Tools, rules, exercise Part 3

Welcome to this three part blog series – Tools, rules, and exercise! If you haven’t read parts one and two, click the links below.

Part one – Tools

Part two – Rules

Now that you are caught up on Tools and Rules, lets talk exercise! Come on, you know you love it!

Exercise – We all know it is good for people. Studies show that regular exercise controls weight, combats health disease, boosts mood and energy levels, and improves sleep. The Department of Health and Human Services recommends people get at least 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes a week of vigorous aerobic activity a week, or a combination of moderate and vigorous activity to maintain health. Exercise is equally beneficial for our canine friends, is a necessity for both their physical and mental well being and is in their DNA.

At Super Mutts, along with tools and rules, exercise is a big part of our training program. Most behavioral issues we see are directly related to the amount of exercise the dog gets on a daily basis. A tired dog is a good dog! The first question we generally ask our training clients is how often they walk their dog. Inevitably, it is never enough, if at all. Many people fail to give their pet proper exercise for various reasons.

Some people do not exercise their dog because they pull on leash and are difficult to walk. Some people have dogs with leash aggression and the dog barks and lunges at people or other pets when on the walk. Some people have dogs with high prey drives and when they walk try to go after every little critter in site. Some people just dont like to walk. The truth is that lack of proper exercise will cause all of the aforementioned behavioral issues in dogs and many more.

Dogs have four legs and are meant to walk or travel. Wild dogs can walk twenty to thirty miles per day. A common misconception is if the dog has a big back yard, he gets all the exercise he needs. Yes, dogs get some exercise from walking around your house and yard but unless you live on a farm, your back yard is not enough. Imagine if someone told you, you would be confined to the house and the only place you could go was to your back yard. You do this for months or years with no end in site. Now, imagine instead of two legs, you have four. You probably would start to become a little crabby . If you did not see any people occasionally, you would start to lose social skills and eventually would become stir crazy. I believe the term is “cabin fever.” This is exactly what happens to dogs.
Not that long ago, in circuses, Lions and Tigers were kept in small cages. If you ever saw one, you would see that they pace continuously back and forth again and again and again, rarely stopping. They are trying to walk, to drain energy, even though they cannot go very far, they need the exercise. If your dog does not get proper exercise, he will make his own in whatever environment he is in.

Dogs that never get out of their home and back yard do not have a way to drain energy and will start to show all sorts of behavioral problems. They will be over reactive to sounds, smells and sights and will bark at everything, often we are told, “my dog barks all the time”. Dogs without proper exercise and socialization may become fearful of new people and may start to show signs of aggression such as barking, biting or growling. They will generally have a high energy level and be very alert. They may develop resource guarding of toys or food. They will chew things, dig holes, run the fence line, and a myriad of other things to drain energy. They will often bolt the door when opened and if they get out, will not come back when called. They are going stir crazy…..

Many people say they throw the ball for their dog or play with their dog on a daily basis and yes, this is also exercise and good for your dog and for bonding but not in place of structured exercise. You should provide both. A game of fetch is not enough to drain energy in a dog that never gets walked. Playing fetch gets a dog excited and a pent up dog does not need more excitement. It also does nothing to get him out of the four walls and yard he lives in. Play time with your dog should only begin after he has had proper exercise to drain some energy.

Different breeds of dogs and each individual dog have different energy levels. The higher energy level your dog has, the more exercise he needs. This is why picking the proper dog for your lifestyle is so important, you can read about how to pick the right dog here.

Huskies, terriers, or any herding, hunting or working breed generally have high energy levels and need a considerable amount of exercise such as running, trail hiking or long brisk walks. Breeds such as bulldogs and pugs have shorter noses and lower energy levels and require less exercise but still need some. Of course, all individual dogs, regardless of breed will have their own energy level. When choosing a dog, you should always choose a dog based on energy level before any other characteristic.

Some people tell us they do walk their dog daily. The question then becomes, how far and how fast. People generally walk considerably slower than our four legged counterparts. People saunter, dogs travel. If you have ever seen a group of dogs walking without humans, you will notice, they keep a rapid pace. This is one reason dogs will pull on the leash, the humans simply aren’t walking fast enough. If you ever notice a homeless person walking with a dog you will see that the dog is never pulling and generally very calm. This is because homeless people generally travel by foot so the dogs travel many miles per day, when they stop, the dog rests, he is tired, he has no interest in doing anything else.

