Is Your Dog Ready for Santa Photos?

The silly season is upon us and, if you are anything like us, you will be seeing all those cute Christmas costumes for dogs in the shops and wondering what your significant other would say if you bought them. But have you stopped to wonder what your dog (or cat) thinks?

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Wilbur says “I’d better get paid for this!” – Photo by Irresistible Desires

With Christmas just around the corner, we are bracing for the onslaught of “cute” and “funny” photos and videos on social media, showing humans laughing and having fun, while their pets try to cope with the hats, antlers, outfits, and strangers dressed in Santa costumes that are making them feel uncomfortable. Most people aren’t stressing their pets out on purpose, they just haven’t learned to notice the stress signals their dog uses to express discomfort. These stress signals can include repeated lip licking, yawning, panting, freezing/standing stiff/refusing to move, leaning away/avoidance, low ears or tail, and looking away.

It would be too easy for us to say “just don’t dress your pet up”, and where’s the fun in that? If you are inclined to get into the holiday spirit with your pet, why not spend a few minutes doing some training so they can enjoy the festive photo shoot too?

For hats and antlers, you can encourage your dog to put his head through the band for a treat. He should be free to move out of the head piece after he takes the treat. Practice a few times in a row, and you should notice that your dog is choosing to put his head through the band before you even ask, because he knows it will pay off! You can build duration (so you can get your photo) by feeding a few treats in a row while he is wearing the head piece, gradually increasing the time between treats. If he tries to swat the hat off, you’ve left it on too long! Try increasing the rate you are delivering treats at.

 

Costumes/t-shirts can feel more restrictive, and many dogs are uncomfortable wearing them. If your dog freezes and looks unhappy (refer to list of stress signals above), don’t persist with putting the costume on! If your dog is more relaxed about wearing clothes, then encourage him to put his head through the neck hole using a couple of treats, and then ask him to offer his paw (“shake”, if he knows that trick) so you can finish with the leg holes. Offer him plenty of treats while he’s dressed up, and don’t leave him dressed for long (unless the temperature outside/inside is cool, and he enjoys wearing coats/jackets/t-shirts).

Santa photos can be the biggest challenge of all for some dogs – what could be scarier than a stranger wearing bizarre clothes and grossly invading your personal space?! If you take your dog to a “Santa Paws” event, watch him carefully for signs of stress, and don’t persist if he is unhappy. Take treats, so you can reward your dog for approaching Santa, sitting still for the camera, and settling in line while waiting their turn. If possible, opt to hold your dog on your own lap while sitting next to Santa, or have your dog sit on the ground (or seat if they are comfortable to do so) in front of, or beside, Santa rather than on his lap. You could even ask Santa to give your dog a couple of his favourite treats!

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Wilbur rocking the Christmas spirit in a low-stress way! – Photos by Irresistible Desires

If your dog sees you with the costumes and races the other way, don’t despair – there are some other ideas for getting great Christmas photos without worrying your furry friend! You can ask him to sit or lie down with some Christmas lights in the background, or decorations scattered around, or you could opt for a simple (but adorable) Christmas bow tie or bandanna attached to their collar. There is also the magic of Photoshop, where you are only limited by your imagination (and skill with the software).

Don’t have fun at the expense of your dog (or cat) this Christmas! If you think reindeer costumes are adorable, then take the time to train your dog to LOVE getting dressed up too. A cute photo is not worth stressing your dog out.

 

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Putting Food to Good Use

Hands up if your dog loves dinner time? Mine does! For many dogs, dinner time is something that happens once or twice a day, and lasts for 30 seconds or less as they scoff the biscuits or wet food out of a bowl. Surely there is a way to make something so enjoyable last a little longer?

Slow Feeders

One strategy you could try is a slow feeder. These are designed to slow your dog down by making them manipulate the food out of grooves and pockets. You can buy assorted slow bowls from pet stores (or online), but you can also use a muffin pan from home, with a little of your dogs dinner in each section. You can make this more challenging by placing a tennis ball over some of the muffin moulds! Another slow feeder that we love is the Snuffle Mat. These are easy to make at home, or you can buy them custom made from the very talented Rachel at Snuffle Mats Australia.

