Monday, October 14, 2013

Teacher's Pet Training - Impulse Control? What is that?

by Brianne Statz, CPDT-KA

Sometimes, what our dog wants to be doing and what we want our dog to be doing is not exactly the same thing. Like when our dog wants to be running, chasing, jumping, barking – all those fun doggy things – but we want our dog to be sitting quietly at our side. In training, we call this “impulse control."

Basically, impulse control is teaching your dog that doing something that doesn’t necessarily come naturally will have a big reward. Think about some of your dog’s impulses that might cause you some problems. Chasing squirrels? Jumping up on visitors? Barking at other dogs? Lunging at food or toys in your hand?

There are two main components to impulse control training. First, minimize the amount of reinforcement your dog gets for engaging in the impulsive behaviors you don’t like (hint – leashes are very helpful for this). In other words, do not pay attention (negative or positive) to your dog if s/he is jumping on you or others, barking at you or others, etc. Second, reward your dog frequently for choosing the behavior you do like! For example, whenever you have a visitor, feed your dog lots of kibble/treats for sitting and staying. If you continue that, your dog will be much more likely to choose to sit and stay than to jump up. Another example involves your dog seeing a squirrel on a walk. If s/he gets a treat for looking at you and heeling/walking nice, then the impulsive chasing will decrease.

However, we do want our dogs to be dogs! The great thing about impulse control training is that, once your dog is getting the hang of it, you can use the opportunity to do the fun thing as the reward for the behavior you like. You looked at me and got in heel position when you saw that dog approaching us? Great dog – let’s go say hi! Check out our classes on self control and emergency skills for some practice on impulse control skills like stay and leave it/off.  Here’s a video of some impulse control practice in action:

Happy Training!

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Teacher's Pet: Nice Work! The Importance of Feedback

By Ana Grimh, CPDT-KA 

YES! GOOD! NICE! SWEET! DING! CLICK! What do all of these words have in common? To at least one dog I know, one of these words is a clue that s/he did something correct. We may use the term, “marker word,” for these examples. In short, it is feedback. 
Over my years of teaching others and training my own dogs, I have noticed how much we talk to our dogs, but how little the dogs actually take away from all that chatting. Unfortunately, they do not arrive understanding our language, and likewise, we do not meet them understanding THEIR language. As any teacher or supervisor would do for you, we should add more feedback to help each other! 
Letting your dog know s/he has done something you like is important to building a trusting relationship and avoiding any “trouble” behavior(s). You can also use feedback as your dog is continuing to perform a skill/behavior you like, such as Walking Nicely on Leash and/or Recall.
You can provide feedback with or without adding a “reward.” An example is working on Polite Greetings: (1) You approach your dog; (2) S/he jumps up at you; (3) You turn away and avoid contact. S/he learns that jumping does NOT get your attention, and thus, it is not a strategy to continue. Now, say your dog has been working on Polite Greetings for some time: (1) You approach your dog; (2) S/he sits immediately; (3) You smile, say “Good!” + treat, and/or bend down to say HI. S/he learns that sitting when human approaching is very rewarding, and therefore, it is a strategy to continue. See how important feedback is?
In a recent graduating Beginner class, I saw how adept the students had become at providing timely and frequent feedback to their dogs. It was heavenly! Both the dogs and students were enthusiastically and skillfully managing challenging set-ups for Off/Leave It practice (including food bowls!), and a big part of their success was their willingness to provide useful feedback to their dog. Kudos to the group!
As you continue training, think about how to best communicate with your dog(s). I’m certain you will not regret the results you will see when focusing on this important part of the training process!
Happy training! 

Teacher's Pet: Wait! Your Paws are Muddy!

by Brianne Statz, CPDT-KA

It’s finally feeling like spring might be here to stay! A big YES + treat to Mother Nature! Warmer weather and extended sunlight mean more time to walk and play with the dogs outside. Our dog(s) are over-the-moon excited! However…all that melted snow also means muddy paws. How about teaching your dog to help you out and wipe his paws on a towel or mat?

This can often be taught quickly with some well-placed treats and a clicker (or marker word like “good” or “yes”). 