Many people walk their dog at a slow pace, stopping frequently to talk to neighbors or for the dog to sniff or eliminate. To properly drain your dog of energy the walk should be for exercise and you should control the walk. You should walk at a quick pace, the dog beside you or behind you and should only let your dog sniff or eliminate either before or after the walk, in a designated area. By teaching your dog to properly walk on leash and controlling where and how fast he walks, establishes rules . Rules make him think, which is good for impulse control and in turn will drain energy. If a dog has physical and mental exercise while on the walk, he will drain more energy than if he simply pulls you everywhere.

If you have a dog with behavioral problems, ask yourself how often you exercise him, if the answer is none, then start. If you walk your dog and still have behavioral problems, ask yourself how fast and far you walk and increase both. If you have a very high energy level dog or if you are incapable of walking far or fast enough, you may need to teach him to run next to a bicycle, scooter, or golf cart or you may need to hire someone to walk, run or hike with him. Teaching a high energy level dog to walk on a treadmill is also a good way to drain energy but is not a substitute for walking outdoors.

Behavioral problems in dogs are often due to the fact that humans do not give them what they need. You can provide food, water and shelter to keep a dog alive but if you want to give him love, give him what he needs, as a dog. That starts by putting the right tools in place, providing security with rules to live by , and providing exercise to maintain physical and mental health. Give your dog what he needs and put all three elements in place and you might find that your dog didn’t have any behavioral problems to begin with, he was just missing something.

Cindy Quigley is a Canine life cycle coach. She is the owner of Supermutts.com and author of Puppy Montessori. She has 23 years’ experience professionally working with dogs. She has worked in grooming shops, boarding facilities and veterinary hospitals, all of which taught her how to read canine body language and understand dog handling. As boarding and daycare facility owners together with her husband Kenneth she has cared for thousands of dogs and has thousands of hours observing, studying and modifying canine behavior.

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Tools, rules, exercise – part 2

Welcome to part two of this three part blog series -Tools, rules and exercise! You can read part one here. Now that you have learned about tools lets talk about the rules!

Rules

Along with providing the correct tools for the dogs we train, we also start implementing rules.

Rules, we all have them, we all live by them. We may not like all rules but know that without them the world would be chaotic. Some people have rules for their dog but are not consistent, some have different rules from different family members or for different dogs and some have no rules at all.  One rule that everyone agrees on is that the dog should only go to the bathroom outdoors.  Again, without teaching a dog this rule, he will not understand how important it is.

Many people find it hard to establish rules for their dog. Some people feel that dogs are cute and should be able to enjoy life as they please. Some fail to put rules in place because they work hard all day and don’t want to deal with enforcing them when they get home. Others (especially if they have adopted a dog from a rescue or shelter) feel sorry for the dog and think establishing rules would be harmful. Some people view rules as punishment and think they are being mean if they make rules for Fido.

Whatever the reason for not establishing rules, the fact is, without establishing rules, you are harming rather than helping your dog.

We all give rules to children. Children need rules to help understand how to behave, to keep them safe and to help them establish impulse control. We have all known some children that were raised with very little rules and generally, they are very difficult to deal with. Dogs are no different. Dogs need rules to become stable. There are rules in nature. Dog packs have rules that all pack members understand and abide by, this is what keeps the pack safe and healthy. Dogs learn from their elders when to eat, when and to whom they can breed, when to stay at the den, when to leave the den, when to travel,where to find food, what constitutes food and who or who not they can take food from. From birth the mother dog teaches bite inhibition. Bite inhibition is the degree in which a dog learns to use the full force of their mouths on humans or other dogs. Puppies taken too soon from the litter, before they learn this, can have a lack of bite inhibition. If a puppy bites too hard during play, the mother will growl, bite or walk away ending the play. The puppy learns to continue play, he must control his bite, those are the rules.

After observing dogs for 23 years professionally, and over 40 years with my own dogs we have watched dogs establish rules with each other on a daily basis. A dog will let other dogs know when they can take a resource from them, either by allowing them to take it or not allowing it with a look, low growl or bared teeth. If a dog is overly excited, all the others growl, bite and may attack him until he learns the rules. That is why, at dog daycare centers, it is imperative to set rules and control all of the interactions, especially when the pack structure changes on a daily basis. Rules have to be established or chaos will ensue.

