Join Me At The Paw Joggers Run

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I am so looking forward to the Paw Joggers Rescue Run on October 18, and hope you will join me.

Billie Mendoza of Paw Joggers Rescue RunThe event is the brainchild of Billie Mendoza, founder and owner of Paw Joggers, a pet fitness and in-home care service, who I have known for years. Since beginning her business, it has grown to serve much of our region including Northern Kentucky. And, as a way of giving back, Billie wanted to raise money for local rescues.

The Paw Joggers Animal Community Fund (Paw Joggers ACF) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting the local animal welfare community through events, awareness, and monetary donations.  The Paw Joggers ACF and its events are powered solely by Paw Joggers Runvolunteers.

The October 18 event will benefit 43 area animal rescue and advocacy groups. It will include a 5K and 2K raise for people participating with or without dogs. Last year more than 750 raced and $10,659 was given to 32 organizations. Billie and her volunteers are expecting Lisa Desatnik of So Much PETential will host a children's contest at the 2015 Paw Joggers Rescue Runmany more this year.

I’m excited that this is my second year being a presenter for the event. I will be leading a contest for children and their dogs, judging with audience participation in categories such as the cutest trick behavior, the best listener (for a dog who listens to and does behaviors asked), and more. If you have a child who will be participating in the race this year, please be sure to enter!

The event will be Sunday, October 18 from 8:30 am to 1:00 pm. The race will begin at 10:00 am. It will be at Sharon Woods Park, 11450 Lebanon Rd; Sharonville, OH 45241.

To register, please visit this link.

Six Tips To Use Distractions In Dog Training

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It is a very common problem of companion pet owners. Their dog ‘knows’ a particular behavior like sit or stay but seems to completely forget or tune out when there are distractions around. And often that dog may be labeled bull-headed, stubborn, dumb, or dominate.

dog training tips for using distractionsThe reality, however, is any number of reasons… the behavior may not have a strong reinforcement history, it may not have been taught with consistency, there may be a stronger value for the dog to do anything but the behavior asked for are just some of the potential causes but none of them have to do with the labels listed above.

I was just working with one of my puppy clients the other day who thinks everything that moves and tastes yummy is absolutely fascinating. When we began working on loose leash skills, instead of working against those distractions (a battle that will be hard fought) we worked WITH them.

In her first lesson, she was catching on pretty quickly the contingency that *if* she runs to the end of her leash after a moving leaf, *then* the opportunity to chase it went away but *if* she took even one step in the beginning with me or her owner, *that* she got the opportunity for awesome fun of leaf chasing.  We also worked on the same type of exercise adding in asking her to sit for the opportunity to get food in a bowl or greet a stranger walking by.

The Premack Principle  states that a high probability behavior will reinforce the less probably behavior, and this does not always have to be positive, just more probably. As an example, going out to train animals or meet with someone is a higher probability behavior for me than writing this post; and I know that when I finish this, that I can go out to do other activities I would rather do. Therefore, I am more probable to get this done quickly to be able to leave my house and the opportunity to leave has become my reinforcer for writing.

From this puppy’s perspective, chasing leaves is a highly probable behavior. Sitting and walking on a loose leash are less probable, but the sitting and walking on a loose leash can become more probable to her by pairing those behaviors with the consequence of chasing leaves.

Here is the thing. If your learner is SO focused on that other stimulus that she cannot think about anything else, then you as her teacher can make some modifications in your lesson plan to help her succeed.

Remember, the less opportunities there are for your student to practice (and get reinforced) for unwanted behavior choices, the quicker you will be able to teach and build value for wanted behavior choices.

Here are a few tips of training your dog (or other pet) successfully with distractions:

Add distance

If your pet is so close that all she can think about is the distraction, then you are too close. Back up to where you and your student can succeed and begin working on the behavior then. Here is a post I wrote about how adding distance from a front door was how I taught a dog to eventually sit at the door.

Distance is your friend whether you are working on a reactivity issue or teaching self control. By exposing your student to a stimulus at a level that does not evoke an undesired response and gradually increasing the intensity of the stimulus as your pet can continue to succeed (either with relaxed body muscles for a reactive dog or with the ability to do a specific behavior), you are desensitizing her to that environmental stimulus.

