To create the fulfilled potential of a dog partnership.
Where are we, dog and me, going?
Knowing the direction, avoiding false paths.
To create something more than ever before.
Resiliency and tenacity.
What about you? Have you thought it through? Did any of your dogs do anything special? Will this current dog be more than those prior pooches?
There are as many reasons for having dogs as there are people with dogs. There are many reasons why having a dog(s) can make you happy. Think carefully … the way it makes you feel, the friends you meet, how you feel, the achievements, the competition, how happy your dog is to do certain things and where you get to go. Write them all down and prioritize everything.
Now make a list of all the things that bother you about having a dog. Write down the things you dislike because they are scary, or things that are just a pain, or that don’t make any sense to you, or that really tick you off. Write down anything that bothers you about the sport you would like to be involved in (are involved in). Then rank those in the same manner, from the worst to the least offensive.
Now (with the two lists) you have a mini summary of the pros and cons of your dog-owning relationship. Now it is time to determine the connections.
Would you hop in a car and drive around aimlessly for years and years without a final destination in mind, without so much as a GPS to get there? That is absolutely what many people do in getting a dog. They have not established a dream and have not established any goals (roadmap).
So what do you really like about doing with your dog? Can you think about an aspect that you could pursue to maximize the pleasurable experiences while minimizing your dislikes? Would the challenge of competition, the peace of hiking, the camaraderie of team sports, or something you hadn’t even considered before satisfy those cravings?
Once you have sharpened your focus on where you want to go, nothing is insurmountable. It just takes real love of where you are headed, a motivation to get there, and some planning for the steps that will lead you to your goal. Take some time, sit down and find your direction.
Often a chain of actions grows a behavior. Barking, whining, jumping up, mouthing, excitement at the doors … are very commonly increased by chained events and unfortunately most of the time the person doesn’t realize that they are growing the behavior instead of reducing it.
So if your dog is doing something you don’t particularly like and you don’t know why it’s getting worse. Take a look back. Usually two steps of actions back and you then will spot the behavior/reinforcement cycle.
What then? Put more steps into the cycle or take out a step right before or after the dog’s usual action. Example: in the above cycle the dog barked, woke the person up, then got affection or maybe play time outside. Options: 1. ignore barking (earplugs) and wait until it completely stops before getting out of bed … stay neutral (non-reinforcing) until several preferred things have been offered by the dog, or 2. Schedule wake up time earlier, before dog would usually start to bark or whine, then reinforce quiet behavior immediately, or 3. dog barks, you wake up and go to bathroom and dog follows quietly and lays down (no speaking), you go to other room and dog is asked to do a series of behaviors … sit, down, do trick … then gets rewarded with pets and praise (with this, you may be just growing a longer chain, but usually not).
In our house, Jazzie goes over by the stairs and leans against the wall when she wishes to go outside. Or if I’m using the computer, she puts her head on my thigh and waits. I see her there or feel her chin, get up and go outside with her and play flying disk games. Lately she’s been increasing her requests. Why? Because the reinforcement of the game. Why was I playing the game … because it’s winter and I have to get dressed to go outside and so for efficiency sake potty plus game.
Since I don’t want excessive requests … I let her out, said nothing, waited for her to go potty and turned around and came back inside. She didn’t need to go potty, so it was just a game request.
I like her go outside reminders, because sometimes I can get overly involved in reading or work, but I don’t want to have to let her out too frequently. So we just won’t play her favorite games outside unless I’m the one who initiated the trip outdoors. I expect this will reduce her requests. We’ll see.
If you and your dog are in your comfort zone, really in your comfort zone, you’re probably just repeating the habits, repeating the things that you’ve already learned, already done, many times before. That’s why they are comfortable. Same environment, same people/animals, same games, same, same…
Learning happening here? Not unless something changes.
Learning takes you out of your comfort zone, but not too far out of it. It should make you slightly nervous, somewhat frustrated … still you’re willing and in control.
So what happens if you hear/see a handler whose dog was being difficult and she’s proud because she showed him who is boss?
The somewhat stressed handler still felt she was in control, and she felt accomplished. But what about the stressed dog?
So the dog ended up in sympathetic nervous system (fight/flight) mode. What does that mean for the next time? Now does it become clear why it’s likely the same problem will be repeated? Why so many dogs trained in this way wash out …
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?
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 –
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
shuffle your feet
sigh or yawn
move your hand or body
relax your shoulders
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.
Movement and noise draws attention, triggers the chase, speeds the come, escalates the interaction, adds to mouthiness, springs to jumping, builds excitement and indicates frustration.
