Teaching Behaviors With Consequences

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It is a common question of new puppy owners…”When is it okay to begin training my pet?”

dog and pet training involves controlling the consequences to make behaviors more probableThe most simple answer to that question is, as soon as you bring your puppy home. Here is the thing. Every living being is constantly learning about what behaviors to repeat or to weaken or extinguish based upon what that behavior causes to happen. Behavior, after all, is simply a tool that animals use to get consequences.

If you replace the word ‘training’ with ‘teaching’, it gives you a very different lens from which to look at your relationship and your leadership role with your new friend. Teaching occurs with every interaction you have together, and every interaction your puppy (or dog, or parrot or other animal for that matter) has with his/her environment.

*If* that puppy does something and it gets him/her something that he/she values, then he/she has every reason to continue doing it – because it works. It is so easy when you are living with another being (even with people) to accidentally reinforce what you find problematic and annoying.

Puppies, who were not born understanding self control, learn very quickly that jumping, barking, and grabbing gets them awesome stuff in life. And, once those behaviors have reinforcement histories they will not only continue but strengthen as they grow into adulthood.

Being fully aware of this is the first step toward teaching your puppy life skills that will help him/her succeed in your home. Great initial behaviors to reinforce are ones that have to do with self control, calmness, and focus.

Remember, training occurs every moment of every day, whether you call it training or not.

Considerations Before Adopting A Puppy

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Going to a pet adoption event like My Furry Valentine, it is so easy to fall in love at first sight. Those dogs and puppies (and kittens and other animals for that matter) have a way of getting into your heart, and before you know it, you are walking off with a new friend…with whom, if all goes well, you will be sharing a home for many years to come.

Many times the reason dogs and puppies are in rescue situations to begin with are because those animals, for any number of reasons, were a mismatch for their adoptee. Or, if those animals are not surrendered, they may not be living out their fullest potential; and may be a source of much stress for their human companions…definitely probably not the initial intention of bringing home a new pet.

questions to ask yourself before adopting a dog or puppyTo help ensure you don’t become one of those statistics, BEFORE leaving for the adoption event, give these things some thought:

Ask yourself.

Can you afford a new puppy or dog? A puppy’s first year will include vaccines, spay or neuter surgery, and other possible medical expenses. Medical expenses and grooming expenses (depending on the breed) will need to be budgeted for. You will also need a dog crate, exercise pen or baby gate (for puppies especially), an ongoing supply of treats, high quality dog food, a comfy bed, a leash and collar (halter, Martingale or gentle leader), and training. You may also need to fence in your yard. And, if you plan on vacationing, you will need to add the expense of care for you pet.

Should I adopt a puppy or an adult dog? Bringing a puppy into your home is like bringing home a baby. They are living, breathing, chewing, playing, barking, eating and urinating beings. Those first six months are so super important to your puppy achieving its fullest potential. Management and training are critical, and can seem all consuming for a period of time. Are you prepared for the impact this will have on your life? Are you prepared for the possible damage to your home when mistakes happen? Before adopting a puppy, ask questions to find out as much as you can about how it was raised and socialized; its health history; and its temperament.

With adults, there are many who are well trained with no history of problem areas who are just in need of a second home. There are others who do have problem behaviors that will need to be worked through with training using positive reinforcement. And there are still others who have very significant behavior issues that will require someone who has the knowledge to be able to help them, and the willingness to make necessary changes to their home and lifestyle to manage the dog.  Good intentions alone are not enough to help a dog who has significant issues. Be honest about asking yourself if you have the time, the environment and the knowledge to really help a dog like that before bringing him/her into your home.

What traits am I looking for in a dog? Does size matter? Remember that a larger dog will need more space, larger crates and toys, more food, etc. Do you want a dog who will lounge on the couch all day or who will need a great deal of exercise and mental stimulation? Remember, boredom and lack of needed enrichment can be the culprit for many unwanted behaviors. Is it important to you that your dog plays well with other dogs? Does it matter if your dog sheds a lot?  Is slobbering tolerable or intolerable? Do you want a dog who will need to be groomed on a regular basis? Certain breeds have greater risks for some health issues. These are just some of the considerations to think about. Be realistic with yourself in terms of your lifestyle – now and in the future.

