Prevent Dog Bites

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Parents, please remember, you have an important role to play in helping your children and your dog succeed…including preventing dog bites.

children and dogs: dog bite prevention. Do you know what this dog's body language is saying?

 

Please click here to ready my post: Supervising dogs and kids is not enough.

To learn more about dog body language, please click here:  dog body language

Please watch this video below of how two girls practiced teaching their puppy recall.

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A Reminder About Teaching

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I love this quote. It is so relevant to dog training (and any pet) too. Instead of blaming our pets when they are not learning what we want them to do, we need to ask ourselves as their teacher, ‘What can I do to make my lesson more clear?’ I wrote about this awhile back.

on dog training: If your dog is not getting what you are trying to teach, teach it differently.

 

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A Different View On Dog Behavior

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Someone shared with me the other day of her frustration she was having with her dog. It seems her dog has a favorite pillow in her bedroom she keeps on the ground and as soon as she goes in there with her dog, Fido lays on it.  She keeps yelling at her dog when Fido goes to his spot, and he does come off willingly but his behavior hasn’t stopped. It’s very frustrating for her.

tips for solving dog behavior problemsI thought I’d share some of what I shared with her, as it is pretty relatable if you change ‘pillow’ to any other object.

So, why doesn’t this women’s dog get the fact that she does not want him on her pillow? Why does he continue to choose to go there every time they go into the bedroom together despite the fact that he gets yelled at when he goes there?

My background is in learning to solve pet issues in the most positive, least intrusive ways by looking at it objectively, visibly, and measurably through the lens of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). ABA is a systematic approach to modifying behavior 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)?

So, to begin with this situation, we need to stop and look at things from her dog’s perspective. We know that behavior is simply a tool to get an animal a consequence of value to that animal, so, instead of becoming frustrated with Fido for just doing what works to get him something he wants, let’s think about what those consequences could be that are maintaining and strengthening the behavior of laying on the pillow (scientifically speaking, he is receiving positive reinforcement for this).

A few possible consequences could be sensory stimulation (the feeling of softness) or attention from Fido’s owner (when he lays on the pillow, she calls him to come off and sometimes may do something else with him that she thinks will divert his attention away from the pillow).

We also know that the antecedent to Fido’s getting on the pillow is his walking into his owner’s bedroom with her when the pillow is on the floor. But also, some other contributing factors (we call these distant antecedents) may be: Fido generally does not receive much attention during the day, the home has all hard floors with no other soft options on the floor. And additionally, we know that Fido does not go into that bedroom by himself.

The ABC analysis for this situation would be:

A (antecedent):  Proximity to pillow when owner is present
B (behavior):  Fido gets on pillow
C (consequence):  Owner’s attention, sensory stimulation

Prediction:  When the owner is present, Fido will get on the pillow more to get his owner’s attention and sensory stimulation.

When you break it down like this, it gives you a very different perspective on your pet’s ‘bad’ behavior.

Looking at that situation then, there are choices to make. Altering the consequence so that the learner is not getting reinforcement for the unwanted behavior is very important, but doing that alone does not help to teach the animal what it can do instead to get reinforcement.

Actually in this case, because it would be difficult to prevent reinforcement for the behavior once it is set into motion, a better solution would be to focus on the antecedents so as to prevent practice of that behavior (because practice with positive outcomes builds strong behavior).

Brainstorming, some possible ideas for solutions (using the most positive, least intrusive strategies) include:

1. Moving the pillow to a higher surface
2. Getting a plushy dog bed or other soft area and building great value for Fido to go there instead
3. Have high value puzzle toys or other activity available in the bedroom that Fido will want to engage in
4. Teach Fido to do other behaviors than laying on the pillow, when in the bedroom

To build value for the last three ideas, I’d remove or move the pillow while teaching and building huge value for the wanted habits so that over time, those behaviors are the ones Fido will choose to do.

When you modify behavior in this way, you are also enriching your dog’s life and strengthening your relationship with it. Those are two great reasons to see things differently.

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Positive Reinforcement In Dog Training

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Just a brief reminder about behavior…teaching using positive reinforcement is not about bribing, and most certainly is not about force. Scientifically speaking, positive reinforcement is a consequence of a behavior that either maintains or strengthens it. As trainers, we are using positive reinforcement to build value for a behavior by pairing it with something the learner values. To be used effectively in teaching new behaviors, that reinforcement should be delivered contingently (meaning ONLY if the behavior occurs) and contiguously (meaning very closely following the behavior.) In this way, you are teaching your student this: WHEN I do THIS, THEN THIS positive outcome will happen.

dog training with positive reinforcement

Dog Arousal And Training

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In all my years of sharing a home with dogs, and all my work with them, many times I’ve seen and experienced the impact of arousal on a dog’s ability to learn and problem solve what I am teaching.

dog arousal and trainingI saw that again at a recent workshop of Suzanne Clothier. The demonstration dog was pulling on her owner’s leash from the moment she came out of her crate, barking, wagging her tail, moving quickly, jumping and bumping her handler. And when her owner/handler sat to talk with Suzanne, those behaviors continued. It was of no surprise then, that when her handler got up and asked her to sit, stay or jump over a hurdle, in that moment she was not able to focus and do what was asked. Her clear decision making ability was broken down.

