Training Tips

I hope these tips provide a little extra canine insight


IMG_2369Training Tips

  • Dogs repeat behaviors that are reinforced.
  • Puppies are never too young to socialize and train. The younger they are, the easier they learn.
  • Introduce your puppy to as many people and dogs as possible before 12-16 weeks of age.
  • Housetrain effectively by using confinement and constant supervision.
  • Each piece of kibble can be a training tool. Hand feed your dog next to your left leg and training to walk on a leash will become easier.
  • Dogs pull because it works. Only move forward when the leash is loose!
  • Think of sitting as “saying please”…Your dog can sit and ask politely for play, attention, etc.
  • If you are having trouble teaching sit, back your pup up to a wall, and then lure him with a treat moved from his nose up over his head.
  • Exercise, exercise, exercise…a tired dog is a good dog!
  • Dogs do not need to be “dominated.” They need clear, positive instructions about how to behave in human society.

Ready to put these into practice? Contact me today.


American Veterinary Society for Animal Behavior Position Statements


Getting Started With a Clicker: The Basics of Treats and Clicks

Treats:

Since all dogs eat food, treats are a “universal reward” which can be used with all dogs. Treats are simple to use and they make sure that one can easily work through many repetitions in a short time. This is often important, especially in the early stages of training.

The Essential Information about Treats:

  • When training, use treats that are better than your dog’s normal dinner. Consider the many commercially available ‘training treats,’ freeze-dried liver, tiny pieces of cheese, liverwurst, hotdogs, etc. Get a bait bag that attaches to your waist for easy access.
  • The treats should be very small so that the dog does not feel full quickly, but big enough so they know they are being rewarded. Aim for something smelly as well.
  • Treats should be soft and chewy so that they can go down easily – it is not smart to waste valuable training time by having the dog standing around chewing for a long time. Remember: Soft, Small and Smelly!
  • The more distractions that are around or the more demanding the exercise that you are training – the better the treats should be. When you are training indoors in your living room you can get away with bread crumbs or kibble, but down at the dog park you should remember your soft, small and smelly mantra.
  • It is a good idea to vary between at least 4-5 different kinds of treats. This way you will avoid the dog growing tired of something.
  • If you are training frequently and using lots of treats, you should reduce the amount of food the dog gets “for free” for dinner (particularly if your dog gains weight easily).
  • Once a new behavior is well-known to the dog, try using the dog’s dinner kibble as rewards. Dogs can always work for all or part of their dinner.

Remember that treats can be served in many different ways. Treats can be served calmly from your hand, or you can run away and let the dog chase the treats for a while before you deliver them to him. You can also put the treats in a bowl and reward by saying “OK” and letting the dog run to the treats. It is a good idea to vary the treat delivery so that it is suited to the exercise you are training.

Games and play:

Many dogs love playing tug of war, chasing a Kong toy on a rope, or running after a thrown tennis ball. If you have such a dog, you should definitely use play and games as a reward as much as you can. Play can also be used as a surprise reward between rewarding with treats.

If your dog doesn’t immediately want to play, remember that play can be trained! This training should be done separately from other training. Just get out a toy and begin to play! When the dog starts to find this amusing, you can gradually begin to use it as a reward when training.

You will get the best results if you teach your dog to play when it is a puppy. Most of the time, adult dogs take a bit longer to get going.

If you have a dog that only wants treats, it is also possible to teach him that he only gets the treat after having played a bit. Play around with a ball or tug toy and exchange for a treat at the end (but make sure that he is holding on to the toy when he gets the treat).

It is a good idea to teach the dog to play with his leash, not just regular dog toys. This way you will always have a reward at hand.

Just make sure that your dog acts ”politely” when playing- end the game if the dog jumps up at you or is careless with his teeth. Also train the dog to voluntarily come back and give you the toy (reward with a treat or by resuming the game).

Other reinforcers:

Remember that there are a great many other reinforcers out there as well. Basically anything that your dog wants can be used as a reinforcer. If your dog wants to run over to another dog, you can have it sit and offer eye contact to you before you say “OK”. If your male dog wants to get over to a certain lamp post, you can ask for a couple of yards of walking nicely on a loose leash before saying “OK”.

