Choice And The ‘Matching Law’ – How They Relate To Training

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When I talk about training, two words I am more than likely to use are empowerment and choice.

Empowerment is about giving our animals as much control over their behaviors as possible. That means teaching, not by force but by choice. Instead of pushing a dog into a down, I can either capture him lying down or lure him into that position and then teach him that decision to lay down was an awesome choice by giving him a hugely valuable consequence. Or I can teach a dog who moves away from a collar when I try to put it around his neck to instead put his headDog training with positive reinforcement using choice through the collar on his own, all with positive reinforcement for each step along the way.

Choice is something that brings out the best in all living beings – human and nonhuman. We learn how to problem solve and how to come up with creative solutions. And we tend to become more resilient and successful.

I thought I’d talk a little about choice. We know that having the power to choose empowers and inspires us, and enriches our life. But how do we make those decisions? On any given day, how do we decide whether or not to clean our room, or choose between getting up early to exercise or sleeping an extra hour? How does your dog decide whether to bump you when you are sitting at the table or lay down with a bone? How does your bird decide whether to chew on a string of leather or scream?

It really all comes down to that age old question, “What’s in it for me?” On any given moment of any day, the choices we make are the result of our learning from past experience where the biggest reinforcement will be for us. Scientifically speaking, the ‘matching law’ suggests that an animal’s choosing one behavior over another is proportionate to the amount/duration of reinforcement.

The Matching Law

Matching Law in behavior and dog trainingR.J. Hernstein formulated the Matching Law (1961) after an experiment working with pigeons in a Skinner box. He determined that the pigeons tended to peck the button that yielded the greater food reinforcement more often that the other button. However, the pigeon’s peck rate was similar to the rate of the reward. If the pigeons were reinforced 80% of the time for pecking the correct button, they would peck that button 80% of the time.

What is the relevance of the Matching Law to training our pets?

Know that every time your pet received reinforcement for unwanted behaviors, it is making it more difficult for you to teach value for the wanted behaviors. That is why it is so important to also do what you can in a behavior modification plan, to manage the environment so as to prevent as much as possible practice of the unwanted behaviors. And also, to pay attention so as to NOT give value to the unwanted behaviors in the event that they occur.

It is important to know that when you are teaching your pet based upon choice, their ‘choice’ will be where they have learned from prior experience the biggest value will be for them. If, for example, you have not spent the time teaching your dog that turning to you when you call will result in awesome things happening, why would he CHOOSE that over running to greet a stranger? To increase your effectiveness as your pet’s teacher, set up your pet’s environment and classroom to make the wanted choice, the BEST choice for your pet. Teach him an alternative behavior to the unwanted behavior and give that huge value.



The Benefits Of Positive Reinforcement In Dog Training

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Remember, the more positive reinforcement an animal has in its life,
the better able it can adapt to new situations and stress,
and ultimately the better quality of life.

benefits of using positive reinforcement in dog training by Lisa Desatnik

Happy Sweetest Day!

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dog quote about Sweetest Day

A Dog Bite Prevention Tip For Parents

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This picture makes me very uncomfortable. Parents, it is so important that you help your dog to learn positive associations with your kids and little hands. A couple ideas for doing that – teach your child to wait for your dog to come to your child, how to pet your dog and when to stop, and to give your dog treats either by placing treats on the floor or in an open palm. Kids should never pull a dog or puppy by his collar. Think bite prevention and relationship strengthening.

dog bite prevention tip for parents of kids from Cincinnati dog trainer Lisa Desatnik

Dog Training Tips: A Recipe of Good Training Habits

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I’ve written about so many topics relating to strengthening your ability to teach and your dog’s ability to learn. I got to thinking, if I were to create a recipe of good habits for building success in the classroom (which, by the way, is anywhere where you happen to be teaching) what would be the ingredients?10-17 recipe

Here are my top picks:

Practice actively looking for your dog’s genius side. It is in there, trust me. Every waking moment of everyday your dog is responding to stimulus in his environment and his repeated behaviors are the ones that get him something of value. By paying attention to catching those behaviors you want to see, you will see more of those behaviors.

Practice clarity and consistency. Remember, as your dog’s teacher his ability to learn has a lot to do with your ability to provide him with clear feedback on your expectations. Know what you are looking for and do not waiver (although when you are shaping behavior, know that you may need to adjust the steps in getting there depending on how your dog learns).

Practicing learning and paying attention to what is on ‘your dog’s’ List of Awesomeness. Remember, when you train using positive reinforcement the student always gets to choose where the value is for him. If you want to build value for a behavior, teach your student to associate that behavior with a valued consequence.

Practice checking your serious side at the door. When you and your dog have fun together, it makes teaching so much easier. Think about training like a game and it will put you in a different frame of mind. Teach your dog by building joy into the lesson. You will get so much more focus from your student, who won’t even realize he is in class!

