This week has been super-dooper busy as CBTT5 have been in everyday, for their last week of tuition.
The Canine Behaviour & Training Technician course is the big one! It’s for those who want to become serious, make-a-difference, professionals in canine care, training and behaviour.
It’s delivered over about one year, with learners attending for tuition for two separate block weeks (bookending the course) and four separate weekends. They complete 15 units (subjects) and to successfully graduate must achieve at least 80% in each unit.
To say that this is a tough course is a bit of an understatement so just surviving to their last week is in and of itself a MAJOR achievement. Our learners are amazing!
CBTT5, their last week
Decker is ready and waiting to greet the learners on their last week with us for tuition!
We started with Domestication & Selective Breeding, developing an understanding of the effects of our past and current breeding practices has on dogs, their health & behaviour.
The canine genome was mapped in 2004 and since then, our understanding of canine genetics has grown and grown. Dogs are currently ‘cool’ in science right now, and we couldn’t be happier with the wealth of knowledge that is becoming available everyday.
Dogs are an amazingly diverse species, more so than any other, yet dog breeds have become closed gene pools. These very small gene pools can cause a range of problems for modern dogs and only through awareness and education can we see incremental change in improving canine welfare.
We looked at a range of works studying the genetic health of canine populations, the related causes and effects, breed and behaviour, better breeding of modern dogs and we truly challenged our minds illustrating the true complexity of canine genetics.
Next we worked on Advanced Canine Behaviour discussing temperament evaluations, enrichment, the emotional impacts of training & behaviour procedures and principles of behaviour change programs.
Using clips and examples we can work out the causes of and reasons for behaviour – this goes a long way to us developing programs to help pets and their people.
In the clip above, what behaviours do you see? You might see behaviour/s that the dog is doing or maybe that the human is doing.
What causes that behaviour to happen? Looking at what happens just before the behaviour can give us a good idea of what makes that behaviour happen. This tells the animal (dog or human) when to carry out the behaviour.
What happens just after the behaviour? This gives us the reasons for the animal (dog or human) doing the behaviour. This is the why of behaviour.
We use this tool, functional assessment, to help us analyse the things that cause and maintain behaviours including those that might cause problems.
Nobody said this dog training business was going to be easy…!
On our last day we looked at the Biology of Behaviour & Cognition. This complex unit looks at the behaviour from the brain up, starting with studying brain and how it functions to allow animals to carry out behaviours and to learn about their world.
Again, there has been an explosion in studying dogs in terms of their cognitive abilities and we can take full advantage of that to learn as much as we can.
We end our discussion of these vast topics with a look at canine play and the way in which dogs use play signaling in many complex and varied ways.
Play has always puzzled science, labeling it apparently functionless behaviour but play is way more than that. Besides, play is about having fun and that’s often reason enough; just like these happy campers:
With all this studying, analysis and scientific thinking, we sometimes need a reminder as to why we got so immersed in the first place. Because dogs are AWESOME!
So, we spent some time looking at all the reasons that dogs are amazing, all the tremendous highs they bring us and the often, terrible, lows that come from living with and loving dogs:
They make the best friends…
… right to the end (WARNING tissues required):
CBTT5 at Tayto Park
As part of working on their Advanced Canine Training unit, the fabulous people at Tayto Park give our CBTT learners access to their zoo so that we can spend two days working with other species in a new and challenging environment.
Learning applies to all species (capable of learning) so to really test how well CBTT5 can apply this, we practice with prey species like goats, pigs, sheep, donkeys, guanaco and fowl.
Craig, one of the Tayto keepers, spent some time with our learners (thanks Craig!) demonstrating the applications to our training work there. He is working with their female Amur Tiger showing her presenting on cue (when asked), different parts of her body through the fence, for checking and routine care such as vaccination and blood testing. No restraint, force or sedation required!
At all times in this work the animals choose to participate. They are well-fed so will and do move away when they feel like it – this is why we work on the other side of the fence (not just for safety) to ensure that the animals can leave it they want and we can’t really do a lot about it! Ever tried to force a tiger to do something?!
These same techniques can be applied to our pet animals to reduce the need for restraint, force and distress during routine grooming, medical or husbandry care. Just because we can force them, doesn’t mean that we should…
Using targeting to get behaviour is a little like luring, but more complex. We must first teach the animal a targeting behaviour – in this case touching their nose to the wooden spoon. Once they readily offer this targeting behaviour, we can use that to teach further behaviours.
Targeting can be used to hold animals in position without restraint, move them to observe for lameness, for example, move them so that they can be transported or change their position, it can be used to guide the animal up or down so that we can check various processes, and to teach other behaviours.
