Why no new posts?

When I started this blog, I wanted to keep things simple, and give friends and acquaintances a short, easy method of starting to learn about modern developments in humane dog training: Developments which have made it possible to have dog training be fun for both you and your dog, rather than adversarial.

After I’d said most of the important stuff, it got to be not so short and not so easy, and it was never my intention to make this process self-perpetuating. If you’re new to this blog, I’d suggest starting with the earliest posts and working your way forward. Most of what I wanted to say has already been said. If something important strikes me, I’ll write more posts. Otherwise, I urge you to check into some of the folks listed on the “resources” page, avoid fear and intimidation based methods, and concentrate on how to make your dog want to please you. That involves injecting as much fun as possible into your dog’s life, and having the dog associate that fun with you! Suki and I wish you and your dog all the best!

Enjoy!

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Wahoooo!!!!

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What’s In A Name? or “Is Suki in witness protection?”

 

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“Did you call me ‘Kiko’? You must have mistaken me for someone else….no, no, I’ve never been to Nashville….”

Around the time I was adopting Suki the Cattle Dog X, there was, in addition to the photo that I first fell in love with, a video of Suki’s guardian angel, Emmylou, introducing her. I didn’t see it until after Suki was mine, but I was surprised to hear that, in the video, Suki was called “Kiko”. I never really found out the story behind Suki’s name change, but I can imagine. Sometimes a word becomes “poison” to a dog…that could mean the dog associates it with something unpleasant (maybe a previous owner always called her name while jerking her choke chain), or it can mean the dog’s experience with the word makes it useless. (If a command, like “Come”, is used over and over again by the owner when the dog isn’t obeying, a savvy trainer may suggest starting in anew with “Here!”, or another cue that has no history of inconsistency associated with it.)

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My first view of Suki!

Anyhow, this led me to think about names. As a human, one’s name is part of one’s identity…we’re particular about it, because we identify strongly with it. Nobody likes to hear their name mispronounced, or misremembered. But what about dogs? When Suki got her name change, did she want to say, “Hey! What’s with this ‘Suki’ thing? I’m Kiko!!!” Somehow, I don’t think so. To a dog, her name is just a word that is followed by something. “If they call this word and I look, they give me a treat!”, or, “They only use that word when they’re mad at me!” Often, it’s just meant to tell your dog, “I’m talking to you!”, especially in a multiple dog household; owners say the name, and then the cue: “Suki! Sit!”. In any event, it becomes important to think about how you use your dog’s name, and what you want it to mean to the dog.

The same is true of verbal cues. In my post on “woof” training, I mentioned that I’m not ready to insert the “shush” cue yet, because the behavior is not predictably reliable. Jean Donaldson, Kathy Sdao, and other high level trainers suggest not inserting a cue until you’d be willing to bet big money that the dog will obey it. Until then, you are working on getting your dog to offer you the behavior because she knows it will get her a treat.

So, whether you’re using “capturing” or “shaping”, the cue doesn’t get inserted until you can predict that the dog will offer the behavior.

If you’re using “luring” with food, then the initial food lure, which follows the verbal cue, may, after a dozen reps, get replaced by a visual cue which looks like the lure. It’s a sort of “bait and switch”, wherein the dog still thinks you’re leading him with food, when, in reality, the hand is empty. After he produces the behavior, you still reward him, at least initially, with food, so he learns that even the empty-handed lure is a promise of a later reward. Otherwise, you get a dog who only works when you show him the food.

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Attentive dogs: the late Django, and Suki. “We aim to please!!”

In any event, every time you use your cue without being able to elicit the behavior, the cue becomes less powerful, which is why it pays to think carefully about how you use words with your dog.

Suki “Woofs”! Well, duh!

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Suki and I are working on her “woofing”. What’s that? You say  your dog is already very skilled at woofing? In fact, maybe too skilled? Well, yes, I felt that way about Suki, too, and that’s why I’ve chosen to try and put “woofing” on cue. After she gets that part down (and, as you’ll see in the accompanying video, she’s well on her way,) we’ll get serious about “shushing”, so we can put not barking on cue. This will allow Suki the freedom of expressing herself verbally in a way that I deem to be socially acceptable. Your dog needn’t take a vow of silence for life.

