Tag: training

Capturing Your Dog’s Behavior: A How-To Guide

01Training, Tutorials and How-To GuidesTags: , ,

Over the last several weeks, I have written about shaping and luring here on Spring Forth Dog Blog. My next topic is capturing, which is a pretty simple, straightforward way to get behavior!

Terrier Head Tilt

Clicker training allows you to capture a behavior, like this terrier’s adorable tilted head, so you can put it on cue in the future! (Photo Credit: Mike Weston)

Getting Started with Capturing

Simply put, capturing involves waiting for the dog to do the ENTIRE behavior you are looking for with no prompts from you, then clicking when he does so. Capturing is the best way to get more of those charming little behaviors that your dog does spontaneously, such as tilting his head or licking his lips.

Capturing can also be used to teach a dog to sit or lie down on cue. I do this with some dogs that never offer to lie down in a training session no matter how much luring we try.

To capture a behavior, you must keep treats in your pocket & a clicker handy. Observe your dog closely and be ready to click when he happens to do the behavior! Then give him a treat.

Chances are, the dog will have no idea what earned him the click and treat the first time, but if you stick with it and continue to watch the dog for more examples of behavior, you will notice the dog doing that behavior more often.

I suggest that my students keep a log where they write down when they were able to reward the dog for doing that behavior. On the first and second day, it might only be twice a day, but by the end of a week, they’re capturing it a dozen times a day! Clearly the dog is learning something.

Practice Makes Perfect

Capturing requires a lot of patience as well as good timing from the trainer. Remember: training is a mechanical skill, just like learning to ride a bike or play an instrument. It takes a bit of time to get good at it! Practice your timing and observation skills away from your dog first, before trying to capture a new behavior.

 

Luring Your Dog: A Primer

00Training, Tutorials and How-To GuidesTags: , ,

Last week I started off my series on “How to Get Behavior” with shaping. Now I’m going to explain a bit about luring and how to use a lure to teach behavior.

The term luring refers to the use of a desired reward to coax the dog into achieving the desired behavior. The “desired reward” is nearly always a food treat, but it is possible to lure with toys. Luring can be used to teach many behaviors, including sit, down, loose leash walking, and a lot of tricks.

How to Lure

I use food lures in my group training classes unless the owner is very concerned about the dog becoming dependant on a food lure. (More on that below.)

Luring a Dog with Treats

Most dog trainers use treats as a lure, but toys can also be used. (Photo Credit: Lulu Hoeller)

I teach “sit” by showing the dog a piece of food, moving it right in front of his nose, and lifting that piece of food up and towards the dog’s tail. This lifts the dog’s head up and back, resulting in his weight shifting from his front legs to his back legs. Nearly always, this causes the dog to sit. I then click and give the dog the treat.

After doing this three or four times, I get rid of the food lure. This is the most important step, yet it is the one that most owners skip! As soon as the dog has an idea that “bum on ground = I get the food”, I lure the dog with an empty hand, pretending that I have a cookie. The dog is now busy watching my hand as it goes up and over his head, and he sits. I click and give him a treat from my pocket or bait bag. The dog now understands a hand signal for “sit”. My fingers pinched together above his head, moving towards his hindquarters is the “green light” to sit.

As the dog becomes more proficient, I alter my hand signal to make it more and more obvious that I don’t have food until just lifting my hand up, palm facing up, cues the dog to “sit”. I can then add a verbal cue, if I am so inclined.

Troubleshooting

There are several things to keep in mind when luring. It’s not the right solution to every training problem. Here are some of the potential pitfalls…

Becoming dependent on food being visible. This is the number one issue with luring. Owners complain, “My dog only sits if I have a treat in my hand.” The good news is this can be prevented: as soon as you have the behavior, get rid of the food! Re-read my paragraph above: I only lure the dog three or four times before switching to an empty hand.