Donkeys will work for…
When we are working with these animals, finding the right motivator is often challenging as these animals are well fed with a range of foods, have access to their buddies and can move away any time.
It is the learner who decides what they are willing to work for and it’s up to the teacher to work that out!
Here our CBTT5 learners work out that these donkeys will work for grass (picked from close to their enclosure) and scratches to the neck!
CBTT5 use capturing to ‘catch’ the animals doing a behaviour that they want to work with.
After observing the animals, planning their training, they set out to wait for or prompt their subject animals to offer a behaviour: click & treat!
Like this Guanaco, sticking her nose out the gap:
From there, they will reward successive approximations until the animal is offering a bigger, better behaviour, increment by increment. Freeshaping allows for the teaching of some complex behaviours.
Starting out we capture the goat lifting her foot to put it on the fence and by timing our click correctly we can reward the goat for just lifting her foot, then holding it up.
You can see that this is not a linear process – the learner writes the plan for you and the trainer directs the process by rewarding relevant behaviours that the learner chooses to offer.
Check out how much this momma-goat gets the game – at the end you will see there is a delay as we chat about planning – the goat, not getting rewarded for lifting her right goat begins to lift her left foot instead to see if that also works.
Now that’s a learning goat who gets how to operate her environment – the goal of teaching YAY!
By capturing the Guanaco’s look-around-the-other-side-of-the-pole behaviour, we can freeshape a game of peek-a-boo.
Rewarding her looking at the other side of the pole over and over, soon she will begin to offer that behaviour consistently.
Then we can begin to reward this behaviour at our side of the pole and soon the Guanaco will move back and forth, playing peek-a-boo!
Take a bow, Guanaco
Using the bars on the fence we can measure our progress with this Guanaco, teaching her to lower her head more and more.
To put that on cue CBTT5 learners keep practicing until the Guanaco is consistently offering the behaviour.
Just before she bows, we can add our cue (a human bow!) and only reward her bowing behaviour if offered after our cue.
Donkey Head Lift
Freeshaping a head lift behaviour by rewarding the donkeys for lifting their head a little further.
We can use the bars of the fence to measure our progress and reward and build.
With the head lift behaviour we can add our own twists to get some very sweet behaviours.
By rewarding a higher head lift we have taught the donkey to give a kiss on cue (“gimme a kiss”) and use our kissy noise as the marker (instead of the clicker) and then reward with some yummy grass.
By beginning to reward a slight head turn when the donkey lifts her head she is soon offering a head tilt. A human head tilt is used as a cue for this very cute behaviour.
Dogs will help us a lot in our training, making up for deficits in mechanical skill. Working with animals who can take-us-or-leave-us, in an environment where we have less control really helps us to identify and perfect any areas that need improvement. We all really appreciate teaching dogs after that!
We are so lucky to have such fantastic support from the Tayto Park team, who open their doors and accommodate us, even though the park may be closed, undergoing renovations and the staff all very busy.
We always have a great time and our learners really benefit from this unique experience.
Just for fun…
…here’s 30 seconds of five day old baby Pygmy Goats frolicking:
Part 1: We Really Don’t Like Food Bowls
Feeding time is an exciting and important part of your dog’s daily routine but just because it’s routine doesn’t mean it needs to be boring.
The key is enrichment; protocols that you can put in place, simply, to provide your dog more appropriate outlets for natural, doggie behaviour.
Why enrichment for pet dogs?
The “wild”, that idyllic place that’s considered the model we should mimic even though in actuality it is a dangerous, dog-eat-dog place, has nonetheless caused the evolution of a wide range of feeding behaviours that take up plenty of an animal’s energy and keep them busy.
Animals will naturally work for their food, with or without your help (or knowledge!):
Animals are compelled to carry out behaviours, even if the goal of those behaviours e.g. food, is freely available.
This is referred to as contrafreeloading – animals often prefer to work for access to food, even when food is freely available.
Sounds counter-productive, but perhaps not!
Check out this smart pup, passing by a bowl of free food to activate a food dispenser:
Dogs also appear to experience that ‘eureka’ feeling when working on challenges – working on a puzzle is rewarding to dogs, even if they don’t solve the puzzle successfully (i.e. get the tangible reward such as a food treat).
Dogs are natural-born-puzzle-addicts!
Ian & Irene work on puzzles for the first time, in puppy class; they work harder relative to the value of the food reward – they are in it just for the fun:
When animals don’t get the opportunity to engage in enrichment and are lacking outlets of natural behaviour, they can develop all sorts of difficulties.
At the very least, those behaviours that dogs are compelled to carry out will become a problem for us – dogs need to chew, dogs need to chase, dogs need to sniff and track.
And you might not like the outlets they choose for those behaviours.
