Tag Archives: Reinforcement

Different ways to teach things to dogs


DSCN1091.JPGIf, as I read in a summary of one study, 90% of the dogs in America know the command for sit and that’s about it. Then I’m not sure why we’re having such a hoopla about training methodology. It would seem, if that’s the case, then whatever is being used isn’t working very well as far as expanding communication. I do hope that at least 90% of dogs are house-trained? Unfortunately a lot of the dogs I met in the shelter system weren’t, but then they didn’t seem to know ‘sit’ either.

Below is a listing of the methodologies I’ve used. The first one is what I was initially trained to do and got quite good at … then when I found out how much better the others worked I was incredibly irritated that I had been introduced to and worked so hard to get good at a method I needed, for the most part, to discard. Maybe that’s why there is so much hoopla. Even though I was good at this first method, the dogs I trained tended to want to quit when we got to the upper levels – I assume they didn’t want to work through any more negatives. The other methods have not had that as a barrier. But I have noticed more hijinx, more fun and less ‘stay there and don’t do anything.’

Mostly I use shaping now, although I’m wondering how much of the shaping works because my dogs understand my minor cues in looking at or adjusting my body to influence their choices … so maybe some sort of mimic/mirroring is occurring. I have also rewarded handling choices, like collar grabs, enough to mostly make them not negative, so some of the first kind of training has morphed into a more positive vein.

1. Training Strategy: Physical placement  – Say “SIT” Pull up on leash (probably with training collar on), optional push down on rear. Release pressure when they comply. Praise for compliance. Type: Negative Reinforcement (increasing behavior by removing something bad (neck pressure) or sometimes positive (meaning ‘added’) punishment because timing is poor and pressure doesn’t get released. Side-effects: Some people like the immediate ‘making them do it’, which increases its use as a technique. Some dogs find this form of training quite unpleasant and stressful, and because the dog doesn’t enjoy the training, after while the handler doesn’t enjoy it either. The use of pressure must be faded as a cue – dogs need to learn to do the action without the pressure, but the risk is the dog continues to need a pressure prompt and the trainer ends up getting harsher and harsher in their efforts to make the dog do what they say. This is a very traditional method, so there are many older references to it. This is where most of the electronic training devices fit in – so there is lots of marketing for this strategy. Dogs tend to become phlegmatic with this method or ratchet up to wildness if told no, often anxious about training or new training, wise to the usual tools used and unwilling to try new things.

2. Training Strategy:  Luring: Show dog reward (or otherwise encourage their attention) and use it to get the body position desired, wait for them to, for example  – sit, because looking up the reward is easier while sitting. Reward with treat, or toy for sitting. Do luring only initially (say less than 10 times), then start waiting for the desired response and reward after it occurs. When you can predict the sit 90% of the time, then add the verbal cue, “Sit”. Type: Positive Reinforcement (increasing behavior by providing reward for it) Side-effects: Dog becomes much more attentive and interested when training is offered. Improves relationship, and increases drive to learn. Creates consistent responses. If luring is used after the behavior is established (for example: food presented first, instead of after the dog offers a response), then the dog may learn to wait it out for a better or bigger offer. Thereby reversing the training process and shaping the owner’s response. This becomes the main complaint about this kind of training – lack of fading the lure…which is unfortunately the owner’s misunderstanding about how to use a reward. Another risk is over-use of treats and subsequent obesity.

3. Training strategy: Shaping.  Set up environment for likely response (for example be close to something, recently handle something, have a prior training prompt or value on something) and when dog looks at or goes toward or steps on or sits on or touches the new thing – reward. Progressively rewarding behaviors that are getting closer to what you want is called “shaping.” This is a build-a-behavior from the beginning (or from a foundation of other behaviors already built) process where the dog is offering actions and only getting rewarded for those that match the steps to what is wanted by the trainer. The dog tries stuff and the trainer responds by marking the right or closer to right behaviors. Type: positive reward and negative punishment (which means the dog gets nothing he wants for the wrong actions). Side-effects: Dog becomes very knowledgeable about what the criteria are for completing a task. This system is quite motivating when done well. The biggest issue with this is beginning trainers not knowing the progression of steps and so not rewarding early enough to keep the dog interested in trying to figure out what is wanted. Also dogs can become very interested in offering novel behaviors, which depending on what you want, may be undesirable.

4. Training strategy: Capturing. Observe and capture it. Most of the things we want on verbal or signal control are things the dog does in general life. If we watch we can mark and reward the behaviors we like as the dog does them. Unfortunately this strategy is most often used in reverse of the above, marking the behaviors that are not desired and punishing them. Side-effects: If using rewards and capturing this is great for identifying calm behaviors. It can be clear, but difficult to repeat (especially quick actions that are cute or funny) because observation is the only set up. If used alone as system – to mark and punish unwanted behaviors – this method tends to produce  anxious, hyper-active, unsure, disinterested dogs.

