Tuesday, May 22, 2018

How Long Should I Wait to Train My Puppy?

              Either your pup is training you, or you are training your pup….they’re learning the minute their paws hit the turf!

I am often reminded the importance of training a puppy. When I see adolescent behavior issues, lack of socialization issues, and when I see people waiting to engage in training in the first place.  How long people should wait to train their puppy is a most popular question.  There was a ‘rumor’ that circulated years ago, and remains for many, that training is best applied at (or beyond) 6 months of age. We have since learned from reading the reams of behavioral research being done on puppies, that this could not be further from the truth.  

Here are some snippets of information to support an earlier puppy training regimen:

·     Your puppy is learning about her human environment from the moment she is born. It is a far better option to train habits we WANT than retraining bad habits they have learned on their own!  (and they WILL pick up their own which might be a lot more fun than the way you want to do it!)

·     Training and socializing go hand in hand, and with biggest socialization opportunity prior to 5 months of age, you are missing much of working them together if you wait until 6 months to begin training.

o  We are all aware that during adolescent behavior it can be as if an alien has taken up residence.  With generally no warning, she is now going to show her adolescent energy however she feels it. At this point in puppy, it makes so much more sense that communication is already built with a sense of manners and structure to the human world. 
o  For example, instead of 10 pounds jumping, there are now 50 of those pounds.  Instead of just looking at the counter where yummy food is waiting to be eaten, she is now taking it for her own.  Instead of a little fuzzy puppy greeting your guests at the door, now there is a blur of barking fur racing to occupy the same space. 
o  Therefore, “Manners Training” with her at eight weeks old is SO much easier.

·     The consistency of bringing your pup in to your home with solid communication base, is a key to your consistently well-mannered pup.  

·     Puppy training with a coach is as much for humans as it is for their dog counterparts.

·     It is less expensive to train your younger pup.  

o  Before any habits have been adopted, teach what you would rather have them do, than what they are wired to do naturally.  Some of these natural tendencies will have a tendency to drive you mad!

·     Stating the obvious, we are bringing a different species into our home.  To illustrate our responsibilities a little better, lets consider if we were invited into another species home to live.  

o  To coexist, what would be required by them to ensure we were learning what they wanted us to know?  
§ Firstly, they would need to have done a bit of research on how we learn, so they could access how to get and hold our attention  
§ Then, they would need to have a plan on what they would rather us do instead of what they don’t want us to do 
§ Then they would probably reach out to specialist in human behavior to help them.J   

o  As part of human nature, we have a better idea of what we don’t want our dogs to do than to have identified what we DO want.  
§ Therefore it is essential to spend time thinking of what behavior is acceptable, and train to that…rather than spend time moving them away from what we don’t want.  From training perspective, there IS a difference.

·     It is ludicrous to bring a pup into our home and expect they know the English language, or alternatively have the ability to read our minds. So making and maintaining a plan on how to proceed with training is paramount to raising a less anxious puppy.

In conclusion, remember your puppy – a mere infant – is navigating the human world the best she knows how.  She can’t do anything wrong, so each time you find yourself blaming her for her lack of manners, recognize it is actually a training opportunity, and congratulate yourself that you started the moment she walked into your home, making it all so much easier!

Patti Howard, BS, CCS, ACCN is training/behavior/nutrition specialist and owner of Your Canine Resource, Inc, serving the greater Olympia, WA area.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

     …..addressing complexities of training with food

Someone out there has put a spell on us. It was, no doubt, the many years of using more traditional style training where the use of food may have been considered ‘bribery’.  When I began training in the late ’80’s, I would not have considered it, though there was a man on the horizon, Dr. Ian Dunbar, who would turn us on our compassionate ear, and begin to lead us into a way to communicate with our dogs effectively using positive reinforcement.

Since then much behavioral research has been introduced, showing the expeditious manner in which dogs learn when food is presented as reinforcement for desirable behavior, and also how it is faded when the behavior is habituated. 

