Thursday, January 23, 2014

My Absolute Most Favorite Cue in the World.

I'm a dog trainer, I love teaching dogs (and their people). I get excited when a dog holds a sit-stay as their owner walks a full circle around them, when a dog gets the 'drop' part of the fetch game and... well... just about every time a dog learns something new, especially when their owner is having fun and sees a purpose. Let's face it, most dog owners want a well behaved dog who listens the first time with every cue, not a dog who does cute party tricks (though those are super fun too).
I'm sure I'll say this about another cue at some point, but right now my favorite cue is by far the "Leave-It" cue. I love it. Seriously. The "leave-it" is great for pretty much EVERYTHING. Don't want your dog to eat your toddler's toys? Leave-it. Does your pup love picking up dried up carcasses of who knows what kind of dead animal during hikes? Leave-it. Is Fluffy always going after the cat? Leave-it. (and maybe a kitty door into the basement or a bedroom).
The leave-it starts out as leaving food alone, I've said it before and I'll say it again: most dogs are motivated by food, so that's what I use for initial training of a cue. It is faded out and your dog will not just work for food, as long as you listen to the food-fade instructions given by your reward-based dog trainer. Like I was saying, it starts with food, which is faded, but during the whole magical teaching and learning process, you can teach your dog to leave just about ANYTHING alone. And they seem to have a ton of fun doing it. And their owners see training with a purpose. And, it's a pretty swell as a party trick. It is everything I love about dog training.
The leave-it teaches bite inhibition to an extent and it teaches self control. Who out there doesn't want a dog with self control?!

*Disclaimer: leave-it is not the same as drop-it. Leave-it is for preventing them from picking up something icky or dangerous and drop-it is for letting go of something icky or dangerous. They are two different behaviors taught in different ways. Got it? Good.

Ok, the good stuff comes next. Here are the instructions for how I teach leave-it. Everyone does it a little differently, but as long as you get the same end result without any force or pain on the dog, it's cool with me.

“Leave It” cue

Why: The Leave-it cue is very beneficial for both dog and owner. A dog who can leave something alone on cue is less likely to pick up something potentially toxic to him or her (many household items can be harmful to dogs, remember?). A dog who will leave something alone on cue is also less likely to chew up your shoe or your child's favorite toy!

What: Leave-it is having your dog leave something (treat, toy, squirrel, cat, another dog) alone and ignore it. For example, if my dog is in the kitchen while I am making dinner and I drop a piece of food I ask her to leave-it, since not all people food is good for dogs. On walks, if she sees a squirrel, I ask her to leave-it and allow her to smell the ground for as long as she wants after the squirrel is gone. This is rewarding for her-in exchange for not following squirrel up a tree, she gets to smell wonderful things!

-pocket/pouch full of treats
-hungry dog
-leash, attached to a collar or harness
-quiet, comfortable area
  1. Start with a treat in your right hand. Place the treat in your palm and close your hand around it. Have your clicker in your left hand.
  2. Let the dog smell and see the treat and lick your hand but not take it from you.
  3. As soon as your dog stops licking/smelling and looks away from your hand, say “leave-it”, click and treat from your LEFT hand!
  4. Repeat!
  5. Your dog will get to a point where they look away almost immediately from your right hand and look for the left hand. At this point, switch hands on your dog.
  6. Place a treat in your left palm, with your hand closed around. it. Have your clicker and reward treats in your right hand.
  7. Let your dog see, smell, dig, lick and chew for the treat, but do not let him/her have it. This side will probably go a little faster, your dog is getting a handle on the game.
  8. As soon as your dog stops trying to get the treat out of your LEFT hand, say “leave-it”, click and reward from the RIGHT hand.
  9. Repeat!

-It is vital that you give the reward from the hand that did not have the treat in the beginning, you want your dog to leave-it, not come back to it later!
-With leave-it, your dog is learning that there are some things they can't have and some things they can, but they have to wait for permission to take them.