  1. Get out your towel or mat and have your dog sit-stay while he watches you place a few treats under the mat. 
  2. Release your dog to go get the treats.  Many dogs will quickly start pawing at the mat to get at the treats. 
  3. As soon as your dog starts pawing, mark (click or say your marker word) and reward with another treat on top of the mat. 
  4. After a few trials, stop putting treats under the mat and see if your dog will still try to paw at the mat. 
  5. Start adding a verbal cue like “wipe” before your dog starts pawing.
Practice, practice, practice for many repetitions! Pretty soon you can ask your dog to wipe when coming in from outside! Not only do you get to let your dog do all the work, but it’s also a cool trick to show off to friends and family.
Happy Training!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Training Cats & Dogs

Training Cats and Dogs

By Brianne Statz, CPDT-KA

As trainers at Teacher’s Pet, we strive to understand the science behind training methods.  By studying learning theory and operant & classical conditioning, we can better understand how to train skills and modify behavior problems in dogs.  But that’s not all – the science behind how we train dogs also applies to other animals, so we can help with your cat, too!

If you’re interested in training your cat (or other species of pet), first you need to figure out something motivating for your pet.  Food is motivating to all animals (although some of us more than others), so that’s usually a good place to start.  If your cat is free fed (has unlimited access to food), you may want to start providing more scheduled meals so your cat is more interested in food at training time.  You can use tastier treats that your cat enjoys, but just like with dogs, be aware of how many extra calories you’re using in training and cut back meals, if needed.  Toys and affection can also be used for rewards if your cat enjoys those things.

Just like with your dog, start by teaching a “marker.”  Often, we use a verbal marker like “good” with dogs.  Cats might do better with a more uniform marker, like a clicker (small plastic and metal device that makes a “click” sound when you press it).  Start by simply clicking followed by a tiny treat.  Repeat until your cat looks excited to hear that click.  Once your cat has a marker, you’re ready to start marking any behavior you like or think is cute.  Behaviors that are marked and rewarded should increase in frequency, and you’re on your way to a trained cat!

Keep in mind that, while the learning principles are the same, there are some differences in how cats and dogs work with us.  For example, you may notice that your cat isn’t interested in training for as long as your dog.  Some cats only want to train for 2-3 minute sessions, and then napping in the sun is more important.  You may also need to do more “shaping” with your cat.  If your cat isn’t getting the behavior you want, break it down into smaller steps, then mark and reward anything that’s close.

Just like in dogs, mental stimulation can help cats stay happy and healthy and avoid some behavior problems.  Besides that, cat tricks are cute!  Check out this clip of Joan the cat doing a few of her tricks. While we don’t have group classes for cats, we do offer private consultations for cats.  If you have a cat with a behavior problem and/or you want to learn more about cat training, contact Ana Grimh, CPDT-KA (Program Director).

Product Review: Freedom Harness

Product Review:  Freedom No Pull Harness (Wiggles, Wags and Whiskers, Inc)

Available in the Madison area at Nutzy Mutz and Bad Dog Frida

What:  This is a harness designed to decrease pulling and give you more control over your dog while walking on leash.  You can also order a special leash designed to attach to the harness in three different ways (a ring on the dog’s back, a ring on the dog’s chest, or both rings at once).
Why:  It takes some time and patience to teach your dog to walk politely on leash.  A special harness like this can help you walk your dog more easily without thinking about training, and without letting your dog be rewarded for pulling.
The Paws Up:  The harness definitely worked to control pulling in a 55 pound dog that is typically a moderate puller.  One nice feature is the velvet lining on the chest strap, since the nylon of other harnesses, such as the Easy Walk by Premier, can cause some chaffing under the front legs.  There are also different options for attaching the leash, which is great!  For times when you need extra control, such as walking through a crowd or if your dog has issues seeing other dogs or people while walking, attaching to both the chest and the back gives the most control.  And if you want to give your dog more freedom to sniff and explore, attaching to either the back or the chest decreases pulling enough to keep the walk enjoyable. 
The Paws Down:  Unlike some of the other anti-pulling harnesses that can be fastened around the dog’s chest/back, this harness does have to slip over the dog’s head, which could be an issue for some dogs.  However, most dogs can be helped through this by using some tasty treats.