July 4 Safety Tips For Your Dog

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The time is drawing near. July 4 is many a dogs’ least favorite of holidays. Loud, unpredictable noises accompanied with big light displays can be very scary.

I’ve written about July 4 safety tips before and have revised them below.

July 4 dog safety tipsWhile you are attending your community parade or other holiday event, if your dog can become over-stimulated or afraid around crowds, unfamiliar sounds and sights, the best place for him/her is at home. You will not be doing your dog a favor by forcing him into a stressful situation. Desensitizing your dog to stimulus should be done in a controlled environment, always with your dog under threshold. Please see the bottom of this post for more on systematic desensitization.

If you spend outdoor time with your dog during the day, remember your heat safety precautions be careful to prevent your dog from overheating. A few things to keep in mind – find shady places to relax, give him/her plenty of water, minimize time spent walking on black asphalt or other surfaces that absorb heat, if your dog enjoys water then hoses, sprinklers and baby pools can provide many opportunities for exercise, watch your dog for any signs of heat related stress.

If you are entertaining, remember to keep alcohol and other toxic food away from your dog. Always actively supervise children around your dog to redirect them if necessary. Hugging, kissing, straddling, poking, pulling on body parts (like a tail), and chasing should be prevented. If your dog has been known to do unwanted behavior around guests, some suggested things you may want to consider are – planning ahead to teach him/her alternative behaviors, make sure he/she has high value enrichment activity toys, and/or give him more exercise before your guests arrive.

This is a good time to double check that your dog has proper identification in case there is an unplanned escape outside a door. Still, make sure to secure your door including a doggie door or screen windows if you have them.

Preparing for fireworks

Provide your dog with plenty of mental and physical exercise before the fireworks begin as a tired dog will be less apt to react.

Know that many dogs are afraid of the loud, sudden noise of fireworks and they may also be sensitive to the vibration caused by the noise. You may see your dog shiver, pant, pace, hide, or do destructive behavior. He/she may turn away from food. He could even try to escape out of your home or your yard which is why making sure your house is securely closed is so important.

Make sure that your dog has an accessible safe place (from his/her perspective – NOT yours). You more than likely have seen your dog retreat there on other occasions where something scary occurred – maybe it is underneath a desk, in a closet, or under a bed. If you are leaving your house, make sure your dog can get to that safe place. Some dogs, however, react by moving and being active. If possible, try to have your dog in an area away from windows with the shades drawn.

If you are at home during the fireworks, spend time with it in the safe place and provide your dog with attention and comfort if your dog seeks you out. You will not be reinforcing fear, and so long as you remain calm, your presence can help your dog cope. If your dog is not too anxious, you may even be able to do some counter conditioning where you give your dog a piece of high value food (like meat or chicken) immediately *after* a boom.

Sometimes wearing a thunder jacket or DAP collar can help; however, not with every dog. And playing white noise, or a television loud enough to mask the noise may help. You may want to consider lower frequency sounds to cover up the low frequency sound of the big booms. (But please make sure that does not scare your dog BEFORE July 4) I found a low frequency station called Low Frequency Vibrations on Pandora.

 

If your dog has severe cases of situational phobias like fireworks, you may want to talk with your vet about fast acting anxiolytic medication.

What A Bollywood Class Taught Me About Pet Behavior

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The other day I went back to the dance studio where I have many happy memories from past group ballroom and salsa lessons. I heard about a Bollywood class and I thought it’d be fun to learn. Or try anyway.

You may be thinking right about now, what does this have to do with pet training. Please continue reading and you will see where my thoughts are going…

So, theretips to exercise your dog's mind and body I was in a room of familiar and unfamiliar faces who had taken several other Bollywood lessons before that night. Our teacher was wonderful and she has such a warm, inviting smile that she wore frequently.

Before turning on the music, we began by learning some footwork and practiced several times. I was doing great and feeling confident. I remember looking around the room and seeing how others were doing also. Our instructor went through some of the steps more times so that we could get them.

Next, she taught us the arm work. Again, it was not really that complicated. Some of the moves required arms to flow, others to raise and lower or use our shoulders, or sway our upper body backwards and sideways. I was able to follow along up to that point fairly easily.

The trouble came for me when we put it all together. The steps and movements that I didn’t have any problems with until then suddenly became really, REALLY difficult. And when the music was added, I was extremely challenged. No longer could I even look around the room. I found myself having to stare at our instructor trying to follow along as best I could but I didn’t do a good job. My muscles were tense. My moves had no fluidity to them as my body became rigid just trying to do everything together – which by the way, I did not do very well.

