While I am still building up my client base, I do get calls and messages from time to time where the dog owners ask for help with a certain behavior, or are looking to eliminate a certain behavior. They are desperate to get their dog to sit. I ask a few more questions, and find out that they are not so much looking for a sit as they are looking for the dog settle, to not jump on guests, to stop begging at the table, to just be calm enough to be loved on. Sit is a great exercise that is incompatible with jumping up, but for all of these issues, the real thing that dog actually needs is impulse control.
What is impulse control for dogs? I’m glad you asked. Impulse control is simply where the dog makes the decision to resist the desire to perform an action. Impulse control can be tough for dogs, because often times those impulses are fueled by instinct. Plus acting on instinct is also self-reinforcing. Dogs are predators, predators chase smaller animals. However, we may not want our dogs chasing cats or risking harm by chasing a bunny out in the street. It sure is fun for them though! Sometimes those impulses are things that have been reinforced in the past, such as when the dog got a great game of chase or tug by chewing on your shoes. Some of it is just because dogs live in the moment, and don’t pause to think a decision through. It looks tasty and unattended, they eat it. It looks like fun, they play with it.
There are also some dogs who lack impulse control, out of fear, frustration or over-arousal. Reactive dogs generally will benefit from some impulse control training, to teach them that they have some control of events in their lives. These are the dogs whose first instinct may be to choose flight, and when they can’t, their next impulse is to fight and carry on.
In this regard, dogs are very much like children. In fact, there are a lot of human issues that come from lack of impulse control as well. Kids are impulsive all of the time, and it is a hard thing to teach them not to be. I should know, I am struggling to teach a kid I work with every day to stop and think before he reacts. I think teaching dogs is easier though. Teenagers are famous for this, because they often times put themselves in a dangerous situation without thinking of the consequences first. It doesn’t always go away in adults either. There are impulsive eaters, impulsive shoppers, impulsive gamblers, and adults who continue to make decisions that could cause them harm.
Impulse control is definitely easier to teach to adult dogs, but it should be started as soon as your puppy comes home. There are so many times in a dog’s day to day life that we can ask them to practice to impulse control, without setting up special training sessions. And the things they do in their day to day life may also serve as the reinforcement as well. If we ask our dog to sit while we put their food bowl down and release them to go eat, the food is the prize. Some other examples that you can do to practice impulse control in your dog’s day to day life are: ask your dog to sit before you scratch their ears, ask them to sit before you leash them up for a walk, sit before they come inside or go outside, wait before getting out of the car or their crate, sitting and taking a chew treat from you calmly. You can teach all of these just as a part of your day to day life, although, your dog will learn these skills faster if you do multiple repetitions during each training sessions. Teach your dog to sit before you throw a toy or play tug with them. You know they have this impulse control game down when they also offer a stay until released to go get the ball. The dog learns that they get what they want by offering calm behaviors.
For other scenarios, you will want to set up training sessions. Teaching your dog to “Leave It” does not necessarily come naturally, and the level of impulse control needed depends on the stimulus and the location. It has to be built up slowly, in the least distracting environment possible, and then increasing distractions in a controlled way. It is really important to teach our dogs that by leaving something alone that they really want, they get something better in return. It’s a trade. Leave-It can be used for dogs who are food thieves, to keep them out of a cat box (gross, I know), away from questionable finds outside, and for chasing other animals. There are lots of amazing games that start to teach dogs to make these choices on their own, by heavily reinforcing the dog when they make the choice that we want them to make. Check out this video for some more information. http://www.dogtrainergames.com/its-yer-choice/ Dogs who pull on the leash and drag you around are lacking impulse control, but it is possible to teach all dogs to walk nicely on a leash. I usually start without a leash, and reinforce lots of checking in with me.