-As your dog progresses, place a treat on the floor in front of them and ask them to leave it, then reward with another treat.
-You can eventually place a treat on your dog's paw and work on leave it there!
-On walks, toss treats out in your dog's path, asking them to leave-it as you pass them. After passing by and not pulling to get the treats, walk to the treats and say "find it!" as you point out the treats. This makes walking with you lots of fun since you sometimes point out tasty things!
-Once your dog is really good, try the old treat-on-the-nose trick, by placing a treat on his/her nose and asking them to 'leave-it' until you say “ok!”

As you can see, the method I use to teach this cue helps with bite inhibition (chewing and biting to get what he wants won't work), and self control (I want that treat but I can't have it, at least not right now.)

The sky really is the limit with this one, what's your favorite cue?

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Dog Breeds

This week, I wanted to provide a little input on your own dog, and what is going on in her head. I know, that sounds a little creepy- I probably don't know you or your dog, so how could I possibly assume to know anything about your precious pooch? 
I know a bit about dog breeds. I'm not claiming to be an expert on any one breed, I'm not a breeder or veterinarian as we all know; but I've worked with a LOT of dogs of different breeds over the years. And read lots of books. And I know a lot of veterinarians and breeders. 
What does that matter? It means that I know that the following information is generally true. 
While many of these characteristics are true for most individual dogs, there are always exceptions. In my opinion, that's part of what makes life fun! 

So, I hope this provides some good reading and insight...maybe even a few laughs if you have a Border Collie who loves sleeping all day instead of running and herding (have you checked her pulse?!)

Straight from my Problem Solving Booklet, something provided to all clients:

It is often very helpful to know what breed(s) your dog is to gain a better understanding of their behavior. Most dogs have been bred for hundreds to thousands of years to have certain characteristics. Knowing what your dogs ancestors have been bred to do will help you and your trainer to know what to expect and how best to design a training plan. Why does your terrier dig every time he is out in the yard? Why does your beagle have to smell everything on the ground on every walk? These are characteristics that were bred for- terriers were originally bred to hunt vermin and beagles have been used for years for hunting and tracking. A student once asked what was wrong with her German Shorthair Pointer- she assumed she just had a canine version of ADHD. I thought about it and told her, “because she was bred that way- she is a pointer, she was bred to look for anything moving in her environment and point it out for a hunter to see. To us, who are not hunting for game, it seems like she is constantly thinking 'something shiny! Ooh! Something moved! Ooh! Something shiny! Oh! I smell something!..' She was essentially bred to have what seems like ADHD!”. The owner, who was on the verge of quitting group classes and considering re-homing has since completed advanced obedience and multiple agility classes with her loving, loyal dog who was just doing what was natural to her. Please, read on and do not stop here! Read all you can about your dog's breed(s), the more you know the better off you both will be.
There are seven breed groups as established by the AKC:
  1. Sporting
  2. Working
  3. Herding
  4. Terrier
  5. Non-Sporting
  6. Hound
  7. Toy

