What is Mark – Reward Training?

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 him 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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Some Tips for Separation Anxiety

Separation anxiety is an intense fear or dislike of separation (usually from a family member to whom they have become very attached), which often manifests itself as destructive behavior such as chewing, digging, barking, etc while they are apart.
You may find separation anxiety easier to understand if you bear in mind the fact that dogs are pack animals – they’re social by nature. It’s normal for dogs to form intense emotional bonds with their pack. No dog does well when left on her own, but some dogs REALLY don’t do well – and these are the ones that develop separation anxiety.

Typical problem behaviors include inappropriate urination or defecation, destruction, excessive barking and whining, hyperactive behaviors like tail-chasing, compulsive behaviors like repetitive licking or self-mutilation (for example, pulling out fur, gnawing at nails and skin), and depression, signified by withdrawal and lethargy.

Here are some guidelines that use training to encourage greater independence. 
Training involves a combination of methods, including:
1) desensitizing your departure cues
2) toning down your departures and arrivals, and
3) staging a series of absences

Desensitize Departure Cues
Your anxious dog will sense any act or routine you initiate as you prepare to leave. Putting on shoes and picking up keys are the most common examples. These actions are like triggers for your dog’s uneasiness.
You can easily break that association. Simply go through the motions of putting on your shoes, picking up keys (or whatever it is that clues in your dog to your departure) then don’t actually leave. Repeat this act until your actions no longer mean ‘owner leaving’. When your dog stays calm – the desensitizing is complete.

Tone down arrivals
If you give your dog a wildly enthusiastic welcome every time you walk in the door you send the message that, yes, this is a HUGE deal. Extra happy returns will not cure separation anxiety; rather they will make it worse. Resist the urge. Keep things brief and casual. Even ignore your overexcited pet for a few minutes until they regain some degree of composure.

Stage Exits
You want your dog to be alone and comfortable without you, so stage an exit. Practice leaving him confined to another room in your house for a few minutes while you’re at home – then gradually make your absences longer.
Try this: Walk out, but don’t leave – stay standing just outside the door, listening. If you hear whining, crying, or scratching, gently reprimand. This addresses the behavior right on the spot and helps them see that you don’t really vanish when you walk out the door.

Finally, time is on your side. Dogs will learn that you’re always coming back whether you’re leaving them in the car for a few minutes, or in the house for an afternoon. They will grow in confidence as they grow in maturity.

In the meantime, some things to do and keep doing:
Exercise – it’s my answer for everything I’m told, but it sure helps almost everything
Personal activities – remember they’re dogs. They enjoy chewing on things so give them something to chew on. They like company too. If they’re left inside, switch on the radio (soothing music please).
Visits – if you work long hours, arrange short visits from friends. (The great thing about having a very sweet and very obedient dog is that everyone WANTS to see them)

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