Positive Reinforcement Consequences In Dog Training

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Let’s talk about consequences.

That is, after all, the essence of how animals operantly learn whether or not a behavior is worth repeating or not. If a behavior serves to get the animal something of value (from the animal’s perspective), then that behavior will be repeated and even strengthened.

positive reinforcement consequences in dog trainingThat is such a simple but very important concept to understand; and yet it is also one of the great complications in relationships because we inadvertently reinforce behaviors we do not like while forgetting to reinforce wanted behaviors all the time. Actually reinforcement for unwanted behaviors is all around if we do not manage the environment carefully enough.

Think about the contained dog who has learned that climbing a fence results in unbelievably awesome freedom to sniff flowers, greet strangers or play with other dogs. Do you think that dog will be more or less motivated to climb the fence in the future? What about the dog who has learned that bumping his human causes his human to get up and get treats? Or the dog who has learned that barking at the door gets the door to open and fun people to walk through? Or the bird who has learned that screaming gets humans to pay attention?

The list of examples for operant learning is endless. It is why we can say, so long as two living beings are together, one is always shaping the behavior of the other.

Training wanted behaviors

Let’s put this in the context then of teaching wanted behaviors. It is not enough to just talk about consequences in a general sense.

Clarity in teaching is how we help our learners to understand exactly what behavior it is that we are wanting to see. We build clarity by teaching in an environment where the animal can focus (with no to minimal distractions in the beginning), when the animal is motivated to learn, with small enough steps so as to help him succeed, and by providing immediate feedback following the behavior that tells our student, “YES” this is exactly what we are looking for and reinforcement is coming.

At a recent workshop I took from Dave Kroyer, he referred to this immediate feedback as moment markinig because it involves very precise timing of clicking (or using a verbal marker) within a second from when the wanted behavior is performed. And the quicker that the positive reinforcement is delivered after the behavior, the easier it is for the animal to learn the contingency relationship between the consequence and the behavior.

This is the beauty and the power of the clicker in training. (And since that workshop, I am using a lot more clickers in my work.) Clickers provide a very precise and quick tone without the fluctuations of human voice which means clear and immediate feedback for the learner (so long as the click sound is always followed by something of value to the animal).

Dave shared a statistic with us that learning can occur 50% quicker with a clicker for these reasons. And this ironically occurred just after a trainer clicked seconds late, accidentally marking the wrong behavior of her dog. Guess which behavior her dog repeated? I have seen that happen before also. A lot of behaviors can take place in a matter of seconds – a head turn, movement, tail wag to name a few – and whichever behavior occurs just before the click is the one that you are marking.

You can practice your timing without your learner present in a number of ways.

Here are a few ideas:

Watch tv and a video and watch for a specific word or action to click or mark verbally.

Drop a ball or small pieces (one at a time) of something and click or mark verbally the instant the piece hits the ground

When clicker training with your pet, always remember that you must always follow the click with something of high value to your student to keep motivation high.

Things To Consider Before Giving A Christmas Puppy

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It is that time for my annual list of considerations to think about BEFORE giving a Christmas or Hannukah puppy or dog gift…

Here are just a few reasons why a surprise pet during the holiday season is not the best idea:

considerations before buying a Christmas puppyParents need to remember that managing the relationship between children and a pet takes active supervision while teaching both the child and dog skills to help them succeed around each other.

Also keep in mind that children grow and change, as do animals. Kids may grow into or out of wanting the responsibility of a pet, and parents need to realize ultimately that responsibility will be that of the adult in the household.

The extra stress of holiday preparation, parties, overnight guests and clean up is not ideal for bringing a new animal into your home that will need your guidance in order to succeed. Remember, bringing a new animal into your home is like bringing home a baby with much responsibility, management and teaching ahead.

The weather outside is not ideal for housetraining. Remember, new puppies and dogs will need to be taught that the proper place to relieve themselves is outdoors. The short, cold and possibly snowy days are not the most pleasant conditions for you (and your new arrival) to be needing to go outside often.

A pet is a financial responsibility. In its first year alone, you will have veterinary bills including vaccines, spay or neuter, or possible illness with a puppy. You will also need to budget for a dog crate, exercise pen or baby gate; chew toys; an ongoing supply of treats; high quality dog food; a comfy bed; a leash and collar (flat collar,  and optional halter or Martingale); and training. You may need to fence in your yard. Depending on your dog, it may require regular grooming. If you take a vacation, you will need to budget for doggy care. A parrot will also need a veterinary visit plus need a cage (and parrot cages can be expensive), toys, and food.