Stillness and silence creates a pause, slows all action, ends the interaction, stops the noise, starts the sniffing, leads to calmness and indicates quitting.
But a body in motion stays in motion and a body at rest stays at rest. So when trying to be a good trainer there is a challenge of inertia. Gaining the understanding of when to change and being able to change from stillness to active and back again is huge. Because our level of activity or inactivity drives the process.
When is stillness particularly valuable?
Anytime the dog/pup is pushing for unwanted/undesirable action/attention – pulling on leash, rushing door/gate, charging at visitors/kids/you, vocalizing for release, jumping up, demanding petting, playing too rough – puppy biting, pawing … and when you want the dog to be still.
Often times people meet action with action, with poor results.
The answer (if you are the keeper of reward or focus) is to freeze, stop, wait until the dog’s action stops. Start moving only as long as the prior undesirable thing doesn’t re-occur. This requires patience and a long term perspective. But the advantage is these common problems will not be problems for long.
*If a dog comes running at you, ruff up, barking or growling or overexcited, and you’re not wearing a bite suit, stand still, look to the side and be quiet. This is a very powerful pose, one of unconcern, one where movement isn’t helping the charging dog’s prey drive.
If you want to bite train and you are wearing a bite suit (or if you feel daring like many kids do), run/move and wave your arms.
*If you want to teach loose leash walking, stop walking if the leash is not loose.
If you want to teach a dog to pull, add some resistance to the leash and keep walking. Resist a little more but let them pull you to the spot they wanted to sniff or pee. Good job, you’ve accomplished teaching your dog to pull harder on the leash.
*If you want polite sit for greeting, wait for it. If your dog gets up as you start petting, stop, stand up and only resume when they sit again.
If you want more enthusiasm and jumping up, pet or push at them when they get excited. Voila, rowdy greeter.
When is stillness/silence of little use?
When the one being still/silent is not the focus or keeper of access to the reward. So if you are not important in the process you won’t be effective in changing it.
When the action desired, like come, is negatively affected by stillness. So if you want fast or more action, trying to train by being still is counterproductive (even if your final goal is being able to be still and having the dog respond).
When it’s time to move on to add the distraction of movement.
Any time you successfully used stillness? Any time it wasn’t successful? Could you figure out why?
Using what you have and being innovative with it.
Sometimes I think I need something new to enable me to teach something new to my dogs (see Waiting on a battery, my Treat & Train blog). I like the Treat & Train, I’m using it daily and I’ve learned a much more stepwise all-bases-covered approach to training with it. I have no problem recommending it, but maybe you don’t want to fork out another hundred dollars.
Other times I know that if I just think about what needs to be learned I can teach it with the things I have – no need for new purchases. And I don’t like to keep doing the same things (although I do like doing the same things). It’s like having six different dinners that you like to eat every week and then discovering curry or pesto or Chinese hot sauce.
I hope you have a crate (or two), a dog bed and a traffic cone (or anything that could be like a post/tree). Why? ‘Cuz we’re going to use them to do some training.
Why? because almost everyone’s dog needs to be better at staying, coming, going, being directed or maybe you have trouble with your dog at the front door when someone comes knocking? And training is what could fix it, but…
Crate games – at first get the nice go in, come out and go in and stay in in-position whether door open or closed. Treats high value to the dog. Games in short sets, but quick rewards, lots of enthusiasm because this is the basis of sending, staying, coming … all those things that are so useful and here you’ve had this crate all along and thought it was just a housing project.
#1 – go in,treat, come out (if you’re a good throw, toss treats in as your dog goes in, but avoid luring except maybe just a couple of times to start). If you’ve always been pushing your dog in this first step is going to take longer. Get really, really good treats and reward them for small forward movements towards and into the crate.
#2 – go in, door close, sit, door open,treat, come out
#3 – go in, door close, down, door open,treat, come out
#4 – go in, door close, sit, door open, touch collar (hook up leash or unhook while dog remains seated – if not close the door and wait for the sit – reopen, try again), treat, or re-close and try again, treat, come out. If your dog spends nights in a crate practice this 10-20 times in quick succession each morning before releasing from crate.
Take your time making sure your dog really likes going in and staying in the crate, and understands the release cue (OK or Free or …..)
Then when your dog will stay inside whether door’s open or not, and he wants to stay in there, start the more exciting games. Put the rewards where they’re needed.
#5 – go in, come out to hand target
#6 – go in, come out to hand target, go back in
#7 – go in, release to circle cone and back in (add difficulty with opposite direction circle, or more than one circle)
#8 – crate to crate (running between) or crate to bed or rug or target
Always start where you think your dog will be quickly successful, then move up in duration, then move down again in difficulty to move up in distraction or distance.