All the puppies learn to settle themselves in a busy class with the help of a food puzzle and lapping & chewing, which helps dogs to chill:
Think of all the things your pup can’t do if he is chilling out, working on a food toy?!
Dogs that are unemployed, become self-employed…
With all that free time on his paws, your dog may also engage in other behaviours that become a problem for you such as barking, digging, escaping, jumping up, being obnoxious.
It is not easy to live with a self-employed dog because the jobs they choose for themselves are usually not particularly preferred by humans…
First step, ditch the food bowls.
Why do we HATE food bowls?
- food bowls do very little to encourage interaction between dog and owner
- food bowls do little to teach the dog that good things come through their owner
- feeding from a food bowl wastes hundreds of reward opportunities by presenting them for free all in one go
- your dog would probably prefer to work for his food than get it for free
- modern pet feeding practices encourage a sedentary way of life for our pets
- there is a limited range of behaviours demonstrated so dogs will need to display them in other ways (which may cause problems for people)
- chasing, chewing, tracking and using their brains are important for dogs and modern feeding practices often don’t encourage any or much of that
Food bowls are human convenience devices – toss food in bowl, leave on floor, dog eats….dog is fed and my job is done.
But feeding your pet can be soooo much more…
Dogs come with predatory behaviour, built-in
Dave Mech, the wolf guru, outlines canid predatory behaviour in a sequence of behaviours called, not-surprisingly, a predatory sequence. These are behaviours that are innate in all dogs and to greater or lesser extents in different types of dogs and individuals.
The dog predatory sequence might look something like this:
track – stalk – chase – grab – hold – bite – chew – dissect
These are the behaviours that your predatory pet needs to do – provide acceptable outlets otherwise he will find his own, and you might not like that.
Watching dogs play with pals gives you an insight into just how relevant these behaviours are for even modern, pet dogs. A good proportion of normal play behaviour will be feeding related with games of stalking, chasing, take downs, neck biting, and of course enjoying being chased too!
You will see your dog practicing these behaviours in other non-real-life scenarios too – give your dog a tissue or soft toy and watch him chew and dissect it, throw a tennis ball or play tug and flip the switch, turning on those in-built behaviours.
But feeding behaviour isn’t just about feeding…
Dogs engage in all sorts of feeding related behaviour, and many activities revolve around feeding.
Dogs enjoy actively scavenging for food and, let’s face it, non-food items – they will devote plenty of time to this sort of activity and often learn to do it when their owners are not watching…!
Although dogs prefer their own space when eating (not big on sharing!) they have evolved plenty of behaviour for negotiating social contact around food.
For the most part, this can cause trouble for us living with modern dogs, but it can be easily managed, with the right guidance.
Competitive interactions, that may lead to resource guarding and even social facilitation have been shaped over millions of years and generations, and despite a few hundred years of pretty intense selective breeding modern dogs still show these behaviours strongly today.
Digging/burying and hoarding behaviour may be employed by many dogs, often much to their owner’s disgust (especially the green-fingered owners). Some dogs appear really bothered when they get something quite special, carrying it from place to place, vocalising, difficulty settling…
This may be frustration related at not having a safe place to work on their treat or indeed at not being able to stash it away for a rainy day.
Grass and plant eating can cause concern for many owners. But for the most part where this behaviour isn’t excessive or too intense, it’s probably nothing to worry about and a normal part of canine behaviour.
However, where dogs do this a lot, or try to, and/or where there has been any changes to this behaviour have a chat with your vet as soon as possible.
Intense eating of grass, plants or other non-food items (behaviour called pica) may be linked with gastrointestinal upset and stress.
And you thought feeding was just about putting- food-in-a-bowl…
In Part 2 we will be looking at things to get started enriching your dog’s life!
Another week almost over, and we are not even back to full service yet!! 2016 is going to be our biggest year yet 🙂
Unusually, A Dog’s Life has a lot of puppies in their care at the moment so that’s a great excuse for us to hold a puppy party in our new place #puppybreath !!
Holly, Rudi, Gertie, Hope, Macy and Toby, along with their awesome fosters came along for fun and brain games.
Hope, Macy and Toby are from the same litter so it’s good for them to be exposed to other puppies and to spend some time apart from one another too.
Check out Rudi meeting all the black & white puppies:
In good news, Rudi has found his new awesome forever home!And home checks are in process for Macy and Gertie so fingers and paws crossed!
We set up a confidence course behind a barrier so that the puppies couldn’t get into any mischief.
Confidence courses help to expose puppies to odd, novel and out of context items and situations in a safe environment so that we can help them learn to cope with stress and develop resilience.
Puppies learn that they can investigate new, weird and even scary things without any pressure, in their own time and they can direct the interaction, with the choice to move away built in. This is confidence building and essential for puppies.
