat if he wants to.
• Reward him for being calm or for exploring the new situation.

Try to expose your dog regularly to all of the things and situations you would like him to able to cope with calmly in the future. Progress slowly enough so that it is easy for your dog to enjoy the sessions. It will seem like a lot of time to spend at first but it will pay off with a well-behaved dog.

Below are some examples, but this is just a start:

• Meeting new people of all types, including children, men, crowds, people wearing hats, in wheelchairs, etc.
• Meeting new dogs (do not bring your pup to areas with lots of dogs until after 4 months)
• Exposure to other pets such as cats, horse, birds
• Teach him to enjoy his crate
• Riding in the car (be sure to restrain him using a crate or seatbelt for safety)
• Being held, touched all over and in different ways, being bathed and groomed
• Visiting the Vet’s office, groomer, daycare, boarding kennel
• Exposure to loud noises and strange objects (example – umbrella opening)
• Exposure to traffic, motorcycles, bicycles, skateboards, joggers
• Getting him used to being left alone for a few hours at a time

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Dog Training Tip – Merry Christmas


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. Cats sometimes pee out of the box because they are sick even when they don’t act sick.

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Raise the Bar with Your Dog Training – December 22, 2010

To keep your puppy or dog interested, keep asking for his very best. When you are starting out, every tiny effort toward good behavior is rewarded. But once a behavior is basically learned, it is time to raise the bar.

Use these criteria:
If you repeat yourself (don’t!) or physically help your puppy get it right, praise but no treat. Put the treat right to his nose then put it away. Too bad –try harder next time! You’re not angry but he doesn’t get a gold start for C- level work. If you want to encourage his best, treat only for A-level responses. Save your treats for the best performance your puppy can currently offer. Give a few small treats in a row for great responses or a breakthrough response (first correct effort). If your puppy offers a behavior without you asking for it, say ‘thank you’, but don’t treat.

While you are feeding, smile and praise. Don’t fake the praise – feel it and your puppy will feel it. Keep making it clear to your puppy what you really like (his very best!). If his slow Sit after two commands gets the same treat and praise that an immediate Sit with full attention gets, how is he supposed to know which is better? If you want the best, reward the best with your best.

Brian Kilcommons, a well-known area trainer puts it very well:

“You get what you pet”. In other words, if you pet your dog while he’s jumping, you’ll get jumping. If you pet your dog while he is sitting quietly, you’ll get quiet sitting.

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Anxiety in Dogs – December 20, 2010

There are various kinds of anxiety in dogs – the most common is separation anxiety, followed by fear of strange objects, people or animals. Some of the symptoms include, but are not limited to: barking, digging, chewing, following the owner from room to room, excessive touching or licking, “dry” panting, whining, sweating from paws, soiling, sudden hair loss, self-mutilation, destructiveness, defensive growling and occasional aggression.

The cause of anxiety is usually quite simple – the dog’s needs are not being met properly, or were not met during the dog’s developmental periods.

Dogs belong in a pack (or family). They need structure, limits, and clear rules to be set by their leader. If the leadership – and companionship – of the pack is not adequate, or not available, the dog will respond in ways that are definitely anxiety producing in humans!

Most problems of anxiety can be solved – or at least helped – by strong leadership from you, the owner (and leader of their pack), and a solid routine they can count on. However, the dog must learn to accept the routine — and that can take time. The following are some guidelines for the owner of an anxious dog.

