Category Archives: At AniEd

SNIFFING STATIONS!

This will not be news to you, at all, that dogs love sniffing. Sniffing isn’t just a fun past-time for dogs, it’s essential behaviour that they MUST do for behavioural health.

Not only that, sniffing can be a great training tool.

Sniffing for training

Dogs pull on lead for lots of reasons:

  • they’re excited to be out and about
  • the world is an exciting place
  • they have twice the number of legs we do
  • they want to get sniffing and sniffing and sniffing
  • they want to get to things
  • they want to get away from things
  • we have trained them to pull

Pet owners spend lots of money on all sorts of, often times, scary equipment and lots of time on training exercises, to improve their dogs’ loose leash walking skills.

Changing the dog’s motivation for behaviour, and reducing his expectation (that crazy behaviour is required) will help to prevent pulling behaviour, making walks more enjoyable for all.

SNIFFING STATIONS

Is there a time or area in which your dog really, really pulls?

Do you find it difficult to get your dog from point A to point B, on lead?

Are there particular distractions that you find difficult to manage?

Establishing Sniffing Stations will help:

  • to get your dog out the door, without too much craziness
  • to get your dog from the house to the car, or from the car to the park or from one spot to a very exciting place
  • your dog get passed, toward or through particularly distracting situations
  • your dog get to another person or dog in a calmer fashion
  • to get a dog from a kennel to an exercise area
  • to get a dog to an exit (or entrance)
  • the dog to associate good things with potentially distracting or worrying triggers
  • your dog’s focus on you to increase

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Start with your dog on lead, and use really yummy food rewards.

  • say “Go Sniff!”
  • drop a couple of treats to the ground, across your dog’s eyeline if possible but just point them out if he misses them
  • let your dog eat the treats
  • repeat approx. every two metres

We start out with Sniffing Stations close to one another, and can move them further apart as the dog improves, or closer together for really tricky distractions.

If you know that you need to move the dog over the same short route, make more permanent Sniffing Stations.
Use double-sided tape to secure little bowls or even lids to each spot. Pre-load with treats for each trip.
For more temporary but pre-loaded Sniffing Stations, use little pieces of double-sided tape at each station and place treats on each one. This will also take the dog a little longer to eat, so is great to get dog past tricky distractions.
(Securely stick tape so that the dog doesn’t take that too!)

Teach sniffing on cue

Put sniffing on cue:

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Sniffing is a handy training exercise because:

  • your dog loves to sniff (and is already really good at it)!
  • sniffing is a polite dog behaviour and can be used to diffuse the tension between two dogs at a distance
  • sniffing is a calming behaviour for your dog
  • sniffing can help to divert your dog’s attention away from a trigger
  • sniffing can be used as a release cue, to let your dog know they they can go be a dog again
  • sniffing can be used to keep your dog busy or entertained when you are otherwise engaged
  • sniffing can be used to help your dog calm after excitement
  • sniffing can be used as a reward, after recalling for example
  • sniffing can be used to help your dog form more pleasant associations toward some trigger

Sniffing as a past-time

Make sure your dog has lots of opportunities to sniff. Forget about taking your dog for walks, instead make outings about sniffing.

Take your dog on a sniff, rather than on a walk. Who’s walk is it anyway!?

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Information gathering

So much of training and living with dogs is about doing, doing, doing, action, action, action.

Sometimes it’s important to take time, to be, and allow the dog process the environment.

Give them time:

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The brain errs on the side of caution and tells the body to expect danger, as a default setting. That means we have to do lots of work to give the brain and body time and relief to gather information to facilitate a change in attitude.

The time to reset the brain is during a puppy’s first few months of life, and then to continue this in a structured manner over puppy’s first year. But we need to get that first few months right. Dogs who don’t cope with this well don’t need to have been abused or have had particularly bad experiences in early life. All it takes, is lack of exposure, lack of time to information gather.
We don’t get this behaviour developmental stage back again – we get one go, so we need to get it right.