On the other end of the spectrum, I was at a client’s home last week to train his labradoodle. The room wasn’t well lit and she was moving slowly and then layed down on the carpet. In that moment, she was not an active participant in learning controlled behaviors because she valued rest more than she valued movement. She was unmotivated. Continuing to try and teach her active behaviors at that time would have been counterproductive.

While very different and with very different motivations, both of these dogs shared the fact that they were not in their optimal learning zone. I first heard this spoken of in an online course I took from world champion agility trainer, Susan Garrett many years back. Susan (and I have since heard and seen many others since talk about it) told us about a bell curve of arousal for dog learning. A dog that is over stimulated has a difficult time with good  decision making and self control. In simplified terms, inhibitory control refers to the process of altering one’s learned behavioral responses in a way that makes it easier to complete a particular goal. Self control is an important aspect of inhibitory control.

On the other hand, the dog that has too little arousal is distinterested and unmotivated in the lesson.  There is a ‘just right’ place somewhere in the middle where a learner is at its optimal level for focusing.

So, back to those two examples. In Suzanne’s workshop, she worked with the handler in teaching her dog to lower her (the dog’s) arousal – meaning to lay at her feet, relaxing her muscles and lowering her heart rate – while she sat in a chair. When the woman got up to work with her dog after her dog was in a lower arousal state, her dog was able to focus and sit, stay, jump over the hurdle perfectly. With my client, when we walked out of the room and re-entered, his dog was standing wagging her tail, moving around and engaging with us. (Incorporating games like tugging into your training can also help to build arousal in your dog. Just use caution that you don’t play a game that will cause your dog to get over-aroused or you will run into the other problem.) The response we got from asking her to do behaviors was very different. She not only did the behaviors perfectly but with a tail wag too.

I want to note here that there are other considerations too. Not in this case but perhaps your dog is tired because it has had a lot of exercise, it is the end of the day, or you have already been training for a long time and your dog is mentally and physically fatigued.

What is the take away lesson for companion dog owners?  Learning through experience your dog’s sweet spot on that arousal spectrum will go a long way toward helping you both build success. If your dog becomes over stimulated, work on lowering its arousal. You may want to use a more calming voice and slower body movements. Working in an environment with minimum distractions, only adding difficulty as you and your pet can continue to focus on the lesson, allows you to have better control of minimizing or eliminating competing reinforcers. If your dog is on

Your Dog Says, “No Head Locks Please”

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Parents…I wanted to share another reminder that Dog Super Heroes avoid head locks and big bear hugs as that can make a dog feel very uncomfortable – and past experiences build future associations. Instead of a head lock, your child can sit beside or in front of your dog, careful not to loom over your dog. If your dog disengages, turns or moves away, and has tense body muscles teach your child to give your dog some space. Your dog will thank you, and that helps foster positive relationships.

dog bite prevention tip for parents of children by Cincinnati certified dog trainer, Lisa Desatnik, CPDT-KA, CPBC

Core Exercise For Dogs

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I am a pretty consistent exerciser, working out about 5 to 6 times a week. There is such an emphasis with people to strengthen our core – the muscles of our abs, spine and supporting limbs. That strength decreases lower back pain and stress on the rest of our body, and helps us to have more upright posture and prevent injuries.

Core strength in dogs is also a good thing, decreasing the incidence of injuries associated with osteoarthritis or other soft tissue issues, of iliopsoas strains, and spinal pain. I spoke with Ginger Jones, CCRP, canine physical therapist at the Care Center about core strength exercises the other day. “Core work,” she told me, “is integrated into everything I do.”

It is that important whether you have a very active, a young, an old, a big or small dog.

Ginger explained how you may notice signs of a weak core in everyday activities. There may be excessive sway in the hind end in movement. You may see your pet have difficulty making the transition from positions such as going from sitting to standing. Sometimes, depending on the situation, a dog’s inability to hold a sit stay could be due to weak core muscles.

Please note: Before you begin new exercises, clear them with your veterinarian/health care professional. You can mix these exercises up, doing several consistently at least every other day. They can also be considered a warm up before other activities.