1. First, make sure the dog understands what you want and looks to you for leadership. Take him to class, or teach him obedience work at home. Make sure he gets enough exercise and stimulation. Ball playing in the back yard is good…but a morning and evening run is better.
2. Be aware how much he approaches you for attention and petting. If it’s a great deal, stop petting him every time he demands it. Ignore him, turn away. When he relaxes, you can call him and pet him — at your discretion. This builds up your status in your pack, and helps him to trust your decisions.
3. If the dog goes from human to human in his search for attention, develop a signal that tells all the family members that the dog is on a doggy time-out. If necessary, set up a tie-down (a 3-4 foot leash attached to an immovable object) to prevent interactions, but use it AFTER the signal begins.
4. If the dog follows you from room to room, desensitize him to your departure. Go from room to room, and leave the dog behind you, shutting the door after you. You can tell him you are leaving him. When you return to the room, there should be no verbal warning and no greeting. Be very matter of fact, very cool.
5. Leave the house for short periods of time (beginning at two minutes), and return… again, no fanfare; cool, non-emotional departures, warm, calm arrivals. Gradually increase the amount of time you are away. If appropriate, leave the dog with something delicious that he can work on for some time. A “Kong” rubber toy, with peanut butter or cream cheese stuffed up the middle is a nice treat that takes some time to work on. Take it away when you return. This gives him something to look forward to.
6. If the dog is shy or sensitive, encourage independence by teaching games — find it, hide and seek, and agility. Play limited tug of war; that is, keep the excitement level moderate.
7. Never apologize to the dog for leaving – say good-bye lightly. Upon your return, act as though you’ve never been away. Putter around the house for a couple of minutes before greeting your dog. In essence, act as though nothing you do is unusual or noteworthy. That will lower the dog’s anxiety level…and make both of you happier.

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Adolescent Changes – December 17, 2010

Puppies enter adolescence at about 6 months and this stage lasts until they are about 18 months to two years.

A dog’s adolescence is the time when everything starts to fall apart, unless you make a concerted effort to see it through to the stability of adulthood. Your dog’s adolescence is a critical time. If you ignore your dog’s education now, you will soon find yourself living with an ill-mannered, under-socialized, hyperactive animal. Here are some things to watch for.

Household etiquette may deteriorate over time, especially if you start taking your dog’s housetraining and other good behavior for granted. But if you taught your pup well in his earlier months, the drift in household etiquette will be slow until your dog reaches his sunset years, when housetraining especially tends to suffer.

Basic manners may take a sharp dive when puppy collides with adolescence. Lure/reward training your puppy was easy: you taught your pup to eagerly come, follow, sit, lie down, stand still, roll over, and look up to you with unwavering attention and respect because you were your pup’s sun, moon, and stars. But now your dog is developing adult doggy interests, such as investigating other dogs’ rear ends, sniffing urine and feces on the grass, rolling in unidentifiable smelly stuff, and chasing squirrels. Your dog’s interests may quickly become distractions to training, so that your dog will continue sniffing another dog’s rear end rather than come running when called. (What a scary thought, that your dog would prefer another dog’s rear end to you!) All of a sudden he won’t come, won’t sit, won’t settle down and stay, but instead jumps up, pulls on-leash, and becomes hyperactive.

Bite inhibition tends to drift as your dog gets older and develops more powerful jaws. Giving your dog ample opportunity to wrestle with other dogs, regularly handfeeding kibble and treats, and periodically examining and cleaning your dog’s teeth are the best exercises to ensure that your adolescent dog maintains his soft mouth.

Socialization often heads downhill during adolescence, sometimes surprisingly precipitously. As they get older, dogs have fewer opportunities to meet unfamiliar people and dogs. Puppy classes and parties are often a thing of the past and most owners have established a set routine by the time their dog is five or six months old. At home, the dog interacts with the same familiar friends and family, and is walked, if at all, on the same route to the same dog park, where they encounter the same old people and the same old dogs. Consequently, many adolescent dogs become progressively de-socialized toward unfamiliar people and dogs until eventually they become intolerant of all but a small inner circle of friends.

If your adolescent dog does not get out and about regularly and few unfamiliar people come to the house, his d-socialization may be alarmingly rapid. At five months your dog was a social butterfly with nothing but wiggles and wags when greeting people, but by eight months of age he has become defensive and lacking in confidence: he barks and backs off, or he snaps and lunges with hackles raised. A previously friendly adolescent dog might suddenly and without much warning be spooked by a household guest.

Puppy socialization was a prelude to your safe and enjoyable continued socialization of your adolescent dog. However, your adolescent dog must continue meeting unfamiliar people regularly, otherwise he will progressively de-socialize. Similarly, successful adolescent socialization makes it possible for you to safely and enjoyably continue to socialize your adult dog. Socialization is an on ongoing process.