Sporting Group
Example breeds in this group: (this is not a full list, but should give you a good idea of who's who)
-American Water Spaniel -Chesapeake Bay Retriever -Pointer -Clumber Spaniel -Flat-Coated Retriever -Weimeraner -Brittany Spaniel -Golden Retriever -Vizla -English Spaniel -Irish Water Spaniel -Gordon Setter -Cocker Spaniel -German Shorthair Pointer -Irish Setter -Field Spaniel -English Cocker Spaniel -Spinone Italiano -English Setter -German Wirehaired Pointer -Sussex Spaniel -Welsh Springer Spaniel -Wirehaired Pointing Griffon -Labrador Retriever -Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever -Curly Coated Retriever
Common Characteristics:
  • High Distract-ability- Helps these dogs to notice birds and other game when hunting, but may make group classes difficult as gaining and keeping attention requires constant work.
  • Sensitive to Corrections (Spaniels and Setters)- Can make training easy, as they will remember any corrections, but if not properly socialized with people and children can be uneasy in families. If corrected using punishment methods, can react by shutting down or with fear-based aggression. 
  • Insensitive to Corrections (Retrievers): Can make training a bit more challenging, as they can easily ignore corrections; they may also react by shutting down or sometimes with aggression to some punishment techniques. On the other hand these dogs are typically more tolerant of children, new people and other dogs.
  • High need for Daily Exercise: These dogs have been bred to be outside assisting a hunter and as a result have plenty of energy to run off. They have been bred to notice everything and react instantly. A walk around the block will likely not be enough for these dogs as adults, a long walk or two or running daily is necessary to prevent problem behaviors such as digging, chewing or barking.
Working Group:
Example breeds in this group: (this is not a full list, but should give you a good idea of who's who)
-Akita -Bernese Mountain Dog -Bullmastiff -Black Russian Terrier -Anatolian Shepard -Boxer
-Doberman Pinscher -German Pinscher -Great Dane -Giant Schnauzer -Great Pyrenees -Komondor- Greater Swiss Mountain Dog -Kuvasz -Mastiff -Neapolitan Mastiff -Portuguese Water Dog -Newfoundland -Rottweiler -Saint Bernard -Samoyed -Siberian Husky -Standard Schnauzer -Tibetan Mastiff
Common Characteristics:
  • Overbearing/protective: Many of these breeds have been bred as protective of home and family and to work independently. If not properly managed with positive reinforcement and a fair, consistent leader, these dogs may try to take a leadership role.
  • Territorial/Possessive: Since these dogs were bred to protect their families and homes, they may develop issues with possession of objects, food or people. Proper socialization with new people and dogs as well as development of proper manners is important to prevent or manage this problem.
  • Independence/Stubborn: The independence that has allowed this breed to be good protectors of a home can manifest as stubbornness in training. To ensure success, owners of these breeds should focus on positive reinforcement and give rewards for obedience at every opportunity.
  • Insensitive to Corrections: Can make training a bit more challenging, as they can easily ignore corrections; they may also react with aggression or by shutting down to some punishment techniques.

Herding Group
Example breeds in this group: (this is not a full list, but should give you a good idea of who's who)
-Australian Cattle Dog -Australian Shepard -Bearded Collie -Belgain Malinois -Belgian Sheepdog -Border Collie -Belgian Tevuren -Bouvier des Flanders -Briard -Canaan Dog -Cordigan Welsh Corgi -Collie -German Shepard Dog -Old English Sheepdog -Shetland Sheepdog -Pembroke Welsh Corgi -Polish Lowland Sheepdog -Swedish Vallhund
Common Characteristics:
  • High Prey/Chase Drive: These breeds have been bred to find and go after quick movement, such as a runaway sheep or a prey animal stalking the herd. Unless properly desensitized, these breeds can become overly stimulated by the activities of small children, bicycles or skates.
  • Herding Behavior: Similarly, when these breeds see a quick moving object they have the strong instinct to chase and/or nip it. When these dogs live in a house with children, the children can become the flock that the dog needs to keep in check. Proper socialization and desensitization at an early age can help deter this.
  • High need for Mental Activity: These dogs were bred to move a herd or flock of animals. They had to move them long distances or into specific areas. As a result they are excellent problem solvers and need mental stimulation on a daily basis or they will find problems to solve themselves (like how to get into that trash can or to the other side of the fence).
  • High need for Daily Exercise: Again, these dogs were bred to move an entire herd or flock of cattle or sheep, as a result they have energy to burn. These dogs need vigorous exercise daily, at least two long walks or a run as an adult. If not properly exercised, these dogs can develop undesirable habits such as tail-chasing, pacing, digging and aggression.
  • Easily Trained: Since these breeds were meant to work closely with humans, they tend to work well and learn quickly in classes.
  • Overly Attached: Again, because of their history of working closely with humans, along with a high pack drive and desire to please, these dogs can be prone to developing separation anxiety. Dogs of this groups should be taught to accept time away from owner from a young age; crate training is highly recommended.