Weird items, things out of context, new substrates, different textures and surfaces, new noises and moving things – all make for a great puppy confidence course!
And after some playtime, exploration & investigation, we had some downtime – because learning to settle is one of the most important skills we can teach puppies and dogs.
Looking after puppies, to make sure to give them the best start requires lots of knowledge, so while we parked our puppies the grown-ups discussed all things puppy:
- puppy development – what’s happening to puppies of different ages and what we can do to support their behavioural development
- management – how we prevent all that puppy behaviour from ever becoming problem behaviour
We looked at toilet training, chewing & destruction, biting & nipping, resource guarding, handling and self-settling.
One of the best ways to manage puppy behaviour and to set puppy (and pet owner) up for success is crate training, so we had some crate manners practice too:
- lots of enrichment & entertainment – NO food bowls here!!
- small challenges, everyday – cognitive, physical, sensory
- well controlled social contact with other dogs, people of different types and even other species
- confinement and alone training
- careful exposure to novel and varied experiences
- lots and lots of passive training – catch your puppy doing the right thing!
What we do now with puppies is having an impact on their behaviour over the remainder of their life; and these fosters have the added challenge of making sure that their puppies become adoptable, successful companions – no pressure then!
We practiced lots of exercises too:
- supervising and managing puppy play and interactions
- how to provide physical, cognitive and sensory challenges easily at home
- how to park your puppy and teach settling
- handling exercises:
Sometimes puppies will need a little extra help in developing comfort with handling, so we take our time and build the challenge a little more gradually:
- use your hand like a Kong toy – helps with nipping, self-control and polite greetings:
- Follow Me! – teach puppy to follow you and love it, without a leash on first so that when you put the leash on puppy has no reason to pull!
It’s no wonder all the puppies were pooped after all that!
Awesome Pets & their People
This week we mainly had follow-up appointments with dogs and their families already working through programs, coming back to adjust the plan we have built together, to build on progress and to keep motivation up!
Harley came for a second follow-up as his people work through the program we have built together to help improve this little chap’s self-control, focus and coping abilities. He’s a super smart fella!
We were out and about with Shiloh for a third follow-up in the wind and rain (normal Irish weather!) to help her learn how to better cope with some specific fearful responses. Despite us all getting a bit bedraggled, Shiloh and her mum make an awesome team!
Shy girl Roxy came for her first follow-up – she and her people are rocking our program to help her confidence develop. She is becoming a cheeky little one!
Despite being scared of the mat at first, soon she was able to lie on it comfortably. Her dad helped by giving some support (sitting beside it neutrally) but Roxy was soon able to interact and lie on the mat with shaping, lots of choice and salami!
Lottie came for a visit too and we did some dog-dog comfort work. Lottie and her person did some awesome training, never allowing Lottie to become uncomfortable, always able to work and really closing the gap with our stooge dog (Decker)!
After we did some training work, Lottie worked on a puzzle – getting her dinner out of a plastic milk jug.
This will help her deal with any stress experienced during our training, get her brain working in a different way and keep her busy:
And Lucy Basset popped into say Hi!, check the place out, have a game with Decker and pick up a crate for her new foster brother Mason, who she will be helping to become a great adoptable pet!
We are celebrating because our CBTT3 group all completed their full course successfully! Yay!!!
They have completed 15 units at first-year degree level, battled with an enormous workload and still love dogs, training and behaviour at the end of it all.
Now the really hard work starts as they build their careers as fully fledged Canine Training & Behaviour Technicians, with our continued support.
We are beyond proud of all that they have achieved as they embark on becoming excellent dog pros!
And our trusty pack of Labs, Bassets, Rotties, Yorkies, JRTs and Beagles (don’t worry, they are all well-behaved teddies!) are very tolerant models helping lots of learners become Canine First Responders.
Lots more to come with a busy weekend ahead and another week of doggy adventures!
A busy week so a packed round-up for you:
Older dogs with grey muzzles are heart-melters and we of course want to make sure that their twilight years are the best.
Some great advice on keeping the senior canine family member happy and healthy, especially when there is a young upstart under the same roof from Smart Dog University.
On the subject of seniors, making decisions about their treatment Vs their quality of life is always difficult; here Marc Bekoff examines What’s a good life for an old dog?
Helping bonded dogs cope with the loss of a canine companion can be very tough; here’s one take.
And not just difficult for canine companions, but also the other end of the leash too. Has grief for a dog who died every overwhelmed you? Don’t worry, you are not alone.
Trick training is not only fun but behaviours taught can be useful in sports, conditioning and working with your dog plus you develop an excellent relationship with them, all the while having a great time. Lexus and Jesse provide lots of inspiration!
