Practicing “Come” with Play – February 29, 2012

This is a cooperation game that will improve your dog’s habit of coming when called, even when playing with doggie pals:

1) Have plenty of yummy treats.
2) Tell your dog “go play”.
3) Let him enjoy playing with his friend for a short while.
4) Go over to your dog, put a yummy treat right in front of his nose, then wiggle that treat back and forth while moving it away from him, sort of like a fish swimming away.
5) Tell your dog, “Come Away”, enticing him to follow the treat.
6) When he starts to move toward you, click and give him the treat.
7) Progress to backing away and having him take a step or two toward you before you click and reward. Gradually increase your distance from him when you call. Eventually wait until he comes all the way to you before you click/reward.
8) Give your dog the treat while holding his collar gently with your other hand. Praise with the informational phrase “Good come away!”, to help him learn what the cue “Come away” means while he’s getting a reward for doing it.
9) Then tell your dog “Go Play” and release his collar, gently touching his shoulder with a VERY slight fingertips-like-feathers push (“like launching a paper boat,” is how I can best describe it).
10) Let him socialize for a while with the other pup and then call him “Come Away” again. Click and reward!

Interrupting your dog’s play every so often with this game will teach him to quickly come to you whenever you call, regardless of what he’s doing at the time.

Tips: Use the cookie-right-on-the-nose technique only until your dog figures out how the game works and starts moving toward you on his own when he hears “Come away.” After that, use the treat as a reward but not to lure him to you.

Play this game when your dog is playing with other dogs, socializing with human friends, or sniffing the trail ahead of you on walks. Note: ALWAYS reward for “Come Away” so your dog enjoys forming this positive habit.

The main point of this game is to teach your dog that when he leaves his fun to come to you, he gets multiple rewards:
1) the treat and praise,
2) He gets released to go play again.

This way he doesn’t lose ANYTHING by coming away from his fun… in fact, he gets good stuff and then gets to go back to his fun afterwards.

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Raise the Bar to Advance Your Training – February 22, 2012

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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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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Mark/Reward Training – February 11, 2012

One of the greatest gifts we can give our dogs is clear, concise and consistent communication.

Mark/Reward training is a simple way to communicate with your dog, letting him know, YES, that’s exactly what I want!” It helps your dog sort out what you’re really asking, and gives hi a way to understand the rules. It’s the quickest way for a dog to learn and fun for both the dog and human as they learn together how to best communicate.

The first thing we want to do to get started is to ‘charge up’ the reward marker. Just say the word ‘YES’ (or click your clicker) and give your dog a treat within a second. Practice until you can deliver 10 treats in 15 seconds. The order is very important. The treat must come after the YES or click. Yes! Then treat. This is how your dog learns that YES predicts a reward.

Timing is everything. Be sure to say YES at the exact moment your dog does what you want. Then you can deliver the treat. Decide what behavior you are going to reward ahead of time. As your dog is first learning a behavior, ie, to look at you when you say his name, you may first decide to ‘mark’ just a head turn but then build up to ‘marking’ full eye contact.

Once your dog knows the behavior in that setting, move to random rewards. Rewards can be petting, neck scratches, tossing a toy, going outside in addition to just treats.

The best way to teach a new behavior is to reward every success, every time. The best way to keep a learned behavior strong is to reward it less frequently and randomly. Your dog will try harder knowing that he might get a reward at any given time. You can start to reward for every 2 sits or after 2 or 3 different behaviors. Sometimes make it harder and sometimes make it easier.

It’s important to transition away from food rewards when the dog has learned the desired behavior. Begin to introduce ‘life’ rewards. Still say YES when your dog does something you want, but instead of giving a treat, give a neck scratch, belly rub, play with a toy, go for a walk or anything else your dog enjoys. Keep observing your dog’s response to things and use rewards to keep the behavior strong. Use food rewards occasionally as well.

Dogs don’t generalize behaviors right away. Just because they know sit in the kitchen does not mean they know sit at the store or in your backyard. We have to re-teach them each behavior in gradually more difficult situations so they will eventually generalize. It’s very important to make things easier (what and how much you are asking for) when you train in a new place or with more distractions. If your dog can do a 30 second down/stay in your living room, start by asking for a 3 second down/stay outside and work up from there.

Keep teaching your dog and help him be successful. Keep him well rewarded through praise, food, games and other things that he enjoys.

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Play Together, Stay Together – February 7, 2012

My dog did not come with an owner’s manual and I suspect that yours didn’t either. It’s lamentable, since most of us would probably find it helpful to have instructions on how to operate a canine in four-paw drive. How do you make it go? Does it have more than one speed? Most important, how on earth do you make it stop?!

Too often, we’re left to our own devices when it comes to living with or shaping the behavior of another creature (and that includes spouses and children), yet some people do it incredibly well. What’s their secret? Couples who have been together a long time will tell you it has a lot to do with trust, respect, and reasonable expectations of each other. But they’ll also tell you that keeping a good sense of humor and having fun together was critical in sustaining the relationship over the long haul. If they could, I think our dogs would give these observations a definite “thumbs up,” to let us know that living with and training a dog should also be about trust, respect, realistic expectations – and having some fun.