A main cause of behavioral problems is due to lack of rules in the home which contributes to a dog with no impulse control. Research on the subject defines impulsive actions as ‘poorly conceived, prematurely expressed, unduly risky or inappropriate to the situation’ (Evenden, 1999).

Dogs with no impulse control will exhibit behaviors such as jumping on the furniture (without being asked), jumping on people, barking, door bolting, leash pulling, resource guarding, begging, and generally acting out of control or exhibiting “pushy” behaviors.

Rules are important in establishing leadership. A dog looks to a leader for guidance. Very few dogs are born leaders. When a dog senses no leadership, he may assume the leadership role. If a dog was not a born leader, this could result in aggressive, anxious or nervous behavior.

Many people excuse their dogs behavior by saying “he is being an Alpha” or “He is Alpha” when in fact the behavior comes from no sense of leadership. He is just trying to assume the leadership roll. If there is no leader, it must be me, right?

A dog that senses a leadership presence can relax. A leader has the situation under control, no need to worry about every little sound, smell or site. If there is something to worry about, the leader will take care of it and will handle the situation. A dog with no leadership (which is established through rules) will not come when called, will not listen to commands and will not engage with the handler. They are always alert and may be aggressive, nervous or exhibit separation anxiety.

Many unwanted behaviors a dog offers are simply because he has not been given the rule book. Dogs do what works. If barking gets you to pick them up, they bark. If pushing through the door gets them outside, they push. If jumping on people gets attention, they jump. If begging at the table gets food, they beg. If pawing at you gets them petted, they paw. By putting rules in place, you can eliminate all of these unwanted behaviors.

Many unwanted behaviors continue because rules are put in place but change on a daily basis or different family members have different rules for Fido. You cannot discourage jumping if one day you allow it by giving attention and the next day you discourage it. You cannot keep Fido from begging if you feed him from the table one day but not others. You cannot keep your dog from pulling on leash if one day you work on leash walking and the next day you allow him to get what he wants by pulling.

Rules must be consistent to work. If rules are not consistent, the dog will always continue the behavior because occasionally it works! Dogs do what works. The same rules need to apply to all dogs in the household. Dogs engage in Allelomemetic behavior which means they copy others in their environment. You cannot expect one dog to stay off the sofa if another is allowed on it. The rules that are good for one, are good for all.

Rules come in the form of daily activities and through obedience. You can read about the importance of obedience in our blog post here. Obedience teaches desired behaviors and helps to enforce rules if your dog understands basic commands.

The first thing you need to do is decide what rules you want to establish. If you don’t know the rules, your dog never will. Having no rules by the way, is not a rule. When establishing rules it is important that the whole family be involved not only in knowing the rules but also enforcing them. Make a list, go over it with everyone and be consistent.

Remember, dogs do what works so part of teaching a dog what the rules are is as simple as rewarding the desired behaviors rather than the unwanted ones. If pushing, pulling, barking, jumping and pawing all get Fido what he wants, he will continue to engage in those behaviors. On the other hand, if sitting, lying down or calm behavior get the desired outcome, he will engage in those behaviors. Dogs learn quickly what behaviors work. You are creating impulse control by encouraging the dog to think about the behavior that gets the reward rather than acting on impulse.

Providing rules also means controlling resources. All the resources the dog wants are yours, you control them. You would not allow a person to come into your home, yell at you, jump on your furniture, sleep next to you in bed, raid the refrigerator and destroy your things, yet people let dogs do it every day. If the dog wants to get on the furniture, it does, If it wants to sleep in the bed, he is in it before you are, if he wants to play, he brings you a toy and you throw it, if he wants to eat, he barks and you feed him.

Establishing rules and leadership means your dog has to wait until you invite him on the furniture or in the bed. He has to sit or lie calmly before he gets fed or goes out the door, Play starts and stops when YOU decide.

Sometimes you need tools to help with a dog that previously had no rules and has very little impulse control. You may need a leash to help guide a dog off the furniture or bed or to encourage sitting politely at the door. You may need to use a kennel when you are busy and unable to supervise your dog and enforce rules. If Fido is in his kennel, he cannot engage in the unwanted behavior as before. Dogs that have been out of control for some time will continue to engage in that behavior until they learn the new rules.