Even when you might enjoy the scents of aromatherapy, there can be harmful effects for our pets: Aromatherapy: Relaxation or Torment for Pets?
Finding a good dentist can be tricky, and so can finding a good dog trainer – don’t worry always ask us for help in choosing a pet care professional!
Animals are naturally stoic and don’t want to be too obvious about showing serious pain. Pain is a major stressor leading to often misunderstood, subtle and even surprising behavioural changes – that’s why if there’s a change in behaviour or behaviour issues present, the first port of call is the vet!
Your dog can’t be in pain as he runs & plays? Think again!
Veterinary medicine really has come such a long way but important considerations are always required when it comes to pet anaesthesia: Canine Anesthesia
Being an informed pet owner also means knowing what questions to ask too: Questions to ask before anesthesia
I know we all love a hug, and love cuddling a cute canine even more, but for some dogs in some situations, this might not be as much of a joy for them: Why dogs don’t like to be hugged and Does your dog like cuddles?
Just as we would prefer to be asked before being touched, ask does your dog really want to be petted?
Philip Tedeschi delivers an insightful TEDx talk on the human-animal bond.
Be more dog: How to be a dog
Did you know that we can teach all manner of animals to be willing participants in their healthcare, even for invasive procedures? This originates in work with large, exotic animals in zoos and collections – it’s pretty tricky to restrain a large cat or hyena and sedation is stressful and dangerous. So, why do we continue to restrain dogs and other pet animals, causing untold levels of distress (to all) and presenting potential health and safety nightmares; instead try husbandry training like this fantastic example.
Squishy and stretchy; dogs squeeeeeeezing through cat-doors!
And my favourite clip this week; it’s always the little ones!
So many great bits and pieces, we might even have enough for another WWW this week!
What ever happened to doing nothing?
I can’t remember what I used to do when there was any sort of lull in the action before I had a smartphone.
Anything other than constant stimulation and I am reaching for my iPhone…
The movie Bolt struck a cord when I saw it a few years ago.
It’s about a canine star of a TV show, Bolt, who plays a dog with super-powers saving his person Penny from the Green Eyed Man, week in, week out.
Except, that nobody told Bolt it was just a work of fiction and that he isn’t really a super-dog.
When the cameras stop rolling Bolt is kept in a permanent state of readiness, to fend off attacks by his enemies.
What about pet dogs?
We certainly invest lots in teaching them to do lots of stuff, to increase their responsiveness, to build their love of learning and interaction.
And we put lots of energy into keeping them active, getting them moving, in the hope that a tired dog is a good dog (but is it?).
When do they get to just be?
‘Just being’ doesn’t necessarily come easily
Pretty much every type of dog was developed for some sort of job and in modern pet-dom most dogs are unemployed.
Our efforts in guiding dogs from wild to pet, whether intentional or not, selected for characteristics such as wariness, reactivity, inquisitiveness, attachment and activity.
Our pets’ lives, just like our’s, continue to become more and more sedentary with us substituting real-life pursuits for those that are easier to participate from a seated position – even sport is a less serious outlet for pretty serious behaviour.
Without outlets for our behaviour, it is channelled somewhere else – I have a Smartphone but what do our dogs have?
Would we know a dog ‘just being’ if we saw one?
It can be tricky to spot a calm, chilled out dog.
With great access to knowledge you might think we have a better handle on canine signalling, but unfortunately our awareness (or lack thereof) is affected by popular media’s interpretation of “calmness”.
Shutdown is not the same as calmness
A dog who is overwhelmed by a situation and can’t use behaviour to escape something they find unpleasant, will often show signs of ‘shutting down’.
This happens because the dog is unable to escape and his requests for relief have gone unheard/unanswered. This is typified by a very still dog – the absence of behaviour is not calmness.
Shut down dogs interact minimally with their environment, their body may be still and tense, if they are moving their posture may be low slung, they will often be frozen, you may see them yawn, lick their lips, and squint and blink (outside of normal contexts for these behaviours).
Eileen Anderson’s clip gives you a run down of some examples, mistaken for calmness:
Calmness myths and mistakes:
- The absence of behaviour is not calmness (nor ideal)
- Stillness because there’s no way out, ain’t calmness
- Stillness through restraint ain’t calmness
- Lying down through uncomfortable handling or contact ain’t calmness
- Compliance because they can’t escape ain’t calmness
- Compliance due to the application of training equipment or techniques (that the individual finds aversive) ain’t calmness
- “Settling” due to exhaustion, ain’t calmness (is a tired dog, a good dog?)
- Less behaviour is not necessarily better than more behaviour
What does a ‘just being’ dog look like?