As a slight sidebar here, I’d like to point out that trying to eliminate growling in your dog may not be such a good idea. After all, a growl is your dog’s way of warning, “Hey, don’t push me into doing something we’ll both regret!” Without that form of communication, your dog, in certain situations, might be like a time bomb with no ticker…Not so great. Anyhow, I digress…

In a previous post, we alluded to “luring” and “capturing” as methods of training, in addition to the “shaping” from our click training primer. Our earlier post on “All or None” training is actually about “capturing”, a method in which you wait for a behavior to occur and then reward it. Our post on “Lure Reward” training is about “luring”, in which you use some kind of manipulation (preferably “hands off” in nature) to get your dog to perform the behavior you want to reward. Check these earlier posts for more detail!

If you’re luring your dog to bark, having a friend ring your doorbell can work. A celfone could be a big help…you say “Woof!”, and both your dog and your friend on the phone hear the cue. Your friend, stationed at your front door, rings the bell (that’s the lure), your dog barks (that’s the behavior), and you deliver the treat (that’s the reward).


In this video, Suki has already had a couple sessions in which I’d captured or lured her bark, so all it takes to lure the behavior is body language (dropping my weight) on the first rep. After that, I know she’s going to bark for more rewards, so I just need to sneak in my cue (“Woof!”) before she barks. I do this by carefully estimating how many chews it takes before she’s ready to bark again. I try to get a rhythm going, which will encourage her. I don’t lure her with my body drop after the first rep. I try to remain still, so the only cue is my voice, and I make sure to click first, then treat, so the clicker continues to “promise” that the treat is on the way.

After we do a few reps, I break the rhythm by just waiting. If she barks now, without my cue, she gets nothing. If she remains quiet for several seconds, I click and reward her for not barking. That’s the beginning of our “shush” training, which is still ongoing. I’m working on getting that behavior, and I’ll install a cue once it seems more reliable. If you install the cue too soon, it becomes less dependable, because the dog will know that there’s a history of it not working all the time.

Anyhow, I’ll post again later and let you know how the “Shush” part goes…

What’s All The Clicking About?

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A well charged clicker gets your dog’s attention.

Clicker training is most commonly used in a technique called “shaping”, in which the dog learns a behavior in tiny incremental steps. The clicker is simply a noise used to precisely isolate the dog’s action, so she knows it will provide a reward. Think of how fast your dog can move, and you’ll know that you could be several behaviors behind by the time you say, “Good Girl!”. Part of using the clicker is that it encourages you to precisely mark behaviors, so your dog is clear on what is being rewarded.

The sound of the clicker has no inherent value until you give it a value.

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The Clicker needs to be “charged”

“Charging” the clicker is like charging a battery…it gives it power. You charge the clicker by pairing it with a reward. With your dog nearby (small room or on lead) in a non-distracting situation, click the clicker and immediately provide a treat. Using part of the dog’s kibble (dry food) as treats is a good way to start. Do this before a meal, so the dog has a bit of an appetite. Do it about 30 times. You’re just giving your dog part of her meal slowly, but she’s learning that the sound of the clicker promises food. (She’s also learning to associate your nearness with the nurturing quality of food, which helps build a bond.)

Do this a couple times a day for 2 or 3 days, and your dog will get used to the clicker providing food. You’ll know it’s working when the click brings your dog’s attention to bear immediately on you.

Here’s a pretty nice video from Emily Larlham of “kikopup” on the basics. It’s great to see some of the amazing behaviors displayed here.

Please realize that the clicker is just a tool for clearly marking behavior. It has advantages and disadvantages. Here’s a soundwave comparison that I recorded of the difference between a click, the word “Yes”, and the word, “Yep”.

