Way to Go Pete And Valerie!

Most of my blog is about dog training tips; however, I thought I’d share this post from Facebook about one of my clients. I am very proud of this boy (and his people)! I really wish I had taken a video from my first visit. They had just adopted him. He did not have an understanding of his bite strength and no tolerance for frustration. He was not aggressive meaning he would not growl, bite, lunge with intent to create distance, harm or protect, he simply was a dog who didn’t understand this concept of self control. I remember him being in the room and if ignored, grabbed your arm or your clothing and broke skin. Today this guy is one heck of a student. Clicker training and shaping him is so much fun. Sunday we worked on his laying down and staying with a knock on the door – something that was out of the question before. Seeing that learning process is just the coolest thing. Great job Valerie!

Pete is a Cincinnati Labrador Retriever who has learned a lot through in home dog training with Cincinnati Certified Dog Trainer, Lisa Desatnik, CPDT-KA.


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



How To Train A Stubborn Dog

Have you ever wanted to train your pet to be REALLY stubborn, meaning he will NOT do a behavior you ask him to do unless you show him the money or force him to do it?

I have seen many people who are actually very good at teaching this brilliance in their pet without realizing they are doing it. This is how it is typically done…

training a stubborn dogThe dog’s (I am using a dog in this example, but it can be any animal) handler simply needs to ask him to do something with a cue that has not sufficiently been taught with fluency, and then, if he does not do the wanted behavior, the handler repeats the cue and repeats it, or takes out a piece of food and begins luring him to do the behavior, or forces him to do what is asked.

Very quickly, that cued behavior breaks down as the learner stops (or never did) doing the wanted behavior when asked and does anything BUT the cued behavior with greater and greater frequency. And more often than not, it is the pet that gets blamed for being obstinate, bull headed, or dumb. But is that the case? Let’s delve into it a little.

I know I repeat this a lot because we all need reminders. It is consequences, not cues, that drive the future strength and rate of behavior. Behavior after all is simply an animal’s tool to get a consequence; and if that behavior serves to get something of value for the animal, then it is being reinforced and will continue. (Please see my posts on the four quadrants of consequences and classical conditioning.)  The cue for a behavior is simply a signal for the learner that some sort of consequence is ahead, positive or negative depending on how it is taught.

In the case of the ‘stubborn’ dog, continuing to stand when asked to sit, or continuing to smell the flowers when called to come are actually what have taught him that the actual meaning of ‘sit’ or ‘come’ means stay standing or sniff the flowers UNTIL his trainer pulls out the good stuff (or a punisher).

Let’s pull out the behavior analysis hat to take a look at the situation here. Applied Behavior Analysis is a systematic approach to solving behavior problems by changing the environment in which the behavior occurs. It involves looking at the very specific behavior (such as a dog barking) in terms of what is giving that behavior purpose and value? What happened *immediately* prior to the behavior (antecedent) to set the whole ball rolling? And what happened *immediately* after the behavior to reinforce it (consequence)? It is how I have been taught to look at behavior.

A (Antecedent) – Owner asks Fido to sit

B (Behavior) – Fido stands and looks at owner

C (Consequence) – Owner asks and asks for a sit

Second ABC that follows this one. The consequence of the first ABC becomes the antecedent for the next behavior.

A (Antecedent) – Owner continues asking for a sit

B (Behavior) – Fido stands and looks at owner

C (Consequence) – Owner pulls out a piece of meat and lures Fido into a sit

Third ABC

A (Antecedent) – Owner lures the sit

B (Behavior) – Fido sits

C (Consequence) – Owner gives Fido piece of meat

If you look at behavior systematically in this way, you can see how his dog really is not so stubborn after all. He was actually taught to wait until his owner pulls out the meat and lures him until he does the behavior.

If a learner does not do a behavior that is cued, the better approach is to pause or walk away for a few seconds. That pause is important instead of reinforcing the wrong behavior. If you continue to not have success, then you may need to go back and work on teaching that behavior with more fluency in a variety of environments before adding back in the cue. If the cue has become so weakened, it may even be best to begin using a new cue that is taught with great consistency.