Homework

  • Find at least four different treats and perform a little taste trial with your dog. Then arrange the treats in order from 1-4 according to which you think your dog likes the best (remember that the dog’s preferences can change, so this order might be subject to change later).
  • Try out at least three different dog toys and see if your dog is interested in any of them.
  • Write down at least three environmental reinforcers, that is reinforcers that you can’t keep in your pocket but that your dog often wants when you are out and about. Try out at least one of these when you take a walk tonight (for example, say “yes” when the dog has offered eye contact first).

The Clicker

The clicker is a conditioned reinforcer. This means that it informs (or conditions the dog to know) that the “real” reinforcement (a treat, a ball, a tug toy or some other nice thing) is coming.

The good thing about the clicker is that we can mark the exact moment when the dog does what we wish to reinforce. If we click just as the dog performs what we want, this behavior will be reinforced (become more likely to occur) even if a second or three passes before we get the treat or toy from our pocket and deliver it to the dog. The clicker builds a “bridge” over the time gap between the behavior and the delivery of the reward.

Charging the Clicker:

1. Find an undisturbed place, preferably indoors. Click once – then take a treat from your pocket and give it to the dog. The dog does not have to do anything special – just click and deliver the treat. What is most important at this first stage is for your dog to learn the connection between a click and a treat. When your dog has swallowed the treat, you click and reward once more. Run through 5-6 clicks and treats before taking a break.

If you have a sound-sensitive dog, please keep the clicker in your pocket to soften the sound the first 10-12 repetitions. When the dog responds positively to the sound, remove it from your pocket while clicking.

2.  After a two minute break you go on to another session. You can now begin to move about while you click and treat – your dog has to learn that click means reward even if you are on the move. Run through 5-10 clicks and then take a break. What the dog is doing when you click is still not important. It is ok if he is looking at you, but also try clicking when your dog looks away – you will see that your dog will quickly turn back to you. That is a clear sign that he is beginning to understand the meaning of the clicking sound.

3.  You can work through the third session on your evening walk. Now you only need to have the clicker in your hand while you are walking. When your dog does something that you like during your walk (for example looks at you, walks on a loose leash, passes a pedestrian, somebody on a bicycle, or another dog, etc) you click and treat. If the dog does not respond to the clicker (this can happen the first few times outdoors if there are a lot of distractions), just give the treat anyway.

If you have a dog that enjoys playing, you can use play instead of treats after the click from the very beginning. You can also vary between giving a treat and getting the toy out after the click. The click means that something fun is going to happen, but it does not necessarily say what – it can be a pleasant surprise.

When you see that the dog responds nicely to the click indoors as well as outdoors you should NOT keep working on responding to the very sound – it is time to move on to training specific behaviors!

If you do not have a clicker, you can use the word “yes” (said short and rapidly) for now. It is a good idea to have a short word like that as a stand in for the clicker any way.

Remember:

  • Keep your hands by your sides while you click
  • Wait to move your hand towards your pocket until AFTER you click. If you move your hand to your pocket before you click, the dog will react to the movement of your hand and not to the clicker.
  • ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS reward after a click. EVERY TIME! No exceptions

Homework

Charge the clicker! If done correctly, it should take no more than 10-30 clicks before the dog reacts to the clicker in most places. In situations with distractions it might take a bit longer before the dog always reacts as well to the clicker, but it will come as you begin to train for real.


Desensitization and Counterconditioning

Desensitization and counterconditioning (DS & CC) are techniques used to treat fears, anxiety, phobias and aggression. These are all behavior problems caused by arousal or emotional reaction. When the problem is rooted in how a dog or cat feels about a particular thing, the most effective treatment will change the way he feels about it. It isn’t enough to just teach him a different behavior—like sit instead of lunge and growl. Treatment of fear and anxiety must focus on achieving BOTH the desired emotional state AND the desired behavioral response. DS & CC can eliminate the underlying reason for the behavior problem in the first place.

Desensitization and counterconditioning were developed by psychologists. Done together, they effectively and humanely help both people and animals with fears and phobias. Though highly successful, proper use of these techniques can be complex and time consuming. For animals, they involve patient training several times a day, progressing in small, carefully planned increments. Although it can progress quickly, sometimes it can take quite a long time before results are seen. Because treatment must progress and change according to the pet’s reactions, and because these reactions can be difficult to read and interpret, systematic desensitization and counterconditioning are often most effective under the guidance of a trained professional.

For behavior problems associated with fear or anxiety, the use of punishment is contraindicated. Although punishment may suppress an undesirable behavior, it is actually adding to the pet’s fear and anxiety because it is not changing the underlying emotional cause for the behavior. Ultimately this will lead to the behavior worsening or “sudden” bites from a fearful animal.