A chilled dog is loose, breathing deeply, he may still be monitoring the environment but not really on his tip-toes, he may still be responsive but not in an overly enthusiastic way – but the biggest difference?
The chilled out, calm, ‘just being’ dog is choosing to chill, be calm and be.
Back to Eileen Anderson for her ying to the yang clip:
Teaching a dog to just be
Start by helping your dog to learn that settling, and being calm is excellent!
Check out Week 2 training games from our Train Your Dog Month here.
From ‘excited-by-everything’ to just-be
This dog needs help coming down from the highs, and to better control his swings from up to down.
- play games with rules:
- make play training and training play
- play jazz up/settle down
From ‘let’s go go go’ to just-be
This dog needs help learning that they don’t need to be ‘on’ all the time – good things happen when you’re doing nothing too.
Both in training sessions, and in life, mark and reward doing nothing – even if it’s only a split second – the more you reinforce nothing, the less frantic behaviour you will see.
- make sure to put behaviours on stimulus control – this means that the dog learns to offer behaviours when you cue them only, rather than as soon as he thinks there might be a reward or he thinks it might be time to work
- teach calm-focus exercises rather than laser-focus-on-the-task activities
- make doing-nothing your new job
- take a break/breath
When we might only have limited time with a dog, whether that be because we are visiting, working long hours or the dog is in a rescue/kennel environment, of course we want to make the most of our time together.
But, a dog who hasn’t been getting too much human attention will be pretty wound up and anticipatory waiting for it. Sometimes, it’s better just to hang out with them – this gives them the opportunity to calm down, bond and be.
Just be…a dog
Don’t forget, that before the dog can just be, he must have an outlet to just be a dog too.
We were so busy all last month with Train Your Dog Month that we are just now resuming normal service.
This WWW is covering some of the best pieces doing the rounds last month; a bit of a catch up!
- Not only are dogs great companions, but they are very much ‘in‘ in scientific research right now. This brings lots of benefits in our understanding of canine health and behaviour, but also in terms of human health too.
Research into the DNA markers related to certain cancers in Golden Retrievers and canine compulsive disorders (like OCD in humans) has great implications in their treatment in humans too. This means that we will generate lots of important information that can help dogs and people – win-win!
- If you want to improve your training, one key is to develop your shaping skills. You already know how to shape behaviour in yourself and others – at its simplest, it’s just breaking up a big task into smaller components.
When you were learning to drive you first learnt the controls and pedals, then how to get started, how to stop, how to turn, how to combine these skills and so on until you became a fully-fledged motorist! You (hopefully) weren’t brought out to a dangerous, fast motorway and expected to cope 🙂
Any time you want to teach your dog (or learner of any species) a behaviour, start working with them at home where it’s easy to concentrate and gradually increase the challenge as they improve – that’s shaping!
We can use freeshaping to teach any animal a behaviour that is complex and doesn’t quite occur naturally – check out this fantastic in-depth guide to all things shaping!
- Animals who have been taught through shaping, choice and lots of encouragement and reinforcement are expert-learners. Teaching others this way also teaches the teacher lots too: 10 Things I’ve Learned from Riding Clicker Trained Horses
- Fear can strike any dog, but it can be tough to help a fearful or shy dog. Check out these great tips.
No matter if your dog is confident or shy, it’s important that you act as a good advocate for your pet. This means not putting him or her in any situation that may cause them to practice unwanted, problem or even dangerous behaviour – the buck stops with the human end of the leash!
Sometimes, this might even mean offending someone or causing discomfort: No, you will not be meeting my dog!
- Of course, being a good advocate for your dog means keeping them safe and being a responsible pet owner – unless you have trained a reliable recall it’s best to have your dog on leash; here’s why!
- One such situation in which our dogs will often benefit from a little extra support is during vet visits. Luckily a whole movement has really begun to pick up steam in fear-free veterinary care.
Lots of coverage of Dr Marty Becker + team’s campaign so let’s help promote this movement all over – vet visits don’t have to be scary!!
- Of course being a vet ain’t easy, a job fraught with great highs and often terrible lows, but also great worry and responsibility. Give a shout out to all the great vets out there working hard to make sure they provide the best care and advice to pets and their people: Putting down pets can be a raw time – but isn’t the worst part of my job
- Cancer is a scary word and disease for both dogs and humans and of course we want to do anything we can to ensure that our pets don’t suffer and that we choose the best care and treatments for them. It’s extra important that we consult evidence-based remedies, because in our desperation it’s easy to reach for less effective options.
This wonderful piece looks at the relationship between nutrition and cancer and evidence based interventions that may be available.
- And while we’re talking about health, would you know what to do in an emergency? Check out this pet CPR infographic
If you really want to learn what to do, why not become a Canine First Responder – we will have a new course running soon, just send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and we will add you to the list!
