Teaching A Novel Behavior

Our dog, Sam, and I were looking for something to do on a gloomy day, and so I taught him to unroll a towel using shaping and clicker training, just for the fun of it. I video taped it to give you some thought in working with your own dog. There are so many benefits to teaching novel behaviors, or teaching any behavior in a positive way. Just some of the benefits include: success can build both your pet and your self confidence, it builds value for listening and being around you, is exercise for your dog, increases your dog’s (and your) problem solving skills, and more.

A pre-requisite to teaching this behavior is teaching nose targeting. Please click here to read how to teach that.

 

Can I be of help to you and your pet? Please contact me

What If Your Dog Will Not Budge On A Walk?

When you share your home and your life with a dog, there are so many activities your will be doing together. One of those that is pretty much universal is walking together joined by a leash.

And one of the most common issues people have with their puppy and dog is walking with their dog or puppy on a leash, a loose leash that is.

dog training tips for a stubborn dog or puppy that will not budge on leashI’ve addressed some of the reasons why that activity may break down.  I thought I’d specifically write about tips for solving an issue of a dog or puppy who plants his feet (or rear end) down on the ground and will not budge, as I have seen this happen time and again. I will refer to this as ‘no-budge behavior’.

Before talking about the behavioral modifications, you may first want to consider if there is an underlying medical issue that is giving your dog reason to stop in his tracks – especially if this is a sudden behavior change. Watch your dog or puppy carefully to see if he is favoring one leg over another; or if he seems uncomfortable in any way. If you touch a spot on his body, including his legs, does he wince or growl? If so, you should talk to your veterinarian to see if there is a physical or medical issue going on.

Additionally, take into consideration the outside temperature and the walking surface. Black surfaces can be extremely hot to a dog’s sensitive paws. Also keep in mind, dogs don’t sweat as humans do (much of their heat is released through their paws and panting). Certain dogs – especially those with short noses, thick coats and heavy muscle mass may be more sensitive to heat. And, some dog are more sensitive to the cold as well. Therefore, weather could be a reason for your dog’s unwillingness to walk with you. If weather may be the culprit, you may want to choose a different time a day, a different surface, give your dog more rest time (and bring plenty of water); or choose to find another activity that can give your dog an outlet for his mental and physical exercise needs. (which is a great idea even with walks)

And also, listen to your dog by watching his body language and paying attention to the surrounding environment. It could be that you are walking toward something that is aversive to your dog in some way (maybe he had a negative encounter with another dog or person in the past, in that area before – or a similar area, as an example). If that could be what is going on, then you may want to either avoid that situation or work with your dog to build a positive association with that environment instead.

These are some ways that I have worked through this issue with dogs and puppies.

Keep in mind, my focus is on using the most positive strategies for modifying behavior; and so, I focus on teaching wanted behaviors and building value for those behaviors while trying to avoid situations where my student will practice unwanted behaviors.

So begin by taking account of those situations when your dog or puppy is likely to stop cold in his tracks and not budge. What is the environment, the time of day, your dog or puppy’s previous activity been (maybe he is tired, for example)? Keep a record of this. Sometimes the most simple solution is modifying the environment (called antecedent arrangement) so as to not set that unwanted behavior into motion to begin with. And you definitely do not want your student to be practicing that no-budging behavior.

Practice building value for your dog or puppy walking next to you, following you, and paying attention to you off leash. Here is a link to a game for building value at being by your side. Watch for the criteria you are looking for, mark it with a click or verbal marker, and then give your student a reinforcer (I have used any combination of food, games, or the opportunity to chase me as reinforcers.)

Now, practice this with a leash attached to your student’s flat collar. If needed, you can begin this in a space free of danger of the leash snagging on something and let the leash drag on the ground – or you can hold the leash. If you are holding the leash, ensure that the leash is loose and there is not pressure on your student’s neck.

Practice walking and marking (with a verbal marker or clicker) when your student is walking with you where you want him to be (with a loose leash). Do this first in an environment that DOES NOT have the history associated with your dog or puppy’s no-budge behavior. You may want to begin by standing stationary and building value for your student being at your side, and then take a single step and continuing the process.

Gradually you can add more steps, continuing to mark and reinforce your student for walking on a loose leash. Since you will have kept a record of where and when the no-budge behaviors are likely to occur, you can pay special attention to practicing with a high rate of reinforcement BEFORE you get to that spot; and then walk away from the spot and continue to get closer and closer with each repetition. NOTE that you also should be watchful for any body language your student is using to indicate uneasiness and do not push your student beyond that comfort zone. If there is a fear or other reactivity issue, you may want to work with a trainer who uses positive strategies.

