Archive for the ‘Positive Reinforcement’ Tag

Clicks for Eye Contact   Leave a comment

One basic trick your dog can learn is not really a trick at all, but a behavior that can change your entire relationship with your dog.

That trick? Eye contact.

One of the most common complaints I hear is that a dog just doesn’t pay attention to his owners.

But why would he? Think about how much your dog ignores you (and other human voices and behaviors) every day, at your desire. He ignores you talking to your spouse, your kids, on the phone, to yourself. He ignores the TV and radio. He ignores the heating system, kitchen sink running, dishwasher, washer/dryer, shower. He ignores you walking around the house, preparing food, helping the kids with homework, doing housework. And we want him to ignore all these things, because if he were to pay attention and go on alert every time one occurred, we would never get a break from reassuring him all was well!

But then, in the tiny percentage of time that you want your dog’s attention, you expect him to know that, this time, this voice, this sound, this word, is directed at him. Maybe you call his name. But how many times do our dogs hear their names throughout the day? Maybe you talk to them as you get ready, but don’t expect a response. Maybe you’re telling a spouse about their antics. Maybe you’re explaining to a friend that you have to feed the dog. Or maybe you are saying his name to him, but it’s to tell him to stop doing something, or ignore something, or that he’s doing wrong. With all of those mixed messages, how can your dog know that this time, when you call his name, you want his attention?

Then take your dog outside, into a world of distractions, and you and your voice, which he has learned to ignore through long exposure, are the last thing on his mind.

To many, this seems like a helpless prospect. But it’s not.

One simple step you can take to improve your bond with your dog and help him stay attuned to you is to teach him that looking at you is rewarding.

Not when you call. Not when you get down to his level. Not when you jerk on the leash.

All the time. Any time. When nothing’s going on. When a squirrel runs by. When a new person approaches. When he’s out on a walk. Teach him that voluntarily checking in with you is a rewarding behavior!

This is really very simple. Carry your clicker (or have a vocal reward marker, like “Yes!,” to tell the dog when he does the right thing) and treats. And sometimes, start clicking for eye contact. Don’t make a sound. Don’t give a hint. Don’t try to pull his nose up to you with a treat. Just stand there (or sit there, or lie there), and wait. And when your dog looks your way, preferably when she makes eye contact, click and give a treat.

You can do this randomly throughout the day, but it helps to occaisionally have sessions of just rewarding a dog for eye contact, over and over. Many people notice that when they teach their dog to sit, their dog starts coming up to them and sitting all the time! The dog has learned that sitting is rewarding, and now will offer it on her own to see if it pays off. The same can happen with eye contact if you teach that it is a rewarding behavior by having sessions of clicking and treating it.

Start, like with any trick, in a non-distracting environment. Maybe your living room, where nothing that exciting goes on. Get your dog, go in the room, and wait. When she looks at you, click and treat. It’s that simple! As she gets better at it, and starts to stare at you, take a treat in your hand and hold it off to the side. Now your dog has to stop staring at the treat and look at you to get rewarded. It’s an easy-to-introduce distraction. Try changing other things. Turn sideways. Change position between sitting, standing, kneeling, or whatever else you can think of. Vary the distance between you and your dog. Once they’re a champ in your living room, try other locations. Remember, start easy. Go in your yard and practice before you head to the dog park and expect your dog to stare lovingly into your eyes!

As your dog gets the idea, you can stop the training sessions if you want, but keep randomly rewarding eye contact. This will give you a dog who is far more likely to check-in on his own, even when on a walk or at a park, because he knows that looking to you is rewarding. It also helps to strengthen the bond between you and your dog, because he has learned to stay aware of where you are and look to you for guidance. Obviously, there will always be times we want our dogs ignoring us. But if they learn to offer eye contact on their own, they learn that while they may ignore many of your actions and words, they shouldn’t ignore you.

Advertisements

The Power of Targeting   1 comment

In my Basics group class I always teach targeting, and this cue, more than any other, elicits the question, “Why are we doing this?”

Targeting typically refers to nose targeting, or teaching a dog to touch her nose to a target. The target can be a hand, something held,like a plastic lid, a target stick (an example of which is shown below), or a flat or standing object set up at a distance.