I will state the obvious here, because we often bring dogs into our lives with such completeness that we expect them to act like, and learn like, humans.  Given they aren’t, and English is not their first language, it is unfair to expect they know it all when they arrive; however if they do, then we have been gifted an exceptional dog at reading the signals that are required to coexist.  What can happen in this process, and a reason why I get called in for assistance, is that anxiety has been created, in large part, due to dogs not having enough information to feel confident they can navigate this human environment.

So, now back to the treat part….There is a huge part of her dog brain that is engaged and fascinated with how to get one of those goodies, yes.  But please don’t get confused, she is also LEARNING.  
With this style of teaching,
ü Learning is fun, 
ü It’s interactive, 
ü It’s time spent with you, 
ü It’s lower stress method of introducing new and higher level learning in lower stress way
So yes, she’s probably having a lot of FUN. 

Using food, we’re accessing parts of her brain that receives information, and helps her remember faster and with more hormone and neuron activity to assist us in the training process. The corner we have to take with the thinking of using food, is that it is not bribery, rather they are learning what you are reinforcing in the process.  Keep in mind when your pup looks to you for that yummy goodie, there is also an imprinting process that is happening in her brain, to help her remember just what she was doing to earn it.

When we are able to provide information that is going to make all our lives easier, and she is enthused about it, then it shouldn’t matter what we are using to accomplish the process. It does matter however, the awareness of methods and timing we are using toward training, and not bribing.  Complexities that can be involved with this, such as;
·     When do I provide the food reward? 
·     How do I provide the food reward?
·     When do I fade, or stretch, times of giving food reinforcement for the amount of times she is responding to my commands?
·     What types of food rewards do I use?
·     Where do I keep my food rewards while I’m training?
These are all perfect reasons to find a reputable trainer to help you identify when and how to apply the process.  Below I provide a snippet of information, to help understand the process better, and help your comfort level of working with food.

Another misconception of training using food is that we are using bribery to get results, and that we will forever need to have food at the ready for our dogs to comply. That is not the case I’m happy to say!  
Let’s use the recall as our example with puppy, Molly.  As we are teaching her recall, 
§ You call her to you (Molly, come!), 
§ Molly comes running, and you give her food reward when she gets to you,
§ Next time you call her, she comes running and you don’t have anything!, 
§ Next 2 times you call her you have something,
§ Next time you have nothing.  
§ Since she has not yet learned what the word represents, which is to drop what she’s doing and come to you, then she’s learning an environmental reinforcer, which may be to look to see if you have something so she can determine whether its worth it to her to come.  Therefore it is critical to her learning the command, that every time she comes to you while she is learning this word, you give her a goodie to teach her and begin building neuropathway that ‘come’ means ‘coming to you’.  Then, over time, you provide what is called ‘stretching’ whereby you expect more times of her coming to you between food rewards (while still verbally excited to see her of course)

            So, in future it would look like this:
§ You call her to you (Molly, come!)
§ Molly comes running, and you give her food reward for getting to you
Don’t expect anything of her when she gets there, by the way! You are building a positive association with the word right now, no other agenda. 
§ Every time you call her = food reward when she gets to you. 
§ When she is coming to you consistently, comprehension is high, and she appears to have a positive association with the word, begin fading the level of reinforcement, or stretching.
§ Pair food reward with verbal praise, as when you fade the food, eventually, the verbal will remain
Many say, ‘my dog is not food motivated’.  What this translates for a trainer is that the reinforcement value of the food is not sufficient to get her attention in that environment.  I often make a recommendation in beginning training protocol, to lift the bowl during feeding times instead of feeding her all of those training opportunitiesJ  This doesn’t mean she is going hungry, it means you may wish to begin by doing the following
·     Measure out the amount of food you feed each meal
·     Use this food in your daily training regimen, both for active and passive training…and reinforce heavily.  Examples:
o  Active = taking 5 minutes to work on a command
o  Passive = reinforcing when she sits down when greets you coming home, rather than jumping 
·     Spike her food with some cooked liver or chicken gizzard, meatballs, or some other such goodie (when thawing a frozen goodie, it helps all the kibble in the bowl taste yummier. This is your friend when you are expanding your dogs training bubble. The higher the value, the higher the relevance in that environment!
·     Purchase ‘treats’ from the pet store, or make them yourself, to provide variety
·     Reward with small bite morsels.  It is distracting and takes time for your dog to be chewing large biscuits during training.
·     If you’re concerned about weight gain during training time, increase her exercise quotient, or feed from what you would have during mealtime.
·     Keep treats in various places around the house to reinforce behavior as it occurs. I call this passive training….you have not asked for it, but she may be drawing from former reinforcement experience that this is what you want) 
o  Examples of this is lying on her bed when you sit down to eat your meal, sits instead of jumping on you, running to the window and not barking at the passerby, and so on.  