This is a great example of why teaching the behavior first with great positive reinforcing consequences builds strong behaviors. And, if you are having problems teaching a behavior there are so many factors that go into why your learner is having difficulty. Please click here to read some examples.

Always, it is important to remember, there is a reason why behavior happens.

Training A Vizsla Puppy

The other day one of my puppy training clients wanted to take pictures of me with her Vizsla puppy, Rosie. When she sent me the photos, she also included this recommendation. I was so flattered. Below is what she sent and also a brief video of me using clicker training to teach her puppy down, stay and self control.

Cincinnati dog and puppy trainer with a vizsla puppy


“Lisa helped train our Vizsla puppy Rosie! We could not have asked for a more intuitive, knowledgeable, and caring trainer.  Vizsla’s tend to be a little wild and crazy, and Lisa’s knowledge, skills and positive training style was perfect for us. She created a wonderful learning environment for us and our puppy in the comfort of our own home.  We loved the fact that we could train in the environment where Mark and I and the kids spend the most time with Rosie.  In the beginning, Lisa helped with Rosie’s anxiety over crate training and also helped with most of the basic puppy issues such as house training, and obedience behaviors.   We also took Rosie to the park to teach her to walk on lease while being exposed to outside distractions. Lisa was a calming influence on us, and our puppy, and taught us dog psychology and dog behavior along with how to implement that knowledge in our everyday lives. Her influence and thoroughness has gotten us the results we were looking for.  She trained us as much as the puppy and  always welcomes questions and concerns.  

 Thanks Lisa for all the work and time you put into helping us and Rosie.  Rosie is now well behaved as well as being totally adorable. We love you!   

The Blumenfeld Family


Training A Vizsla Puppy Self Control from Lisa Desatnik on Vimeo.

Tips For Stopping A Pet’s Problem Behavior

I get the question all of the time…”How do I STOP my pet’s (unwanted) behavior?”

Many times when I ask follow up questions, I learn the question was asked because attempts at stopping the behavior Tips for solving dog and parrot problem behaviorhave failed.

Here is the thing to keep in mind about behavior. If it is occurring, it is happening because it has a reinforcement history. Simply stated, behavior is a tool that living beings use to get consequences. 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)

Okay, so what does this have to do with why those attempts at stopping unwanted behavior are not working?

The simple answer is because that behavior is still getting your pet something it values – maybe it is not every time, but at least sometimes, your pet can count on a consequence it wants. This is called an intermittent reinforcement schedule and it is the best way to build long lasting, strong behaviors as you are also turning your pet into a gambler. That reinforcement may not necessarily be from you (it could be the release of adrenalin when your dog barks at a stimulus or it could be the sensory stimulation of having something in his mouth when a teething puppy grabs a cloth), but it could also be reinforcement you do not even realize you are giving.  Maybe when your dog jumps on you, you ask him to sit – a behavior that was taught with a VERY STRONG reinforcement history which makes sitting a reinforcer for jumping because you asked for it immediately upon your dog jumping. Uh oh!

It could also be that the competing reinforcers for doing an unwanted behavior way outweigh any negative punishment you may use (such as a leash jerk). Your dog will then continue to run to the end of a leash toward the distraction because past history tells your dog that action is off the charts in terms of sensory stimulation, adrenal rush, possibility of play, etc. Withstanding a leash jerk may be worth the effort – or it could be that your dog becomes so focused on that distraction that he just physically cannot think about you.

Complicating matters further, in the times that you try to simply just ‘ignore’ a problem behavior, you have probably learned that it is a nearly impossible task to do. You may inadvertently do something that could potentially be reinforcing your pet’s behavior without realizing it, like batting a pawing dog which could be a sign of play or looking at a screaming bird.