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The “Yup!” is the shortest, most clearcut signal, but the click is the loudest and most novel.

The click has two parts (the click and the un-click), otherwise it would be the hands-down winner. It’s downside is that it can be cumbersome, what with holding a lead, holding and using the clicker, and handling treats or toys. Your “Yup!” is always available, unless you have a mouth full of treats yourself…that said, the clicker is the tool of choice in “shaping”.

I think it’s good to charge the clicker and the “Yup!” We discussed the “Yup!” in this earlier blogpost.

In the kikopup video above, Emily Larlham briefly discusses the 3 main methods of  training:

  1. Capturing
  2. Shaping
  3. Luring

Clicker training is at its best in shaping, and, while it can also be useful in the other methods, learning to use your voice allows for a much more nuanced relationship with your dog. More about that in some later post.

“All Or None” Reward Training

Ian Dunbar, one of the patriarchs of humane dog training, tells this story about his British TV show. If you’re looking for a real “dog whisperer”, Dunbar would be a prime candidate. (Be sure to check out his website, Dogstar Daily, a huge resource for info on understanding and training your dog.)

Ian Dunbar w/ his dog Dune
Ian Dunbar w/ his dog Dune

Here’s the story as I remember it: The producers would want him to train a behavior on the air, with a dog who was not previously trained. Dunbar would arrive at the set, and they’d sit him and the dog down, somewhere out of the way, while they spent an hour doing setup. By the time they got to filming, the dog would already be trained. Just by hanging out with the dog, watching his behavior, and rewarding what he liked, Dunbar would have just naturally gotten the dog under control.

This is a very informative lesson for folks who won’t find the time for dog classes or daily training sessions. It basically comes down to this:

  • Watch the dog. Reward behaviors that you like (which includes anything that isn’t problematic).
  • Remove any possible rewards for behaviors that you don’t like. (This usually means ignoring the dog and giving it no attention if it’s misbehaving).

Watch the 3 short videos below for more info on Dunbar’s “All Or Nothing Reward Training” method.

First, the explanation:

Then a demo:

Finally, watch this approach practiced in a classroom situation:

When dog owners say, “My dog was so smart, he just understood what I said from the beginning!”, they usually mean that they were unconsciously offering rewards (attention, belly rubs, kind words, treats, freedom to romp) that the dog valued.

For example, your dog picks up a tennis ball. You take it from him and throw it. He runs and gets it, and brings it back to you. Here’s what’s happening: Dogs recognize the chain of “behavior producing a consequence”. In this case his behavior is bringing the ball. The positive reward, or consequence, is him getting to chase the ball. The bringing it back part is him reproducing the behavior in order to repeat the positive consequence. Somewhere in there, the dog starts to associate the word “ball” with the body language you display when you say, “get your ball”, and the training has been achieved, mostly by the dog.

I’m a big fan of working with your dog to produce the results you want. Performing lots of repetitions, using an organized form of training, is like going to the gym and putting in the reps in order to increase your fitness; it’s not always fun, but you try to make it fun, and you know it’s good for you.

The form of natural training we’re alluding to here is like going for a hike in the hills with your friends: It is intrinsically fun, and the  increase in fitness is a by-product.

This method also raises your awareness of the fact that “training” happens every time you interact with your dog, and it’s a “plus” if you can recognize; 

  1. Who’s Training Who?
  2. What Behavior Is Being Rewarded Or Discouraged.

One Little Step At A Time!

Here’s a really simple exercise to start building your dog’s desire to check in with you and stay in close proximity. I’ll assume you’re starting with a dog who might just blow you off otherwise, so…

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Have your dog on lead, in your living room, with no distractions. Have some tasty treats in your pocket or hand, but not in your dog’s sight.

Then, just wait. For a minute, or ten minutes…however long it takes for your dog to get bored enough to look up at you. The moment your dog looks at you, deliver a treat, and take one step away. Don’t pull your dog with you. (The leash is just to keep him from wandering off.) Having just rec’d a treat, he should follow you. When he arrives and looks up, deliver another treat. Deliver it at your left hip, so the dog doesn’t cross in front of you. Make it a point to always deliver it there, so your dog gets used to that location as “treat central”.