Chewy finding treats in a cardboard box filled with toilet rolls – an easy toy to make at home!

Puzzle Toys

A step up from a slow feeder is a puzzle toy. These need to be chewed, rolled, or manipulated by your dog to make the food come out. There is a phenomenal range of puzzle toys on the market, and some simple ideas you can make at home too. You can’t go past a classic Kong toy for a durable and versatile food toy, or you could put some of your dog’s dry food in an empty plastic bottle (lid off) and let them push it around to get the food out. Whatever toy you start with, make sure the food falls out easily so your rookie dog doesn’t get frustrated and give up. This is a common problem that people have when introducing puzzle toys. Remember, your dog is used to getting their food without effort from a bowl. Don’t increase the challenge too quickly! With practice, your dog will gain some persistence and you can try more difficult puzzles.

Wilbur loves eating dinner in a Kong Classic

Scatter Feeding

If you are time poor and not inclined to stuff food into a puzzle toy, you can’t go past scatter feeding. Take the cup of food you’re about to put in your dog’s bowl, and toss it on the grass instead. This will give your dog the opportunity to sniff around to find his dinner, which is lots of fun and takes longer than eating from a bowl. You could also scatter the food in a deliberate trail around the yard, for your dog to follow when you leave for work. If you have more than one dog, you should supervise them when trying this idea, and separate them if they growl or snap over food.

Training Rewards

Put aside a portion of your dog’s food for the day, and use it to reward good behaviour! This could be spontaneously throughout the day, or specifically used in a training session to teach your dog something new. Behaviour that’s rewarded is repeated, so why not put some of your dog’s daily calories to good use!

Sammy and Lucy were happy to sit for treats at Puppy Preschool

Why Bother?

Most pet dogs are alone for long periods of time (while we work), and don’t necessarily get the stimulation they need when we are home. Even if you spend an hour or two walking or playing with your dog, they still have 22+ hours to entertain themselves. Providing your dog with enrichment and training using some (or all) of their daily food means they have plenty of opportunities to work their nose, body, and mind, and fewer hours available to get into trouble. Brain games and training are, in my experience, one of the most effective ways to tire an active dog out.

People often get concerned that using treats in training will make their dogs fat, when the reality is that too much food (no matter how it is offered) is going to cause that problem. Plenty of dogs are over-fed from a bowl, and suffer from obesity, boredom, and inactivity. By putting your dog’s regular diet to better use, you can train and play without worrying about weight gain! Who ever said food had to come from a bowl anyway?

Need More Ideas?

If you would like more tips and strategies for enriching your dogs day using their food, contact us or find us on Facebook!

The Misuse of Training Tools

Whenever the issue of training tools or equipment comes up in an online discussion, trainers who advocate for a vast and varied range of methods always throw out the following argument:

“If used properly, *insert chosen tool* doesn’t hurt/harm/cause stress to the dog.”

The more dogs and people i work with, the more i am realising that this argument is not enough to justify the ongoing use of potentially harmful equipment, whether the potential for harm will be physical or psychological.

My professional experience and ongoing continuing education lead me to use and recommend training methods based on the principles of learning theory and behavioural science. Current best practice(1,2,3) in the world of professional dog training is to use reward-based training methods and thoughtful environmental management to encourage the learner to make desired behavioural choices.

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Photo by Irresistible Desires

Training is a skill that we humans have to practice, and humans make mistakes! When i make recommendations for equipment or methods, i want to feel confident that even if my client completely buggers it up their dog will not suffer from the mistakes of their handler. If your treat-delivery and timing is off, training won’t be particularly effective but your dog is unlikely to suffer any long-term stress or discomfort (except perhaps obesity if you’re not accounting for treats in their daily food intake). If you haven’t got the hang of your front-attach harness, then your dog will still be comfortable while you figure it out. If you stuff your Kong too tightly, your dog might experience some frustration (or they will walk away).