Terrier Group:
Example breeds in this group: (this is not a full list, but should give you a good idea of who's who)
-Airedale Terrier -American Staffordshire Terrier -Cairn Terrier -Australian Terrier -Bedlington Terrier -Border Terrier -Dandie Dinmont Terrier -Glen of Imaal Terrier -Bull Terrier -Kerry Blue Terrier -Lakeland Terrier -Irish Terrier -Standard Manchester Terrier -Miniature Bull Terrier -Norfolk Terrier -Miniature Schnauzer -Norwich Terrier -Scottish Terrier -Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier -Sealyham Terrier -Skye Terrier -Smooth Fox Terrier -Staffordshire Bull Terrier -Welsh Terrier -West Highland White Terrier -Wire Fox Terrier
Common Characteristics:

  • Active and Tenacious: Many of these dogs were bred to hunt vermin and not back down when attacked by them. They can easily respond aggressively to punishment techniques and some corrections. Owners should be sure to positively reward all good behavior and avoid physical corrections.
  • High need for Daily Exercise: As many of dogs were bred to chase down small vermin, they have plenty of energy. They need daily exercise such as a long walk, fetch or a session of tricks and obedience cues to exercise mind and body.
  • Alert and Agile: As many dogs were bred to hunt and kill vermin so they are able to move quite quickly and find their way into small spaces. Owners need to be aware of this and able to keep up with them!
  • Digging and Hunting Instinct: If not properly exercised these dogs will dig and hunt for things on their own. Providing an acceptable outlet for these activities like their own sandbox or doing nosework games and activities can prevent problem behaviors.
  • Potential for Aggression towards other Animals: Since they were bred to hunt and kill vermin, they may not befriend smaller animals. Some terriers have been bred to fight other animals and as a result need to have good, positive socialization with other animals as early as possible. An owner who is aware of this and is able to redirect the dog before trouble arises will have a happy life with their tenacious terrier.
Non-Sporting Group:
Example breeds in this group: (this is not a full list, but should give you a good idea of who's who)
-American Eskimo Dog -Bichon Frise -Boston Terrier-Bulldog -Chinese Shar-Pei -Chow Chow -Dalmatian -Finnish Spitz -French Bulldog -Keeshond -Lhasa Apso -Lowchen -Standard Poodle -Schipperke -Shiba Inu -Tibetan Spaniel -Tibetan Terrier
Common characteristics:
  • Mixed: One important thing to remember about this group is that is is a bit of a mixed bag. There are breeds that have some characteristics of the working group (keeshond, schipperke) while others have characteristics of the sporting group (dalmatian, finnish spitz, poodle). Some breeds within this group have been bred to guard (lhasa apso, chow chow, chinese shar-pei) but others have been bred as companions or literally lap dogs for royalty (bichon frise, tibetan spaniel, boston terrier, french bulldog, tibetan terrier)
  • Difficult to Motivate: Since very few of these dogs were bred for 'hard labor' they can be difficult to motivate in training. This is a great example of how rewarding for performing tricks or cues can be helpful in keeping the dog motivated. On the other hand, since these dogs do not always need exercise (with some exceptions like those similar to working and sporting groups) they can make better family pets. Less of a prey drive can make them easier to handle. Since they were not bred to work, they do not feel that they need to work on a daily basis.
Hound Group:
Example breeds in this group: (this is not a full list, but should give you a good idea of who's who)
-Afghan -American Foxhound -Basenji -Basset Hound -Black and Tan Coonhound -Beagle
-Bloodhound -Borzoi -Dachshund -English Foxhound -Greyhound -Harrier -Ibizan Hound -Irish Wolfhound -Otterhound -Norwegian Elkhound -Petite Basset Griffon Vendeen -Pharaoh Hound -Plott -Rhodesian Ridgeback -Saluki -Whippet
Common Characteristics:
  • Easily Distracted: These dogs have been bred to react to scent and/or movement. As a result they can be easily distracted by anything in their environment. Owner should be prepared to work hard to gain dog's focus. A plus is that being allowed to sniff can be used as a reward for some of these dogs.
  • Independent: Since these dogs have been bred to work with but independently of people, they can have less of a drive to please their owner. Dogs can quickly become bored with repetition, owner should be prepared to keep dog motivated and interested.
Toy Group:
-Affenpinscher -Cavalier King Charles Spaniel -Brussels Griffon -Chinese Crested -English Toy Spniel -Chihuahua -Havanese -italian Greyhound -Japanese Chin -Maltese -Toy Manchester Terrier -Miniature Pinscher -Papillon -Pekingese -Pomeranian -Poodle (toy, miniature) -Pug -Shih Tzu -Silky Terrier -Toy Fox Terrier -Yorkshire Terrier
Common Characteristics:
  • Small Size- Some of these breeds do not seem to know that they are in fact, smaller than other dogs. You will often find these small breeds confronting a much larger dog. Another thing to keep in mind is that because of their small size, these breeds can be easily intimidated by people. Owners and trainers may need to practice some cues or behaviors with the dog on a chair to reduce the dog's fear. Owners may also get tired of bending down to reinforce, so teaching these dogs to catch treats comes in handy!
  • Delicate Physiology- Owners of these breeds need to keep in mind that their dogs are very delicate; they can easily break a leg jumping off a sofa. Owner should keep this in mind with training- it is best to avoid any physical corrections as they can easily cause injury to these small breeds.