It is important to start rewarding the desired behavior as soon as a dog offers it. For instance, if you give Fido a reward every time he lies on his bed, he will lie on his bed more often than on the sofa. If he is jumping up and down when you put on the leash or open the door, wait until he stops jumping or until he sits. He will eventually stop, be patient. If he paws or barks at you at feeding time, ignore that behavior and only feed or play with him when he is lying down or sitting calmly. In this way, you are re-shaping his behavior and teaching him what behaviors are desired (work) and which are unwanted (don’t work).

Many people have told us how good our dogs behave. We are dog trainers I know, the reason dog trainers have good dogs is not because they know what to do but because they do what they know! We have had dogs from breeders, dogs from the street and dogs from rescue organizations, all different breeds, different sizes and with different temperaments. The only thing they have in common are our rules, which apply to all of them and never change. Our rules make good dogs.
The longer your dog engages in new behaviors, he will start offering them quicker and will hold them longer without any prompting from you. He will wait to be asked on the bed, he will lay on his bed while you are eating, he will sit politely at the door, he will stop jumping on people. He will be more calm and more relaxed, He has learned the rules!

Rules are important, rules are needed in our world and especially in our dogs world. Dogs need rules not only so they will be mannerly but also so they can feel safe and secure. So the next time you think of rules, instead of thinking punishment think what a great gift to give someone – security and peace of mind, that is the power of rules.

Now that you have your rules established, take a walk over to part 3 – Exercise

Cindy Quigley is a Canine life cycle coach. She is the owner of Supermutts.com and author of Puppy Montessori. She has 23 years’ experience professionally working with dogs. She has worked in grooming shops, boarding facilities and veterinary hospitals, all of which taught her how to read canine body language and understand dog handling. As boarding and daycare facility owners together with her husband Kenneth she has cared for thousands of dogs and has thousands of hours observing, studying and modifying canine behavior.

Tools, Rules, and exercise part 1

At Super mutts along with timing, consistency, and motivation our training program also consists of tools, rules, and exercise. We have found, where people fail when it comes to training their dog is generally in one of these three key areas. We will be discussing each in this 3 part series.

Rather you have problems with your dog jumping on people, pulling on leash, barking, house training or destructive chewing, the three elements of tools, rules, and exercise will come into play.

When we get called for a training session we find that people are either using some of these key components, none of them , or sometimes, all of the wrong ones.

Dogs give us a variety of behaviors, some desired, others unwanted but they do not automatically “know” this, they are just being a dog. It is our job to train them which behaviors are desired and which are unwanted. The reason tools, rules, and exercise are so important in changing your dogs behavior is this –

1. If you are not using the right tools, you cannot properly reinforce behaviors and therefore cannot communicate to your dog the behaviors that are either desired or unwanted.

2. If you do not provide rules for your dog, he will not understand the behaviors he is exhibiting are either desired or unwanted.

3. Without proper exercise, a dog will exhibit all forms of unwanted behaviors.

Let us take a look at each element individually. In this article we will look at tools.

There are many tools involved with owning a dog in general and especially for dog training purposes. Tools of dog training consist of collars, leashes, kennels, food pouches and bait or rewards


Collars

Collars come in a variety of colors, kinds and price ranges and are generally the #1 tool we often change when training our clients. Most people have a collar for their dog but often times it is the wrong one for the situation they are having with their dog.

For instance, a buckle collar is great for a dog that walks nicely on leash and does not pull, but will do nothing to discourage pulling.

A martingale collar is a good all around collar and also for leash walking. It discourages pulling to an extent, cannot slip off the head, but does not work for a strong puller. It does need to be sized right to work properly. Many people use this type of tool but most often, it is too loose around the dogs neck.

A harness was designed for tracking and pulling purposes and actually encourages a dog to pull. The harness gives the handler very little control as it is around the dogs chest, which is the strongest part of the dogs body when it comes to pulling. When a dog pulls against the harness, it is designed to create pressure on their chest wall which triggers the dogs opposition reflex. You can test your dogs opposition reflex. With your dog standing, gently push on his side as if you were trying to tip him the opposite direction. You will feel that he will lean into your hand to avoid falling over. That is opposition reflex, humans also have it. There are different types of no-pull harnesses available and are affective on some but not all pulling dogs. A harness can be beneficial for small dogs as you can reach down and pick them up by it should the need arise, but generally are not needed.