Pets should not be an impulse purchase. Time should be spent taking into consideration your living environment and lifestyle to find a pet well suited for you. It would be great to take the time to learn about how to teach your pet so as to succeed in your home.

If you want to give your significant other or child a pet this holiday season, may I suggest giving them a certificate for a pet instead of the real thing with possibly a pet care book? You could also offer a day of volunteering at a rescue where you can get hands on experience with the pet. Then, when it is less stressful and you have time to think about your decision, I have every confidence you will find your amazing gift!

 If you get a holiday puppy…

…you are in for years of wonderful companionship.

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.

I’d enjoy helping you on that path.

Dog Training Tips On Building PETential

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dog training tips with positive reinforcement by Lisa Desatnik

When you are looking to set yourself and your pet up for success in training, here are a few questions to ask yourself.

Can your dog reliably predict only good things will happen if  he comes to you when you call him?

Am I providing my pet enough opportunities to exercise his mind and body?

Am I clear in knowing what behavior I want my pet to do?

Am I teaching my pet in an environment and at a time where he can focus?

Do I make learning fun for my pet?



Four Steps To Solving Pet Behavior Problems

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When it comes training and solving your pet behavior problems using positive reinforcement without the use of force or punishment, here are four steps to practice.

four steps to solving dog and other pet behavior problems

Do You Have A Pet Photo That Makes You Smile?

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I posted a fun picture of our Sam on my Facebook page, and it was great to see the pictures others shared as well. Do you have a photo of your pet to share? Please add it to this post. Just click on where you see the number of likes and shares and the image on Facebook will open.

Dog Training Tips To Prevent Thanksgiving Begging

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I can’t believe Thanksgiving is around the corner. It is my favorite holiday because it is the one time of year when my whole family is together.

I think it is our family dog, Sam’s, favorite holiday too – for the extra attention AND the leftovers.

There was a time when Sam was our super beggar during the Thanksgiving meal if we did not keep him away from the table. It got me thinking that there are a lot of other families who probably have skilled beggars living in their homes, especially during this meal.

dog training tips to prevent Thanksgiving beggingI thought I’d share a few dog training tips for Thanksgiving if you live with a dog beggar.

First of all, remember that if a behavior is reoccurring it is doing that because the behavior serves to get your dog something of value…in this case, the most probably reinforcer is tasty food and human attention. If you can reliably predict this scenario will play out in your home, the time to begin planning for a solution is now (actually before now, but if you really work on it between now and Thanksgiving, you’ll go a long way).

Let’s put our behavior analysis hat on to see what is going on in the environment to set the occasion for that begging. The antecedent (what occurs just before the behavior to set the occasion for the behavior) is ‘guests sitting at the table with unbelievably savory food on dishes in front of them.’ The behavior is your dog bumping or scratching guests in their seats. (We’ll call this ‘begging.’) The consequence is that eventually your dog may get either attention or turkey or jackpot – BOTH!

How can we change the environment to set your dog up for success? If you know in advance that this is highly predictable behavior, one solution is using antecedent strategies to give less value to the begging. Some ideas? Satiate your dog BEFORE you sit down by feeding him in advance, redirect his attention by giving him a tasty steak bone to chew on or a foraging toy that will keep his attention for awhile, take him for a long walk or run prior to the meal to increase the value of resting behavior, have him stay in a crate (that you have previously taught him to associate it as a positive resting place) with one of those toys, or separate him from the table with a baby gate.

Another option involves positive training. Remember, this needs to be done IN ADVANCE of your Thanksgiving Day meal. Teach your dog an acceptable, alternative behavior to pawing and scratching people that will have reinforcing consequences. Remember, as his teacher, his ability to learn is dependent on your reliability (and EVERYONE in your household) to quickly reinforce the behavior you want to see – and every time he does the behavior in the beginning.

Begin by teaching the alternative behavior (like sitting or laying down) and get it reliably on cue. Once on cue you can begin teaching him to hold that behavior for longer durations before delivering reinforcement. Then, you can cue him to do the behavior before you sit down at the table and heavily reinforce it. You can teach him to sit or lay down in a bed or on a mat as an alternative. (Please click here to read tips on teaching sit/down/stay.) Gradually then you can teach him to sit or lay down with more distance from you, then adding in teaching him the duration for his stay. And then add the difficulty of higher value food on your table.

