If Trainers Can Teach Wild Animals Without Coercion, Pet Owners Can Too

Share this:
Facebook Twitter Email Pinterest Linkedin Digg Delicious Stumbleupon Google

I was watching a video of a trainer at a park and wanted to share this thought I had. Definitely something to give you thought…trainers of large, undomesticated animals teach behaviors without physical correction. If they can do that, we can do that too with out pets. It is how we build a love for learning. #dogtrainingtips

dog training tip on setting animals up for success

A Dog Training Tip: Practice Consistency

Share this:
Facebook Twitter Email Pinterest Linkedin Digg Delicious Stumbleupon Google

Sam wanted to pop in again. He has a feeling many of his friends are just as confused. It is important to remember, we have a lot to do with the success of our pets. If we don’t provide clear criteria and cues on what behaviors we want to see (and reinforcement for those behaviors), it is awfully difficult for them to understand what behaviors we want to see – and to understand the meaning of our cues. #dogtrainingtips

dog training tip on consistency

Kathy Sdao: Teaching and Loving Your Older Dog

Share this:
Facebook Twitter Email Pinterest Linkedin Digg Delicious Stumbleupon Google

I found a picture the other day of our dear Butch doing a behavior he was most known for, sitting up with his front paws in the air. It was something we didn’t need to teach. Butch would walk up to anyone and just sit like that, and undoubtedly we got a lot of questions – ‘What does he want?’

He was a really special little guy, as were and are all of our pets. Through the years I’ve seen three of our dogs live through being a senior with many health declines such as loss of hearing and vision, arthritis, and other medical issues. They all had special places in our hearts, and it wasn’t always easy to see their struggles.

We bring animals into our homes for companionship and what they give us in return is something so beautiful and meaningful. Unconditional love and the feeling of being valued by another being is a basic need we all share. Pets provide that to us. I think that is why we see time and again why people will spend money on their pets’ well being before they will on themselves, and why we mourn their loss to the extent that we do.

It is also why, when reknown dog trainer and behaviorist Kathy Sdao stood before us dog trainer Kathy Sdaoat the Karen Pryor Clicker Training Expo with tears swelling in her eyes as she spoke of her most recent loss of one of her own, each one of us in the audience had a lump in our throat as well.

Her presentation was one of several that she gave at the Expo. This one was on tips for ‘Teaching, Loving & Living with Your Older Dog.’

I’ve read and heard much advice on this topic from others but Kathy had a beautiful way of talking about concepts familiar to all of us as dog trainers and reminding us how that science can be applied to add quality of life to our older pets.

Here are a few of the points she shared:

Use classical conditioning to kindle the spark of life

Classical conditioning (also referred to associative or respondent learning) occurs when a neutral stimulus is repeatedly paired with an existing eliciting stimulus. It’s important to note that this is not learning new behaviors, but conditioning new elicitors for reflex responses.

To help you understand – A real life example of this is the dog who salivates at the sound of the can opener because it has been repeatedly paired with yummy food or that same dog who begins exhibiting a fear response (panting, rapid breathing, muscle tension) around men in white coats after a man in a white coat repeatedly did things to cause that dog pain. A child who has been bullied in a classroom may begin to perspire, get nausea, and have increased heart rate before entering that classroom again.

How does this apply to the spark in older dogs?

Well, understanding this, Kathy reminded us to make a list of what still gets our dog’s heart pulsing, tail wagging and legs moving. If we repeatedly pair something that our dog ignores with something on that list, eventually the presence of those ignored activities or objects may serve to get his heart pulsing, tail wagging and body to move.

Use operant conditioning to provide a happy retirement

With operant conditioning, behaviors are learned, strengthened and modified based upon the past consequences of those behaviors. If a behavior serves to get the animal something of value (positive reinforcement), then that behavior will increase and/even strengthen in the future. If a behavior serves to get the animal something aversive (punishment), then that behavior will be suppressed in the future.

What a powerful tool operant behaviors are to the quality of life of an animal!

Kathy reminded us to think about those behaviors that we would like to see more of in our older dog and look for opportunities to reinforce those behaviors with what is of value to him.

With young puppies, for example, we may want to teach calm behaviors like laying down and sitting but we want to actually encourage movement in senior dogs. Behaviors like pre-walk barking and turning in circles that we discourage in a young dog, we want to encourage to our older dog. How do we do that? Simply, when our dog barks and turns in a circle, we put his leash on him and maybe even give him a nice, smelly treat. (assuming those are two things he values)

Expect changes in compliance

It is important to remember that our dog’s ability to do some behaviors may be dog trainer Kathy Sdao on senior dogs and traininglimited because of physical decline – cognitive acuity, sensory deficits, and/or musculo-skeletal degradation. His responses to our cues may no longer be flashy like sitting in a split second. “Let go of the dog you remembered,” Kathy told us, “and see the older, stiffer, confused dog doing her best.”

