It’s week four of my 10 Important Dog Training Tips series! Over the past three weeks I discussed the importance of keeping things very clear through “no grey areas”, why consistency is key and creating attainable goals. Week four covers the importance of repetition during the training phase.
Just like when you were learning your time tables, and you would work through flash cards night after night to remember what 2×2 and 7×7 equaled, your dog must practice commands over and over to fully retain the information.
How many repetitions you ask? Well, this depends on how clear you are when teaching your dog what you want and how much your dog wants to do the desired behavior. I have seen some dogs learn a behavior in less than 10 repetitions while it may take another dog 30 repetitions to learn the same behavior. However, I think it important to note that repetitions are successful when there is consistency in what you are asking your dog to do as well. If you pay close enough attention to your dog, you will soon learn their body language to let you know they get it. For example, when I am teaching Caleb a new behavior, I know that once he starts wagging his tail very happily it is because the behavior clicked in his head and he now understands what I am asking of him. Almost like he’s proud of himself for figuring it out lol.
You can check out a video I made specifically for this blog where I start teaching Caleb not to forge forward when he transitions from a sit to a stand.
Along with how many repetitions it may take your dog to learn a behavior, you then have to add in the months of practicing that behavior in all settings to ensure your dog understands he has to perform the same behavior no matter if it is in your living room, around your neighborhood or at the local park. It is important to remember that you never push your dog and expect him to perform with out any hiccups in new environments if you have not set him up for success. This means, you don’t take your dog to a high stimulation environment and practice his behaviors if you haven’t practiced them in lower stimulation environments first.
Welcome back to my series of 10 Important Dog Training Tips! The first week I discussed the importance of keeping things very clear through “no grey areas”, followed by why consistency is key. This week covers the tip of creating attainable goals for both you and your dog during the training phase.
As with anything in life, the attempt to achieve our goals can overcome our lives and destroy us if we don’t break the process down into small steps that can be achieved on the way to the greater end result. If we ignore the steps needed to take along the way, we can become quite frustrated and give up. The same can happen with dog training.
How do you achieve attainable goals with your dog? Here are some hints on creating a “schedule” that will help you.
We start small. Let’s say I want to teach Caleb how to “Clean Up” or put his toys away before he goes to bed. I know I need to break this down into smaller, attainable goals, to get the end result I want. This means that I need to teach Caleb the following steps:
Teach him how to retrieve obects on command
Teach him how to carry objects to a designated area
Teach him how to place the objects in a specific box
These steps now need to be put into daily, weekly and monthly goals.
If I just jump to the desired trick of Caleb miraculously understanding he is suppose to pick up his toy and put it in his toy basket when I say “Clean Up” without showing him the steps along the way, I am going to become very frustrated. And if I am frustrated, you can bet your fur your dog is even more so. So, to help us both, I’m going to work on each part of this behavior in small steps so we both reach our goal with happy results.
Important! If you take longer to reach your goal than anticipated, do not worry! Just keep working on each step until you are satisfied with the result, you will both be much happier in the end.
Daily goals for this trick may be to work on Caleb picking up each toy on the ground when I point to it. A simple, yet important step to the final trick. Once Caleb has gotten that trick down, I will now focus on him carrying the object to me in the same room, then carry it to me from another room, etc. Next, I will work on Caleb dropping the object into the desired container I want him to put his toys away in. After we have been working on all of these steps individually, over a period of weeks, we can finally link all of the the steps together so that he has to pick up his toy, carry it into the proper room, and drop it in the desired container. Ta da! We have the end result of “Clean Up” accomplished over a period of months.
Here’s an easier example most people want their dogs to do – stay in place for long periods of time. When I was teaching Caleb to stay in a “Sit” for 5 minutes, I did not start the timer at 5 minutes. I started with what Caleb could easily do which was 30 seconds, and slowly built on that time. Each couple of days I added another 5 seconds to his period of time to stay in the sit position and if he had a hard time reaching my goal, I backed up to the time he could succeed at. This meant that I may have wanted him to jump from 5 seconds to 10 seconds, but he consistently broke the stay at 7 seconds. At this point, I didn’t want to be correcting Caleb, so I changed my goal to 7 seconds for a couple of daysuntil I felt he could push through to 10 seconds. Eventually, we reached our goal of 5 minutes because we set attainable goals that we were both happy with.
