Is a Tired Dog Really a Good Dog?

We've all heard it, the advice that says "run him out, a tired dog is a good dog". Well, if the dog is actually asleep then yes, he is a good dog – sleep being incompatible with hyper, pain-in-the-bum type behaviours. However, usually it doesn't work like that.
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How to Train Two Dogs Simultaneously

Do you have a new dog or puppy? Are you struggling to find opportunities to train with them because your older dog kicks up stink? When a second dog is added to a household, things can change in unexpected ways. One of those is that training stops. 

Why is that? 

Usually it is because the first dog objects strongly to being 'left out' while the new addition receives attention and play/food.

This is both difficult to deal with and causes us to feel guilty. Training is no longer fun and rewarding for us so we stop doing it. Rest assured, the guilt thing is totally normal. If you've not had two dogs before it can be a bit of a shock and the dynamics certainly get turned upside down.

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787 Hits

Isolate that marker cue!

Clear communication and clarity are really important in dog training. The more clear we can be with our dogs, the faster they can learn what we want. One area that can sometimes get a little messy is marking behaviors. Most trainers understand that the correct behavior should get some kind of marker, like a click or a verbal marker such as "yes". But often, novice (and sometimes advanced, too!) trainers will mark and move all at the same time. However, it's very important that we isolate that marker cue!

While doing a chicken camp with Terry Ryan, she would always say "click THEN treat." What trainers often are told is "click and treat" or "mark and treat", but if you specify "mark THEN treat", it makes sense to put a pause in there.

So why is this important? Does it really matter?

Well, yes, it does.

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734 Hits

The Lemonade Conference 2022 Lunch Panel: It’s All In How They’re Raised… (Or Is It?) (Sat, Feb 12)

Host Melissa Breau with panelists Jessica Hekman, PhD, DVM; Kim Brophey; and Sharon Carroll to talked about "It's All In How They're Raised (Or Is It?)" during our lunch break for the Lemonade Conference on February 12th, 2022 — and we've shared it here for those who missed it live!

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Does ‘No Food = No Work’ With Your Dog? Here’s How to Fix That

I watched the dog and handler carefully. They were practising their heelwork and it looked lovely! The handler strode out, confident and sure; her dog trotted along next to her, attentive and happy. Then I noticed the fly in the ointment…

"Can you do that again for me please?" I felt bad about breaking into her 'happy place' but that's what I'm paid for, so that's what I was going to do. 

"This time, can you do it without food on you?" Her face fell. Yep, I'd found the problem. Her dog looked lovely because she had food in her left hand. Oops. 

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3466 Hits

The Development of Fear

Fear and anxiety underly many of the behavior issues in dogs. Understanding the subtleties of how fear works can help us prevent and address it more effectively.

First, it's important to understand how fear develops in the first place. Certain things are innately frightening for animals. This is controlled by genetics (by definition, innate refers to behavior that is not learned). MacLean et al. 2019 found evidence for heritability in a number of traits in dogs including fear. Exactly what individuals are innately fearful of will vary from species to species. The sensitivity to stimuli and intensity of fear will vary from individual to individual. 

As we know, dogs also learn to become frightened based on their experience. Dogs that have higher levels of innate fear will be more susceptible to learned fear as well because there are more things that are frightening to them in the first place.

The development of conditioned fear occurs through the process of classical conditioning where the dog learns to associate a previously neutral stimulus (such as a white lab coat) with an innately frightening stimulus (such as restraint and pain at the veterinary clinic). If we want to get technical, the lab coat becomes a conditioned stimulus (CS) for the unconditioned stimulus (US) of pain and restraint. Eventually, the CS of the lab coat comes to produce conditioned fear, which is the conditioned response (CR). The context that the US occurs in can also come to produce the conditioned response. In this example, the veterinary clinic itself can trigger fear, since that is where the pain and restraint are occurring.

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1103 Hits

Introducing a Cat to a Dog: With A Step by Step Training Plan

A few weeks ago, I did something bonkers. I decided to get a cat. That might not seem so strange until you realize that I live with a dog who kills things. Breezy is a 9 yr. old husky x border collie. He has killed birds, rodents and rabbits. He would have LOVED to add 'cat' to that list.

Historically, Breezy has been totally unable to function cognitively with a cat in the vicinity: lights on, no-one home. He couldn't eat, take treats or respond to his name. When we have stayed with friends who have cats it has taken at least 24 hrs before he could be distracted from trying to access them. Even when he could be distracted he went right back to hunting as soon as he could. With a couple of near misses out and about, cats were BIG on his radar!

