Category Archives: At AniEd

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…

 

Training Classes @ AniEd!

We love teaching pets and their people! Here’s a run-through of our basic classes that are on on weekday evenings.

Puppy Manners

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Puppy class isn’t really about teaching obedience and “commands”, but more so about making sure we are installing some vital life skills that puppies must develop during their first few months.

Anything you want in a two year old dog or a five year old dog, we have to prepare for now, while puppy is in those early months of life. All is not lost if we don’t get started that early, but certainly we need to get working on this stuff as soon as possible.

This clip gives you a taste of just some of the work we do on this course – and this is just the tip of the iceberg…

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Puppy Manners course:

  • 6 class course
  • roll on/roll off – start as soon as your puppy is fully vaccinated
  • for puppies under 5-6 months of age (still have baby teeth!)
  • course costs €125
  • Tuesday evenings, 7-8pm

Register here.

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Before your puppy is vaccinated, it’s important to use that time to get a headstart with a Puppy Session (90 minute private session – €60).

If you book both a Puppy Session (€60) and a Puppy Manners course (€125) you pay just €150 – which is a great foundation for you and your puppy to get off on the right paw (not to mention a great bargain!)

More on Puppy Sessions here and register here.

Teenagers Manners

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Once puppy education is over, that’s not the end of your dog’s lessons; indeed it’s only the beginning – we wouldn’t expect a child to be done with school after the first half of primary school!

Teenage dogs, just like puppies, have specific requirements. Adolescent dogs are most likely to become unwanted so we want to put lots of work in place to make sure the teenag dog stays a lifelong canine companion.

We work on lots during the Teenagers Manners course, all based in helping the adolescent dog develop better self-control and self-calming skills.

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Teenagers Manners course:

  • 6 class course
  • for dogs over six months and under 14-18 months
  • course costs €125
  • Wednesday evenings, 7-8pm

Register here.

Monday Manners

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This is a quick, intense basics course – all done in four classes!
The Monday Manners course is for adult dogs, over 18 months of age.

This is some of what we cover:

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Monday Manners course:

  • 4 class course
  • for dogs over 18 months of age
  • course costs €100
  • Monday evenings, 7-8pm

Register here.

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We welcome all types of dogs at AniEd but not all dogs benefit from a class environment. We do everything possible to keep our training class environment low-stress (see our videos!) but some dogs have difficulty coping with even that; proximity of strange dogs or people, lots of food rewards or toys, lots of distracting smells and general excitement associated with being some place new can be pretty challenging.
I often tell our training class students that bringing their dogs to class and asking them to concentrate is like bringing their seven year old to Disney World and then asking them to do their homework!

So, we will work with you to make sure that we find the best service and approach to help you and your dog – there’s nothing ‘wrong’ with your dog (or you), every one’s an individual and we will do our best to help you.

Email or call us if you have any queries about class, suitability and AniEd services: contact us.