The ethical dilemma lies, in my opinion, with equipment that relies on avoidance in training. Aversive training relies on the dog wanting to avoid or relieve an unpleasant sensation or experience(4). That could be a raised voice, a jab with a finger or foot, or a specific training collar. Not all of these things necessarily hurt your dog, but they have to be sufficiently unpleasant that your dog wants to avoid them or they would simply not work.

A dog trainer with exceptional timing might deliver corrections at such a level that the dog makes the desired association and the target behaviour reduces, however it is important to remember that a trainer has years of practice to be able to work as effectively as possible with the equipment they choose to use. What happens if the timing is off or the level of correction is wrong? This is something i see frequently when dog owners try to follow recommendations of some professionals and use aversive equipment on their own dog.

A leash kept short and tight can increase stress, create negative associations, and gives a dog no opportunity to learn loose lead walking. A choke or prong collar that is applying near-constant pressure is causing ongoing discomfort in response to a wide range of stimuli. A electric barking collar that is inconsistent in timing, or causes a dog to scream in fright or pain, is not effectively reducing barking. But what’s worse, if aversive tools continue to be used with poor timing or execution, the potential for long-term stress and discomfort (or even injury) is great(5).

Dogs make strong associations with their environment depending on how they feel. If they learn that the appearance of other dogs, people, vehicles, etc consistently result in them feeling uncomfortable then you may end up with a more serious behavioural problem than you started with.

By definition, if a behaviour is being reinforced it will increase – you will see more of it. If a behaviour is being punished it will decrease – you will see less of it. If you are working with a trainer, or on your own, and your dog’s behaviour is persisting without change, then it is time to stop and review the plan! When you are using reward-based methods you will feel frustrated if nothing is happening, but if you are using correction-based methods then your dog’s physical and psychological well-being may be at risk.

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result” – Albert Einstein

As a professional dog trainer, my goal is to equip you with the tools and methods to allow you to work happily with your dog towards training success. I want both you and your dog to enjoy the process! Remember, training is a skill that takes practice to master. By choosing a force-free trainer you are investing in long-term behavioural change for your dog, using scientifically-proven methods that will improve communication and teamwork between you and your furry friend.

 

References

1 AVA Reward-based Training Guide

2 AVSAB How To Choose A Trainer

3 PPG Australia Humane Hierarchy

4 Definition of Aversive – Cambridge Dictionary

5 AVSAB Position Statement on the use of punishment in dog training (including adverse effects of punishment training)

 

Your Dog’s Fear Is No Joke

There is no denying that sometimes our canine companions appear to be afraid of some rather strange things. Many things that cause our dogs to startle, flee, or growl can seem trivial to us, such as images or videos of other dogs, their reflection in a mirror, statues, balloons, kites, costumes, etc. For some dogs any novel item, particularly one that moves or makes noise, can be scary. It is easy to laugh when our dog jumps or growls at something silly, but is that the most helpful thing we can do to calm our friend?

Many of us spend so much time with our dogs that we think of them as part of the family. We talk to them, play with them, and care for them. It’s no wonder we sometimes expect them to understand the same things we do! But, by laughing at your dog’s fearful behaviour, putting them in a situation you know will startle them, or trying to take them up to their “bogeyman” to show them it’s ok, we are failing to acknowledge what is really going on. Your dog is scared. He doesn’t know that the object or situation isn’t dangerous, and he certainly isn’t “in on the joke” if you have set him up.

Rather than laughing and forcing your dog to approach or stay close to something he is scared of, allow him to move away to a distance he feels safe. For some dogs being able to review the situation from a distance will be enough to discover that the object that startled them isn’t scary at all. Other dogs might require some help.

