Is Your Dog Listening? Common Mistakes in Dog Training

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.

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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!

Resource Guarding – Part 2

Hi everyone!

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.

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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!

Resource Guarding – Ginny

Today, my good friend asked me for some advice on resource guarding. There are many different types of resource guarding so I thought I would make this into a two part series.

Meet Ginny, an adorable 6 year old Lhasa Apso, Poodle mix. who her mom describes as “sensitive, competitive, vocal and very bossy, but sweet and snuggly when she’s not feeling pressured.” Ginny lives in a unique situation with 4 other doggy siblings, big and small, a cat, and 3 horses. It is very common for a dog to guard food, toys, and bones, but in this case Ginny is guarding her mom’s attention. When the other dogs come into the room to jump on the bed, Ginny growls and let’s them know that she DOES NOT want them up there. We decided on a technique called Behavior Adjustment Training (BAT) to try with Ginny.

BAT, developed by Grisha Stewart, MA, CPDT-KA, “rehabilitates dog reactivity by looking at why the dog is reactive and helping them meet their needs in other ways. This method is a dog-friendly application of ‘functional analysis’ that gives the dogs a chance to learn to control their own comfort level through peaceful means. It is very empowering to your dog, in a good way.” If you are interested in doing some reading about dog training, I highly recommend anything by Grisha Stewart.

We often use BAT for dogs who are aggressive with other dogs or people, and train while on leash, in this circumstance we will be using it for Ginny’s behavior while on Mom’s bed.

  • First, they began with another dog (on leash) slowly walking into the room.
  • Once Mom sees Ginny begin to get agitated (body signals), she distracts her with a “YES” verbal marker and gives her some love while Dad removes the other dog – Remember that if you miss this warning stage and your dog reacts, remove the dog from the situation immediately and start over. The reward in this situation is removing the other dog.
  • As this goes on, Dad brings the other dog closer and closer to the bed until Ginny starts looking to Mom for confirmation on how to react.

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This training method can be used in any situation where your dog gets agitated or anxious, ideally you want your dog to look to you for guidance when they get nervous. For example, if they see a rabbit, you want them to look to you to see if they should chase it or not, or confirmation that they will be ok while that kid zips past on his bike.

Do you own a resource guarder? What methods did you use to change this behavior? Let me know in the comments below!

MUR Adoptables – Fia “Leave It”

Hello again!

Last week I talked about Manitoba Underdogs’ Adoptable, Fia. In addition to her separation anxiety, Fia was also having issues of counter surfing and garbage can diving. These are common behaviors found in any dog.

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The first step in fixing this behavior was for Fia’s foster mom to take away all of the temptations. Move the garbage outside, closed off in a cupboard, or under the sink, and keep the counter and sink clear of all food, wrappers, and dirty dishes. Anytime she gets to eat garbage, or something off of the counter she is self rewarding and reinforcing the behavior.

To change this habit, we are going to use the “leave it” technique. Once your dog has mastered “leave it” with food and objects inside the house, you can start applying it on a larger scale outside with other dogs, critters, people, or even when barking at something out the window or fence. “Leave it” is also handy for health reasons, choking and disease, when you see your dog eyeing that dead bird on the side of the road, or a bone that fell out of the garbage.

Remember to set your dog up for success; work in an area where your dog will be completely focused on you. If you own other dogs, you will want to keep them in a separate room or space where they can’t distract from your training. Begin without using the term “leave it” at all, once the dog starts to automatically do the behavior you will add in the verbal cue. You never want to use the word more than once, because then the dog won’t understand it, or learn that they do not have to listen to it the first time, they know it will come again.

Teaching Your Dog “Leave It”

  1. Start with some treats. Put a treat in a closed fist, once the dog stops sniffing and trying to get the treat out, use your verbal marker, “YES” and reward FROM YOUR OTHER HAND. You will never be giving your dog the “leave it” treat. If you are using a clicker, once they stop sniffing and licking, click and treat. Remember to do this as soon as they, even for a second, back off.
  2. Once the dog is consistently leaving the treat alone, start to add the verbal cue “leave it”
  3. Once the dog understands the term “leave it”, you can up the criteria using an open hand
  4. Does your dog have that down pat? Now move onto putting food or toys on the floor, “leave it” and then releasing them with the command “OK” or “Break” or whatever you choose to use to release them.

If you are feeding your dog off of the counter while cooking dinner, or off of your plate while eating, it is making your dog to think that there are treats for him on there, therefore causing him to beg or counter surf. Giving your dog treats from your dinner is OK as long as you wait until you are done eating, and give it to them in their dish or away from the eating situation. Remember that your dog is always learning and you are always training!

Fia has found her “Furever” home but if you are interested in adopting check out the other dogs available at Manitoba Underdogs Rescue!

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Have a dog who counter surfs? What did you do change the behavior? Let me know in the comments below!

Clicker Training!

Hey there!

So, I’ve just started experimenting with the clicker. I am doing some behavior shaping with Kali and Nanu and thought I would try it out. So far they seem to be really responding to it!

Clicker training is a method used to mark a desired behavior, an alternative to a verbal marker like “YES.” Many trainers use the clicker, especially if teaching a dog agility exercises or other activities that require a quick response. It has been said that because the clicker is a quicker sound than a verbal cue, that it is more effective when training. I believe that this is true, however I also think a verbal cue is just fine when teaching the most basic commands such as sit and down.

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The first step to clicker training is to amp up the clicker! You want your dog to know that sound and know that as soon as he hears it, he gets a reward. For the first few days you will focus on getting him to know the sound and respond to it immediately.

Introduction to Clicker Exercise

  1. Start off in an area where your dog will be completely focused on you and the treats, I use a high value treat for this exercise, whatever is your dog’s favorite.
  2. You will do this 3 times in a row with a small break between each session. Get 20ish pieces of food in your hand, and within about half a second (this needs to happen fast) click and treat, between each click and treat leave about one second.
  3. Do that until the pieces of food are done, wait a minute or two and start again!
  4. Take a longer break after the 3 sessions are finished, a couple hours, and do it again!

I would do this 2-3 times per day for about 3 days or whenever you see a consistent response from your dog. Remember only to click for the exact behavior you want and right after it happens or else your dog will become confused and not totally understand what you are asking. If you miss a click, don’t try to make it up a bit late, just start again.

You can also get a few clickers, they are fairly inexpensive, and put them all over the house. Then whenever your dog offers you a good behavior you can click and treat!

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Once this step is complete, you are ready to start training behaviors with the clicker! Make sure to click as soon as your dog does the desired behavior and treat. As time goes on you can start leaving a longer break between clicking and treating and then eventually take the treats away altogether!

Remember that whenever you are doing a lot of training and treating with your dog, you need to adjust his food level, you do not want your dog gaining any extra weight! My dog’s favorite treats are hot dogs and cheese, which I like to limit in their diet. I put their regular everyday kibble in a ziploc, cut up the (low fat) cheese and hot dogs, mix it in and keep it in the fridge. That way, the flavors of the cheese and hotdogs mixes into their kibble so it is like a special treat when really it is just their everyday food.

Interested in learning more? Karen Pryor is an author and clicker expert, you can find her books on the subject in your local bookstore or online!

Have any questions? Do you use a clicker? Are you a fan or not? Let me know in the comments below!