For clarity, we can transfer cues from those using visual and auditory senses (like the word ‘sit’ or a hand signal) to more tactile and olfactory senses (like a touch or the scent of lavender).

Teach eating

Another important behavior to reinforce, Kathy reminded us, is eating, as appetite fades with age. Some common mistakes Kathy spoke of include:

  • free feeding (please click here to read my post about free feeding)
  • putting all of our dog’s food in his bowl instead of using some for training
  • trumping the meal in our dog’s bowl (if he does not eat it, then we add something better)
  • lower the value of the food by following it with an aversive
  • handfeeding our dog if he stops eating

Instead, apply the same principles for teaching eating as we teach anything else. If we want our dogs to eat MORE from their bowl, then WHILE they are eating from their bowl, we can add a high value treat.

 About Kathy Sdao:

Kathy has been passionate about animal training ever since she quit a good job to move halfway around the world to train dolphins at the Kewalo Basin Marine Mammal Laboratory at the University of Hawaii. Now, 30 years later, she offers her expertise as a certified behaviorist to dog owners in Washington State and across the world, to seminar and webinar audiences and to professional training organizations. Please click here to visit her site.

Cincinnati Fundraiser To Raise Money For Canine Cancer Research

Share this:
Facebook Twitter Email Pinterest Linkedin Digg Delicious Stumbleupon Google

Chris Pike, director of marketing & promotions for the National Canine Cancer Foundation, shared his story with me last year – a very personal reason for wanting to help raise money to fight a disease many other dog owners will experience.

He and his wife were in town to celebrate Chris’ birthday with his family. Their longing to share a home with double the joyous, childlike antics of a golden retriever took them to a farm that was ironically in the Chris Pike of National Canine Cancer Foundationneighborhood of our region’s hub for adventure – Kings Island.

And there he was. A 10 week old, cream colored teddy bear who bounced as he ran straight into the arms of the couple Chris and Eileen Pike of Cincinnati with golden retrieverswhose home and hearts were to be one with his for the rest of his life. Skyler had a way with women. Truth be told, he had a way with everyone. It was his beautiful, magical gift that he was brought into this world to share.

Kiara too filled her world with love.  Every day was an adventure, a new opportunity to explore and new people to meet.

Sadly those gifts were brought to an end by canine cancer. Chris learned, it was actually fairly common especially in golden retrievers. In fact, cancer took the life of not just one but two bundles of sheer happiness from the Pike’s household.

Today, the legacy of Skyler and Kiara is in the hard fought battle of Chris to wage a war against that deadly enemy.

National Canine Cancer Foundation

The National Canine Cancer Foundation is a national nonprofit organization that provides grants to researchers working to save lives, find cures, improve treatments, and develop more accurate and cost effective diagnostic methods in dealing with canine cancer.

Its funds are used in eliminating cancer as a major health problem in dogs through education, outreach and research to save lives though finding cures, better treatments, more accurate cost effective diagnostic methods in dealing with cancer and diminishing dogs suffering from cancer.

“We are happy to say that we have approved to spend $382,994.72 in 2015 and $308,055 in 2016 in funding research grants.  That will be $691,049 spent on research grants. Also we will spend another $1M over that same period on raising awareness and reaching out to dog owners on how to be proactive in increasing the survival rate of dogs with canine cancer,” Chris told me.

Oakley Pup Crawl

Join me and more than 1000 other dog lovers in participating in the 2015 Oakely Pup Crawl on April 26. You can come alone – or bring your dog. And, if you do not have a dog, you can ‘rent’ a dog for the afternoon from Recycled Doggies. (Last year, all of the rented dogs were adopted at the end of the event.)

How the proceeds will be used

ALL of the money raised at this year’s Pup Crawl will go toward one of the research grants being funded by the Foundation. The research, headed by Gwendolen Lorch D.V.M., PhD. Assistant Professor, Veterinary Clinical Sciences, at The Ohio State University, will look into the triggers of canine lung cancer.

Please click here to read about the fundraiser in Oakley Square to raise funds for the National Canine Cancer Foundation. It’s going to be a ton of fun for a great cause!