If Rover doesn’t follow you, you may need to lure him once or twice by leading him with the treat, but no more than that. Eventually, you need to wait for him to work it out. Keep going, one step/treat at a time. When he obviously “gets it”, and follows along consistently, take two steps. Do that till he’s reliable. Then go to three. When he’s following along for 3 steps (this might take several five-minute sessions over the course of two or three days), try him without his lead. Since he wasn’t pulling on the lead anyway, this should be a fairly easy transition.

Also, after he gets the idea, start waiting for him to sit before you deliver the treat. If you’ve done any work with the “sit” command, this should come easily. If not, this “Kikopup” video is a good primer on training the “sit” command.

The next step is taking him out (on lead again) into the back yard, or some other outdoor location with no distractions. The lead is just to keep him from blowing you off. Do the exercise for just a couple minutes at a time, but do it several times a day.

Next, try it on your regular walk. Here’s a quick and dirty video of Suki, just to give you the idea. She’s off-lead here, but your dog should be on lead:

Eventually, you can stretch out the number of steps. Then use a variable number. Go 4 steps and treat, then go 12 steps and treat, then go 8 steps and treat…gradually raise the average amount of steps. (I’ve gotten Suki up to 40 steps while maintaining eye contact and walking at my side…after that, I get bored.) Sometimes I just walk along with her next to me for a long while, then give her a scritch behind the ears.

But the real payoff is this: Suki knows that it’s often rewarding for her to show up next to my left leg and check in with me. She’ll do it on a fairly regular basis, and sometimes she just gets affection, sometimes she gets affection and a treat, sometimes she just gets a treat. And, in situations where she needs to be on a lead, she knows there are no rewards available if she pulls. They’re only available when the leash is loose, and she’s next to my left leg.

Give this a try, one little step at a time!

Walkin’ The Dog

Many trainers put forth the idea that walking your dog is a training opportunity. In fact, every moment that you’re with your dog, training is happening, whether you know it or not. Your dog is observing your behavior and trying to suss out “what comes next”, and what produces good things for dogs.

Ian Dunbar suggests that, on a walk, you should make your dog reconnect with you every 25 yards or so. This could be a “come” command, or a “watch” command to get your dog’s attention, or, in a more trained dog, a distant “sit” or “down” command. If your dog is on lead, the first thing you might work on is “loose leash walking”; having your dog stay close without necessarily doing a precise “heel”. This video by Emily Larlham of “Kikopup” has some nice down-to-earth suggestions.

It’s good that she points out the fact that the dog walk is supposed to fulfill the dog’s needs and your needs. The more rewarding and fun you can make it for the dog, the better.

If your dog is safe off-lead, you can request behaviors and provide fun rewards. The reward can be food, as in the following little video of Suki on her daily walk, or freedom to range, or playing with a toy. In the video, I run a few steps, and Suki is rewarded by getting to chase me as well as getting a treat.

I use squirrel chasing as a big-time reward, since it’s one of Suki’s favorites. If she sees a squirrel in the distance, I’ll have her sit, then I’ll free her to go after it. (This is safe because she never catches one.) Of course, your dog needs to be pretty well under your off-lead control for this to work.

Suki is usually able to be off-lead, but I pay attention to her distance. If she strays too far, she gets called back. This trains her to not go too far away. (Her behavior of straying produces the consequence of getting recalled.) If she seems particularly inattentive, back on the leash she goes. From being a totally uncontrolled maniac, she has become a masterful loose-leash walker.

When I’m watching for training opportunities, there’s always something to do. If Suki is close to me, we can practice heeling, sitting, or tricks. If she’s away from me, we can practice her distant sit, shown below, or her “come” command.

Next episode, we’ll show a great little exercise for getting your dog to stay with you off-lead before you take him out into the world for on-lead training.

