A Reminder About Teaching Reliable Recall

On teaching your dog a reliable recall.
Just as a reminder…our dogs live in the moment. They are constantly making decisions based upon where the value is for them. If you haven’t spent the time teaching your dog that coming to you when you call, will result in a positive outcome, why would your dog ‘choose’ to come vs doing something else?
 
Always begin teaching that recall word in an environment with minimal distractions, and only use it when you can guarantee success.  Using positive reinforcement to train your dog will build strong value for behaviors. And guard that word like it is gold. Take care to not follow it with an aversive (from your dog’s perspective).
A reminder about teaching your dog a reliable recall.
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A Simple Solution to Dog Problems

Sharing a lesson from the field:

Antecedent Arrangement, or management, and how it can help dog owners solve dog barking out the window problemsThe other day, at an appointment with a new dog training client, one of the problems she had mentioned was how her puppy – a terrier mix – would bark A LOT at squirrels Ellie saw out this one window in the living room. If you have a dog prone to this behavior, then you more than likely can empathize with my client. You probably never knew you had so many active animals outside until you brought a dog into your life. You may even look forward to evening darkness when finally, you have some quiet.

Think about it from that dog’s perspective. Having to be on alert all day, watching out for those critters who could be scampering through the trees at any moment can make you pretty tense. And then, just when you are able to relax, well, there goes another squirrel!

Anytime you are working to modify behavior, it is really important to manage the environment so that your pet does not get practice of that unwanted behavior. The scientific term for this antecedent arrangement, which refers to arranging the environment so that whatever is serving to set that behavior into motion is, well, not available; or so that your pet has less motivation to do that behavior.

In terms of the humane hierarchy, a ranking of training methodologies going from least intrusive for the learner to most intrusive, antecedent arrangement is a high #2 on that list, just below ‘addressing medical, nutritional and physical environment variables’.

And, there are many times where antecedent arrangement is enough to modify the behavior. I give examples in this blog post.

Ellie is yet another example. I just got off the phone with my client who told me she followed my recommendation to eliminate Ellie’s access to that window; and she has seen a dramatic change in her dog this past week. In addition to the lack of barking, Ellie has been better able to focus on other things and she is overall very much calmer. I can’t wait to go back for our second appointment.

This is my challenge to you: when your pet is exhibiting a behavior you do not like, an important question to ask yourself as your begin the journey of behavior modification is this, “What I can I do right away to make a change in the environment so that behavior won’t be set into motion because every behavior that gets practiced, gets reinforced.”

5 Reasons To Teach Your Dog Tricks

Five Reasons To Teach Your Dog Trick Behaviors

If you think teaching your dog novel behaviors is a waste of time, I encourage you to think again. I have five reasons why you may want to spend a few minutes to train some different behaviors.

They can be used as reinforcers. When taught with a high rate of reinforcement, the behavior itself becomes a reinforcer as it has over time come to be associated with a valued consequence. You can add value to loose leash walking if, after your dog walks by your side so many steps, that you suddenly tell him to grab a ball, run around a pole, or jump.

They build value for paying attention to you. It makes life more unpredictable. If you ask your dog to sit for everything he wants in life, then that sit just becomes automatic. There is really no need for your dog to have to pay attention. If on the other hand, your dog can not predict that you may ask for a bow, a turn, a jump OR a sit, in order to have the opportunity to do or get something he values, then he had better be alert and focused or that opportunity will be gone.

They create better teachers and students. The more you practice teaching with success, the better you will become at teaching; and the more your dog practices learning from you in positive ways; the better your dog will become at being learning.

They strengthen relationships. The more experience your dog has with associating you with positive outcomes, the more your dog will want to be around you. And, the more success that you have in training and the more fun that you have together, the more that you will want to do with your dog as well.

The learning process is great exercise. It is tough work to have to use your brain and your body to problem solve and figure things out.

 

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Why Teach Go To A Mat

This week seems to be my week for mat work. Twice already I have been working with clients to begin the process of teaching their dog that a mat is a pretty awesome place to hang out and relax, as it is the place where valued stuff happens.

Teaching your dog to settle on a mat can help solve numerous dog training problems.The reason for training these two dogs to go to and settle on their mats is similar and different at the same time. One, a large lab, barks and jumps on guests upon their arrival. The other is a small dog who spends time sporadically during the day at his human’s work where he can hear people walking down the hall, car doors opening and closing, voices, telephones, and guests who walk in; and any or all of those stimuli can cause him to bark and run in circles.

