Training A Puppy To Sit

When I visited this sweet little West Highland Terrier puppy over the weekend, she showed her excitement for greeting me by jumping on my legs and wagging her tail. And, as precious as she is and as glad as I was to see her This West Highland Terrier puppy learned to sit for a calm greeting instead of with punishment. Cincinnati Certified Dog Trainer, Lisa Desatnik, CPDT-KA, explains.too, I stood very still and she actually sat pretty quickly. I’ll tell you what I did in a minute, but first…

Her human wanted to know, “Aren’t you going to tell her no?”

My answer to her was, “no.”

And here is why. Telling Maggy no would not have solved the problem. In fact, Maggy has more than likely been told no before and she continues to greet people as she knows how. Maggy isn’t wrong. She is simply a puppy who is reacting to the moment and doing what has gotten her something of value in the past. Jumping on people gets them to give her attention, to move and laugh and even make loud noises. For a little girl with a lot of energy to burn, those are pretty high value reinforcers for greeting people as she does. Not to mention the reinforcer of her own mental and physical stimulation.

If telling her ‘no’ and pushing her away has not stopped her excited greeting behaviors, then you are actually reinforcing her for those behaviors instead since the behaviors are strengthening. Oh my!

But on the other hand, if telling her ‘no’ actually had worked to lessen the likelihood of Maggy jumping on people, then here are some of the potential dangers of that kind of puppy training strategy with punishment. It does nothing to foster a love of learning. In fact, animals that are taught with aversive training will likely behave only to the level to avoid that negative consequence. It can create apathy, fear, anxiety and even aggression in the learner. YOU can become associated with that aversive consequence. And, it does not teach the puppy what it is you want it to do instead.  Additionally, remember that young puppies are developing very quickly. Negative experiences they encounter during their sensitive period can have long term impact on their development as an adult dog.

What did I do instead?

As soon as Maggy sat down, I immediately said, “Yes!”, and gave her one treat after another. Then I moved and she followed, and sat in front of me. I told her that magic word and this time tossed a treat. She ran to the treat, then ran back…and SAT! We played this game for several minutes before taking a break to go outside. When she came inside, we switched it up. After saying, “Yes!,” I ran a few steps for her to chase me. Other times after saying, “Yes!”, I grabbed a toy and moved it around.

I could just hear Maggy saying to herself, “Wow, this is so cool! All I have to do is sit and I have the power to make people run, toys to move and treats to rain from the sky. I’m going to sit a lot!”

And that is the incredible thing about training with positive reinforcement (with consistency and good timing). You see very strong behavior frequencies because those behaviors are associated with great outcomes.

There was a gate separating the kitchen area where Maggy was and the dining area. After going to get something, when I returned, there was Maggy wiggling her little body on the other side of the gate. She jumped a few times and then you could see her thinking, “OH, I’ve got this figured out. If I sit, I can make Lisa step over the gate!!

What a brilliant girl!  She sat and I tossed a treat behind her and then stepped over the gate.

Puppies are such little sponges for learning. There is so much you can teach them in the context of fun. Why even begin down that journey of using aversives?

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



Teaching Behaviors With Consequences

It is a common question of new puppy owners…”When is it okay to begin training my pet?”

dog and pet training involves controlling the consequences to make behaviors more probableThe most simple answer to that question is, as soon as you bring your puppy home. Here is the thing. Every living being is constantly learning about what behaviors to repeat or to weaken or extinguish based upon what that behavior causes to happen. Behavior, after all, is simply a tool that animals use to get consequences.

If you replace the word ‘training’ with ‘teaching’, it gives you a very different lens from which to look at your relationship and your leadership role with your new friend. Teaching occurs with every interaction you have together, and every interaction your puppy (or dog, or parrot or other animal for that matter) has with his/her environment.

*If* that puppy does something and it gets him/her something that he/she values, then he/she has every reason to continue doing it – because it works. It is so easy when you are living with another being (even with people) to accidentally reinforce what you find problematic and annoying.

Puppies, who were not born understanding self control, learn very quickly that jumping, barking, and grabbing gets them awesome stuff in life. And, once those behaviors have reinforcement histories they will not only continue but strengthen as they grow into adulthood.

Being fully aware of this is the first step toward teaching your puppy life skills that will help him/her succeed in your home. Great initial behaviors to reinforce are ones that have to do with self control, calmness, and focus.

Remember, training occurs every moment of every day, whether you call it training or not.