- Want even more evidence that living with and loving a dog is great? Well, dogs may even act as sort of probiotics for us, in the ways that they affect the microorganisms in and on our bodies: What happens to your microbiome if you own a dog?
- And considering it’s probably pretty good for you (and your dog), go ahead, love your dog: Gimme Some Lovin’
- We know that dogs are pretty sensitive to their olfactory world, but what about their visual perception – How do dogs see the world?
- And just how do dogs use that visual information – one way is for them to attempt to understand the perceptible abilities of others. Some work shows that dogs appear to understand when a human’s senses may be limited, giving the dog the opportunity to get away with behaviour they may not if their human is watching them – Do you know what I can see?
Remember, dogs do what works – but this doesn’t mean that they are being sly, conniving or spiteful!
- Showing further evidence for dogs’ ingrained relationship with humans, recent work adds further to the growing evidence that dogs apparently can recognise human emotions via more complex processes.
Always be tentative about interpretations that appear to show that dogs have greater and greater cognitive abilities. Although important, it’s just as important to view the field as a whole and consider a range of findings.
Dogs are wonderful, whether we find them to have greater cognitive abilities or not 😉
- Enrichment is one of our favourite topics! Contrafreeloading is a term that describes the way in which many animals appear to prefer to work for access to food, rather than just have the same food for free.
Research has shown that contrafreeloading, even though it doesn’t seem to, may actually be adaptive and beneficial for animals because developing problem solving skills is helpful when sourcing food in an ever-changing environment.
On top of that, dogs have also been shown to not only experience reinforcement when earning the goal of their puzzling (the food or reward) but also apparent pleasure in doing the puzzle and solving it successfully!
This is why we HATE food bowls – dogs NEED puzzles!
Check out this amazing puzzle and super-smart dog working out how to get his ball 🙂
- This will bring a smile to your face: Coyote playing with a ball
- And for the feels, check out this cheeky fella playing peek-a-boo and giving kisses! Adorable!
- Last but not least, take four minutes out of your day to watch this beautiful animation (*WARNING* you may need tissues because it’s really lovely): The Present
Do you, your dog and your training a favour and teach your dog to work for, to love and to get excited about more boring rewards.
Many pet owners describe how they ask their dog to wait for their food, before putting the bowl on the floor.
Take that a step further – don’t be uncomfortable with the idea of having your dog offer desired behaviours for each piece of that food rather than the whole meal in one go.
One major benefit to teaching your dog to work for their food, is that their regular food takes on extra significance and extra value.
When it’s harder to get, all of a sudden we want it more…just like these dogs:
This means that your dog is learning to use behaviours to get things that he wants, even though this stuff may not be steak or roast chicken.
Now transfer that to when you want and need behaviours from your dog, when you need your dog to reign it in, when you need your dog to pay attention, you want to teach him a new behaviour or you just want to divert your dog for a couple of minutes.
If we use our big guns for the most mundane situations, what happens when we really need better ammo?
Here’s Decker and I playing with kibble when out and about – in the first bit there are other dogs, walkers, joggers around us in the park and in the second bit we are walking near the wild deer – not too close because I don’t want them to approach us either!
The most boring of boring kibble is what has his attention here – it’s fun to hang out with me and cardboard-kibble!
Catching and searching are favourite games – by pairing this fun with kibble, the kibble gains more value.
If I wanted to do something really special or tricky or use food to help Decker better cope with a fear or concern I have lots of bigger and better guns in my arsenal such as cheese, chicken, salami, tug toys or tennis balls.
Before you reach for the big guns…
…make boring rewards more fun:
- make a training mix
Don’t worry if you don’t feed kibble; lots of ideas for other foods here too.
- get rid of those food bowls (you knew we were going to say that, right?!)
- play with your food
- turn sniffing out food into a brilliant game
- teach your dog to sniff out food on cue
- use sniffing games as a reward
- pair other more valuable rewards with lower value rewards
This works by teaching your dog that every time they accept a boring reward, something they love even more is coming. With enough pairings, in the right sequence, the more boring reward takes on greater value to your dog.
Here Lottie learns that eating kibble makes a tug game happen:
- check your dog’s stress or worry levels
Dogs who are feeling under pressure, are concerned about something in the environment or are exposed to stressors will be less likely to eat. They may not even want higher value rewards.
Here’s a great outline of signs that your dog may be experiencing some stress and may be overwhelmed, from 4PawsU.
If it’s all too much for your dog, take them somewhere else, bring them away from the hustle and bustle and just let them be – remove the social pressure.
Pain is a major stressor so always be sure to check in with your vet if you are concerned about your dog’s stress levels.