Exercises to strengthen your dog’s core

Ginger said even simply walking your dog over uneven surfaces causes your dog to shift its body weight, engaging core muscles. When you take that leash out, keep an eye out for things in the environment you can encourage your dog to step on or move over. Walking up and down inclines and stairs involves trunk muscles too.  In your home, you can encourage your dog to walk on pillows or folded towels for example as another surface.

Exercises while standing. Holding a stand can be more difficult than you think in the beginning (think of the plank exercise for humans). Encourage your dog to stand and hold that position for up to ten seconds or longer. You may need to begin with just a few seconds of holding position. These are some of the ways Ginger engages the muscles more during the stand (for all of these, use a non-slip surface)

With a lure, encourage the dog to turn its head in different directions to follow the food.

Gently sway your dog from left to right while supporting it. Note: you are not rocking your dog so hard that it will need to move its legs to regain balance. As your dog becomes stronger, your dog will need less support from you.

Again, while you are supporting your dog, lift one leg for a few seconds and then replace it on the ground. Do this with each of your dog’s legs. For difficulty as your more forward with this, you can increase the time for each leg lift and decrease the amount of support you provide.

Sit to stand. Changing positions is great for strengthening your dog’s core. Encourage your dog to go from stand to sit and sit to stand (and you can incorporate laying down too). You can increase repetitions up to 5 or 10 times on a variety of surfaces.

Walking backwards and in a figure eight. This exercise, while fairly simple, helps a lot with balance and hindlimb strength.

Cavalettis.  A cavaletti is basically walking your dog over a series of raised surfaces. You can make your own or purchase them online. You can even use a ladder. This exercise requires your dog to lifts its hind legs over each surface improving strength, range of motion, balance and flexibility. Ginger said you can begin with a series of two-by-four boards. You can also use PVC pipes or broomsticks, or other poles. Begin with the hurdles laying on the ground and gradually increase the height. You can be creative in hurdle holders. I have seen people use crushed soda pop cans (placing the hurdle end over the crook in the can), laying the hurdle on blocks, ect. The hurdles should be placed one body length of your dog apart, and begin with about a four inch height (depending on the height of your dog). You can have four to seven hurdles. Walk your dog through the course four or five times initially and then increase the repetitions as your dog gains strength.

Elevated paw touch. Practice having your dog stand with its front paws on an elevated surface such as a chair to increase the weight bearing load of the back legs. You can increase the time in small increments as they increase their rear leg strength. When your dog can hold that position for at least 15 seconds, you can practice adding some gentle hand pressure to its body as was practiced with the stand. You can also practice this with your dog’s rear legs on the elevated surface.

Using a wobble board or balance ball.  Practice having your dog sit or stand on a BOSU or balance ball (you will need to support your dog in the beginning, and also just to desensitize your dog to being on it, you may want to wedge the ball so that it does not move when getting started).

Additionally you can teach your dog to put its front or rear paws onto a ball or wobble board. To do this, I first taught our dog to paw target (stand with his front paws on a surface) on a variety of surfaces and rotate his back legs so the behavior itself was not new. Below is a video of me demonstrating clicker training using shaping to teach a Vizsla to paw target, and then a video of me teaching our Sam to put his paws on a balance ball.

Teaching beginner paw targeting

Teaching our Sam to keep his front paws on the balance ball

All of these exercises are not that difficult to practice and teach, but they are so important to the wellness of our pets. A dog that does agility needs this strength to minimize injury risk. A dog that does confirmation will need good core strength to hold positions. For that matter, working dogs, older dogs, and puppies will all benefit. And you will have fun in the process!

How To Create New Reinforcers

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Since my focus is on training and modifying behaviors in the most positive ways, I am always thinking in terms where the value is for the learner because the way in which you build value for a particular behavior, is by having that behavior followed by something the animal wants. This is teaching with positive reinforcement.

using positive reinforcement in dog trainingAnd that Awesome List as I like to think about it is ever changing. At one time of day your pet may value resting while at another time your pet may value a game of chase. The list could include the opportunity to go outside, food items, toys, attention, sensory stimulation, even distance from something aversive (although for this post, I am going to focus on the positive).

While food is good for shaping exercises because it can be delivered and eaten quickly for faster timing, having a variety of reinforcers to choose from in any particular training scenario makes you unpredictable and more engaging for your pet. Not knowing what cool thing is going to happen but knowing that SOMETHING great is going to happen as a result of doing a behavior sure can help to keep your student in the game.

You actually can create more reinforcers from the reinforcers already in your list. How? Using classical conditioning. Classical conditioning is a reflexive type of learning where one stimulus acquires the capacity to evoke the same response as another stimulus.

