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There is so much to learn in the world of dog training and it is never more evident than when you start to explore the world of Susan Garrett and Say Yes Dog Training in Ontario, Canada. For those of you who don’t know her, Garrett is a world-renowned agility and flyball competitor. Here at the Clicker Leash Co., we are passionate about teaching our dogs new things and agility has proven to be one of our favorite extracurricular activities because there is ALWAYS something new to learn in the sport. Over the years we have learned a lot from Garrett’s videos and books, not just with regards to agility but dog training in general.
Garrett’s book “Ruff Love” is the perfect foundation for any person and their dog regardless of whether dog sports are on the horizon or not. This book is especially meaningful to people dealing with dogs that are easily distracted and overly energetic. Relying on learning theory, not dominance, Garrett shows you how to establish boundaries and provide structure in a meaningful way that will actually result in a more confident dog and a strong connection with the owner.
“Shaping Success” is next on our recommended book list. Here, Garrett describes the trials and tribulations and the lessons learned from her over-the-top Border Collie Buzz who went on to be a world-class competitor. You will come to understand the benefits of “errorless learning” and the importance of setting your dog up for success. Your dog will love to learn and you will love being its trainer with the methods laid out in this book!
Garrett’s “Crate Games” DVD isn’t just beneficial in teaching your dog to LOVE its crate, an important tool for home or on the road, but also lays an excellent foundation for dog sports. Crate Games will give your dog the skills to have self control in highly arousing situations, the drive and confidence to work away from you (so important in advanced agility courses) and will also illustrate any holes that may be present in your current training style from your timing to your ability to fade out rewards.
For people considering agility but worried about limited practice space (let’s face it, we don’t all have acreage), Garrett’s “Success With One Jump” DVD has a ton of exercises that only require one jump! These exercises will help your dog’s understanding of your positional cues when out on the agility course while building a great desire to perform jumps. Since most agility courses are comprised of at least 80% jumps, this DVD will contribute to your ability to smoothly and effectively navigate your dog even if you have limited space to practice at home.
Finally, one of the agility obstacles most people and dogs struggle with are the weave poles. People have tried to overcome this challenging obstacle with channels or wire guides that set the dog on the correct path or by simply luring the dog through the poles. Both methods require hundreds of repetitions to become reliable and it is often difficult for people to fade themselves out of the picture. Garrett’s brilliant solution – “2 x 2 Weave Training.” In her video, she demonstrates how quickly you can teach the weaves in just a few minutes a day, over the course of six days with a dog that doesn’t even belong to her! The 2 x 2 method results in thoughtful, independent, fast weaves as your dog comes to understand them as a series of entry points to drive through. We have tried a lot of methods to teach our dogs to weave over the years but we have never had as much fun as with the 2 x 2 method.
If you like what Susan Garrett has to offer, you may also want to check out her camps that she hosts at the Say Yes training facility in Ontario, her entertaining and informative blog and You Tube videos or her e-books that are jam packed with great articles and information. Thank you Susan Garrett for your contribution to the world of dog training and the human-canine bond!
Having your dog understand a nose touch is a powerful tool that can be used to accomplish a variety of things. It is particularly useful with fearful, reactive and rambunctious dogs because it gives you a way to safely interact with the dog to remove them from furniture or get them out of undesirable situations, to distract them in stressful environments and to help them meet dogs or people in an appropriate manner. Many agility competitors will also teach their dogs to do a nose touch to a “dot” which is typically a plastic lid from a yogurt container or something similar. This makes for excellent contact training on the A-Frame, Teeter and Dog Walk. If your dog is reactive and/or aggressive, please see a reputable trainer who understands clicker training for help with your dog.
Your goal with the nose touch is to have your dog touch the palm of your hand with their nose. To accomplish this simply hold your hand a few inches away from your dog’s nose. Most dogs will have a natural inclination to reach their head forward and sniff your hand. When they sniff your hand, click and give a treat with your other hand. Once your dog consistently reaches out and touches your hand with their nose after you have clicked and treated a few times, begin moving your hand and getting your dog to follow it, eventually ending with a touch.
If your dog begins mouthing your hand, it means you are clicking and rewarding too late and your dog is becoming frustrated as a result. If your dog begins to do “phantom touches” where they do not quite touch your hand, you are clicking too soon and should wait until your dog accurately touches your hand before you click. The fussier you are with this exercise, the more accurate your dog will be with their nose touch! You can even get specific as to what part of your hand you want touched.
