I recently read a great article on some of the most common mistakes made when training your dog. This inspired me to write about some of the errors I have noticed in my classes and private training sessions.
Dogs obviously don’t speak our language, therefore do not understand what you are asking of them until you teach them. If your dog isn’t listening to you, it is because they don’t understand what you are asking. They also don’t do things out of spite, they do things because they are bored, or they are getting some kind of reward out of the behavior.
1. Saying the cue before the dog understand what it means
When you begin to train your dog to do a new behavior, until they catch on, they don’t know what you are asking them to do. Therefore when you say the word “sit” and they don’t do it, they won’t learn what that word actually means. First lure your dog into the position with a treat, or wait until he sits on his own. Once he gets the hang of it and starts offering it to you, then start incorporating the verbal cue.
2. Saying the cue more than once
I see this ALL the time. Like I mentioned before, dogs do not understand us until we teach them to. Therefore when we say “sit, sit, sit, sit….” they aren’t learning the specific word, or action for that word. All they hear is a jumble of sounds, similar to how the adults sound on Charlie Brown. OR they are learning that the cue is “sit, sit” so you say it once, nothing, then you say it again and they respond. They are waiting for you to say it twice. In consequence, they are also learning that they don’t have to listen to this command every time. An example of this is when you call your dog to come in from outside “come” and they don’t listen, they are thinking that they don’t have to, or can whenever they want.
3. Asking your dog to do something while they are distracted by something else
Is your dog sniffing that tree, or trying to chase that rabbit? Well, they likely are not going to listen to you asking them to “sit” or “come” as you are not going to be as exciting as whatever they are focused on. Therefore, you don’t want to be asking them one of these cues because they will learn that they don’t have to listen to it! This is where treats come in. Make sure to use a high value treat in environments where there are a lot of distractions. Examples include, chicken, liver, tuna, hot dogs, smelly cheese, etc while on a walk. Use a sound to get your dog to pay attention to you, or use an excited “Let’s GO” cue to get him moving. Once he is paying attention to you completely, then ask for a behavior.
4. Down/Off cues
When teaching your dog a new behavior, remember to have a different name for each one that is easy to understand. A common training mishap I see people making is using “down” for lay down, and getting off of the couch or counter. So, use “down” for lay down, and use “off” for getting your dog to move off of something. Dog’s can learn a lot of new behaviors over time, just make sure they are all distinguishable and you will have your dog getting you a drink out of the fridge in no time!
5. Lack of verbal marker or clicker
This is always the first topic that I go over in all of my obedience classes. Your dog will catch on to what you are teaching them much faster if you use either a verbal marker or a clicker. The marker, such as “YES” or a click, is used as soon as your dog does the behavior, and then you treat. Just as your dog’s butt is hitting the ground “YES” or click, and treat. This will teach your dog that when they hear the marker, they are doing what you ask and will therefore learn much quicker. They may even start to offer you a bunch of known behaviors until they hear that click and then they will understand exactly what you want them to do. For more information on clicker training, check out my blog here.
6. Too much too soon
Remember, you always want to set your dog up for success. Did you do some recall training inside for 5 minutes and they were so good at it you took it outside but they wouldn’t come back to you? That is because you added in too many distractions too soon. You want to continue to work on the training with minimal distractions and slowly add in others over time. The slower you go, the stronger their response will be to whatever you are asking them to do. Again, make sure to bring a HIGH VALUE treat when adding a new distraction. If you ever get frustrated, take a break!
7. Rewarding unwanted behavior
Does your dog keep jumping on you no matter how much you push them away or say “no”? Or do they continue to pull you over to snuff stuff while on a walk? That is because you are rewarding the unwanted behavior! Think about when your dog does something bad, are they getting some sort of reward from it? For example, when they jump on the counter, are they getting a snack? Or when they bark at the window, is the dog walking away? They are either self rewarding, or getting a reward from you. When a dog is jumping up at you, you pushing them away is still what they want, it is attention. Try to ignore that bad behavior and reward your dog when they are sitting calmly! When your dog is pulling you on leash, they are getting the reward of either going forward or getting to sniff what they are interested in. Try stopping and not moving until they offer you a loose leash. Keep your counters clean, or curtains drawn during peak walking hours during the day. Your dog is never trying to be the “alpha” dog, he is doing things because he gets something out of it. For more information on the alpha/dominance theory click here.