While I work to try to avoid the leash/neck pressure, there are times where it may happen and so teaching your student positive association with that – and to move toward the source of pressure instead of away is also a good idea. Similar to the collar grab game, practice a slight tug on the leash (not so much pressure as to cause discomfort) and follow that with a treat. Then practice waiting for your dog to shift his body weight toward the pressure, then making a small movement toward it, and more movement toward it. (This is called shaping.) Practice this numerous times through the day and you can gradually add a little more pressure.

What you do not want to do is continue to pull on your dog or puppy’s leash while he is practicing that no-budge behavior. When you are both pulling against each other, neither one of you is going to win; and there is the potential to inflict harm.

I can tell you that recently several puppies who had a history of the no-budge behavior, eagerly walked by my side after my spending time working through these steps.

And always remember – to have fun!

 

Stopping Puppies From Nipping At Ankles

The other day I was overhearing a woman giving advice to another woman on her puppy’s naughty and very irritating behavior of biting at her ankles and pants when she walks. The advice was to yell at the puppy (take pants out of the puppy’s mouth) and tell the puppy to sit when it happens.

tips for stopping your puppy from nipping at your ankles by Cincinnati certified dog trainer Lisa Desatnik, CPDT-KAHmm, here is the thing. Usually when I hear people talk about ‘trying’ to solve that behavior problem in that way, they keep having to yell at their puppy because the puppy does not stop doing the behavior.

Why? Well, remember, animals are always using behavior as a tool to get a consequence of value to them. If a behavior is reoccurring, then that behavior is working for the animal. In this case, the potential list of valued consequences for the puppy or dog could be among other things attention, mental and physical stimulation, or sensory stimulation (having pants in his mouth).

Generally speaking, although each dog is an individual, herding dogs are more genetically wired to do this but any dog or puppy can. Among the many dogs in which I have seen the nipping at ankles and pants behavior were a puppy vizsla, german shepherd, labradoodle, great dane, and just this past weekend, a puppy King Charles.

In each situation, I was able to stop the unwanted behavior by focusing on teaching the puppy more acceptable behavior choices instead.

Why isn’t punishment enough to stop behavior?

Before I write about what I did to modify behavior, I wanted to address why scolding a puppy for this (or any unacceptable behavior) is not your best solution. For one, if you have tried that in the past and your puppy is continuing the behavior (meaning, later on will go back to doing the unwanted behavior) then the yelling, attention and perhaps moving of your body may actually be of value to your puppy instead of an aversive. Or it could be that in the scheme of things, the nipping at your ankle is SO valuable to your puppy that it trumps any negative association with your yelling at him.  Another possibility from my example above is that, if you have taught ‘sit’ as a behavior that gets your dog lots of positive reinforcement, then asking your dog to sit immediately after your yelling and removing his mouth from your pants, can become a reinforcer for nipping at your ankles.

On the other hand, if your yelling at him does work to reduce the frequency and/or intensity of your puppy’s unwanted behavior, then I’d have to ask, at what cost? It most certainly does not teach your pet what he should do instead. Just a few of the potential negative ramifications of using an aversive teaching strategy are that it can cause apathy, generalized fear, counter aggression and escape/avoidance behaviors. Punishment requires escalating the intensity in order to maintain that suppression, and ultimately the teacher then becomes associated with those aversives.

Puppies, dogs, even birds and other animals did not join our lives inherently knowing what behaviors are and are not acceptable to their human companions. Those are things we need to teach them with fairness.

Solving nipping at ankles

Okay, so let’s look at how to solve the problem in the most positive way.

Firstly, with every behavior it is important to look for two things – what is happening in the environment to set the ankle/pant nipping behavior into motion in the first place and what is the immediate consequence of that behavior that is maintaining or even strengthening it. Then, think about what you can do to prevent practice of that behavior (and getting reinforcement for it) while also building value or teaching a different, more acceptable behavior with lots of positive reinforcement.

With each puppy it can be different. If your puppy is likely to go for your pants or shoes during play, make sure that you have acceptable toys in hand to direct your puppy to playing with them instead of focusing on human legs. I like to engage in constructive play with puppies meaning I am teaching behaviors and self control through play….for example, when they sit, then the toy moves. If you can’t be actively engaged with your puppy (but always you are actively supervising), then another alternative is an interactive toy that keeps his attention like a food puzzle toy. And if active supervision is not an option at that time, then the best place for your puppy is a confinement area like a crate or x-pen so as to prevent your puppy from engaging in unwanted behaviors.

