Monday, November 24, 2014

Teacher's Pet Training - Changing Unwanted Behavior

by Brianne Statz, CPDT-KA

The cold temperatures and snow are here early this year (nooooo!), and along with them comes a very unwanted canine behavior at my household – poopsicle eating.  Pepper the Pomeranian mix has the lovely habit of snacking on other dogs’ frozen poo (luckily she only tends to do this with frozen deposits, so I get a seasonal reprieve).  As I witnessed this behavior in the yard today, it started me thinking on all the ways we can influence our dogs’ behavior.  I’m going to run through some of the options for this particular behavior, but really, you can ask yourself some of the same questions with any undesirable behavior:

1.       Is there potentially a medical concern?  While there are many debates on the causes of coprophagia (eating of stool), some involving dietary deficiencies, Pepper seems to be in very good health otherwise.

2.       Can I live with this behavior?  Yes.  She does not eat poo to the point of making herself sick, so occasional snacking is really not doing any harm, although I do find it unpleasant.  I would like the behavior to stop, but if it doesn’t, life will still go on.

3.       Can I manage the environment to prevent it from happening?  Yes.  I could immediately pick up after the other dogs (she is especially fond of husky poo).  However, I am unlikely to comply fully with this strategy, especially when it is very cold outside.

4.       Can I remove the reinforcement?  I could use one of several food additives on the market designed to make the husky stool taste bad (ridiculous as it sounds it must currently taste good to Pepper). 

5.       Can I reinforce an incompatible behavior?  Yes, Pepper does have a “leave it” cue, as well as a good recall, so as long as I am supervising, I can reward her for staying away from it (and I can supervise from inside the house, making my compliance better in the cold).  I could also give her better things to do outside, like chasing snowballs or searching for bits of dog food.

For this particular behavior, I will likely combine a bit from each strategy.  I will try to pick up the yard as often as I can, and failing that, I will supervise Pepper when she is out, and use her “leave it” cue or her recall to reinforce her for resisting the poopsicles.  One thing I will try not to do is yell her name in an irritated manner.  It’s a bad habit of mine (despite warning all my students in training classes about it), and while it may work to get her to stop eating the poo, it may also make her more likely to avoid me when I am calling her name to get her attention.  It also doesn’t give her any direction as to what to do next.  Instead, I can use a “leave it” cue, which tells her that she will be rewarded for backing away from the snack. 

Do you have a problem behavior you’re trying to eliminate?  Excellent resources for thinking through your options include “Don’t Shoot the Dog” by Karen Pryor, and “The Toolbox for Remodeling Your Problem Dog” by Terry Ryan.
Happy Training!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Loose Leash Walking: The Agony & The Joy

by Ana Grimh, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA

SQUIRREL!! DOG!! RABBIT!! GARBAGE!! Like most other dogs, this is what my Husky, Jisa, is pondering during our walks. And MAN, can she PULL! When we first brought her home (and even now, on a smaller scale), you would’ve thought she was trying out for a sled team! In our classes and private work, we frequently hear pulling to be an issue, and we do our best to teach you the best methods of managing and working on this. We provide you as many tools as we can, and then you head out into this world of distractions to practice! YOWZA! Here is a brief overview of how one goes about developing walking nicely on leash / loose leash walking.

1.      To begin, you should start working on loose leash walking in an environment with few distractions, such as inside your home (perhaps even a quiet room, no kids or other pets present). To establish superb eye contact / attention and the loose leash, we typically recommend a backwards walking method (most methods are simply variations of each other), and eventually, we have you graduate to more forwards walking.

a.       “Backwards” means that you are walking backwards, and your dog is following you, eyes on you and the leash slack. In case you are not sure what we mean, here is a video showing the method in action: Note that, at first, we reinforce behavior we want to see as much as possible. As your dog seems to be catching on (looking at you more frequently, leash loose most of time, rarely gets distracted), you can start to fade out the food – if you were feeding for every step, perhaps go to every other step…or, preferably, a more randomized way, such as walk-walk-kibble-walk-kibble-walk-walk-walk-kibble and so on.

b.      While in a less distracting environment, you should be able to get away with a mixture of your dog’s regular kibble (maybe use part of his meal?) and yummier treats! Make sure treats are appropriately sized for your dog – many of the treats on the market can be broken down into 3-5 smaller sized portions. Much better for your dog’s digestive system AND waistline! If you are doing a lot of training, you should connect with your veterinarian – s/he might recommend reducing your dog’s daily kibble intake.