A couple of other set ups that I strongly encourage all dog owners to do are teaching your dog to relax. Just like with some people, some dogs are better at relaxing than others. Lots of mental stimulations will help with this, as will teaching them to go to a set spot in your home, such as a bed or crate. You can send your dog to their spot when you are eating, when guests come, and when you can see that they need a break. They have to be built up to this point, because this is high distraction. I highly recommend Dr. Karen Overall’s Protocol for Relaxation. https://www.boulderhumane.org/sites/default/files/ProtocolforRelaxation.pdf I also believe that all dogs should learn to respect boundaries. This is where we teach the dog to remain behind a line that we have established. Check out this link here for more information. https://clickertraining.com/node/2409 You may also have to begin some counter-conditioning if your dog’s impulses are based on fear and their fight or flight reflexes. Check this site for more information. http://careforreactivedogs.com/
To start training impulse control, it is always important to assess your dog’s mental state and to decide if they are ready for training at this time. Your dog may be able to handle something at home but will get too excited anywhere else. Don’t put your dog in situations that they won’t be successful in. We always want to set our dogs up for success!
Teaching impulse control to dogs is the answer to so many different behavior issues, which will be the next post. As you can see, this is something I am pretty excited about. I’m looking forward to offering classes on Impulse Control. If you would like to start teaching these skills to your dog, I am here to help!
If you spend enough time around me, especially in dog related settings, you may notice that you pick up a few words from me. One or two of my clients have noticed this for sure. These words may be a matter of semantics, because no matter what I say, I will still train the same way, but being mindful of my words helps me to stay in the right mindset. This helps me to be true to myself, as you may recall, is a big reason why I chose this name for my business. Real Terms indeed.
Cue vs. Command. What does the word command bring to mind for you? For me, it sets the stage for a militant handler, a "you better listen or else" type. One of the hallmarks of clicker training is that the dogs are given the choice to listen! Since listening to us gets them what they want, they listen more often. A cue is simply information that we give the dog, information that by doing a behavior that is associated with that signal, they will earn something they want. They don't obey out of fear, they listen just in case this time is one where they get a treat. Sometimes, the line is still blurred. There are plenty of kind handlers who talk about commands, but are not enforcing them with force. I mean, I even sometimes have to remind my dog a couple of times to lie down when he is distracted. However, he gets treats in these situations and will offer it more willingly the next time. It truly is a mindset to get into. What happens if the dog doesn't listen? With a command, the handler raises their voice and may threaten punishment. With cues, the handler looks at why the dog didn't listen, and takes it as a learning experience of what to train more in the future before putting the dog into that situation again.
Reinforcement vs. Reward. This is an important one. A reward is chosen by the giver. The receiver may have a couple of choices, but it is ultimately not their decision. Sometimes rewards work and sometimes they don't, depending on the value and how much the receiver actually wants it. The example I use is if my co-worker wanted me to stay on top of paperwork, she decides to reward me with Sweet-tarts. I don't ever seek that type of candy out, so it is not terribly motivating to me. A reinforcement, on the other hand, is always chosen by the learner or receiver, and they are the only one who can decide if something is reinforcing or not. Sometimes, it even depends on the environment. A dog may work well at home for kibble, but might need boiled chicken when working in public. Some dogs will work for praise, although usually not in a high distraction environment. Most dogs will work for food, and some prefer to work for a toy. It usually depends on context. A dog who is outdoors might want to work for a Frisbee. Or, a dog might not be hungry and won't find food terribly exciting, even if they normally love it. I usually don't find pie as reinforcing after eating a giant Thanksgiving dinner as I do the next day for breakfast. Back to my example, if my coworker wanted to reinforcement paperwork done on time, she could bring me coffee, or tacos, or Reese's Peanut Butter Cups.
Manners vs. Obedience. I still talk about obedience, because it is what people know and understand, but I try to gently guide clients towards manners instead. It's another one of those word choices that makes me think. Obedience is a good thing, until the dog is offering it because they are too scared not too or have been pushed hard into it. Truly, most of my clients don't actually want obedience. They want a dog who can make good choices and just be a cool member of the family. When I look at criteria that a clients wants, most don't need their dog to snap to to listen. They want their dog to be calm, to greet guests nicely, not to beg at the table and to walk nicely on a leash. They might not actually ever need a dog who walks at a perfect show ring heel. They just want their dog to not be pulling their arm like crazy or to be wrapping them in a leash. We have made a cultural shift away from using the word obey in marriage vows. Most parents and teachers don't expect kids to be obedient either. They want kids to be respectful, to listen to expectations and to face the positive or negative consequence of their choice. Our dogs are the same way.
