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clicker training

Fear of the Clicker: How to Train Your Dog Through It

Fear of the Clicker: How to Train Your Dog Through It | Spring Forth Dog Academy in Providence, RI

Fear of the Clicker: How to Overcome It | Spring Forth Dog Academy in Providence, RI Does the sound of one of these send your dog running for the hills? Read on for some tips to fix that!

Most dogs take to clicker training like ducks to water! But occasionally, one of our students goes home after Orientation, eager to start the training process with their dog, only to discover that their dog is afraid of the clicker.

Fortunately, there are a variety of ways to teach a dog that a click isn’t so scary after all. Here are some of the techniques we’ve used to turn this fear around.

Setting the Stage for Fear-Free Clicking

First, make sure you’re using the highest value treats you can find. This will help all of these techniques work better! Even if the first couple of clicks startle your dog, pairing them with a very tasty snack may change your dog’s mind quickly.

Fear of the Clicker: How to Overcome It | Spring Forth Dog Academy in Providence, RI Left: a box clicker, which is pretty loud. Right: an i-Click, which makes a softer, quieter click.

Be sure to use an i-Click, the type of clicker with a raised button, rather than a box clicker. i-Clicks are much quieter than box clickers. (See photo at right for an example.)

Unless your dog is […]

By |2017-12-30T03:42:13+00:00September 5, 2017|Training, Tutorials and How-To Guides|Comments Off on Fear of the Clicker: How to Train Your Dog Through It

Why “Paw” is Problematic

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 […]

By |2017-07-14T19:15:32+00:00July 14, 2017|Training|Comments Off on Why “Paw” is Problematic

Puppy Day School Success Story: Alice [VIDEO]

Puppy Day School Success Story - Alice | Puppy Socialization in Providence, RIMeet Alice! She is a 9-month-old Border Collie mix puppy. Her owner enrolled her in our Puppy Day School program to work on her socialization skills around other dogs.

Alice missed her critical socialization period while waiting to be adopted. Then, shortly after coming to her new home, she broke her leg and had to be kept quiet for several weeks. She was nervous of new places, unfamiliar people, and most other dogs.

This is a typical outcome when puppies are underexposed to the “real world.” As the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior puts it in their position statement on puppy socialization:

The primary and most important time for puppy socialization is the first three months of life. During this time puppies should be exposed to as many new people, animals, stimuli and environments as can be achieved safely and without causing overstimulation manifested as excessive fear, withdrawal or avoidance behavior.

(Click here to read the full statement.)

Alice had already been rejected by a doggy daycare due to her antisocial behavior. She also refused to take treats in unfamiliar places. Before she started in our program, her training progressed at a glacial pace.

This video shows how in just a few short days, she went from wallflower to wild child. We’re thrilled with her progress and think you will be, too!

These results are quite typical for our Puppy Day School program. This immersive socialization experience is unmatched by group classes or private lessons. Socialization results are seen in days, not weeks, for dogs in this program. If you’ve got a nervous or fearful puppy, this is for you. Or, if you’ve got a brand […]

By |2016-09-27T00:57:37+00:00September 27, 2016|Training, Videos|Comments Off on Puppy Day School Success Story: Alice [VIDEO]

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

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 […]

Luring Your Dog: A Primer

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 […]

By |2016-03-07T17:15:10+00:00March 10, 2016|Training, Tutorials and How-To Guides|Comments Off on Luring Your Dog: A Primer

Introduction to Dog Agility Class [VIDEO]

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!

[embedyt] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NA7o25KZ44g[/embedyt]

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 […]

By |2016-03-04T14:19:07+00:00March 4, 2016|Dog Agility, Dog Sports, Group Classes, Training, Videos|Comments Off on Introduction to Dog Agility Class [VIDEO]

How to Get Behavior: Shaping

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 […]

What Makes a Great Training Treat?

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 […]

The Power of Peanut Butter

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 […]

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