Easy Does It On Distractions

Add distractions only at a level where your pet can continue to succeed. Just because your student can sit in your quiet living room and on your porch, does not mean you are ready to take that training to an active park or pet store.

Compiling a list of potential distractions will help, ranking them according to their level of distraction. And know that distractions are cumulative, meaning several low level distractions in an environment can add up to a higher level distraction.

As You Increase Difficulty With One Criteria, Lower Other Criteria

Know that as you add distractions, this is going to make the lesson plan more difficult, so lowering other criteria will be helpful. For example, if, in your home you had worked up to 30 second duration and being able to walk five feet from your pet with your down/stay behavior; know that when you take this lesson on the road, in a more distracting environment, you will want to begin working with much less distance and much less time duration, and work back up to those criteria.

Increase The Rate Of Your Reinforcement

This is sort of an extension of my previous tip on lowering criteria. Increasing the rate of reinforcement can help you to keep your pet’s focus around environmental distractions. As an example, if your dog is walking with a loose leash next to you on a quiet street and you are able to mark and reinforce that behavior only once every twenty to thirty steps; when walking your dog in a new environment with more distractions, you may need to temporarily lower that criteria to reinforcing every few steps and building back up to higher criteria.

Increase The Value Of Reinforcement

Remember, when teaching by choice, animals will make a decision based upon which choice will get them the greatest value. Knowing your pet’s Awesome List is so important, and that changes. Do not try to compete against something your pet REALLY wants unless you stack the odds in your favor. (And remember, those distractions can actually be used as reinforcers too!) You can also use play as a reinforcer, such as tugging. A dog who is fully engaged in a game of tug or chasing a Frisbee is a dog that is not fully engaged in noticing the person walking by.  (Please note that if your dog is fearful and reactive to stimulus, you may want to work with a positive trainer to help teach your dog a new association with that aversive stimulus.)

Practice, Practice, Practice

There really is no quick fix to teaching solid behaviors around distractions. Consistent training with much practice in a variety of settings with valued reinforcement, accurate marking of behavior, and smart trainer decisions about when to raise and lower behavior criteria will get you there.


Reward vs Reinforcement In Training

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I was working with one of my puppy clients the other day. And, as many young puppies do, without hesitation she grabbed my tug toy when presented, she ran after a toy I threw and she watched with her tail wagging as I showed her a toy that made strange noises. She also did not hesitate to eat any of the treats offered. Confidence definitely is not lacking in her.

One thing I think about when I teach an animal like her (and her human) is how wonderful it is that she is showing me SO many possible reinforcers for teaching her behaviors.

Please click here to read my post about why knowing your pet’s Awesome List is important.

Her owner had a question for me about rewarding behaviors. It wasn’t anything that I hadn’t been asked before but it got me thinking, how often it is that I hear of people make reference to rewards.

People often think of the words rewards and reinforcement being interchangeable but their interpretation can be different. So, I figured I’d write a post to give some clarity to it.

Let’s look first at reinforcement. Paul Chance’s definition (Learning & Behavior) is: the procedure of providing consequences for a behavior that increase or maintain the strength of that behavior.

That is very important to undrewards vs reinforcement in dog trainingerstand because behavior, simply put, is a tool for an animal to get a consequence. It is feedback that the animal uses as to whether or not that behavior should continue in the future.

In training, it is also important to note that the delivery of that reinforcer can greatly affect its effectiveness. Dr. Susan Friedman taught me that contingency occurs when the presentation of the reinforcer DEPENDS on the performance of the behavior. (If behavior X occurs, then consequence Y will occur.)  An example of this is *if* Sam runs to his bed when given a verbal cue, *then* he gets a piece of chicken or *if* Sam walks by my side, *then* I will run with him to the grass to sniff.

The greater the contingency, the faster the learning curve, and that occurs with consistency in pairing the behavior and consequence. Contiguity is the amount of time between the behavior and the reinforcing consequence. The shorter the delay, the faster the learning process.

This is why moment markers (marking a specific behavior with a click, verbal word or something else specifically when the behavior occurs and following it with a reinforcer such as food) are so effective because they provide the learner with such precise feedback. The moment marker serves to tell the animal that YES, that is the behavior that is earning you reinforcement.