The Clik Stik, a retractable target stick with built-in clicker

(Note: I have received no incentive or reward for sharing the above training product)

Teaching a dog to nose target can have a plethora of possible applications:

  • An alternative recall: Targeting is a really fun, easy cue for your dog to perform. If for any reason you have a recall (come) that is not very strong, or you only have an emergency recall that you don’t use outside of emergencies or situations in which you are prepared to highly reward your dog for returning, or your dog is just not responding well to your typical recall at that moment, targeting can be another cue which has the same effect. If you ask your dog to target your hand (which you always have with you!) your dog will come running over to you, exactly the same as he would with a recall. Even if you do have a good recall, it can never hurt to have an alternate cue. Your dog may decide she likes targeting better than “come”-ing, so you might as well take advantage of that!
  • Teaching new tricks: You can teach many new tricks or cues by luring your dog, or moving food in front of his nose so he follows it into the correct behavior. While this can be quite effective, when dogs have food right in front of their nose they tend to not be thinking about much else! They will follow the food into the correct behavior, but they aren’t all that aware of what their body is doing. Eventually they will figure out what behavior is earning them the food, but this process can go much faster if instead of following food, the dog follows a target. By following a target much more of their brain power is available to think about what they are doing, and they will realize what is earning them the treat faster. This can also be helpful if you need some extra reach in teaching a cue, or you don’t want to bend over, because you can use a target stick to have your dog follow something farther away than your hand.
  • Working at a distance: If you need to send your dog away from you, for example, to send him through over a series of jumps, or to tell him to go to his bed, you can do this by sending him to a target. Sending to a target is often used for training dog sports like agility and flyball.
  • Bolstering a shy dog’s confidence: Shy dogs are often fearful of hands coming over or around their faces or bodies. By teaching a shy dog to target a flat hand, a hand coming toward her is no longer scary, because it is associated with a fun, easy game where she got lots of treats! This can not only help your dog feel happier, it can prevent bites that come from a scared dog snapping at a hand coming at her.
  • Positioning your dog: Sometimes we are out with our dogs in crowded spaces, and we need them to move out of the way. Rather than pulling our dogs where we need them to go with the leash, which often results in them planting their feet and bracing anyway, we can ask them to target our hand and have them easily and happily shift position. There are many other times you may want to position your dog: to get him into heel position, to set him in place for a photograph, or to help him get unstuck or untangled, for example.

These are just some of the possible applications of targeting. It is a very versatile cue, and while you may not see a useful application when you first teach it, chances are you will come across a time you are glad your dog knows it. Worst case scenario, even if you never use targeting in any practical application, it is never bad to teach your dog another trick and exercise her mind!

Share and Enjoy:

DiggFacebookMixxGoogle BookmarksRedditStumbleUponTwitter

Posted February 15, 2010 by Eileen in Training Applications

Tagged with ,

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:

Share and Enjoy:

DiggFacebookMixxGoogle BookmarksRedditStumbleUponTwitter

Growling is Good!   6 comments

Let’s look at a typical scene:

A dog owner is walking her dog through the park. Another person walks by and suddenly, her well-behaved angel starts growling and baring his teeth at the person, with his hackles up and his body tense. The embarrassed owner scolds her dog and corrects him with a jerk on the leash, and apologizes to the other person. They continue, giving each other a wide berth, and finish their walks.

This type of thing has happened to most dog owners at least once, and usually, they have no idea why their dog is doing it. It is embarrassing, it makes a person feels like a bad owner, she’s afraid for the reputation her dog will get, and she just wants her dog to stop growling! The sentiment is common, and the desire to “correct” the dog until they stop is strong.

However, let’s consider the alternative:

A dog owner is walking her dog through the park. Another person approaches and her dog walks silently by her side. All of a sudden, as the other person is passing by, her dog lunges and latches his jaws onto the person’s arm. Shocked at the vicious attack with no warning, the owner apologizes profusely, and now may be stuck not only with doctors’ bills, but with having to surrender her “dangerous dog” to be euthanized.

As embarrassing as it can be to have your dog growl, it has a purpose. Your dog is telling you that he is uncomfortable. He is communicating in a positive, safe way that he feels something is wrong, and giving you as his leader the chance to protect him from it by getting him away. It is far better that your dog give you this warning than that he keep his fear inside until it gets so big it comes out as a bite.

When uncomfortable or scared, dogs have two main responses: fight or flight. If for any reason he feels that flight is unavailable to him; he is on a leash, he is in an enclosed space, running has not worked before; he will feel he has no choice but to resort to fight. Ninety-nine percent of the time, a dog is not growling because he is mean, he is growling because he is scared and he’s desperately hoping that if he tells whatever is scaring him to back off he won’t have to fight it off. However, if pushed, and if he feels he has no other choice, a dog will fight to get rid of something that is scaring him.

Why is it we are embarrassed when our dog growls? Because we know that when a dog growls it is often a precursor to a bite. That precursor, though, is very important! Without the opportunity to give warning, to let you and anyone else know that something is scaring him, to growl, the dog has no steps left before biting. And then the attack is a complete shock.

