10 Important Dog Training Tips: Week 10 – Have Fun!

Welcome to the last blog (sniff sniff) in the series of my personal 10 Important Dog Training Tips. Over the past 9 weeks I covered the topics of no grey ares, consistency, setting attainable goals, the power of repetition, having realistic expectations, finding confidence in yourself, knowing when to take a step back , the NILF concept and knowing when to hire a professional to help you. This week, and last topic in this series, covers the most important thing to remember when training your dog…….always have fun!!

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Practicing one of Caleb’s tricks at the local park between obedience sessions.

 

Just as with any other type of training you do in your life; working out, studying, practicing an instrument, you need to have fun or you will lose the drive to want to excel. Dog training is the same way. If you don’t find yourself smiling at your dog at least 5 times during your practice session, or laughing out loud at their mistakes, you will not enjoy working on your dog’s behaviors. And if you are not having fun, it can be guaranteed that neither is your dog!

Remember, dog training, whether it be for behavior modification, perfecting known cues, learning something new, or just seeing what your dog wants to do, should always have some moments of fun mixed in with the practicing of the other behaviors. This can be by mixing in a fun trick, adding in a little play session or possibily having a “quiet” moment of bonding and rethinking what your goal is. The possibilities vary and can be countless as each partnership (handler and dog) is different from the next.

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Practicing one of Caleb’s tricks in the park between his obedience lessons.

So get some treats in your pocket or gather your dog’s favorite toy and get out there and have fun!!

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10 Important Dog Training Tips: Week 8 – the NILF concept

Welcome back to the series of my top 10 Important Dog Training Tips to remember during the training phase with any dog. The past seven blogs I covered the importance of no grey areasconsistencysetting attainable goalsrepetition, having realistic expectations and confidence in yourself, and finally, knowing when to take a step back. I’m winding down this series with this week’s blog which covers the very important topic of the concept known as Nothing in Life is Free (NILF).

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Dog training with the NILF methods simply means that your dog must work for a resource he wants. This resource could be to cuddle with you in bed, go for a walk in the neighborhood, play fetch, get a bite of your sandwich or swim in the pool. The list can go on and on and simply comes down to that the resource is anything your dog deems important and something they wish to have. Requesting that they do something first, before getting the desired resource, means you are teaching them that good dog manners are reward with “important” things versus a dog learning to be pushy to get what they want.

This is very easily achieved in your household just by asking your dog to do simple things in the beginning. Let’s say your dog wants you to throw the tennis ball. They run over to you and drop their tennis ball in your lap while you are watching t.v. Instead of just throwing the ball automatically, you would instill NILF by asking your dog to do a simple sit command, then throw the ball as the reward for sitting. Once your dog has the hang of this simple command, you would ask your dog to either sit longer, lie down, go to his bed, etc. If your dog doesn’t do what you ask him to, he doesn’t get his ball. He may start to bark, nose you, paw at you, or even try to take the ball, all of which you either have to ignore or correct him for and only reward him once he does the simple behavior you asked him to originally.

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All of these past students are doing something for what they want. Some are laying down politely as guest enter the house; sitting politely to be petted, receive a treat reward or chase the ball or just stay in one position no matter what distractions are around them to continue walking through the park.

 

The NILF concept is especially important for those dogs who show tendencies towards resource guarding and/or aggression. By instilling ground rules from the beginning that your dog can not get what he wants until he does something for you helps them to understand they are not making the rules. They are not the decision makers and in resource-guarding-squarecontrol. Any time I sign on a new client who has a dog who is growling at them when they try to sit on the couch, walk near their food bowl when they are eating, snap at them for trying to take an object away, etc., I always tell each and every one of them NILF must be started immediately. This is for everyone’s safety. At this point I believe your dog has lost their “freedom” and must now earn everything they want. They no longer respect you or your possessions therefor they must go back to NILF and earn every resource they want by doing something. They must respect you and stay out of your space. They must do everything you ask them, and in return, as you start to see their behavior changing, you can reward them with higher valued items. In the end, everyone wins! Your dog listens to you making your house copacetic again and your dog gets what he wants, all by everyone understand the rule of boundaries set by NILF.

Here is a video of my dog, Caleb, when he was 8 months old working for his food using NILF. He had to sit in one spot for 2 minutes to get what he really wanted…his kibble. These simple steps can be started at home with your dog – give it a try!

 

10 Important Dog Training Tips: Week 7 – Take a Step Back

Welcome back to the series of my top 10 Important Dog Training Tips to remember during the training phase. The past 6 blogs I covered the importance of no grey areasconsistencysetting attainable goalsrepetition, having realistic expectations and the importance of having confidence in yourself. This week’s blog covers the importance of knowing when to take a step back in your dog’s training.

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We all have had a hard time learning a subject or concept in our lives and dogs can have the same difficulties and road blocks along the way. To be proper educators, we do need to watch our dogs for any hints that they are not understanding what we are asking of them during the training phase and know when it is time to take a step back in their training. This means that your dog may not have a full understanding of the previous step of the training therefor they are not excelling at the current task. To help them succeed, we must take a step back to the last task and make sure they understand before moving forward.