Reinforcers can be negative or positive. Negative reinforcement are consequences that are removed, avoided or escaped in the environment while positive reinforcement are stimulus added to the environment and are consequences the animal behaves to get.  What they share is their impact on the future rate of the behavior, to either increase or maintain the behavior’s strength.

What we as trainers and teachers also need to understand is that reinforcement is absolutely the study of one and it can change from moment to moment. A hungry animal may have more value for food, and especially by food that it is not part of its everyday diet. A puppy in the morning may have more value for active play. Environmental reinforcers are all around too such as opportunities to sniff.

The proof of a reinforcer’s effectiveness is measured by the future rate of the behavior. That is key.

On the other hand, a reward by definition is something given in recognition of one’s service, effort, or achievement. However, what is important to note is that rewards are ONLY reinforcers when they increase or maintain the strength of behaviors.

A common mistake is when people *reward* behavior based upon what they ‘think’ the learner should value. As an example, I often see people reward their dog for coming by bending over to fluff up the fur on their dog’s head only to have their dog move backwards. There is a high probability that the recall behavior could break down instead of increase if the dog learns that something aversive will happen when he comes.  By definition then, that reward is not a reinforcer but a punisher.

If people reward their dog for a behavior with a cheerio or verbal ‘good boy’ in a soft tone, and their dog’s fluency in that behavior weakens, then by definition that reward is also not a reinforcer.

The take-a-way here is to remember, if you want to teach and strengthen a behavior that you want your pet to do, make sure you are following that behavior with a consequence that is of value TO YOUR student.

Self Control Is An Important Skill For Dogs

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A reminder, teaching your dog or puppy self control skills and to stay is important in so many contexts…waiting at an open door, for calm greetings, for YOU to initiate play as just a few examples. Here are some tips for beginning to teach it.  The game that I show here for teaching self control can be used in so many other applications, substituting other environmental reinforcers for food such as the opportunity to sniff, to play with a ball, to tug, to go outside, to have a leash put on, to go into or out of a car.

tips for teaching dog self control and waiting

Rescue Dog Finds Forever Home After Nine Years

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Most of my posts have to do with pet behavior but this story is one that I really wanted to share.

This sweet little girl named Bridget (the dog on the left) called the Animal Care Society of Westport Rd in Louisville home for nine years. Through time she grew shy and hesitant, and kept getting overlooked by potential owners..until a woman with a heart to see past what others viewed as weaknesses came by. Sherrie and her son, Ryan, came to visit Brigett for several After spending 9 years at the Animal Care Society of Westport Road in Louisville, Kentucky, this dog was adopted and found her forever home.weeks.

Bunny Zeller of the Animal Care Society told KPHO Wave 3 News: “She (Sherrie) was coming constantly and spending time with her. She walked her some to where she built Bridgette’s trust up of her. By the time they left, Bridgette was all over her, kissing her and licking her,” Zeller said.

Bridgett officially found her forever home on August 27, 2015. “It just makes me want to cry because you think how many times someone walked by her to get a younger dog,” Sherrie told KPHO.

Here is to happy endings!

How Crate Games Make Going Into The Crate Fun

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I have been working with this Havanese puppy, Migo, on training him to go into his crate.  I did this by making the crate a hugely valuable place to be (from his point of view), by using clicker training and positive reinforcement.

You can see how much he enjoys crate games by how fast he runs back in. Since he is moving in so fluidly, it was time to begin adding a cue just as he is on his way into the crate.

A Tip For Petting Dogs

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dog training tip for kids and dogs


I wanted to share this reminder to you about little dogs especially. Leaning over them can make them uncomfortable, as can giving them massive head rubs. One clue is if the dog leans or moves away. This is a much better way to give a dog reinforcement.

Please teach this to your children also.

Teaching Dog To Sit With A Game

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The other day, I had a second training session with this adorable labradoodle puppy and his family. He laid patiently at their side while we began talking through solving the issues that come with bringing a young, energetic companion into their home with sharp teeth and an incomplete understanding of human household etiquette. (It is so awesome that their whole family is on board and eager to learn about training.)

dog training tip - teaching a dog to sit by Cincinnati dog trainer Lisa DesatnikThen we got up to work on actual training. After their practicing some hand targeting and name game exercises, we started doing some work on building value for his sit behavior. Initially they were using treats as a reinforcers; however, he was noticing more of the environment than of his teachers, and being slow at offering the sit.