So, remember, you can achieve your goals if you approach it in a sensible manner that both you and your dog can agree upon.
Welcome back to my series of 10 Important Dog Training Tips! Last week I discussed the importance of keeping things very clear through “no grey areas” in my blog, 10 Important Dog Training Tips: Week 1 – No Grey Areas, This week covers the rule of consistency which can be interchanged with, and is quite similar too, that topic.
*Remember, all of these are discussed for the important time of the training phase of any new command, trick, sport, etc.
Much like the concept of keeping things black and white, consistency is vital for the success of your dog. It is one of the most important tools in dog training, no matter the sport. If you are not consistent with your requests from your dog, there will be too many “grey areas” and your dog will become confused leading to more errors in your dog’s decision making.
The following are clear examples of consistency that most of us deal with on a daily basis with our dogs:
Let’s say I do not want Caleb to beg for people food, especially while I am sitting down to eat a relaxing dinner with family or friends. At this point I request Caleb to “down” while we enjoy our meal and never feed him food from the dinner table to discourage the act of begging. Then one night, while he’s behaving, I toss him a piece of my steak to enjoy. The next night, I am very disappointed in Caleb when he is sitting, staring at me while I eat dinner. I can’t believe he is begging! I yell at him, tell him to “down” and don’t understand why he’s misbehaving. I have no one to blame but myself in this situation as I clearly showed Caleb the previous night that there is a possibility of receiving a yummy morsel of food at the table. If I had kept his training consistent, by not feeding him, he would have continued with the right choice of not begging.
Another great example is teaching your dog to wait while his food bowl is placed on the ground before being released to enjoy his meal. Every meal I require Caleb to stay in either a “sit” or “down” while I place his food bowl on the ground and walk away. Caleb knows
he is to stay in that position (time of stay varies) until I release him to eat. Now, let’s say that one morning I am running late for work and I place the food bowl on the ground without asking him to do a behavior first. I am too busy worrying about time to notice that he broke routine, and I didn’t correct him. In fact, I rewarded him for it (by letting him get his meal for misbehaving)! That night for dinner, Caleb rushes me for his meal and I yell at him questioning, “What is wrong with you?! You know better!” Again, Caleb’s mistake is my fault due to the previous meal mishap and my inconsistency.
Besides consistency in what we expect of our dog, we must also be consistent with what we say and do to encourage success. For example, can anyone see the problem with these commands of “sit”, “down”, “off” and “sitdown!” being used interchangeably? I will show you….. If I ask Caleb to “sit” and “down”, expecting the separate known behaviors, then one day he doesn’t listen when I ask him to “sit” and I get angry so I deepen my tone of voice and tell him very sternly “sitdown!”, I can in no way get angry with Caleb if he decides to “down” as this behavior is also the correct choice with the command I just gave him.
Another example I come across with 90% of my clients is the misuse of the command “down”. Most dog owners use the command “down” to have their dog lay down, yet I also
hear them use the same command when the dog is jumping on them, on their guests or on
furniture. In reality, if we tell our dog “down” in any of these situations, we should expect our dog to lay down. However, because we are picturing just having the dog to keep off of something, we accept the response of them stopping the undesirable behavior instead of expecting them to actually lay down. This is a prime example of us not being consistent with what we ask and expect. In this situation, there should be two separate commands to help the dog understand, such as now using the command of “off” to keep paws off of things.
The last important example of consistency that is commonly mishandled by owners, is that of the rate of reward or punishment. If I am training Caleb to “shake” and I do not reward him frequently in the training phase, I can loose his interest and stop seeing progress in his understanding of this new behavior. Just as, if I don’t use a form of punishment (verbal correction, leash correction, time-out, etc) every time it is warranted, Caleb will not learn that there is a possible consequence for the incorrect choice.