When the music ended, I realized my heart was beating pretty fast too even though we really were not doing anything you would consider aerobic, especially for someone who can exercise on aerobic machines for an hour or more without problem.

And finally, I get to how this relates to our pets. In an earlier post, I wrote about an activity we did at the Karen Pryor Click Training Expo demonstrating how difficult it is to focus on a thinking task with distractions. So I won’t focus so much on that here.

What I do want to focus on is the element of mental exercise. I am often reminding clients that exercise is for both the mind and the body, and when you do an activity that engages both the level of stimulation is greatly magnified.

Some easy ideas for exercising your dog’s mind and body:

Positive training using clickers to shape behaviors while teaching him behaviors AND giving him exercise all at the same time.

Foraging/food enrichment toys where your pet has to work to get that tasty food that is inside.

Play tug and fetch, and other active games (while also teaching game rules such as ‘take’, ‘out’, ‘come’, ‘sit’, etc.)

Have a doggie play date with another dog who plays well with your pet.

If your dog likes water and likes to chase, take out your hose, turn it on and move it around. You can even add in training to this by teaching your dog to do a calm behavior like sit until released with the reinforcement being the movement of water.

For water loving dogs, you can put water resistant balls and toys in a kiddie pool filled with some water.

What other ideas do you have? I’d love to hear.

 

Words To Give You Thought

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a quote about dogs and people

Putting The Joy In Learning Through Classical Conditioning

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I talk a lot about how animals learn from their consequences; and how, those immediate consequences of their behaviors are what determine the future rate of those behaviors. In scientific terms, this is called operant learning or operant conditioning.

classical conditioning in dog trainingHowever, there is another type of learning that is also very important to understand when it comes to helping our pets – and our relationship with them – to succeed. It is called classical conditioning, a reflexive type of learning where one stimulus acquires the capacity to evoke the same response as another stimulus.

Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov first taught us about classical conditioning over a century ago when he measured the salivation response to dogs being fed. In his famous experiment, he gave his dogs food and also rang a bell. After numerous repetitions, he rang the bell on its own without food and found that the dogs still responded with an increase in salivation. The bell, which began as a neutral stimulus, had become a conditioned stimulus.

Why is this such an important concept to understand? Because just as our pets are continually learning whether or not to repeat behaviors based upon whether those behaviors serve to get the animal a consequence of value; they also have the ongoing capacity to develop associations – positive or negative – with occurrences in their environment.

As I have heard trainer Kathy Sdao say numerous times, the emotional response to the second stimulus infects the emotional response to the first stimulus occurring just before.

The examples of this can be endless. The clicker which initially has no meaning to the animal, only acquires a positive response from the animal after it is repeatedly paired (with the clicker sound coming first) with a consequence of value to the animal. The sight of a leash acquires a positive response after repeatedly being paired with an outing.

Equally important to understand is that something your dog initially has a positive response to like a piece of chicken or favorite toy, can also take on a negative response if it is repeatedly shown just BEFORE something negative. I have seen dogs come to put their tail down and walk away as their owner begins making a stuffed kong, when the kong is only given to the dog after being put into a crate and left there for eight hours (if the dog has a negative association with being in its crate).  Many dogs begin to pant heavily, shake and seek shelter when they feel an air pressure shift as that air pressure shift has come to be associated with feared thunder storms. When an owner jerks his dog’s leash as another dog approaches in anticipation of his own dog’s barking and lunging behavior, his dog my begin having even more heightened heart rate and attention to that other approaching dog as it has come to be associated with a leash jerk.

Here is another reason why understanding this can help or hinder you in your training. Think about the ultimate chain of events – you give a cue, your pet does a behavior, and then that behavior is followed by a consequence. Each step of the first two steps is immediately followed by a consequence, and thus has the power to cause the same response as the event that occurs immediately after it.

In other words, with enough pairing, your pet’s behavior will cause the same response (whether that is an emotional response, salivation or other) as its consequence. AND the cue then, with enough pairing, will cause the same response as its consequence (with is the behavior).

When you train using positive reinforcement (with let’s say a clicker or verbal marker) then everything about that lesson is about causing positive responses. The food given at the end of the chain infects the marker which infects the behavior which infects the cue. And so the cue then takes on the same reflexive response for your student of salivation, energy release, mental stimulation, etc.

If you are wanting to build strong behaviors and have success in your training, it is important that your cues always are predictors for your learner of good things.

If, on the other hand, you give a cue, your pet does the behavior (or does not immediately do the behavior), and something negative occurs, then everything in that chain can become associated with something aversive. An example of this is if you call your dog to come and he ignores you, and the consequence is receiving a shock (remote collar) which causes your dog to feel pain and to jump. Then ultimately sniffing the flowers (or whatever your dog was doing at the time) and your cue have the potential of being associated with a feeling of pain and jumping.