Dog-Dog Socialization also deteriorates during adolescence, often at an alarming rate, especially for very small and very large dogs. First, teaching a dog to get along with every other dog is difficult. Second, it is unrealistic to expect a dog to be best friends with every dog. Much like people, dogs have special friends, casual acquaintances, and individuals they don’t particularly like. Third, it is quite natural for dogs (especially males) to squabble. In fact, it is a rare male dog that has never been involved in some physical altercation. Everything was fine with young pups playing in class and in parks, but with adolescent dogs, the scraps, the arguments, and even the play-fighting seem all too real.

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Accept Reaching Hands and Touching – December 13, 2010

If you ever notice your dog or puppy pulling their head back as you reach towards their head or try to grab their collar then you should make an effort to get them more comfortable with this – especially if you have kids.

This exercise will help hand shy dogs become more comfortable with being touched. It is important to begin practicing with familiar and accepted adults first. Again, keep in mind that your objective is not for the dog to merely tolerate, but rather to remain relaxed and enjoy the process, and that an inexperienced helper can get bitten if you proceed too quickly without making sure that the dog is truly accepting rather than merely tolerating the touching.

Goal 1: Relaxed Dog will accept face touch from owner and/or helper.
1. Reach toward dog, stop 6 in. from side of dog’s face, treat from other hand.
2. Repeat reach toward dog, stopping 3 inches from face, treat from other hand.
3. Repeat reach, stopping 2 inches from face, then repeat stopping 1 inch from face.
4. Lightly touch the side of dog’s face.
5. Repeat toward chin.


Goal 2: Relaxed dog will accept collar and body touch from owner and/or helper.
1. As you feed the treat with one hand, touch the dog’s head with the other.
2. As you feed the treat with one hand, touch the dog under the ear and on the ear.
3. As you feed the treat with one hand, touch the side of the dog’s neck.
4. As you feed the dog with one hand, touch the collar.
5. As you feed with one hand, touch the dog’s chest, front legs, back, lower back, belly, down the back legs, the tail, and finally the paws.
6. Progress to touching from different positions and at different speeds.

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Great Online Resources – December 10, 2010

There is so much information out there about dog training that most new puppy owners are overwhelmed. And much of the information may seem contradictory. The important thing to remember is that there is NO one right way to do everything – there are many different methods, even within the realm of positive reinforcement training.

Research and reading are a great way to educate yourself – but take the information in and do what makes sense. Think of teaching your puppy by providing lots of immediate feedback – praise for behavior you want repeated and interrupt and re-direct behavior you don’t want repeated. Make sure you do not inadvertently reward undesirable behavior with too much attention.

A great resource for a new puppy owner is Dr. Ian Dunbar’s site, www.dogstar.daily.com

Dr. Dunbar provides free downloads of his books, “Before You Get Your Puppy” and “After You Get Your Puppy” and there are many great articles on all training topics.

The ASPCA provides a dog care section that provides dozens of articles on how to address specific behavior problems. Check it out: www.aspca.org/pet-care/dog-care/

Happy training!

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General Training Tips – December 7, 2010

A good trainer is: Fast, Patient, Generous, Unpredictable and Variable.

In the beginning, you must reinforce a behavior IMMEDIATELY every single time you give the cue. This is called the “acquisition” stage of the behavior. As the behavior becomes more reliable, you can begin to delay the reinforcement (treat, ball, affection), or go to variable reinforcement (reinforcing every few times). You must stop being predictable! Here are some tips to make you be a better dog trainer.

• Concentrate on and reinforce the things your dog is doing right. Try to ignore behavior you don’t want to see repeated. If you can’t ignore it, manage it.

• Remember that the reinforcement (treat, ball, toy) you use has to be reinforcing to your dog! Kibble (dog food) usually isn’t enough, unless the dog is starving. Experiment with different levels of reinforcement – from regular treats up to pieces of leftover meat or cheese. Save your most potent reinforcement for the behaviors that are most difficult for your dog.