I even sometimes think about the cues I use in my own dog training. I realized, not too long ago, that my Leave-It cue had been poisoned, or made to have a negative connotation to my dog. Not that I even ever punished him harshly, but even raising my voice hurt his feelings. So, we retrained it, and not call it Mine/Trade. He leaves what I don't want him to have with the knowledge that he will get something he really likes.
At the end of the day, it doesn't really matter which words we use, as long as we are kind to our dogs. We owe it to them to be patient, to be allowed to make good choices, after those choices have been heavily reinforced. Our dogs are going to love us as long as we are fun and kind to them.
Since I am teaching a Recallers class right now, good recalls have been on my mind a lot lately. I've been looking at mistakes I have made and seen made in order to help my students have the best recall possible. The two biggest reasons that a recall falls apart are that the behavior hasn't been proofed enough and the dog learns that he/she doesn't have to listen. In the world of recall training, repetition, repetition, repetition will be your best friend. However, when your dog learns that a cue can be ignored, sometimes it is best to start with a new one and start from scratch retraining the behavior.
The other issue is that the cue has somehow been poisoned. The dog takes their sweet time getting back to their owner and the dog gets in trouble. The dog may make the association that this particular cue means trouble, so running the other way is self-preservation! Or, the dog is only called for unpleasant experiences, like baths and leaving the park. Of course they ignore the cue then. Again, the best thing to do in this case is to choose a new recall cue, and make it fun and positive every time the dog listens and returns.
Here is an extensive list of potential recall cues that may be novel to your dog. This is a good thing, because the dog has no association with this word. You can turn paying attention and listening to this cue to be the most fun thing in the world, with the best ever treats, play sessions and cuddles. Plus, it may be less likely that everyone else and their dog is using the same cue as you, lessening confusion for your dog. Enjoy, and let me know if you chose one of these cues in the comment sections!
It is unfortunate, among the dog training community, that there is a divide. An us versus them kind of mentality. There are the traditional and balanced trainers against positive reinforcement based trainers. Neither side entirely understands the other, and then, there are trainers on both sides who don't know what they are doing, but somehow have the loudest voices and give a lot of bad information, making the entire community look incompetent. It happens on both sides. I truly believe that most, if not all trainers, love dogs and want to do right by them.
That said, there are lots of myths surrounding positive reinforcement training. I'd like to try to eradicate some of these myths and let you know the truth. You can take what you'd like from this what you'd like. I just hope to open minds by being true to myself and to the facts.
This time last year, the weather was just a bit warmer, although it was just as snowy. I had taken a couple of favorite dogs with me when I went snowshoeing. I rang in the New Year with a dog who was afraid of fireworks.
Over the past year, I have sat for around 40 different dogs, as well as some other critters. Of those dogs, about half of them are purebred and about half are mutts. Some come from shelters, some from good breeders and some come from less than awesome beginnings. Some of the dogs were friendly, love everyone types and some I had to approach a little slower. The smallest one weighed in at 3 lbs and the biggest was 195 lbs. But each one of the dogs I have met are well-loved, and dogs I am happy to call my canine friends! Dog sitting boomed this year, and what may have started as a hobby is quickly turning into something I love doing.
I've had some fun where training is concerned as well. I finally got brave enough to apply for Karen Pryor Academy Dog Trainer Professional program and I got in! I was afraid of being rejected, but getting in was the easy part. As life often is, am I right? Dakota was my training partner, and he and I learned a lot together. He and I are more worldly, after our four trips to Calgary. My passport got some use and Dakota aced his border crossings. It was pretty pain free. He performed beautifully at the workshops, and helped me to pass my training assessment. Dakota and I both have a bunch of new Canadian friends!
