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Dog Training Course Coming Soon

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Prior to my enrollment in the Academy for Dog Trainers, my dream goal was to create online dog training courses. As a student I preferred to take online courses for many reasons, including the convenience of studying at home when I wanted as opposed to set class days and times with travel, and understood the effective results these courses could deliver.

As technology has advanced dramatically over the last couple of decades, it has become easier for us to share information, to teach, and learn new subjects quickly on our personalized timeframes.

At this time, I’m currently creating my Dog and Puppy Training online course. I’m planning to launch it in the fall. It will have videos demonstrating how to teach many behaviors – foundation behaviors, tricks, and solving behavior problems including the all too common reactive behavior while on leash walks.

I’m super excited, and looking forward to sharing the final class to help dogs learn new behaviors.

Does Using “No” Work?

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One of the more common questions I get asked is about whether telling your dog “No” works to train them.

Do Dogs Speak English?

It’s worth noting that when we speak words to our dogs, they do not inherently know what each word or phrase means. Over time they start to associate words with events if they are relevant to them.

“Do you want to go on a walk?” will usually elicit a dog’s super-excited jumping around and running back and forth between doors to outside the house and the person getting the leash.

“Treat!” will lead to a dog licking lips in anticipation of a tasty morsel, and perhaps looking toward the location food normally arrives from – a treat pouch, a countertop, or refrigerator.

Dogs will also zero in on words that are important to them because they predict something unpleasant is about to occur.

For example, for dogs who don’t like to take baths they surely do not want to hear “bath time.”

This learning process is classical conditioning, where dogs learn tip-offs to what will happen in the near-future.

This is also how dogs learn to spell. When “P-a-r-k” predicts a trip to a dog park, dogs learn to quickly associate the combination of each letter’s sound with the fun activity.

Understanding of Emotion/Intonation

Dogs can pick up on our body language, the emotions we express while speaking to them, and the way we say words (the tone we use).

Dogs tend to enjoy happy-talk, high-pitched voices, and praise. In contrast, words said angrily or harshly in deep, threatening voices are naturally disliked.

The Meaning of “No”

Therefore, “No” starts out as a meaningless word to dogs. If the word is used harshly, it will either be intrinsically off-putting to dogs, or they can learn it predicts something unpleasant.

When used in this type of way, “no” is used as a punisher and could have negative side effects (and therefore I wouldn’t recommend using it to train dogs).

What To Do Instead

Rather than focusing on what our dogs get wrong, and responding with a loud “NO!” – we can…

  1. Capture dogs doing desirable behaviors in the moment, and/or
  2. Preemptively teach dogs behaviors we want them to do, and

reward those behaviors.

It’s much more fun to teach by saying “Yes!” and providing rewards for good behavior, then it is to focus on each wrong response, and when we train this way our dogs will start to perform desirable behaviors more often.

Six Steps to Train Your Dog

1. Get the right equipment:

A harness, leash, treats, something to hold treats like a bait bag/pouch, toys, and clicker (is optional since you can also mark behavior with a chosen word).

A harness is a necessity for dogs walking on leash. Since the leash will clip to a back connection (or front connection, usually used for strong pullers), when dogs pull, their bodies will absorb the pressure. In contrast, any leash attached to a collar puts pressure on the neck and can lead to trachea damage. Even dogs trained to walk calmly without pulling, may lunge towards prey like a squirrel, and one instance is all it takes to hurt the neck.

Treats and toys are for motivation and rewards. Clickers mark behavior correct and buy you some time to deliver the reward, but you can also pick a word like “Yes!” or “Good!” to mark behavior.

2. Remove all negative/force interactions in your dog’s life.

The important concept to note here is that we want to remove anything negative from our dog’s point of view, not from our personal perspective. For example, we may think we’re being kind by petting a dog, but if he is nervous or uncomfortable about being touched in that moment, it’s not a positive interaction and can lead to problems.

Obvious interactions to avoid include any type of force training (remote shock collars, prong collars, and choke chains, yelling, approaching threateningly, spraying with water bottles, shaking cans of pennies, throwing objects at them, and so on).

Ultimately this will help prevent behavior problems like fear and aggression from forming, and allow your dog confidence to quickly learn new behaviors.

3. Focus on rewarding good behaviors you want

If dogs are doing behaviors that bother us, think of what you would like instead and then teach the behavior. Many times we accidentally focus on bad behaviors and give attention to those, but instead we can catch our dogs in the act of being good and doing behaviors we prefer. By rewarding those, our dogs will perform more of those behaviors. You can teach any behavior using positive reinforcement training.

4. Teach behaviors you want in short training sessions, then use them in daily situations.

Short training sessions can help you focus on rewarding desirable behaviors. Break behaviors into parts to make it easier for your dog. Once your dog can perform the behavior in response to your signal, start to ask him to perform it in daily life situations. For example, use a sit stay at the front door before a walk. Ask for calm walking behavior on leash without pulling, and reward it.

