How Words Affect Behavior

Have you ever stopped to think about how difficult it must be to be a dog (or other animal) living with humans in dog training, our verbal cues and voice intonations affect our dog's success.many times larger than him who speaks a completely unknown language, who has rules that often times are secret until you do something to break them, and who expects you to easily understand what it is they want you to do at any given moment?

Oh my, we need to give our pets a whole lot more understanding and respect!

Think about it for a minute, just how complicated we make learning and succeeding with us. Do you use the word ‘down’ to indicate that you want your dog to lay down, and also, in the heat of a moment, yell ‘down!’ to indicate you want your dog to go from jumping on you to having all four paws on the ground? Do you ever yell ‘no!’ to your dog but your dog has no idea what he should do instead? How many different ways do you call your dog to come, in addition to the word you had actually practiced teaching? (I bet you don’t even know an exact number for that last question.)

One more way to help your pet learn (and help you be a more effective teacher) is to keep track of your cues – verbal and nonverbal – and make sure that you are using distinctively different cues for different behaviors. (I wrote more about teaching cues in this blog post.)

Here is another example to give you thought. I have heard people say ‘no bite’ when their dog goes to take a treat from their hand with too much pressure or ‘no jump’ when their dog’s two front paws leave the ground to land on an incoming human.

There are a number of problems with this. Firstly, this is assuming that your dog understands what the words ‘bite’ and ‘jump’ mean…and actually, if your dog had been taught by you what those cues meant, logically then, if you used those cues AFTER another word, then, wouldn’t your dog DO the behavior of jump or bite since it was cued by you?  The other thing here is that, more than likely, in these situations, your voice may be raised and your body language may be doing more to heighten your dog’s arousal which could result in your dog doing more of the behaviors you do not like.

Here is another tendency of humans. When frustration sets in as ears develop selective listening, it is the nature of many of us to get louder and more persistent with our voices. I have seen it happen time and again. Dog handlers ask their dog to come or to sit, and if the behavior is not done, the handler repeats words over and over, with more and more velocity.

And yet, another complication is the fact that we convey even more information by the tone of our voice.

Think about your own self and the difference between your emotional and physiological response to hearing ‘come here!’ in how a deep throated, loud tone from a face with tense muscles vs a high-pitched tone from a smiling face. In training, it is important to separate yourself from your emotions and use verbal tones to elicit the behavior from your pet that you want to see.

Remember, when your dog is not doing what you want it to do, it is not behaving to purposefully get under your skin. Your dog is simply doing what works for him to get something it values. In that moment, your dog is telling you the value is not associated with you. Additionally, as your dog’s teacher, if your dog is not doing what you want, ask yourself how well YOU have taught him with consistency and lots of positive practice in varying situations. It is not the cue that determines the future rate of behaviors. It is the reinforcement that comes after behaviors. Cues are simply green lights that tell learners that opportunity for good things is NOW.

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Motivating Operations For Training Success

Yesterday morning, in the later part of a training appointment for a precious eight week old puppy, we spent a little time working on teaching her the crate is a good place to rest. It was after we were in their back yard moving around, having her thinking and playing. She was a tired little girl when we got back to her kitchen and she was most definitely needing some nap time. I left their house with a sleeping puppy completely zonked out with her head resting on a stuffed animal in her crate, and got to thinking about how motivating operations were at work here.

What do I mean by that?

Well, scientifically speaking motivating operations are environmental variables that have the power to either increase the value of a stimulus, event or object as an effective behavior reinforcer (this is called an Establishing Operation) or to decrease the value of a stimulus, event or object as a behavior reinforcer (this is called an Abolishing Operation).
That word ‘motivating’ is a key word here as motivation has a big role in learning. It boils down to a simple question – ‘What is in it for me?’ And a simple answer, “I will choose the behavior that serves to get me the most valued consequence FOR ME.”

As your pet’s teacher, you can impact your and your pet’s training success using motivating operations to heighten the value of behaviors you want to see. And remember too that sometimes this is most positive, least intrusive solution to solving a problem behavior while you are working on teaching your pet the skills and wanted choices to make in certain situations.