#9 – crate to crate over treats or past toys
#10 – add something … a child laying like a log to jump over or to find in a game of hide and seek, squeakers while dog is doing go in or stay in, ‘Hello, who’s there?’
Oops, now I’m going to start having trouble finding those nice, cheap, large, hardly used crates that everyone thinks they’re done with because the chewing and potty training are over.
It’s easy to become a better dog trainer, do the following 10 things and you’ll be better than most and your dog will love you for it.
1) Hand feed your dog using the food you would have put in his dish as rewards for your dog doing things like sit, down, come, kennel up, hand touch/target, tricks… This means you will be positively interacting and learning at least twice a day or more.
2) Have rewards with you at all times when you have your dog with you (really good ones if there are lots of distractions). Learn what your dog really likes and use those things to reward him. Rewards are food, games/activities and toys.
3) Avoid punishing – adding punishment will slow training and make your dog not want to learn from you. “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” Silence is an excellent training technique – just wait for the chance to praise and celebrate.
4) Small quiet rooms (like your bathroom) work well as a spot to train new things – close the door and have fun with your puppy learning new stuff. For the known cues – get out there and get them generalized to all sorts of locations.
5) Set a timer and train in short segments (3-6 minutes). Shorter is better, have balance breaks doing something else that’s fun!
6) Track your progress. Record your training on video so you can evaluate what and how you are doing. Or at least record on paper or in a computer journal.
7) Give your dog enough exercise and enough rest time – then manage them to prevent problems so you aren’t spending training time fixing what wouldn’t have needed a fix if you’d managed better.
8) Watch videos of good trainers, to see what and how others are training.
9) Set up training ready areas so it’s easy to train even when time is very short. Prepare a training outline, ahead of time. You will accomplish more, easier if you do.
10) Have fun, this is fun stuff, laugh, do things you like to do and be flexible and enjoy the time with your dog.
Do you have other positive training tools or techniques that you thing should be on this list?
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I’ve looked at way too many dog ‘re-homing’ advertisements on Craig’s list that say, “we just don’t have time enough, not enough to give her/him the time she/he deserves.” And the dogs range in age from 12 weeks to 8 years old.
I guess I can understand the sheer overwhelming reality of trying to train a puppy and variable work schedules, but an eight year old dog?
So how much time does a dog take? A big question with lots of variability since it depends on your facilities, the dog and your experience and what purpose you have for your dog.
Let’s take an example of Max, my 12-year-old shepherd (old, well-trained dog). He sleeps in the house, he has an outside kennel run which we use occasionally, I walk with him for 45 minutes each morning and do training games at the same time and he gets potty/play breaks 4-5 (20-50 min.) more times each day (although he doesn’t have to have that many so far) which are at good times for me to have potty/play breaks too. I do his toenails every Sunday (10 min.), brush his teeth daily (3 min.), give fresh water, he’s shedding this time of year so there is daily coat brush outs (6 minutes) and towelling off after walks, extra vacuuming. I have to buy him food, take him to the vet a couple of times a year – shots, heartworm. And he likes petting breaks several times a day.
So, that is about 2 hours/day required, but most of that is exercise that I need too. Then there’s the stress relief that I also need. And occasionally several more hours tacked on for special reasons (vet, fun outings, lake, doggy stuff). But if I needed to I could contract that down, skip the majority of the walk and just give the potty breaks and care and use up 30 minutes/day. I wouldn’t want to very often because he is old and not providing adequate activity and fun will speed up the aging process.
What about a puppy? Well, more time because they need potty breaks during the day every one to two hours and they can’t have prolonged crate time without risking accidents. Their training needs are much higher during the first few months, and then continuing through the 2nd year of their life. Depending on what your purpose is to have them – pet, hunting, agility, obedience competitions, service, therapy, and your training capabilities or mistakes makes the time expand or contract.
But still, adding on the extra potty breaks, which mostly are pretty brief (unless you don’t do them and have to clean up too), and the extra (and fun) playtime, and the training (20-25 minutes per day). So that is about 3 hours/day. This could also be contracted down especially after the pup is 6 months or so, since they no longer need so many breaks and even though exercise is very beneficial, sometimes having less is OK … so maybe down to 30 minutes to 1 hour/day total for care. And if feeding is combined with training, and if your exercise is their exercise I don’t actually see why anybody wouldn’t have enough time for a dog unless they just weren’t home for long spans.