Scaring the dog. Simply put, it is unfair to lure a nervous or frightened dog. For example, when I teach agility classes, new students almost always try to lure their dogs over the agility equipment when the dog is clearly afraid of the obstacle and is not sure what to do. It is only okay to lure a happy, relaxed dog into something he is physically and mentally capable of doing. If the dog is unsure about how to walk on a narrow plank, your best bet is to shape the dog to walk on it literally one step at a time. This will build the dog’s confidence up about that object.

My Approach

Although I do use luring with my students, it is an approach I use rather infrequently with my own dogs. I am patient and possess the timing skills necessary to shape most behaviors with my dogs. There are some behaviors that I think can be trained faster and more easily with a lure, such as teaching a dog to “spin” in a tight circle, but for most other behaviors (including sit and down) I choose to capture them instead. More on that in my next post!

Introduction to Dog Agility Class [VIDEO]

00Dog Agility, Dog Sports, Group Classes, Training, VideosTags: , , , ,

It’s no secret that dog agility is my passion. 2016 is going to be my 12th consecutive year of competing in this great sport. For several years, I’ve taught beginner dog agility classes in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. I decided to put together a video showing what I teach in this introductory class to give prospective students an idea of what to expect.

So, welcome to our Introduction to Dog Agility class!

Who should take this class?

My focus with this class is introducing the basic skills of dog agility: over, under, around, through, and on – with a variety of objects. These items have different textures, some of them wobble and tip, and others make noise. Some of these items are actual agility obstacles, like the bar jump, table, and tunnel. Others serve as stepping-stones to doing more complicated obstacles like the dogwalk and seesaw.

Introduction to Dog Agility class is a huge confidence booster for dogs. Penny, the lanky hound mix in the video, started this class just a few weeks after being adopted and totally blossomed in this four week class. On the first week of class, she didn’t even want to walk on the smooth lobby floor to get into the training area, and was tentative about most of the obstacles. On week four, as you can see, she was flying over jumps and investigating everything!

What about puppies?

This class is also a really great socialization opportunity for puppies, and you’ll see several cute pups in the video having a great time. Some veterinarians will tell you that only adult dogs should go to agility class, but that only applies if you’re working with someone who doesn’t understand how to modify exercises for young puppies.

Dogs under a year of age do not jump or weave in our agility classes. Equipment is kept very low to the ground so puppies aren’t launching off of equipment and landing hard on their still-developing joints. All of the exercises are done at the puppy’s pace – there is no luring or dragging.

How can I practice at home?

I focus on introducing exercises that you can practice at home, with stuff you already have in your house – couch cushions, trash cans, broomsticks, books, that sort of thing. Homework each week includes a trick to develop your dog’s flexibility and confidence, and build your training skills.

I pack a lot of fun into these four-week classes! If you’d like to join me in Providence, you can sign up online here. The only prerequisite is that your dog has taken a group clicker training class prior to starting agility.

How to Get Behavior: Shaping

03Training, Tutorials and How-To GuidesTags: , , ,
Cavalier King Charles Spaniel on a mat.

Cricket has been taught to lie on her mat using shaping.

When it comes to positive reinforcement based clicker training, there are four major ways of getting behavior: shaping, luring, targeting, and capturing. There are other ways, including physical modeling, but they have limited applications and are rarely used by most force-free trainers. In this post, I’ll address shaping, and in the coming weeks, I’ll follow-up with the others.

Shaping

What is shaping? Shaping is a method of building behavior “from scratch” by clicking successive approximations towards an end behavior. Often a trainer will create a mental or written “shaping plan” that lays out the steps it might take to get the final desired behavior.

One popular way to introduce shaping is when teaching a dog to get on a mat. The goal behavior is that the dog lies down on the mat for an extended period.

In the beginning, the trainer will start by clicking and treating their dog just for looking at the mat. This is usually followed by sniffing the mat, brushing up against it, or putting a paw on it, all of which can also be clicked. After the dog has received several rewards for interacting with the mat in this way, they will start to experiment just a little, often by purposefully putting a paw or two on the mat. Click!