5. Proof behaviors by working in new environments, on distractions, distance, duration, and cold trails for reliable behavior. 

If you want your dogs to perform their new behaviors in certain types of situations then you’ll have to train in those specific situations. It might be easy for your dog to sit when asked at home in the living room, but more challenging to perform a sit from 10 feet away with distractions like people walking by in the front yard. If you want your dog to hold a 2 minute stay instead of a 2 second stay, you’ll have to build the time or duration up step-by-step. In addition, working on cold trials, where your dog is not warmed up after several practice repetitions, simulates real life situations and is useful when you need a correct response on the first try.

6. Provide for your dog’s other needs

Dog’s have amazing noses, and a basic need to walk in new areas and smell scents in the environment. They also tend to be high energy with physical movement (running, walking) needs.  We can also provide them with other types of enrichment such as puzzle toys, playing with them (chase, tug, fetch, etc.), allowing swimming, and opportunities to socialize and play with other dogs and people.

Ten Reasons to Use Positive Reinforcement Training

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Positive reinforcement training provides us with an efficient way to train our pets. Here are 10 reasons to use it.

1. Speed

When you reward behaviors, you are giving your pet specific information that the behavior he performed was the correct behavior. This leads to quick learning, since your pet can focus on that specific behavior rather than worrying about receiving punishments for all of the possible incorrect behaviors he could try.

2. Positive Side Effects

Since your pet will receive things he likes, treats/toys/walks and so on, he will learn:

  • To enjoy the training process
  • To form a bond with you as the trainer
  • To associate hearing cues/signals and hands reaching towards him with good things, since they are paired with rewards.

This is a powerful tool and can prevent or eliminate other potential behavior problems from popping up during the training process. In contrast, force training (which we never recommend) can lead to negative side effects.

3. It’s Fun!

When we experience our pets learning new behaviors and getting excited about the rewards and process, it is reinforcing for us as well.

4. Quick Responding to Signals/Cues

You’ll get super quick responses to your signals if using rewards and correct technique. The rewards are an enticing form of motivation and it’s enjoyable for pets to attempt to earn them; this is especially noticeable in contrast to punishment, force-based methods, where pets can be frightened to respond or try new behaviors for fear of correction or pain.

5. Forming Positive Associations

You can use positive reinforcement training to help pets overcome fears and learn to accept body handling, like at the veterinarian, or to introduce puppies to new things during the socialization period, and because of its positive side effects, you don’t have to worry about creating new fears to anything.

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6. Setting Up for Success

Positive reinforcement training allows us to set up each training scenario we need, and prepare to teach the specific behavior we want our dog or cat to learn to perform in that situation – for example, teaching a sit stay at doorways, a coming when called/recall at 50 feet away off-leash, fetching a toy across the room, holding a stay for 2 minutes while dinner is prepared, and to allow us to test whether our pets can achieve these behaviors. If they can’t currently, then more repetitions of training can lead to the response needed.

7. You Can Start Right Away

All it takes is some simple rewards, so grab some kibble and work on teaching a new behavior before mealtime. Of course it helps to mix in different types of rewards over time: varying the type of treats offered, using higher value treats (your pet’s favorites), and using toys.

Once you understand the process of using positive reinforcement, you’ll notice it’s easy to incorporate into your daily life, and it can become a positive way of interacting with your pets in all situations, not just designated training sessions.

8. Science Supports It

The more research that is done into positive reinforcement training, the more benefits are discovered.

9. It Works!

Positive reinforcement training has proven to work with hundreds of animal species, and on every conceivable training problem including reactivity, severe forms of fear, separation anxiety, and aggression.

10. Our Pets Prefer It! Empathy is Valuable

When we consider how our best friend dog or cat would like to have us treat them, we find obviously that they rather receive rewards than harsh punishments. We know we rather be treated with respect, and can enjoy offering the same treatment to our pets while teaching them. Positive reinforcement training is a win-win process for us and animals.

Don’t Socialize Your Puppy?

Dog Socialization: Part II

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Don’t socialize your puppy?

There is a relatively new message spreading around the dog world claiming you should not socialize your puppy, or that you should not actively socialize your puppy; just let life happen.

Here is why this is bad advice:

As discussed in our Dog Socialization: Part I article, if you simply take your puppy and expose him to sights, scents, and sounds, he could habituate to these things (which would be excellent!), or unfortunately, he could sensitize to them and start to fear them.

Knowing that behavior problems are one of, if not the top reason dogs are relinquished to animal shelters, as a professional dog trainer it should be mandatory to recommend socialization to all puppies, especially the type of socialization that actively targets forming positive associations with things and events they will have to experience during their lifetimes. This is literally preventative measures against fear and aggression, the two big behavior problems that lead to bites of other dogs and people, and which can ultimately lead to euthanasia of the biter.