2.      Once you and your dog are utilizing more forward walking than backwards inside, it is time to venture into the backyard! Start at the beginning, and gradually work up to walking forwards majority of the time.

a.       Remember: Just because you start walking forwards, it does not mean the reinforcement stops! You want to reinforce desired behavior as much as possible! This enables your dog to learn what you are looking for, or in other words, what behaviors PAY!

b.      Finding that your dog is more distracted, and thus, there is more tension on the leash? Well, we have a video for that! See this example: Yes, in this video, tension on the leash does happen as the dog pulls towards the desired item. As soon as the handler feels tension, though, she immediately turns, calls the dog / gets the dog’s attention, and moves in the opposite direction. We are teaching the dog that pulling will move him farther from what he wants. They reset, and then try again. Eventually, the dog can walk all the way to the distraction on a loose leash.

3.      After seeing progress in the backyard, it is time for the ever exciting WALK! Again, start from the beginning, and slowly move through the steps. This is going to take time, and it is so worth the effort! Note, if your dog gets very distracted by this environment, you may need higher value reinforcers along – such as kibble mixed with tiny pieces of hot dogs / chicken. Follow the guidelines for using and fading out reinforcers above.
We understand that walking backwards on your regular walking routine could look silly, and we do not expect you to do this every day (though, it would provide consistency and help you reach your goal faster!). However, please be mindful of what you are reinforcing on walks. If your dog is pulling, moving forward could be reinforcing the behavior (UGH!). Instead of continuing to walk forward, you can either (1) stop moving and wait for your dog to orient to you (and thus, establish a loose lead), or (2) turn, call dog / get dog’s attention, and as soon as you feel the leash is loose and dog is attentive, start walking forwards again. This takes seconds, and will be helpful on your journey to a nice walking experience!
Here is a video of one of our clients practicing loose leash walking in our classroom: Keep in mind, this client has been through numerous classes, so they are at the point of walking forwards and starting to fade out food reinforcement.
Ultimately, be patient with this process. The environment surrounding our dogs, especially outside, is VERY distracting and stimulating, and this takes time to overcome. Impossible? No. Difficult? Absolutely! Keep at it, and eventually, you and your dog will be enjoying your time more outside. If you’d like more assistance with doing these exercises, enroll in one of our Puppy or Beginner Schools (or Doggy High School / College, if you are more advanced) to get started!
Happy training!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Teacher's Pet Training Academy - Training Tips for Small Dogs

by Brianne Statz, CPDT-KA

A few years ago, I was surfing the Petfinder site, mainly out of boredom. While I consider myself mainly a midsize-herding breed kind of person (I have a few items around my house that declare “I love my Australian Shepherd”), I’ve always had a soft spot for Pomeranians. Long story short, I ended up adopting Pepper, a 10 pound “Pomeranian/Chihuahua/who knows what” from the ARVSS rescue group, and, thus, having my first small dog to train. 

The wonderful thing about positive reinforcement-based training is that it is safe and effective for any size dog (or cat, rodent, bird, etc.!), so I knew that little Pepper could learn in the same way that my larger dogs did. But I found there are some things to consider when working specifically with a small dog.

First, if I am luring Pepper with a treat in my hand, I need to bend over a lot farther. While this isn’t a huge deal for me, it can be difficult when we’re on a walk, and for owners with difficulty bending, it could be a significant problem. A nice way to combat this issue is to teach your small dog to use a target stick. You can purchase a target stick made specifically for dog training (that usually has a rounded ball at one end), or you can use a wooden spoon or other long object that extends your reach. Teach your small dog to touch her nose to the end of your target stick (by marking and rewarding her for doing it), and then you can more easily lure your dog with the stick instead of having to bend all the way over. 

