These are two concepts that I wanted to talk about, as they can greatly impact your training success.
In dog training (and training other animals), lumping occurs when try to teach too much criteria at once. You are teaching multiple aspects of the behavior in large increments. Splitting occurs when you break the behavior down into the smallest steps, and teach those criteria or behaviors separately first.
The more you can break down your lesson goal for your learner, generally the greater opportunity you have for training success. I was just telling someone the other day that I don’t like to take Zumba classes because I have never been in a class where the teacher didn’t rush through all the movements (with loud, fun music playing at the same time!) and I just could not catch on. I’d feel silly and frustrated, and would leave within five minutes.
Then I think about why I have more success in taking and want to keep going to my group dance lessons. My teacher has us all lined up – men on one side and women on the other. He slowly demonstrates four steps, first the men’s steps and then the women’s steps. We practice this over and over, and do not move forward until we’ve got it. Then we learn four more steps. If something breaks down, our teacher or assistant will work individually with me (or someone else) or as a group with us on the specific place where there is difficulty until I feel comfortable. And, only after practicing this for some time, will the music play.
It is easy to forget this when teaching our non-human animals what we want them to do. It is easy to not realize something that seems simple to us, like walking on a loose leash or sitting in one place for any duration, is actually not simple at all to our pet. There are often many different criteria or ways to break down a behavior, and the more we can simplify the lesson to our learner (most of the time) the quicker our student can pick up on what we want to teach.
With a young dog like my Dawson who can bark and charge to the end of his leash when he sees a dog in the distance or sometimes a speedy moving person either running or on a bike, who rarely knows a stranger, who likes to sniff and explore and run after birds, who wants to be in the action when he sees kids playing – teaching him to walk on a loose leash is not a simple task.
These are the different criteria I work on relating to walking on a loose leash (and depending on what I see on any given day, I may add to this list):
value in being at my side
hand touch (I can use my hand target to bring him back into the side position when he gets ahead of me. I also use it as a reinforcer sometimes.)
left directional (when I turn to the left)
right directional (when I turn to the right)
Let’s Go – meaning we are moving
moving back with leash pressure
sniff – as a reinforcer for walk
say hi – to greet someone
wait – to stop and wait for me or a cue to do something
seeing dogs, people and other stimulus and looking back at me
look at that – practicing in a stationary position to see stimulus and stay in position (with loose muscles)
criteria of different environments – minimal distractions to mega distractions
duration of time outside walking
walking past a distraction with a loose leash
As you can see there is a lot that I work on that all helps us in walking on a leash. And, while Dawson is making a lot of progress, there are set backs along the way and when those happen, I go back and pull out that piece or those pieces to work on.
Teaching a dog to stay is another one of those behaviors that can be broken down into lots of little pieces. There are duration, distance and distraction and many steps to teaching each one of those.
My challenge to you is to think about that behavior you are wanting to teach your dog and see how many different ways you can break it down. As always, have fun along the way!
What do you use as reinforcers for your dog to walk with you on leash?
Don’t forget a reinforcer can be all kinds of things in the environment. Does your dog like to sniff fire hydrants? Super! If your dog walks on a loose leash toward the next hydrant, you can tell your dog to go sniff it. Getting that opportunity to sniff the hydrant as a consequence then can be a strong reason for your dog to want to do a behavior that you want your dog to do.
Dawson, my maltipoo, finds so much joy in meeting new people that I often use that as part of his training. If people appear interested in wanting to meet him (or I may just ask them), I will ask if I can walk him to them. If he pulls, we turn around and try again. The opportunity to get to ‘Say Hi’ to people is a pretty high value consequence for Dawson to walk on a loose leash so he often will walk with me to them.
He still needs reminders sometimes but the more we practice the more he is learning. In the photo are a couple of Dawson’s newest outing friends, he met them by walking with me to where they were sitting.
Those are a few examples of the Premack Principle, which states that the more probable behavior will reinforce the less probable behavior. Were you ever told as a child that if you clean your room, THEN you can do something fun? Or that if you eat your vegetables, THEN you can have desert? Have you ever told yourself something like, when you finish your tax preparation, THEN you can do another activity? Yep, those are also examples of the Premack Principle too!