Desensitization means to make less sensitive. Its goal is to eliminate or reduce the exaggerated, emotion-based reaction that an animal has to a specific stimulus—be it other animals, kinds of people (children or men in uniform), certain places, objects or noises. Systematic desensitization is a structured plan. It involves a gradual process of exposing the animal to increasingly intense versions of the stimuli, always staying under the threshold at which a fearful reaction is triggered.

Desensitization starts with exposing the pet to a weak, less threatening version of the scary stimulus. We weaken the stimuli by making it farther away, smaller, slower, less noisy or of lesser duration, or still rather than moving. The stimuli must be sufficiently weak that the pet does not have ANY sign of a fearful reaction, and is relaxed enough to happily eat treats. Over time, as the pet habituates (gets used) to the stimuli at that low level of exposure, the stimuli is gradually increased by, for example, bringing it closer, increasing its volume or having it move until the regular level of stimulus is reached.

Counterconditioning means changing the pet’s emotional response, feelings or attitude toward a stimulus. Using CC we can cause the pet to have a pleasant feeling and reaction toward something that he once feared or disliked. This is done by associating the feared thing with something good. Any calm acknowledgement of the stimuli by the pet causes a delicious treat to appear. This creates a pleasant emotional reaction. With repetition, the animal learns that whenever the stimulus appears, good things happen! This produces a positive emotional reaction to the sight of the previously feared stimulus.

DS is combined with CC because it’s almost impossible to teach a positive association to something if the dog is actively experiencing fear or showing aggression. To avoid this, we expose the animal to a weak version of the feared stimuli (desensitization), and give him delicious treats (counterconditioning). Over many exposures, the stimuli is gradually made stronger (for example, closer, louder or faster) and always followed immediately with treats (or toys, petting or other things the dog loves).


two-dogsChoosing a Dog or Puppy

To Shed or Not To Shed? That is the first question to ask. Do you want a dog that sheds fur year round or do you want a dog that has hair and therefore needs to be groomed approximately every 4-8 weeks.  Shedding dogs include Labradors, Golden Retrievers, many larger mixed breeds, Shepherds, Collies, Dalmations, Dachshunds, Pugs, Boxers, Bernese Mountain Dogs, etc.  Nonshedding breeds tend to be smaller such as the small Poodles, Terriers, Spaniels, Maltese, Bichon Frise, etc. The only really large non-shedding dog is the Standard Poodle. They are very smart and make excellent pets.

Do you want a puppy or an adult dog? Puppies come with the benefit of their incredible cuteness and the ability to train them to fit your household from a young age. However, puppies are incredibly time consuming, often messy, and require a LOT of time and training to become happy, well-adjusted members of your household. House-training and properly socializing a puppy is a BIG job. Adult dogs tend to be already house-broken, so therefore slightly less time-consuming and already past the puppy chewing stage. Some adult dogs are already well-trained, but others require significant training as well. Some adult dogs may have issues that have surfaced as a result of being in many homes.

What kind of living arrangement will your dog share with you? A house with a large yard may be better suited for a larger dog than a one bedroom apartment in the city. Do you want a little dog to sit on your lap or a dog that may outweigh you when full grown? Will you walk your dog or just let it out in the yard? Will adults or children be responsible for walking the dog? Is someone home during the day or will the dog be expected to be alone many hours each day? Will you take the dog to doggy daycare? How much attention per day will your dog get from all members of the family? All these may influence the size of dog you choose as well.

How much exercise can you reasonably expect to provide your dog? Will you walk it around the block twice per day or take it on a 3 mile run twice per day? There is a huge difference in a dog’s behavior based on how much exercise they get. A tired dog is generally a well-behaved dog. Many unwanted dog behaviors stem from dogs that are bored and have energy to burn. High energy dogs, such as Dalmations, Viszlas, Jack Russells, Labradors and Golden Retrievers need lots of exercise.  Some dogs, such as Pekingese, Pugs, and Pomeranians were bred to adorn royalty and therefore do not need as much exercise.

Are you looking for a dog that will participate in activities with you? Do you want to do agility, competition obedience, or any other dog activity or are you just looking for a family pet. Do you want a dog that is happy to run or rollerblade with you? Or do you want a more mellow dog that is happy to just take a stroll around the block at a sedate pace? Do you want a dog that is happy to play with kids all day?