Tag: self control

Why “Paw” is Problematic

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Why "Paw" is Problematic | Spring Forth Dog Academy in Providence, RI

Photo by Bonner Springs Library (Flickr Creative Commons)

Many of you know that I enjoy teaching my dogs tricks, so today’s post might come as a bit of a surprise. However, there’s one behavior that dog owners love to teach that often interferes with their progress in Day School and makes their training path harder. That behavior? “Paw” or “shake.”

Teaching your dog to put his paw on you to earn praise or a treat is easy and seems like fun. But if your dog jumps up on people or paws at you for attention, you’re building value in your dog’s mind for the same behavior you’re trying to get rid of in other circumstances. It’s confusing to your dog. Is it acceptable to put your paws on people or not?

Additionally, the way most owners teach this behavior is problematic. In most cases, the owner puts a treat in their closed fist and waits for their dog to start pawing at it. When the dog makes contact with their hand, they release the cookie. We don’t want dogs to make contact with us if we’re holding food. Watch my Self-Control Around Food video and you will see why teaching “paw” in this manner is counter-productive.

We typically run into trouble while teaching down to a dog who knows paw, too. We teach down using a food lure, which turns into a hand signal. That looks a lot like the closed fist many owners use to teach “paw.”

Is it ever okay to teach “paw?”

To be clear, I’m not suggesting that you never teach your dog this behavior. I have! While earning my certification through Karen Pryor Academy, I taught it to Strata on the cue of “pound it.” It’s super cute!

But at that point, Strata had already learned over twenty different behaviors. He had extremely solid self-control around food, and he never jumped up on people.

So before you teach “paw” or “shake,” make sure that you’re satisfied with your dog’s progress with these skills:

-Your dog no longer jumps up on people.

-You have already taught “down.”

-Your dog’s self-control around food is solid.

-Your dog does not paw at people for attention or to seek petting.

Pushing a Button with a Paw | Spring Forth Dog Academy in Providence, RIWhen you are ready to teach it, I recommend using a combination of shaping and targeting rather than luring to decrease confusion. Specifically, I like to shape the dog to touch an object with her paw first, and then transfer it to my hand later. This is what I did with my dog, Strata.

In the picture to the right, Charlie is learning to push a button with his paw. Later on, his owner could hold that button to transfer the behavior from the button to her outstretched hand or fist. Here’s a video showing how to clicker train your dog to touch a target with her paw.

Then, make sure to take the time to get it on stimulus control. That’s a fancy term that means your dog will only offer “paw” when you ask for it, and never offer “paw” in response to another cue. Eileen Anderson wrote a great blog post explaining how to achieve stimulus control, so rather than reinvent the wheel, I encourage you to check that out!

If that sounds challenging, you could consider teaching “wave” instead. With this alternative behavior, your dog isn’t rewarded for making contact with your body! That makes it an ideal skill for dogs who are still struggling with making inappropriate contact with people.

How to Teach Your Dog Self-Control Around Food: VIDEO

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In one of my previous blog posts about self-control versus imposed control for dogs, I explained that I do not teach “leave it” to my dogs. Instead, I train my dogs to wait for permission to take food, objects, or anything else they want.

Here is a quick video demonstration of how I train dogs to have self-control around food.

 

Keys to Training

Siberian Husky Self-Control Around Food

One of our students demonstrating self-control around food. Great job, Willow! (Photo: Smiling Wolf Photography)

Note that I do not say “leave it,” “no,” or otherwise nag Strata to not take the food. Actions speak louder than words. If he tries to steal the treat, I just close my hand and make it inaccessible to him. If he waits politely, I keep my hand open and ultimately reward him using my other hand.

Rewarding with the “free” hand speeds up the learning process for the dog. If you reward with the hand that has all of the treats in it – the very thing you’re training him not to touch! – it will confuse your dog.