5. Training strategy: Mimic/copy what I do. Person does something and dog copies it for a reward. If dog is watching and realizes how it works then this can be a very fast way to train. This is often seen in ‘give me your paw,’ person puts hand out and dog may do the same, or lie down – person lays down and so does dog and jumping … there are actually quite a few things that dogs will often copy in action. Side-effects: Some things you don’t want copied by the dog.  …I have not used this method as a stand-alone, so I’m not a good judge of what could be accomplished.

What should you do? Well it depends on you and your dog. Back when the first method I listed was typically the only method used in training police dogs, seeing eye dogs, war dogs … many of these dogs washed out. The change to using more positive reward systems significantly increased the success rate of the programs and increased the working-span of the dogs. But I know that people like to ‘make their dogs’ … whatever and in many ways that is easiest, not the most effective or efficient, but easiest for people to understand. So if you need easiest, go for it. I’ll still be around when it doesn’t work for you. DSCN0944


Doing the Critical Core Games from S. Garrett

Several days ago the free part of S. Garrett’s Recallers opened up. Free – Critical Core – Games

So, of course, I’m doing them with all my dogs and any extra dogs/people I can find. This means a minimum of 12 games per day (3 per dog). I’m starting on Game 3 today. This training option is time limited, so if you’ve always wanted to see what a world famous trainer teaches – here’s your chance.

(for whatever reason I couldn’t get this to just link here)    http://susangarrettdogagility.com/2015/07/recallers-or-the-day-we-broke-our-technology/

And the link is posted several times on Gentle Touch Dog Training facebook page. Use it, do them and thrill your dog.


Luv the games - woof!
Luv the games – woof! Sign in and start playin’      Photo of Obie, by Jeanine Renzoni

You will be glad you signed up, it’s well worth your time. Seriously!

Dog Training Prompts – rewards or reprimands

Very easy to train dogs, learn back chaining quickly too. Photo J Renzoni
Very easy to train dogs, learn back chaining quickly too. Photo J Renzoni

Both a friend and my daughter have had trouble with the use of cues when trying to stop wildness, goofiness, grabbing stuff and general misbehavior. They both are transition trainers having had a past in training traditionally. But some of the stuff we knew as traditional trainers doesn’t work the same way when we’ve turned the training model good-side-up.

So often dog trainers recommend using a known command to stop a dog from doing something that is not wanted. This recommendation was and still is appropriate if the dog was trained with punishment and negative reinforcement, because then the command is tied with a reprimand.

But in positive training most commands (cues) were tied with rewards, so many times the cue becomes a reward in itself. What is rewarded is repeated…meaning the ‘naughty’ behavior gets rewarded by following it with a command like sit or down or come or…

Ah, light bulb moment perhaps?

Know cues are rewards for these two...    Photo by Jeanine Renzoni
Know cues are rewards for these two… Photo by Jeanine Renzoni

Still there’s the behavior we don’t want to occur. Distract (in a low key manner) the dog or Manage the dog so he/she can’t do whatever it is the next time or Fix the problem by training.

How to distract – this depends on what is happening, of course.

But here are some ideas –

  • slow down
  • stop or hold completely still
  • replace with toy or other activity – smoothly and with no excitement
  • turn face away or look away removing attention
  • slowly turn away
  • leave
  • shuffle your feet
  • sigh or yawn
  • move your hand or body
  • relax your shoulders
  • cough
  • use your ‘non-reward marker’ phrase or word
  • let’s go cue
  • light touch to hip or back (like a little tap)
  • bang/noise (if your dog is sound sensitive keep it softer – and hide that you’re the source)
  • collar grab (if you’ve worked on desensitizing collar grabs, or if it’s an emergency)
  • pull dog away (this can trigger an outburst, which is not a desired response) but we’re getting down to the have to remove zone

Then, depending where you are in your training or re-training a low key reward is offered for the dog’s right choice. You have to decide how soon or how much of the wanted behavior has to be given. Initially, just stopping whatever they were doing and beginning the wanted action should be good enough to get the offer of a low-key reward. The hard thing for most people is their need to command the action when it’s best for the dog to make the choice to manage themselves. The other hard thing is holding back the joy when their dog chooses the right thing (I mean when there’s only one step between the naughty and the right thing. Why? because some dogs chain things together and will start doing the naughty, then the right thing to get the super joy). Just get a bit more space in there and you should be fine and can be a happy maniac…

I think the back chaining phenomenon is more likely in these instances because the dog is already doing it … reward, cue, ‘naughty behavior’, cue, reward and that’s why the handler’s are so frustrated.