Remember, this is a little guy who was born to play and who had just spent over a half hour in the car followed by time resting. He was ready for activity.

So, I wanted to show another approach. I stood in the center of the room and when he followed and sat at my side, the second his rear end touched the ground, I proclaimed, ‘Yes!’ and then proceeded to run and grabbed a tug toy.

As just about any labradoodle puppy will do, he began chase. It was Game On! In just a couple of seconds, I stopped movement. He responded by putting his rear end back on the ground, and I immediately marked that behavior again with Yes! and began moving again. We even worked in some initial tug game rules (adding the cue ‘get it’ before giving him the tug and then teaching the ‘out cue – but tugging will be another topic for another post).

All of a sudden this puppy who was uninterested in his classroom became a straight A student.

So, I thought I’d talk a little about why this happened and some of the lessons here about training.

Firstly, as our pet’s teachers it should always be our goal to figure out how we can make our lesson plan clear and understandable for animals who do not speak our language. In this case, practicing capturing the sit behavior, marking it and reinforcing it with many successful repetitions in their home with low distraction will help to build fluency with sit (part of this family’s homework).

Timing is important to teaching with clarity. Especially since non-human animals do not speak English (or other human language), marking the very specific behavior you are reinforcing tells learners, “Yes, what you just did this second was exactly what I was looking for.”  Without good timing on your part, you may inadvertently teach behaviors you do not want to see.

Motivation is another important concept to keep in mind in training. Remember, when given choices, animals will choose to do behaviors that get them the most valued consequences. It is our job as their teacher to figure out how to make the behavior choices we want to see, the most valuable choices for each learner. And that changes all the time. Probably a dog will value chicken or meat over dry dog food, and my bird Barnaby will value a piece of cream cheese over a pellet. After a big meal, an animal may be less motivated by food. After a long exercise (and once settled), an animal will probably be less motivated to do activities and value resting instead. On the other hand, after a long nap, a puppy is going to be ready to play. A dog sitting at a door may value the opportunity for smelling flowers or running in the grass.

By being aware of what your pet values, you can increase the value of the behavior you are teaching by following it with (or I should say, marking the behavior with a click or verbal word that is followed by) a highly reinforcing consequence. (In this case, that consequence is the opportunity to chase or tug.) And with enough pairing of the behavior such as sit with a valued consequence such as meat, a game of tug or a game of chase, the less probable behavior (like sit) will become more probable.

The Sit Means Play Game

This game is actually terrific for teaching several skills in addition to sit. It works on self control and the ability to turn on and off active movement. You can also build up to working on duration as you wait longer in between marking and releasing the behavior to play.

Steps simplified:

  1. Initially capture your pet sitting
  2. Mark that behavior (such as either a verbal marker such as ‘Yes!’ or a click)
  3. Follow the mark with a game of chase, tug or something else (for no more than a few seconds)
    (NOTE: in the beginning you will want to stop this game before your dog becomes too aroused)
  4. Then stop and stand still
  5. When your pet sits, go through the steps again

Variations of this game can include different reinforcers such as the opportunity while on leash to greet someone or sniff the grass, the opportunity to get a leash attached, or any activity that gets your dog’s tail wagging.

Here is a video of me using this game to give our Sam the opportunity to run find treats.

As always..remember to have fun!

Training People Is Like Training Dogs

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Did you know you can train people just like you can train dogs and parrots?

What is so awesome about learning how to train non-human animals with scientifically sounds positive reinforcement based strategies is that this kind of teaching applies to ALL living beings…including people. I loved this segment on The Meredith Vieira Show this morning where psychologist Wendy Walsh talks about using Applied Behavior Analysis to train husbands.

Please click here to watch the segment.

Training people as you train dogs and parrots was the topic of the Meredith Vieira Show

What If Your Dog Will Not Budge On A Walk?

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When you share your home and your life with a dog, there are so many activities your will be doing together. One of those that is pretty much universal is walking together joined by a leash.

And one of the most common issues people have with their puppy and dog is walking with their dog or puppy on a leash, a loose leash that is.

how to stop a dog or puppy from pulling and not budging on a leashI’ve addressed some of the reasons why that activity may break down.  I thought I’d specifically write about tips for solving an issue of a dog or puppy who plants his feet (or rear end) down on the ground and will not budge, as I have seen this happen time and again. I will refer to this as ‘no-budge behavior’.