It is a pretty powerful training tool. However, here are a few dog training tips to keep in mind when using it.
What behavior are your trying to strengthen? Whether your goal is for your dog to come when called, sit or lay down when asked, or something else, spend time teaching your pet what that behavior should look like with lots and lots of repetition with positive reinforcement. I work with Dawson a lot in a variety of settings on the behaviors of sit, down, wait, and come (as examples) so that he has an understanding of those behaviors when I ask him to do them in the presence of those other distractions or stimulus.
Know what your dog values. You can learn this simply by observing your dog. Does your dog have a favorite toy? Is your dog indicating an interest in smelling a bush? Is your dog ready to run out the door or jump into a car the minute your walk toward it? If so, ask your dog to do a behavior before giving your dog the opportunity to do that activity.
Help your pet to succeed by using a stimulus that will not be too difficult for your pet. In other words, if your dog is so distracted by that stimulus (such as a fire hydrant, a person walking by, or another dog nearby), practice with a less valued stimulus first (instead of sniffing the fire hydrant, maybe practice with a patch of grass or piece of food on the ground) or practice doing the ‘wanted’ behavior (like sitting or walking on a loose leash) at a further distance from the stimulus and then releasing your dog to go sniff the fire hydrant. Or practice asking your dog for an easier behavior such as a hand target and then releasing your dog to go sniff.
There are still a number of other issues I am working through with Dawson, especially when he is on a leash outside (and there will always be different behavioral issues crop up throughout our life together). Always I am looking for ways I can teach him what I want to see him do by pairing that with something he values.
The other day I made the mistake of placing my iPhone ear buds too close to the edge of my dining room table, and when Dawson was looking for something fun to play with, they looked like a pretty good option from his perspective. I did not happen to agree with him.
In that split second, I could have tried to get them from him. That probably would have resulted in a game of keep-away – me chasing him until I finally got him, and then Dawson not willingly giving them up. Instead, I called Dawson to me and when he got to me, I had a yummy treat and another fun toy waiting for him. He dropped the ear buds and forgot about them, choosing his other high value options instead, and I later went back and picked up the ear buds when he wasn’t thinking about it.
If Dawson and I were to have a history of me taking things from him, it wouldn’t take long for him to come to distrust my being or coming near him when he has things he values – whether that be food or toys or something else.
Dogs resource guard in a variety of ways, with the overriding goal being to get others – whether a person or another dog or animal – to back away from something of value to them. Turning their back away, putting a paw over it, body blocking or leaning over it, frantic eating, tensing body muscles, moving away with it are some subtle ways. They may also give a direct stare at whoever they are guarding from. And, if that doesn’t work to get more space, then they may escalate to a low growl, snarl, or worse. Dogs commonly guard food, toys, bones, locations such as a space or a bed or piece of furniture, or even another dog or person.
If you have a dog that is displaying resource guarding behaviors, especially the escalated behaviors, please seek the help of a trainer who uses positive reinforcement strategies.
There has been advice out there of teaching a dog tolerance by putting a hand in a dog’s bowl or taking the bowl away and holding it until the dog sits or lays down. However, that strategy can lead to a heightened reason for your dog to feel unsafe when people are near his food or other item.
Grabbing what a dog has – whether it is your shoe, a bone, or something else – can also cause your dog to feel unsafe around you, when he has a valued object. To avoid this, one thing you can do is teach him to trade up. Teach him that dropping what he has gets him something of higher value – whether that is a piece of tasty food or another fun toy. Along this line, teach your dog that another reinforcer for dropping a valued item is getting it right back. Or call him away and engage him in something fun away from what he has, then you can go back and collect that object later.
Preventing Resource Guarding of Food (or an object)
If your dog has not practiced resource guarding behaviors, or only mild guarding behaviors, now is the time to take prevention steps. Teach your dog that your presence while he has something of value – whether that is food or an object – is actually a good thing.