From there, the trainer waits for the dog to put three or four of her paws on the mat before clicking and treating. When the dog demonstrates an understanding of “paws on the mat = treat”, the trainer patiently waits for the dog to offer a sit or a down. Some dogs offer sitting right away and later relax into a down, while others flop over into a down right away.

It’s very important to understand that the trainer remains relatively quiet during this process and does not prompt the dog by talking, saying cues, patting the object, or touching the dog. All of these things mean nothing to the dog! He can’t comprehend English and he doesn’t know the desired behavior yet. At best, it’s luring which must be faded later; at best, it confuses the dog and slows down the learning process.

The dog must figure out what behavior earns him a click and a treat. (Praise and happy talk after the dog has interacted with the mat and received a click is just fine, but you should stay quiet while the dog is figuring things out.)

Instead, the trainer should manipulate the environment to set the dog up for success. When I teach group training classes, I tend to work on matwork as the last exercise, when the dogs are comfortable and are a little tired. I have students sit on their mats during class and only take them out when it’s time to work on mat training, and I instruct them to be prepared before putting the mat down. They need to be ready to click the instant the dog starts looking at or sniffing the mat, which is often before it even hits the floor!

I recommend that students to practice matwork in the evening when the dog is already considering taking a nap. Sleepy dogs are more likely to lie down on an object than wound-up, excited dogs. The flip side to this, of course, is that if you are shaping a fast movement-oriented behavior like agility obstacles, tricks that involve movement, or coming when called, do it when your dog is awake and full of energy.

Successful Dog Adoption – The First Week

00TrainingTags: , ,

Adopting a new dog is a very exciting time for you and your new friend. The biggest mistake that new dog owners make is giving the dog too much freedom, too soon. By setting some ground rules as soon as you bring your dog home, you can prevent bad behaviors from starting in the first place.

Puppy for Adoption

Follow some simple guidelines when you bring your new dog home, and things will go much more smoothly. (Photo Credit: Ian Phillips)

Introduce the dog to the house slowly. Giving your dog complete access to the entire house is setting yourself up for failure. The dog can easily sneak off and discover how much fun it is to steal shoes from your closet, pull tissues from the trash can in the bathroom, or pee on the rug in the spare bedroom.

Instead, use x-pens or baby gates to limit the dog’s access to most rooms of the house. Start off by giving him access to the living room, kitchen, and dining room, and then gradually add a room at a time over the course of a week or two.

Don’t make assumptions about the dog’s past. Typically, fearful behaviors point to a lack of socialization, not abuse. If your new dog is afraid of men, it’s unlikely that she was abused by one — it’s far more likely that she was raised by a woman and didn’t meet many, if any, men as a young puppy. Take it slow, and if your dog is showing significant fear, contact a dog trainer to help you develop a training plan to address those fears in a humane fashion.

If the dog was at a shelter and not in a foster home, it is possible that the dog has very little experience with life in a house or an apartment. This is very common with ex-racing greyhounds — often they do not know how to go up and down stairs and are startled by things like overhead cabinets, blowing curtains, or the whistle of the tea kettle.

Boxer in a Crate

A crate, sized appropriately for your new dog, will be a useful tool when you bring your new dog home. Use a crate or x-pen to temporarily confine your dog while you are too busy to supervise him. (Photo Credit: Celeste Lindell)

Treat the dog as if he is not housebroken. Even if the foster owner swears on her life that the dog you have adopted is housebroken, it is extremely common for dogs to “forget” their housebreaking in a new situation. Therefore, take your new dog out for potty breaks often. A good rule of thumb is to take the dog out every hour when he is awake.

If the dog has spent lots of time in a shelter environment and has not been fostered, expect to start from scratch when you bring him home. Crate the dog when you cannot supervise him to make sure he doesn’t find a quiet corner to do his business while you’re distracted.

