Keep Calm and Carry On, Part One

Cinder - Impulse Control

Impulse Control, Part One

Diabetic Alert Dog in training, Cinder, helps demonstrate ways to start work on training for impulse control in the video below.

Distractions can be dangerous for a service dog. If they can’t control their excitement and impulsively jump at, chase after, or grab something, bad things can happen. Cool, calm, and collected is the goal for every service dog.

To achieve this puppy “zen” in all situations I start small, in an area without distractions, and I present small, calculated distractions and reward when the dog chooses to focus on me. I wait for eye contact, then click and treat.

As he continues to do well, I continue to increase the difficulty. Take it slow! Don’t rush! I didn’t go as far as to bounce the ball on the first training session and you shouldn’t either! Make sure your dog succeeds at each step before moving to the next.

Just Leave It

Just Leave It

Teaching Leave It, Part One

Leave it is probably one of the most useful cues you can teach your dog, and definitely one that can save their life. It’s so easy to teach that it’s a serious crime if your dog doesn’t know it!!

Start with these 4 simple steps: (You’ll need your clicker, your treat bag, and a place to sit.)

  1. Put your clicker in one hand and a few treats in the other.
  2. Close your treat hand and place it down in front of your pup.
  3. Wait until your pup stops licking, pawing, and nipping at your hand to get the treats, and click the very moment they look away.
  4. Give them a treat out of your clicker hand.

There you have it. It’s that simple. Once your dog starts to understand that looking away from your hand gets him a reward you can start to build duration by waiting a few seconds before clicking. Then you can add the cue by saying “leave it” as your pup looks away.

You can teach this to any age dog, so you can’t use the excuse that your dog is too old!

That’s part one of leave it. Trust me, it might take a few minutes for your dog to look away the first time, but then they will get it quickly and they’ll love this game! Check out the short video below demonstrating this training.

Practice with your dog and stay tuned for part two, coming soon!

Yakety Yak! Don’t Talk Back!

One Technique to Help Stop Barking In The Crate

Dean was relatively good at hanging out in the crate at home, but remember, dogs don’t generalize well, and distractions change the entire ballgame!

We visited my boyfriend’s family for a wedding and there were a LOT of people and, of course, everyone brought their dog! Dean didn’t want to be in the kennel, and he was letting us know it. All the ignoring him in the world wasn’t going to get him to stop barking. And simply ignoring all barking is the first thing I recommend when asked how to get a puppy to start barking in the crate. In the video you can hear the people and dogs downstairs, and you can hear the panting of two dogs on place in the bedroom connected to the bathroom Dean and I are in. There were PLENTY of distractions and reasons Dean wanted O.U.T!

I decided to try a different approach. Karen Pryor speaks about using the clicker to eliminate barking in her book, Reaching The Animal Mind. She says to wait until the dog is quiet, just for a second, and click and treat the dog. While the dog is still chewing the treat, click and give them another treat. Repeat this a few times. They can’t very well be barking if they’re chewing! I decided to try this technique with Dean in his crate. When he was quiet for just one second I marked the behavior with a “yip!” and gave him a treat, then quickly followed that with a few others. After a few minutes decided to wait and see if he would choose to be quiet to receive his reward. Once he figured out that was the game we were playing, I added duration. Instead of saying “yip” and treating him the minute he was quiet I waited for a few seconds, then marked and treated. I kept adding duration, then added the distraction of me walking in and out of the bathroom. I continued until he was consistently quiet. I then rewarded him by letting him out of his crate to play.

I used “yip” instead of a click to mark the behavior because I was getting ready for the wedding and couldn’t really handle putting rollers in my hair and clicking and treating! Anything can be a marker but you need to use it consistently and remember that timing is everything. It has to be something quick, concise, and easily executed. You do NOT want to accidentally mark the barking behavior and reward that.

I hope ya’ll enjoy this video and see how many different ways there are to solve behavioral problems in dogs. It’s all about being creative and finding what works for you and your puppy!

Getting Down to Business

Your Puppy’s First Week Home, Part Three

I’m going to do my very best to give you an overview of clicker training. I can talk for days about this multifaceted training method and the benefits and science behind it. For the purpose of this particular post I will be brief and save the detail for later entries.

Danner is ready for some clicker training!

Danner is ready for some clicker training!

So what is a clicker?

A clicker is simply a tool used as an event marker. When the dog performs the desired behavior, you click! The click tells the dog, in uncomplicated black and white, exactly what they did right. They learn when they hear the click a reward is coming.

Clicker training begins as classical conditioning, think Pavlov, but quickly becomes operant conditioning the minute the animal repeats a behavior in order to get the reward. Operant conditioning creates an animal that acts with purpose, as opposed to acting out of habit. While we want our dogs to perform certain tasks habitually, we also want our dogs to behave with purpose. A dog that performs tasks intentionally is eager to learn new skills and will remember those tasks years later. They have control over their actions and the consequences, and they are enthusiastic because they know how to make the consequences pleasurable. This develops confidence and helps them feel secure in their surroundings.