I saw a recent post about always rewarding your dog when he comes to you no matter the amount of time or detours. Hmm. I aim to reward only average or better. On less than average I aim to be neutral, but certainly not punishing. If I reward less-than-average performance then I will get more less-than-average performance. This is true of all the behaviors we would like to see our dogs do for us. And dogs learn the back chain on recalls too – go out a little too far, get called, whoopee! Go out too far again… Be aware and you’ll spot the shaping strategy they may be using on you. Then you can turn it back around so you’re the shaper and they’re the shape-e.

Good luck training and lucky you if you’ve got a back chaining dog … think of the chains of behaviors you could get. Fun.

Training update: Obie’s progress whining, recalls and other stuff

Recall training fun in the fenced agility area.
Recall training fun in the fenced agility area. I want full speed, fast responses and he’s giving them.

Whining!! The problem that was bugging me the most — is markedly reduced, at an 8 before in a 10 point scale of bad, now we’re at a 5.   The whining when I open the door 90% of the time has disappeared as has the whining while he is tethered waiting for me to feed the horses. Whining when asked to do something is mostly gone as he has faced the result of vocalizations slow the process instead of speeding it up. He’s still offering complaints (whining, barking and occasional howling when confined in his crate during the day – but this is 1-5 minute duration). So we’re still at the halfway point aiming for a  minimal, complaining-type noise =1.

What did I do to get these changes? I followed the plans I set out in the earlier post. Organizing Training- making a plan for whining.

  • Added remote delivered treats as I opened the door, then since this was working and he was quiet as I approached the door I started adding praise as I opened the door instead of food. He is praise motivated too, not at the same level as food though.
  • Froze (stopped any movement) if he started whining and only moved if he was quiet and still. (thanks Scarlybobs for highlighting this – you helped me re-think and I decided to emphasize this since we were beyond him escalating to louder and louder in my presence, so I didn’t need to turn away or walk away)
  • It was the addition of wild bunnies in the hay that distracted him from whining (he’s added some bunny droppings to his diet — whatever works) when he is tethered in the Cover-all while I feed the horses.
  • Supervised the automatic feeding using the Treat and Train – to make sure he wasn’t putting in a whine just before a food delivery – accomplishing an unintentional, whining reward. I’m a speedy remote, stop-the-treat, button pusher.
  • Ignored the whining with cues. It’s mostly gone. I expect this to re-occur with excitement and arousal situations, but should diminish with practice and him sure about what’s expected.
  • Added some verbal praise and occasional treats to the down in entry while I’m gearing up or putting away outside clothes. It is mostly solid (other people going thru is still iffy) and no whining. I was aiming for and he  is doing it automatically to get a dog who waits calmly and out-of-the-way while people get ready.

Other stuff we’re working on.

Released to 'go play.'
Released to ‘go play.’

Recalls at a 4 before, now at a 6,  in a 10 points is best scale. Steadily improving. Still working at low to moderate distraction levels.

  • Aiming for 20 recalls three times per day – one session outside in the agility area, two sessions in various places inside daily for the next 7-10 weeks. At 200 recall practices completed. The cat remains a high level distraction as does the poor, misguided bunny who got himself stuck in stop-action mode and frozen solidly into the fence (weird I know, but not removable, except by extreme measures).
  • Fave games – run to find food and return for tug or more food rewards. Hide/seek. Sit/wait/come/tug.ObiesettleDec22014 001 Go play, come, chase, treat.

Settle during TV time or dinner or computer work at a low 2 before, now at a 5 out of a desirable 8-10. The busy-ness, searching for extra comfort, bugging for attention and long time to lie down and stay there has abated much. He’s on leash, so there’s a ways to go before he could be off-leash and would likely automatically settle. (Note I can tell him to down and he will – that’s not an issue, what I want is for him to just do it without micro-management.)

  • Practice with treats delivered when he isn’t paying any attention to me (just calmly settled).
  • Continue Treat and Train protocol on dog bed – we’re at the distraction set ups, but still fairly short duration between the treat deliveries. (I postponed some of this to get the whining under wraps).
  • No attention, even for nicely bugging – like big Doberman chin rested on knee. It’s very important not to give attention if he is bugging for it, because then the likely hood of being settled and not a pest disappears.

Focus during times of distraction (dogs, new people, stuff), he’s pretty good until the distance is 20-30 feet, which then becomes less and less good the more the space collapses. Rating? 4, maybe higher as he acclimates quite rapidly, but I want less attention spent.