• Placement of the reinforcement is extremely important. Where your treat goes, so goes your dog. Thus, if you want your dog to walk right beside you, make sure you deliver your treats next to your leg, at the dog’s head level. Try not to make the dog jump for a treat, unless you want the dog to do so – as in a trick.

• Marking a successful behavior. As you teach each exercise, make sure your dog knows exactly what you want him to do. Do this by MARKING the precise moment the behavior occurs. We call this a bridge. So, in teaching a Down, the instant her entire body touches the ground, you say “YES!!!” and deliver a treat. As the behavior gets more reliable, stop saying “yes” every time she does it. However, each time you say “YES” a treat should be forthcoming.

• Make it harder. When you began training your dog, you lured the dog into position. Once there you gave her a treat. Now we wish to prompt the behavior, mark the proper one, and reward intermittently from an unknown place.

As an example, if you were trying to get your dog to lie down, you would begin by luring, then rewarding the behavior. By now, when you say “Down”, she lies down – but she does it much better when she sees the treat in your hand. So we have to teach her the ZEN of TREATS – in order to get the treat, she must give up the treat. Hold your treat in the hand that is not doing the signal. Show the dog your hand without the treat.

Tell or signal the dog to Down, and wait for the dog to do so. Wait until she does. Don’t go back to the lure yet. When she does lie down, give her a wonderful treat from the other hand. You are teaching the dog that the treats she can’t see are even more potent than the ones she can. And it’s teaching her she doesn’t have to see the treat to do the exercise. (If she doesn’t down, she may not understand; go back to the beginning, and review until you get a good down with a lure).

Do that for awhile. Then, delay the treat for a tad, and when you do deliver it, do so from a desk or counter. Then give it for two downs (twofer), then three, then four. But never go to no rewards. Try to vary your reward as well; different kinds of treats, a tug toy, or ball playing after a short session.

• Never take a behavior completely for granted. That leads to the Straight A Student Syndrome. If no one pays attention to you when you’re being good….you’ll be bad! F students get a great deal of attention when they make a C, and they learn that creating havoc leads to more attention. Pay attention to the correct behavior!

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Dog Training Tip – On Leash Greetings – December 3, 2010

These are important rules and factors in allowing your dog to greet another dog on leash.

1. Many otherwise social dogs will behave aggressively toward other dogs while on leash with their owners.
2. Many dogs are less social than your own.
3. If your dog is straining at the leash as he approaches another dog, the other dog may perceive your dog’s body language as confrontational or intimidating, and vice versa.
4. A tight leash may telegraph stress to your dog, and cause him to be more on guard.
5. Safe and successful introductions between adult dogs are most likely when the following conditions are met:

  • a. Both dogs are regularly socialized and have no history of aggression
    b. Both owners have voice control (at minimum) over their dogs in stimulating situations (i.e. there is a balance between stimulation and control)
    c. Both owners know their dogs well and are able to read canine signals
    d. Both dogs are able to approach on slack leashes with relaxed body language
    e. Both owners are relaxed and confident
    f. Owners have good communication with one another
    g. Neither dog is wearing any training equipment that might cause unintended corrections or inhibit natural body language
    h. Neither dog is on a taught leash or a retractable leash
    i. Both dogs have the freedom to walk away
    j. Owners have good communication with one another
  • 6. Allowing unwelcome or uncontrolled introductions may undermine your leadership with your dog, who may trust your judgment less after being subjected to an introduction that goes badly.
    7. If you are not certain your dog (or the other dog) is adequately prepared for a successful greeting, try walking in parallel with the other dog and owner at a safe distance, to see if both dogs relax a bit, to give them each an opportunity to take in the other dog’s body language, and to gauge your control over your dog (and the other owner’s control over his) in each other’s presence.

    Holding the leash can cause the following issues:
    • inhibits body language of the dog
    • feed off of human emotions because of tension in the leash
    • resource guarding of owner
    • fearful dogs can’t escape
    • frustrates playful dogs who may redirect on owner
    • leashes tangle causing potential injury dogs/humans

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