As a positive reinforcement dog trainer I think a lot about how to teach people to better understand their dogs. When I arrive for a dog training session, the first thing I do is “read” the dog. If the dog is fearful or overly excited I will act differently than if it is eager to greet me. Is it approaching me or retreating? What would I do if the dog is barking or lunging at me? I will make different choices for a fearful dog than I would for a friendly dog. I will do things that will help the dog feel understood so I can then build a connection. In the first five minutes, I am gathering information that will help to shape my own behavior towards the dog.
What to do for a fearful dog? What if the dog is aggressive? I will not make direct eye contact, approach or reach for that dog. I will ignore them, connect with their family and wait until they come to sniff me (and even then I will do the same as above). If the dog is truly aggressive we would be discussing muzzle training before a physical interaction but that would involve much more than simply walking in the door and delivering treats. What if the dog is jumping on me or is overly excited? I will not engage, I will wait for them to calm down and silently reward them when they do.
I will eventually connect with the dog but not until the time is right. I may even reward the dog but again, not until it is appropriate and in line with a behavior I like. If I show up and start tossing treats randomly (which is what many people think positive reinforcement is) I could inadvertently reward behaviors that are unwanted. (Which is what is often accidentally happening in dog households everywhere).
People think their dog is behaving well for me because I have “treats”. While I do agree that sometimes the dog pays special attention to me because of this (and, if it’s too much attention the treats go back in my car) the way I use the treats - my timing and my rate of reinforcement (rewarding) is what the dog notices most. They begin to pay attention, feel understood, heard and are eager to communicate more. Training your dog is not about being alpha – that has long been debunked. If you want a good connection with your dog, try teaching them to make choices so they can succeed time and time again.
If we can all establish this type of rapport with our dogs, life will be much easier for all involved and our dogs would be happier, too!
I encourage you to start to think of your training from the dog’s point of view. What are they thinking? What motivates them and how can I use that to my advantage? This is the best way to train our dogs, as a partner in learning. When we take the time to learn about how our dog’s learn, what motivates them, calms them and makes them happy, we are on our way to better behavior and a much stronger connection with our dog.
The benefits of using positive reinforcement training with dogs (and all animals) has long been studied and proven to be the most effective and kind way to change behaviors. I'm a firm believer in science over shock, praise over punishment and compassion over correction. When we punish dogs using physical force (shock collars, choke chains, striking, etc.), we are taking away their choices and dogs are highly capable of making good choices, when we set them up to do so.
Positive reinforcement dog training must be done correctly or you will hear "it didn't work". Timing and knowledge go a long way but, when done correctly it is the greatest force on earth.
That being said, do you find yourself saying yes or no to your dog more often? Saying Yes! (or good dog) to your dog on a regular basis has many benefits.
Some of them include:
Letting our dogs know when they’ve done something right boosts their confidence, makes them happy and can change unwanted behaviors. For example if your dog is always jumping on people and you find yourself yelling no, try saying yes, before they jump. Better yet, pair it with a treat in the beginning so the word yes has a lot more power.
Being proactive and communicating with our dogs helps them learn better behaviors and it boosts their confidence. Saying no to them does the opposite. When we say no to a dog we take away all of their choices and we expect them to simply stop what they were doing. But let’s say they were jumping on someone because they were really happy to see them. If we just say no, what is the alternative behavior we want? Sitting? Lying on a mat? Standing? We need to train something else because saying no isn’t an effective training solution. Say yes every time your dog is doing something you want them to do (or before they do something you don’t necessarily like). Say yes when the don’t jump, pull on leash or bark. Teach them other behaviors to do instead of the ones you don’t like and catch them being good. This is what training is all about. Rewarding our dogs when they are good, teaching them alternate behaviors and giving them the chance to make their own choice.
This is how positive reinforcement dog training works. We reinforce (reward) the good behaviors which causes the dog to do more and we handle the negative behaviors by developing a plan to change them into something the dog can do instead. It's about always setting our dogs up for success and building them up.
With vaccinations rolling out by the millions many of us may start leaving the house for longer periods of time or, even planning a wonderful vacation (can you imagine?). However, this brings up a serious subject - Separation Anxiety in dogs! While am delighted that so many people have brought new dogs into their homes during the pandemic, I also understand that some of these dogs haven't really had to be alone much. This may come as a BIG surprise to all when the time comes. Helping your dog with separation anxiety before it starts is the best approach. Or, if you have a dog with separation anxiety, here are some tips to help.