Once your dog can easily follow your random hand movements, you can label your dog’s action. We simply call it “touch” but as with any verbal cue you can call it whatever you would like. You can also give it different labels when you use it in different situations. You can use it to get your dog into “heel” position next to you and to help teach them to walk next to you by holding your hand at your hip and getting your dog to follow it as you walk, clicking and rewarding when your dog is nice and close. You can also use it to safely get feisty fidos off furniture. To do so, first get the dog to follow your hand up onto the furniture, click and reward, then get them to follow your hand target off the furniture, click and reward. If your dog enjoys guarding the furniture, this will be effective but you must make sure you have built up a significant reward history with the nose touch before introducing it in these situations because it will have to outweigh the value of the comfy couch, bed or chair. You should spend at least three weeks working on developing a solid nose touch before using it in this type of situation.
The nose touch is also effective when dealing with reactive dogs who do not like encountering strangers (people and other dogs) on their walks. Once you have built significant value for the nose touch in a low distraction environment, you can take your show on the road and start to use it to distract your dog from incoming strangers if they have a tendency to meltdown. To do so, simply ask your dog to touch your hand the instant they see an incoming stranger, before they have a chance to react and then calmly get them to follow your hand target in the opposite direction, across the street or up a nearby driveway to create distance between your dog and the offensive passer-by so your dog will be more comfortable. You can then continue to ask for a nose touch as the person and/or dog is passing by to help keep your dog happy and calm. If your dog does have a meltdown they are simply too close to the thing they don’t like and the next time you will know to provide them with more distance. Gradually you should be able to get closer to the stranger and your dog should be able to stay calm because they will associate the stranger with a fun game of hand targeting.
If your dog is a bit shy with strange people or dogs but not reactive, you can use the nose touch to help boost their confidence by giving them a new way to interact with strangers. You can label the nose touch as “go say hi” and instruct approaching strangers to present their open hand to your dog. Your dog should approach, touch the stranger’s hand with their nose and when you click, come back to you for their reward. You can also experiment and see if they will take the reward from the stranger so your dog will develop even more of a positive association with their new friend. When you are dealing with a new dog, preferably one who is confident and calm, you can instruct your dog to “go say hi” and then place your hand near the hind end of the dog to help your dog perform a polite meet and greet. Again, once you click your dog will likely come back to you for a reward so if your dog presents some lovely greeting rituals on their own, do not interrupt it with your clicker. Eventually, you can fade your hand target out of the situation and simply ask your dog to “go say hi.”
If you are interested in learning more about why targets are so effective, there is an excellent section in Karen Pryor’s recent book “Reaching the Animal Mind” that discusses in detail why targets work to help animals cope with stressful situations.
We love Silvia’s kind and effective approach to dog training. If you are faced with the challenge of a resource guarder or an obsessive dog, remember when you provide your dog with plenty, not only will you be perceived as a mindful leader but you will also have the luxury of a world of rewards to use when you are training.
Learning theory does not generally provide the punch line to many jokes or get much attention by the media, but occasionally it finds its way into today’s pop culture. A recent example of this is compliments of one of our favorite sitcoms, “The Office.”
If you are not a fan, the Office portrays life in a quirky paper company that accentuates some of the less than ideal working conditions most people have to endure at some point in their lives. A subpar boss, the office lush, eccentric coworker etc., make this show highly entertaining.
At the beginning of the episode titled “Dwight Helps Michael Prepare,” mischievous office prankster Jim conditions Dwight to want an Altoid every time he hears Jim’s computer boot up. Jim accomplishes this in much the same way Russian scientist Ivan Pavlov did back in the early 1900’s when he first noticed his experimental dogs would start to salivate as soon as they saw people in lab coats. With limited stimuli in the environment, the dogs realized most times they were approached by a person in a lab coat, they were subsequently fed. Pavlov (who was initially just interested in studying digestive systems) noticed this and began experimenting to see what else could get the dogs to salivate. He knew it was the dogs’ natural response to salivate in the presence of food to help with its digestion so he paired it with a completely unrelated event, the ringing of a bell, and found that once the dogs had made the connection between the two, they would start to salivate as soon as they heard the bell. You can play a game here thanks to the folks at NobelPrize.org that will take you through the steps of getting a dog to salivate when they hear a previously irrelevant sound.
So what does this have to do with dog training? Well, from Pavlov’s research stems clicker training. Similar to how Jim conditioned Dwight to respond to the noise his computer makes, we also condition dogs to respond to a click from a clicker. This is often referred to as “charging” the clicker and it is the very first step you must take for clicker training to be effective. Pavlov’s experiments showed us the most effective way to create associations between previously unrelated stimuli is to make sure you click before you present the food and to make the delay between the click and food delivery as short as possible so the dog will easily connect the two events. Once your dog understands what the click means, you can start to use it to shape amazing behaviors and to effectively countercondition your dog to things he may be nervous or afraid of.
