Archive for the ‘Training Styles’ Category

Finding a good trainer   Leave a comment

Every dog should take at least one obedience class! It is a great way to expose young puppies to other dogs and people in a positive manner, to practice working in distraction, to bond with your new (or not!) dog, and to get some tips from a professional on how to adjust your training for your specific dog.

However, finding a good trainer can be tricky. There is no national certification for trainers, so anyone can call herself a trainer, even with no experience. Additionally, many trainers still rely on outdated dominance techniques, which were disproven decades ago and can be damaging to dogs physically and mentally. So with all of the options out there, how do you find a good trainer?

  • Observe a class. A credible trainer will usually not mind you watching one session. Watch the trainer’s teaching style. Watch how the dogs are reacting. Watch how the people are reacting. Can you see progress during the class? Do you understand the trainer’s explanations? Does everyone seem happy but focused?
  • You should never feel uncomfortable! This is the number one rule in finding a trainer. If at any point while you are observing you feel uncomfortable with how a dog is being treated, or what an owner is being asked to do, or even just a gut feeling you can’t identify a reason for, go elsewhere. (If you do enroll in a class and are ever uncomfortable with what a trainer is asking you to do, politely decline. You are ultimately responsible for the safety and happiness of your dog, not them!) Dogs can be successfully trained to any level using positive training techniques, and there is no need for you to do something you are not comfortable doing. Find a trainer who agrees.
  • Look for keywords. Words like “positive” and “clicker” are good keywords, that indicate the trainer will use dog-friendly (and human-friendly) methods of training. Words like “dominance,” “pack” and “alpha” are red flags that the trainer will be using outdated methods which may cause long-term damage to your dog.
  • Ask for a guarantee. Ask if the trainer provides a guarantee that their training will be successful. The correct answer is no! Dogs are individuals with personalities, and like anyone they have good days and bad days. They are not black boxes. There is no way anyone can guarantee the lifetime response of any animal. Trainers who say they can are only showing how little they understand about animals.
  • Request references. A good trainer should have happy clients who are willing to share their experience with you. Some trainers will have pages of testimonials, others will provide you with contact information of references upon request. If you are given phone numbers, use them! You can learn a lot about a trainer by how their previous clients view them, and this gives you a chance to ask an unbiased third party about questions important to you.

Finding a good trainer can seem overwhelming, but it is worth it! When you find a good trainer, you will be amazed at the change in your relationship with your dog, and your life together will become much more enjoyable.


Posted July 21, 2010 by Eileen in Resources, Training Styles

Clicker Training Myths   2 comments

Clicker training is one positive training technique that, when done correctly, can be extremely effective in teaching dogs virtually any new behavior. The clicker is a hand-held device that is used to clearly communicate with the dog when he has done the correct behavior. By teaching the dog that the sound of the click means a treat is coming, he learns that when he hears the “click” he did the right thing. It is similar to saying “Good!” when your dog does what you want, but it is much sharper and more consistent, and thus easier for your dog to understand. However, many people shy away from using it because of several myths that have been perpetuated.

Myth #1: I will always have to carry a clicker with me.

Not true! A clicker is used to teach new behaviors. Once your dog knows a behavior, you know longer use the clicker for it. So, for example, if you are introducing your dog to the “sit” cue, you would do so in a training session with the clicker in hand. Every time he sits, you would click, and then feed him a treat. Once he understands that he should sit to get the click, he will start sitting regularly. When he is doing this you can say “sit” as he sits down, and then feed the treat. After more repetitions, you can say “sit” and expect him to sit in response. You no longer need the clicker!

Myth #2: I will always have to have treats with me.

Nope! If you train your dog using clicker training (or any positive-training technique) you teach your dog that doing what you ask is fun. By having many repetitions of hearing a cue, doing what you ask, and getting a reward, your dog’s brain makes the connection that hearing the cue and responding is a great thing to do. Once he’s made this connection, you no longer need to feed him for every repetition. You can instead substitute real-life rewards (throwing his ball, petting him, letting him outside, giving him dinner) or have no reward at all, and your dog will still listen happily! With some dogs, you can even ask for an easy cue a reward for a harder cue they are learning – they enjoy obeying so much they consider it a reward!

I like to periodically feed my dog a treat for obeying, even after he knows a cue well. I don’t care how much you love your job, the occaisional “bonus” in recognition for your hard work will make you work harder, and the same goes for your dog. Remember, sitting or staying may seem easy to us, but in many situation it is work for your dog.

Myth #3: My dog will only do what I say if he knows I have a treat.

