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.

 

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Are You Puppy Police?

When the subject comes up of scolding a puppy (or dog) for getting into something humans think it shouldn’t, chewing up something of value to humans, or going potty in the house, I want to remind you of this comparison I like to use.

You are in essence playing the role of the traffic cop who is watching passersby from the side of the road to pull over and punish (with a traffic ticket) them for driving over the speed limit. Think about that for a minute…if you have ever seen those flashing red lights in your rear view mirror, has that very irritating fine – and mark on your driving record – caused you to stop driving over the speed limit every time you get in the car. Or does that experience cause you to be more vigilant in looking for police when you want to get somewhere faster?

Here is the thing about punishment. It has so many potential negative ramifications, among them being that it can create apathy, fear, anxiety and even aggression; and if you are the punisher, then you will become associated with that aversive consequence. Punishment also does not teach your pet what you want it to do instead.

Why punishing your puppy for bad behavior won't stop behavior. Another thing to keep in mind is that, just as with any consequence, if you are scolding your puppy for a behavior that was done in the past, too much time has gone by for your puppy to learn that association between the unwanted behavior and the punishment so you could be simply teaching your puppy that doing whatever it was doing at the very instant just before you yelled (which could be coming to you) caused you to respond that way. I am sure that is not your intention.

So, here is the other thing, if are having the housetraining problem of your puppy peeing on the rug for example and you yell, spank or do something else aversive to it at that instant, think about it. Are you really teaching your puppy to never pee on the rug (What happens if his bladder is really full and he has to relieve himself?) or are you teaching your puppy that if he cannot wait and has to go, that he better find a spot that is out of view from humans (think about your lesson with the traffic cop)? If your puppy is bored and his teeth ach, and he really needs something to put in his mouth, do you think your punishment would teach him he should never chew on whatever happens to be available, or do you think you are teaching him to stay away from you when he has a human object?

One more point is that, once you have gone down that road of using aversives with a puppy who has had accidents in the house, it is so much more difficult to do effective housetraining since your puppy will be less likely to go potty in front of you (and you need to be able to see him go so that you can provide reinforcement immediately).

Lesson here: Set your puppy up for success with good management to prevent unwanted behaviors from being practiced while you are teaching your puppy the behaviors you want to see…with lots of positive reinforcement!

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Do Puppies Grow Out Of Problems?

Puppies chew. They play. They run. They get into things we do not want them to. They vocalize. They grab things on impulse. They also may show signs of backing away from unfamiliar things in their environment of signs of pulling toward other things.

Oh so cute they are! We love them for their adorableness but get so frustrated with their bad habits. But, won’t they grow out of those habits?

Do puppies grow out of problem behaviors? Yes and no. Cincinnati certified dog trainer Lisa Desatnik answers.Well, not always.  

While it is true that biologically there are certain behaviors puppies are prone to do like destructive chewing for both teething relief and an outlet for young energy, what is important to realize is that every waking moment puppies – just like all animals – are learning from experience. They are learning constantly associations between behaviors and consequences. Quite simply, those behaviors that are serving to get something of value (from the perspective of the learner) are going to be ones that are repeated. AND if those behaviors get the animal something it values only sporadically, then you will see an even stronger, longer lasting, virulent behavior.

What does this mean for you as a puppy owner (or any pet owner)?

Well, take for example that unwanted chewing of shoes. While a puppy’s natural clock gives it a great need for chewing and destroying, the more times he gets positive reinforcement for that behavior, the more he is likely to repeat it. And often humans add to the value of that destructive chewing and destroying by giving the puppy attention or a game of chase when it has something in its mouth.

While puppies do go through developmental fear periods, if a puppy startles, moves back from or growls at something in its environment; or exhibits elevated heart rate, barking or digging when its human leaves the room, it is a mistake to think that behavior will just magically go away as the dog matures. In fact, those behaviors may more than likely strengthen and even generalize to other fear responses later. If, for example, a man in a white coat gives a puppy a painful injection then later other people in white coats may also cause elevated heart rates, etc. Remember that learning also teaches negative associations between behaviors and consequences/neutral and conditioned stimulus. This is why it is so important to teach young puppies early on that their world is a good place by exposing them carefully and positively to a wide range of environments, people, objects, sounds, and other stimulus (doing this by providing positive outcomes for your puppy and ensuring by watching its body language that it is feeling good in that moment).

Management is a critically important step in puppy training to help young minds grow in ways you want them to. By working to prevent those unwanted behaviors from being practiced (and building a reinforcement history for them) while also focusing on giving your puppy opportunities to practice wanted behaviors with positive consequences, you will be helping your pet and you to have many happy years together.

As a puppy owner, you have an important role in helping your puppy get its needs met in appropriate ways while building value for behaviors and habits you want to see more of…for the rest of your relationship together.

 

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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 Buying A Christmas Puppy

It is so tempting, I know. Christmas is coming up and what a Hallmark moment it is to see a child or significant other tear off the wrapping to find a wiggling little puppy underneath. However, as an animal lover and positive reinforcement dog trainer, I want to give you some considerations before you make your purchase to give a Christmas considerations before buying a Christmas puppypuppy.

Puppies are not toys. They are living, breathing, chewing, playing, barking, eating, urinating, beings who will come into your life with a lot of needs. The first six months of your puppy’s life will be critical when it comes to socialization, teaching it all of the many life skills to set it (and you) up for success. As its parents, family, and teachers, you will have a huge role in developing your dog’s lifelong behavior.

Do you have the knowledge, the tools and the time to supervise young children around the puppy in order to prevent interaction that may cause tension (that may lead to aggression) and instead foster joy and trust; to teach error-free housetraining, impulse control, or basic behaviors such as sitting; or to introduce it to many different people and other puppies?

Can you afford a puppy? In its first year alone, you will have veterinary bills including vaccines, spay or neuter, or possible illness. You will also need to budget for a dog crate, exercise pen or baby gate; chew toys; an ongoing supply of treats; high quality dog food; a comfy bed; a leash and collar (halter or Martingale or gentle leader); and training. You may need to fence in your yard. Depending on your dog, it may require regular grooming. If you take a vacation, you will need to budget for doggy care.

Affording a puppy is not just a measure of money. Ask yourself this, “Realistically, how much time can I give my dog to exercise it not just now but for a long time to come?”  In general, sporting, hounds, herding and terrier breeds will require more daily exercise than guardian or companion breeds. (However, all dogs will benefit from exercise.)

If you think that is expensive, consider that your puppy will grow into adulthood and will more than likely be your responsibility for well over ten years.

Please do not buy a puppy on an impulse or because you saw a breed of dog down the street or in a movie, and you want one just like that. While it is important to choose a dog’s breed (or breeds if it is mixed) with the general characteristics that will fit your lifestyle, remember even among puppies in the same litter there are a wide range of temperaments. There is no such thing as a readymade, well behaved dog. Once you bring your little guy home, it is your responsibility to teach it so that it can grow to its fullest potential and adapt successfully to your lifestyle, your family, and your home.

You can find a good starter search for breed specific information on the American Kennel Club’s website at www.akc.org.

If you have considered all of this and you think the time is right to add a new bouncing puppy to your household, how about giving a gift certificate or a gift basket filled with pet toys and supplies instead?  Then, when the stress and chaos of the season is over, you can have fun picking out your gift together.

If you DO get a holiday puppy

As his caregiver and teacher, it is up to you to teach your dog 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 began learning from the consequences of his behavior on the day he was born. 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.

I’d love to help you on your journey.  Please contact me here of by calling 513-262-4062 to talk about you and your pet.

 

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