Breed information courtesy of Animal Behavior College curriculum, stage 1, pg. 6-14 & American Kennel Club

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Clicker Training Basics

Since January is National Train Your Dog Month- you probably didn't know that and I won't hold it against you; I really only expect total canine dorks like myself to know such things- I thought it would be a great time to talk about something that I use in training frequently.
Yup, these things.

You push down that little yellow thingie and it makes a distinct clicking noise. There are different kinds of clickers, this is an i-click type that was developed by Karen Pyror. She's a pretty smart lady when it comes to training and behavior. There are also ones called box clickers that have a metal tab you push down to get the same noise. The advantages of the i-clicks are that the noise is a little softer, so it is less intimidating to nervous dogs and if you drop it (happens to the best of us) you can still press the tab down with your foot! I order them by the case with my logo on them for clients, but they are available for purchase at most pet stores and of course, on Amazon.

First a general disclaimer: 
-I don't always use clickers in training:
     In multiple dog households, I stray away from them- unless they have a really big house and can train one dog at a time in a separate part of the house. You'll understand why this is important in a few minutes.
     Some owners are so overwhelmed by the thought of having to use another tool (leash, collar, treats/toys, dog) that I just don't add to their stress level.
     Some dogs are so freaked out by the noise that it would take more time to desensitize to the clicker and that would delay getting to the real issue.
     Some owners are opposed to the idea of a clicker, and as long as I am getting them to communicate clearly with their dog using reward based training at all, I'm happy with it.

In general, the last thing I want to do is be so stuck on ONE tool that I lose clients. I want to work with people to find a solution that helps them and their dog- if that means no clicker, it's no problem. If however, that means they want to beat their dog and use a choke chain we will have major differences in opinion!

Ok, now on to the clicker! There are some rules on what a clicker is and is not. The 'is not' list is shorter so I'll start with that in case you get bored and stop reading soon.