 Information Gathering for Puppies

This is especially important for puppies, who are just learning about the world. And often explains why puppies and young dogs will suddenly plant themselves in the middle of a walk, unwilling to move on.

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In a Puppy1 class Minnie takes some time to engage with a ballpit puzzle, and Ellie prefers to sit back and watch the goings-on.

Providing puppies (and all dogs) with time to choose how they wish to respond, helps to reduce stress and helps to build confidence.

Information Gathering for Dogs

 

In this clip Simon, on one of his first trips to AniEd a couple years ago, before he was rehomed, is out for a walk in a busy business park.
Simon, given his rough background, can be a little overwhelmed in some situations. This is our first walk together – that’s why he’s panting plus we had just had some ball fun inside too.
We came across a man mowing a lawn in behind a fence and another man with a forklift working. We moved across the road so that we were about 15-20m away from the action. As soon as he spotted this activity he stopped and I made sure to keep the leash loose. We just waited while he processed the noise and activity.
Notice his rapid head movements as he watches the scene and note his mouth becoming tighter at times as he concentrates on the activity. Listen for his big sigh as he gathers as much information about something that might cause him a little concern.
As soon as he’s ready to move on I mark (YES!) and reward him. That it looks calm and a bit boring (let’s be honest!!) is good – it means that he could relax enough so that he could just watch the goings-on without experiencing too much concern.

 

Let your dog take it in…

When your dog encounters something that interests them, especially if it causes them to be excited, to be scared or spooked, causes them to lunge, pull, whine or bark, give your dog some time to process that trigger.
If your dog is already reacting like this first move far enough away that your dog is able to give some attention to you and so that they don’t react that way anymore.

But, when you encounter something that you think might be of interest to your dog give you and your dog plenty of space from it.
Keep the leash loose and allow your dog to process any information that he can from what he is seeing, hearing and smelling.

Things won’t seem as scary or interesting to your dog if they have had some time to find out a little more about it.
This is really important for puppies, who are learning about the world, and for dogs who are worried or ‘reactive’ on leash.

It’s not always about “training”

You don’t need to jump in there with treats or cues straight away. Take the time. Don’t encourage, don’t nag, indeed, you don’t need to do a whole lot.

If your dog can’t information gather, you’re too close, you’ve stayed too long, the trigger is too intense. Distance is your friend, and there’s nothing wrong with packing it in and trying again another day.

Things to try, and not to try:

  • keep your distance
  • give your dog time
  • if you notice your dog stiffening, become more tense, or having difficulty moving away – help them. Move away excitedly, call to them, keep it jolly. Try not to put too much pressure on the leash as this tends to escalate things. If needed, move them along with brief, gentle pressure, and then use your jolliness to keep them moving with you.
  • never drag a puppy who has stopped
  • don’t attempt to lure a dog toward something he is unsure of or scared of. Don’t even encourage them to approach – give them time to choose.
  • You don’t need to understand their hesitation – just listen to your dog!
  • after some time information gathering, get ’em outta there, moving in the other direction
  • too much exercise for puppies and growing dogs is damaging – review your exercise regime, and think of outings more for exposure to the world, rather than physical exertion
  • don’t make puppy’s world too big too soon.
    While puppy is on vaccination hold, bring them in your arms to new places on foot and in the car. Remember, they have little choice when in your arms so don’t expose them to new things, people or animals when restrained.
    When they start going for walks, expand their world a few metres each day, starting at the front of your house or garden on the first day, then a couple of houses down the next day and so on. Rather than marching, try playing with toys, doing sniffing searches for them, and letting them range on lead (safely).

If you have difficulty moving a reluctant dog or puppy, give them some time (might take several minutes) and then encourage them to follow you back the way you came. You can move in a big arc to go in your intended direction too.

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Learn to ‘listen’:

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Teach a hand targeting behaviour, to encourage movement in a non-confrontational and low-pressure manner:

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Add movement:

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Make it fun!

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The Skinny on Using Food in Training

The reluctance and poor tolerance toward the use of food in dog training is not new, or even surprising, but the understanding of its application as a consequence to behaviour, in teaching, is consistently poor.

