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This is the third in a series of blogs I am calling “Inspired by Knap”. These blogs come from being reminded about basic training as a result of having a new, very active, very aware puppy in my home… Knap. Without my long background in training dogs, this puppy might be very difficult to live with. With it, we are having a grand time together. Through these blogs, Knap and I want to share some of what is working so well for us with the hope that this will help make training your dog using reward-based training more effective and more fun.
We have taken this walk hundreds of times. Knap knows it well. Today he remained connected, walking nicely on a loose leash to the park, something that is not easy for him because the park promises many exciting smells.
We stopped at the entrance, as we always do. I waited for him to offer a check-in… got a glance (what we call a “fly-by”, a nod to connection but not real connection). We went back outside the entrance (just a bit less exciting) and waited… and he gave me a beautiful auto check-in.
Walking back through the gate again, I recalled him, a test I always do, both to check connection and to make decisions about whether he gets some version of off leash privileges…. Nothing. At best, he would turn his head slightly. But this is not our definition of a recall.
Knap’s recall is fabulous, especially for a 10 month old puppy… He comes in an instant, both to voice and whistle recalls. Knowing that, it would have been easy to say he was being stubborn. But he is not a stubborn dog… dogs aren’t stubborn. Stepping back and looking around us, I realized that school had started.
The school yard, 60 feet beyond a fence, contained a few children and one adult… no great excitement. But it was different from Knap’s normal. It was something unexpected on this walk. For Knap, who is super aware using his eyes, his nose and his ears, this was an onslaught of new information that threw him out of balance. It was not a matter of stubborn. It was not a matter of “I won’t”. It was a matter of “I can’t”. He simply could not process my cues and therefore could not do those recalls that he generally does so beautifully.
It is easy to understand how people can call their dogs stubborn. It happens when behavior that flows so beautifully most of the time, is just not there “all of a sudden”. When it surprises me, as it did this morning, I have to stop… to remember that Knap is doing the best he can do. Not at all stubborn, he simply could not do what I asked.
I moved us farther away from the playground to decrease the input and we waited calmly. And, when he could connect with me, we walked. And no… today he never had off-leash privileges because he would not have been able reliably to respond to my recall.
And tomorrow is another day.
This is the second in a series of blogs I am calling “Inspired by Knap”. These blogs come from being reminded about basic training as a result of having a new, very active, very aware puppy in my home… Knap. Without my long background in training dogs, this puppy might be very difficult to live with. With it, we are having a grand time together. Through these blogs, Knap and I want to share some of what is working so well for us with the hope that this will help make training your dog using reward-based training more effective and more fun.
The name of the game in reward-based dog training is creating opportunities for success…. Lots of success which means lots of rewards! This often means starting by limiting the dog’s world so that the dog is only doing the kinds of things we want… things we can reward. Gradually, as the dog learns, we expand his world. This management rewards us as well as creating more opportunities for rewarding the dog. We are free of the frustration and anger that can happen when a dog, just by being a dog, behaves in ways we don’t like. We also have the reward of success as the dog succeeds. It doesn’t get much better than this for building a great relationship together!
Whether you have a new dog or are wanting to make changes with a dog who has already been a part of your family for some time, management is a great way to get started. Let’s look at how we managed Knap’s arrival in our home…
- Use of crates and ex-pens: I made these exciting places to be so that he would love being in them… and then I used them any time I could not supervise 100% where he was and what he was doing. (It always amazes me how much puppies can find to get into that we as adults have always overlooked!) This prevented him from
- Chewing objects that were not his to chew. (His “chewables” were with him in the crate or ex-pen)
- Making house training mistakes while I was not watching. (He was on a frequent schedule of trips to the yard with me so that he could do what he needed to do and I could reward that well.)
- Bothering my other dog… who was not super excited to welcome him to our home!
- Clearing off surfaces… I wanted him to learn to leave counters and other surfaces alone which meant not allowing him to discover fun stuff on them.
- Securing kitchen and bathroom cupboards
- Leaving nothing on the floor other than what he could have… not shoes, not a handbag, not computer cords, not books or knitting… nothing but his toys
- Making certain the yard was safe… clear of anything he should not have or that I did not want him to chew on
With this management, everything that we did together when he was free in the house or yard was fun with lots of opportunities for rewarding good behavior!
On a cautionary note: One of the comments trainers frequently make is “management always fails”. Keep this in mind as you gradually expand your dog’s world. My choice is to make training anything that involves the dog’s safety the top priority. That pre-empts the potential failure of management because the dog is now trained!
Gradually, then, I gave Knap increasing freedom. Some of this actually happened when I failed in management! For example, one day I absent-mindedly just took a shower without putting him in the ex-pen. Imagine my surprise when I opened the shower door and was greeted by a very curious puppy… and then my delight that he had handled it perfectly. Now there was one less time for me to think about management. Another time I absent-mindedly left shoes on the floor. When I noticed them, I also realized that they were untouched. Knap had learned what his toys were so the shoes were not important.