  • Always wearing Gentle Leader head halter when out of crate or kennel. It works marvelously to turn him away from staring/fixating.
  • Tug games in all situations – I need to take him to more places and play
  • Use  of higher value rewards (the usual kibble is not adequate) especially initially.
  • Yup – so I want excellent focus when I need it and as above in the settle routine I want calm non-focus in that situation – we’re working to clarify the ‘when’.

Other stuff – tricks, balance, body awareness, agility basics and other things that make him easier or more helpful. I add these in for variety, to make him more capable, because it’s fun. And because some things don’t need to be tallied, just enjoyed.

Other, other stuff – his appetite and willingness to eat with gusto is at an 8-10 (previously3-4). He goes(poops) quickly, within 5 minutes of being outside, instead of waiting for 30 minutes and the morning walk turn-around. He’s willing to tug on anything I offer (he has preferences, but they are waning). He’s holding control cues until told ‘break,’ most of the time (I expect, if I’ve asked and especially if I’ve rewarded the control posture should be maintained until he’s released). He automatically sits for all entries/exits/gates.  He runs to his crate or to his dog bed when asked if he wants to do something – he knows they are the starting points of most in-house games.

Summary – So now that the noise thing is in better balance, I feel much better. Undesirable noise is very hard on the nervous system. I think that tallying, quantifying and making clear plans results in less frustration, more acceptance and better judgments. I don’t think that everything needs to be tallied or significantly planned, but certainly the things that are upsetting do. Especially when it feels like it’s getting worse or not resolving in any way.

Managing the problem can and should be a first step (oh yah, I’ve avoided the things that cause the issues and I’ve put on headphones at times), but the process of fixing it (if it’s important or if it risks the relationship) needs to occur right away too.

Did this article help you get an idea of how much and what kinds of things to do? Were there things I need to explain better? Do you like the photos?



Training Obie – he’s back and he’s almost 2

OK so six months is a long time for a dog visit. It entails many permanent solutions, it isn’t a weekend, but it also isn’t a lifetime. And most people would consider Obie extremely well-trained, he knows a lot, he’s social, has a good sense of humor, fun to pet and interact with, but … and here’s where I need to be careful since when a dog trainer/mom says negative things about a dog sometimes the judgements get too strong, but here it is, the list – that I’m working on to resolve during this 6 months.

  • Recall (come is not good enough) – should be one call then speed.
  • Duration on most cues not long enough and he needs to wait for permission to break a control position for which he has been asked – note if he sits or downs by himself and is not rewarded by anyone he is totally free to change position – it’s just not so if the position was requested.
  • Tug needs better gripping and more rear-end weight (he’s too much up in the air and using his front end). In fact all rewards need better appreciation and involvement by Obie – rewards need to be considered a good surprise not an expectation. Tug is critical in brilliant recalls and improving the retrieve.
  • He wants to keep toys (not enough value for person compared to toy), this mucks up his retrieve which is: wait by side, release to get, fast go out, quick turn around and fast come back, to give to hand.
  • He quits too easily, if he’s frustrated with game/activity he quits – this is the real big-gy, the one that wrecks future training if not resolved. This is where small room training helps – nothing else to do in there, and shaping to reward persistence in the face of frustration.
  • He focuses on unknown dogs too much, vocalizes and bounces
  • Vocalizes when left in kennel, whines, howls, moans – this one is a major people complaint problem esp. in urban areas.
  • Shreds blankets in kennel – usually I just put something in there that’s un-shreddable – outside kennel straw or shavings.
  • Sometimes puts his feet up on people when not invited
  • Gets on furniture without invite
  • Pottying – he pees quickly when out, but waits pretty long before he defecates, this could be a problem if time is short.

OK so it’s tough love at Mom’s house for Obie, lots of prevention, management, less attention because I have 3 other dogs that also need attention, plus clients. So far the only two of these issues I haven’t started on are the furniture one and the shredding bedding in kennel – they’re just pure prevention at this point. The putting feet on people and the unknown dogs haven’t gotten much work either, but some good stuff this last week when he was my demo dog for a class.

Obie 2014, is wearing his head halter all the time when he's out of his kennel.
Obie 2014, is wearing his head halter all the time when he’s out of his kennel.

The recall, tug, and reward issues are being worked/played with all at once. Big play in a small room or on leash, quick reward when he gets part or most of it right. He likes getting the toy, so I release when he puts his weight nicely back on his rear end in the tug, but its a very brief toy win, then I re-ask for it into my hand, then we play tug again.

To upgrade his like of the game and the reward food, I act more jazzed and do a count 1-2-3 voila, magic there it is! If he doesn’t respond with awe, I play with it myself, this is acting and impressing him with my game, my toy, my treats … ‘the grass is always greener if somebody else wants it.’ It’s hide it, show it, hide it, wave it high/low, hide it, dance with it … it’s got to be good.