When dealing with a dog who growls, you do not want to teach your dog not to growl. You want to teach your dog to not feel like he needs to growl. If a dog feels like he needs to growl, but doesn’t due to training, all of the stress and feelings that lead up to a bite are still there, and the dog will still bite if pushed. This not only doesn’t help prevent dog bites, it makes them worse by giving you no warning they are coming. If, instead, you work with your dog and teach him to not feel the need to growl, by showing him that whatever he is scared of is not a threat and actually can be a source of good things, then the bite will not come.

So what should you do if your dog does growl?

Immediately turn around and walk away from whatever your dog is growling at, staying calm. Give him the space he needs to settle down, and then continue on. Once he is settled, the danger of imminent bite is gone. While you are leaving, see if you can take note of what your dog was growling at. You will want to know this for later training.

Do NOT punish your dog for growling, verbally or physically. If you do this your dog will learn one of two things: that he shouldn’t growl and should go straight to biting, as discussed earlier, or that whatever he is growling at is even more scary than he thought. The way a dog’s brain works, he does not necessarily connect what he is feeling with what he is doing. Rather, he often connects what he is feeling with what he is seeing or sensing. So if a dog is staring at something that scares him and you correct him for growling, rather than thinking, “I growled, and so I felt pain. I should stop growling,” (a bad lesson anyway), he is likely to think, “I saw that thing, and I felt pain. That thing must be even scarier than I thought.” If your dog takes away the lesson that what he was growling at causes him pain, he is going to be even more nervous about it, and even more likely to bite next time he sees it.

Now that you know what caused the growl, you know what your dog is afraid of, and you can work on teaching him he doesn’t need to feel afraid and growl. At this point you may want to contact a professional trainer to help you work with your dog. Even when based in fear, growling is a serious problem which can lead to serious aggression, and if not properly treated could lead to your dog being taken away and even put down. The sooner you start effectively working on it, the easier it will be to correct. If however, you feel that you can work with your dog yourself, below is one general method which can be applied to most cases of fear-based aggression.

Invest in a clicker, a small hand-held device which, when depressed, makes a clicking sound. They are available for a dollar or two at most pet stores. You use it by teaching your dog that whenever he hears the sound of the click it means a treat is coming. To do this, click and then feed your dog a treat several times. Once he learns that the click means “treat coming,” the sound of the click signals that he did something right at the instant the click happened.

Take your dog to be near whatever it is that scared him, but stay far enough away that he is comfortable. Wait for him to look at what scared him. As soon as he looks, click. Hopefully your dog will look back at you for a treat, and if he does, praise him and give it to him! If not, hold the treat in front of his nose to get his attention, and then give it to him. If he is unable to take the treat that is a sign of a high level of stress, so move farther away from the scary object. This lesson is three-fold. First, it teaches your dog that when he looks at that thing he thinks is scary, something good happens. It can’t be that scary if every time he sees it he gets a treat! Second, it teaches him to check back in with you every time he sees that scary thing. If your dog’s natural instinct is to look at you, he is not getting stressed or upset, he is looking to you to tell him it’s OK and trusting you to make sure it is so. Third, it builds up the number of times your dog sees the scary thing without losing control. If your dog is in the habit of snarling or growling every time he sees something, then it becomes an automatic reaction, even if in that particular instance it wouldn’t be scary on its own. Building up repetitions where your dog has a reaction other than his automatic fearful one helps the fearful reaction to stop being automatic. Practice this clicking for looks, and if your dog picks up on it you may start clicking for looking back at you after glancing at the thing he finds scary, rather than looking at the thing itself.

Once your dog gets the idea of the game, start moving closer to the scary object slowly. You want your dog to stay far enough away that at any stage he does not feel so intimidated he loses control or starts growling. If this happens just move back farther and try again. Depending on how long your dog has been scared of the trigger it may take a long time to get very close at all to it without a reaction, but that is OK. Remember that every physical step closer is a big mental step for your dog, and celebrate it as such!

If at any point you feel that this training is not working, or that you cannot handle your dog’s growling alone, contact a professional trainer immediately. A professional trainer who uses positive methods can help you refine your skills on working with your dog using this or many other tactics, depending on the specific situation, and the cost of a trainer will be far less than the doctor, vet, or lawyer bills you could be stuck with if the problem isn’t gotten under control.

Remember: Growling is good! No dog is more dangerous than one who does not give warning before a bite. Work with your dog using positive methods to eliminate the cause of growling, rather than the growling itself, to ensure the safety of your dog, yourself, and everyone around you.

Share and Enjoy:

DiggFacebookMixxGoogle BookmarksRedditStumbleUponTwitter