Before talking about the behavioral modifications, you may first want to consider if there is an underlying medical issue that is giving your dog reason to stop in his tracks – especially if this is a sudden behavior change. Watch your dog or puppy carefully to see if he is favoring one leg over another; or if he seems uncomfortable in any way. If you touch a spot on his body, including his legs, does he wince or growl? If so, you should talk to your veterinarian to see if there is a physical or medical issue going on.

Additionally, take into consideration the outside temperature and the walking surface. Black surfaces can be extremely hot to a dog’s sensitive paws. Also keep in mind, dogs don’t sweat as humans do (much of their heat is released through their paws and panting). Certain dogs – especially those with short noses, thick coats and heavy muscle mass may be more sensitive to heat. And, some dog are more sensitive to the cold as well. Therefore, weather could be a reason for your dog’s unwillingness to walk with you. If weather may be the culprit, you may want to choose a different time a day, a different surface, give your dog more rest time (and bring plenty of water); or choose to find another activity that can give your dog an outlet for his mental and physical exercise needs. (which is a great idea even with walks)

And also, listen to your dog by watching his body language and paying attention to the surrounding environment. It could be that you are walking toward something that is aversive to your dog in some way (maybe he had a negative encounter with another dog or person in the past, in that area before – or a similar area, as an example). If that could be what is going on, then you may want to either avoid that situation or work with your dog to build a positive association with that environment instead.

These are some ways that I have worked through this issue with dogs and puppies.

Keep in mind, my focus is on using the most positive strategies for modifying behavior; and so, I focus on teaching wanted behaviors and building value for those behaviors while trying to avoid situations where my student will practice unwanted behaviors.

So begin by taking account of those situations when your dog or puppy is likely to stop cold in his tracks and not budge. What is the environment, the time of day, your dog or puppy’s previous activity been (maybe he is tired, for example)? Keep a record of this. Sometimes the most simple solution is modifying the environment (called antecedent arrangement) so as to not set that unwanted behavior into motion to begin with. And you definitely do not want your student to be practicing that no-budging behavior.

Practice building value for your dog or puppy walking next to you, following you, and paying attention to you off leash. Here is a link to a game for building value at being by your side. Watch for the criteria you are looking for, mark it with a click or verbal marker, and then give your student a reinforcer (I have used any combination of food, games, or the opportunity to chase me as reinforcers.)

Now, practice this with a leash attached to your student’s flat collar. If needed, you can begin this in a space free of danger of the leash snagging on something and let the leash drag on the ground – or you can hold the leash. If you are holding the leash, ensure that the leash is loose and there is not pressure on your student’s neck.

Practice walking and marking (with a verbal marker or clicker) when your student is walking with you where you want him to be (with a loose leash). Do this first in an environment that DOES NOT have the history associated with your dog or puppy’s no-budge behavior. You may want to begin by standing stationary and building value for your student being at your side, and then take a single step and continuing the process.

Gradually you can add more steps, continuing to mark and reinforce your student for walking on a loose leash. Since you will have kept a record of where and when the no-budge behaviors are likely to occur, you can pay special attention to practicing with a high rate of reinforcement BEFORE you get to that spot; and then walk away from the spot and continue to get closer and closer with each repetition. NOTE that you also should be watchful for any body language your student is using to indicate uneasiness and do not push your student beyond that comfort zone. If there is a fear or other reactivity issue, you may want to work with a trainer who uses positive strategies.

While I work to try to avoid the leash/neck pressure, there are times where it may happen and so teaching your student positive association with that – and to move toward the source of pressure instead of away is also a good idea. Similar to the collar grab game, practice a slight tug on the leash (not so much pressure as to cause discomfort) and follow that with a treat. Then practice waiting for your dog to shift his body weight toward the pressure, then making a small movement toward it, and more movement toward it. (This is called shaping.) Practice this numerous times through the day and you can gradually add a little more pressure.

What you do not want to do is continue to pull on your dog or puppy’s leash while he is practicing that no-budge behavior. When you are both pulling against each other, neither one of you is going to win; and there is the potential to inflict harm.

I can tell you that recently several puppies who had a history of the no-budge behavior, eagerly walked by my side after my spending time working through these steps.

And always remember – to have fun!


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