Prong collars are designed for dogs that pull on leash. They are good to use for dogs that are strong pullers but not in all circumstances, not with all dogs, and proper education by a trainer should be given to be used effectively. The prong collar also needs to be sized correctly to work properly. Prong collars are considered power steering for dogs in that the dog corrects itself and minimal pressure needs to be applied by the handler. Prong collars are especially useful for seniors with large dogs that pull and can possibly pull them down or for dogs that out-weigh or are stronger than their handlers.

Remote trainers work well for a number of behaviors and are great for distance training, hunting dogs, or to discourage certain behaviors but can be used incorrectly if not properly trained by a professional.

Lastly, head collars, which were designed to control opposition reflex by putting pressure on the back of the dogs head, should also have proper education by a trainer on how to properly use them. They can irritate a dogs nose especially brachycephalic breeds, and many times cause more frustration in the dog, leading to difficulty concentrating on what the handler is trying to communicate. We do not recommend head collars for our clients.


To avoid having to use a special collar for pulling it is highly recommended to train your dog how to properly walk on a leash from the beginning. Since most people seeking dog training advice generally have not done that, it is often necessary to use a corrective collar to first get the dog somewhat under control so it can then be taught how to properly walk on leash. Many of the training collars can then be eliminated or changed out for a general buckle collar.

As you see, with just collars alone, there are many different types and each situation will require a different tool. Having the wrong collar on your dog can exacerbate or even cause the problem you are trying to fix!


Leashes

Just like collars, leashes come in a variety of types. The main issue we see when it comes to leashes is that the person is not using the leash correctly. There are different leashes for different circumstances as well. Generally, in training, you start with a short leash and gradually increase the length and distance you train a dog.

A 2 foot traffic lead is great for walking a large dog and gives the best control especially when paired with the correct collar. The traffic lead can be clipped to your belt enabling hands free walking. Hands free walking is very handy to teach a client that has issues with holding the leash too taught, which in turn causes pulling due to the afformentioned opposition reflex.

A 6 foot small diameter leather leash is generally what dog trainers recommend for all dogs. They are easy to handle, give you the ability to bunch them up in one hand while walking and allow ample length to work on obedience commands from a 6 foot distance.

A long line is 20 – 30 feet long and is used to train a dog obedience commands at a distance while still having the ability to control the dog if he should break command. It can also be used when you want to give your dog room to sniff around at a distance in a controlled environment without being off leash. You can also use a long line to tie a dog to something to secure them when camping, at the park, on a picnic etc.

We should take this time to discuss retractable leashes. Dog trainers generally never recommend retractable leashes. We never recommend them to our clients however we see them used all the time. It is the first and fastest thing we will change with a training client. The retractable leash gives the handler the least amount of control over their dog. A retractable leash allows the dog to be too far in front of the handler. They often get tied around people, other dogs, trees….anything. Once extended, there is very little ability to reel a dog back in due to the tiny rope like leash that is attached. This is why, when you observe people using these leashes, you will see them walking around and around the person or thing the dog has entangled itself in. They are more expensive and the handle is much more cumbersome than a regular leash. They cannot be used when walking multiple dogs with a single handler.

Many injuries have been caused to people and dogs due to the retractable leash. If the dog does take off after something and the person drops the leash, it will retract so quickly as to hit the dog or will frighten the dog from the large plastic handle chasing it down the road.

Did I say we don’t like retractable leashes? Worse than the retractable leash is one paired with a head collar or harness.

Kennels

Kennels are self-explanatory and come in a variety of sizes, shapes and colors. Which kennel you choose is up to you however different circumstances call for different sizes.

All dogs should be kennel trained. You can watch our video on kennel training a puppy here . Dogs are den animals and like the security of a confined space. You cannot train a puppy properly without a kennel and it is one of the first tools we recommend when setting up the puppy nursery for our Puppy Montessori program.

The kennel provides a safe place for your dog to rest. The kennel can keep your dog safe when having workers, guests, or small children to your home, when he is sick or when traveling in a car. The kennel helps with everything from house training to separation anxiety. A dog that is kennel trained is comfortable in a kennel and will be comfortable in a kennel in any situation such as the vet, groomer or shelter if they should find themselves lost.

The kennel is a neccessary tool for keeping your pet from engaging in unwanted behaviors when unsupervised. When a dog begins engaging in behaviors, he will continue to do so in the future. Setting your dog up for success includes when he is unsupervised as well.