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Giving Wilbur distance allowed him to watch the giant motorised snail and decide it was safe

When Wilbur was approximately 6 months old he began to startle and growl at statues. This included garden gnomes, animal-shaped garden ornaments, and artistic sculptures in public places. Are statues safe? Yes! Of course they are! Are they scary? To Wilbur they were. Rather than drag him up to a statue that he was trying to move away from, we started to play a game. I’ve seen this game called “look at that” or “touch the goblin”, and it simply involves rewarding your dog each time they look at or approach something they find spooky. We played this game with the scary sea turtle statue at The Strand (Townsville). After we had retreated to a distance where Wilbur was no longer growling at the statue, i began to mark (“yes”) and reward (with pieces of chicken) each time Wilbur glanced at the statue to make sure it hadn’t moved. Pretty quickly he clicked onto the fact that looking at the statue was making good things happen, and he started to take longer peeks, and then took one step, two steps, etc until he was walking all around the statue and sniffing it all over. By turning the situation into a game, Wilbur conquered his initial fear within a minute or so.

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After a game of “touch the goblin” Wilbur was happy to investigate and sit beside the sea turtle statue

Why didn’t i just take him up to the statue to show him it was safe? It’s simple, fear doesn’t work that way! I know plenty of people who are scared of snakes. On the other hand i love them. If i was to plonk a snake on one of my snake-phobic friends they would freak out, regardless of if i was telling them “it’s ok, he won’t bite”. Chances are they would lose all trust in me and be forever suspicious that i might put them in another scary situation! That’s not what we want for our dogs. We want to be the giver of all good things, the person they can look to when they are unsure, and the person who will help them feel safe.

A quick look on social media shows us that many dog owners fail to consider their dogs when posting and viewing “funny” videos. Before you hit “like” or upload the video of your dog jumping in fright at a dancing teddy bear, stop and consider how that experience was for the dog. Dogs don’t act! If they are behaving like they are scared then they are scared. They may recover quickly from being startled, or their fear may be prolonged, but either way that is not the role we should aim to have in our dog’s life.

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Thanks to force-free training methods, Wilbur is no longer worried about statues we find on walks

Next time something spooks your dog, put down the camera and find ways to help your dog feel more confident. If they are fearful of a range of different things in a number of situations, or if their fear is persistent or severe, then you may need some help from a trainer or vet behaviourist to assist you and your dog on the way to a fear-free life.

Does your dog listen or watch?

Humans love to talk! We use words to explain things, ask questions, and to communicate with those around us. It makes sense to try to use our words to communicate with our dogs too, but it may surprise you to learn just what cues your pet is picking up on.

When we teach our dog a new behaviour, we usually try to pair that action with a word. As our dog’s butt hits the ground we say “Sit!” and then say what a good dog they are for sitting. What many people fail to realise is that their dog may be paying more attention to what you are doing with your body.

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Wilbur sitting when given a hand signal

We talk all the time, and of all the words we say, relatively few have any significance to our pets. Some words become reliable predictors of fun activities (e.g. dinner, walkies), but for the most part our dogs can safely ignore our chit-chat without consequence. Our body language can be more reliable. If we move towards the fridge, a snack may be imminent. Putting on our shoes could mean time for a walk. It pays for our dogs to pay attention to what our body language is saying, as it is often their first hint as to what is coming next.

Let’s go back to teaching our dog to sit. Even though we may say “Sit!” as their butt hits the ground, how did we get them to sit in the first place? In most cases we moved our hand in a predictable gesture above their head. This may resemble the food lure most people initially used to teach sit. Some dogs even notice very subtle motions, such as us leaning our shoulders forward slightly as we ask them to sit. In the scheme of your dog’s day, paying attention to these things pays off better than keeping an ear out for a particular word. In fact, our body language and actions can be so significant that our dogs don’t actually pick up on the words at all, which is why when you repeat “sit, sit, SIT!” you may not get any response.

It can be very useful to teach our dogs to respond to verbal cues in training, and the good news is that it is actually quite simple. The important thing is the order that we offer our cues. To teach our dogs a new verbal cue, we first want to teach them the behaviour (using a food lure, target, shaping, etc). Then we can use the following method to add a new cue:

NEW CUE (e.g. “Sit”) – OLD CUE (e.g. hand signal) – REWARD

It is very important that the new verbal cue is offered first, followed by the old visual cue. If we give both cues simultaneously it is likely that your dog will focus more heavily on the visual cue (as that is how dogs communicate most easily). By offering the new cue first, your dog starts to learn that the new verbal cue consistently predicts the old cue, and they will begin to offer the correct behaviour.