Of Time and Emotion

In an earlier post, I mentioned the importance of timing in delivering a reward to your dog after he completes a behavior. One of the reasons that small treats are so useful as rewards is that they can be delivered in a timely fashion. Since dogs, who can do several quick movements in a couple seconds, associate the treat with their most recent behavior, small treats help the trainer adhere accurately to the “deliver the reward within one second” rule.

But there’s a second, more important, reason why we use the “one second” rule: When the reward is immediate, then the sense of happiness and well-being that the dog associates with food will wash backwards onto the previous behavior: The more immediate the reward, the greater the effect. This is called a “conditioned emotional response”. An example would be that look of happy anticipation that your dog gets when you pick up his leash. The leash doesn’t naturally make him happy…he has become conditioned to feeling happy because it predicts a walk.

Suki awaiting her treat after performing a "less desirable behavior".
Suki awaiting her treat after performing a “less desirable behavior”.

When your timing is good, the response is biochemical rather than intellectual. Pavlov’s salivating dogs didn’t think about salivating…it was a response from their autonomic nervous system! There’s a well written scientific explanation here if you want more detail.

Here’s a video (also embedded in the above-referenced page) of Jean Donaldson training her dog to enjoy wearing a Gentle Leader harness which would have otherwise been abhorrent to the dog.

In daily training, this mechanism gradually teaches the dog to actually like doing things it would otherwise avoid, and it’s also crucial in changing a dog’s emotional state towards things it fears.

For example, when Suki sees a moving bicycle at the park, I have her stay, and I feed her tasty treats until the bike is out of range. Bikes really creep her out, so we’re on a long road with this, but her improvement has been substantial.

If you use this element of “classical conditioning” in your training, just remember that the effect washes backwards. The order should be:

  1. Scary stimulus or less preferable (by the dog) behavior, then
  2. emotionally satisfying reward

And remember that anything you ask your dog to do that he wouldn’t choose to do on his own comes under the heading of “less preferable behavior”.

Suki shows her stuff!

Back when Suki could not even be let off lead within our fenced yard, I saw this video of Leslie McDevitt demonstrating her dogs’ automatic “check in”.

I was amazed at how her dogs seemed to be magnetized to her. Whenever she stopped walking, they’d automatically return to her. I couldn’t even dream of Suki being like that. Last week, I thought we’d get a bit of video of Suki (who, 3 years ago, would have just disappeared into the distance,) demonstrating her good citizenship by staying “connected” with me. I just realized that she has developed these same skills. In the short video below, you’ll see her automatic check-in and her response to seeing a strange dog at a distance. When she sees the strange dog, look at her posture; everything gives the impression of leaning forward, a sign that she might be preparing to confront the other dog, which is something she would have undoubtedly done before a lot of training. In this case, though, she thinks it over, then makes a very civilized decision to look to me for guidance instead.

With the “automatic check-in”, she gets a double reward:

  1. A tasty treat
  2. Immediate freedom to go play again

Her response to the strange dog was trained in a number of ways, but the most significant was Grisha Stewart‘s “BAT training”. “BAT” stands for Behavior Adjustment Training, and depends on putting the dog in a situation where he is offered a choice between safe and unsafe behavior, then coaxing the dog into realizing that the safe behavior works better. Read about it here. The distance must be carefully controlled so the dog doesn’t “lose it”. Seeing the strange dog while we were recording was just a lucky chance, and Suki was great, but even after all this time, she can’t get too close to another dog while off lead or she will lose it. Anyhow, in the video below, she’s practicing her “emergency sit”. This is the command we train so that, if she’s not right next to me, and one of her “triggers” comes into view (bikes, skateboards, other dogs, scary men), I can put her in a sit, then get to her and put her on lead for safety’s sake.

Being the feisty little Cattle Dog girl that she is, Suki starts sassing me on the 3rd rep, but she still does the behavior.