Not if you follow this very simple rule: Never show your dog a treat until after he has done what you ask. Dogs are smart – if they only get a treat when they see it in your hand as you ask for a behavior, they’re not going to do a behavior when they see no treat because they know none is coming! So do not set up this habit; never hold a treat while asking for a behavior. The beautiful thing about using the clicker is that you do not have to “bribe” your dog by showing him the treat. When you are in a training session you have your clicker, and the dog is working for the click. He cannot see a treat before he works. Once you have clicked you have told him what he did was correct. He already knows he did the right behavior, so you have a few seconds to reach into your pocket, or on the counter, or into the bag to grab a treat and give it to him. The treat does not have to come instantly, so it doesn’t have to be in your hand, bribing him to work. As your training sessions for a cue no longer use the clicker (as he has figured out the game/cue) you don’t have to reward every time. Your dog has not been seeing the treat before working, he has never known what he was going to get, or even if he would get anything, and he will still work because it has paid off in the past and it is fun!

For some behaviors you may show your dog the treat to lure him into position when you first introduce the behavior (for example, putting a treat in front of the dog’s nose and lowering it to the ground so that he lays down). If you start a behavior using luring, fade the lure (treat) as quickly as possible, preferably within a half-dozen repetitions. Dogs are creatures of habit, so if you do several repetitions with a treat in your hand, and then move your hand in the exact same way with no treat, he will probably still follow it! At that point you can stop showing him the treat until after he has completed his work.

Myth #4: Clicker training is too complicated.

Clicker training is no more complicated than any other method of training, and as with any method of training there is a learning curve for you and your dog. The difference between the learning curve in positive training and compulsory training is that when you make mistakes learning how to train positively, the worst that happens is your dog gets an extra treat. When you make mistakes learning how to train with compulsory techniques, you can permanently damage your dog, physically or psychologically, and destroy the bond you have with her.

The idea behind clicker training is very simple: When the dog does what you want, he hears a click and knows the behavior was right. Then he gets a treat. What can feel complicated is learning how to “juggle” a leash, treats, and a clicker, possibly while giving hand signals. To simplify, work at home in a small space off-leash, put the clicker on a wrist-band so you can drop it but keep it near at hand, and keep treats on a nearby table or in a treat pouch (a small pouch typically worn on the hip). The other thing that can feel complicated is that your timing has to be good. If your dog sits, and then looks to the right, and then yawns, and then hears a click, he’s going to assume the yawn was the right behavior. With a little practice, however, almost everyone can learn to catch the correct behavior. And if you make mistakes, like I said above, your dog just gets a few extra treats and will happily forgive you!

Myth #5: Clicker training takes too long.

Not once you and your dog know how to do it. Clicker training is really teaching your dog how to think. You’re not just physically moving them into a sit, you’re making them figure out what they have to do to earn that click. Until they learn how to think this way, it can take longer to teach a new cue than if you did just physically force them into position. Once they have learned how to think that way, however, you can add new cues like lightening! The other day I put a step stool in front of my dog, intending to teach him to step up on it with two paws. He had done a similar behavior over a year ago for a few repetitions, but it was never reinforced again, so it was practically brand new. Within four clicks he had the right behavior.

Click 1: Nosing the stool

Click 2: Pawing the stool

Click 3: Putting weight on the paw on the stool

Click 4: Putting both front feet on the stool

The whole process took under 30 seconds, and then he was doing the behavior reliably. He has been clicker trained for under a year, but he has the process down.

Here is a video clip of a trainer teaching her dog to pick up a ball and put it in a basket using a clicker. This was the first time the trainer had ever introduced this behavior or any similar one to her dog.

Since her dog knew how to think with the clicker, she learned the new fairly complex behavior in approximately a minute. With more repetitions the trainer could then name the behavior, and have a highly reliable cue!

Also, since clicker training really makes your dog think, it is great mental exercise for him. You may take your dog on long runs every day, but if he never gets any mental exercise he can still have excess energy to burn since his mind hasn’t been worked. Many people find that a good training session tires their dog out as much as a good walk, and a tired dog is a happy dog (and one who isn’t getting into trouble)!

In short, clicker training can be a great way to train many dogs. The clicker is a training tool which helps you communicate with your dog effectively. Once you and your dog learn how to use the clicker together, you’ll both have a blast learning new cues at the speed of light!

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Posted May 9, 2010 by Eileen in Training Styles

Clicker Training For Any Animal, Even…A Goldfish?   2 comments

Early development of clicker training was done by trainers working with large marine mammals. You can’t physically manipulate a killer whale into position, nor can you give them a leash correction, so a new method had to be developed!

Virtually any animal can be clicker trained; horses, cats, and chickens are some o f the more common subjects.

Recently I came across this post by Mary, the host of the Clicker Carnival, at her blog Stale Cheerios, in which she describes clicker training her goldfish! Watch this video she put up showing her progress.

If a goldfish can be clicker trained, your dog can be clicker trained!

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Posted March 5, 2010 by Eileen in Training Styles

Positive Reinforcement Works On People, Too!   Leave a comment

Often what we ask our dogs to do is hard, or uncomfortable, or requires some level sacrifice. Asking your dog to sit to greet people rather than jumping is a lot less fun than letting excitement take over, and a lot less natural than greeting them face to face! Asking your dog to leave that fascinating roadkill he found alone is asking him to give up one of the coolest discoveries in dogdom! Asking your dog to stop chasing that squirrel and return to your side is HARD and goes against all of his instincts!