Create a positive conditioned emotional response (CER) to your moving toward your dog by walking toward your dog while he is eating and tossing a yummy treat into his bowl (if eating from a bowl) or near it. Then walk away. And repeat this on a regular basis.
If your dog is already a little nervous (showing the less intense body language as I described above), only move close to a point where your dog still has relaxed body muscles and then toss a high value treat to him and move away. The goal is for your dog to come to predict good things when you approach so doing this while your dog is below his threshold is important. Only move closer as your dog’s body language tells you it is ok to do so (if your dog continues to show loose body muscles, eating at a normal pace).
For dog bite prevention, please actively supervise children, and intervene if your young child is too close to your dog when he has a valued resource, and teach your child that dogs need alone time to enjoy their favorite food or toy.
Cindy and Kya have been doing fabulously with their training – Cindy in strengthening her teaching mechanics, and Kya in learning to sit and down/stay, come when called, leave things on cue, walk on a loose leash, and other behaviors. Kya has shown her new skills in a variety of settings; however, the other day when we went into their garage to practice (it was a very windy day), things were different.
Even after giving Kya time to investigate the area first, she was still delaying sitting on cue and popping up quickly – definitely not how things had been in other settings. So, I worked with Cindy to go back some steps in their training – taking off the cue while working on building lots of repetitions of Kya quickly going into a sit, and then staying in that position. Once the behavior was looking good again, then they could move forward again with the cue.
It is a reminder that when you change environments (or behavior criteria), the behavior and lesson can look differently to your dog, and there may be added distractions. Your dog may get stuck. It isn’t a case of your dog being stubborn or obstinate or dumb, it is just simply a sign that your dog needs some extra help in remembering what the lesson is. You may need to go back to the basics in teaching that behavior to help your pet succeed.
What can this look like?
If your dog is not responding to a cue that your dog knows, you may want to go back to capturing and reinforcing the behavior before adding back in the cue. Or it could mean that, if you were able to walk five feet away from your dog indoors while she is in a stay position, that you go back to teaching the stationary behavior standing next to your dog, working back up (in second increments) in duration and slowly adding in distance again. It could mean that, if your dog comes to you quickly when called indoors, that you practice the behavior on a leash, calling your dog from a very short distance away with high value reinforcers outdoors.
Add environmental difficulty (distractions) as your dog can continue to focus on the lesson and do the behavior.
It is a beautiful thing when you observe an animal go from showing avoidance or submissive behaviors when asked to do something, to showing lots of eye contact and doing behaviors quickly with ears perked up and an upright tail wagging. I got to see that this week and it made my day both times.
With Decoy, when we began, he was rolling over onto his belly as if to say, “I surrender”, each time he was asked to lay down but when we began using a clicker and teaching him that he had the power to cause the noise to happen, which was followed by a treat, his body language changed in a big way. He began offering behaviors, more and more quickly. Really within a short training session, he was no longer rolling over but laying down with his head held up and his muscles relaxed. It was really a neat thing to see him wanting to offer behaviors, wanting to keep trying, wanting to learn.
With the other dog, he was looking or moving away when I first began teaching him. Some of his past experience with training taught him that unpleasant things happened to him when he didn’t make correct decisions and that can cause a dog to want to avoid contact. (Please click here to read about a research study.)
To help him gain a positive association with training, I began by looking for simple behaviors to mark (with a Good! Or Yes!) and then gave him a tasty treat. As he was staying engaged, having relaxed muscles (even wagging his tail), I began teaching him to sit by first using a food lure, then marking him as soon as he sat, and giving him a treat; and quickly moving away from having food in my hand to get the behavior, then marking and reinforcing him. He was giving me such a smile to see him wanting to be in the lesson.
My point that I wanted to make in this post is that dog training (and other pet training) in this way…by marking and reinforcing the behavior has so many positive effects. What I described above is a big part of it. Training with positive reinforcement, when done effectively, tends to create engaged learners who are motivated to want to keep trying. They have more eye contact with their teacher. They show less (even no) submissive behaviors. Their training is enrichment.
What exactly is marker training?