This is one of the ways that taught behaviors can break down and cues can be weakened – or at least can work to cause your dog to not want to learn from you because it causes unpleasant things to happen.

My challenge to you is this: if you want your dog to do what you cue it to do without hesitation and with a tail wag, then take care to make sure that cue is only associated with positive outcomes.

Dog Training Tip: Just Teaching A Behavior Is Not Enough

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I was reminding someone of this over the weekend. It’s important to remember, just teaching a behavior is not enough. If you want your pet to continue to have fluency with that behavior, you’ve got to continue reinforce it…to remind your pet that choice is going to be of value to him/her. It doesn’t always have to be food – there are so many ways to reinforce behavior.

dog training tip using positive reinforcement

In Your Training, Be Generous With Reinforcement

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I was out somewhere and I saw it again. A man was in a busy area with his dog doing his best to try and keep his dog’s focus from the external environment, only his attempts were not working too well. His dog continued to pull on leash, and with each pull the man gave the collar a jerk and said, ‘No!’. It was obvious the man was frustrated with his dog.

“Ugh, my dog is so bull headed, stubborn, dominant, or bad,” would be words I am sure he would have told me had I asked.

But was this really the case?

Well, what I saw was a dog who clearly viewed her environment as having much more value than listening to or sitting at the feet of her owner. The environment was so valuable, that even the jerking of the leash, which was intended to be a positive punisher to lower the probability of the leash pulling behavior, did not give the dog reason to stop reacting to what was going on around her.

Ironically I had just come from working with another dog and his owner on a very similar issue. However, in just a few minutes time the dog I was working was focused on me and sitting at my side, and able to look at the environment only to turn his head back to me.

What did I do differently?

dog training tip from Cincinnati dog trainer Lisa DesatnikOne of the things I did was I focused on what I wanted the dog I was working with TO DO instead (which was sitting at my side), and rapidly marked and reinforced wanted decisions on the part of my student to give immediate, successive feedback to him. I wanted to make the wanted behavior of huge value to my student by making the lesson fun and engaging for him.

When I teach clients about clicker training or moment market training (whether you use a clicker, verbal or other marker), I teach them the importance of a rapid reinforcement schedule in the beginning. The more opportunities you have in a short training session to let your student know, YES, that was a correct decision, the more your student is going to want to pay attention and learn from you – or at least learn what you are intending to teach.

Your training sessions are not a time to be stingy with your reinforcers. If you want to build high value for the behavior you are teaching, it is your job to give your student a reason to value it. Remember, when you teach by choice, your pet is going to do the behavior that experience has taught him/her gets him a consequence he/she wants. Give your pet many reasons to CHOOSE the behavior you want to see.

 

Meet Some Cincinnati Dog Super Heroes

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What an awesome group of dog Super Heroes! It was such great fun teaching them at my May class and I am so proud of them for their focus and eagerness to learn. Thanks to the parents for taking time out of your day to bring your kids – and learning too! And of course, thank you to my demo dog Baxter and his owner, Karen Spradlin, and my friends at The Dog Studio for welcoming all of us!

Cincinnati My Dog's Super Hero kids class by dog trainer Lisa Desatnik

 

To Help Your Pet Learn, Keep Clutter Out Of The Lesson

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I was one of more than 500 trainers from across the globe who convened on Dearborn, Michigan in March for the Karen Pryor 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.

distractions in dog trainingIn one of our labs about hands on experience teaching a behavior chain, Trainer and instructor Laura VanArendonk Baugh began with a sort of Wii game. She gave instructions at the very beginning. The game involved a foot pad with up, down, right and left arrows. On a large screen, arrows moved up and when one touched an arrow at the top, the contestants were told to tap the corresponding arrow on their foot pad. As the game went on, the movement got quicker and quicker. The winner had the highest number of correct foot taps.

Although Laura gave directions at the very beginning and asked if there were any questions, once the game began things got a little complicated. In addition to the moving arrows on the screen, there were other distracting lights in the background and people in the audience making noises. There was the added pressure of increased speed.

One of the contestants thought she needed to put both feet onto each arrow on the foot pad which required a tiny bit more time to do the behavior.  As the game sped up, people in the audience shouted guidance to them.

When it was done, we analyzed what had just happened and compared it to animals we train.

Performing the behavior of tapping their foot to the correct arrow on the pad when the arrows matched on the screen was a challenge with the distracting lights, and the difficulty rose as the speed of the arrow movement increased. When this happened, errors also happened more frequently. And, as errors began happening more quickly, some of those watching couldn’t help but shout out tips.