Before you leave your dog consider:
1. Crate/Pen training: If your dog is young or untrustworthy when left unattended (not fully house trained, destructive, anxious) you should consider implementing a crate or pen training program for them. Crate training is a great way to keep your puppy or adult safe from harm. Crate training can also help with the potty training process BUT they need to be conditioned to stay in a crate (or pen) first in order to avoid or treat Separation Anxiety. I have provided two crate training links below to give you some ideas on how to start and complete the process of crate training.
NOTE: Separation Anxiety can be complex and the term is general - if your dog already has it, please seek the help of a Positive Reinforcement or Force Free trainer before attempting crate training. Confinement training is not for every dog and it's important to understand (and honor) those dogs that do not fair well in confinement.
2. Desensitize your dog to "triggers". Your dog will find that the tasks of you putting on your shoes or jacket or grabbing your keys or purse signals you are leaving the house. Over time, these tasks could become "triggers" to your dog. For some dogs these triggers don't mean much but to others it could begin a stressful sequence. I recommend you take a few moments each day to practice these tasks without actually leaving the house. Next, leave and come back quickly (grab your keys or purse to take out the trash for example). Find ways to practice desensitizing your dog to the tasks that normally mean you are leaving the house for some time. (This will not necessarily solve a true separation anxiety problem, but there is certainly benefits to being proactive). Any time we can take a few moments to work on something before it's an issue is time well spent.
3. Music/Television. If you do need to leave, start putting on some music or television for your dog (again, try not to turn this into a "trigger" by also doing these things when you aren't leaving or a few minutes before you actually leave). Sound helps to break up the silence of your absence.
4. Keep your comings and goings boring. It's fine to say goodbye to your dog but don't make a big deal of it. When you come back home, keep it BORING. Keep your excitement inside and greet your dog casually. We want our dogs to feel safe and calm when we come and go, they are already excited so it's best not to add to it.
4. Puzzle feeder/Kong. It's often advised to leave your dog with a food feeder to keep them busy when you leave. This may work well for some dogs and that is great, but, for others it can begin to represent time alone and they may not touch it. Start offering your dog such things now, have them enjoy it in your presence and try leaving the room momentarily to see if they continue eating or stop to look for you. This can be a subtle indicator of trouble to come (but don't panic, it doesn't mean you will have a big problem). Although there are some dogs that simply don't eat unless their human is around but they don't have separation anxiety so it's best to be understand and be aware of our own dog's preferences.
5. Video. Setting up a video (or old phone) can help you to see how your dog feels when you leave. Do they pace? whine? stare out the window? scratch at the door? It's a good idea to find out how your dog feels when you leave. A video camera will help you to check to see how long the reactions are so you can work backwards from the time they remained comfortable. I like this one from Amazon. It's affordable, has two way audio and you can rotate it from your phone to see where your dog is in the room! Video camera for pets:
Here are some FREE crate (or confinement) training videos and tips to help you transition your dog to spending time alone. You can apply the same methods to leaving your dog in a room, a pen or in general, alone in the house.
Video One (first steps): https://vimeo.com/466376781/132b8363c9
Video Two (extended crate time): https://vimeo.com/466376720/7b5f074444
It's important to learn how your dog feels about you leaving - even if it's just the room. If their reaction is subtle, practice leaving in very short bursts of time, only building up when your dog is comfortable. If it's extreme start proactive training now!
I meet a lot of people that say “my dog will only come or stay if I have a treat”. My answer to that is: “You may be using the treats incorrectly!”. For the most part, when you’re training come and stay, the treat should not be present. Treats should be in a pouch, in a closed fist and/or behind your back. It should be about the BEHAVIOR of the dog, not the reward. The reward comes later, as a reinforcer. The only time a treat should be visually present is when you are luring (see notes below for definition of lure) a dog into their first sits, downs and during leash training for heel work. For the sit and down, the treat should be replaced by a hand signal ASAP. Other than that, the dog shouldn’t see your treats on a regular basis. Obviously they know you have them but, if you’re using the treat to get your dog to come or stay, I urge you to change that by surprising them instead. For come you have to ask yourself “What can I do to get my dog to come to me?” This means: Am I EXCITING enough, positive and fun? Or am I simply standing still and saying their name? That’s not very enticing. Move your body, say their name in a happy voice and make coming to you FUN. Mix up your rewards between food, toys, praise and petting (surprise your dog with ALL once in a while).