Thank you Ivan Pavlov for laying the groundwork for the best dog training practices available and thanks to the folks at the Office for putting a funny spin on the science behind conditioning!
Here at the Clicker Leash Co. we believe you can shape the dog of your dreams through positive reinforcement training but we also recognize that sometimes our dogs’ personalities or natural instincts may make some of our goals unrealistic. We have all felt moments of disappointment when we realize we are trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. That is why we found this video of a dog who had been bred and trained from birth to be a service dog so touching. This special dog’s instinct to chase birds unravelled her handler’s plans but instead of giving up on the dog completely, the inspired handler transformed her into a “Surfice Dog.” This is an inspiring story for anyone dealing with a challenging dog. Sometimes they won’t be what we want them to but they may make an even greater contribution to this world than we could have imagined.
We’ve all seen them – the dogs who take their owners for a walk as they pull them down the sidewalk at break neck speeds. When puppies are very young, they are not capable nor do many want to pull their people down the street. In fact, we often hear the complaint that a new puppy doesn’t want to walk at all. So how does it get from one extreme to another?
The first thing to consider is it takes two to tango and it takes two to pull. When your young puppy becomes more adventurous, he will begin to enjoy smelling new smells and meeting new people and these will be very rewarding experiences for him. When you allow him to do these things while he is pulling or lunging forward, you are telling him he is being a good dog and you really like it when he pulls you toward things by giving him access to these things. If having a dog walk politely and safely on a loose leash is important to you, then you have to make sure your puppy does not get rewarded for moving forward on a tight leash. Timing and clear communication are important here. With a Clicker Leash, simply click as soon as your puppy offers you any slack in the leash and then reward by moving forward, being sure to stop again if the leash becomes tight. Make sure your puppy does not get access to people and places when their leash is tight. You may feel like you are playing a game of red light green light but with young puppies this method will typically begin to work quickly as long as your timing is good and you are consistent. If you allow your puppy to pull occasionally, they will try more and more often to do so in the hopes that they will get to whatever it is they want to explore even faster.
This method has proven to be effective with many puppies but the easiest way to train a dog to walk beside you and something that makes the red light/green light technique even more powerful is rewarding the dog for passive attention.
Begin by clicking and rewarding any attention your dog gives you. Do not ask for your dog to “watch” or “look” or try to get their attention. Just observe them as you are walking and if they pay any attention to you, click and reward next to your side closest to the dog. For some dogs this may be as little as an ear twitch or brief glance in your direction. Don’t reach out with the treat, feed it at your leg to build some reward value for the space around you. As your dog comes to understand that orienting to you and walking near you is a rewarding activity, he will begin to offer you more attention for longer periods of time. As you practice this activity, you can increase your expectations and begin delaying your click for longer periods of time, gradually fading out the click and rewards when your dog is conditioned to walk nicely beside you. Make sure to practice around a lot of distractions that your dog is challenged with on a regular basis, rewarding heavily if your dog can maintain their focus on you as you approach and pass the distractions.
We first learned about passive attention exercises in Leslie McDevitt’s wonderful book “Control Unleashed” and Jane Killion’s equally amazing “When Pigs Fly.” If you have a difficult-to-train dog, one that becomes overexcited and reactive or shuts down due to fear, these two books paired with a Clicker Leash will help you effectively nurture your dog through their issues.
It is always surprising how much people will protest the use of food in dog training. Time and again it is argued that the dog shouldn’t work for food, they should be working for YOU. It is true that some dogs enjoy working just for the sake of working (Border Collies come to mind). Other dogs are perfectly content to work for verbal praise or attention from their owner. We often call these the “what can I do for you” dogs. However, there is nothing shameful about owning a “what can you do for me” dog and more often this is the case. Dogs are reknown opportunists. If there is a way to create pleasure for themselves, they usually find it. If they see you as a reliable source of pleasure, whether it come in the form of food, praise or play, then at the very least you will have a nice foundation for a strong bond between you and your dog. This is a worst case scenario if your timing happens to be off with your rewards, if you don’t know how to fade rewards out and put them on an intermittent schedule or if you bribe your dog by always giving commands with food in your hand. At the very least your dog will still really like you!