Here are some examples:

If you know your dog is very likely to have poor table manners when you sit down at the table, and you are having a guest over before you have time to teach your pet alternative behaviors at that time, one solution is to give your pet a long walk before dinner so that your dog will value resting more than bumping humans at the table. (There are other management choices you could make too but this is one example.)

On the flip side, your dog will value exercise more after a long nap. This would be a great time to practice active training and games.

You can heighten the value of a toy or a special kind of food by keeping it out of sight and using it just for training times.

On the flip side, this is one of the reasons why free feeding (leaving food in your pet’s bowl all day) is not a good idea, as your pet’s continual opportunity for the food will come to devalue it.

Motivating operations in crate training

Building value for napping and resting in the crate becomes easier when you practice it after giving your puppy active learning and playing time. Puppies go and go and then need to nap. Without that rest, a tired puppy – like a tired and cranky human baby – is prone to making poor decisions. Naps are important and taking one in a crate is a great place.

Yesterday morning, when the little girl was exhausted and inside her crate, her owner gave her tiny smears of cheese through the bars as she began to settle, first sitting, then laying down, and ultimately closing her eyes. She was completely asleep. With enough practice of this, she will come to learn the crate is a place to relax and will probably even seek it out when she needs a quiet space to be alone.

 

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

Should You Punish Your Dog From Growling?

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.

dog bite prevention - why you should NOT 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.

Reduce Frustration By Changing Your Focus

At an appointment the other day, we were going to go outside to begin working on leash skills. And, as my client picked up the leash, her dog’s arousal quickly rose as he began jumping on her and biting her arms. Frustrated, she told him, “NO!” and tried pushing him down all to no avail. He continued to grab her sleeves.

dog training tips for solving behavior problem by Cincinnati certified dog trainer Lisa Desatnik, CPDT-KAThis had been her mode of trying to stop his unwanted behavior in the past…and it was not working. There are many potential reasons for that.

Past experience has probably taught her dog that the leash coming out means valued time exploring the sights and smells of the neighborhood was going to follow. That can be a pretty exciting event in the day of a dog. The thought of that event can understandably cause a dog’s heartrate and activity to increase in anticipation. A human’s movement, attention and loud voice can even heighten that arousal response in the dog. And, if that human then clips on the leash while the dog is exhibiting that set of behaviors, the dog is actually learning that biting, jumping, and pushing get the opportunity to go for a walk. After all, that is what typically happens.

Even if a loud reprimand did work to stop the unwanted behaviors, at least momentarily, the problem with that approach is the handler is not giving the dog enough feedback to help that dog succeed in the future – meaning, the dog is not being taught a different, more human acceptable set of behaviors to get the same result…which is having that leash attached. Other potential problems are the dog will come to associate its handler with that aversive, the dog may shut down and begin showing avoidance behaviors, or even the dog may begin showing some aggression.

Going back to this particular situation, I had my client put the least out of sight and then asked her what behaviors she would like to see in her dog when the leash comes out. Her answer – to sit and look at her while she clipped the leash (and in this case other collar) to her dog’s neck. OK, now THAT is something we can teach her dog.

So, next time she asked her dog to sit before taking out the leash. If he got up and jumped on her, the leash went away. Then after a pause, she started again. And this time he remained seated. She was able to then teach him in small successive steps (this is known as shaping) to remain seated when the leash was shown, then as the leash was presented closer and closer and ultimately clicked on his neck. The process took a couple minutes to teach and we were out the door for more lessons.

When you change your focus from simply stopping behavior to teaching your dog what you would rather see him do, not only will you be solving problems, you will be strengthening your relationship.

Teaching Moments Abound

My reminder to you…every moment of every day is a teaching and learning opportunity for you and your pet. Reinforcers are all around. They are that chance to go outside, to play ball, to clip on a leash, to greet a human, to chew or sniff. They are powerful tools in your behavior change toolbox because every time that you pair one of those valued life experiences with a behavior, you are adding value to that behavior…and you are giving your pet reason to do that behavior again, and again.

reinforcement in dog training

Teaching Impulse Control

teaching dog impulse controlMany of us get annoyed when our dog jumps on us, whines, or nips at us for attention. Or when our dog impulsively dives to grab a shoe. We wish our dog could see an open door and not bolt through it. We get irritated when our dog barks, jumps and/or runs around when we take out a leash.