The training journey is just started though. I still have one more step for certification. I have classes starting in the new year, and I couldn't be more excited to start them! I've worked with a few training clients this year, and love nothing more than to see people follow through with my advice and tell me it works for their dog!
Dakota and I personally had a pretty phenomenal year as well. We ran in six agility trials, and we moved up to the next class. Dakota, at 10 years old, is getting faster every trial! He loves it and I love it, and my heart hurts in advance the day we have to retire from it. I hope he tells me when it is too much. He earned six titles this year, and just continues to love the game!
We also earned a title in Musical Dog Sports Association Freestyle Dance. It was a class we too, that I thought would be a good way to pass the time a few winters ago, and we have found another sport he loves! It is a good retirement sport for him and it has upped our agility game by a lot!
We did our first barnhunt trial this year, and I truly went into it thinking I was doing it for kicks, but Dakota showed me! When he is feeling barnhunt, and he almost always is, he stands on the tube as an alert! It is pretty hilarious to watch and is fun for him. He is one Q away from a title, and I can't wait for the next trial.
Dakota earned his AKC trick titles this year, without a ton of work on our part. He loves tricks, and I am trying to think of new ones to teach him.
It may not have been a perfect year, but I charged forward in following my dreams and making them a reality. Dakota gave me a few scares, but he is a tough boy and is such a willing partner, I am forever wanting to improve myself just so I can be the handler he deserves. I'm finding myself tonight again hanging with a couple of my favorite dogs, one of them is Dakota, and I am so thankful for my 2017. I'm not where I want to be just yet, but I am well on my way there!
It turns out, for a human, I am pretty well trained. Dakota has made sure of it. One time, a friend was at my house. She was astonished when I was sitting on the floor, petting Dakota and knew that he was asking to go out. Or, later in the evening, when I knew that he was wondering if he was going to get a chewy that evening. What she didn't understand is that when he has to go out, he keeps looking to the door. When he wants a treat, he licks his lips every time I stand up. I can tell by the way he is watching me that he wants to be closer to me, and I can tell when he is content to just be. He is sensitive to pressure, and I am pretty good about knowing how hard to push him to get him to move in a certain direction.
However, sometimes, I don't pick up on these cues as well. I just recently realized that Dakota doesn't care to have his collar grabbed, even though the only time I grab his collar is when I put his leash on him for walks or car rides. He LOVES both of those experiences. Thinking about it, he also leans back, backs up, breaks his sit, when I grab his collar. So, I started a counter-conditioning plan to get him more comfortable with me grabbing his collar. I feel pretty terrible that I didn't realize that this was even a cause of discomfort until recently.
I'm lucky I have a patient human trainer in Dakota. He never loses his temper with me, and he gives me lots of second chances. I can read that he likes ear scratches, but doesn't like being patted on the head. I understand that he comes to expect walks or training sessions in the evening. I know when he wants food, play, outside time, water and sleep. I would say that I usually know how he is feeling, and try to keep him safe when he is feeling worried or anxious. I know his ear twitches, tail position and facial expressions. I can see the moment that he understands what I am asking of him and when I am moving him too fast. As much as I have taught him, he has taught me just as much.
Now, my next step of being a well-trained human is learning to read other dogs. I know Dakota well, just because of the connection we have. But I am pretty good at reading my client dogs too. I have one that is fearful of skateboards, even though he barks and growls at them. I have one that wants to be near to me all the time, but doesn't want me to look at or touch her. I have one that wants me to go to bed at 9:00, because he is ready to cuddle for the night. Of course, I usually can read when any of them want to go outside or are begging for supper and treats. I appreciate all of the dogs in my life that are willing to train me to be a well trained human.
Hi, I'm Rachel. I'm crazy about dogs and want to see all of them living the best life possible. Most of my free time is taken up by dogs, but when I am not working with my own or others, I also enjoy cooking, volunteer work, reading and Netflix in my pajamas.