Because food is a Primary Reinforcer for dogs training your dog using treats is a very effective way to change behaviors. Some dogs will even train with their dry food (kibble) which can be a great way to utilize their mealtimes for training. You can also try mixing their kibble half-and-half with treats. If you aren't using your dog's meal for training, be sure you deduct the same amount from their next meal so they don't become overweight.
Here are some ways treats are used in training:
With all of this being said, it’s important to be aware of WHERE the treat is during the training. If you aren’t using it as a lure (see #1 above), it shouldn’t be in plain sight.
If you'd like to see the video that goes with this post, you can do so here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ti6ASuZvjTA
Written by Christine Durrant, Professional Dog Trainer and Pet Care Consultant
Barking is a natural behavior for dogs, for some breeds more than others. However, barking can be quite irritating. Below are some training tips and information that will help you to teach your dog to be a bit more “quiet”.
It’s important to remember that anytime your dog is doing something that is undesirable, you should offer them a “replacement” behavior. In this article we will be teaching you how to replace your dog’s barking with being quiet.
Equally important is to NEVER use a command (in this case quiet) unless you are sure your dog knows the meaning and will successfully complete the request. This takes time and patience but, I assure you, it’s worth it.
I will use the example of a Max, the German Shephard, barking in his backyard. I also have a corresponding video showing this training.
Max is a “barker”. He listens intently and barks at the noises of other dogs, squirrels, people, etc. Max lives near a busy dog park so this increases his barking behavior. This can be challenging for his family. He also has a habit of barking as soon as they let him out in the morning. He has no care of what time it is and this is disruptive to his neighbors.
To help Max:
I would advise that they take Max out on leash so they have more control over the situation. I would also recommend that Max’s family have treats (his morning kibble may be used in lieu of treats if this interests him). Then, when Max goes outside quietly, he should be rewarded with a treat paired with the verbal cue of “good quiet”. NOTE: You really can’t reward “quiet” too much in the beginning. The best time to reward Max is when he is relaxed, outback and being quiet. Max should be watched closely for any sign of “interest” in something he might bark at. As soon as Max shows interest (head turning in the direction of the noise, ears perking up, eyes widening, face tensing) he should be redirected. Redirection can be done by making a sound, tossing a ball or a treat. Then, before he has a chance to refocus on the sound, a “good quiet” paired with a treat would be in order. This should continue while he is outside and doing his business. This would need to be repeated many, many times before they could actually ask him to be “quiet” while barking. It takes time for a dog to understand the meaning of a word and it’s important to allow them enough time before expecting them to comply.
In the meantime….while they are working with Max and before he really knows what quiet means, I would recommend that if he does bark one or two times they ignore it for now but if he goes into a surge of barking and carrying on, they should immediately take him inside for a short break and start over, being observant to catch it before it gets going. It would be ok to distract Max after a bark or two but important not to REWARD him in order to distract him because they would then be rewarding the bark.
IMPORTANT: The moment after a dog exhibits any behavior is the PRIME time to reinforce that behavior. If you offer a reward after your dog barks you will be training them to bark more. A good rule of thumb it to reward what you want more of and ignore what you don’t want. Rewards are essential to dog training and can be tapered down once your dog understands and is doing well.
Punishing a dog for barking makes no sense to them, they are simply being a dog and doing what a dog is naturally meant to do. We need to teach them what we want instead of demanding they simply stop doing doggy stuff.
Check out our video section to see the video that pairs with this post and for more helpful tools and training techniques.
Written by Christine Durrant, Professional Dog Trainer and Pet Care Consultant
The best way to solve undesirable dog behavior is by teaching the dog a replacement behavior. This means that we train the dog to do what we WANT them to do instead of what we DON’T WANT. The entire philosophy is based on the idea of choice based dog training. Choice based dog training is about teaching dogs how to make their own choices and is by far the kindest and most effective way to change unwanted dog behaviors. It empowers dogs and helps them feel confident. All dog training takes time and patience but this method can also be fun and very rewarding!
When your dog is acting up I ask you to think about what you’d RATHER them be doing and start working on that. This will give the both of you something to do together and it will also increase your bond.
Please feel free to reach out to me anytime if you need help.
Christine Durrant, CPDT-KA Professional Dog Trainer and Behavior Consultant