He’s responded with awe and seriously good tug games and a spunky look on his face when I offer regular dog food as a treat. And his value for me has gone up considerably, as it needs to to fix the list.

The duration of control cues; I’ve wanted him to have better balance and a stronger core so we’re doing lots of sit pretty (aka beg) and tall (which is stand up on hind end), goal is to get him able to balance well enough to go from a pretty to a tall and back to a pretty without touching down with his front feet. He’s gotten way better at sitting pretty, with shot gunning treats in … instead of just one the first is followed by a second then a third, then a fourth and continue as long as he holds the posture. Feet touch down, oh well, rewards end.

Then to really have understanding instead of having the treats ready, put in little breaks to reach for them while he remains sitting pretty. This change has upgraded the understanding considerably. His balance at this level is markedly improved.

Other straight up ways to improve duration are just to practice duration, dropping rewards in every once in a while. And the great game of sit for all doorways and only get up when given a release, if not the doorway just closes and waits for the sit again. It’s a consistency exercise for everyone. But gives lots of chances for practice.

He’s improving on the fundamentals, we’ll be able to expand more in the near future. Other things we’ve done is lots of bicycle/dog short run/jogs of about a 1.5 miles which have included dogs running out barking at us – he did great, swimming practice with water retrieves, on leash hikes, brief tied waiting for me as I feed horses (I’m out of sight part of the time with this), lots of daytime confinement in outside kennel (this is new for him). We’ll be moving on to following me around with him tied to my waist, visits to the agility classes, and more demo dog stuff. It’s good, we’ll get the list well in hand in 6-months time.

Careless teeth – puppy biting

My puppy kindergarten class members want to know what to do about biting.

Such sweet young faces filled with sharp using teeth.

Cookie Monster aiming for a hand touch, after which she gets a reward.
Cookie Monster aiming for a hand touch, after which she gets a reward.

He bites, she bites, puppies all bite. Some bite harder, some not as much and some seem to go into an upset growling biting frenzy (mostly when they are over-tired or over-excited or scared/anxious if someone has punished them for biting).

Blood letting often happens because those puppy teeth are really sharp and they are careless where they put their teeth. And they put everything in their mouth. It’s normal and usually fades nicely if handled reasonably well.

So first off let’s get the No’s!, the slaps, pinches, tongue pressing, face grabbing, and whatever else that’s nasty off the agenda. These mostly make things worse in one way or another. The shy/escaping puppies quit biting you but haven’t learned bite control – and may bite hard out of fear, and the assertive puppies just get faster, may move on to bite much harder and also don’t trust your hands.

It is usually OK to yelp, yip, or squeak if your pup bites you – most pups will stop, some seem to think it is interesting or funny and will retry to see if you do it again.  Repeat the yip, if they stop – good, but then if the pup seems energized you know this strategy isn’t a good main one for your puppy.

To pet come from the side instead of above or from the front. Reach below their chin or below their ear on neck or chest.
To pet come from the side instead of above or from the front. Reach below their chin or below their ear on neck or chest.

Think of your ultimate goals. You want a pup who understands how to use his/her mouth around you and others. You want a pup who trusts you to handle his muzzle, mouth, teeth, and face. You want a pup who takes food gently when offered, who carries and gets things for you, who will play games and be aware of what to bite/grab and what not to. You want a pup who interacts with other puppies and dogs well. And if your pup got hurt, you want him to let you help him without biting you. Whatever you do now for this temporary problem shouldn’t interfere or prevent your ultimate goals.

But he’s biting. For the record if your puppy has a piece of your body in his mouth and is not letting go, stop moving whatever he has hold of (this is usually enough to get him to let go), but if he’s in tug mode take a hold of his collar so he can’t tug backwards – so you are holding him in place (this usually is enough to get them to let you go), and if all else has failed or it hurts too much, you may pry his mouth open. Then turn him away from you so he doesn’t re-latch on… and then think about what part of your training needs building up.

Is someone rewarding biting clothing/hands in play? Is someone dodging and weaving with their hands and encouraging ‘shark mouth?’ Is there someone in the family who needs coaching because they are afraid? People who are afraid of animals usually react in all the ways that get them into more trouble. Is someone doing those punishing things I said above – to ‘get off the agenda,’ if so they are likely making the puppy more upset, and faster to get to growl-ly frantic biting (which makes them think they have an aggressive dog in the making), and that they need to be more ‘dominant’ – aka mean. Bummer.

So what to do, my puppy is biting everyone – help!