There are 10 important fundamental tips I use and teach to my clients that all encourage the success of their dog(s) training program by making everything clear and consistent between you and your dog during the training phase.
What is the training phase? This is the part of your dog’s life that includes the rules and foundations of behaviors being set, and the length of time it takes them to learn this new behavior and follow through 90% of the time. This does not mean for life (unless warranted), but it definitely means for at least the next 6 months to a year (or longer if needed) while your dog is learning. For instance, Caleb (my 1 1/2 yr old German Shepherd) is still in the training phase on his obedience and tricks because now I am working on him following through without any hand or body signals, compliance now comes solely from my verbal cue.
So, I thought I would put together a short series of important tips (10 in total) everyone should remember when training their dog(s). These are the things I find myself telling each and every one of my clients at some point during their lessons with me. Each tip will come out in a different weekly blog so as not to overwhelm you with too much information at one time. I’m hoping this will also allow you to apply each step as you learn it allowing you to mold it into your current training program. I encourage you to challenge yourself, and apply all of these into your daily routines with your furry loved ones.
Week 1 Tip: Everything must be black and white, not grey
This theory is very important to help your dog succeed and teach them in a clear and concise manner. One of the ways we achieve this is making sure there are no grey areas to your dog’s training routines. What does this mean? This means that when you ask your dog to do something or when you set house rules, there are no exceptions, especially during the training phase.
For instance, let’s say I want to teach Caleb to be patient at doorways (must sit still while door is opened before being released), I can not let him run through some doorways then yell at him when he doesn’t sit at another doorway. For example: Caleb would get very confused because he has been allowed to run through the back door but now he just got yelled at for running through the front door. To make it very clear to Caleb, he should be asked to sit at all doorways during the training phase so he understands clearly that this new rule applies to every doorway in the beginning. This rule is even applied for coming in from his outdoor kennel as shown below to make everything black and white regarding door manners for Caleb.
Another example would be the new rule of your dog not being allowed on the bed as part of your training plan. If I instill this rule, it means Caleb is not allowed on my bed at any time, not just when I don’t want him up there. To be fair to Caleb, he should not be allowed on my bed at any point during the training phase. This does not mean Caleb will never be allowed on the bed again, it just means that at this point in his training, he must earn the reward of cuddling with me in bed by staying off of it until invited up which could take a while. No matter what kind of sad eyes Caleb gives me, or no matter how much I want to cuddle with him, I can not give in and invite him up because that would cause a grey area in the training. Then, the next day when Caleb jumps up on the bed on his own, it would be very unfair of me to yell at him because I have not made things black and white for him.
*Note: both of these examples can also fall into the consistency category (another tip in the series) as well.
So, I had an idea the other day. Rather, I should say, I think I had an epiphany. It may have been too little sleep the night before or too much caffeine that day but something came to me during a common interaction with my dog. Let’s see what you think.
As I was reaching for the door knob to let Caleb out to his run, I thought of something while I watched his actions. You see, he looked at my hand as it reached for the knob initially, then he took a quick moment to glance back at me before returning his acutely intense eyes back to my hands to study their actions. This is when I thought, what if it isn’t the simple action of touching the door knob that excites our dogs as we have always thought. What if it’s the mere idea of our dogs loving our hands so much! Think about it a moment before you label me as crazy…
Let’s make a list of the occurrences that happen almost day-to-day with our canine friends.
We grab their food bowl to feed them one to three times a day depending on your household structure. We pick up the bowl with our hands, carry it to the counter, grab the food, pour it in the dish then place the dish on the ground for our dogs to enjoy their meal.
We grab the collar and leash out of its resting place, put it around our dog’s neck, attach the leash and tell them “Let’s go for a walk!”
We grab the car keys off the shelf, turn to our dogs and say “Wanna go for a ride?!”
We open the cookie jar, grab a cookie (or two, or three), ask our dogs to do something for us then feed them the cookie(s).