One of the basic ideas behind positive training is that if you make appropriate behaviors rewarding, dogs will be more likely to (happily) do them, even if they require a higher level of effort than the alternative or are in other ways naturally less appealing.

Volkswagon has taken the same principle, and tried it out on people, calling it “The Fun Theory.” They take things that are not that hard to do, but that most people don’t find worth doing, and make them fun to see if that will encourage more people to do them. For example, they transformed a staircase, which is right next to an escalator, into a giant piano that sounds each time you put a foot on a step. Their results are no surprise to positive trainers – making a behavior more fun encourages people to do it! The day after they installed the giant piano on the steps, 66% more people took the stairs than normal.

Here’s another example where they took a glass collection station and turned it into a arcade game. Check out the results:

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Discarding Dominance and Leading with Love   6 comments

Everyone wants a well-trained dog, one they can walk down the street with to the envy of all around, who is calm and friendly in the house, and does all you ask of him in an instant. But as any dog owner can tell you, that’s not easy! How do we go about transforming our dog into that perfectly behaved pooch?

In our society today, it is considered common knowledge that any misbehavior by our dog comes from her trying to assert herself as “leader of the pack.” Our relationships with our dogs are looked at as power struggles. Any affection we show our dog or reward we give her is considered showing weakness, inviting her to take over. To maintain order, we are taught we must intimidate our dogs into submission, giving them painful corrections when they misbehave, and physically overpowering them until they comply with our wishes. This is the only way, we are told, that we can have a good relationship with man’s best friend.

In reality, this view of canine behavior is outdated and has been proven inaccurate. The theory comes from 1947 research which was done on unrelated wolves in captivity who were put together to form a pack and observed while hunting. With no supporting evidence, the research was then extrapolated to apply to free wolf packs, which are typically made up of a breeding pair and their offspring, to those wolf packs at all times, not just while hunting, and to domesticated dogs’ interactions with each other and with humans. We now know that the conclusion of this study is not applicable to the interactions of wild wolves, let along domesticated dogs who have been selectively bred for thousands of years. For more explanation of how this theory has been disproven, see the references at the end of this post.

This is good news for dog owners and lovers everywhere! Now we know that to have a happy and loving dog who is a joy to have in the family, we do not have to dominate or intimidate him. Rather, by using modern methods of conditioning, we can teach our dogs to follow the rules of our household. Using these methods not only do our dogs what we ask, they take joy in it!

Think of Pavlov’s dogs. Every time a bell rang, they salivated. This was an automatic and predictable response; the dogs heard the bell, and they eagerly anticipated food. Now imagine what Pavlov could have accomplished if he had asked his dogs to earn the sound of the bell. Say, for example, that every time a dog laid down, the bell was rang, and the food promised by the bell followed. You can imagine what would happen: pretty soon he’d barely be able to walk with all the dogs lying around his feet, hoping for the sound of that bell!

This is the principal on which clicker training works, but instead of a bell we use a “click.” By teaching the dog that the “click” means they get food, soon we have dogs who are excited and eager to figure out what we want them to do to earn the “click.” Once they have learned a cue, we stop using the “click,” but because that behavior has always been a fun thing they’ve wanted to do, they will continue to happily do it when asked. And wouldn’t you rather have a dog who gets excited when you ask him to do something rather than cringes?

Recently, Debbie of wrote a post I absolutely love, illustrating the common perception among Americans that training your dog has to mean forcing him into submission. She points out that the good behavior she gets from dogs comes from teaching them the “culture of human,” rather than demeaning or punishing them until they figure it out. Her story is a great example of how powerful positive training can be, so that even those who don’t necessarily put stock in it recognize the results.

Modern research supports the power of positive training, as does the experience of trainers of all kinds of species, including chickens, cats, and dolphins (ever tried to give a dolphin a leash correction?). It is good for your dog, good for you, good for your family, good for your relationship, good for everyone! So give it a try, and discover how quickly and eagerly your dog can learn.

A Few Resources Debunking Wolf Pack/Dominance Theory

Position statement on dominance training by the American Veterinary  Society of Animal Behavior

Database of publications by recognized wolf expert L. David Mech

Specific article by L. David Mech through the United States Geological Survey (USGS) discussing the lack of a heirarchical system in wolf packs

Specific article by L. David Mech discussing modern science’s almost unilateral acceptance that “alpha wolves” do not exist

Article on dominance training by the Association of Pet Dog Trainers

Article on dominance theory by the head of the International Positive Dog Training Association

Discussion of 1947 wolf pack research compared to more recent dog pack research with conclusions

Interview with Ray and Lorna Coppinger, biologists, trainers, and authors

Article on the myth of dominance theory (no references but very accessible)

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