Lessons In Puppy Success

Commonly, people who are having trouble teaching their puppy a proper potty area, or who are having problems with their puppy chewing on things not meant for puppy teeth, also happen to be tips for preventing puppy behavior problemspeople who do not use a crate – or practice good management.

The problem is prevention of practicing unwanted behavior while teaching wanted habits and behavior is absolutely critical when it comes to setting your puppy up for success. After all, he was not born understanding your house rules. He has mental and physical needs and will find ways to get those needs met in either acceptable or unacceptable ways (according to your perspective anyway). Without the management component, your puppy may choose to do behaviors you do not like but the reinforcement he gets from his environment for doing them is going to create long lasting habits.

Additionally, crate time is a great way to teach your puppy to settle In puppy training, a crate is helpful for housetraining, teaching how to settle, and separationwith or without a chew toy and even practice separation from you.

Last week I puppysat for a client and shared my home with this adorable little girl.

While here I didn’t even have one circumstance of her pottying indoors or grabbing something that was not intended for her to have. On her last day, she even let me know twice when she needed to go outside to relieve herself.

What did I do? Every waking moment of every day, she was very carefully managed. When she was not in her crate, she had a leash attached to her (although not attached to me indoors) and I was actively supervising her. After opening her crate door, she and I engaged in fun play (with a teaching component in there) or training. Going outside to potty always occurred after a few minutes of activity and she always went. I could tell when she also needed to make a bowel movement and waited for her to continue sniffing to finish all she needed to do before taking her in.

One day I could tell she needed to do this but she kept getting distracted so I took her inside with me and kept her right next to me with a watchful eye. We went outside every ten minutes to no avail. Finally, before taking her another time, we played fetch in my living room and she immediately went as soon as we got to the grass. If I had not been as careful as I was on this day, there is no doubt she would have just had a bowel movement on my carpeting and by doing that, she was beginning a reinforcement history for a habit I did not want her to learn.

After time spent directly interacting with her, when I did not want to ‘actively’ supervise her, I always put her back into her crate and, being tired, she just laid down and rested for sometimes a couple hours while I got things done.

In keeping with this routine, the crate was not a negative to her but a positive as it was time that she could settle herself after being mentally and physically engaged. (If your dog sees being his crate as a bad, stressful place to be, please spend time teaching your dog a positive association with it.) And time that she was laying in her crate while I was cooking, working or cleaning was time that she was NOT biting on furniture, seeking out shoes, or making an unwanted potty choice.

Additionally, because I spent so much time and energy playing fun and engaging games with her toys, those toys were becoming of great value to her. And, since animals make decisions based upon where the value is, she was choosing to seek out her toys more and not pay attention to my things.

With this consistency, by the last day, I was able to leave her in my living room and walk out of the room, out of sight for short periods and twice she actually told me when she needed to go outside to go  potty.

A big mistake that people make when it comes to having new pets is a lack of consistency, a lack of management, and a lack of teaching wanted behaviors with lots of positive reinforcement. If you are finding that your puppy is making poor decisions, instead of blaming your puppy, think about what you can do differently to help him to succeed.

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.

Dog Flight Instinct Period

Ugh! You have invested so much of your time, energy and even resources in training your puppy. You have taken him out to be confident around many people and situations. Everything was going really well, that is, until…

that one day when it appears Fido has completely forgotten everything you taught him. You call him and he runs the other direction.

The dog Flight Instinct Period usually occurs when puppies are between four and eight months oldWhat the heck happened to your perfect adolescent puppy?

Well, do you remember when you went through puberty – that time when your body goes through many changes, you are wanting more independence and doing a lot of testing and asserting yourself?
Dogs go through that too, and when they do, their ears can suddenly become hard-of-hearing.

Welcome to the dog flight instinct period!

I learned in a class from Gayle Fischer, an internationally renowned speaker, dog trainer and behaviorist, that this developmental period correlates with when your pet’s ancestors, the wolves, migrate from their summer den where the puppies were born to their winter quarters. That trek requires more independence and this is when the adolescent wolf puppies are more interested in exploring their world.

The Flight Instinct Period usually occurs when puppies are between four and eight months old – earlier for smaller dogs. Lucky for you, it only lasts a few weeks. That is, if you stay the course with your consistency as a teacher. Remember, behaviors that have reinforcement histories get repeated…even unwanted behaviors!

(Also, as a side note, it is somewhere in this window of time that your puppy will also experience fear periods and have increased needs for chewing but those are topics for another day.)

What can you do to contain that Flight Instinct Period so that it isn’t extended into adulthood?
For starters, take a deep breath, do not get discouraged and recognize that this is a stage that will pass if handled correctly.

Then put back on that teachers hat and remind yourself that your job is to create lessons where you are helping your friend to succeed.

That means:

Going back to the basics and practicing those skills of recall, attention and control behaviors just as sit and      down in environments where your dog can continue to focus.

Keeping your dog on a leash or long line outdoors until this phase passes.

Using high value reinforcers for behaviors when you are outside that can include food, an activity your dog     loves, or the opportunity to go back to what he was doing before being called by you.

Never calling your dog or asking for another behavior when you know you will both fail; and never giving     chase to your dog if have mistakenly called your dog in one of these times and he ignores you.

And never call your dog to come if something aversive (from your dog’s perspective) is going to happen          when he gets to you.

Lastly, I will repeat, know that you have the ability to keep this period contained. You have many years of friendship ahead of you.

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!

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

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?

Puppy Training Tip: Catch Those Good Choices

I want to remind you today, to not take for granted those good choices your puppy or dog makes. Every consequence you provide to a behavior is feedback to your pet about whether his/her behavior should be repeated or not.

dog training tip by Cincinnati dog trainer Lisa Desatnik

Make Play A Part Of Training Your Puppy

I was visiting this little guy last night at a friend’s house. He is a puppy Silky Terrier. I love watching how quick the learning curve is when you turn play into a lesson. When Sydney would sit, I did fun things with him for a couple minutes. Then I stopped and waited for him to sit again, and guess what, play resumed!All it took was a few repetitions to build in his mind that association between the behavior of sitting and its consequence, which was awesome play.  That is what puppy training with positive reinforcement is all about.

silky terrier puppy trained with positive reinforcementLearning is really that simple. Constantly we are learning from the consequences of our behaviors, and so are our pets. If those consequences are of value to the animal, then the behaviors are going to be repeated. And guess what another benefit is to teaching in this way? Your learner will also come to associate you with those positive outcomes.

When you understand that, you realize that you don’t need to control your pet in order to affect behavior change. In fact, controlling your pet has the potential of causing more negative ramifications than positive. Instead focus on controlling the consequences so as to give lots of value to the behavior you want to see and no value for the behavior you do not want to see.

Sydney had absolutely no idea he was in class. He only knew he was having fun and he wanted to be near me because he also learned to predict being near me meant great things would happen.

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