Puppy play dates with nice playing pups can help. Puppies won't play with pups who bite too hard.
Puppy play dates with nice playing pups can help. Puppies won’t play with pups who bite too hard.

* Be Ready. Have toys, chews, food, to put in his mouth instead of you. Only play with those, and stop playing, get up, leave if he is focused on biting you or your clothes and won’t change over to the toy or chews or food.

* Practice nice mouth. Hand feed and have your puppy do things for the food. This will give him better things to do with you than try to bite you.

*Prevention. Turn his face away from you as you pet him. Make the petting shorter if he can’t tolerate more than one or two seconds without trying to bite you, and quit before he starts biting. Conversely if he starts biting and you have him up in your arms, block him from getting you (by keeping him turned away) and wait for him to settle before you put him down … you don’t want him to learn that biting at you gets you to release him. You want him to learn that kissing you gets him down.

*Practice games. Play tug games, focus him on the moving toy, rope, stick … pups like movement and will grab movement. Stop the game if he bites you, you need to become still. When he settles try again, if he goes for you again, end the game, get up, stand still.

*Over tired means cranky. Many pups don’t get enough sleep and so are over-tired. Give them regular quiet times in their own space. They need to sleep, and if noise or kids or you are often bothering/waking them they will be more likely to get easily over-wrought.

*Bad puppy set-ups. For kids or people who keep pulling their hands up and away because the ‘puppy bites’ – have them feed by pushing the food into the pups muzzle from below the pups chin (usually they go at it from above and the pup tries to reach up or jump up to get to their hands which ends up involving teeth) or if they can’t seem to do that have them toss treats on the ground. Puppies don’t really know how to take things from your hands, they have trouble knowing where the treat is and keeping it in their mouths.

*For petting – pet below the pup’s ear on their neck, not the top of their head (petting from above encourages grabbing).

*Quiet hands. Make your hands still, slow everything down, stop moving and that will stop biting. Running children are perfect biting targets, either teach the kids to stop if puppy is grabbing or remove the puppy from their games (and you can work on short bursts of faster legs, then slow or stop before puppy gets to biting or tackling).

*Tools. Head halters, like the Gentle Leader are good things to train early. Teach the pup to put his nose through the nose loop, teach him to leave the nose loop on his nose and give him treats as long as he lets it hang there. Teach the pup to push into the nose loop to get a treat (so there’s tension on his nose) and finally put the whole thing on – give treat, repeat, repeat, repeat. The handling of his muzzle, the clarity of this game of him putting it on, balancing it on his nose, pushing into it, wearing it … all helps to get him to trust that having his face handled is OK. Then, of course, use it to turn his face from things he needn’t bark at, mouth, be aggressive towards and it works as a go for a walk tool too.

Start from here and get your pup to tolerate more and more movement without trying to put it into their mouths. Keep clarifying what they should mouth, keep increasing the excitement, increasing the touching and rewarding them when they tolerate it well … remember each time they make mistakes it is a lesson for you about your training and what needs practice in the next days and weeks to get your pup to understand how be civilized and bite inhibited.

Do you have particular questions about your pup’s biting? Want to attend a puppy kindergarten? Contact me.

Bring your own rock – weird rewards in dog training

ReggieOct282013 005Hurry up! Circle the wagon and bring your own rock.

Rocks, paper, digging, kid’s toys, socks, sniffing, horse apples … there are all sorts of favorite things for which dogs will do work. Often instead of using these currencies people try to steal them or restrain the dog from them or chase the dog to get them or haphazardly keep them up away from them, only increasing their value, but missing out on the work exchange.

If the desired item has a certain work requirement to achieve it, the focus changes to the work requested … do this and then you are released to get that, OK now what will you do to have the joy of being released to find another. Also the benefit of lessening its value makes the whole interaction more reasonable, which is important since rocks, smells, digging, etc. can be found almost everywhere.

Yup, it’s true, sometimes I release my dog to go get a horse apple.

Fear of the dog swallowing an inedible? Well the more things are grabbed away without a trade, the more likely the dog is to gulp them down to keep them. It works a lot better to teach, ‘bring me’ and then praise and trade if they really can’t have whatever they had. And youngsters chasing after the puppy with a toy in his mouth – great game, not great training. Expect more stolen, chewed toys in the future.

The most popular weird fixations – paper (tissues, toilet paper), pens/pencils, Barbie dolls, remotes, and phones. These aren’t interesting things for dogs except that people overreact and value them, and so they become valuable. I think that’s interesting.