When choosing a puppy or dog, a few things you may want to watch for are: how the puppy/dog plays, how the puppy/dog reacts to being petted, is the puppy/dog reactive, does the puppy/dog approach strangers or back up from them.

Have I considered what general dog breeds I should consider? Animal Planet has a good one that asks you some questions (like ones I mentioned above) and then makes suggestions on compatible breeds. It is really important to know before taking the test that, while the suggestions are based upon predictably, every animal is an individual. Even within the same litter you will find dogs who differ in temperaments, exercise needs and more. And adopting a dog (such as a golden retriever) who is *supposed* to be great with children does not mean that your specific dog will be that way. Genetics and how it is raised both factor into that.

If I have young children, do I have time to help their relationship succeed with the pet? Young children should always be proactively supervised when interacting with your pet, as EVERY dog will have a limit of what it will and will not tolerate. Your dog should have its own personal space when it wants to be alone. Do you know how to read dog body language and know when to intercede? There is training that will need to be done for both your dog and your children to teach them appropriate behavior around each other. A positive dog trainer can work with you to teach you and your children how to interact appropriately with your dog, and help to set you and your family up for success. I have a class just for kids. Please click here to be contacted for future dates.

If I have other pets, am I able to devote what is needed to help that relationship succeed?  Not all dogs are naturally great with other pets. A careful management and desensitization plan may be needed, and will go a long way toward helping the animals succeed.

When you do come home with your new friend,

Just know that as your puppy’s caregiver and teacher, it is up to you to teach him appropriate skills to succeed in your household and in life; and to work to prevent inappropriate behaviors.

The good news is that all of those skills are teachable with clear, positive communication….and patience. What are some of those skills? Teaching bite inhibition, crate training, house training, calm behaviors and other basic behaviors (come, sit, down, stay, wait, etc.), socialization to a variety of people, dogs, things and places, teaching the value in enrichment toys, prevention of resource guarding and chewing on inappropriate things, just to name a few.

Remember, your puppy is constantly learning. Beginning his life journey with you by teaching him with positive reinforcement will create a dog who loves to learn, loves being around you, and listens to you.

Your new adult dog too is constantly learning, and will benefit from clear, positive communication.

I’d enjoy helping you on that path.

Dog Park Etiquette

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I am a proud member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants for both the dog and bird divisions (and am a Certified Parrot Behavior Consultant through IAABC). The organization recently published this series of posters about dog park etiquette with some important information and lessons about recognizing problems and appropriate behaviors.

How to know if your dog is scared at a dog park


What to do if your do is scared at a dog park


How to know if your dog is being pushy at a dog park


What to do if your dog is being pushy at a dog park

My Furry Valentine is Coming Up

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My Furry Valentine, the region’s largest annual animal adoption event, is coming up this Saturday & Sunday, February 13 & 14, 2016, from 11am – My Furry Valentine5pm, at the Sharonville Convention Center, 11355 Chester Road, Cincinnati, OH 45246.

Over the past four years, the event has found homes for more than 2,000 animals. The 2016 event space is larger than ever, to accommodate more visitors, vendors and more adoptable pets. Community members who want to help but aren’t looking to adopt can donate pet supplies. The event also features entertainment, games, a photo booth, prizes and more for families to enjoy.

This year, vouchers for free admission ($3 value) can be picked up at all Greater Cincinnati UDF locations from February 1 through the event weekend. Also new this year, on Saturday, February 13 from 10-11am there will be an opportunity for visitors to meet with adoptable pets before the event opens to the general public. Early Bird admission fee is $15 per adult (children under 17 are free with an adult), and can be purchased in advance at http://myfurryvalentine.com/ticket-sales/ and at the door. Quantities are limited.