In each of these cases, just saying ‘No’ to the dog, and with the lab, also trying to push him down or away, was not solving the problem. It is frustrating for those who live with dogs.  Why do dogs continue to do things that so clearly are not acceptable behaviors to their human companions?

What gets things of value will be repeated.

One thing is for sure, dogs are not behaving simply to annoy their people. They are simply animals who are doing behaviors that cause valued consequences – from their standpoint. A dog who jumps on visitors may be reinforced by humans that give attention, make noises, move in ways that appear to be play; and also by the dog’s own release of energy. There are many potential reinforcers for dogs who bark at noises and stimulus depending on their reason for barking. It could be that from a dog’s point of view, barking gets distance from a stimulus, gets attention or food, gets good people to walk in, is a release of energy, etc.

Here is the tricky part. This reinforcement need not occur after every incident of the behavior to maintain the behavior. In fact, intermittent reinforcement is the culprit of just about every (if not all) unwanted behavior that continues. It creates gamblers in learners, and lean reinforcement schedules cause great addicts. In other words, if there is a 1/500 chance that barking will cause a door to open with good people to walk through or get you attention or cause scary things to move away, then the dog will keep trying what works.

This is why, in order to solve problems in the most positive and least intrusive way, a component of your plan needs to be arranging the environment so as to prevent practice of the unwanted behavior. Another component is teaching your dog alternative and/or incompatible behaviors (a replacement behavior) that will get your dog a valued consequence. In doing this, with many repetitions, your dog will come to do the replacement behavior more because THAT behavior is associated with great outcomes.

And this is where the mat comes in. A dog cannot settle on a mat that is a distance from the door AND bark and jump on people at the same time, so we are spending time first teaching this dog to go to his mat, then settling on it, then working up to being able to stay with distractions, and then calm greetings. These skills are being worked on separate from the door before adding the door and real visitors into the mix.

As for the other dog, in just the first lesson there was a marked difference in his behavior in a short period. When he was sitting or laying down on his mat, he was already paying less attention to the noises than when he was walking around the office. When he did alert to a noise, I began teaching them to give him a treat ‘before’ he got up and began barking. Over time, with enough repetitions of good things (treats) happening after hearing a noise, he will come to have a different emotional response as well. (This is called classical conditioning.) Breaks to go outside and play are also part of his day. (Just part of what we are working on.)

The lesson here is that, when you are frustrated with not being able to stop that unwanted behavior, try thinking about it differently. If you don’t like what your pet is doing, then what would you like for your pet to do instead? Now that you can teach!

 

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Distractions As Reinforcers

Grass to sniff. A yard to run around. Dirt in which to dig. A human taking the leash means walk time!  People who move around and give lots of attention. Ugh, what do all of these have in common? They get many tails wagging and they have the potential to be major sources of dog handler stress.

…but they don’t need to be your enemy. In fact the opportunity to do all of those things can actually be an asset to your teaching and strengthening of wanted behaviors.

Distractions can be used as positive reinforcement in dog training to build value for behaviors. Certified dog trainer Lisa Desatnik, CPDT-KA, explains.How so?

Looking at the science

On a higher level, remember, it is consequences that drive the future rate of a behavior. If an animal’s behavior serves to get it something that the animal values, then that behavior will continue and even strengthen. This is called operant learning or conditioning and the behavior is being reinforced. Additionally, classical conditioning is a reflexive type of learning where one stimulus acquires the capacity to evoke the same response as another stimulus. In other words, what happens AFTER something affects the emotional response to what happens first. If I gave my dog a piece of meat immediately after showing him a clippers, with enough repetitions, over time my dog would begin to think, ‘Yay, a clippers!’, just at the sight of them.

I will throw out one more piece of scientific jargon here. The Premack Principle states that a high probability behavior will reinforce the less probably behavior, and this does not always have to be positive, just more probably. As an example, going out to train animals or meet with someone is a higher probability behavior for me than writing this post; and I know that when I finish this, that I can go for a walk, which I would much rather do on this beautiful day. Therefore, I am more probable to get this done quickly to be able to go upstairs, change my clothes and be on my way.

How does this relate to training?