It’s so much better to be pleasantly surprised by your new dog’s level of house training, rather than upset and disappointed by her accidents!

Resist the urge to bring your new dog out in public right away. Moving into a new home is often extremely stressful to an adult dog. Don’t stress the dog further by bringing him to your family cookout, your son’s baseball game, or to the dog park. Doing so may overwhelm the dog to the point of growling or snapping at something that normally would not bother him at all. I have seen dogs returned to shelters for this very reason.

Give the dog at least a week to get used to the schedule of your house and learn to trust you a bit. The only place your dog should go is to the veterinarian for a full check-up shortly after adoption. Sign up for a group training class that starts two or three weeks after your adult dog comes home. (One to two weeks of acclimation time is enough for younger pups under 5 months of age.)

In short, take it slow with your new adoption. Overwhelming her will only serve to stress her out and delay that trust. Haste makes waste! You will have plenty of time to show her the whole house or take her to a friend’s soccer game. Give your dog time to learn to trust you, and you will set yourself up for a lifetime of great experiences with her.

Training How-To: Adding a Cue

00Training, Tutorials and How-To GuidesTags: ,
Teaching the Sit Cue

The cue “sit” was only added when we were willing to bet $10 that this puppy would put her bum on the ground immediately after we said it.

What is a cue? A cue is a name or label for a particular behavior. It is the “green light” for the dog that tells it “perform that behavior now to get rewarded”. Once a behavior is on cue, the dog should only offer it upon perceiving the cue.

The most common examples of cues in dog training are words like “sit” or “down,” or hand signals that prompt the same behavior.

What should I choose for my cue?

Cues should be able to be given consistently, perceivable by the animal, distinct from other cues the animal already knows, not confused with praise or other meanings, and easy to transfer to others.

Spoken words and hand signals make popular cues because they meet all of these criteria, and that is what we generally use. However, a cue can be anything your dog is capable of perceiving, which allows you to get creative!

In our Nosework classes, the presence of a particular odor acts as the dog’s cue to indicate to her handler that she has discovered the source.

How do I teach a cue?

To start, make sure the dog is offering the behavior consistently. We do not add a cue to a behavior until the dog knows how to perform it without lures or prompts from you. When you are willing to bet $10 that your dog is going to offer that behavior, it is time to add the cue.

Just before your dog offers the behavior, quietly say the word or make a subtle hand signal. (Make sure you do not have food in the hand you are using to make the hand signal.)

When the dog performs the behavior, click and then treat. If the dog is in a stationary position, like sit or down, then toss an additional cookie a short distance away so the dog gets up. This treat “resets” the dog so you can cue them to sit or down again. As soon as your dog has finished eating, give the cue again.

Continue this sequence of cue-behavior-click-treat several times in a row. After each treat, pause ever so briefly before cuing. If the dog pauses too, immediately give the cue, and click and treat the resulting behavior. If the dog anticipates the cue, do not click or give the dog a treat. Wait several seconds until the dog stops offering the behavior, then give the cue.

If you give the cue and the dog doesn’t offer the behavior, wait several seconds before cueing again. I usually count to 10 in my head before re-cueing the dog. I don’t want to fall into the trap of saying the cue over and over again before my dog complies. “Sit, sit, sit, sit, sit!” should not be your goal!

Next Steps

Click quickly for tentative offers of behavior, and treat generously for initial successes in new situations. Remember not to click this behavior unless you have cued it. Next, it is time to take this behavior on the road and train in new situations and environments. Practice in different rooms of the house, outdoors, with people present, with other dogs in the room, etc. Happy training!

Creative Puppy Socialization

20Helpful Hints, Puppies, Training, Tutorials and How-To GuidesTags: , ,

Good puppy socialization requires a bit of creativity. Read on some suggestions for getting your new addition “out and about” in the real world.