A marker is simply a distinct way of telling the learner that at that split second, what was done, was just what the teacher was looking for. Often it is a sound – a click of a clicker, or a verbal word such as ‘Yes!’ or even ‘Click!’ – but it can also be a hand signal or something else. It also acts as a bridge, meaning it indicates that after the marker, a reinforcer will follow. And, with good timing and trainer mechanics, it speeds up the learning process because it is much more precise than simply delivering a reinforcer. The quicker that a consequence occurs after a behavior, the quicker an association is formed between the behavior and its consequence; and you can say ‘Yes!’ or make a click much faster than you can deliver food (or toss a toy).
It is a super fun way to teach as students come to learn that the absence of a marker means they need to try something else, and I love seeing that ‘lightbulb’ moment when the student figures it out.
Here are a few ways you can strengthen your marker effectiveness.
Practice. Practice. Practice your timing….without your dog. You can do this by watching a video online and choosing something to click or verbally mark (seeing a dog turn its head for example) or having a friend do something like touching a finger to a table and marking the instant the finger touches. Also practice your treat delivery, following the mark.
The marker should occur as the behavior is happening, not after.
Most effective markers are short and distinct so that the learner can easily perceive it is a unique sound from the environment. Effective markers also do not have any prior negative associations.
Remember, the marker is a conditioned reinforcer and its value comes from its pairing with something of value to the learner – either food or an activity such as playing tug or fetching a ball. The marker should always (or at least the majority of the time) be followed by another reinforcer to maintain its effectiveness.
Just as with teaching any other behavior, having dog and puppy training success in training recall (or teaching your dog to come) involves choosing the right learning environment and the right reinforcers for your pet, good timing in the delivery of marking the wanted behavior and reinforcing it, and progression in small or large enough steps that make the lesson plan engaging for your student and easy enough for success.
Recall is a skill that can be practiced every day. There are so many opportunities for building value for that choice to come. It is important that you give your dog great positive feedback that coming is worth every ounce of effort on his part. Puppies especially naturally already want to be by your side. What a fabulous time to reinforce them with valued food, play and/or attention!
There are so many strategies for teaching recall. In using any of them, these are some things to keep in mind:
Always focus on setting you and your pet up for success. Do not try to call your dog when you know he will not come. Remember that every time you call him and he does anything but coming, you are weakening that cue and actually even teaching him a different meaning for the word come than what you had intended. ONLY call your dog when you can guarantee that at that moment, he will come when called.
Just as in teaching any behavior, begin lessons in environments with minimum distractions and difficulty and only increase that as your dog can continue to succeed.
Especially when you are first teaching this, always only call your dog to come when you can guarantee your dog a positive outcome. If you need your dog to come so that you can lock him in a room, give him a shot or something else unpleasant, this is NOT the time to be using your cue.
If you have already weakened your recall cue, you may want to consider starting fresh with a new word or hand signal, and teaching that with absolute consistency.
Have a good knowledge of your dog’s Awesome List and use high value items as consequences during training as you add to the level of difficulty. Remember, your dog is going to make decisions based upon choices. Stack the scale in favor of the choice you want him to make and mix up reinforcers so that you are unpredictable. It sure makes things fun.
Practice. This is a behavior that you can work on throughout the day in short amounts of time.
In addition to teaching your dog to come to you when you call, it is also a good idea to teach your dog that coming to you and having his collar touched and leash attached is a positive experience. If you are calling your escaped dog from a dangerous situation, that very well may be an important thing for your dog to know. Also practice teaching your dog to come and then asking for a stationary behavior like sit or drop (lay down).
A beginner strategy game for teaching recall.
I have taught recall using a variety of different games. They are all about teaching your dog that when he hears your certain recall cue, that the cue means “When I come (and then come and do something) to the person calling me, that something awesome will happen.” That something awesome could be a super treat, it could be a super treat tossed away, it could mean an opportunity to start another game or do another behavior that has been taught with positive reinforcement. (Later, you can also teach your dog to come and have a leash attached, sit at your side or in front of you, or lay down as examples.)
Here is one game idea.