Remember that it is the stimulus that occurs AFTER something that affects the emotional response of what comes BEFORE it. Having said that, with enough pairing of the presentation of a toy, for example, before the presentation of a valued leash, over time, your dog will come to value that toy because it has become associated with the leash. (Show your dog a frisbee – you do not need to play a game, just show the frisbee and put it down, and then take out the leash.)

Experiment at home and see how you can create new reinforcers. The opportunities are endless!

 

 

Teaching A Bird To Step Onto A Perch

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I have a perch in my kitchen that adheres to my refrigerator, and when I bring Dreyfuss (my Maximillum Pionus parrot) in with me, I usually keep her there while I am cooking. However, I began noticing the other day that when I’d move my arm to the perch for her to ‘step up’ onto it, she was simply remaining standing on my wrist with her weight 10-19-dreyfuss-smon both legs. The problem kept occurring so I thought I’d take out my behavior analysis hat and try to figure out what was happening.

With more careful attention, I realized that I had begun for some reason getting a few seeds out as I moved my wrist to the perch. Initially, I pulled the seeds out after her pause for a split second near the perch and then she stepped onto the perch to get the seed (held on the other side of the perch). Being savvy to training, that really was all it took for that split second to become longer and I was holding treats in my hand at the time.

Ah, I was reinforcing her behavior of standing on my wrist when it was next to the perch because the consequence of her doing that was my pulling out the treat and luring her to step up. I was creating this problem.

People do this all the time with their pets. I was just working through this with one of my dog training clients the other day.

So, what did I do to resolve this problem with Dreyfuss? I held treats behind my back as I moved my wrist (with her on it) near the perch, and waited. I waited until she eventually stepped up onto the perch on her own, and then I said, ‘yes’ and gave her a treat. Then we practiced that some more.

Problem solved! At least this time. Behavior is always evolving, and we are always influencing each other’s choices. There will no doubt be future issues I will need to analysis. Beginning by stopping to think about the function of that behavior is a great start.

Your Role In Training Success

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When you ask your dog to sit or lay down, does it ever immediately pop back up into a stand instead of stay in position? And, what happens when you are out for a walk and stop to talk to someone? Does your dog go exploring and begin to pull on the leash when you’d like it to simply sit by your side?

choices in dog trainingIt is easy to get frustrated when your dog does not do what you want, but we have to remember, pets are not mind readers. If we do not teach them what it is we want them to do in any given situation, they are likely to come up with their own choice that is based upon where the value is for them. Anytime they are doing something, they are doing what works for them in the moment to get something of value or avoid something aversive.

So, let’s talk about several points here as it relates to the human factor in training.

Your Role in Paying Attention

People tend to think about focus as it relates to their students. It is one of the reasons why short training sessions are best and why you are helping your pet to succeed when you train in an environment with limited distractions, or a distraction level in which your animal is still motivated and able to maintain its attention on the lesson at hand.

But you should not leave yourself out of this consideration. Anytime you are training, you need to be completely attentive to your student and your lesson. If a distraction occurs during training (such as the phone ringing or your wanting to talk to someone), take a pause. If you are just beginning to teach stay and your dog doesn’t yet understand the concept, release your dog before turning your attention to something else so you do not set it up for failure.

Clarity

Remember, it is very difficult for an animal who doesn’t speak human to understand what we want them to do. When teaching, remember clear two-way communication is so important. Teach with small steps and great reinforcement for good choices. But also, remember that, if in ‘your mind’ you would like for your dog to sit at your side when you talk to someone while on a walk…that sitting by your side is a behavior YOU need to teach your dog, and reinforce it in that situation. Just as explained above, your focus needs to be on your dog’s behavior in that moment.

Realistic Expectations

If your pet continues to make unwanted choices, or if you ask your pet to do a behavior multiple times and your pet does something else, know that it is not because your pet is being dumb or obstinate. Instead, see it as a case of your student telling you it either needs much more positive practice of learning the behavior, or it is not motivated to stay focused in that moment. This is a time for you as the teacher to pause or stop the training and review what you need to change to help you both succeed the next time.

Watch what you are reinforcing

A common error I see among dog handlers is when their dog’s wanted behavior gets ignored and only its unwanted behavior gets attention. I have seen dogs sitting at their owners side quietly and getting zero reinforcement until the dog gets up and barks, at which point, the owner may yell (giving attention) and the dog gets self reinforcement in terms of adrenal and excitement. The owner may jerk the leash to get the dog to sit down but if the strength of the reinforcer overpowers the aversiveness of the stimulus, the pet will continue to choose to get up and bark. A better alternative is to concentrate on catching the wanted behavior and giving that behavior a lot of reinforcement.

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