Do any of these sound familiar to you? You will be surprised at how much difference just a small change can make when training your dog. All dogs can learn new behaviors, you just have to learn how to teach them.
What mistakes have you noticed yourself making? Let me know in the comments below!
Unfortunately many trainers still believe in the dominance/alpha theory. This is harmful because it prevents owners from understanding what their dog is actually trying to tell them.
This “dogs are wolves” theory started in the late 1960s. The underlying meaning is that because dogs and wolves are the same species, they must behave the same way. A man by the name of David Mech trapped several wolves and put them all in a pen to observe them. He came to the conclusion that wolves “pack” and “dominate” each other, therefore dogs must do the same, right? Wrong.
As science advanced, Mech continued his research but started to observe wolves in their natural habitat. He came to a much different conclusion, the model of the wolf’s supposed “fight for dominance and alpha status” was replaced with one where parents and older siblings guide and lead the younger ones. Now, Mech has written and edited many books on this subject stating why his earlier observations were misinformed and explaining his observations of packs in the wild.
Since that time, studies of the domestic dog have also moved on. It has been well established that the social behavior of the domestic dog is not the same as a wolf. Humans have been breeding dogs for thousands of years to not only work for them, but to be companions. These adaptations have removed the need for them to operate as their wild ancestors. Although dogs do congregate in groups around resources, they do not form packs in the cohesive family way that wolves still do.
The concept of “dominance” itself has never been a quality of an individual, but the product of a relationship. In fact, the relationship of the pet dog to human, is much more complicated than to just label it as one trying to “dominate” the other. Dogs do certain things because they are getting some sort of positive reward from it. They jump on the counter because they find food, not because they are trying to show you that they are “alpha” and can do whatever they want, they bite people because they are scared and people misread or ignored their warning signs.
Dog training has come a long way scientifically and to continue to label so many issues as “dominant” and “alpha” is doing a disservice to the dog and owner. So get some treats, and start rewarding for the behavior you want and you will in turn, have a great partnership for many years to come!
Interested in leaning more? Check out this great article here!
How do you exercise your dog? Do you exercise their brain too? Mental stimulation is just as important as physical exercise. Throughout history, dogs have been bred to have jobs. Sure, most of our pets aren’t working dogs, but none the less they still need something to do to keep busy. Dogs that are heavily exercised but lack outlets for mental stimulation suffer from an imbalance that can lead to several behavior problems. If you exercise your dog well but don’t provide mental stimulation, a possible result is a wonderful but bored athlete that has the energy and physical fitness to destroy lots of things or participate in many undesirable behaviors!
It is important to give your animal the opportunity to perform various activities each day. If your pet spends an hour a day barking or gnawing on the table legs, it is probably lacking stimulation. If you provide a variety of structured activities, it is likely that the undesirable behavior will decrease or be extinguished. For example, if your pet spends 30 minutes to an hour per day eating instead of wolfing food down in 5 minutes, it will have met a large part of daily activity needs, and will be less likely to destroy the couch or dig holes in your backyard!
Feeding Your Dog
How do you feed your dog? Do they get meals in a regular bowl and wolf it down in seconds flat? Just think! All of those rewards being wasted in just a few minutes. Use it for training exercises or stuff it in a kong or other treat dispensing toy and make them work for it! In the video above, you can see Nanu eating her breakfast out of a kong. Buy or make a few different dispensers and switch them up but remember to always put them away after they are done with them. You don’t want it to be available to them all of the time because you want it to be a novelty.
Home Made Treat Games
You don’t have to break the bank on expensive treat dispensers for your dog! Pick a few good items (like a kong) and try making some others at home.
- Different types of plastic bottles or containers. Make it interesting! Use some with the lid off, and some lid on and cut holes into the plastic in different places. Just make sure not to leave any sharp edges.
- Put pieces of kibble or treats in a muffin tin and cover each indent with a tennis ball. Remember, you want your dog to be sniffing out the food so make sure not to fill each hole and always leave different ones empty.
- Put kibble or treats underneath different Tupperware containers and get your dog to sniff them out and figure out how to get the container off of the reward.