Tell your dog to ‘Get It’, and then toss a treat on the ground a foot or so away. Mark your dog for getting the treat (with a click or verbal word such as YES!). As your dog is finishing and beginning to raise his head, make some sort of noise to get your dog’s attention. Again, mark your dog the instant his head turns to you and then give him five treats, one at a time (from your hand to his mouth). Practice this 10 to 15 times, several times a day.
You will find that your dog will begin to turn his attention to you as soon as he finishes the treat. Now it is time to add your actual recall cue. You do this as soon as the treat is finished and you are anticipating that your dog will be turning his head toward you. Then mark your dog when he turns to you, and treat from your hand again. Repeat this 10 to 15 times several times a day.
Next, toss your treat a little farther away (about 4 to 5 feet), and repeat step one; then step two.
With success, continue to increase criteria. Some examples – tossing the treat farther away, marking your dog for turning to you and cheering your dog on until he gets to your hand; asking your dog for a sit or drop when he gets to you before giving your treats; touching your dog’s collar and then attaching a leash before giving your dog treats (if your dog backs away from you or show other calming signals when you reach for the collar, please take time to desensitize your dog to collar touches first); practicing in different environments. (Remember that if you have gotten to a far distance in a distraction-free environment, you should go back to teaching this from the beginning with more distractions.)
There are times when I am standing at my kitchen sink that Dawson, my maltipoo puppy, stops his play to come beside me and lay down with completely relaxed body muscles. I keep some treats in my cabinet for just those moments, for, when he does, I say ‘good’ in a slow and drawn out voice, reach down and drop a treat right at his nose. This may cause him to look up temporarily. I ignore that. If he drops his head down again, I drop another treat at his nose.
This is called teaching by ‘capturing behavior’ in dog training. Capturing as a form of training is simply that, it is the process of seeing a behavior, marking it (with a word or a click), and then giving reinforcement. Kathy Sdao, a well-known trainer who I look up to, coined the acronym SMART for See, Mark, and Reinforce Training.
It works because behaviors with reinforcement histories are behaviors that get repeated. I often teach ‘sit’ and ‘drop’ using capture also. (See my video below.) Shaping, the process of teaching a final behavior by marking and reinforcing small steps toward that final behavior (think of the hot and cold game we played as children), uses capturing.
When Dawson was an even younger puppy, I wanted to teach him to put his front paws onto a circular yoga block…only, instead of just putting his front paws on it, he chose to get his entire body onto it and sit down. It was so precious to me that I had to reinforce it. Now, even though his body is really too big, he still tries to sit on it when I put the block on the floor.
How can you use it in everyday life?
Keep treats hidden or in containers on shelves in rooms around your home (and with you when outside). You can hide toys in your yard when your dog isn’t looking. And, be ready to catch your dog doing what you like. Then, be ready to add some extra value to that behavior by using SMART.
Do you like that your dog is laying on his bed? Mark and reinforce that!
Do you like that your dog just sat to look at something outside? Mark and reinforce it!
Do you like that your dog just laid his head on his paws? Mark and reinforce that!
Do you like that your dog just chose spontaneously chose to run to you in your yard? Mark and reinforce it!
I am a pretty consistent exerciser, working out about 5 to 6 times a week. There is such an emphasis with people to strengthen our core – the muscles of our abs, spine and supporting limbs. That strength decreases lower back pain and stress on the rest of our body, and helps us to have more upright posture and prevent injuries.
Core strength in dogs is also a good thing, decreasing the incidence of injuries associated with osteoarthritis or other soft tissue issues, of iliopsoas strains, and spinal pain. I spoke with Ginger Jones, CCRP, canine physical therapist at the Care Center about core strength exercises the other day. “Core work,” she told me, “is integrated into everything I do.”
It is that important whether you have a very active, a young, an old, a big or small dog.
Ginger explained how you may notice signs of a weak core in everyday activities. There may be excessive sway in the hind end in movement. You may see your pet have difficulty making the transition from positions such as going from sitting to standing. Sometimes, depending on the situation, a dog’s inability to hold a sit stay could be due to weak core muscles.