The fascinating aspect of this reluctance to use food, is that food rewards are generally held to higher standards than other consequences to behaviour, in teaching.
We start talking about fading food, before we even get started, and we presume that it’s going to heroically and miraculously fix all ills, so we abandon it, when it doesn’t…“once he sees <insert distraction here> he won’t even look at the treats”…why would he? What training have you done to proof behaviours in the face of such distractions?

It’s almost as if food were not the problem…!

Food is a contentious training tool, and like any tool there are pros and cons, but, except maybe for shock collars, not much rivals food-use for controversy.

We’ve talked about rewarding behaviour before: Pay the Dog

And discussed the care required with food’s use: Fat Dogs & Food Trainers

The Bottom Line

If you want behaviour, you gotta reinforce it; to reinforce is specific, meaning to strengthen behaviour, increasing its frequency.

The behaviours you want your dog to do, are so often not what the dog would choose (if he could), so we gotta make it worth their while.

Think of the reinforcement account you have built for behaviours that you like (polite greeting behaviour, walking nicely on lead, coming when called from distractions, settling calmly while you are busy and so on)…how consistent are these behaviours?
How healthy your account balance is, will depend on how much reinforcement you have in there…

Think of the consistency of behaviours that you don’t like – jumping up, barking, pulling on lead, not coming back and so on…that’s how healthy those reinforcement accounts are.

Five year old, “food trained” all the time – doesn’t beg, doesn’t steal food, doesn’t need food in everyday life for maintenance of established behaviours, switches between food, play, interaction and sniffing in all training sessions, not overweight, healthy. Maybe food’s not the problem…

I get it. Most average pet owners want a quick fix formula, and that’s ok; you don’t need to be a behaviour-nerd to train your pet dog. But, it does mean that you will need serious help with filling those reinforcement accounts.
With good management, and quick teaching of replacement and desirable behaviours, we can limit the effects of unwanted behaviour relatively fast.

That’s where food comes in. When you come to training class, we’re going to use food and lots of it. That’s one hour per week to ensure your dog’s behaviour in the tricky class environment is better managed, and you and the dog are set up for success.

We are using a high rate of reinforcement (ROR) when teaching behaviour. That’s how behaviour becomes learned, and fast. Food allows for that.

Developing the skill to use food and other consequences of behaviour may not be what you want, and that’s fine. But, using food is probably the quickest, most efficient way to get behaviour you like – with a little care it can be pretty powerful.

You will develop relationship, as a side-effect, and that makes it easier to reduce training prompts.

Put the work in NOW, today, and when you can reliably predict behaviour in relevant contexts, you can reduce the food if you must, switching to other reinforcers to maintain behaviour.

If you are complaining about your dog’s behaviour, there are two places to look (and not one of them is your dog!): the environment (what’s happening around the dog that allows him to carry out behaviour you don’t like), and reinforcement history (the health of those reinforcement accounts) – all down to you. Neither food, or your dog’s to blame!

Change your mindset and catch your dog doing the right thing – look for behaviour you like, rather than waiting for behaviour you don’t like.
Carry a little bag of your dog’s regular food in your pocket or have little pots of it dotted around the house for quick reinforcing. It’s really not that tricky, and it’s better that your dog work for some of that food than get it for free from a food bowl.

 

You don’t necessarily need to use food forever, although that’s not the worst thing in the world either.
Why do we lament a continuous schedule of reinforcement when food is involved? Especially when we (apparently) happily continue to pull the dog around on the lead, scold them verbally (and otherwise), coerce and intimidate them – this is continuous use of potentially harmful consequences to behaviour, the fallout of which may be greater than use of food.

So, before you moan that you need to use food to train your dog, consider your dog’s behaviour and its consistency as having a reinforcement account and fill it…bring it back into the black. If you are currently moaning about your dog’s behaviour, the desired behaviour’s reinforcement accounts are probably in the red, and only getting redder…