If your dog does not respond correctly to a visual or verbal cue, chances are they haven’t yet learned it as well as you think. Take some time to go back to basics with them, and help them out by breaking the behaviour down. Consider if they are distracted, if you’ve practised in that situation before, and if you are adequately motivating them.

Below is a short video of Wilbur demonstrating some of his learned behaviours, offered on both visual and verbal cues. As a general rule he learns visual cues (hand signals) more quickly than verbal cues, but following the NEW CUE/OLD CUE method we have easily taught him both (he can even read flash cards for SIT and DOWN).

The Social Dog

Most clients i see want to spend time with their dog in social settings – friends houses, walks with friends, dog parks, the beach, etc. Sharing time with your dog and others can be one of the great joys of owning a dog. For some chilled out pooches it comes naturally to be social, but for others it can be more challenging (and some would prefer to stay home altogether).

One of the biggest challenges that we face as we prepare our dogs to be the social butterflies we so desire is the misconception that socialisation equals play. We try to do the right thing with our new puppy or adult dog by bringing them to as many play dates as possible and letting them mingle with other dogs. This can go well, or not…

Recognising inappropriate play can be really difficult for the average dog owner. It is easy for overly boisterous dogs to pursue a more polite or shy dog relentlessly, and equally easy for a shy dog to be overwhelmed without being noticed.

Rather than jumping in the deep end with play, take time to learn about body language so you can interrupt if play goes pear-shaped. The Dog Decoder app is a great resource for any dog owner to learn about basic dog body language.

Also spend time on some foundation training skills with your dog. Teach him that great things happen when he stays calm while other dogs are around. Help him learn to focus on you and respond to cues in the face of distraction. The majority of the time when we see other dogs it won’t be appropriate for them to play (e.g. passing on walks, in training classes, at dog-friendly cafes), so teaching your dog to be calm around other dogs should be your top priority.

When you do introduce your dog to new friends, focus on keeping the play short and happy and space out the play with short pauses where you reward settled behaviour. Happy play involves loose and wriggly dogs, lots of play cues (play bows, loose waggy tails, etc), and respect of the other dog. The players should take turns chasing and being chased, wrestling and being wrestled, etc. If you think either party is not enjoying themselves, pause the play.

Play fighting can easily degrade into actual fighting, and play chasing can become predatory, which is why those frequent breaks let everyone stop and chill, and keep from becoming over-stimulated.

Dog friends are awesome, but only when everyone is getting along and having a great time. Putting your dog in social situations that make him uncomfortable won’t help him to feel better around other dogs, it will likely make him feel worse. Your job as a dog owner is to ensure your dog is safe and happy, and that may or may not include play dates with other dogs.

If you need help with dog training in the Townsville area, contact Treat Play Love today.

Have you trained that?

11249307_10152931504747303_1194799322877169224_nWe have all experienced the frustration of being at the end of the leash while our dog bounces around and seems to be ignoring us completely. Most commonly this happens when something exciting is going on, such as when you attend a training class, take your dog for a walk, or even just when visitors arrive. “But he knows this!” we hear time and time again, while the dog becomes more frantic and the owner more frustrated.

But does he really know what you’re asking? Have you trained that behaviour?

All too often we forget that our dogs are terrible at generalising. This means that while they know how to sit on cue at home, in the lounge room, when we have a handful of treats, they don’t easily make the leap at realise that the same rules apply in new situations as well. We have to go through and break it down for our dog.

Before you take your dog to that busy dog park, or popular walking track, think about the skills he will need to be successful. Does he know how to walk beside you on leash? Focus when other dogs are around? Sit before crossing the road? Watch bikes and scooters pass without barking? Now, think about whether you have helped your dog achieve those skills.