Second, small dogs get underfoot a lot (small dog owners are probably considering this an understatement right now). When I ask the dogs if they want to go outside, I get two excited big dogs racing down the stairs to the door. And I get one excited small dog racing down the stairs, then back up the stairs, behind my feet, back down the stairs and weaving in between the big dogs’ legs. Since this could one day lead to a very sprained ankle, I thought perhaps I should train something safer. I worked with Pepper on staying behind me as I walked down the stairs, and then taught her to jump up on a chair to wait to go outside. Jumping up on an elevated surface is another great thing to teach small dogs.  From the dog’s perspective, humans spend a lot of time towering over her. When I want to put on a harness or do some grooming, if I ask her to jump onto a higher surface first, it’s less intimidating for her when I do lean over her. 

Third, think about the things that others may do to your small dog that wouldn’t necessarily happen to your big dog. Nobody has ever tried to pick up my husky mix. Just because small dogs are small and cute, doesn’t mean they want to be picked up by a stranger any more than a big dog does. So stand up for your small dog – if you see your dog is uncomfortable when someone reaches for her, ask the person to stop, and call your dog to you for safety. And, if your dog is uncomfortable being reached for, you can choose to do some counter conditioning/desensitization work (person reaching for dog = really yummy treats for dog), but always respect that your small dog sees things from a different perspective than you do. 

Want to see some of these tips in action? Check out the video HERE!

Happy training!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

What is Backyard Agility?

Agility is a sport in which dog & owner teams race through an obstacle course against other teams. For many, competition is not as appealing as just having fun playing around with your dog. If that sounds like you, check out our Backyard Agility series! 

Some of our goals in our Backyard Agility series are:

·         Introduce your dog to new obstacles in a safe and fun manner. Some obstacles can be scary for some dogs at first, and learning new things safely can help build your dog’s confidence.

·         Help you communicate better with your dog. Dogs are masters at reading our body language, and agility is a great way for you to learn how to communicate with your dog by simply changing how you move.

·         Exercise! Agility can obviously be physically tiring for your dog, but it’s also great mental exercise.  Weaving through poles is not a natural behavior to a dog, so learning to do that can really work your dog’s brain. 

If you’re interested in learning a little about agility without the more formal rules and regulations of competitive agility, this is the series for you!  

Here is a fun video of Backyard Agility:

Also, we are hosting the Agility area at Mounds Pet Food Warehouse’s Dog Fest on Sun, June 8th from 10a-4p at Angell Park in Sun Prairie. We’d love to see you there!
Happy Training!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Teacher's Pet Training - Working with Multiple Dogs

Working With Multiple Dogs
by Brianne Statz, CPDT-KA

The great thing about training using positive reinforcement is that my dogs love to train.  When I am training all three dogs at once, they will literally push each other out of the way to be the one working.    While I appreciate the enthusiasm, it can be a bit chaotic.  Here are some tips for working more than one dog at once:

·         Teach new skills individually.  Learning will be easier for the dog in a quieter environment, and teaching a new skill requires more focus from you too, so don’t divide your attention between multiple dogs when working on something new.

·         Consider using different marker words.  For my dogs, I use three words.  “Yes” means Payton has earned a reward, “Ding” means Finley has earned a reward, and “Click” means Pepper has earned a reward.  This makes things a bit more clear for the dogs (but it can be a challenge for the trainer to keep things straight). 

·         Reinforce patience.  A great way to train multiple dogs at once is to ask one dog to do something while the others are in a stay, and then be sure to reward the dogs during their stays.  It is hard for one dog to watch another dog have all the fun, so make the watching and waiting patiently pay off. 

·         Be clear in your body language.  When treating one dog, you can do subtle (or for some dogs less than subtle) things to convey which dog you are about to reinforce.  This could be shifting one foot forward to block one dog, or moving your hand farther out to the side to treat.  This can help cut down on the dogs jostling each other for the goodies.

·         Recognize body language in your dogs.  Some dogs may find training in a group more stressful, especially ones inclined to guard resources (I have two of these!).  Know your dogs and be able to tell when a training session is becoming tense.  If Finley is giving Pepper the whale eye (when the dog is not staring directly, but looks off to the side so you can see a lot of the white of the eye), then I am going to respect her signal by moving Pepper farther away from her. 

Working with multiple dogs at once can certainly be a challenge, but it can also be a lot of fun.  Get creative – use one dog as a hurdle for another dog to jump over or run a circle around, have them play bow to each other, or do synchronized group spins – the possibilities are endless!

**Want to see this in video format? Check it out here:
Happy Training!