If your puppy tends to grab your pant leg as you walk, think about what you want to do and focus on that, but before your puppy grabs your ankle (because with each practice of grabbing your ankle, your puppy is gaining a reinforcement opportunity for the unwanted behavior). I will slow down as much as needed for that particular puppy and will even begin with marking (with a verbal ‘yes’ or click) and reinforcing the puppy for standing at my side while I am stationary, and continue to mark and reinforce being at my side with his head up as I move. I’ll only gradually move quicker as the puppy tells me through his ability to continue to walk at my side with his head up, that he is learning the behavior I want to see. If at any time the puppy goes to bite my ankle, I become a tree so as to avoid giving any reinforcement for the unwanted behavior; and then, I adjust my plan to go slower so as to help the puppy succeed.

My challenge to you is this: Instead of thinking in terms of what your pet is doing that is bad from your perspective, think about what that behavior is getting him and what you can teach him to do instead. And, as always, have fun!

 

 

Why Learning Should Be Simple

“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” ~ Albert Einstein

Dog training tips for helping pets succeed by making the lesson as simple and clear as possible.I love this quote. In its great simplicity, it speaks volumes for both effective teaching and learning. This, from a world famous, brilliant physicist known for his general theory of relativity and recognized with a 1921 Nobel Prize.

I think about this often when I am doing dog training and behavior consulting. A question foremost in my mind is always, ‘how can I help my student succeed with this lesson?”

If the lesson is too difficult student frustration can lead to poor motivation, and with poor motivation focus on the teacher can quickly evaporate. When that occurs, teaching – at least teaching what we WANT our student to learn – is often not effective.

It is important to remember that in order for us to teach a behavior and strengthen its future rate, we first need to ‘get’ the behavior to occur so that we can follow that behavior with a reinforcing consequence. I continue to remember observing in a two day class with reknown trainer Dave Kroyer a session where he was coaching another trainer on teaching her dog to put his nose in a hole of a scent box. There was a moment when her dog was not ‘getting it’ and began pawing at the box. Dave’s response was to pick the box up and ask the trainer what they could do to help her dog understand. The answer was to put the box on its side. With that small change, her dog immediate went to the open hole and placed his nose inside.

And, once you and your student have success, then you can build upon that success from there by incrementally adding to the behavior as your learner can continue to succeed.

What are some ways in which you can make your lesson plan as simple as possible but not simpler?

For one, begin teaching in an environment with minimal other distractions. It is hard enough to focus on learning something new. With stimulus going on around you, it is that much more difficult to focus. Please read this column I had written on the importance of decluttering the teaching classroom.

Break the behavior down into small steps or approximations, and reinforcing your learning after each behavior approximation toward the final behavior. This is known as shaping, and it is a lot of fun to practice. Please click here to read a past post about it.

Be aware of the importance of timing when it comes to teaching new behaviors. Contiguity refers to the closeness in time between the behavior and its consequence while contingency refers to the degree of correlation between the behavior and its consequence (*if* I do this behavior, *the* this is the consequence that will follow). The less time there is between the behavior and its consequence, the quicker and easier the animal can build that relationship.  Please click here to read more. The immediacy with which you can ‘click’ and mark a correct behavior is one of the reasons why clicker training is so effective.

Use reinforcers that are of value to your learner. Remember, it is the learner that gets to decide what is of greatest value to him/her and that can change throughout a day. Learners will always choose to do the behavior that gets them a consequence of the greatest value to them so plan ahead and make sure you’ve stacked the deck in your favor. You can read more in this post.

Lessons In Teaching Self Control

This past weekend I attended a fun, two-day workshop on teaching self control by Swedish dog trainer (and border collie breeder) Fanny Gott at PosiDog in Columbus. She and her husband have a training school focusing on clicker training for dog sports.

In a dog training workshop, instructor Fanny Gott reminded us, that self control is driven by the dog’s choice. Fanny reminded us to teach dogs self control with choice rather than with lures, prompts and punishment. It is how you teach your dog to problem solve and to think through choices of behavior that lead to valued consequences (for your dog). It is also about you having fun with your pet and strengthening your relationship.