The ex-pen is no longer in the living room. At seven months old, he has earned the freedom of the house except at night or when I am gone. Ooops…, also except the kitchen! Rather than increase my counter management as he grew (not realistic with my housekeeping), I just manage with a gate to keep him out of the kitchen unless I am present. Sometimes balancing management choices to accommodate our needs is also important as we live with our dogs. I have chosen to manage this one for life!
Is there a behavior or are their behaviors that you might manage in order to create more rewardable successes with your dog? What would be your progression from management to training? Might this help you find more good things to reward? Wouldn’t that be fun?!
(This is the first in a series of blogs I am calling “Inspired by Knap”. These blogs come from being reminded about basic training as a result of having a new, very active, very aware puppy in my home… Knap. Without my long background in training dogs, this puppy might be very difficult to live with. With it, we are having a grand time together. Through these blogs, Knap and I want to share some of what is working so well for us with the hope that this will help make training your dog using reward-based training more effective and more fun.)
The best relationships start with good observation. We get to know all the little things about those we love and notice quickly when something changes. From there we can make decisions as to the best way to react (or not)… or how to plan to help out. What we look for colors our relationships. Good dog training also starts with what we observe.
In my work with humans whose dogs have behavior issues, I often ponder how I can change something to help them be more efficient, to have more fun in working with their dogs. With a new puppy in the house, I am keenly aware of what I do. It starts with how/when/what I observe. Because what we look for also colors our training.
It is human nature to take good behavior for granted. This means that we often don’t start paying attention until unwanted behavior starts. As reinforcement based trainers we pay attention sooner… We look for things to reward. As I thought about this, I came to a kind of generalization, that I think might help pet owners observe differently, thereby changing the quality of the training:
Every unwanted behavior is preceded at some point by a desired behavior.
Think about it…
- Jumping up on people is preceded by feet on the ground
- Barking is preceded by quiet
- Mouthing is preceded by a still mouth (hard to believe this with puppies sometimes… but it is true!)
- Door rushing is preceded by dog being away from the door
- Not coming when called is preceded by a time the dog is close to you and will respond.
- Pulling on leash is preceded by a time the dog is close to your body… probably before any steps are taken.
- Fence running is preceded by standing in the yard… or next to you.
If we start with this as a concept, we have also started with a place to reward our dogs… and the reinforcement training has begun, resulting in more of the desired behavior. The unwanted behavior is less likely to happen because we have preempted it by reinforcing the behavior we want.
Now, lest anyone accuse me of being too simplistic… it is. But it is a great starting point. The next important concept will be management… because sometimes we have to manage so that there IS good behavior to reinforce. But that’s another blog. (http://pawsandcues.com/blog/creating-reward-opportunities-with-your-dog)
This can work whether we are catching good behavior before unwanted behavior starts or if we are already dealing with unwanted behavior. Think about the unwanted behaviors your dog does that you would like to change. What good behaviors can you find that precede the unwanted ones? How can you reinforce those behaviors? How will doing this prevent the unwanted behaviors from being an issue?
There is a shift here in what we choose to observe, in what we pay attention to. I am betting that making this shift will help make training your dog more efficient and more fun… for both of you. It certainly has for us!
There’s an old song with words by Johnny Mercer that I always loved as a child… “You’ve got to accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative…” This song has been running through my brain recently as I have thought about the words we use in dog training. And it is a perfect theme song for trainers who use the reinforcement quadrants of learning theory as the basis for training methods and training decisions. The good news is that so many trainers have moved in this direction and that pet people are now demanding training that uses kinder methods than the training with which I grew up.
I have realized over the last few months, however, that while our methods may be positive, our words are not. Positive (reinforcement based) dog trainers still use a majority of words to describe what we don’t want instead of what we do want. This is of concern to me because words matter. Words are powerful. Words paint pictures in our brains (and are a reflection of what we “see”). And words then shape expectations and actions.
Let’s look at some of the words and phrases that are commonly used in training dogs (words used both by trainers and pet owners/guardians):
- No jumping
- No pulling
- No dashing through doors
- No barking
- No lunging
- Force Free dog training (the one that really bothers me since it is also used by a company that produces shock collars)
- No pinch collars
- No shock collars
- No pain
- No force
- No fear
All of the above create word pictures of the behaviors and methods we do NOT want to see. (It is easy to see where these originate in a punishment-based culture!) It is time to change our words to more accurately reflect our training methods. We need to accentuate the positive not only in our actions but also in our words.
I have been working to find the alternative words that communicate what I do want instead of what I don’t want. (Old habits die hard!) My hope is that my training colleagues will join me in this effort… the next step in reinforcement based dog training. Choose your own words. This blog was written to encourage our thinking and our creativity, not because I have found the perfect words. Here are a few of my current solutions (which I know will change over time, hopefully with good input from my training colleagues and my clients):
- Feet on the floor
- Walking nicely on leash (loose leash walking)
- Waiting for permission at doorways
- Remaining quiet even in difficult situations
- Learning to deal with scary and/or alarming situations
- Choice based dog training
I look forward to hearing your words…