Why Stereotypes and Constructs Do Not Help Pets

Share this:
Facebook Twitter Email Pinterest Linkedin Digg Delicious Stumbleupon Google

Wow, Ellen Degeneres sure made a great point. So much can go wrong when we apply labels (constructs) or stereotypes or assumptions to others, including our pets. With the self-fulfilling prophecy, we tend to respond according to how we interpret situations and/or behaviors and that may or may not be the truth. We also may inaccurately lump a character trait onto an entire breed or species of animals. And, our labels may stop us from searching for the REAL, underlying reason for a behavior…and ultimately the most positive, least intrusive solution. I’ve written about the dangers of labels before. Here is a link to one of my posts.

quote by Ellen Degeneres on labels and stereotypes

Effectiveness Is Not Enough In Animal Training

Share this:
Facebook Twitter Email Pinterest Linkedin Digg Delicious Stumbleupon Google

I was one of more than 500 trainers from across the globe who convened on Dearborn, Michigan in March for the Karen Pryer Clicker Training Expo. It was a phenomenal opportunity to learn from some of the best trainers and behaviorists whose focus is on modifying behavior in the most positive way. What also made the weekend special for me was the chance to see my very first teacher and long time mentor, Dr. Susan Friedman (who pioneered the use of Applied Behavior Science to the care and training of captive and companion animals). Susan is who opened my floodgate to behavior science and got me hooked on it.

In one of her lectures, ‘Effectiveness Is Not Enough’, Susan reminded us to make a habit of two things: to HELP or at least to DO NO HARM.

Ask yourself…

When a dog snarls at youth on skateboards and is held down while they continue to skateboard in small circles around him until he stops reacting, is that the least intrusive, effective solution for the problem situation, or, is it ethical??

When a dog struggles to escape a comb held close to his face and is restrained at the scruff while combing his muzzle until he stops resisting, is that the least intrusive, effective solution for the problem situation, or, is it ethical??

When a dog lunges, growls and barks while on leash while another dog is around and is restrained until he stops those behaviors, is that the least intrusive, effective solution for the problem situation, or, is it ethical??

What do all of these approaches have in common?

In each of these circumstances, the frequency and/or intensity of a behavior is decreased in order to remove or get distance from an aversive stimulus that is added to the environment. Scientifically this is called positive punishment.

Does this work to change behavior? Unfortunately, it does, and every time it does the teacher is reinforced for using it.

Susan has reminded me time again the cost of using this approach.

Sure, you may have changed behavior but punishment can cause apathy, generalized fear, counter aggression, and escape/avoidance. Punishment does not serve to ‘teach’ the animal what you want him to do instead and most certainly does not teach the teacher how to help the animal succeed. It requires escalating intensity to maintain suppression. It is actually a double negative in that it both it is a big withdrawal from the positive reinforcement bank while also being highly aversive. AND, for all of this, the teacher can become associated with those aversives.

In fact, in several of the cases above what has happened is called ‘learned helplessness’ as a result of flooding. Flooding is a form of training in which the animal is exposed to an aversive stimulus with no possibility of escape until the stimulus no longer arouses anxiety or fear. But can you imagine the level of anxiety and discomfort it causes the animal in the process? It is either sink or swim basically. In many cases flooding only serves to make the animal more anxious and forces it to adopt different coping mechanisms to ensure safety and survival.

Learned helplessness occurs when an animal is repeatedly subjected to an aversive stimulus that it cannot escape. Eventually, the animal will stop trying to avoid the stimulus and behave as if it is utterly helpless to change the situation. Even when opportunities to escape are presented, this learned helplessness will prevent any action.

Watch this video where Ceasar Millan teaches a dog to ‘calm down’. Specifically at about 3:14 into the video you will see an example of flooding. Watch the body language of the little dog he is working with. Sure, that little guy is not lunging and barking any longer after being held back but does he look like a dog who has learned a positive association with being near to the golden retriever or is this a case of learned helplessness? (What is that little dog’s tail, face, and body doing?)

Susan teaches a Humane Hierarchy when it comes to behavior change strategies. As much as possible, animals should be empowered to use their behavior to control significant events in their life. Read more: Dr. Susan Friedman: What’s Wrong with this Picture

The Humane Hierarchy is a ranking of training methodologies going from least intrusive for the learner to most intrusive with Level 1 being the most socially acceptable and giving the animal the highest amount of control. “The overwhelming majority of behavior problems can be prevented or resolved with one or more strategies represented in Levels 1 to 4,” she wrote in a paper.

The levels include:

Level 1: Distant Antecedents – address medical, nutritional and physical environment variables.

Level 2: Immediate Antecedents – redesign setting events, change motivations, and add or remove discriminative stimuli (cues) for the behavior.Dr. Susan Friedman's Humane Hierarchy in animal training

Level 3: Positive Reinforcement – contingently deliver a consequence to increase the probability that the right behavior will occur, which is more reinforcing than the problem behavior.

Level 4: Differential Reinforcement of an Alternative Behavior – reinforce an acceptable replacement behavior and remove the maintaining reinforcer for the problem behavior.

Level 5:

  1. Negative Punishment – contingently withdraw a positive reinforcer to reduce the probability that the problem behavior will occur.
  2. Negative Reinforcement – contingently withdraw an aversive antecedent stimulus to increase the probability that the right behavior will occur.
  3. Extinction – permanently remove the maintaining reiforcer to suppress the behavior or reduce it to baseline levels.