Puppy Socialization with Firefighter

Always be on the lookout for new people for your puppy to meet! This German Shepherd puppy is learning that people in uniform are a good thing. (Photo by Nicholas Wadler)

Remember that when socializing your puppy, your goal should always be exposure without overwhelming him. We want your puppy to experience novel things without getting scared or feeling too uncomfortable.

Younger Puppies

When your puppy is very young (under 16 weeks of age) and has not yet received all of his immunizations, carry the puppy in locations where lots of dogs or wildlife are present to limit the (already slim) possibility of picking up a disease. These places include pet stores and wooded areas or trails.

Don’t worry about your arms getting tired — you should be taking frequent, short trips to new places when socializing your puppy. Five to ten minutes is plenty of time. It is unrealistic to expect a ten-week-old puppy to spend two hours at a child’s soccer game. Use common sense: if you wouldn’t take an infant to a certain place, don’t take your puppy there, either. More info

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

00Training, Tutorials and How-To GuidesTags: , , , , , ,

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!

What Makes a Great Training Treat?

02Helpful Hints, Training, UncategorizedTags: , , ,
Dog Eating Treat

Be sure to pick a training treat that your dog enjoys!

At last, here is my written answer to the number one question I receive from owners learning to use clicker training with their dogs… what makes a great training treat? Here are the things I tell my clients to consider when choosing treats to use while training their dogs.

Size

You will be using a lot of treats when training your dog. In order to avoid weight gain, cut your treats into the tiniest pieces possible. My rule of thumb is that treats should be no larger than the size of a pea; for itty-bitty dogs, the treats should be half that size. I can tell you that there is no commercial dog training treat on the market that I have found that is small enough for training. I buy the usual “training treats” like Zuke’s and soft Tricky Trainers from Cloud Star and break them in half. Any soft treat can be cut into smaller pieces.

Texture

As a general rule, I do not use crunchy treats when training my dogs, and I suggest that my students avoid them too. Crunchy treats make a mess and encourage your dog to sniff the floor and hunt for crumbs, taking their attention from you. Dog biscuits are okay as an occasional snack, but leave them out of your organized training sessions. Soft treats are much easier and faster for dogs to chew.

Every once in a blue moon, I do encounter a dog that strongly prefers crunchy treats to soft ones! For those dogs, biscuits made for “small breed” dogs and freeze-dried treats tend to work quite well.

Taste

The golden rule of dog training is this: your dog decides what is reinforcing. One dog’s favorite, most desired treat might be mediocre to one dog, and revolting to another. Experiment with different flavors and textures of treats: sweet, salty, meaty, crunchy, chewy, mushy. Make a list of treats that your dog enjoys and try to build on it.

Offering your dog a treat they do not like can actually be punishing to them. Imagine a food that you hate: perhaps cilantro, sardines, or jalapeños. Now imagine that you walked to a nearby convenience store and all they had for sale was that food, and that food only. How likely would you be to go to that store again?

Ease of Handling

You need to be able to get treats out of your pocket or bait bag quickly, and shuffle treats around in your hand with ease. If they are sticky or goopy, it will slow down your training.

Cheese is a very popular dog treat, but warm temperatures (such as your body heat) can cause it to become melty or oily. Keeping cheese in a cooler until you use it will help tremendously.

That being said, dogs tend to love certain types of food that is not very easy to handle, such as canned dog food and peanut butter, and with a bit of ingenuity you can still use these things. You can use a spoon to deliver it to your dog. A long-handled wooden spoon works great for tall handlers with small dogs. A refillable squeeze tube like a GoToob is another great way to dispense soft, mushy food.

Visibility

In certain situations, you will want treats with a certain appearance. If you are tossing treats on to your dog’s mat or into the crate, you will want to make sure there is a color contrast between the treat and the surface you are putting it on. So if your dog’s crate is black, use light-colored treats so your dog can find them quickly. Time spent sniffing around, hunting for treats is time wasted. Similarly, if you’re tossing treats, you may not want a round treat that will roll away from your dog.

