Welcome to my journey! This blog is about my adventures in dog training, pet therapy work, rescue work and life with my menagerie of animals. Enjoy!

Monday, February 8, 2016

Putting the cart before the horse in dog training

   Humans are such verbal creatures; we talk and talk and babble and babble, even to our dogs!  I absolutely advocate lots of talking to your dog in the form of loving praise and adoration, what I try to remind people to avoid is barking commands at your dog or puppy, that they haven't been taught yet.

     Repeating your brand new puppy's name at him in no specific manner does not teach him his name means anything, unless his name is repeatedly paired with something good. Yelling sit, Sit, SIT at your dog when you haven't actually TAUGHT him what the word sit means, is just going to frustrate you AND your puppy!

   If you want to teach your puppy to not jump on you, just yelling "off" at him or pushing him down over and over does not teach him what "Off" means and furthermore it does nothing to teach your puppy what you would prefer he do instead! That is often where people get lost. They get so focused on the unwanted behavior and the cycle of punishment, they don't stop to think what they actually WANT their puppy to do! Instead of arbitrarily saying "off" over and over, zip your lips and reward/focus on the behavior you do want, like all four feet on the ground!

    If you want your puppy to drop something in his mouth, yelling "DROP IT" over and over before he has been taught what that means is just wasting your time and making your puppy more and more unsure of you when he has something in his mouth. This is where puppy proofing comes in play, if your floor has lots of inappropriate things available and you follow your puppy around yelling "drop it" or "leave it" wherever he goes, you will find he develops a habit of either resource guarding or grabbing things and playing keep away, neither of which are easily fixed! Teach your dog what "drop it" and "leave it" actually mean (they are very different!) through training that is fun, clear, consistent, and rewarding.

   By all means talk to your puppy or dog, just don't expect them to perform for cues that you haven't actually taught them! Set you and your puppy up for success!

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Your Dogs' Reinforcement Account

      As a positive reinforcement trainer that uses food in training, I often have people ask me "when can I stop giving him treats?" My answer is "never...and why would you want to?" Now, to clarify that a bit further, what I am really saying is, reinforcing behavior you like from your dog, should never stop. I really like my job but if I stopped being paid for it I would probably stop doing it on a regular basis, unless I really wanted to. See how that can translate to your dog?

      In my classes and private lessons I teach people to train their dogs using the biggest motivator around; food. I also teach them that there are other types of reinforcers that can replace food for every day behaviors, ie: sit doesn't always have to mean a cookie, sit can mean the Frisbee gets thrown or he gets lots of lavish attention. But those reinforcers are usually used as back ups to the tried and true food reward when new behaviors are being taught. For a dog, food talks!

      I like to talk about making deposits into my dogs' reinforcement account. What that means is I pay him heavily and on a consistent basis for behaviors I expect him to perform, such as coming when called. If I pay him every single time for coming when called, with food, attention or play, the one time I REALLY need that behavior to occur and I don't have any major reinforcer with me, I won't have damaged the behavior. Think of it as a checking account, if you are constantly in the black then you feel pretty secure knowing you have the ability to make a withdrawal when an emergency hits, without decimating the account altogether. Conversely, if you are constantly making more withdrawals than deposits, pretty soon the account will run dry and stop working for you! Your dog will work the same way, if a behavior stops working for him ie: being reinforced, it will die off or become very unreliable and for a behavior like coming when called, that can be extremely dangerous.

       So the goal in training your dog should not be to stop reinforcing the behaviors we like; it should be to get to the point where the frequency and type of reinforcers can change to better suit everyday life. If you want consistent, long term success in the behaviors you teach your dog they need to be well reinforced on a consistent basis, even into adulthood. Remember, any behavior that is reinforced will be repeated. Figure out what behavior you want your dog to repeat on a regular basis and reinforce it!!