Please note: Before you begin new exercises, clear them with your veterinarian/health care professional. You can mix these exercises up, doing several consistently at least every other day. They can also be considered a warm up before other activities.
Exercises to strengthen your dog’s core
Ginger said even simply walking your dog over uneven surfaces causes your dog to shift its body weight, engaging core muscles. When you take that leash out, keep an eye out for things in the environment you can encourage your dog to step on or move over. Walking up and down inclines and stairs involves trunk muscles too. In your home, you can encourage your dog to walk on pillows or folded towels for example as another surface.
Exercises while standing. Holding a stand can be more difficult than you think in the beginning (think of the plank exercise for humans). Encourage your dog to stand and hold that position for up to ten seconds or longer. You may need to begin with just a few seconds of holding position. These are some of the ways Ginger engages the muscles more during the stand (for all of these, use a non-slip surface)
With a lure, encourage the dog to turn its head in different directions to follow the food.
Gently sway your dog from left to right while supporting it. Note: you are not rocking your dog so hard that it will need to move its legs to regain balance. As your dog becomes stronger, your dog will need less support from you.
Again, while you are supporting your dog, lift one leg for a few seconds and then replace it on the ground. Do this with each of your dog’s legs. For difficulty as your more forward with this, you can increase the time for each leg lift and decrease the amount of support you provide.
Sit to stand. Changing positions is great for strengthening your dog’s core. Encourage your dog to go from stand to sit and sit to stand (and you can incorporate laying down too). You can increase repetitions up to 5 or 10 times on a variety of surfaces.
Walking backwards and in a figure eight. This exercise, while fairly simple, helps a lot with balance and hind limb strength.
Cavalettis. A cavaletti is basically walking your dog over a series of raised surfaces. You can make your own or purchase them online. You can even use a ladder. This exercise requires your dog to lifts its hind legs over each surface improving strength, range of motion, balance and flexibility. Ginger said you can begin with a series of two-by-four boards. You can also use PVC pipes or broomsticks, or other poles. Begin with the hurdles laying on the ground and gradually increase the height. You can be creative in hurdle holders. I have seen people use crushed soda pop cans (placing the hurdle end over the crook in the can), laying the hurdle on blocks, ect. The hurdles should be placed one body length of your dog apart, and begin with about a four inch height (depending on the height of your dog). You can have four to seven hurdles. Walk your dog through the course four or five times initially and then increase the repetitions as your dog gains strength.
Elevated paw touch. Practice having your dog stand with its front paws on an elevated surface such as a chair to increase the weight bearing load of the back legs. You can increase the time in small increments as they increase their rear leg strength. When your dog can hold that position for at least 15 seconds, you can practice adding some gentle hand pressure to its body as was practiced with the stand. You can also practice this with your dog’s rear legs on the elevated surface.
Using a wobble board or balance ball. Practice having your dog sit or stand on a BOSU or balance ball (you will need to support your dog in the beginning, and also just to desensitize your dog to being on it, you may want to wedge the ball so that it does not move when getting started).
Additionally you can teach your dog to put its front or rear paws onto a ball or wobble board. To do this, I first taught our dog to paw target (stand with his front paws on a surface) on a variety of surfaces and rotate his back legs so the behavior itself was not new. Below is a video of me demonstrating clicker training using shaping to teach a Vizsla to paw target, and then a video of me teaching our Sam to put his paws on a balance ball.
Teaching beginner paw targeting
Clicker Training A Vizsla - YouTube
Teaching our Sam to keep his front paws on the balance ball
Training a dog to stand on exercise ball - YouTube
All of these exercises are not that difficult to practice and teach, but they are so important to the wellness of our pets. A dog that does agility needs this strength to minimize injury risk. A dog that does confirmation will need good core strength to hold positions. For that matter, working dogs, older dogs, and puppies will all benefit. And you will have fun in the process!
Gayle and Joe called me to help with their soft coated wheaten terrier adolescent, Pyper, because she would not do what they asked including, and most annoyingly, that she absolutely would not come to them to come inside from the outdoors. They also were not able to walk Pyper as she would pull them on a taught leash toward whatever had caught her eye. Their other dog, schnoodle Bailey, had a barking issue.