Here at the Clicker Leash Co. we enjoy watching trainers like Victoria Stilwell and Zak George on Animal Planet. In Stilwell’s case she is normally called in to deal with unruly behaviour. She uses positive reinforcement to teach incompatible, desirable behaviors to replace the stuff that drives most owners nuts. On George’s new show Super Fetch, he teaches really cool and practical tricks to dogs, again, using positive reinforcement. George refers to the rewards as “currency.” We like this because it helps people see the reward for what it is. Most people don’t love their jobs and wouldn’t perform daily tasks if it weren’t for the pay cheque they receive every two weeks. Of course people would probably be more productive if their rewards were tied more closely to the individual tasks but that just isn’t practical for most employers. Fortunately it is practical for most people to do when they are training their dogs!
In one of his recent blog posts on Dog Star Daily, Eric Goebelbecker discusses “5 Myths About Training Dogs with Treats.” Check out his post for some great arguments on why it is OK to use treats to help teach your dog new behaviours. If you have been having problems with your dog training and haven’t tried rewards to motivate your dog, what have you got to lose? Remember, only your dog can determine what is rewarding so experiment to see what really gets the tail wagging! Happy training!
A popular example among positive dog trainers to illustrate the ineffectiveness of punishment is traffic tickets. North American culture tends to focus on punishing unwanted behaviors like speeding instead of recognizing desirable behaviors like driving your car at the appropriate speed. Now Cape Town Traffic Services in Africa is experimenting with positive reinforcement to see if it can improve road safety.
The department will be rewarding motorists for “gold star” behavior with engraved pens and key rings. Good behaviour will include not getting angry or upsetting other road users, signalling well in advance when changing lanes, slowing down on freeways to allow space for motorists entering from an on-ramp, keeping intersections clear in heavy traffic, and raising a hand to thank fellow motorists instead of using the emergency flashers. Of course, this is creating debate almost as hot as a Victoria Stilwell vs. Cesar Millan dispute with the nay-sayers chiming in with their usual pessimism. Hopefully the department will measure and publish the results of this experiment.
Cape Town police are not alone in thinking positive reinforcement can change behavior. Volkswagen launched their “Fun Theory Campaign” this fall and it is already a viral sensation with millions of views on You Tube. The car manufacturer’s ad agency DDB Stockholm, based their new campaign on the idea that “fun is the easiest way to change people’s behavior for the better.” For example, the team set out to see if they could increase the number of people who would opt to take a set of stairs instead of a nearby escalator by making it fun to take the stairs. They changed the stairs into a giant, functional piano that was activated when people stepped onto the stairs. They found a 66% increase in the number of people who chose the stairs when they were made “fun.” You can view this and the two other videos the company has created in the first stage of their campaign at www.thefuntheory.com.
What does all of this have to do with dog training? Well, if we can change people’s current perception about rewards and punishment in human learning then it will be much easier to get people to Train Humane with their pets. Once reward-based principles become mainstream, we will see an increase in people treating their dogs with respect and love and getting great results.
We first learned about the “Look at That” (LAT) game from Leslie McDevitt’s brilliant book “Control Unleashed.” One of the most common dog training issues is on-leash reactivity. Our gut instinct is to tell Fido to knock it off or to try to console them and make them feel safe by patting them and speaking in high pitched voices. Unfortunately for a lot of dogs our attempts at canine communication are often misinterpreted and we see an increase in snarling, lunging and barking at approaching triggers like animals, people or moving objects. If we scold our dogs for acting like a lunatic when triggers approach, we run the risk of creating an even more negative situation for our already stresed or anxious friends. When we try and reassure Fifi that everything is going to be OK, they don’t hear our words but may assume based on our high-pitched tone that we like it when they are nervous and scared and they may enjoy the extra attention it gets them.
Although it goes against our human nature, the Look at That game diffuses both of these situations and quickly results in increased confidence and focus on mom or dad instead of incoming triggers. For a detailed description of the “Look at That” game, we encourage you to check out Leslie McDevitt’s web site and buy her easy-to-understand book or videos but we wanted to give you a brief overview of the exercise because the Clicker Leash makes it so easy to do.
The key is to keep your dog below threshold (ie quiet and calm) while teaching them to look at a stimulus they do not normally like and rewarding them for looking at it. To train LAT, use your Clicker Leash to click and reward your dog the second they look at a trigger as long there is no reaction. If your dog is too intense with the triggers being used, start with a neutral target like a piece of paper or other item your dog has no association with and again click as soon as they look at it. When your dog is offering a quick glance towards the target, name it “look.” Your dog will quickly start to look at their triggers and turn back to you for a reward. If your dog does not turn quickly, it is likely because they are over threshold. You should increase the distance between you and the trigger and try again.