So, why does clicker training really work? I know you’re wondering what’s going on inside the mind of this enthusiastic little pooch of mine? For more on the science behind clicker training, watch for my next entry! I’ve got an entire post full of cool, geeky, sciency stuff!

Lola, PhD, Human Training and Psychology

Lola, PhD, Human Training and Psychology

There are many reasons we use a clicker as the event marker:

  • A click is a sound that a dog won’t hear in any other environment. It means, without a doubt, they did something right and a reward is coming!
  • It’s not emotional like your voice. You can say the same word in many difference ways and the tone in your voice and your body language can tell the dog many different things. A click only means one thing.
  • You can start training immediately instead of waiting to build a relationship, because clicker training actually builds a strong and solid relationship.
  • Training sessions can last longer because they hold the dog’s interest and dogs stay motivated because there aren’t any distractions, just the dog, the behavior, the clicker, and a reward.
  • It becomes the greatest game on the planet. It’s their goal to figure out what makes you give up the treats!

Getting Started

Here are the 3 simple and easy steps to clicker training:

  1. Get the behavior through capturing or luring
  2. Click to mark the behavior
  3. Reinforce the behavior with a reward

There is a process calling “loading” or “charging” the clicker. It makes a positive association with the clicker by helping the dog to realize that the sound means food is coming. Some trainers still load the clicker while others just jump right in and start. It’s no doubt the clicker will “load” itself in just a matter of minutes. If you choose to load the clicker sit in the floor with your dog and click then treat. Do this over and over for a few minutes. Most dogs will pick up on the fact that the click means food is coming within the first 10 to 20 clicks.

Capturing

Now you are ready to capture and reward your first behavior. Put your treat bag on your waist, and get your clicker ready…here we go!

With your dog in front of you and your clicker in your hand wait patiently until the dog offers a sit. The instant the dog sits, click, and without saying a word reach into your treat bag and reward your dog.

  • It’s important to note that you shouldn’t have your hand resting in your treat bag. It’s too distracting for your dog. Be sure to wait for the behavior, then click, and then reach into your bag for a treat.

When you give the reward, bend down to your dog and try to put the treat in their mouth before they have the opportunity to jump up. Don’t encourage jumping by treating when they have feet off the ground.

  • Instead of overloading your dog on food and treats, and potentially helping them to gain unneeded weight, portion out your dog’s meals for the day and use their kibble as treats. The small size of kibble makes for a great quick and simple treat and it will prevent them from overeating.

Now that you have clicked and treated once, stand patiently and wait for your dog to offer the behavior again. When he does, click immediately, and then reach into your bag for a treat.

Timing is crucial in clicker training. You are communicating with your dog the exact behavior you want them to repeat, so be sure to click at the exact moment your dog sits, and not when they pop up in anticipation of a reward.

It is also very important to remain completely quiet during training sessions. Don’t add any distractions to the environment by talking. The click is enough reward for your dog. They don’t need to hear “good boy!” after each behavior. At the end of the session, reward them with tons of verbal praise and petting.

Adding a Cue

Adding a cue to a behavior is simple. Once your dog understands what they are doing to get a reward, simply anticipate when the behavior is going to happen and say the cue a second before they do it. Then, click and reward with a treat. Keep your voice cool, calm, and collected.

Luring

If your dog doesn’t want to offer behaviors at first, you can use luring to move them into the desired position. Use food rewards, or a target stick, to lure the dog into a down position. When they reach the desired position, click and treat! Be sure to fade the lure out early on. You don’t want your dog dependent on the lure.

Be Aware

  • Body language is a way that canines communicate and you need to make sure you are communicating the correct things to your dog. Don’t move about too much, slump over, wiggle, etc. during training. Be still, calm, and only make necessary movements.
  • Every time you click you MUST give a reward. If you click by mistake, you still give them the treat.

One misconception about clicker training is that once you start the dog won’t perform a behavior without the clicker. You can begin to phase out the clicker and reward using the “lottery method” after your dog is proficient in the behavior. They will still perform the behaviors because they know a reward is coming, they just don’t know when. It’s gambling. You buy the lottery ticket because there’s always a chance of a huge payout. Just remember to give a high reward periodically and lots of praise.

After food rewards are phased out, cues are also rewarded during everyday situations. For example, when the dog comes and sits calmly beside you, you reach over and pet them. If they were to jump in your lap they would be completely ignored. The petting is the reward for the appropriate behavior. Rewarding in different ways such as petting, with a toy, a retrieve, etc. leaves the yummy food rewards for learning new and exciting behaviors.

If your dog already knows the sit cue, work on a different behavior such as down, shake, touch, etc. Take some video while you go through these steps and post it on the Facebook page! I want to see how well y’all are doing. Good luck!

Amos is demonstrating his favorite trick below:

Danner knows what a click means!

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