We are often in such a hurry to go places with our dogs that we forget to take the time to prepare them for these things. Training starts at home, but it doesn’t finish there. You need to help your dog learn that training doesn’t stop when we step out of the house. Practice training in the front yard, and on walks around quiet neighbourhoods. Carry treats, reward good behaviour. As you and your dog become successful in these new environments you can gradually increase the challenge. We have to teach our dog that listening pays off, no matter where we are or what’s happening around us.

Failure to train these essential skills leads to frustration, for both you and your dog, and frustration leads us to do some pretty silly things. When we feel frustrated we are more likely to behave reactively, such as yanking on our dogs lead, or scolding them. When we recognise that our dogs simply don’t have the training or the skill set to behave the way we want, we can see that the responsibility lies with us to teach our dog.

If you are having trouble with your dogs behaviour, stop and think about the training you have done and whether it is enough. Join a reward-based chat group, or better yet contact a reward-based trainer for help.

Walk the Dog, nicely please!

There’s a great saying in the dog training world, which goes something like this: “In dog training, jerk is a noun not a verb”. In other words, jerk should not be an action that you take when trying to teach your dog leash manners (or any other skills for that matter).

Traditionally, dogs are taught to walk beside their owner by praising them in position and giving a leash pop/jerk/tug/tap/correction/you-name-it when they pull forward on the leash. There is an assortment of collars, leads, and harnesses that are designed to help that jerk be felt more effectively by the dog, which should thus speed up the learning process.

I’ll start by saying i have been there, done that. Like most people, i was taught to jerk on my dogs leash when he pulled. We tried assorted harnesses, head collars, and training collars, all to no avail. Why doesn’t it work?

If i walked up to you and leaned against your side, you would lean back and resist (of course you would, otherwise you’d fall over). This is our opposition reflex, and our dogs have it too. When the leash goes tight, they oppose that force and pull ahead. Combine this with all the pee-mail to be checked, sights to see, and dogs to greet when you pull, and you have a recipe for some very well rewarded behaviour. Pulling works.

Now, if you apply a leash jerk with exquisite timing and precise force, you should be able to stop your dog pulling. The problem? Most owners (and trainers for that matter) do not have the physical training skills to apply that kind of timing. The result? Our intended message doesn’t get through, and you get a dog that still pulls. This is why you will see dogs who continue to pull to the point of injury regardless of whether they are wearing a check chain or other training aid.

So what is the solution? Loose-lead walking is a behaviour that can be easily taught with positive reinforcement when we set our pets up for success, and build the behaviour in baby steps. We love to get people started with their puppies at Puppy Preschool, but it is never too late to start.

loose lead walking

Start in a location with minimal distractions (such as your backyard) and practice moving one or two steps away from your dog and rewarding them when they follow. You can then build up the steps you take between treats, and select the position that you specifically want to reward (left or right side, slightly forward or behind). My own criteria for loose lead walking is that Wilbur can walk on either side of me, as long as the leash buckle hangs down and he crosses sides behind me (so i don’t step on him). When you have mastered the loose-lead walking in the yard, move out to the front yard, start tackling short trips up the street. As you increase the challenge, increase the rate of reward again. With time the walk itself becomes the reward, and the position is maintained through the foundation training you did in the beginning.

For a great poster on teaching loose-lead walking check out Lili Chin‘s work.

So why bother? It sounds like a lot of work! The great thing about teaching any behaviour with positive reinforcement is that your dog will develop a desire to learn and to participate with you during training. I want my dog to walk beside me because they love to be there, not because they’re afraid to move. Better yet, if your timing is off with positive reinforcement you will see it in your dogs behaviour. You wanted your dog beside you, but they’re slightly in front? Change when and where you reward. This is a far less stressful fall out for your dog that the fall out of a poorly timed leash jerk.

When i take my dog for a walk i want him to love being out with me, and to enjoy using his full range of senses to explore the world. My criteria is only that the lead is slack, with that met he is free to sniff, look, listen, and enjoy! Train smart, not tough!

 

Lures and Rewards

When it comes to using treats in training there is one concern at the top of most peoples list: “I don’t want him to only work for the food!” Indeed we see many cases where people have been put off using food because their pet is most responsive when they have a treat visible in their hand, and less responsive any other time. This is a highly undesirable situation, because most of the time when we need our pets to do something we will be empty handed.