Begin playing LAT with a different neutral distraction for about 30 seconds, as often as you can each day. Gradually progress to more challenging distractions such as favourite toys, the mailman, squirrels and approaching people. Once your dog has mastered the game with various distractions, you can progress to using dogs they like and then strange dogs. Remember, the key here is to keep your dog calm during this game. If they begin to growl, bark or lunge, they have gone over threshold and you need to start again with more distance between you and the object.
If youhave a particularly stressed, anxious or reactive dog, you may also want to check out Dr. Karen Overall’s Relaxation Protocol. The protocol provides a clear set of exercises to do with your dog to help teach self control in exciting situations. Remember to keep your training sessions brief and fun so your dog will want more! For more training tips and free video tutorials visit www. clickerleash.com
While at a party last weekend, I met one of the cutest puppies I have ever seen. After six years of teaching group obedience classes, puppy socialization classes and in-home Perfect Puppies programs, I have seen my share of cute puppies but this one took the cake. The little guy looked a bit like a Border Terrier with some long-coated Chihuahua thrown in the mix. He had a striking sable colour pattern with some white spots for good measure. He belonged to the neighbor next door and was out for his nightly rituals. When the neighbor held him up to the top of the fence, he was immediately swarmed by all the “crazy dog people” at the party and he took it all in stride. He soaked in the attention while his owner said how much people seem to be drawn to him and what a great feeling it gave her spiritually to have such a special little puppy in her life after losing her old dog a few months earlier.
It was uplifting for me to see someone so attached to their puppy with nothing but positive things to say. But suddenly, things changed. The woman declared that she was an avid Cesar Millan fan, she followed everything he recommended to the letter and that was why the puppy was so wonderful. I am sure I must have grimaced slightly and the group of educated dog owners that had gathered around my side of the fence seemed to recoil slightly and gradually disband. Visions of three dogs I had tried to help in the past year whose owners had been practicing the techniques they saw on National Geographic’s “Dog Whisperer” swarmed through my brain. One dog had been re-homed after snapping at the child in the family and the other two had been euthanized for biting (one of the dog’s owners required 17 stitches to his face after alpha-rolling the dog for resource guarding). My horror continued as the neighbor informed us that she wanted desperately to go study with Cesar Milan so she could help spread his messages and methods around the world.
“But don’t you find him a bit mean?” I asked. The woman looked at me as if I had just used her lord’s name in vain. Her eyes flashed as she countered that Millan was kind and loved dogs. Various episodes of his show seemed to fast forward through my brain all at once. Dogs with tucked tails and whale eyed expressions, being repeatedly checked and occasionally choked in the name of dominance danced through my head like clips from a scary movie. All I could sputter out was the fact that the man still uses choke chains. The neighbor argued that he only used the tools that his clients wanted him to use.
Typically I do not back down from a Millan debate. With science on my side, a growing number of studies and reputable organizations lending their voices in support of positive reinforcement it does not take much convincing to convert people from dominance theory to learning theory with a focus on reward-based training methods. Once people realize their dogs are simply opportunists, not masterminds trying to takeover the household, they happily leave the alpha rolls, choke chains and other punitive tools behind.
For some reason I felt completely disarmed at the thought of this puppy being checked into submission if it stepped out of line. I felt like the ancient Greek scientists and philosophers who first suggested the world might not be flat. I didn’t know where to begin in explaining how flawed the Dog Whisperer’s techniques truly are. Should I have started with the fact that dominance or rank is rarely the root for bad behaviours in our pet dogs despite Cesar blaming it for virtually every problem he encounters? Should I have taken the time to explain the suppression of behaviors that Millan typically performs on his show often results in fallout on another level? Or perhaps I should have told her about the recent research that found 25% of the dogs observed actually acted aggressively when alpha rolls and other types of force were used?
Instead I walked away and told her the puppy was lovely as I strolled back to my chair. I felt hopeless as I have when in circular arguments in the past. It has been so long since anyone has challenged the ideas and facts that I present them and it was as if I had forgotten how to fight a good fight. I have since vowed never to walk away again. Hopefully the neighbor at the party will expand her readings beyond Cesar and pick up a scientific journal some day but I have my doubts. I have seen these same people in chat room and other blog postings and they are challenging to have logical discussions with because they believe in untruths. Just as it is equally challenging to convince people who believe the world is flat that it is in fact a sphere, it is difficult to argue with Millan’s militia.