And then there’s rocks, gravel and dirt. Reggie came with a fixation on rocks (mostly nice sized round ones) and Jazz, who wants anything that another dog has, briefly started carting them. She wasn’t hooked, I ignored her, so she quit. For Reggie I’ve made rock play contingent on doing control cues and the fixation has waned, but he still can get enthralled if given encouragement.

What do you get from puppy kindergarten?

PuppyclassesJuly302013 046Often people are hesitant to start training their puppy … just let him be a baby and have fun, we’ll just clean up the messes, he’s too young, he loves everybody so no need to go out and meet extra people/dogs, or he’s too afraid to go out and meet people, we’re worried about him catching something … Wait a minute – whether you think you’re training or not he’s learning what to do and expect.

Then there are others who expect too much, too soon … want him to quit chewing, biting, be totally house-trained, know all the household rules, greet everyone appropriately, be the kids best friend and be able to have the freedom of the house. Wait a minute – he is a baby and if you expect too much you set up his failure and then where does the relationship go?

Then there’s the long term dog invested handlers who have multiple confinement systems for when they are not doing stuff with the pup (crates, gates, tethers, kennels), have an outside location for pottying and always go outside with their pup, take the vaccinated pup to lots of places to meet people, see other dogs, practice car riding, do grooming regularly at home, practice body handling (feet, ears, mouth), have chew items and prevent non-chew items from teeth damage. They know what to expect and are ready for it, often they come to puppy kindergarten, but really need no instruction. They have a long term plan of training for their puppy and have started thoughtful training from the first time they met their pup.

It actually took me a while to understand that most other people (despite them having had dogs throughout their lives) didn’t know about the critical times in development of the dog. Didn’t know that socialization and training done early makes the most difference and can alleviate shyness, anxiety, aggression with the least work by the handler or if handled badly can cement issues of fear (like sound shyness – for example; taking an 8-10 week old hunting dog to a shooting range or to the fireworks on July 4th and letting that be their first overwhelming experience of gun fire/explosions) and make them much, much harder to influence/resolve in later life.

Those critical weeks come right during the time you first get the pup from the breeder (8 – 14 weeks old). And yes, I too worry about the possibility of parvo or distemper or any of the vaccinated for diseases, but after two vaccinations the pup is reasonably safe, especially in areas where the other dogs are vaccinated. The only way they would be ‘totally’ safe is to wait until after the critical socialization period is done – but then the critical socialization period is done.

Puppy kindergarten is a positive training experience and a socialization venue. The pup gets to have regular rides in the car, gets to practice on leash walking, gets to meet different people and pups, learns to concentrate on his person despite the presence of new sights and new smells and new sounds. It is one of the best ways to prevent excessive shyness or aggression in the future.

Things that are introduced include basic obedience cues and puppy obstacles for confidence building. Reward based training is used to improve relationships. The experience is a good one and will have lasting positive effects.

But it is only a beginning of what needs to be a long learning relationship. AldoleopoldtrailOct1922012 017

Seven things people do to dogs that dogs hate

Here are seven things that people enjoy to do to dogs and despite dogs disliking them people seem to think the dog is enjoying it too. And because so many people do these things to dogs I always work to desensitize my dogs to parts of them and protect my dog from them and suggest that members of my classes do too, but I don’t suggest they use these as supposed rewards for their dog’s good behavior.

1. Taking a hold of the dog’s collar or cheeks on both sides of their face and pulling them forward for a kiss (frequently includes baby talk) or just leaning in to kiss the dog eye-to-eyeThis is a great way to get bitten in the face as it is very aggressive in dog culture. Desensitize this very carefully starting with one handed collar grabs with food rewards, and separately lateral face closeness with the dog doing the approach (find my face game). Don’t let people or kids do this to your dog because if they get bitten they will blame your dog.

2. Patting the dog on the top of the head. Dogs like hands to come from below their eye level, reaching under the ear or under the chin is best.

3. Bear hugging around the neck or rear.  Strangers and kids shouldn’t do any hugging, but loosely draping your arm around their chest is a good desensitization.

4. Grabbing at feet, ears, tail or face. Play games-shake, vet visit, to desensitize these and do slow massage to desensitize, but don’t let 2-year-olds or teens teach biting games to your dog.

5. Strangers acting like they have best friend privileges. Some people seem to think that dogs like everybody and so should be their immediate best friend, not so. Protect your dog.

6. Being picked up. Instinct would inform them of impending doom, as predators pick up prey. Let them be cued to jump up into laps or into arms or to prepare for elevation.