Level 6: Positive Punishment – contingently deliver an aversive consequence to reduce the probability that the problem behavior will occur.

Learn more about antecedent arrangement and using it by clicking here.

Learn more about differential reinforcement, by clicking here.


When I train dogs and other animals, I always work to empower them, by teaching them that making a wanted behavior choice will result in a positive consequence. What is an example of how you modified your pet’s behavior in a positive way? I’d love to hear.


Bite Prevention: Do You Know What This Dog Is Saying

Share this:
Facebook Twitter Email Pinterest Linkedin Digg Delicious Stumbleupon Google

Just a reminder, bites can be prevented. Please click for more information on dog body language.

bite prevention: dog body lanugage

Please click here to share on Facebook.

How To Stop Your Dog From Jumping On People

Share this:
Facebook Twitter Email Pinterest Linkedin Digg Delicious Stumbleupon Google

(my Hyde Park Living column)

I was talking with a friend the other day about a very large ten month old puppy she was visiting. dog training tip about stopping dog from jumping on peopleThe minute Linda walked into the house 60 pounds of pure love was on top of her. A habit that was started months earlier when little Henry was a small, cute bundle of fur has now become a mass force that greets friends with one leap after another. Unfortunately, the sheer force of large dog is enough to knock down many people.

Henry’s owner’s response to his behavior was to yell ‘Get down’ over and over. And Henry’s response to being yelled at was simply to ignore the words and continue doing what she was doing.

The reinforcement Henry gets from jumping – humans shrieking, arms flailing, bodies moving, attention – was clearly more valuable to him than the value of doing anything else to get her owner to stop yelling.

Does this scenario sound familiar to you? Here is the very important thing for you to remember. Animals are going to keep doing behaviors that they have learned from past experience get them something of value. At this point, Henry has absolutely no reason (from his standpoint) to change the way he greets humans. After all, it’s pretty fun to watch how jumping gets humans to move and shriek.

What is a dog owner to do? Once you understand the basic science behind repeated behavior, then it is time to begin thinking not in terms of simply stopping the jumping behavior but in terms of what you would like your dog to do INSTEAD of jumping. Your dog is excited to see such friendly faces. He just needs to learn how humans like to be appropriately greeted. It was not something he was born knowing.

Here are a few options of skills you can teach your dog that will help him AND you succeed in this situation: sit, down, go to your mat, have all four feet on the ground, impulse control.

Those skills should be taught using positive reinforcement strategies separate from around the door. They should be given great value for your dog to do. At the same time, it’s important to prevent as much as possible continued practice of the jumping behavior you do not like because your dog has such a long history of reinforcement from jumping.

Once your dog has learned those alternative behaviors, then you have given him something else he can do to get him the same value or greater that he would receive from jumping on people. Then you can begin to ask him to sit or lay down or go to his mat, and teach him that he holds all the cards in this situation. *If* he sits or lays down or goes to his mat, *only then* will great people walk in; and *only* if he can remain in that position will human give him attention. While teaching this, you have also got to teach the contingency that *if* he gets up, the human goes out of range. *If* he was close enough and jumps, *then* the person needs to become a tree (stand completely still and not have any eye contact with him) so as to not accidentally reinforce the jumping behavior.

Always keep in mind that your dog does not do things to intentionally be ‘bad’. He is simply doing what works to get his needs met and get him something of value. As his owner, caregiver and teacher, it is up to you to teach him how he can get those needs met in acceptable ways.

And while you are doing it, remember to have fun. Learning and teaching are two powerful words that can do so much to strengthen relationships.

Considerations Before Buying Or Adopting A Puppy

Share this:
Facebook Twitter Email Pinterest Linkedin Digg Delicious Stumbleupon Google

I’ve heard so often from people who specifically looked for a certain breed of puppy to bring into their family with expectations for that dog’s temperament. It’s important to remember that, just as with people, every puppy is an individual. That’s why we say behavior is the study of one. And even the most accepting of dogs will have its limits when it comes to being pushed beyond its comfort.

It is also important to realize that how a puppy is raised is very important to its success in your home. From early on, exposing your puppy to a broad range of people, sights, sounds, and environments in a positive way will help your puppy to see his world as good as he grows into adulthood. And teaching your puppy with management and positive reinforcement will build his confidence and strengthen your relationship with him.

considerations before buying or adopting a puppy

Dog Training Tip For Independent Thinkers

Share this:
Facebook Twitter Email Pinterest Linkedin Digg Delicious Stumbleupon Google

Do you live with a furry, independent thinker? Have you ever tried teaching through shaping? It’s a fun way to get your dog engaged in the learning process. I explain in this blog post.

dog training tip about shaping behavior

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...