The Power of Peanut Butter

21Group Classes, Helpful Hints, Reactive Dogs, TrainingTags: , , , , , ,
Peanut Butter

Behold! One of the most versatile dog training tools known to man. (Photo Credit: Victoria Chilinski)

What’s your favorite training tool? Dog trainers are always looking for the latest and greatest items to add to their bag of tricks. My answer can be found at any supermarket or convenience store: peanut butter!

For Agility Dogs

My passion for peanut butter began while attending agility classes with Tessie. She is a whiner, and would anxiously await her next turn on the equipment by making all sorts of strange noises. Springers are capable of making some pretty bizarre sounds and Tessie is no exception. (We call her the canine tea kettle.) A PB-stuffed Kong kept her quiet and relaxed while waiting in her crate.

Later in her agility career, I discovered that Clean Run sells refillable squeeze tubes. By filling one with peanut butter, I could keep Tessie’s focus ringside. This was something I struggled with because Tessie doesn’t enjoy tugging away from home. (Canned dog food works really well in squeeze tubes, too!)

For Reactive Dogs

My next great peanut butter discovery came while working with our puppy Finch. He is reactive towards people and other dogs. Finch strongly prefers playing with toys over eating treats, especially outdoors, which is where he sees his triggers. PB was the answer. It was valuable enough to him that he would take it while working outside. I also use crunchy peanut butter to disguise his pills — the broken pill pieces blend right in with the nut chunks!

I think that there is more to this than enjoying a tasty snack, though. My theory is that the act of licking is calming to the brain. I think it may have its roots in nursing behavior. Horses exhibit a “lick and chew” displacement behavior which is sort of like an equine calming signal. Perhaps someday someone will research this — does the use of a “lickable” treat promote calm, relaxed behavior?

Kong toys are perfect for enjoying peanut butter! (Photo by OakleyOriginals)

I have noticed other benefits, too. Other dog trainers often use peanut butter for dogs that tend to bark during group training classes. The PB basically glues the dog’s tongue to the roof of his mouth, allowing the owner a chance to reinforce quiet, polite behavior.

For that reason, I began using PB with my Reactive Recovery students. That class is the noisiest, with several dogs that will start barking at the drop of a hat (literally!). It did help to quiet the class down, but it had a wonderful side effect. The dogs made the silliest faces as they licked the peanut butter from their muzzles, and the owners began to laugh!

The tension level in the class dropped dramatically. With the laughing came more relaxed handlers. They felt more comfortable in class and progress came more quickly as a result.

Peanut butter also provides another benefit while working with reactive or fearful dogs: counter-conditioning. Typically, counter-conditioning is done by feeding the dog lots of tasty treats while being exposed to a trigger (like a person approaching). No trigger = no treats.

Using PB takes some of the work out of counter-conditioning, because it takes the dog several seconds of licking to fully consume it. The whole time this is happening, the brain is making the association between the trigger and the wonderful taste of peanut butter.

For Excited, Jumpy Dogs

In one of my Basic Dog Manners classes, I discovered another fun use for PB: teaching four-on-the-floor to a very bouncy dog. Capturing moments of calm was difficult, particularly when working on loose leash walking. But we soon found that the little dog couldn’t eat peanut butter and jump at the same time!

As she licked and licked to get the PB off the roof offer mouth, she walked calmly with all four feet on the ground. Another student remarked that the change was so significant that it was if that dog had been drugged. Never before have I so desperately wished for “before and after” video clips. It was quite remarkable.

In conclusion, now I crack open a jar of peanut butter and prepare a few plastic spoons before all of my classes! I’ll leave you with this video clip of Finch enjoying peanut butter as a five-month-old puppy. If this doesn’t make you smile, I don’t know what will! 🙂

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