- check how much food your dog really needs
Something that’s so easy to forget is that dogs are incredibly efficient when it comes to using and taking in energy.
That means that they probably need much less food than they would have you believe.
Check your dog’s body condition:
And have a look at the body condition scoring system and weight management here.
Have a chat with your vet if you have any concerns about your pet’s weight or body condition.
Boring Rewards ROCK!
Soon you will have a dog who is working hard to earn even the most boring rewards, while you still have some ammo in your arsenal for the real training challenges.
This is our last challenge…make it a good one!
To teach your dog best, keep him successful as possible. That means that if your dog can’t find your face in a particular situation, it’s just too distracting for him.
If your dog has trouble focusing it may be because:
- you are too close to a distraction
- you may be around the distraction for too long
- the distraction may be too exciting, interesting, active, scary or conspicuous
For example, your dog may be distracted by another dog when:
- you are too close to the other dog
- your dog can watch the other dog for too long
- the other dog is big, is bouncy, is barking, is making direct eye contact with your dog or maybe even approaching your dog
Keeping your dog successful means that you monitor his ability to focus and be comfortable around distractions.
Asking your dog to focus with distractions
Start with distance from potentially distracting situations
How close can you be to a distraction, that your dog can find your face?
A good indication is that if your dog can do the Find my Face exercise, take their reward and then offer another focus, within a 5-count
If there is more of a delay or your dog has difficulty playing the
game at all, you’re too close.
Take a few steps away, and try again.
When your dog can offer 5 repetitions, with a 5-count or less between each one, take a couple of steps closer and build again.
- work for about 30 seconds to 1 minute
- practice using distractions that are quiet, still, not facing your dog, not interacting with your dog in any way and are not too conspicuous
When your dog is able to play focus games pretty close to distractions, start to build the length of each session.
Build by no more than 30 seconds at a time.
- practice at your starting working distance – decrease distance again gradually
- practice using distractions that are quiet, still, not facing your dog, not interacting with your dog in any way and are not too conspicuous
Now your dog is able to focus closer to distractions for a little longer – it’s time to increase the intensity of that distraction.
- play Find my Face around more active distractions
- practice at your starting working distance – increase distance again gradually
- work for about 30 seconds to 1 minute
As your dog improves and is able to Find your Face in and around distractions start to decrease distance while at the same time increasing duration or build intensity while decreasing distance.
This will best help you to have your dog responsive and with you in all sorts of situations.
Setting your dog (and you) up for success:
- Adjust the distance, duration and intensity of exposure to distractions when working on focus exercises according to your dog’s abilities.
- Use rewards that can compete with the level of distraction you are working on.
- Keep the lead loose.
- If your dog vocalises, lunges, jumps up on you and is too easily distracted – give your dog a break.
- If the situation is too much for your dog, get him outta there!
- If you haven’t trained for it, you can’t expect it!
Environmental cues for focus
Teaching your dog that him seeing certain stimuli (might be other dogs, people, distractions or specific situations) mean to focus on you is a real training shortcut – that means that as soon as your dog sees one of these things he immediately looks at you, gets into focus mode, and all you need to do is to reward him!
Practice for 1-2 minute sessions and then take a break. Have a few sessions today and tomorrow.
Kids are often great dog trainers. Teach each child how to play this game safely – have your child sit in a chair to practice.
If your dog is mouthy, jumpy or likely to get over-excited it might be best for you to get the behaviours established and then bring in the kids to help with practice.
Always supervise child-dog interactions and make sure children learn to leave the dog alone when eating his rewards.
Top Tip for Today’s Training Game:
Start working on these games in really low distraction situations. What really gets your dog distracted or excited?
Might be other dogs, passing people, squirrels or interesting smells.
Well, don’t start working around those until you can ace these games in other situations first.
You will need:
- Training Mix
- stuff for walkies i.e. leash, collar and so on
Beginner Level Games
Start this exercise by practicing some Find My Face! in a low distraction situation – this might be on a quieter street area, in a quiet spot out on your walk or in the garden.
Allow your dog to pick out things in the environment and just let them observe…
Wait for your dog to choose to find your face; YES! and reward. Repeat.
Practice this game of passive focus in mildly distracting situations.
Check out Bailey practicing some passive focus in a mildly distracting carpark, with people, vehicles, noises and sniffing to distract her:
Note that we don’t ask her to check back in, instead just wait – lazy dog training!
Advanced Level Games
Door manners – focus at doors
Getting to, through and out doors is generally met with lots of excitement and enthusiasm in dogs – it’s just so rewarding on the other side!
Teaching your dog to be calm, patient and focused on you at doorways will not only make life easier but potentially safer too.
Without even asking him, we can teach your dog to automatically find your face inside, through and outside each door!