The kennel is a very important and necessary tool for your pets well-being that every dog owner should have. You can also read more about kennel training in our book Puppy Montessori

Food pouches and bait (reward)

Lastly, when it comes to tools, one that is used the least by the average person is the food pouch and the food (reward) that goes in it. Yes, food is a tool, a very important tool when it comes to training a dog. We do not start any training program without the use of food. It is a necessity and we would go as far to say it is THE most important tool in your dog training kit! You can modify or train any behavior with food. Everyone knows that dogs love food! You do not need to take a course on classical or operant conditioning to know that. Most people know this because Fido is always begging for it!

Dogs love food and will work for food. A dog will go out of his way to engage in a behavior if he knows it leads to a food reward, whether that is desired behavior or unwanted behavior. If a dog gets a reward for the unwanted behavior of sitting at the table while you eat, he will engage in that behavior. On the other hand, if he gets a reward for the desired behavior of sitting on his bed, across the room, while you eat, he will continue to engage in that behavior. He doesn’t know which is desired and which unwanted, just which one gets the food! How YOU use this tool is extremely important.

During the learning process it is imperative to use food reward to teach a dog. Once a dog has learned the behavior, food reward can be faded out. Even though our own dogs have been well-trained, we continue to give reward, periodically, for desired behaviors, especially for the recall and especially in a distracting environment. If you want a dog to come to you every time he is called, give him a motivational food reward EVERY….TIME….CALLED! The more motivational, the faster he will come!

Food builds trust, helps create a dog that is engaged with the handler rather than everything else in the environment and that is the goal of training. Dogs need motivation to engage in something and food is a very powerful motivator. That being said, the reward has to be motivational to the dog in each context. A dry treat might be motivational if the dog is learning to sit while in the living room but as you up the distractions, chances are, you need a more motivational reward.

The treat pouch is a great tool because you can hook it to your belt and always have access to reward desired behaviors quickly. If it is hooked to you, the chances are strong that you won’t lose it. The food pouch is extremely helpful to use when walking your dog because it allows easy access to the food while your other hand is holding the leash.


Hopefully, you see why the proper tools are so important when it comes to training your dog. A dog trainer gives considerable thought into what tools are correct for each dog, handler, and situation. This is why we can get frustrated when people change the tools we recommend. We know how important they are. In dog training we always say, “you need to set the dog up for success”. The proper tools are the beginning to the success not only for your dog but for you.

So, grab your tool box and head over to part 2 of the series – Rules

Cindy Quigley is a Canine life cycle coach. She is the owner of Supermutts.com and author of Puppy Montessori. She has 23 years’ experience professionally working with dogs. She has worked in grooming shops, boarding facilities and veterinary hospitals, all of which taught her how to read canine body language and understand dog handling. As boarding and daycare facility owners together with her husband Kenneth she has cared for thousands of dogs and has thousands of hours observing, studying and modifying canine behavior.

Please Help (a dog trainers dilemma)

Imagine, you get a phone call or perhaps an email from a frantic person. This person tells you they have a problem (A huge problem) and they were given your name by someone who knows you and knows you possess knowledge to help. This person says they have tried everything to solve this problem to no avail. They give you all of the details of the said problem and then say, I need your help desperately or I am going to do something rash! Many people would immediately want to help, especially if they had specific knowledge on how to solve this persons problem, right?

You tell the person that you can help and schedule to meet them. You take the information and tools necessary to help solve their problem. You arrive and meet the person and explain your specific knowledge with this said problem and they seem delighted and relieved by the information you give them. You then tell them how to use the information to help their situation. They have an excuse as to why they cannot do it or why your specific tools won’t work for them. You offer different solutions, all knowledgeable, that can work yet all are countered with an excuse from the person. They want you to fix the problem without taking any of the information you offer. “Maybe, you could take the problem home, keep it for a while and bring it back when you have solved it? ” they say.

Later, when you have given all of the information necessary to fix their said problem, you find out they did end up doing something rash and saying they “tried everything, even went to you for information and nothing worked”, they had no choice.

How would that make you feel? Think about it. It is utterly ridiculous, makes absolutely no sense. Clearly they didn’t want a solution to their problem and were going to do something rash regardless if you helped or not! They didn’t want your help, only to complain, to make it look like they did something so they could feel better when they did the “rash” thing.

Welcome to dog training!