So, even with Laura having given clear directions at the beginning of the game, learners still had some pretty major hurdles to overcome and their ability to succeed waned as a result.

What does this have to do with training?

Well, for one, it was a great reminder to us of some of the factors that go into helping our animals succeed in our learning environment.

It demonstrated the importance of having minimal to no distractions when teaching new behavior skills. Focusing on learning is enough of a challenge. This includes environmental stimulus such as the presence of other dogs, and also trainer chatter. Remember, pets do not speak English so your verbally telling him what to do can complicate the classroom.

If we make our classroom too difficult and that causes errors, then our learner is practicing unwanted behavior. Additionally, it can cause frustration and lack of interest in the training.

Living With Kids And Dogs: Building Relationships

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One way you can help your child be a dog Super Hero is by jump starting your dog’s training (with sample behaviors like sit and come) and then teaching your child how to practice teaching your dog with positive reinforcement. Not only will you build your child’s confidence as he/she sees her accomplishments, you will be teaching your dog positive associations with your child which leads to positive relationships. A word of caution about your child walking a big dog: if your dog sees something and suddenly lunges or lurches toward it, your child could get hurt and your dog may be loose to run toward that stimulus. Always be very careful to actively supervise and be watching the surroundings as well as your dog’s body language. Even better, you can hold onto a second leash.Tip for interaction between kids and dogs

Teaching Your Dog Self Control, Zen, Impulse Control

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Self control or impulse control is not a skill dogs are born knowing. They see a squirrel, they charge after it. They smell scents and they stop to take it in. They see an open doorway and they run through it. They see tasty food and they grab it.

Teaching this is a great foundation for lots of other training…and success in your home.

Teaching is the key word.

Here is a fun and simple way to begin the process of teaching your dog or puppy self control, zen, impulse control or ‘leave it’ (different names for the same set of behaviors). It involves controlling the consequences of your dog’s behavior choices, NOT your dog. And because you are giving full control of your dog’s behavior outcomes to your dog, you are empowering him which builds confidence and a greater love for learning.

Supplies: yourself, treats (to begin, have lower value food if your dog will become too aroused by it or higher value food if your dog is less food motivated), and a clicker if you use clicker training.

Location: a place with minimal to no distractions

Game time: no longer than three minutes

Game rules:

Hold treats in your closed fist and allow your puppy or dog to investigate. Most will lick, paw at, or sniff your fist. Keep your fist closed and do not give any verbal instructions. Simply hold your fist closed while your puppy or dog is doing anything to try to get the treats.

If all of his unacceptable behaviors are continued to be met by a non-response from you, eventually he will turn away or back away. At the instant he does this, mark that behavior with a verbal word or click and open your fist (or you can just open your fist). Congratulations, you have just reinforced the first step or approximation!

It is important to note that just the sight of the treats is a reinforcer to your dog and will keep your dog in the game if your treats are of value to him.

What is your dog’s next decision? If he tries to reach for the food, guess what happens? The consequence of that behavior is that his opportunity to see the food is gone as you close your fist. If, however, he does not try to reach for the food, pick up a treat and give it to him.

If I am playing this with a very persistent dog, I will look for the tiniest of movement away from the food to immediately mark to get the game moving forward.

After your dog is successfully backing away from or able to remain in a behavior like a sit or down position while the open fist is presented, it will be time to increase the difficulty of the game.

The next step will be placing treats on the floor with your hand cupped over them. When your dog backs away or makes no motion toward them, you can spread your fingers or remove your hand. However, be prepared to very quickly move your hand back if your dog makes an attempt to go for the treats.

Some more advanced levels of this game include:

  1. Increase the difficulty by increasing the value of the food.
  2. Add a criteria of eye contact. I have not done that in my video with Sam, but if you’d like to teach eye contact, wait until your dog looks up at you to mark the behavior and give him one of the treats. It may be helpful to teach eye contact first in a separate lesson.
  3. Vary your body position and position of your hands. Can your dog still have eye contact with you and/or remain sitting or laying down while you are standing, taking a step back from the food? If so, mark and reinforce that duration. (Be prepared here to cover the food up quickly with your foot as your hand may be too far away to reach it before your dog gets to it, if he chooses to move to it.)
  4. Vary the reinforcer. This game is meant to be expanded on. Can your dog remain laying down or sitting or standing while you get ready to throw a ball? Can your dog remain laying down or sitting or standing when you walk to or open the door?

You can also add a cue to this. I tell our dog Sam, ‘wait’ and then ‘go get it.’

When you think about it, self control is a skill that helps our animals and our relationship with them succeed in so many ways. This is the beginning of the journey.

What other ways do you teach self control?

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