Here is the thing. Seeing something it wants and sitting near it unless or until told it can have it, is not something dogs inherently do, just as a young child taken to a candy store would more than likely not choose to sit in a chair and read a book. Unless, that is, that the dog has been taught that sitting near something it wants is what gets him the opportunity to have it; or the child has been taught that sitting in a chair in a candy store gets him/her a piece of candy or something else of value.

While choices in life are always made based on where the value is at that particular moment in time, impulsivity is the tendency to act without thinking for instant gratification. I may eat that chocolate cake sitting in front of me because it is there and it is REALLY tempting even though I know I am trying to lose weight. I may buy that expensive dress because it looked great on me in the store even though I have no immediate place to wear it and it is more than my budget would allow. I am willing to bet that all of us have made impulsive decisions at one time or another.

Dogs are the same way. In the moment, a dog may see a shoe on the floor and put it in its mouth, may see a leash and bark and run in circles, or may be excited to see its humans and will jump on them. The list can go on.

Here is the thing to always remember (I know, I keep repeating myself), while impulsivity may affect that split second decision, experience is what teaches the learner to repeat and strengthen a behavior or to modify and weaken its occurrence.

When we share our homes with pets, it is so important for us to realize we have a lot to do with the behaviors we see in our non-human companions. We need to be aware of our pet’s needs for physical and mental stimulation.

We also need to be aware that with every interaction of every waking moment, it is the consequences of behavior that determine the future rate of that behavior.

So, think about how you can incorporate this into your everyday life to live with a pet that makes more human acceptable choices. In another post, I wrote about a basic exercise for teaching self control – teaching your dog that the choice of going after food in your hand makes the opportunity go away but the choice of backing up from your hand gets the food. Think about how that exercise is expanded to other everyday life.

  1. The choice of barking in a crate gets humans to walk away or ignore him but the choice of sitting quietly gets the crate door to open.
  2. The choice of sitting at a door that opens gets him the opportunity to go outside but the choice to make a move toward the door makes the door close.
  3. The choice of dropping a toy at his owner’s feet gets him a tasty treat or a game of tug or something else but the choice of running away from his owner with the toy or keeping the toy in his mouth gets the owner to ignore him.
  4. The choice of walking by your side gets your dog the opportunity to receive a tasty treat or the opportunity to go sniff flowers or a hydrant with you but the choice of pulling at the end of the leash makes you stop forward movement.
  5. The choice of barking and pushing over you gets you to stay seated and keeps the car door closed but the choice of sitting in the car seat gets the door to open.

What can you add to this list?

At the same time, think about how you can add greater value to the acceptable behaviors your dog does so that he will choose to do those behaviors more often. Or what behaviors do you need to teach your dog that can help him to succeed in that circumstance?  If you want your dog to choose to lay in his bed instead of bumping you while you are working at your sink, how can you make that choice more valuable for your dog (while ignoring the behavior of bumping you)?  If you want your dog to lay down with relaxed muscles when you stop playing, how can you build value for your dog to lay down with relaxed muscles?

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

 

 

Stopping Unwanted Pet Behaviors

I get asked a lot when I talk to people about focusing on what they want their pets to do, “But what do I do to tell my pet NO when he is doing something I don’t like?”

Why saying NO isn't the best solution for solving dog behavior problems. Dog training tips from Cincinnati certified dog trainer, Lisa Desatnik, CPDT-KA.Here is the thing about that question. First of all, while your dog may or may not momentarily stop what it is doing when you are saying NO, if you are needing to continue to use that word, then it is not solving your problem.