Considerations Before Adopting A Puppy

Going to a pet adoption event like My Furry Valentine, it is so easy to fall in love at first sight. Those dogs and puppies (and kittens and other animals for that matter) have a way of getting into your heart, and before you know it, you are walking off with a new friend…with whom, if all goes well, you will be sharing a home for many years to come.

Many times the reason dogs and puppies are in rescue situations to begin with are because those animals, for any number of reasons, were a mismatch for their adoptee. Or, if those animals are not surrendered, they may not be living out their fullest potential; and may be a source of much stress for their human companions…definitely probably not the initial intention of bringing home a new pet.

questions to ask yourself before adopting a dog or puppyTo help ensure you don’t become one of those statistics, BEFORE leaving for the adoption event, give these things some thought:

Ask yourself.

Can you afford a new puppy or dog? A puppy’s first year will include vaccines, spay or neuter surgery, and other possible medical expenses. Medical expenses and grooming expenses (depending on the breed) will need to be budgeted for. You will also need a dog crate, exercise pen or baby gate (for puppies especially), an ongoing supply of treats, high quality dog food, a comfy bed, a leash and collar (halter, Martingale or gentle leader), and training. You may also need to fence in your yard. And, if you plan on vacationing, you will need to add the expense of care for you pet.

Should I adopt a puppy or an adult dog? Bringing a puppy into your home is like bringing home a baby. They are living, breathing, chewing, playing, barking, eating and urinating beings. Those first six months are so super important to your puppy achieving its fullest potential. Management and training are critical, and can seem all consuming for a period of time. Are you prepared for the impact this will have on your life? Are you prepared for the possible damage to your home when mistakes happen? Before adopting a puppy, ask questions to find out as much as you can about how it was raised and socialized; its health history; and its temperament.

With adults, there are many who are well trained with no history of problem areas who are just in need of a second home. There are others who do have problem behaviors that will need to be worked through with training using positive reinforcement. And there are still others who have very significant behavior issues that will require someone who has the knowledge to be able to help them, and the willingness to make necessary changes to their home and lifestyle to manage the dog.  Good intentions alone are not enough to help a dog who has significant issues. Be honest about asking yourself if you have the time, the environment and the knowledge to really help a dog like that before bringing him/her into your home.

What traits am I looking for in a dog? Does size matter? Remember that a larger dog will need more space, larger crates and toys, more food, etc. Do you want a dog who will lounge on the couch all day or who will need a great deal of exercise and mental stimulation? Remember, boredom and lack of needed enrichment can be the culprit for many unwanted behaviors. Is it important to you that your dog plays well with other dogs? Does it matter if your dog sheds a lot?  Is slobbering tolerable or intolerable? Do you want a dog who will need to be groomed on a regular basis? Certain breeds have greater risks for some health issues. These are just some of the considerations to think about. Be realistic with yourself in terms of your lifestyle – now and in the future.

When choosing a puppy or dog, a few things you may want to watch for are: how the puppy/dog plays, how the puppy/dog reacts to being petted, is the puppy/dog reactive, does the puppy/dog approach strangers or back up from them.

Have I considered what general dog breeds I should consider? Animal Planet has a good one that asks you some questions (like ones I mentioned above) and then makes suggestions on compatible breeds. It is really important to know before taking the test that, while the suggestions are based upon predictably, every animal is an individual. Even within the same litter you will find dogs who differ in temperaments, exercise needs and more. And adopting a dog (such as a golden retriever) who is *supposed* to be great with children does not mean that your specific dog will be that way. Genetics and how it is raised both factor into that.

If I have young children, do I have time to help their relationship succeed with the pet? Young children should always be proactively supervised when interacting with your pet, as EVERY dog will have a limit of what it will and will not tolerate. Your dog should have its own personal space when it wants to be alone. Do you know how to read dog body language and know when to intercede? There is training that will need to be done for both your dog and your children to teach them appropriate behavior around each other. A positive dog trainer can work with you to teach you and your children how to interact appropriately with your dog, and help to set you and your family up for success. I have a class just for kids. Please click here to be contacted for future dates.

If I have other pets, am I able to devote what is needed to help that relationship succeed?  Not all dogs are naturally great with other pets. A careful management and desensitization plan may be needed, and will go a long way toward helping the animals succeed.

When you do come home with your new friend,

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.

Your new adult dog too is constantly learning, and will benefit from clear, positive communication.

I’d enjoy helping you on that path.

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