Start this training with treats that are of a low value to your dog, like Cheerios, bits of carrot, or his usual dog kibble. Only keep 3-6 treats in your hand at a time. It’s especially important to not start this training with food that is oily or juicy, like hot dogs or cheese, because your dog will be able to lick that off of your skin and therefore get rewarded for “mugging” your treat hand.

It is imperative that you play this game in a variety of places, with a variety of treats. Otherwise, your dog will learn that this is a game you play with liver treats, but anything else that hits the ground is fair game. My goal is to play this game in every room of my house (including the bathroom, and especially the kitchen) with at least 20 different types of treats.

Next Steps

As your dog gets good at this game, start playing it on different elevated surfaces, such as chairs, stools, tables, and countertops. If your dog counter-surfs, this is a great way to teach them that food on counters is off-limits.

At 1:25 in the video I demonstrate dropping the treat on to the ground. This is very important to build upon if you don’t want your dog diving for everything that falls on the kitchen floor. Drop treats on the ground while you are sitting, kneeling, bending over, and standing. Flick them off the countertop and on to the floor. If your dog goes for them, use your foot (instead of your hand) to block access.

This skill has saved my dogs’ life several times, when my parents have dropped open bottles of medication on to the ground. Rather than diving for the pills, my dogs have watched them fall and waited patiently, hoping to “earn” one instead!

Leave It! – Or Don’t? Self Control vs. Imposed Control for Dogs

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"Leave it!" Do you need to teach this to your dog?

[Photo Credit: Andrew Hyde]

“No!” “Leave it!” “Off!” These are three cues that are more familiar to some dogs than “sit”, “come”, and “good dog.” Surprisingly, they often work against dog owners and serve to reinforce the very behaviors the owners are trying to punish.

A scenario: At the pet store, a bag of dog kibble has torn open and spilled all over the floor. A man is walking his dog down the aisle. His dog notices the kibble and lunges forward to eat some. “Leave it! No, leave it!” He commands his dog to stop, but it falls on deaf ears, and he sees no other choice but to drag his dog away from the food. The dog has been rewarded (by the kibble) for ignoring the “leave it” cue.

Here’s an idea: What if you didn’t have to constantly tell your dog how to behave?

When my dogs see food on the floor, or a toy on the bottom shelf at the pet store, or gum on the sidewalk, they look at it and then look to me for direction. They do not lunge toward it or grab it. They know that the only way they will get access to that thing they desire is through a verbal cue from me.

My dogs do not know what “leave it” means. What does “leave it” mean to your dog? “Don’t touch that?” What exactly are they supposed to do instead?

Clarity in Dog Training – No “Leave It” Necessary

If I invited you into my house and said “don’t sit on the blue chair”, what would your response be? Two things: you would look at the blue chair (I drew your attention to it by mentioning it, didn’t I?) and you would not know where you should sit. There are lots of other seating options in my house – couches, a rocking chair, dining room chairs, a loveseat, even the floor!

What if instead, I invited you into my house and said “please sit next to me on the couch.” You won’t even consider the other seating options. I told you exactly where to sit. There is no confusion.

To bring this back to dog training, I call my dogs with their name or the cue “come” if they are showing excessive interest in something that is not available to them, like a chicken bone on the street. They know to turn away from that thing and come to me to earn a reward instead. I do not say “no” or “leave it”, because it is incomplete information – those cues tell them they can’t have the chicken bone. Now what?

My mantra in dog training is “teach self control, not imposed control.” I teach my dogs, and my clients’ dogs, to default to asking politely for something (via eye contact, or offering to sit without being told to do so) rather than grabbing for it themselves. The training process is deceptively simple. The hardest part is for owners to embrace the concept of letting the dog make a choice, rather than preventing him from making a decision on his own by commanding him to not do something.

In my next post, I’ll show you a video demonstrating how I teach self-control around food. In the mean time, I have some food for thought for you: if you have taught your dog a very strong “come” cue, why not use that rather than “leave it”? Are two cues better than one? Let me know what you think in the comments.