For instance, when I first started teaching my dog, Caleb, how to do nose work, I moved a little too quickly from the stage of having him find the odor to the stage of having him mark the odor’s location. Caleb was catching on quite quickly that his task was to search for his food which would be placed within view, no higher than his head, at the time. He seemed to be flying around the house finding his food with no problem so I decided to challenge him. The next time I hid his food I put in closed cabinets and drawers and he did exceptionally well. Where the issue came in is that when I decided to build off of Caleb’s current odor marker (sit at odor source), I didn’t work on the smaller steps to get to the final picture I wanted. In my mind, I wanted him to sit there patiently, or for longer than 15 seconds, to know that he was positive this was the location of the odor. However, to Caleb, my lack of a quick praise meant to him this must not be the location and he would get up and start searching again. Clearly this was my fault for not teaching him what I wanted him to do in a clear manner before getting to this step.

Luckily, at about this time, Caleb and I went to work with the amazing and knowledgeable Andrew Ramsey of Ramsey Nosework. Andrew immediately pointed out to me that I was doing a few things incorrectly so we took a step back in Caleb’s training to get him to understand that when he found the odor he had to mark the spot by staying still with his eyes locked on the location for several seconds before the reward came. The subsequent sessions were so much more fun for Caleb because he now had an understanding of what he was suppose to do. Since returning home from our lessons with Andrew, we have worked on Caleb’s focused alerts in the house and are almost ready to move to the outdoors with this sport he so thoroughly enjoys now that he understands his job.

So, if you feel your dog just doesn’t understand what you are asking of them, take a moment to step back to the previous step and make sure they are comfortable with that step before moving on. Example of this can be if you are asking your dog to do a 5 minute sit stay but they keep breaking at 4 minutes – take a step back to releasing your dog at 3:50 and build up from there; if you are asking your dog to do a down at a distance of 6′ from you but they don’t do it until you have asked them multiple times – take a step back to a distance where they feel comfortable and down automatically; if you are asking your dog to jump through a hoop that is 3′ off the ground but they keep running under it – take a step back to a height your dog consistently jumps through then slowly raise the hoop. Doing this will help both of you enjoy your training together!

 

10 Important Dog Training Tips: Week 6 – Confidence

Welcome back to the series of my top 10 Important Dog Training Tips to remember during the training phase. The past 5 blogs I covered the importance of no grey areasconsistencysetting attainable goals repetition and understanding realistic expectations. This week covers the importance of having confidence in yourself.

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As with most things we do in life, being confident plays a very important factor when training your dog. I can not stress this enough to my clients as I see it affect their ability to feel comfortable training their dog. What do I mean by this?

50c950d429050f05094a9733053e8af0If you are not confident that you are doing the right thing for your dog, whether that be your worry of your timing for their reward, that you are not being clear enough or you are not doing it right, or being too mean, all these will affect the way you interact with your dog leading you down the path of self destruction. When I train a dog, whether it be my own or a clients’, I make sure that I feel wholeheartedly that I am doing the right thing and I am confident with my request for the dog, whether it be asking them to do something new or correcting them for a wrong behavior.

I had a client who was training her Labrador to be a mobility service dog and one of the cues I teach all service dogs is how to “under” which means to go under a chair, table, bench or desk to be out of way of foot traffic whether the client is at work, out to dinner, at the doctor’s office or on public transportation. This particular dog was having difficulty understanding the concept that she had to crawl under the chair and stay there. As with all lessons, I let the owner try several attempts on her own the way she wanted to do it which was bribery for a morsel in her hand. Well, this lab, as shy as she was, found out she could just put his front legs and head under the chair and be rewarded then quickly jet out from under the chair. The owner was becoming quite frustrated and saw her dog’s behavior as a sign that she did not enjoy the task and the owner wanted to give up. However, what I saw was a dog who was nervous and didn’t feel comfortable with the task. But I knew that I was not asking the dog to do anything “mean” or “abusive” and helped her out by guiding her under the chair with a treat in front of her and a gentle, soft pull of the leash and collar. And guess what……she did it on her first attempt with me!

Just a couple of pictures of Caleb practicing his “under” at 5 & 6 months old.

This is just one example of how being unsure of what you are doing to/with your dog can possibly hamper their learning abilities whereas being confident in what you are doing/asking can teach your dog (and quite possibly yourself) something new. Don’t be afraid! Stand up for yourself and your decisions that involve your dog’s training, you’ll be amazed at what you both learn!

This video does not show training, but it captured a time where I pushed Caleb to do something because I was confident he could do it. And boy is he proud when he finally picks up the tire and carries it!

 

10 Important Dog Training Tips: Week 4 – Repetition

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.

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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.

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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.

10 Important Dog Training Tips: Week 3 – Attainable Goals

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.

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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.

  1. 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
  2. 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 days until 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.

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So, remember, you can achieve your goals if you approach it in a sensible manner that both you and your dog can agree upon.

 

 

10 Important Dog Training Tips: Week 2 – Consistency

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.

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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 begwe 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.

20151023_190220Another 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“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.