I hope from this, you imagine your future of handing her a food reward as a learning experience rather than bribery!  When it occurs to you that ‘she’s only doing it for the treat’, remind yourself that THIS IS the learning process. The vehicle to introduce her to this foreign language of ours just happens to taste really good. 

Now, what in the world do you want your dog to learn, and I’ll show you a yummy way to accomplish it!!!

Patti Howard BS, CCS, ACCN is specialist in dog behavior, training and nutrition in the greater Olympia area.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017


by Your Canine Resource

Let’s bring leash walking into the conversation! 98% of my clients either;
   1.  Have a request to change leash-walking habits that are occurring with their dogs;
   2.  They have accepted the fate that walking with their dog on leash is a punishing event that they simply must endure;   OR
   3.  They cease walking altogether.

Which one are you?

You will know whether you are in management -or -manners with your dog on leash if one of the following sounds most familiar:

Leash Walking Management:  The act of bringing your dog back to the place you wish them to walk.  Oftentimes this is done while also saying ‘Heel’ with a strong pull on the leash, an act that may even obtain looser leash for a moment. This can make for a frustrating (and possibly painful) walk for all.  Many people have confused this act of bringing her back to the desired position as ‘training’, “she knows what I want, she just doesn’t do it”.

Leash Walking ‘Manners:  Your pup has been trained where you want her when you snap the leash on. Period. You have communicated consistently, what ‘walk nice’ or ‘heel’ means, and she has strong association with where you want her to be while you’re walking.  You have taken the time to train her. Thus she is not putting tension on the leash and it is a happy leash. The difference is clear, a more enjoyable walk for you both!

You are managing behavior if your dog does not have a clear understanding of the behavior YOU are looking for.  When your dog has a clear understanding, in all environments, then training is occurring.

With Stella sitting on the couch, she was able to describe in great detail pulling the bits of asphalt out of her street wounds and the sting of grass burn on the side of her face.  The deep red wounds on her elbows were still visible. Stella and Doug Miller invited me in to assess some behaviors that had become unbearable with their 2-year-old German Shorthair Pointer, Pepper.  They were truly at the end of their rope, I mean, leash.

The story, which may be familiar to some, is that Stella had recently been walking Pepper when an off leash neighbor dog ran out to them, surprising both, but eliciting lunge response from Pepper. She ran at such force toward this dog and traffic that Stella lost her balance, went down and was dragged across the lawn holding a death grip on the leash. She did however hold tight, and Pepper eventually wound down to a stop.  With fear that this had potential of happening again in the weeks that followed, strict angry wielding of the leash ensued.  She “must establish herself as leader from now on”.  [What does that even mean?  With brains only a fraction the size of ours, and no access to the human species sociology lesson, how would they even go about that? Have any of us asked how human that sounds?]   I digress. 

To them this was not a question of whether she was trained to walk on a leash, but a clear signal that she was bossing them around.  From ‘leader’ standpoint, it has as many holes as a sprinkler.  Rather, it is a clear indication that the behavior is reinforced on some level, and since reinforced behavior has a high probability of continuing to occur, then it makes perfect sense why Pepper continues to pull where she wants to go. Pepper simply has not adjusted her own behavior! They need a plan.

What did our walk with Pepper look like?  
As they removed her harness from the hook, they were able to chase her down, get it hooked up…we all sighed with relief that this first acrobatic maneuver was accomplished. Although there was a bit of frustration from Doug and Stella, it was nothing compared to what was to come.