The situation described above is the result of a common training error, which unfortunately leads many people to write off treats from their training entirely. Instead, why don’t we look at the different ways we can use treats with our pets.

food lure

Most commonly, people use a treat as a lure. This means they show their pet the treat, and use it to move or guide their pet into the behaviour they want (raise the treat for a sit, lower it for a down). Using lures can be a quick and effective way to get a behaviour started, but when you fail to fade that lure out in the early stages of training things start to go wonky.

Treat. Play. Love. will help you to learn to use treats as rewards, or reinforcers, which come after the behaviour has happened (like a pay check for a job well done). We can keep the treats tucked safely out of sight, and only bring them out once the job is done. To guide, or shape, a new behaviour we might initially use a food lure, or we could use our body language, good timing, or a target. By using the treat after the behaviour, our pets need to focus on us (not the food) if they are going to figure out how to get the job done. This is a much more desirable situation!

An important, and often forgotten, part of any training program is to change the rate of reward from a constant (every correct response gets rewarded) to a variable (only some get rewarded) schedule. By gradually expecting more from your pet as they become skilled at the job you’ve given them, they will become more persistent training partners who can work for longer periods of time without needing a treat. Rewards can also come in the form of praise, affection, games, toys, etc, depending on what your individual pet enjoys most.

A good human example is our pay check. It’s a fair bet that we would stop turning up to work if our boss stopped paying us. Of course we don’t get our pay check in little bits day-by-day, we maintain a high standard of work (i hope) over the course of the pay period (usually 1-4 weeks). Daily we might be rewarded by thanks from a co-worker, personal satisfaction at doing something well, etc.

This is what we want to aim for with our pets – good work ethic between pay checks, and loads of “life rewards” to keep them positive from day to day. Not sure where to start? Get in touch and we can set up a training session, or point you in the direction of some great group training classes where you can learn how to use treats to their greatest effect. Train smart, not tough!

Learning to Learn

“When there is no fear or pain, learning can occur immediately.” ~ Alexandra Kurland

I saw this quote on a Facebook dog training page recently, and it got me thinking. It can be hard to stay positive in a society where dog training too often means “putting the dog in his place” or teaching through aversive methods. But this quote really speaks to what i try to share with my clients and their family pets.

Fear and pain, even at very low levels, actually inhibit learning. They cause an animal to experience stress, which means they are primarily focusing their energy towards avoidance behaviours – how can i make this stop? Training methods that involve sharp sounds (ah, tsst, grr), leash corrections, taps, touches, and physical manipulation typically create a situation where an animal is uncomfortable (physically or psychologically) while performing the unwanted behaviour. They can escape this discomfort by doing what the trainer wants. The end result is there, but the journey wasn’t a whole lot of fun for anyone (trainer or trainee).

One of my favourite moments to witness in a training session is the moment that a clients pet realises that their behaviour can make good things happen. Some trainers refer to this moment in training as a light bulb moment, the moment when our pet suddenly switches on to what we’re doing. They know their role in the training game, and they love it!

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Positive reinforcement training typically uses a bridge, or marker, to let the animal know when they have made the correct response. When we first introduce a marker our pet has no idea what it means. Within a few repetitions though, you can see a change in their demeanour. They start looking for that moment, that marker. If one thing doesn’t work, they try something else. They become active participants in the training process. They become creative. They learn to learn.

This is what i teach people. By handing over an element of control to our dogs, cats, birds, etc we can empower them to be part of a team where we work together to achieve our behavioural goals. This style of training is not just for tricks. It works on any species, and can be applied with great success to basic training as well as working through complex behavioural problems.

Perhaps the most exciting this is it can be used on our pets regardless of their training history. Picture a dog that is waiting for a leash pop, but instead gets feedback that they’ve got it right! Nothing beats the change in that dog’s demeanour as they light up and start working with their owner.

You don’t need to be tough to change behaviour, you need to be smart. Help your friend learn to learn – you will both love it!