As it turned out, when I got there, there was also an issue between the dogs. Bailey for the most part ignored Pyper, and was very clear in letting her young sibling know she did not want him near her when she had bones, was on the back of the couch (where she spends a lot of time) or when she was on Gayle and Joe’s bed. She communicated this with tight body muscles, a stare, a growl…or recently worse. The humans in this household have had to break up fights numerous times.
Most of the time Pyper was good about heading her body language and backing off but when Pyper was doing what puppies can do – running around with a lot of energy – she often did not pay attention, jumping on the bed or couch where Bailey way laying down, which is when the dangerous encounter ensued.
Things have changed so dramatically in this household since my first visit. I used Pyper as my demonstration dog for a recent community talk and did everything I asked of her, even turned her attention away from audience members to walk with me on a loose leash. Gayle and Joe got there a few minutes later than expected because, Gayle told me, she had to stay home and watch. That very day, for the very first time EVER, Bailey not only tolerated Pyper, she invited Pyper to play. I saw it on video and it was beautiful. Gayle just texted me on their way home from a Florida vacation with a photo of the two girls cuddling. Gayle’s message reads, “The girls have plenty of room to find their own space…but Bailey chose to snuggle up with Pyper on the carried home! We even found them together in the open crate this morning as we woke up! They are slowly getting more like sisters. Bailey is beginning to accept Pyper after almost two years.”
Stories like this make my heart sing. They are a big reason for finding so much fulfillment in this dog training work.
How We Got There
Management was a very important part of our behavior modification plan (that we are still working on) between the two dogs, as, in order for us to teach Bailey a different association with her sibling, we needed to prevent incidents of Pyper going where she wasn’t wanted when she was in more active states of mind. Gayle and Joe also got a lot of enrichment toys and did enrichment activities with the dogs; and learned how to build value in their dogs wanting to listen and pay attention to them through activities the dogs enjoyed (as seen by body language and interest in participating). Meanwhile we began training behaviors in positive ways.
On the first appointment we mostly worked with Pyper, teaching her in a new way that coming when called or paying attention to Gayle and Joe resulted in a fun game with them; and that laying down and staying down when asked also resulted in high value treats or another activity that she values. Since Pyper also would often do anything BUT come inside when called, if she was in the backyard sniffing, running around, or observing the world, we also worked brainstorming activities of value to Pyper that would be worth her making the choice to leave the outdoors when asked.
The following appointment we continued to build on those behaviors, including being able to call Pyper away from Bailey or off of furniture while teaching Bailey that Pyper’s presence caused Bailey to get tasty treats. At one point in this lesson – after the management and other training had been put into place – Bailey actually chose to come down off the couch next to where I was working with Pyper. I taught Bailey to lay down also, which she did with loose body muscles, and she stayed in that position while we spoke.
Gayle told me that just these changes already has meant seeing Pyper paying more attention to them, coming inside easily, going for walks on a loose leash, and seeing Bailey choose to spend more time in close proximity to her canine sister.
We still have more lessons to go but it is just incredible to see how the relationship between all of them has changed and grown.
Make sure you are using reinforcers of high value to your dog. Remember, that it is the value of the reinforcers (to the learner) that give strength to the behavior. Do you know what food, toys and activities your dog is drawn to? If so, great! Use that information to create awesome consequences for your pet doing something you want to see…and you will probably see what you want to see more.
Teach your dog in an environment where YOU and YOUR PET can focus on the lesson. If there are competing reinforcers surrounding you, it makes paying attention (to you), and processing information difficult. Begin teaching new concepts and behaviors where there are minimum distractions and increase difficulty as your pet is understanding and doing what you are teaching.
Break down your lessons into small enough pieces so that you are helping your pet to succeed. If you are trying to teach something that is difficult for the learner to get, frustration may set in and your student may end up losing interest to find something else to do instead. Keeping the rate of reinforcement high has a greater likelihood of keeping the learner engaged…and an engaged learner, learns!