They opened the door and she raced out ahead, reaching the end of the leash with pain recorded on Doug’s face.  Presumably from Peppers point of view, she is in her environment, with all those scent receptors she was putting into action, and was ready to gather as much information in as short a time as she could.  Doug and Stella did not exist any longer, except as an irritant of the other end of her leash.  These behaviors escalated, pulling them to and fro, and I knew I had seen all I needed to see for the following protocol to be put in place.

A condensed version of a similar leash training plan as follows:
·      Choose a new word for walking on leash with your dog. (They chose to use ‘walk nice’)
·      Choose a walking tool that is kind. A harness is a widely accepted tool. A ‘choke chain’, ‘prong collar’ or any other such options for hooking the leash is unacceptable. You will be apt to stay in management with these tools, as they are typically used for dogs that are coined ‘difficult to control’.  These types of tools that cause discomfort can be thrown way away when you have applied successful training protocol.  This will also be discussed at length in reactivity segment.
·      Your dog is calm when putting on harness and leash, with conditioning for her to walk into her own harness.  No more chasing around the room, that game’s over! At least as far as the leash and harness are concerned.
·      Reliable ‘wait’ command, and release through door
·      Orientation command in place going out the front door, so your dogs eyes are on you instead of fixated on what is happening in the ‘hood, outside the door. 
·      High value reinforcement, and high rate of reinforcement:
o   High value reinforcement: consider using something you only use when walking. High value may be bits of chicken, freeze dried animal parts, (beginning every 2 steps, and move up gradually from there).
o   High rate of reinforcement:  recognize your dog has been walking a certain way for period of time, and hasn’t gotten the memo that you are changing it up. It is fair, then, to give her as much information as you can while walking, and reinforce accordingly. It is important that your dog make the association of the new behavior often and with most yummy currency.
·      The first few minutes of walk is dedicated to sniffing. Sniffing is notoriously calming signal for our dogs, so you are ahead in offering your dog the opportunity to engage if that is a way that helps de-stress. Humans are often quite task oriented, we have certain amount of time, certain route, answer texts/emails to respond….watch your dog.
·      Leash walking manners in the house and back yard only until ‘walk nice’ has relevance, that it is trained, and loose leash has been accomplished. Begin walking in front of house only  AFTER success is guaranteed in the house and yard.

·      If your dog goes back to her pulling ways, stop and wait for her to move back toward you.  At which point, and this is very important part of the whole procedure, the reinforcement is not provided until Pepper is back in position and walking nicely again.  If it is provided earlier, Pepper may learn that pulling and coming back to you is what you are looking for. Be very clear that the only time she gets a treat from you is when she is in area by your side, with a happy leash, or a leash with no tension!
·      Begin working in lowest distractive environments, until you become more relevant partners with the leash.
·      Recognize that if the walking surface is so hot that you cannot hold your hand on it for 5 seconds, then do not consider expecting your dogs paws being able to handle it either. Not only will it be painful, it may also be why your dog is in a hurry, thus pulling on the leash.

·      Note;  Like many dogs, Pepper has exhibited leash reactivity toward several triggers in her environment, so they are staying very close to home where they can turn and get back home quickly in the event a mean ole’ trigger shows up. In this segment, I am addressing leash-walking, not reactivity-on-leash.  Although reactivity issues are addressed with reliable leash walking manners in place, much more protocol is put in place to modify this highly emotional response to your dog’s environment.  Well-trained leash walking manners is a must to modify reactivity, while on leash, but alone is not the fix. It will be fun to talk in the next blog about one of THE most popular calls that come into my call center with is reactivity while our dogs are on leash.

BTW, the Millers have been enjoying following their protocol to the letter, because it has improved Peppers relevance to walking on leash.  It’s not such a punishing experience, so she gets walked more often. Doug and Stella have quit the exhausting job of managing Pepper’s leash walking and adopted training her to the manners they want instead.  Win! 

Next blog we move on to reactivity work, and her dislike of large black and small white dogs, squirrels, bicycles and skateboards.  

Patti Howard, BS, CCS is behavior and training specialist, and owner of Your Canine Resource in Olympia WA.  Be on watch for her upcoming book, ‘Your Dog Can’t Do Anything Wrong’, due to be out in Spring 2018.