Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Importance of Motivation

Last night my Adventure Dog class got to see how much MOTIVATION matters in dog training (well really in training anyone including people). I'd love to say that this one type of treat works for every dog in every situation but of course motivation is based on individual preferance, environmental context and of course other factors such as whether your dog is full, tired, thirsty, etc.

When working with your dog try to have a few different types of reinforcers with you. I generally bring some kibble, some higher value treats (Zuke's Minis, Rollover, Dried Liver, Drive Tripe), a ball (Chuck It ball works great), tug toy (Skinneezz work great too especially the rabbit for some reason) and of course my own happy energy level. It's also a good idea to make water available as a thirsty dog really isn't too interested in much else at that point. 

Using the right reinforcer can change your entire training session. It can make the difference between a distracted dog that won't listen and a star student. Make reinforcement random so your dog doesn't get bored (or worse expectant) and change it up.

You can make yourself the reward by teaching your dog hand targets, tricks that he/she loves to preform, praise, petting, running with your pup and more. Having a good attitude and energy level will keep your dog happily working for you. Sometimes patience is hard to find and that's when I would end a training session.

Keep training sessions short with lots of breaks for play and running. This keeps your dog interested and wanting to work. If I do a down stay for 3 minutes and then reward my dog he's going to want to do it again even if it's sometimes boring like a down stay BUT we'll generally do something else first to keep the energy and enthusiasm up. This will allow you to train anywhere and without food and toys once your dog gets it.

I worked with aussies Tank and Marco during an off leash walk last night surronded by other dogs. We practiced 1 down stay, 1 sit stay, 1 off leash heeling (just Marco), 2 left finishes and 1 front. All for the chance to run around with me and jump in the air for hand targets. I kept it fun and they were attentive as a result. They were able to do this surronded by a million fun things like dogs, people, smelling, squirrels and it didn't matter because the training session was fun not arduous.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Dog Bite Prevention Week

It's Dog Bite Prevention Week and statistics show that the majority of bites are from a known dog and the victim tends to be a child more often than not. Many dog bites are entirely preventable. 

So that brings us into our first topic: Safety Tips for Kids!

#1 - Teach your children about canine body language. They need to know when a dog is friendly and relaxed, when he/she is exhibiting anxiety or is on the offensive. Some dogs are harder to read and it's the parent's responsibility to supervise children with any dogs. A great video on body language is Sarah Kalnajs' Language of Dogs.

#2 - When greeting a strange dog children should ask the owner if it's alright. If the owner gives consent the child should hold still and let the dog come to the child on his/her own. If a child runs right up to even a very friendly canine it can trigger an anxiety response or an excited arousal response. Both should be prevented. Letting the dog approaches allows the dog to make the decision and keeps the greeting "polite" in dog language. If the dog is hyper or excited then the child should not meet the dog.

#3 - Teach your kids how to pet a dog. Hugs are NEVER appropriate even with the family dog. Most dogs hate hugs and it puts your child's face right in bite range. Hugging is also considered to be a confrontational posture to most dogs.

#4 - If you and your kids frequent areas where dogs are allowed to run off leash then teach your child to play the "Be a Tree" game. Arms need to come right against the body and eye contact should avoided. Screaming needs to be avoided since it can heighten arousal significantly. Also discourage running when a strange dog is approaching as it can excite a chase response.

In an ideal world dogs would be highly socialized to children and have obedience skills such as "come", "off" and "leave it" but sadly not all owners spend the time teaching their dogs. Parents need to make sure they keep their children safe by teaching them how to be dogwise whether you have your own dog or not. Dogs are still animals and are not always predictable.

The best solution to dog bites is educating both Parents, Kids and Dogs. If everyone does their part then bites can be significantly reduced.

Where's Your Sit runs socialization and training classes for dogs of all temperments and backgrounds. We also offer a class for kids to take on bite prevention, reading canine body language and which dogs to pet. Dogs can be a valuable part of any child's life teaching empathy, compassion and giving them a friend who will always listen and keep their secrets. Let's keep everyone safe.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Train with Toys!

So when most people think about positive reinforcement training they think food and praise BUT really it can be anything your dog considers good and every dog is different so the list varies. One of the best reinforcers can be play. 

Most dog owners who train for dog sports like Obedience or Agility discover training with toys early on but many regular pet owners miss the boat using exlusively treats or praise. So you ask how do you train with toys? It's easy and we'll go over some concepts now. 

Recall - Teaching Your Dog to Come
1. Start in your yard or home. Use a toy that your dog really likes. Some of my favourites are chuck-it balls or skinneez (stuff animals with squeakers but no stuffing). The toy you pick for training should only be available to your dog during the training session. As soon as your done put it away so it maintains a high value for your dog. 
2. Call your dog "come" and run away from your dog. When he/she catches you pull out the toy and either throw the ball or play tug with your dog. The more exciting you can be the better. 
3. If you've thrown the ball reward your dog with a treat if he/she brings it back. Don't focus on the retrieve part since you are practicing recall at this moment. 

1. Same concept as recall. Use a special toy only for training and otherwise put it away. 
2. You can start by holding the toy on the side you wish your dog to walk on and get him/her to focus on it while moving forward.
3. When your dog takes a few steps in heel position stop and play. 
4. Stop the game, get your dog to take more steps and then stop and play again. 
A ball can be held in your arm pit and occassionally dropped for your dog to grab. A tug toy can be easily held in your hand or pocket and brought out spontaneously. 

Any skill you teach with food or praise can also be taught by playing. Remember it's important to teach your dog "leave it" so you can get the toy back in order to keep practicing. 

I'll upload some YouTube videos shortly using toys as rewards so you can get a better concept of the idea. In all the classes at Where's Your Sit we suggest using toy rewards along with food, praise and petting. One of my dogs prefers toys as his BEST reward even over really good treats.

Look forward to our next entry on how to create "toy drive" in a dog that doesn't play naturally.