- I recommend using your dog’s food for all of these activities so they do not gain any weight. However, if you are using treats, make sure to minus that from their daily food intake.
TIP: If you want to give your dog a tasty treat to calm them down if they are over excited, or anxious because company is coming over, try frozen peanut butter, sweet potato, or low sodium chicken broth in a kong!
When playing a special game, or when teaching a new behavior, make sure to use a really high value reward that your dog wants to work for. These treats should only be about the size of a pea and very soft. Switch it up! Use different kinds of rewards such as chicken breast, cheese, Zukes Training Treats, etc. If your dog starts to get bored of one, either take a break or switch to another. If your dog isn’t big on treats, you can use a favorite toy that they only get to play with during training time, or if they are attention seekers, give them some love.
Hide and Seek
Hide and seek is a great game to get your dog to use his brain, and get some physical exercise. This is especially good on those really rainy or cold days, or you are just too busy to get outside. Hide and seek also encourages your dog pay attention to you on walks, because he learns to look for you and he gets a tasty reward or fun toy.
- When your dog isn’t paying attention to you, slowly walk away and find a hiding spot (examples are around a corner, in a different room, etc)
- Wait for a second and then call your dog’s name. If he has stopped and isn’t looking back, call your dog’s name again in a very excited tone.
- As he rushes to find you, keep calling out his name. Once he finds you, praise him and give him a treat or toy. After the first few times, your dog should figure out to come find you after just calling his name once.
- Now that your dog is catching on to the game, start incorporating some training! Get your dog to “sit” use “stay” or “wait” go hide, and introduce “find it”. REMEMBER, don’t start using “find it” until he is going to look for you every time.
- When your dog is a hide and seek expert, you can start hiding in more difficult spots inside the house, and move to play in the backyard or at the park where there are more distractions.
Hide and Find the Treat
This game is similar to the first, except you will be hiding treats around the house. If you have multiple dogs that can be aggressive around food, play with each of them separately.
- Grab some treats, go into a room without your dog and hide them. Make sure to use really smelly treats the first few times.
- Hide the treats in pretty easy spots until your dog learns how to play the game, you may even have to point them out for him at first.
- Call your dog into the room and let him at it!
- Once your dog gets really good at the game, start incorporating some training! Get your dog to come into the room and “sit”, “stay”, and “find it”!
- If this game becomes to easy for your dog, start hiding the treats under different types of tupperware containers.
Tricks and Obedience
Work on your dog’s obedience training! Sit, stay, down, shake a paw, etc. Take a class with your dog, this does not only work your dog mentally, but it also creates a great bond with you and your pet. There are so many different tricks you can teach your dog, not only to impress your friends, but also as a calming method when they get overly excited or nervous.
REMEMBER mental stimulation is very important, but needs to be paired with physical exercise, you cannot do one or the other.
How do you keep your dog happy? What is your dog’s best trick? Let me know in the comments below!
As you already know, I am a Positive Reinforcement (Force-Free) Dog Trainer. Something I see ALL of the time is people using abrasive collars on their dogs such as pinch, choke, or shock collars. As a PRDT, I do not use, nor train people to use, these methods as it is scientifically proven to be detrimental to your dog’s training success. It may seem like your dog is walking nicely, but he is only doing it to avoid punishment. Once you put on a regular harness, or collar, you will be right back where you started. This is also associating events that happen on your walk with a negative experience, such as other dogs walking by, children playing, or whatever it may be. You can see how this can have a negative effect on your dog’s psychological well-being.
These forms of collars can cause not only psychological damage to your dog, but also some pretty serious medical issues. Dog’s (same as people) have very sensitive necks that many medical issues, such as hypothyroidism, ear and eye issues, nerve damage, etc, can be linked. If you are interested in learning some of the more serious medical issues that these collars can cause check out this article here. I always walk my dogs on some sort of harness, whether it be no pull or regular, depending on your dogs walking style, and I always recommend my clients to do the same.