7. Being climbed on, ridden on or jumped on. Parents too often think this is fun for kids and don’t notice the dog’s distress. In fact there was a study with photos of kids and dogs, if the kid was smiling the observers thought the dog was having fun, if the kid was cut out of the photo they then could perceive anxiety or upset in the dog. For other ridden animals – horses, to avoid injury and pain the max appropriate weight for a well balanced rider and gear is 20% of the horse’s weight, so if the kid weighed 20# the dog would have to have a fit weight of 100#, 50# the dog would have to be a 250# dog to carry him and kids aren’t well balanced … so keep them off the dog.

Does your dog enjoy what you enjoy doing to them? Do it very briefly and stop, don’t say anything, remain still and see if they come back into you (lean into you, nose into your hand, cheek against you) to get some more. If they do, then they like it.NicaraguaFarmertofarmerhappy to be home2010 002


Loose leash walking; heeling, or in the reinforcement zone

How to teach your dog to walk on a loose leash:

Don’t walk if the leash is not loose. Only walk when the leash is loose (and not because you just made it longer).

“Ah but …  my dog is always pulling, I won’t be able to walk anywhere, he gets so interested in smells, so interested in people, dogs, everything.”

Don’t walk forward if the leash is not loose. You may go backwards or sideways or stand still, but don’t go in the direction the pup is pulling you towards. If there is no reward for pulling the pulling will stop, if having a slack leash is rewarded then that is what will be given (rewards are treats, games, praise and just going forward).

I was reading the 4-H literature and it suggests that you need a leash to teach your dog to walk next to you. Then it proceeds in teaching your dog to heel by putting on a choke collar and jerking on the leash to either get your dog to move or to get your dog back into place. Not great advice. And this advice makes it more difficult to have a dog that heels well off-leash because the reason not to pull was the jerk/punishment and if there is no leash there is no jerk to worry about.

The above paragraph advice is a fairly good way to make your dog not really like training, to only heel on leash, to possibly injure your dog’s neck or spine and to make you not like to train dogs. No need for a choke collar or prong collar or shock collar, no need to jerk or hurt your dog in any way. Loose leash walking is about the dog learning where to be – a positional cue (it’s not about the leash or applying pain).

Here’s what I would suggest: no need for a leash for a part of this training, start with no distractions, good treats, a toy and a straight wall (or any barrier). Position yourself a puppy’s width plus a little away from the wall, when the pup puts themselves between you and the wall, say “Yes” or click (to mark the behavior) and reward with a treat. Take a step, “Yes”, reward again if the pup is positioning between you and the wall. If the pup is with you try a couple of steps, “Yes,” and play a game of tug. If the pup isn’t with you, no rewards, get better treats and practice getting them to sit in the reinforcement zone (facing forward by your leg on the left, or right if you want, side), then add some movement.

Other strategy; teach hand target and use your hand as a lure to get series of heeling steps. Expand this to include different speeds and changing directions – this is called shadowing or shadow handling, as the dog is your shadow. Dogs like to follow movement, especially faster movement.

More strategy: Acclimate your pup to a head halter, then go outside on a leash. Keep leash long enough for them to be without any tension if they are in the right place (this is not very long), slow down (even stop) and keep leash the same length if they decide to pull. Proceed again if they have adjusted where they are so there is no tension on the leash. Note that all the tools to prevent pulling only work if you don’t reward the dog for pulling (continuing to walk is rewarding for pulling). Don’t go very far as they’re more likely to rush on the way back.

Why a head halter? Because halters work well and help keep the very front of your dog able to be turned toward you, instead of facing away barking, lunging or/and bouncing. You probably don’t want your dog barking and bouncing and ignoring you, with a head halter you can turn them and have control even if they have a tendency to be wild in certain situations.

Leash, Gentle Leader head halter (which will decrease pulling and give very good control) and back hook harness (which will increase pulling).
Leash, Gentle Leader head halter (which will decrease pulling and give very good control) and back hook harness (which will increase pulling).

No jerking, no yelling, no pain, just steady progress and fun and the ability to take your dog with you where ever you want to go.

Well then what about harnesses?

Most harnesses are made for pulling. They distribute the pressure so the dog can pull harder without injury. So if you want your dog to pull use a harness.

The exceptions are Easy Walk harnesses and any others with front of the chest leash attachments. I distribute these in my puppy kindergarten classes. They aren’t as effective as the head halters but need no acclimatization practice like the head halters do. Owners feel better about putting a harness on their puppy rather than something that loops over their nose. Easy Walk harnesses  kind of turn your dog away from stuff, but not your dog’s head and not nearly as well as the head halter.

Finally, if you want a dog that walks well on a loose leash, don’t walk if they are pulling. FYI this means you need to not keep the leash tight when the dog is next to you (nobody gets to pull on the leash).


Please click Liked if you did like this article. Still not sure what to do? Ask me a question and I’ll try to answer the best I can. Did you have some break through in training your dog, tell me about it!