Something else that will more than likely happen when you try to ignore an unwanted behavior is that your pet will increase the intensity of that behavior. The scientific explanation for this is called ‘extinction burst’. In operant learning (learning from the consequences of behavior), extinction means withholding the reinforcing consequences of a behavior. While the overall effect of extinction in dogs, parrots and other pets is to reduce the frequency of the behavior, the immediate effect is often an abrupt increase in the behavior. (Learning and Behavior by Paul Chance)

During the extinction burst, you may think you have just made your pet’s problem worse; however, if and only if you can continue to withhold reinforcing consequences from that behavior, then you will more than likely see a fairly rapid decline in the behavior. But if you can not continue to withhold reinforcing consequences and you ‘sometimes’ give in by paying attention to your pet, getting him a treat, etc, then guess what? Congratulations, you have just taught your pet that only the escalated behavior is what gets him that valued outcome.

There is a lot to think about here. The overarching theme, however, is that failed attempts at modifying unwanted behaviors make it that much more difficult to create change. The good news is that animals are constantly learning, and so there are teaching opportunities within every day.

How can you solve it?

In a very simplified explanation, begin by focusing not on STOPPING an unwanted behavior, but by arranging the environment so as to try to prevent your pet from practicing (and building a reinforcement history from) that behavior (as much as possible, anyway) while teaching your pet another, acceptable behavior that can serve to get him the same or higher value than the unwanted behavior. On the occasion that your pet does do the unwanted behavior, pay attention to assure that behavior does not get anything of value – or as little value as possible.

For the dog who is on leash and working around distractions, several things his caregiver can do to help him succeed include having enough distance from the distraction where he can be below threshold; and having his caregiver mark and reinforce him for noticing the distraction while continuing to have loose body language and maybe even looking back at his caregiver. In other words, having enough distance so that he is least likely to practice running to the end of his leash (and getting reinforced for it) while also teaching him that staying near his caregiver with loose body language in the presence of a distraction is pretty awesome.

Below is a three step process.

  1. Ignore the unwanted behavior. Period. If your dog is pushing your knee or whining to get your attention, it is best to get up without any eye contact and simply turn away or leave the room.
  2. Differential reinforcement. While you are ignoring the unwanted behavior, reinforce either an alternative behavior (one that takes the place of the unwanted behavior) or an incompatible behavior ( one that cannot be physically done at the same time as an unwanted behavior – laying on a mat is incompatible with bumping your knee)
  3. Thoughtfully arrange the environment. If you do not want your dog to bump you when you sit on the couch when you watch tv, some solutions can be putting him in another room or tiring him out with exercise prior to your favorite show so that resting is his more valuable choice.

My favorite parts of solving behavior issues this way is that you are actually providing enrichment opportunities for your pet as you are teaching these new skills, you are making learning positive, and you are strengthening your relationship with your pet.

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.

Dog Training Tip: Remember, Training Goes Both Ways

Can you relate? Remember, in every relationship each of us is shaping the behavior of the other whether we realize it or not. Learning never stops. Behaviors that get repeated are the behaviors that have a history of getting the learner something of value.

dog training tip from Cincinnati trainer Lisa Desatnik of So Much PETential

How To Stop Your Dog From Barking Out Windows

It is not uncommon for people who share homes with a dog to complain about their furry friend bursting into a barking frenzy as a response to seeing or hearing something outside the window. Understandably the noise can be really annoying to human ears, especially when it comes at inopportune times.

There are so many reasons why dogs react to stimulus by barking, panting, running side to side, and have accelerated heart beats. It could be territorial or fear or barrier frustration, or for herding dogs, it could even be due to your dog’s instincts to herd.

If this happens on a regular basis, you may want to take steps to modify your dog’s behavioral reaction.

Here are a few suggestions. Please note that behavior is always the study of one, with differing environments, stimulus and animals. These are some general considerations to think about.

Let’s look at this behavior modification plan from the standpoint of the Humane Hierarchy, a ranking of training methodologies going from least intrusive for the learner to most intrusive. For more on this, please see my post.

Antecedent Arrangement

If you have ruled out a medical or nutritional variable, then let’s begin with antecedent arrangement. What can be done to manage the environment so that a) your pet will not have access to practice that unwanted set of behaviors and b) your pet will have less motivation to do the unwanted set of behaviors.