For additional information about phoDOGrapher’s My Furry Valentine, visit http://myfurryvalentine.com or contact My Furry Valentine event organizer, Carolyn Evans at carolyn@MyFurryValentine.com.

Solving Dog Crate Training Problems

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I had a very proud moment awhile back (well, I have had many of them but I wanted to write about this one).

A client was having a behavioral issue with her puppy, and with information I had taught and shared with her about behavior, she was able to develop a plan to successfully move from a problem to a solution. It was really awesome. I was beaming from ear to ear.

getting your dog to go into his crateI thought I’d share it (without giving her name) what happened so that it can be a learning tool for you too.

The situation

This family (I will call them the Smith family) had one crate for their puppy, Fred; and at night time, they would bring that crate along with Fred to their room where he could sleep by their bed. Their routine had been to have play and television time together before settling in for the night. That had been all well and good until one day, Fred decided he would no longer follow them when they called him to come into the bedroom at night. Instead he would continue to lay in his spot on the family room rug.

Was this a case of a stubborn, alpha dog?

Here is the thing that is very important to always remember about behavior. It ALWAYS happens for a reason and that reason is to get the animal something it values. Dogs do not do things to purposefully annoy or dominate us. They simply do what works to get them a consequence.

Applied behavior analysis is a systematic approach to solving behavior problems by changing the environment in which the behavior occurs. It involves looking at the very specific behavior (such as a dog barking) in terms of what is giving that behavior purpose and value. What happened *immediately* prior to the behavior (antecedent) to set the whole ball rolling? And what happened *immediately* after the behavior to reinforce it (consequence)? It is how I have been taught to look at behavior.

With this in mind, let’s go back and revisit the Smith’s situation and why Fred suddenly chose to continue to lay still instead of following his friends into their bedroom.  What had experience taught Fred would be the consequence if he DID follow them at that time of night?

Let’s describe what had been happening this way.

Background: It is dark outside and around 10:00 pm. Fred has been with his family, interacting with them and engaged in toys or simply laying by their side and getting back rubs. The Smiths go into their bedroom with his crate, and come back out to call him 10 to 15 minutes later.

A (antecedent – the setting event for the behavior to occur):  Mary called Fred’s name

B (behavior): Fred followed Mary to their bedroom

C (consequence): Mary locks Fred in his crate and opportunities for interaction/play are gone

Prediction:  WHEN Mary comes back into the family at night after taking Fred’s crate into their bedroom and calls him to come, IF he follows her, THEN all opportunities for fun and interaction are taken away.

Hmm, can you see now why Fred’s past experience has taught him that following Mary at that time of time is not in his best interest?

So, knowing that, what was the Smith’s plan for modifying Fred’s behavior in the most positive, least intrusive way?

Initially they made plans to go into their bedroom early one night so as to have extra time for Fred. Then Mary called Fred into their bedroom with a tasty piece of meat in her hand; and once he was in the bedroom, they had playtime. They got him engaged in activities that were positive to him, and then gave him a bone to chew on and settle with in his crate with the door open. When they were ready to turn off the lights, Fred was already asleep and they closed his crate door for the night.

The new ABC looked like this:

A:            Mary called Fred
B:            Fred followed Mary into the room
C:            Great play ensued – mental/physical stimulation, human interaction

(which led to this)

A:            Mental/physical stimulation and human interaction
B:            Fred chews on bone in open crate
C:            Opportunity for needed rest

Can you see how this simple change has taught Fred that now experience tells him following Mary into the bedroom at night is again a behavior worth repeating? In fact, it was such a positive experience that Mary said it only took one time before Fred was back to coming with them at night. And she no longer carries meat with her to call him to come.

Important to remember, however, is that there is always the possibility for Fred’s association to change again if he goes back to having negative outcomes from following the Smiths to their bedroom at night.

Keep in mind that behavior is always the study of one and what solved this issue, may mean having a different plan for you and your pet.

Cincinnati Has Dog Super Heroes

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I was so proud of my newest group of Dog Super Heroes. They were so attentive and focused on learning.