“There is no big difference between everyday life and training for competition,” Fanny told us. “Why settle for anything less than both joy AND control?”

In our workshop, there were about a dozen working dogs with a whole broad range of training experience from a german shepherd who was preparing for obedience competition to puppies who thought nothing of running at the end of their leash to jump on new people to a small dog who quivered and scanned the room and all of its scary newness.

Fun play and food (and, in the case of the people-loving puppies, the opportunity to run up to strangers) were the valued reinforcers for them. A dog who is crazy about a ball was being taught that doing something else was the way to a favorite object. A dog who really wanted that piece of food in a bowl was being taught that the way to get a piece of food is to be able to walk by the bowl at his owner’s side. A dog who lay calmly on the ground was given the opportunity to get an awesome toy. A dog who had no interest in food when a favorite toy was within reach was being taught that it was the behavior of taking the offered treat that got him a game of tug.

While the lessons were very different, their similarity was in teaching dogs contingencies between behaviors and consequences – and in making the classroom fun.  The reinforcers were consequences that the dog values. (I will write about increasing the value of reinforcers in a future post.)

The other similarity? These dogs were working! Make no mistake about it, they were absolutely exercising. In fact, even a border collie tired after about five minutes or so of a training session. It occurred to me how often people talk about taking their dog for a walk when they talk about exercise. Training your dog to focus on a lesson that involves both physical and mental control is exhausting. In fact, Fanny reminded us that after a short session, it is important to give dogs time to rest and to avoid another difficult training session right afterward.

Equally important, is that self control is something that must be practiced often and with consistency in order to strengthen. These are some tips Fanny gave for practicing.

  1. Look at everything happening in your training session. Ask yourself, is your dog showing self control or getting reinforcement for behaviors you do not want to see?
  2. Look at increasing your dog’s self control in everyday life. Really think about it. When are you being proactive vs reactive to your dog’s behavior? And how can you change that?
  3. Ask yourself, “how much are you managing your dog vs how often is your dog given a choice?”

Remember, this is about controlling access to reinforcers NOT controlling your dog.

What are some ways in which you have taught your dog self control? I’d love to hear.

Tip For Solving Dog And Puppy Behavior Problems

I was standing and talking with a new client the other day as her puppy was at her feet. The deeper into our conversation we got, the more her puppy began moving around. A few minutes later, he jumped on her leg, grabbed her sweater, and then when she removed it from his mouth, he took interest in her shoe.

Her instincts were to tell him no and push him away. She very much wanted to know how she could teach him those activities are bad.

dog training tip on solving problem behavior issuesShe didn’t, however. And, instead, it was a great opportunity for an important lesson in behavior. I thought I’d share a little about what was learned.

Here is the thing to remember about behavior. (I know I keep repeating myself but it is important to keep it forefront.) It always happens to get a consequence. If the behavior reoccurring, then it is working to get the animal a consequence of value to him.

Okay, so before we go down that path, what is wrong with simply yelling at a puppy to tell him Bad boy when he has his mouth on a sweater or shoe that should not be there? For one, if you have tried that in the past and your puppy is continuing that behavior then the yelling, attention and perhaps moving of your arms and lets is actually of value to your puppy instead of an aversive. Or it could be that in the scheme of things, the chewing on a sweater or shoe is SO valuable to that puppy that it trumps any negative association with your yelling at him.

On the other hand, if your yelling at him does work to reduce the frequency and/or intensity of your puppy’s unwanted behavior, then I’d have to ask, at what cost? It most certainly does not teach your pet what he should do instead. Just a few of the potential negative ramifications of using an aversive teaching strategy are that it can cause apathy, generalized fear, counter aggression and escape/avoidance behaviors. Punishment requires escalating the intensity in order to maintain that suppression, and ultimately the teacher then becomes associated with those aversives. You can read more about punishment here.

Puppies, dogs, even birds and other animals did not join our lives inherently knowing what behaviors are and are not acceptable to their human companions. Those are things we need to teach them with fairness.

In this case, there were many things that occurred prior to the unwanted chewing behavior to set the occasion for that behavior. Those things are called Antecedents; and some potentially could have been lack of other opportunities to chew on appropriate materials, boredom, lack of exercise, lack of attention. But also, the consequence of the inappropriate behavior was fulfilling those needs – attention, play, sensory stimulation, etc. After all, no attention was given to him until he decided to put something into his mouth.