Remember, practice strengthens behaviors and if your pet has access to seeing and hearing those outside stimulus when you can not be in teaching mode, you will be setting your pet up to keep practicing and getting reinforcement from those behaviors.

If your dog is barking at what he sees out the window, then consider blocking access to that window. Drawing the curtains may not be the solution as curtains can be moved by a pushy nose. Some suggestions are preventing access to the window or applying a cling film (that can be easily removed) to the window (purchased at a home supply store).

If your dog reacts strongly to outdoor noises, playing white noise or a radio may help.

As a motivating operation, if you increase your dog’s mental and physical exercise, you will be making resting more valuable to your dog. Think in terms of exercising your dog’s mind and body through training, thinking toys and games.

Positive Reinforcement

In a controlled setting, when you are fully focused and in training mode, you can teach your dog behaviors you would like to see in him when he sees something outside.

A friend of mine saw trouble ahead when her neighbor began letting two dogs out to run and bark on the other dog training tips: how to stop your dog from barking out the windowside of the fence. Karen first saw Baxter, who is a certified therapy dog, running back and forth and she anticipating the barking that would come next. In that moment, she averted his attention quickly and then started putting together a plan. With high value treats, she began teaching Baxter that the cue ‘doggie doggie’ was for alerting (turning his head to look at them) to the other dogs, and then running to Karen for something awesome. She began teaching this inside, behind a window where Baxter could succeed before moving to outside.

What Karen was doing was very similar to Leslie McDevitt’s Look At That Game beautifully detailed in one of my favorite books, Control Unleashed. In a very simplified description, Look at That teaches your dog that *when* he looks at a stimulus, *then* something awesome happens like a pretty tasty treat getting delivered by a well liked human. As your dog’s teacher, playing this means being in a location and at a time when your dog will not be over threshold (in other words BEFORE the lunging, barking behavior begins). Begin by teaching your dog to look at something more neutral. As soon as your dog notices the stimulus, then you mark that behavior such as with a verbal Yes! or a click, and then follow it with a high value treat. As you have continued success, you can first move this game to a more distracting environment, and then a more distracting stimulus. (Leslie recommends teaching this with a cue.)

Very important here is the timing and consistency with which you teach this. Before going any further, I encourage you to read my post on classical conditioning.

As for timing, remember, for your dog to learn that one stimulus (in Karen’s case, the barking dogs next door) predicts another stimulus (tasty food), then the dogs barking must come before the tasty food.  Marking the very moment your dog sees the stimulus is very important as the quicker that consequence occurs after a behavior, the easier it is for an animal to build the association between behavior and consequence.

The management portion of this plan is important because if you allow your dog to practice reacting to his environment outside of your limited training time, you will make behavior change very difficult.

As for Karen, with enough practice, instead of barking back to the dogs next door, when he hears them outside, he runs to find his housemate.

In your house, you can practice classical conditioning without the cue as well.  In a controlled learning environment and without the cue, practice having your dog see stimulus such as people walking to your door or riding a bike down the sidewalk and immediately follow that with giving your dog a super tasty treat. (beginning this at a distance from the window or with people at a distance from your house where your dog will not begin barking and progressing only at the pace at which your pet can succeed at remaining calm – having relaxed body muscles and normal heartrate). The changes you are seeking are internal, involuntary responses. As trainer Kathy Sdao says, the emotional response to the second stimulus infects the emotional response to the first stimulus. You can do this exact same process only with sounds instead of visual stimulus.

To see a fun example of the effectiveness of classical conditioning, please watch this video.

On a last note, remember, if your dog jumps and barks at the sound of your doorbell, chances are pretty likely he has learned that jumping and barking at the doorbell causes the door to open and either – incredible people or scary creatures to walk in. That is another lesson for another day.


Teaching Your Dog Self Control, Zen, Impulse Control

Self control or impulse control is not a skill dogs are born knowing. They see a squirrel, they charge after it. They smell scents and they stop to take it in. They see an open doorway and they run through it. They see tasty food and they grab it.