 

Don’t use treats during socialization?

Don’t actively socialize your puppy may also be framed as don’t use treats during the socialization process.

Not all situations will need treats. The main priority is for our puppies to form positive associations. Playing with other dogs can be a naturally positive experience. We don’t need to feed treats during the play, although we could after each break taken by the pups, or after encouraging them to disengage for a quick break, then release them to play again (it’s like a double-reward: treats + play).

More importantly though, if one puppy bullies the other, after separating them you can feed your puppy some treats to offset what would otherwise be a negative experience.

And while we can allow passive socialization to occur in situations like walking through a neighborhood and allowing your puppy to take in all sights, sounds, and scents, there are also situations that left without any obvious intervention from us will become negative or scary experiences, so we’re much better off delivering treats to our pups to intentionally create as many positive associations as possible.

Therefore, you definitely should use treats during the socialization process.

 

Using treats during socialization is a distraction?

For proper socialization to take place, following correct training order of events, we want our puppies and dogs to observe a thing in the environment so that they can get used to it and form a positive association with it, if needed. This means, they should notice the thing (usually making eye contact with it, but we can also work with any of the senses), so that we can pair it with something good – like treats, play with a favorite toy, and happy praise. None of these things is a distraction.

Rather they are rewards and positive events, so that a behavior (like your puppy making eye contact with you and standing quietly), is rewarded and thus repeated in the future, or…

A stimulus/event (like a person approaching), now predicts a positive event occurring (treats, play, and praise).

So yes, definitely use treats during socialization, especially if there is something your puppy is showing uncertainty or fear towards.

If you’re worried that your puppy will start to enjoy people and other dogs after having positive experiences with them and pull towards them on walks, then you can simply train behaviors like calmly passing on leash when it’s not a good time to meet. Using this strategy you’ll get a dog that likes other people and dogs, is not afraid of them, is less likely to bite them, and can still behave appropriately following your cues.

We shouldn’t desire an asocial dog simply because he might be less motivated to pull towards others.

 

Exposure to things is bad?

This one seems to be a misunderstanding of proper socialization/training technique. Never during the process should puppies be exposed to things to point of creating fear. Forcing them to walk onto surfaces they are scared of, or allowing people to manhandle them, or forcing them to get trampled in a group of dogs that are over-matching them in size and play style are all poor attempts at socialization, and any good dog trainer knows this, however, this is completely different than abandoning socialization altogether.

Puppies should get to learn and play with other puppies and safe adult dogs. It could even be argued that intentionally withholding these experiences is inhumane.

Teaching puppies that strangers predict good things, either directly from their guardian or from the strangers themselves is only going to lead to better outcomes in the future. The alternative is a dog that potentially learns to distrust people and is at higher risk to bite.

Moral of this part of the story: don’t flood your puppy with negative experiences that lead him over his fear-threshold. Instead follow correct socialization protocol by exposing your puppy to novel things and situations, at a pace he is comfortable with, while simultaneously pairing those things with positive consequences like treats.

 

Because of genetics, we don’t have to socialize our puppies/dogs?

The notion that social puppies will grow into social dogs and asocial puppies will never advance to adulthood to like others simply because of their genes, is absurd. Yes, genetics plays a huge role in any individual’s behavior, but it is because of genetics that it is even more important to socialize our puppies and dogs. If a puppy was born fearful, we have to work extra diligently to help him become more comfortable and confident.

There are plenty of dog breeds that have been selectively bred with fear towards strangers.

Dog behavior and training expert, Jean Donaldson, has identified several key words used to describe breeds that translates to: “these dogs are uncomfortable around strangers.”

These terms include:

  • Aloof
  • Discerning
  • Wary of strangers
  • One-family dog
  • Reserved with strangers
  • Takes a while to warm up to people
  • Great with the family
  • Protective (1)

In addition, before we even acquire our dogs, they can also have fear from:

  • A mother that was stressed during pregnancy, and/or
  • “Parenting” from a skittish mother.

That leaves us with opportunities to prevent or try to eliminate fear by actively:

  • Working to provide a stimulating/enriching environment for our puppies’ growth and socialization.
  • Avoiding negative life experiences that will scare our puppies and dogs – including avoiding the use for force-training methods, which can directly lead to fearful/aggressive behavior; instead we can use positive reinforcement training methods.

 

Conclusion

Socialize your puppy! Just do it correctly: avoid causing fear, and instead actively work to help your puppy form positive associations, and build up protective “padding” with plenty of positive experiences, so that if/when a novel or potentially negative event occurs in his life, he’ll be able to handle it with resiliency and confidence.

 

References:

  1. The Culture Clash: A revolutionary new way of understanding the relationship between humans and domestic dogs by Jean Donaldson. 2nd Edition. 2005.