Ask any dog trainer what their most difficult problem is and I guarantee you, it won’t be the dog. The above scenario happens more often than we like. People contacting us with dog training issues but not wanting to implement anything we offer. Just fix the dog. Don’t get me wrong, not all clients are like this and some will do the work needed but sadly, a vast majority will not. I assume this is because everyone has an opinion on dogs and dog training rather they have studied dog training or not. You can get dog training opinions from your neighbor, your uncle, your friends, pretty much everyone who has owned a dog. Therefore, I think people also take the information given by dog trainers as just that , an opinion, rather than educated training advice.

When giving dog training information to a client, trainers give instruction on what the person needs to do to get the desired effect from their dog. The person has to change before the dog ever will. Sadly, many people just want the dog to change.

Trainers are often contacted by owners saying that the dog in question is out of control, they have tried everything, they are at their wit’s end and if something doesn’t happen the dog will be sent to rescue, a shelter, or euthanized!

When a trainer arrives at a person’s home they will offer several suggestions on how to fix the behavior, often times with push back. Let me explain in greater detail. Please note this is not all of what dog training encompasses but a quick summary.

There are 4 quadrants of operant conditioning in dog training that dog trainers follow. and you can read about them here. for the purpose of this blog post you just need to know that dog training is primarily based on motivation. You have to motivate a dog one way or another, either positively or negatively.

All trainers generally start with positive reinforcement as it is the least invasive, minimally aversive type of reinforcement. Some trainers use “all” positive reinforcement and no other. All training needs to incorporate some form of positive reinforcement to motivate the dog to do what you want. Positive reinforcement, when used correctly, along with timing and consistency, helps to motivate the dog to do what is expected and works very well for many dogs. Positive reinforcement needs to be used frequently in the beginning stages of training, tapering off once the dog has learned a behavior. Even though there are many studies and articles published on the effects of positive reinforcement in animal training, dog trainers are often told by owners ” I don’t want to be dolling out cookies all day”

If a dog is doing something that could pose a threat to himself or others such as car chasing, bicycle chasing or leash aggression, along with positive reinforcement to teach engagement with the handler, counter conditioning and desensitization, often times a training collar will be needed. A training collar could be a martingale, prong collar or e-collar. All are tools that “if used correctly”, rarely have to be used at all. These tools motivate the dog to stop doing something it shouldn’t be doing with a negative consequence. These are tools that need to be implemented with a trainers supervision and in combination with positive reinforcement can work very well for these types of behaviors , yet trainers are often told the owner “WILL NOT ” use a training collar.

Management should also be used during the training process but is also the only other option a person has if they refuse to use any form of reinforcement. Management simply means, keeping the dog out of situations that you know spark the response. It includes using baby gates, pens, kennels or fences to manage the dog. Management does not fix the problem, rather just manages the dogs behavior. It still takes work. Many trainers are told for different reasons, that the owner doesn’t want to contain their dog in a kennel or pen or behind a gate.

Often times, I guess due to human nature, a client goes through a trainers program, progress is being made yet still slacks off and goes back to their old ways, only to find the dog doing the same.

Many times I have gone to a clients house after several training sessions and find they are not wearing their treat pouch to positively reinforce good behaviors, they have changed the training collar to a harness which actually motivates a dog to pull, they stopped using their kennel to manage certain situations, and they no longer practice daily with the dog on the things they were taught such as obedience, leash walking and exercise, Then say………”I’m afraid, it’s not working.”

So, what is a trainer to do if the owner is unwilling to use positive reinforcement, positive punishment, management or anything we suggest? Welcome to the dilemma!

This is why many dog trainers do not take clients with behavioral problems or instead focus on teaching different classes such as obedience, agility or sport dog. When dealing with changing a dogs behavior, you are more than often dealing with changing the humans behavior, and that is much harder to do…..

So what am I saying, what is my point? I guess this is a plea to people with dog behavioral issues everywhere, help us help you!

Before you hire a trainer, research what kind of trainer they are, how knowledgeable they are and what their experience level is. Once you pick a trainer, regardless of what you have been told by non dog training people, listen to what they have to say, implement the training advice, and do the work….all of it! Don’t rule something out because of what you think about it based on what someone else said, without having any experience with it.

Dogs are not plug and play and all need some form of training, some more than others. When hiring a trainer don’t think he or she is there to fix the dog. They are there to teach you how to behave so your dog behaves. Realize there will be a lot of work on your part and……DO THE WORK! Help us, help you!