Understanding these concepts is very important. Teaching an animal to do a wanted behavior in the most positive and least intrusive way, do it more, and do it precisely as you would like for it to look is not about forcing or controlling your dog or pet. It is about knowing what YOUR pet values in life, and then controlling the environment of the classroom and controlling the consequences of behavior to give you as teacher and your pet as student the best opportunity for success. It is not about you being the awesomeness police, barricading your pet from dirt, grass, toys and other people. It is about teaching your pet that the opportunity to dig, smell, chase, play, and be petted by strangers is gained by first listening to and doing something you ask it to do.

Do you want to go outside?
Awesome! Ask your dog to do a behavior it knows first.

Can you walk a step or two by my side?
Super! Let’s go sniff the fire hydrant!

Do you want to play a game of fetch?
Can you sit in front of me and give me eye contact? Terrific, chase the ball!

The list can go on and on.

Something to be careful of however, is HOW valuable or stimulating something is to your dog in that moment. Remember that your goal is to help your dog to succeed. If your dog is so focused on the stimulus in his environment that you will fail big time by asking your dog to do something at that time, then you are too close to the stimulus and/or you simply have not worked up to that level of learning. If a dog has no understanding of the concept of self control, meaning it pops up quickly from a cued sit or immediately bursts toward something it wants, then expecting it to wait until released to do something or to go to something is not realistic.

This is why it is important to begin the teaching process of behaviors in environments with minimal to know distractions, then practice in different environments, gradually increasing the level of difficulty as your pet can succeed.

Near me is a small shopping center. There is a strip of grass that separates its parking lot from the street where apparently many dogs frequent. It is a very HIGH value place for our dog, Sam, to want to sniff; and a great place to practice walking by my side. I began at a distance away where Sam could walk at my side and practiced reinforcing him with food for that, gradually coming closer to the grass. And, after being able to walk with me, I would tell him, ‘let’s go sniff’ and run with him to his favorite spot. Yep, over time he was very attentive to being at my side around that grass!

However, if I had taken him to that spot without doing foundation work with him…and lots of it, before going there, chances are it would have been a major struggle to get him away from the grass and we both would have failed in those lessons.

If you take the time to work through lessons and teaching foundation skills, as well as building your relationship with your pet to give your pet plenty of reasons to want to listen to you, and build in these life experiences into your classroom – think of the fun you will have together, and the behaviors you will teach!

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

Dog Food As Enrichment

I often talk about the benefits of feeding at least a portion of your dog’s food, through training and activities including dog food puzzle and chew toys.  When we bring animals into our homes, we need to remember that enrichment is such an important piece of setting ourselves, our pets, and our relationship up for success. Providing our pets with opportunities to problem solve, exercise their minds and bodies, and use their senses allows them to expend energy they need to use in positive ways and also adds to their quality of life. If you don’t believe me, read my blog post about scientific research that demonstrated it.

(Although, just look at your dog when he/she is working to get food out of a toy or engaged in learning and you will see for yourself the value in having your pet work for food.)

Below are just a few of my favorite dog food activity toys.

The Kong chew toy is a great enrichment activity for puppies and dogs.

Kong Classic Toy

Kong Gyro

Kong Gyro

 

Kong Blue Satellite

Kong Blue Satellite

Buster food cube for dogs

Buster food cube

 

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Practicing Behavior Fluency

When you teach using positive consequences to behavior, you get a student who wants to engage, learn and listen.

Even Older Dogs Can Learn

learning and enrichment add to your dog's quality of life, no matter the age

 

This weekend, I was with my aunt’s 13 year old sheltie who has cataracts, has lost much hearing, and doesn’t move around like she did. I see learning as enrichment and I love teaching so I wanted to give Molly something constructive to do. I went to my car and brought in an orange cone and some dog treats, and began teaching her that when she touched her nose to the tip of the cone, she would get a piece of food. Soon, this dog who had been wandering through us aimlessly, not fully engaging with anyone, began wagging her tail and was intently interested in bumping her nose to the cone. After a few minutes, I took the cone up and came back to it later. Her just seeing it caused her tail to begin wagging again and she did about a dozen more repetitions of touching the cone’s tip. By the way…Molly is a dog who has had very little formal training in her life. It is just a reminder that learning and enrichment is important for all ages.

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.

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

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!

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