Teaching this is a great foundation for lots of other training…and success in your home.

Teaching is the key word.

Here is a fun and simple way to begin the process of teaching your dog or puppy self control, zen, impulse control or ‘leave it’ (different names for the same set of behaviors). It involves controlling the consequences of your dog’s behavior choices, NOT your dog. And because you are giving full control of your dog’s behavior outcomes to your dog, you are empowering him which builds confidence and a greater love for learning.

Supplies: yourself, treats (to begin, have lower value food if your dog will become too aroused by it or higher value food if your dog is less food motivated), and a clicker if you use clicker training.

Location: a place with minimal to no distractions

Game time: no longer than three minutes

Game rules:

Hold treats in your closed fist and allow your puppy or dog to investigate. Most will lick, paw at, or sniff your fist. Keep your fist closed and do not give any verbal instructions. Simply hold your fist closed while your puppy or dog is doing anything to try to get the treats.

If all of his unacceptable behaviors are continued to be met by a non-response from you, eventually he will turn away or back away. At the instant he does this, mark that behavior with a verbal word or click and open your fist (or you can just open your fist). Congratulations, you have just reinforced the first step or approximation!

It is important to note that just the sight of the treats is a reinforcer to your dog and will keep your dog in the game if your treats are of value to him.

What is your dog’s next decision? If he tries to reach for the food, guess what happens? The consequence of that behavior is that his opportunity to see the food is gone as you close your fist. If, however, he does not try to reach for the food, pick up a treat and give it to him.

If I am playing this with a very persistent dog, I will look for the tiniest of movement away from the food to immediately mark to get the game moving forward.

After your dog is successfully backing away from or able to remain in a behavior like a sit or down position while the open fist is presented, it will be time to increase the difficulty of the game.

The next step will be placing treats on the floor with your hand cupped over them. When your dog backs away or makes no motion toward them, you can spread your fingers or remove your hand. However, be prepared to very quickly move your hand back if your dog makes an attempt to go for the treats.

Some more advanced levels of this game include:

  1. Increase the difficulty by increasing the value of the food.
  2. Add a criteria of eye contact. I have not done that in my video with Sam, but if you’d like to teach eye contact, wait until your dog looks up at you to mark the behavior and give him one of the treats. It may be helpful to teach eye contact first in a separate lesson.
  3. Vary your body position and position of your hands. Can your dog still have eye contact with you and/or remain sitting or laying down while you are standing, taking a step back from the food? If so, mark and reinforce that duration. (Be prepared here to cover the food up quickly with your foot as your hand may be too far away to reach it before your dog gets to it, if he chooses to move to it.)
  4. Vary the reinforcer. This game is meant to be expanded on. Can your dog remain laying down or sitting or standing while you get ready to throw a ball? Can your dog remain laying down or sitting or standing when you walk to or open the door?

You can also add a cue to this. I tell our dog Sam, ‘wait’ and then ‘go get it.’

When you think about it, self control is a skill that helps our animals and our relationship with them succeed in so many ways. This is the beginning of the journey.

What other ways do you teach self control?

Backyard Enrichment Ideas For Your Dog

Giving our pets ways to exercise their mind and body is so important. Remember, if you do not provide your pet with an outlet for that exercise – one that your pet finds valuable, your pet will come up with his/her own idea. And you may not like his/her choice. Here are a couple of creative enrichment activity ideas I found recently that people have shared.

Puzzle Toy

Fun With The Hose

Playing In A Kiddie Pool

Dog Training Tip – Remember To Proof Behaviors

My Wednesday #dogtrainingtip – when training your dog, remember to practice the behavior – whether it is sit, down, stay, come or something else –  it in a variety of environments, with gradually more distractions. And always give value to behaviors with positive reinforcement. For more on proofing – please read my other blog post by clicking here.

dog training tip - proofing behavior by Cincinnati dog trainer Lisa Desatnik

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