We pick up the ball off the floor and toss it for our dog to retrieve. Hopefully they bring it back to us, drop it at our feet at which point we pick it up and repeat the process.
We grab our dog’s brush out of the basket and proceed to brush them adding in a nice massage at the end to which our dog’s melt into the floor enjoying the special attention.
The list can go on and on but I think you’re starting to get the point here. My question to you is what do you see that’s the most common item in all of these so far? Besides you doing something for you dog lol. Have you figured it out yet?? Your hands!!
Besides your calming, reassuring or praising voice, your hands do everything your dog loves. They are the tools that do everything extended away from our body. They are the things our dogs watch most often because they hold and do all the good things thus making our dogs incredible learners of hand signals. So why is it so hard to believe that if our dogs could talk they may say something like…”I absolutely LOVE your hands!”
Now I know some hands out there can perform unbelievably evil actions, but for the most part I think they are pretty kind and loving to our dogs. So, next time you do something with your dog I suggest you take a moment to see what you are doing and how your dog is reacting. You may not find me crazy after all (I hope).
With all the concerns going around social media regarding the movie Max, and how it will affect the Belgian Malinois breed, I thought I would share my story of owning a working dog.
I once believed that any dog could flourish in a home as long as there was clear direction, consistency and a balanced relationship between owner and dog. I believed that no matter the breed, it could be done by anyone. Over the past few months I have quickly realized that this can be quite a fantasy. I have shared my life and home with different breeds of shelter dogs, most mutts of unknown origins and they all lived well-balanced lives. Once I started my career in dog training and behavior, learning the facets that contribute to how dogs learn and develop, it became clear to me that dogs, much like humans, are pretty similar from one breed to the next. Several years later when I dipped into the world of dog rescue and became a dog foster mom I started feeling empathy for all these “unwanted” dogs. I would say, “If they just had an owner that taught them right from wrong from the very beginning.” “If they just had an owner who understood dogs they wouldn’t be here.” I truly believed that no matter the dog’s breed they could survive in any pet home as long as the simple rules of consistency were followed.
Today, my views have changed.
I am now the proud owner of a true “working dog” who drains me of my mental and physical energy on a daily basis. I am not stating this as a complaint but as a fact. I knew when I decided to purchase Caleb that I was purchasing a type of dogthat required daily mental stimulation, exercise and challenging activities to keep him out of trouble. I thought I could handle it with no problem being my background as a dog trainer, knowing the ins and outs of keeping dogs mentally and emotionally healthy. Well I am here to say that owning a working dog is not as easy as it looks and I now understand why so many dogs end up at the shelter, left in back yards, or worse, euthanized. Owning a working dog is a serious commitment that must be looked at with a completely open mind, and heart.
These dogs excel at so many activities because they are truly incredibly intelligent creatures. Their lineage comes from years and years of cross-breeding individual dogs who each have the desire and drive to work to their maximum capability and then even further when asked. Take the border collies who have been bred to herd sheep. If you purchased a puppy from a breeder who has been breeding Border Collies to work a ranch 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and you take that puppy home to your apartment in the city, work 8 hours a day and just take him for walks, you will soon have a monster on your hands because you are not allowing the dog to do what he is bred to do. You are essentially keeping a tiger caged.
And the movies and television shows we watch with the perfectly scripted characters of Lassie, Benji and Rin Tin Tin (to name a few) don’t help the general public understand the intensity some of these dogs require with daily training. And I’m sure my love and respect for the German Shepherd Dog stemmed from watching them star in movies like K-9, Rin Tin Tin and others. But we have to remember these dogs are trained to perform these acts and more than likely have a trainer behind the scenes that spends countless hours and minutes every day training them.
I am now the proud owner of an extremely intelligent German Shepherd from Belgium working lines. This means Caleb is the offspring of specific breedings to produce dogs that will excel at Schutzhund, French Ring, PSA or any other protection work, obedience, search and rescue, agility, etc. With that said, the flip side is that these dogs typically do not flourish in a home with little stimulation. They must have regular opportunities to challenge themselves, learn new behaviors, fail at attempts and recover from those fails ready to try again. Your average “pet dog” does not have this same drive. They are quite content to sit at home until the family returns, have a play session, possibly a nightly walk, then sit down and relax as an entire family. A working dog reaches this point only after working.