The emergency sit is a great example of how you use positive methods to train your dog to not do an undesirable behavior. In this case, the undesirable behavior would be chasing a bike; she can’t chase the bike while she’s performing her “sit”, so the sit, which gets rewarded, serves to prevent the bike chase. Another reason why “say please by sitting” is such a great behavior to train from day one!

“Why Isn’t This Working???” Part II

Suki, delivering the goods!
Suki, delivering the goods!

If things aren’t working in your training, there are two aspects of rewarding with treats that you need to consider. First is the quality of the treats. Jean Donaldson sometimes uses the term “paying” instead of rewarding. You’re paying the dog to do something he doesn’t have any desire to do. The less desirable the behavior is for the dog, the more you need to be willing to pay. Also, the more distractions are present, the more you need to pay. If a colleague asked you to sub for him at your job, and you have nothing else to do, you might want to get paid your standard rate. But, if you had tickets to see a great concert or sporting event, your colleague would need to offer you some greater reward to make it worth your while. Likewise,  “come” might be doable with some kibble if you’re in the living room. Out in the park, with squirrels nearby, you might need some roast chicken…at the bottom of this page, I’ve listed some food rewards in order of appeal.

Wahoooo!!!!
Wahoooo!!!! Treats!!

Second, there’s the issue of “rate of reinforcement”, and, here, every dog is different.  Should you give your dog a treat for every correct response? Or just part of the time? Over time, you’ll really need to pay attention and feel it out, but here are some thoughts:

When you’re first training a behavior, it makes a lot of sense to reward the dog 100% of the time. (Remember, we’re not talking about showing the dog a treat, except for the first few reps. We’re talking about training the dog to trust that, if she does the behavior with no visible reward, then a treat will magically appear.) See the Ian Dunbar video in the “your dog does not understand English” post for instruction on how to use “lure-reward” training.

Once your dog understands the command, Dunbar’s simple solution to the “how often to reward” question is a system he calls “differential reinforcement”. He suggests rewarding only the above-average half of the responses. For the below average responses, you just say, “Good dog!” This theoretically leads the dog to improve her performance to make sure she’s getting the treats. When you’re satisfied with the quality of the behavior, you can switch to a non-food reward a/or only reward occasionally. Also, you can request a number of behaviors for one treat: “Sit-Down-Sit-Paw-Spin-Sit”, then give a treat!

Now…about those treats: The best treats should be small, easy to carry (I use a little pouch on my belt, or just keep them in the pockets of my sweatshirt or jacket), as nutritious as possible, and tasty.

zukes
Zukes are good quality, fairly tasty, and easy to handle.
Natural Balance rolls
Natural Balance rolls have complete nutrition and are a bit tastier.

milkbone-mini

I’ll rank some here, in the order dogs might prefer them, least to most:

  1. Kibble; regular dry food may work well if your dog is an avid food hound and you’re working in a “no distractions zone”. Many trainers suggest using kibble at home, and something tastier when you’re out and about. One advantage of kibble is that it provides complete nutrition as per the Association of American Feed Control Officials. (AAFCO)
  2. “Mini” hard biscuits (pictured). We use MilkBone Minis. Not huge dog favorites, but edible.
  3. Softer, smellier training treats. We use “Zukes” (pictured), and they are our default treat for Suki. They’re little, tasty (I assume), and slightly chewy without being too soft.
  4. “Natural Balance” rolls (pictured); this is another “complete nutrition” treat: Smellier and tastier than any of the above treats, but they’re more time intensive, because you need to slice and dice them off of the salami-like roll.
  5. Cheese! Yes, Wallace and Gromit’s favorite is adored by many dogs. String cheese works well, and is easy to handle.
  6. Roast chicken, smoked fish, chopped up hot dogs, and other real food; often a pain to deal with, but can be a great incentive to your dog.

Of course, dogs, like people, have their own personal preferences, but this list order is a good place to start. Your manipulation of how often to reward, and what quality of food you use, will help you fine-tune the process of training your dog!

Okay, that’s all for now!

Okay, gotta rest now...
Okay, gotta rest now…