A clicker is NOT:
-A toy for your child to run around with, clicking all the livelong day. Unless you want to run around giving your dog a treat every time they hear the click so that you can still use it in training.
-A device for getting your dog's attention. I have taken clickers away from clients who tried this, so don't get me started!
-Something to scare or startle your dog. I don't use techniques like spray bottles and shake cans to change behavior. Things like that don't usually work long term anyway- eventually you'll put that penny can down and your dog will notice.
-A chew toy. This should be common sense, but I have known dogs who eat things like rocks and newspapers...and clickers. Do yourself, your dog and your veterinarian a favor and keep small plastic objects out of reach, please.

How does a clicker work in training?
There are two types of conditioning used with clicker training- Classical Conditioning  and Operant Conditioning. I'll get into Operant vs Classical Conditioning later on when I figure out how to add charts and pictures so it's easier to understand. For now, as a very general rule, lets just say operant conditioning works on the principles that any behavior that is rewarded will be repeated and ones that are ignored or punished will not, and animals learn to interact with their environment based on these outcomes. In classical conditioning, the animal is simply learning an association between objects/events. Again, very, very simplified so this post isn't 5 pages long.
-Initially, the clicker is paired with treats so that your dog understands that it means good things will happen. This is classical conditioning at work: your dog already likes treats, making them an unconditioned reinforcer, their love of treats and excitement for them is an unconditioned response- they do it naturally.
-You pair the treats with something new like a clicker (neutral stimulus) and after a little time (usually 20-100 clicks for initial pairing), the previously neutral stimulus elicits the same response as the unconditioned stimulus. That is, after pairing, the clicker gets the dog excited for treats and fun (without seeing any treats).
-Clicker pairing is simply clicking and giving a reward to get them to understand that the -click- sound means treats! In training, we sometimes call this charging the clicker.
-Once the clicker is paired, you are able to communicate with your dog that they are right at the exact time they offer the behavior you want. If your dog knows she did the right thing and it made you happy and she gets a treat, she's going to do it again. Now that your clicker is paired, operant conditioning will take over. You will use the clicker to reinforce and reward all the good behaviors your dog offers. Remember, any behavior that is rewarded will be repeated by your dog.
A clicker IS:
-A tried and tested training method- it was first used with marine mammals to communicate without force; it has been used on different species in zoos and rescue facilities.
-A reward marker; meaning that it marks the moment in time when your dog offers the correct behavior. When your dog's bum is on the ground for the sit cue, you click AS SOON AS HER BUM HITS THE GROUND! This teaches her that when her bum hits the ground after you say that "sit" word, she gets a treat. Guess what? She's going to try sitting more often!
-A clear, concise method of communicating with your dog- it always sounds the same, no matter who is holding it or what kind of day they had. Yes, you say "good girl" differently when you've had a crappy day and your dog knows it. I mean it's still good to talk to your dog and I encourage you to do so, but for training, a clicker is great. Oh, and a clicker is way faster than you actually getting the words "good girl' out of your mouth. If you're anything like me, the fewer words you need to try getting from brain to mouth in the correct order, the better off you are.
-Great for working at a distance, so you don't have to yell!
-Something that is faded out after initial training of a new behavior. This is done with random rewards, rewarding only best responses and switching to 'real life rewards' like toys, praise and games.
-Something that needs to be rewarded EVERY TIME your dog hears it, if you want it to work in training. This is why it's not a child's toy.
-Something that, if paired correctly, is a very powerful training tool. This is why I don't recommend it to multiple dog households- if you are working with Fluffy on 'sit' while Fido (who already practiced sit and is now a little jealous) is eating the toilet paper on the other side of the room, you are rewarding two behaviors, but only one of those is a desirable behavior.

Ok, that's it from this end until next week- I want you to go out and train your dog, ok? Remember, playing games is still training, so have fun!

For more info on Train Your Dog Month, hop on over here- it's all been planned by the APDT.
It's really a great excuse to go out and buy more treats, fetch and tug toys for your pooch if nothing else :)