There are many ways to solving this. One way is management. When you cannot actively be involved with supervising, playing and/or training; a puppy who is crated with tasty chew toys or who is actively engaged in a puzzle toy is not interested in chewing on a sweater. A puppy who is tired from active training and exercise also has less value on seeking out that sweater and more value in resting.

And, another consideration…did I mention training?  You can teach your dog or puppy an incompatible behavior that he can do INSTEAD of the unwanted behavior with as much or greater reinforcing value as the unwanted behavior. Think of it this way. If your puppy or dog does not know (because you have not taught him) what behavior you want him to do when you are standing with him at your side, then is it fair to blame him for coming up with his own ideas?

During that meeting, I began reinforcing the puppy for laying down by giving him a treat when he was laying on the floor. Within minutes, guess which behavior he was choosing to do on his own? After awhile, I incorporated play as a reinforcer for his laying down. When he lay down, I clicked and released him to retrieve a toy. Wow, talk about building HUGE value for laying down! After talking in the hall, when we walked into another room, can you guess again which behavior he immediately did?

My challenge to you is this: Instead of thinking in terms of what your pet is doing that is bad from your perspective, think about what that behavior is getting him and what you can teach him to do instead. And, as always, have fun!

 

 

Reward vs Reinforcement In Training

I was working with one of my puppy clients the other day. And, as many young puppies do, without hesitation she grabbed my tug toy when presented, she ran after a toy I threw and she watched with her tail wagging as I showed her a toy that made strange noises. She also did not hesitate to eat any of the treats offered. Confidence definitely is not lacking in her.

One thing I think about when I teach an animal like her (and her human) is how wonderful it is that she is showing me SO many possible reinforcers for teaching her behaviors.

Please click here to read my post about why knowing your pet’s Awesome List is important.

Her owner had a question for me about rewarding behaviors. It wasn’t anything that I hadn’t been asked before but it got me thinking, how often it is that I hear of people make reference to rewards.

People often think of the words rewards and reinforcement being interchangeable but their interpretation can be different. So, I figured I’d write a post to give some clarity to it.

Let’s look first at reinforcement. Paul Chance’s definition (Learning & Behavior) is: the procedure of providing consequences for a behavior that increase or maintain the strength of that behavior.

That is very important to undrewards vs reinforcement in dog trainingerstand because behavior, simply put, is a tool for an animal to get a consequence. It is feedback that the animal uses as to whether or not that behavior should continue in the future.

In training, it is also important to note that the delivery of that reinforcer can greatly affect its effectiveness. Dr. Susan Friedman taught me that contingency occurs when the presentation of the reinforcer DEPENDS on the performance of the behavior. (If behavior X occurs, then consequence Y will occur.)  An example of this is *if* Sam runs to his bed when given a verbal cue, *then* he gets a piece of chicken or *if* Sam walks by my side, *then* I will run with him to the grass to sniff.

The greater the contingency, the faster the learning curve, and that occurs with consistency in pairing the behavior and consequence. Contiguity is the amount of time between the behavior and the reinforcing consequence. The shorter the delay, the faster the learning process.

This is why moment markers (marking a specific behavior with a click, verbal word or something else specifically when the behavior occurs and following it with a reinforcer such as food) are so effective because they provide the learner with such precise feedback. The moment marker serves to tell the animal that YES, that is the behavior that is earning you reinforcement.

Reinforcers can be negative or positive. Negative reinforcement are consequences that are removed, avoided or escaped in the environment while positive reinforcement are stimulus added to the environment and are consequences the animal behaves to get.  What they share is their impact on the future rate of the behavior, to either increase or maintain the behavior’s strength.

What we as trainers and teachers also need to understand is that reinforcement is absolutely the study of one and it can change from moment to moment. A hungry animal may have more value for food, and especially by food that it is not part of its everyday diet. A puppy in the morning may have more value for active play. Environmental reinforcers are all around too such as opportunities to sniff.

The proof of a reinforcer’s effectiveness is measured by the future rate of the behavior. That is key.

On the other hand, a reward by definition is something given in recognition of one’s service, effort, or achievement. However, what is important to note is that rewards are ONLY reinforcers when they increase or maintain the strength of behaviors.

A common mistake is when people *reward* behavior based upon what they ‘think’ the learner should value. As an example, I often see people reward their dog for coming by bending over to fluff up the fur on their dog’s head only to have their dog move backwards. There is a high probability that the recall behavior could break down instead of increase if the dog learns that something aversive will happen when he comes.  By definition then, that reward is not a reinforcer but a punisher.