However, if no one has taken the time to learn about and do the training and your dog/puppy is not polite and doesn’t rest quietly in the house and instead you are chasing after them as they destroy stuff, or trying to convince the neighbor not to call animal control, maybe you don’t have time enough to have a dog. Maybe they are a stress causer instead of reliever. I have no idea of how many more hours/minutes a day this would add. So time unknown and ? a Craig’s list ad saying ‘don’t have the time that he/she needs.’
My conclusion, 30 minutes broken up during the day is probably the least you could spend and still have a happy dog. And you need to do your homework so you know how to train and have the facilities you need to make life easier (crate, gates, fence, kennel run, leashes, treats, vet care). If you don’t have that (or someone who will cover for you) don’t even think of it.
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.
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!
Is competition a good thing? Or does it eliminate too many, too early, before they get to develop.
The goals, the deadlines, the chance to show others how well you and your dog can do under pressure, or how beautiful or fast or obedient your dog(s) are – that’s competition.
Getting together with others who have similar knowledge and interests, being able to speak jargon and have them get it, meeting people who really understand, doing things, lots of things with your dog – that’s competition.
Disappointment, triumph, frustration, expenses, travel, anger, loss, wins, luck – that’s competition. Based on the set up, there’s bound to be more people/dogs losing than there are winning – one winner per class, two winners – first and runner-up or best of opposite overall. Even the Dutch system, with its multiple blue ribbons, has one champion/first place.
Competition can be a good thing, by getting a deadline and motivation, lots of stuff gets done; it drives activity and imagination and focus. If you’ve competed regularly with your dog for several years you usually know much more than others do who have just attended training or workshops on the same topics for the same amount of time. Some people treat competitions like a workshop and are there to have fun and not really compete much.
Competition can be a bad thing creating a desire to win at all costs with the dog as the scapegoat for all troubles. It can make better judgement go out the window. It can make the dog less important, more of a thing to manipulate to win, damn the consequences. Competition winners can drive breeding programs, training programs, sport programs – whether they really should or not, because they are WINNERS!
My dressage trainer always felt that training gets driven in the wrong direction by competition patterns. Instead of learning to know when to apply the aids based on the horse’s readiness it was a letter on the side of the arena driving the application. The same can be said of dog competitions, the patterns, the equipment often drive the training, instead of the training being driven by the dog’s needs. I think there probably should be both, but the competition shouldn’t come too early in the process.
I’m thinking competition often comes too early, there is a rush to compete. And it’s before kids as trainers have really learned how to train and before the dogs understand the learning, the fundamentals aren’t there, it’s mostly just hope. But then again there is a procrastination factor, so maybe whenever it was it would always be too early.
Too often the competition outcome is where the training is focused instead of on the need to have a strong, trusting relationship or on the need to learn how to learn and how to fail and then learn from that. If the final competition product is where the training starts, then if the process doesn’t go all that well (as many beginning teachers know is likely to happen when you haven’t taught something before or don’t have experience) then it can end up poisoned for both parties.
For 4H (I’m a dog project leader) the competition at the fair seems too important. Dogs are with us all year, for lots of years. The eight weeks or so before the fair shouldn’t be a rush to competition, ready or not, then OK done, or maybe next level.
Fast need drives people towards punishment (tools for ‘quick’ fixes). Things that they wouldn’t do otherwise start to seem like a good idea. And that route means suppression instead of understanding. Not having great fundamentals means there is nothing solid to build on when more complex things are desired.
Problems (doggy dramas) also drive people toward punishment because suddenly something is very wrong and needs immediate remediation. It’s not just competition that does it, it’s not being aware of what’s happening until what’s happening is so obviously bad it can’t be ignored.
Dog training is used in college psychology classes to teach students about learning models. Dogs learn very much the same way people do (albeit lacking verbal language skills). A couple raising a puppy has a chance to work out the disconnects they have in child care, before they have a child. Being a good trainer is important as a life skill.
We don’t have fairs for parents to compete with their children. How well did you train little Johnny? Blue ribbon, red, white? And parents seem overly concerned about failure – maybe the fundamental understanding about how learning happens isn’t there and failure is a signal to quit and not a signal to try and try again.
Try again and again and again.
I attend a weekly agility class with my dogs. This week the tire jump was included in the pattern and Jazz has little experience with it. She went through the wrong spot twice. I thought no big deal and let her try again, right, reward. Another handler felt I should have dropped the height to make it easier and more obvious after two failures, which is a good rule of thumb initially.
If she hadn’t had lots of reward based training and if she wasn’t confident about trying stuff I’d agree, but she’s ready to have a whole bunch of failures and keep trying. She knows she’s likely to figure it out. If I made it too easy at all levels she’d not be the great learner that she is.
But early competition … I don’t know, the judging and ribbons and the trophies seem … hmm. What do you think?