When we first got Kali, she was terrible on leash, a huge puller, very typical Malamute. I hadn’t tried any forms of “no pull” devices yet, and wasn’t very educated in the subject. Off I went to the pet store to ask some questions and see what they recommended for us to try. The FIRST item that they recommended was a pinch collar. Not only, did they not give me any other choices, they also said that this is a “humane and pain-free” option to teach your dog not to pull. Pain-free??? I would like to see her put it on her neck and give it a good yank. When there are are tons of pointy pieces of metal jutting into your neck, it is not “pain-free.” Thankfully, I questioned it, and ended up trying out an easy-walk harness instead. ALWAYS QUESTION PEOPLE IN THE PET INDUSTRY, INCLUDING TRAINERS. If you think something is off, or are not feeling comfortable with a certain technique or recommendation, ask as many questions as you need to. Also, go with your gut, it will usually guide you in the right direction.
Many people say that the prong collar “emulates the correction of a mother’s teeth.” This is A MYTH and is not correct. These collars can cause many health issues, as mentioned in the article above, and can go as far as becoming embedded in your dog’s neck. One quick jerk is all it takes. The more pressure you are putting on your dog’s neck, the more pressure they will feel emotionally. You want your dog to remain under threshold the entire time you are on your walk, this will be next to impossible with this type of tension on their neck. Dog’s have a natural instinct to pull forwards when something is pulling them back, therefore making the entire experience painful and frustrating. The behavioral issues that this can cause your dog are limitless.
If you would like to take a more in depth look on the effects of this type of collar, check out this article here.
Choke collars have basically the same negative effects on your dog’s mental and physical health as the prong collar. One of the big differences is however, that they can choke themselves to death. There is nothing stopping this type of collar from tightening to the point of actual choking on your dog’s neck. Again, the natural instinct of your dog to pull away from something putting tension on their neck comes into play, causing a negative experience on walks, as well as a negative experience relating to the surroundings. For more information about the effects of the choke collar, check out this article here.
All of these collars have similar negative effects on your dog’s well-being, however the shock collar is a whole other ball game. Some people say that the shock is just like a tap on the shoulder, while others say that it is more of a zap, similar to sticking your finger in a electrical socket. Well, which is it? It seems that only a dog can answer this question, and since they can’t tell us, it is important for us to know their body language. A dog who is being trained positively has a loose body, tail wag, open mouth, and they show a willingness to learn and please you. A dog being trained with a shock collar will have a closed mouth, possibly yawning, stiff body and tail, ears back, whale eyes, and a general nervousness about them. For more information about shock collars, check out this article here.
Notice the body language of the dogs in these pictures? Stiff postures, ears back, and on high alert. If you ever see a dog wearing one of these collars, compare their body language to that of your positively reinforced dog. There will be a huge difference between them.
Wouldn’t you rather focus your training sessions and walks on the positive, rather than on the negative? You especially do not want to use any of the aforementioned training methods with a fearful or aggressive dog. These techniques will just enhance their issues and very likely cause more harm than good.
What kind of collar does your dog wear? What worked for you when training your dog to walk on leash? Let me know in the comments below!
I finally sent in Kali and Nanu’s DNA tests and got the results just over a week later. I know many people are skeptical but I believe that they have some merit to them (as it is the same or very similar technology to a human DNA test). You can also purchase the tests from a variety of dog rescues for $10 so buying is contributing to a good cause.
How it works:
Every dog has it’s own unique DNA. The test itself is an easy cheek swab, and then you send it in and they look for DNA matches in their extensive database of dog breeds. DNA my dog claims that they match every breed that is found in your dog. Yep, it is THAT simple!
Once you receive your results, each breed match is categorized into a level. These levels indicate how prominent each breed match is in your dog’s DNA.
- Level 1 This category recognizes when a dog’s DNA contains a majority of one specific breed (75% or greater). A dog will only report with a Level 1 breed if they have a high percentage match to a single breed in their DNA. Most mixed breed dogs will not usually have a breed in this category unless one or both of their parents are purebred.
- Level 2 This category reports breeds that may be easily recognizable in your dog. Each breed listed makes up between 37%-74% of your dog’s breeds. Dogs with a large mixed ancestry will not normally have breeds reporting at this level.
- Level 3 This category identifies breeds that have between 20%-36% of the listed breed(s).
- Level 4 This category represents 10%-20% of the breed DNA. Dogs with large mixes may have a number of breeds in this category.