A great example of this is something I have learned with Caleb and his desire to
learn new things. If Caleb attempts something new, let’s say climbing a wall, and he falls off ultimately failing in his attempt, Caleb will actually pull me back to the very beginning and try it all over again on his own. He does not accept failure in his life. And when he does accomplish something that he considers to be a task we should all be proud of, like jumping up on to a high surface for the first time, he will bark a couple of times as if he is congratulating himself. I also find Caleb actively seeking out new obstacles, such as ladders or big boulders to climb, just to do it.
It may seem like I am bragging about my amazing dog but I am sharing because these are things one rarely encounter with a “pet” dog. These are occurrences that are typical for a working dog and I feel strongly in sharing that every person must thoroughly consider if they can provide a mentally rewarding home for such a dog. If you’ve read my past blogs, or watched any YouTube videos, you have heard me say over and over how important mental stimulation is to any dog, it is absolutely critical for a working dog.
Please understand this blog is not to scare you away from owning a beautifully smart working dog, it is simply here to warn you to do your due diligence before deciding on what breed and breeder. I love Caleb with all my heart and he amazes me each and every day with his intelligence and bravery. He has learned more in these past 10 months than any of my previous dogs ever learned. I know I will have more fun with him than I ever expected simply because he will challenge me to think of new things to do with him, challenge me to learn new training techniques and games and challenge me to stay active and mentally healthy.
If you’ve ever met with me to address your dog’s tendency to forge while on walks, you probably already know about the amazing Starmark Pro-Training Collar. Developed by Starmark several years ago, this collar has been a true life saver for many dogs and has been my go-to training collar for dogs of all sizes.
For those not familiar, let me tell you a little about this remarkable training tool. The Starmark collar is constructed of durable plastic that is comfortable for your dog to wear all day. The material makes it light weight yet quick to respond to leash pressure allowing a quick and painless correction to be given to your dog if needed. Starmark combined the martingale and prong collar to create this gentle tool allowing sensitive owners to communicate with their dogs should they be pulling.
This collar works best when fit high on your dog’s neck and snug enough to not allow any rotation or slippage. The collar is made to be opened, then placed around your dog’s neck, then securely closed. It is NOT to be slipped over your dog’s head. Doing this can possibly cause harm to your dog’s eyes should they be scratched accidentally in the process as well as it leaves the collar sitting too loosely around the neck. The added benefit of this collar is the ability to add or remove links to make the collar fit your dog’s specific neck size. You don’t have that option with a lot of other training collars which makes this quite ideal in the dog training world. You can start using this collar on your young dog and simply add links as he grows and matures.
Transitioning your dog to a Starmark Martingale collar will allow you to give less corrections and protect your dog’s neck from constant pressure and/or stricture from other collars they pull in to like buckle or chain collars. Typically my clients see results within minutes of transitioning to this wonderful collar and are so pleased they are truly smiling by the end of the first lesson.
As I mention in the video (see link at bottom of page), this collar can be quite difficult for elderly or those with weak hands to open and close. Luckily there are a couple of companies, Pawmark being one, that have attached quick releases to the strap. I highly recommend you look for these specific collars to make your life easier should you fall into either of these categories. I also suggest you keep the collar one link too large while practicing putting the collar on your dog, especially if they have a longer coat, until you get the hang of it. Don’t worry, this usually takes only a few attempts! Once you’re comfortable with the process, remove that extra link and you are all set.
If you think your dog would benefit from this training collar, I strongly urge you to consult a knowledgeable dog trainer in your area to help you fit the collar and train your dog to walk on a loose leash with you. You can also “heel” on over to my YouTube channel to view my recent tutorial video on the Starmark collar including how to open and close the collar while on or off of your dog.