There are many reasons why I do not like using that word. Those reasons include that while NO may stop the unwanted behavior in the moment, it does not give your pet any information on what you would like for him to do instead. Additionally, using aversives has the potential for creating apathy, fear, anxiety and even aggression – and you will become associated with those aversives. As the bad behavior police officer, you may also end of teaching your dog that it should not do the unwanted behavior in front of you. NO also doesn’t do much for fostering a love of learning.

Another thing to keep in mind is that constantly, living beings are making choices based upon where the value is for them. If the behavior serves to get the animal something of value (to the animal) – meaning the behavior is followed by something the animal values – then you will see more of that behavior. Researcher Edward Thorndike named that relationship between behavior and its consequences the Law of Effect; and it states that the strength of a behavior depends on its past effects on the environment. (Paul Chance: Learning & Behavior, fifth edition)

So, if the reinforcement for doing the behavior outweighs the negative of your punishment, your pet will continue to do the unwanted behavior…just possibly when you have got your back turned or are in another room.

You may also be following your word ‘NO’ with a redirection to a different behavior that has a history of reinforcement, and so you are inadvertently reinforcing the unwanted behavior.

Let’s also think about the teaching perspective from a human standpoint. Let’s say you are doing a task at work, and your boss reprimands you, simply telling NO, throughout the day. Does that feedback tell you what you need to do better to earn your boss’ praise? Over time with enough NOs, do you think your performance will continue to break down or will you be more motivated to succeed? I can tell you from first hand experience, I have both worked for people who have been on the look out to find faults and for people who have been on the look out to find strengths. For the first kind of supervisor, somehow, things continue to keep going wrong but in situations where I’ve worked for the later kind of supervisor, I have excelled.

So, what is a pet owner to do when a pet’s behavior is not acceptable?

First of all, step back from the situation for a moment, catch your breath and instead of blaming your pet for it simply doing what works in the moment to get its needs met, ask yourself what YOU can do differently to help your pet succeed.

Since, each practice of a behavior is highly likely to be building that behavior’s reinforcement history (and we know that behaviors that are reinforced are repeated), ask yourself what you can do to set up the environment so that your pet doesn’t have an opportunity to practice the unwanted behavior.

Think about what needs or wants that behavior helps your pet to meet, and behaviors you can teach (with a high rate of reinforcement) that will help your pet to get its needs and wants met in acceptable ways. Then teach those behaviors that will help your pet to succeed in your world. And remember, that while you are teaching those behaviors, to think about what management or arrangement of the environment should be in place to prevent the unwanted behavior from occurring.

And, have a plan for if that unwanted behavior should occur, how you will avoid giving value to that behavior.

 

Impact of Consequences On Dog Recall

Do you have problems with your dog ignoring you or running the other way when you call? I wanted to share some thoughts on that. Please keep in mind there are many reasons why your dog’s recall breaks down, this is just one thought. Please click here to read more.

 

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

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.

 

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Tips For Stopping Your Dog’s Begging

dog training tips to stop your dog from begging

Can you relate to the photo? Over and over my mom tells Sam to go away when she sits on the sofa at night and he looks at her this way, but he knows better. If he persists, eventually she will get up and get him a chew toy.

Sam, like all our pets, is no dummy. He knows his behavior can get him a consequence he wants. No matter how many times I talk to my mom about it, she will continue her pattern…and as a result, so will Sam.

If she REALLY wanted to solve this, some ideas include:

She could use management, like keeping him in the kitchen behind a gate, when she wants to sit on the couch at night.

‘Before’ Sam begins his staring behavior, she could give him a longer lasting chew toy that he values. When he is focused on something else, he is not focusing on staring at my mom.

‘Before’ she sits down on the couch, she could play some games with him or engage him in training which would cause him to value resting more and staring at her less when she sits on the couch.

She could teach Sam to do another behavior when she sits on the couch like laying in his bed.

AND, while doing these things, if Sam should still sit in front of her and stare, she should stand up, be a tree and ignore him….giving no value at all to the unwanted behavior.

Remember, our pets are always making decisions based on where the value is for them. By making the wanted choice, the most valued choice for our pet, they will choose to do the wanted behavior. And that is good for everyone!

 

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

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