- Level 5 This category represents the lowest level of breed in your dog occurring at 9% or less. These breeds still appear at a low and measurable amount in your pet’s DNA and were likely carried over from several generations.
Kali was listed as a Husky Boxer mix, and we thought that her more prominent breeds would be Husky and Lab.
- Level 2: Alaskan Malamute
- Level 4: Cocker Spaniel
- Level 4: Schnauzer
Nanu was listed as a Shepherd mix, and we believed her prominent breeds to be Shepherd, Collie, and maybe some Rottweiler.
- Level 3: Miniature Pinscher – We were BLOWN away by this!
- Level 4: Boxer
- Level 4: Rhodesian Ridgeback
- Level 4: Rottweiler
- Level 4: Siberian Husky
Have you gotten your dog’s DNA results? What are your thoughts on it? Let me know in the comments below!
I have had a few fosters and adopters contact me recently about how they should introduce a new dog into their home, so I thought I would write about it today. Introducing a new dog into your home is a very important part of adopting or fostering. First and foremost, the meeting between the new dog and your current pets is critical.
If you are adopting a dog, you want to take both yours and the other dog to a neutral place, on leash, to meet each other. If you are fostering you probably won’t have this luxury so make sure that they are meeting outside on leash.
Tips for Leash Meetings
- Calmly walk the dogs towards each other, don’t let them pull to get there, try and calm them with some redirecting and treats before they can sniff one another
- Let them meet for 3 seconds (1 alligator, 2 alligator, 3) and walk them apart (no matter what) and distract each dog, if this meeting goes well you can let them extend their greeting to a good sniff. Here is a more in depth article about the 3 second rule: http://www.thrivingcanine.com/letting_dogs_meet_the_three_second_rule
- REMEMBER: Make sure to be holding the leash so the dogs cannot get tangled together, that can put a lot of stress on dogs who have never met before. You also want to make sure that both dogs have an escape route, this is very important inside, you do not want your dog or the foster to be trapped in a corner or back of a room.
- Once you feel confident that the dogs will get along, you can take the leash off, but you may have to do this for a couple of days before that happens. It all depends on both dogs body language, loose, wiggly body, ears loose, tail wagging, play bowing, etc. Sometimes I will keep my foster’s leash on for the first few days, just in case I need to redirect them outside if house training is involved, or if they are having a hard time coming and going through the door.
If your dog is having some issues with the new one, set some boundaries for your foster, like no going up on the couch, their dog bed, your bed, (depending what your house rules are of course), or sharing their toys. This will make your dog feel more secure knowing that you are not just letting this unknown dog in to take up all of their space. You may have to keep their meetings to a minimum at the beginning if they are not getting along. You can either keep your foster in a separate room, or behind a barrier of some kind (like a baby gate). Having them in the same room but behind a gate is good because then your dog and the foster can still sniff and get used to each other without it being too much.
A good friend of mine is an AMAZING whelping foster, meaning that she takes in pregnant dogs and helps them through their pregnancy, birth, and care of mom and pups afterwards. She said that it always helps to bath the dog before having them meet her pack because then her dogs have something to recognize. Dogs have an amazing sense of smell so having the new dog smell as similar to your pack as possible, will definitely help the transition process.
What not to do
- Never introduce your dogs off leash
- Never introduce them in a small area inside with no escape routes
- If you get a very timid or scared dog, don’t introduce them right away, Let them get settled in their own space and then you can start the intros.
- Do not introduce your entire pack at once, do one dog at a time
Are you a foster or an adopter? What has worked for you in the past? Let me know in the comments below!
As you all know, I am a Positive Reinforcement Dog Trainer, and am against any use of physical or verbal punishment. Scientific studies have proven that punishment fails in dog training, and here are just a few of the reasons why:
- The use of punishment is training your dog what NOT to do, while using positive reinforcement trains the dog what TO do, therefore less training steps.
- Punishment can suppress certain behaviors, such as growling or baring teeth. These signs are important to know when your dog is feeling uncomfortable, so you can remove them from the situation. If your dog is being punished for these behaviors, they may skip the warning signs and go straight to biting or attacking. I never reward for growling or baring teeth, I only do for calm behavior, however they do not get punished for doing so. I choose to redirect that behavior so that they offer me something like eye contact, making them choose to do that over growling or baring teeth.