Like humans, dogs tend to be healthier and happier when they get regular exercise, and most dogs are only too happy to accompany you on a walk around the neighborhood. A half hour walk provides plenty of practice time for recalls, heeling, socialization and sits. If you walk your dog on a long line, you may log in three miles while your dog puts in six. When the dog is at the end of the leash you can call him back, provide a treat for coming and send him on his way again. When bikers, runners, or kids-on-wheels approach, call the dog to you and practice precision heeling, or put your dog on a sit/stay and focus on attention work. When traffic has cleared, reward your dog with his kibble or a special treat for a job well done.

At home, you can play hide and seek games with your dog while practicing recalls. One person holds the dog while the other person hides. The person-in-hiding calls the dog. When the dog locates the hidden owner, the prize can be a cookie, the dog’s favorite toy – or an animated game of “chase.” This activity not only reinforces recalls, but encourages the dog to think and use his senses. Friends and family can take turns calling the dog back and forth in the yard or up and down carpeted stairs. The dog’s recalls will improve and he’ll be well exercised.

Teaching a dog to stay can be a useful skill around the house and is easy to incorporate in a daily routine. Ask the dog to stay while you place his food bowl on the floor. If he gets up, the food bowl is removed. Once the dog returns to sitting, the food bowl returns to the floor and becomes the reward. When your dog wants to go outside, ask him to sit and stay first. Access to the great outdoors becomes the reward in this instance. Using tricks to train the dog is also fun and never fails to impress your friends and neighbors. The old “bone on the nose” trick is a great way to teach a dog to hold still and to develop a little self-control in the process.

Does your dog become a tornado on paws when the doorbell rings? That’s because it usually predicts an intruder on the premises. Teach the dog that the doorbell means something else, by having a friend or family member press the bell several times during a twenty-minute training session. During this time, no one enters the house. Once the dog realizes that the bell no longer predicts intruders, it should become less meaningful and his reactions to it will decrease. When you get to this point, have someone ring the doorbell again. This is your cue to produce the most desirable food you can think of in his room, crate or bed. Does the name Pavlov sound familiar? Soon, the doorbell will predict a feast instead of an intruder, and the dog will go running to his crate to find it, eliminating the frenzy at the front door when someone comes to visit.

Dogs who greet people by launching themselves to breath-taking altitudes, need to learn “sit” as their default mode. When someone approaches they should ask the dog to sit. Only when he is sitting will he receive praise, petting or treats. Family and friends can practice this exercise by randomly calling the dog back and forth. Each time he comes to a new person, he must sit before receiving a reward, and before moving on to a new person. If your dog likes to greet friends at the door, insist that they ask for a sit before interacting with the dog. As is often the case in dog training, sometimes you have to train the people before you can train the dog.

Training your dog is an art and a science, and if you find a way to make it fun and entertaining, you’re more likely to do it on a regular basis. It’s a good first step on the journey of building a life long relationship with a well-behaved dog who adores you.

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Tricks of the Trade – February 1, 2012

As a dog owner you may have wondered from time to time what professional trainer’s secrets are. Or you may have wondered while attending a class why some owners seem to be more successful than others. The temperament and personality of an individual dog certainly come into play but there are some “tricks of the trade” that anyone can use to achieve better training success.

1. Rate of Reinforcement
The most effective trainers nearly always have a higher rate of reinforcement during teaching new behaviors than less effective trainers. According to some informal studies successful trainers are giving reinforcement as much as five times more often than less successful trainers. This means that when training your dog something new you should reinforce the right behavior (or parts of the right behavior) very often which makes the behavior easier for your dog to understand.

2. Practice, Practice, Practice
Good trainers know that reliable response to commands is built on repetition. Your dog will need to perform new behaviors many times in all different situations before the behavior can be considered reliable. This means other than practicing at home or at class you need to “take the show on the road” and practice on walks, at parks, at pet stores and anywhere else you can think of. This helps dogs to understand that the commands will be rewarded and must be followed no matter what is going on around them.

3. Good Timing
When you click and give rewards has a huge impact on how quickly your dog learns new behaviors. Your dog will repeat behaviors which are rewarding but if your timing is off they may not be the behaviors you were looking for! A common example of this is when teaching Sit, owners click (or treat if not using a clicker) after the dog has gotten out of position. Poor timing sends mixed messages to your pooch. Strive to click (or treat) while the behavior is happening.

4. The 80% Rule
It’s difficult for many trainers, novice and experienced alike, to know when to move on to more advanced parts of a behavior. A long time rule of thumb is you should be getting a correct response at least 80% of the time before moving on. This means if you are practicing come and your dog comes eight out of ten times from a distance of twelve feet you are ready to try a longer distance. If the correct response is under 80% however, you need to put in more practice before advancing.

5. Keep It FUN!
Dogs respond better to training when it is presented to them as a game. Don’t be afraid to get silly praising your dog. Often people get a routine and stick with it practicing the same behaviors every day in the same order. Boring! Not just for the dog but for the trainer as well. Switch it up, teach something new every couple days even if it’s just a trick. Keep training sessions short but plan on having multiples each day. Three 5 minute sessions are better than one hour long one when practicing at home one on one. Avoid training when you are in a bad mood or if you or your dog aren’t feeling well. If you find you are becoming frustrated ask your dog to do something easy and end the session on a high note.

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