Cindy Quigley is a Canine life cycle coach, and pet stylist. She is the owner of Supermutts.com and author of Puppy Montessori. She has 23 years’ experience professionally working with dogs. She has worked in grooming shops, boarding facilities and veterinary hospitals, all of which taught her how to read canine body language and understand dog handling. As boarding and daycare facility owners together with her husband Kenneth she has cared for thousands of dogs and has thousands of hours observing, studying and modifying canine behavior.

Making sense of operant conditioning

For those who read our article Please help.

When it comes to dog training, dog trainers use what is called Operant conditioning. While many people become confused when they hear the word operant conditioning, the principles and categories are actually pretty straightforward.

Operant conditioning, or trial and error learning, is simply a description of how animals learn, a description that requires a few important definitions.  I have found that the best and most easily understood description regarding the 4 quadrants of operant conditioning is by Dr. Sophia Yin from her book How to behave so your dog behaves.

from How to Behave So Your Dog Behaves by Dr. Sophia Yin)

Reinforcement vs Punishment

The first two definitions to know are reinforcement and punishment. Reinforcement is anything that increases the likelihood that a behavior will occur again. For instance, if you call your dog and then give him a treat when he comes, he will be more likely to come the next time you call. Thus, by giving him a treat for coming, you reinforce his behavior of coming when called.

Punishment is anything that decreases the likelihood that a behavior will occur again. For instance, if you call your dog and then yell and scream at him when he comes, he will be less likely to come the next time you call. Thus, by yelling at him, you punish his behavior of coming when called. This second scenario may seem an unlikely event, but it happens to people every day. When owners call Rover five or six times before he comes running and then yell at him for taking his time, they are really punishing him for coming when called.

Positive vs Negative

The second set of terms to know are positive and negative. Positive and negative do not mean good or bad; instead, think of them as a plus sign or a minus sign. Positive means that you’re adding something, and negative means you’re subtracting something. Positive and negative can be applied to both reinforcement and punishment.

Combining the Terms

Now we can combine the terms into four categories—positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, positive punishment, and negative punishment. Here’s what the categories are:

Positive and Negative Reinforcement

Reinforcement can be positive or negative. In either case, we are increasing the likelihood the behavior will occur again. Positive reinforcement means that by adding something the animal wants, you increase the likelihood that the behavior will occur again. For instance, if you teach your dog to come to you by giving him a treat when he comes, you’re using positive reinforcement. By giving him food, which he likes, you’re increasing the likelihood that he will come to you the next time too.

Negative reinforcement means that by removing something aversive, something Fido dislikes, you increase the likelihood the behavior will occur again. For example, you decide to teach Fido to come by putting him on a leash and choke chain. You pull on his leash until he takes a step forward, and as soon as he comes forward, you release the pressure. That is using negative reinforcement. By removing the pressure as soon as he starts coming, you increase the likelihood that he will come the next time in order to avoid the pulling.

Another trick for remembering negative reinforcement is to think of it as nagging. When I was a child and my mother wanted me clean my room, she often had to keep telling me until I cleaned it. I would finally clean my room in order to avoid her aversive nagging.

Positive and Negative Punishment

Punishment can be positive or negative, too. In either case we are decreasing the likelihood the behavior will occur again.  It seems odd, but when we talk about punishment, we’re usually talking about positive punishment. Positive punishment just means that by adding something aversive, we decrease the likelihood that the behavior will occur again. For instance, your dog raids the garbage can when you’re not looking, so you booby-trap the garbage with mousetraps. The next time Spot sticks his nose in search of a snack, he gets a mousetrap surprise, which scares him. This booby trap decreases the likelihood that he will raid the garbage can again; thus, it is positive punishment.

Negative punishment means that by removing something the animal wants, we decrease the likelihood that the behavior will occur again. For instance, when dogs greet us by jumping, their goal is to get our attention. If we remove our attention every time Spot jumps by holding perfectly still and even looking away, eventually he will stop jumping. By removing the attention that he wanted, we decrease the likelihood that he will jump again.

 

Cindy Quigley is a Canine life cycle coach, and pet stylist. She is the owner of  Supermutts.com and author of Puppy Montessori. She has 23 years’ experience professionally working with dogs.  She has worked in grooming shops, boarding facilities and veterinary hospitals, all of which taught her how to read canine body language and understand dog handling. As boarding and daycare facility owners together with her husband Kenneth she has cared for thousands of dogs and has thousands of hours observing, studying and modifying canine behavior.