If at any time he gets up and bets, you can simply push your plates into the center of the table and turn your back. Then wait until or cue him to sit or lay down and holds that position for 5 to 10 seconds before reinforcing him for that.


Dogs are pretty smart. If ‘you’ teach him that begging only gets people to turn away and push food aside but sitting or laying down gets a nifty treat, guess which choice he’ll make?

Now, for another issue. If you have a dog who is competing with our Sam for the title, World Champion Counter-Surfer, remember, often times the feat is carried out when your back is turned. (We know this from experience.) The simplest solution is eliminating access to the reinforcement that maintains the behavior. In other words, always be cognizant of being sure that tasty food is kept far enough from the counter edge that your dog can not reach it.

Positive Reinforcement Lesson Learned At Camp Rockmont

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A precious and fabulous human example of the power of positive reinforcement in teaching behavior. Watch how quickly this 15 month old boy at Camp Rockmont learns to repeat behaviors, and his body language when he is doing those behaviors. Some things to notice:

Immediately after he begins to clap, the crowd claps.
When he stops clapping, the crowd stops clapping.
When he raises his hands, the crowd raises their hands too.

Do you see similarities when you train your pet with positive reinforcement?

Mental Exercise Is An Important Training Tool For Pets

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You may or may not know, in addition to my dog training I do public relations. It’s really fun to have such different careers…and there are times where I can see parallels, especially since my PR work happens to be for causes affecting positive changes. Did I mention I love what I do on both fronts?

Friday was a very fun and busy day that combined both. I woke early to write a news release for the Cincinnati ReelAbilities Film Festival (for whom I am director of public relations) before heading out to a dog training client. And, when I returned home, it was an afternoon of phone calls, deadlines, and more writing.

I was exhausted, mentally fatigued (although very fulfilled) and in need of some rejuvenation. So, what did I do? I packed my bag and headed to my gym.

It was in my car that it occurred to me how frequent it is that when people talk about exercising their pet, they mostly refer to physical exercise and often more specifically to walks. However, I talk to clients about how mental stimulation is exercise too for their pets, and an important type of exercise. (I know from first hand experience that mental exercise can be tiring.) Research has shown that dogs who work to earn their food are actually happier. Please click here to read about one study.

importance of giving dogs and other pets mental exerciseBirds and cats enjoy trying to figure things out too. Thursday night I sat in my birds’ room to read a book and observed that in a half hour’s time Barnaby, my Timneh African Grey, had gone to four different stations in his cage. engaging in different things – actually five if you count hanging upside down and talking to me.

Enrichment is important whether we are talking about parrots, cats, dogs, gerbils or other pets.

Friday morning at a dog training appointment we were working on the beginnings of a sit/stay on a kitchen mat. The girl we were working with loves chicken but she loves chasing balls even more. So, to add difficulty I thought we’d incorporate her ball into the exercise. After she sat on her mat, her reinforcer was seeing the ball. Then I practiced first pretending to throw the ball. If she broke her sit, the ball went back behind my back. When she could remain seated, I released her, threw the ball and cued her to get it. Then I’d make it more difficult by getting into my game ready stance with the ball, keeping the criteria the same for giving her the opportunity to chase it.

What a fun game! Incorporated into that game were learning the skills of go to your mat, sit, stay, release, get your ball, and come back. Wow, and she had no idea she was in class. She just knew she was having fun.

The thing is she was not even doing that much physical exercise but mentally her brain was having to work super hard. It was exhausting. After not long she was panting and needed a mental release break, which was playing with a Kong toy.

There are a number of points I could make here but the one I set out to talk about was that when we talk about exercising our pets, we should not discount the importance of mental exercise as much as physical.

Besides, it can strengthen your relationship with your pet just as it strengthens your pet’s muscles. And it sure does make life more fun.


A Book Written By Kids About Dog Behavior And Training

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Looking for a good book to teach your kids about being a dog friend? What makes Good Dog! Kids Teach Kids About Dog Behavior and Training different is that it is written by kids for kids. Evelyn Pang and Hilary Louie began writing this book when they were 9 years old, and it was published when they were 14. In a simplistic style they explain how dog’s communicate and how to train dogs in positive ways with positive reinforcement.

I love the whole idea for a book like this.

Good Dog! Kids Teach Kids About Dog Behavior and Training - a book about dogs written by children for children

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.



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