Monday, March 21, 2011

Understanding the "Settle" Cue

(by Ana Grimh, CPDT-KA)

One of the reasons I love my dogs is their general excitement and enthusiasm for everything. However, there are times, and I don’t think I’m alone on this, where I would like for them to just calm down and relax. Even better, it would be awesome for them to do this when I ask!

Impossible, you say? Well, in our classes, we show people how painless this process is. You can also try it at home, and here is how:

1. After having a brief play session, let your dog calm a bit.

2. Then, sit down with your dog, and pet him/her with long, full-body strokes. The full-body strokes are more calming to our dogs than patting.

3. When your dog offers a calmer behavior, such as lying down, say your marker word (in a quiet, soothing voice).

4. In a few repetitions, you can include “settle” as you sit down with your dog. Continue to look for and reward calm/quiet behaviors – relaxed ears/mouth, very little body movement, etc.

5. Eventually, you will have a dog who understands that “settle” means to relax, and you can ask him/her to offer it!

Once your dog is picking it up at home, try it at the vet, pet store, etc! Remember, reward your dog for quiet and calm behaviors, and in no time, your dog will offer those behaviors more often! To practice this in a classroom setting, check out our schedule – we would love to see you soon!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Keeping Things FUN As Your Dog Ages

(by Brianne Statz, CPDT-KA)

Training classes aren’t just for puppies and new dogs! When we first get a new dog, whether it’s a new puppy, or a newly adopted dog, we spend quite a bit of time training all the necessary behaviors for our dog to be a great companion. Leash manners, housetraining, sit, stay, etc. – we want our dog to know all these skills to be able to be a well-mannered part of our family. However, once we’ve successfully trained these manners, sometimes it’s easy to think we’re done with training, especially if we have an older dog who has started to slow down, and is content to just chill on the couch all day.

While older dogs may not be able to handle as much physical exercise as they used to, mental exercise is still very important. Giving your older dog’s brain a workout with a new mental challenge can help her preserve cognitive abilities.

One great way to challenge a dog mentally is teaching a new trick. If you do have an older dog, keep physical limitations in mind (maybe don’t try to teach her to jump rope), but you can teach simple tasks like the names for new toys, targeting, shake your head yes or no, and many other physically simple, but mental stimulating tricks.

Another easy way to provide more enrichment is by simply taking a different walking route. Even if your walk isn’t long, if it has new smells, sights and sounds, it will provide more mental stimulation than the same old trip around the block.

Food dispensing toys are another great option for older dogs. Dogs don’t mind working for their food. There are numerous food dispensing toys on the market, or you can simply hide treats around the house (under a chair, on a low shelf, in a corner, etc.). Just be sure to exercise your dog’s brain!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Am I Bribing My Dog?

(By Ana Grimh, CDPT-KA)

As trainers who focus on positive reinforcement, we encourage our clients to use food rewards throughout training, especially during the early stages of learning. However, we understand that some folks feel uncomfortable using so many treats, and worry that they are only bribing their dog and/or they will always need a treat for their dog to perform a skill. These are valid concerns!

As long as you reward correctly, you are not bribing your dog! In the early stages of learning, we will use treats as lures to get your dog to perform different skills (such as sit, down, etc). To reinforce your dog for performing, he/she also receives a food reward. Think of it as motivation to initially learn the skills. Eventually, you will be able to “fade” out the lure, as well as use food rewards more sparingly.

What you will want to do, though, as you continue with training, is to stop rewarding with food on a continuous schedule of reinforcement. This is a fancy phrase that means, “rewarding with a treat after every skill.” With continuous reinforcement, your dog will expect a food reward, and this would be a challenge for you in the future!

In class, we introduce random reinforcement or intermittent schedule of reinforcement. Again, both are just fancy terms to mean, “be unpredictable with your food rewards!” Quick question: Why do people play the slot machines at a casino? Because you never know if the next quarter will produce a huge payoff! By keeping in randomized, you can motivate your dog in a similar fashion. With that said, pick any 5 skills – now, reward your dog with treats for only 2 of the skills, while you reward with a playtime or only praise for the other 3. Next time, switch it up and reward 3 of the skills with food rewards. You will have a hard-working pup in no time!