Practice being open to feedback. If your student is not getting the lesson plan, that is feedback to you that you need to alter in some way. Maybe you are asking for too big of steps, are not having a high enough value reinforce, are not clear in your criteria, are working amidst too many distractions. There are a number of reasons your dog is giving you that feedback. Be open to it and flexible to adapt.

Puppy Training Tip: Catch Those Good Choices

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I want to remind you today, to not take for granted those good choices your puppy or dog makes. Every consequence you provide to a behavior is feedback to your pet about whether his/her behavior should be repeated or not.

dog training tip by Cincinnati dog trainer Lisa Desatnik

Should You Punish Your Dog From Growling?

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I’ve seen and heard about it happen all too often. A child may reach over to take a dog’s toy or give a dog a big bear hug only to be greeted by a low growl from the dog, followed by a scolding to the pet. Or a dog on a leash tenses his body muscles and escalates into a snarl when something in the environment pushes him beyond his comfort level, only to have his leash jerked by the person on the other end.

should you punish your dog for growlingHere is the problem with that. Outside of play, dogs may growl for a number of reasons – whether out of fear or discomfort, resource guarding, or offensive aggression. The common factor in all of these reasons is underlying stress. Dogs growl as a warning signal when their other ways of communicating (such as tense muscles, closed mouth, or looking away) have not worked for them.

Punishing a dog for communicating that things are not right in his world is taking away his early warning signs and his ability to communicate non-aggressively. If you take this tool away from your dog, you are removing the underlying reason for why his behavior had to escalate in the first place. You are in essence taking away his last safety net to give him distance from his trigger, and giving him no other option but to escalate his behavior even further into a bite. Additionally, it can become a

The unfortunate thing is that once your dog has learned that whale eyes, turning away, licking his lips, curling his lip, holding his tail low, or even growling will not work but biting does, that past experience will teach him to choose biting again the next time a situation gets tense.

Please do not blame your dog. Instead thank him for warning you that you need to pay closer attention to his environment and his body language.

Children and adults need to learn how to avoid situations that may cause a dog to growl such as grabbing at your dog’s toy or food, giving him a big bear hug or looming over him. At the same time, beginning early to desensitize your dog to a variety of situations, people, and touching is important because a behaviorally healthy dog will communicate stress and discomfort incrementally starting with the mildest body language.

If a dog growls at you, give him safety by stopping what you are doing and giving him distance from his trigger (whether that is you or something else in the environment). And then analyze what happened so as to avoid situations that cause him to growl in the first place. A trainer who focuses on positive reinforcement can help you with an individualized behavior modification plan.

My Class Aims To Strengthen Relationships Between Dogs And Kids

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When a dog backs away, disengages with or even growls (or worse, bites) at a child, that dog is saying the child has done something the dog does not like.

Cincinnati class for kids about dogs by dog trainer Lisa DesatnikMore than 4 million people are bitten by dogs each year, and about 20% of those people are kids. Often I see dogs fearful of children because kids simply do not always know how to be the best dog friend, although they love their dog. Kids (and parents) don’t know how dogs communicate, how to interact appropriately, and how to be responsible for their dog.

That is why I think education is so important and why I have developed classes and community programs to make learning how to be a dog Super Hero fun for kids, parents and dogs. It is not only about bite prevention.

My ‘My Dog’s Super Hero’ is a series of three, one hour parent/child classes taught in an engaging way with a demonstration dog, activities and pictures to help that relationship between children and dogs succeed.

It is for kids ages 6 to 10.

October 18, 25, and November 1
9:30 am to 10:30 am
Blue Ash Recreation Center

Cost for the series (including all three classes): $45 per child with a parent

For more information and to register, please click this link.

Be A Positive Role Model

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Today and every day, I am going to be a positive role model for teaching and learning to somebody with great PETential!

How about you?

dog training tip

Underwater Treadmill Is Great Therapy For Dogs

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I asked Ginger Jones, CCRP, physical therapist at the Care Center animal hospital, about what it is used for. This is what she said:

The Care Center Animal Hospital in Cincinnati has an underwater treadmill for physical therapy for dogs Underwater treadmill has many benefits in many different situations. We use the principles of buoyancy (which allows dogs to exercise in an upright posture and decreases weight-bearing stress on joints), hydrostatic pressure (provides constant pressure which prevents swelling), and viscosity (provides resistance which promotes muscle strengthening and allows for increased sensory awareness) to provide an optimal environment for the dog to work out in. Some benefits of the underwater treadmill are improved endurance, strength, joint range of motion, cardio respiratory endurance, and reducing pain.

Underwater treadmill is effective in the treatment of chronic pain, decreased strength and endurance, recent surgery or illness, injury, arthritis, neurological disorders, and weight management.

If you’d like to learn more, please contact Ginger at the Care Center, 513-530-0911.

About the Care Center:
The Care Center is a 24 hour emergency, trauma and critical care hospital for pets in Cincinnati and Dayton that offers appointments for surgery, critical care, internal medicine, and cardiology as referred by a pet’s primary care veterinarian. It also includes an in-house blood bank. Please visit to learn more about them.


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