My unique My Dog’s Super Hero is a class for Cincinnati area kids to learn about how they can be an awesome dog friend, teacher and playmate. With demonstration dogs, I teach them (and their parents) how to interact appropriately with their dog, how dogs communicate, and how to be a positive and responsible teacher to their friend.

Cincinnati dog training class for kids by Cincinnati dog trainer Lisa Desatnik

If you would like to be informed when I set up my next class, please add your information below.

On Putting The Motivation Into Training

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Something to give you thought… When ever we can lead and teach by inspiring curiosity and positive outcomes in an environment where our student can succeed, our learner will be more motivated to want. Have fun with training and your pet will too!

quote about dog training by Cincinnati dog trainer Lisa Desatnik

Dog Flight Instinct Period

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Ugh! You have invested so much of your time, energy and even resources in training your puppy. You have taken him out to be confident around many people and situations. Everything was going really well, that is, until…

that one day when it appears Fido has completely forgotten everything you taught him. You call him and he runs the other direction.

The dog Flight Instinct Period usually occurs when puppies are between four and eight months oldWhat the heck happened to your perfect adolescent puppy?

Well, do you remember when you went through puberty – that time when your body goes through many changes, you are wanting more independence and doing a lot of testing and asserting yourself?
Dogs go through that too, and when they do, their ears can suddenly become hard-of-hearing.

Welcome to the dog flight instinct period!

I learned in a class from Gayle Fischer, an internationally renowned speaker, dog trainer and behaviorist, that this developmental period correlates with when your pet’s ancestors, the wolves, migrate from their summer den where the puppies were born to their winter quarters. That trek requires more independence and this is when the adolescent wolf puppies are more interested in exploring their world.

The Flight Instinct Period usually occurs when puppies are between four and eight months old – earlier for smaller dogs. Lucky for you, it only lasts a few weeks. That is, if you stay the course with your consistency as a teacher. Remember, behaviors that have reinforcement histories get repeated…even unwanted behaviors!

(Also, as a side note, it is somewhere in this window of time that your puppy will also experience fear periods and have increased needs for chewing but those are topics for another day.)

What can you do to contain that Flight Instinct Period so that it isn’t extended into adulthood?
For starters, take a deep breath, do not get discouraged and recognize that this is a stage that will pass if handled correctly.

Then put back on that teachers hat and remind yourself that your job is to create lessons where you are helping your friend to succeed.

That means:

Going back to the basics and practicing those skills of recall, attention and control behaviors just as sit and      down in environments where your dog can continue to focus.

Keeping your dog on a leash or long line outdoors until this phase passes.

Using high value reinforcers for behaviors when you are outside that can include food, an activity your dog     loves, or the opportunity to go back to what he was doing before being called by you.

Never calling your dog or asking for another behavior when you know you will both fail; and never giving     chase to your dog if have mistakenly called your dog in one of these times and he ignores you.

And never call your dog to come if something aversive (from your dog’s perspective) is going to happen          when he gets to you.

Lastly, I will repeat, know that you have the ability to keep this period contained. You have many years of friendship ahead of you.

Benefits Of Feeding Your Dog Through Toys

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If given a choice, do you think your dog would CHOOSE to eat from a bowl or a toy? I encourage you to watch this.

Posted by So Much PETential on Monday, January 11, 2016

Teach Your Child – No Dog Headlocks

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Parents, a reminder that dogs – like all animals – learn positive or negative associations based on past experience.

Please teach your kids that instead of giving head locks and big bear hugs that can make dogs uncomfortable, to be a dog Super Hero, they can sit next to their dog, give him a rub on his neck and give him a treat from their open palm.

I teach these lessons and more in my My Dog’s Super Hero Class, a unique one hour class for children ages 6 to 10 and a parent. It could be the most important hour you spend together to help your child have a long lasting positive friendship with your dog.

My next class is January 23 at United Pet Fund. Please click here for info & to register.

A parenting tip: teach your child that head locks and bear hugs can make your dog uncomfortable. Learn more about a Cincinnati dog training class for kids.

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