- Dogs feed off of our emotions. Punishment is giving off a negative and frustrating emotion, making your dog feel that way too. You want your dog to enjoy training and to WANT to do things to please you, rather than being afraid to do something to displease you.
- If your timing is off, you will confuse your dog as to what behavior you are punishing. This can give your dog fear aggression when they do not know what they are doing wrong. Imagine if we were walking down the street and every time a blue car drove by I kicked you, but a couple times I kicked late while a different car is driving by. You are going to be paranoid the entire time we are walking that I am going to kick you.
- You want training to be fun for your dog so they want to do the things you ask. If you are constantly punishing, your dog will eventually give up because they aren’t sure what you actually want them to do.
- Using punishment can sometimes be reinforcing the behavior. For example, when a dog jumps up they are looking for attention, therefore verbal punishment and pushing can seem like play.
- When using punishment, you need to be punishing the behavior EVERY TIME it occurs or else they are self rewarding. When you use positive reinforcement, you are teaching the dog to choose the right behavior on their own.
So next time you think you are taking the easy way out by using a verbal or physical punishment, think how it is really going to affect your dog. In the long run, don’t you think it is best to train your dog the right behavior from the beginning? You want to have a positive relationship with your dog, not one where they listen to you out of fear.
What training methods have worked for you? Let me know in the comments below!
I will write about some alternate forms of resource guarding today, focusing on food. Resource guarding is a normal behavior for a dog, especially if they grew up in a situation where they had to fight for their possessions. This behavior can range from relatively tame behavior, like running away with a coveted item or growling at an approaching person, to full-blown aggression, such as biting or chasing a person away. Some dogs will only direct their guarding at certain people while others will do it with everyone. They also can have a number of different items that they guard such as, food, kennel or dog bed, toys, bones, socks, etc.
Many times, if a dog only guards their food, owners will not try to alter their behavior, they will just “leave him alone” at meal time. This is a fine solution while the dog is at home during a typical evening, but what happens if you go on a holiday and leave the dog with your friends who have a young child, or when you have guests over that don’t know your dog’s feeding habits? During this process you dog’s body language is very important. If he is very stiff, staring, panting, yawning, growling intensely, and you think he may bite, please consult a professional in your area to come over and do an in home assessment. To better understand your dog’s body language, make note of their body movements, tail, eyes, and ears, while you know they are comfortable, then when something changes you will be better equipped to notice.
The method used for resource guarding is desensitizing and counterconditioning, which are quite complex so this exercise will take a bit of time and dedication but will be well worth it in the end.
Changing Your Dog’s Behavior:
- To begin, you will stand a few feet away from your dog while their dry kibble is on the floor. Use a cue like “That looks good” or whatever you want, and at the same time toss a piece of chicken, or other high value treat to them (use a treat that he only gets during this exercise). Continue to do this every few seconds until your dog is finished. Repeat this step for a few days. REMEMBER, if your dog moves close to you to get a treat, just ignore them until they go back to eating.
- Now, take a step forward, use your verbal cue, toss a treat, and step back. Do this for a few days until the dog is getting more comfortable and move onto step 3.
- Take a step to be standing right beside your dog, use the verbal cue, drop the treat directly into their bowl, and step away. Again, do this for few days until he is visually comfortable and move on!
- Repeat the above step, but bend down closer to your dog’s bowl to drop in the treat. Continue to do this and as the dog gets more comfortable, keep inching down until you are placing the treat into the bowl.
- Now, continue to bend down, touch his bowl, and give him the treat from the other hand. Do this for a few meals and then you can move onto picking the bowl off the ground while treating with your other hand and placing it back down.
If your dog is getting the steps very quickly then you can adjust as you feel the need to, however make sure not to rush through this, you do not want your dog to feel threatened at any point in time. You may even need to have everyone in your family go through the steps individually for the dog to get comfortable with each person.
You can apply this exercise to anything that the dog is guarding, the steps remain the same but the area will change. Is your dog a resource guarder? What did you do to adjust their behavior? Let me know in the comments below!
I came across this image from Doggie Drawings and thought it really summed up what Positive Reinforcement Dog Training really is. Enjoy!
What methods have worked for you with your dog? Let me know in the comments below!