If people reward their dog for a behavior with a cheerio or verbal ‘good boy’ in a soft tone, and their dog’s fluency in that behavior weakens, then by definition that reward is also not a reinforcer.

The take-a-way here is to remember, if you want to teach and strengthen a behavior that you want your pet to do, make sure you are following that behavior with a consequence that is of value TO YOUR student.

Teaching Dog To Sit With A Game

The other day, I had a second training session with this adorable labradoodle puppy and his family. He laid patiently at their side while we began talking through solving the issues that come with bringing a young, energetic companion into their home with sharp teeth and an incomplete understanding of human household etiquette. (It is so awesome that their whole family is on board and eager to learn about training.)

dog training tip - teaching a dog to sit by Cincinnati dog trainer Lisa DesatnikThen we got up to work on actual training. After their practicing some hand targeting and name game exercises, we started doing some work on building value for his sit behavior. Initially they were using treats as a reinforcers; however, he was noticing more of the environment than of his teachers, and being slow at offering the sit.

Remember, this is a little guy who was born to play and who had just spent over a half hour in the car followed by time resting. He was ready for activity.

So, I wanted to show another approach. I stood in the center of the room and when he followed and sat at my side, the second his rear end touched the ground, I proclaimed, ‘Yes!’ and then proceeded to run and grabbed a tug toy.

As just about any labradoodle puppy will do, he began chase. It was Game On! In just a couple of seconds, I stopped movement. He responded by putting his rear end back on the ground, and I immediately marked that behavior again with Yes! and began moving again. We even worked in some initial tug game rules (adding the cue ‘get it’ before giving him the tug and then teaching the ‘out cue – but tugging will be another topic for another post).

All of a sudden this puppy who was uninterested in his classroom became a straight A student.

So, I thought I’d talk a little about why this happened and some of the lessons here about training.

Firstly, as our pet’s teachers it should always be our goal to figure out how we can make our lesson plan clear and understandable for animals who do not speak our language. In this case, practicing capturing the sit behavior, marking it and reinforcing it with many successful repetitions in their home with low distraction will help to build fluency with sit (part of this family’s homework).

Timing is important to teaching with clarity. Especially since non-human animals do not speak English (or other human language), marking the very specific behavior you are reinforcing tells learners, “Yes, what you just did this second was exactly what I was looking for.”  Without good timing on your part, you may inadvertently teach behaviors you do not want to see.

Motivation is another important concept to keep in mind in training. Remember, when given choices, animals will choose to do behaviors that get them the most valued consequences. It is our job as their teacher to figure out how to make the behavior choices we want to see, the most valuable choices for each learner. And that changes all the time. Probably a dog will value chicken or meat over dry dog food, and my bird Barnaby will value a piece of cream cheese over a pellet. After a big meal, an animal may be less motivated by food. After a long exercise (and once settled), an animal will probably be less motivated to do activities and value resting instead. On the other hand, after a long nap, a puppy is going to be ready to play. A dog sitting at a door may value the opportunity for smelling flowers or running in the grass.

By being aware of what your pet values, you can increase the value of the behavior you are teaching by following it with (or I should say, marking the behavior with a click or verbal word that is followed by) a highly reinforcing consequence. (In this case, that consequence is the opportunity to chase or tug.) And with enough pairing of the behavior such as sit with a valued consequence such as meat, a game of tug or a game of chase, the less probable behavior (like sit) will become more probable.

The Sit Means Play Game

This game is actually terrific for teaching several skills in addition to sit. It works on self control and the ability to turn on and off active movement. You can also build up to working on duration as you wait longer in between marking and releasing the behavior to play.

Steps simplified:

  1. Initially capture your pet sitting
  2. Mark that behavior (such as either a verbal marker such as ‘Yes!’ or a click)
  3. Follow the mark with a game of chase, tug or something else (for no more than a few seconds)
    (NOTE: in the beginning you will want to stop this game before your dog becomes too aroused)
  4. Then stop and stand still
  5. When your pet sits, go through the steps again

Variations of this game can include different reinforcers such as the opportunity while on leash to greet someone or sniff the grass, the opportunity to get a leash attached, or any activity that gets your dog’s tail wagging.

Here is a video of me using this game to give our Sam the opportunity to run find treats.

As always..remember to have fun!

Putting The Joy In Learning Through Classical Conditioning

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 them 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 of good things for your learner.

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.

In Your Training, Be Generous With Reinforcement

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.

 

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