So why the dickens did I want a cat? Well, I wanted to train another species. So, in a fit of impulsiveness, Speck, the 12-week- old kitten, arrived. I'm pleased and relieved to be able to say it has been a total success.

Here's how I did it... 

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The Science of Multiple Markers (and the concepts associated with them)

Why use multiple markers?

For our dog to select the appropriate behavior for a given cue or context, their brain needs to have established associations among sensory stimuli, selected behaviors, and rewards. In training scenarios, typically the rewards are treats, toys, personal play, or a behavior the dog enjoys, and we associate these with the specific behavior/s we desire.

One part of the brain plays an important role in learning such stimulus-action-reward (antecedent-behavior-consequence) associations. However, another part of the brain is focused on reward-prediction error.

So, what is reward prediction error (RPE)?

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2643 Hits

Location-specific reward markers: What they are and how (+ why!) to use them

Most of us use reward markers to tell our dogs when they are right. Some people use clickers, others use verbal markers. When the dog is rewarded for something, he will be more likely to repeat that behavior. Location-specific reward markers take that a step farther by affecting how the dog might perform the behavior in future repetitions.

A location-specific reward marker is much like it sounds — it's a marker that tells the dog not only that he or she is right, but also provides information on where the reward will be delivered. By being strategic about reward placement, we can affect the tendencies of the dog over time.

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Getting started in dog sports: Why seemingly "unlikely" pet owners may actually be *perfect* for dog sports

"My dog loves jumping on the furniture and running across the back of the sofa. He would be great at agility!"

To my dog training friends… professional and hobbyist:

How many of you rolled your eyes?

Be honest! I know I have!

The idea that a "pet person" could think that because their dog liked jumping on the furniture – likely "out of control" – they could compete in agility?

How many of us have disparaged the thought, deemed that owner ignorant of what is involved in training for agility, and becoming competitive in the sport?

Or in freestyle (my dog loves to walk on his hind legs!), or flyball (my dog loves tennis balls!), or obedience (my dog has a great stay!). Pick your sport.

We were all there once.

Few of us entered the world of training and dog sports knowing what we know today, nor does what we know today mean we won't learn more tomorrow. We were once one of "those pet owners."

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1710 Hits

The Many Faces of Focus

A past discussion with my fellow FDSA instructors led me to explore the topic of focus for this week's blog post (thanks Shade for bringing up this topic). And thanks to all the instructors who joined the discussion. I've written about focus quite a bit, but somehow I always find more to say. Focus is a multi-faceted concept and the more I explore it the more I find to explore even further. This particular discussion had to do with defining focus and distinguishing focus from engagement. Denise Fenzi and I wrote about this in our last book "Dog Sport Skills: Focus & Engage!" It's a common question and I have some thoughts on all of this. Of course I do!

To start, let me provide a working definition of focus. Merriam Webster's definition, which I really like, defines focus as "a point of concentration". When we think about a dog's focus the question should be "focus on what?" I have identified four major subtypes of focus and will briefly expand on each.

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1680 Hits

Nosework for Puppies: Puppy Superstars, Nosework Style!

You don't have to be raising the next Nosework Star to get massive benefit from a little Puppy Nosework. In fact, you don't need to be interested in searching at all! However, if you play some of these Nosework games with your puppy, your puppy will really reap the rewards!

We all want puppies who are comfortable in the environment and eager and focused on their task, right? And what about empowerment and problem solving? Or perhaps a puppy who is comfortable interacting with the environment and enthusiastic for our food rewards? Does all of this sound good? Of course it does!

Let's explore some of those benefits! And then let's talk about how you can get your puppy started TODAY!

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2523 Hits

How to Get Perfect Position Changes

Position changes are super important in both obedience and rally! Your dog needs to do position changes both in heel position (without going wide) and in front of you (without creeping in). Platforms can help teach your dog both of those concepts!

The position changes are sit, down, and stand. Your dog should be able to do these in any order — in other words a sit to down, down to sit, stand to down, stand to sit, sit to stand, and down to stand.

You'll need a platform large enough for your dog to stand and lay down on. It doesn't need to be as narrow as a sit platform, since some dogs like to stand with their rear legs a bit wider than the front legs. It can even be something like an agility table, as long as your dog can lay down on it.

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2936 Hits

Using Restrained Release to Teach a "Go To Target" Behavior

I love shaping as much as the next trainer — but I occasionally come across a dog who does better with luring and prompting (including my own young dog, Levi). So I combined a few concepts I've seen elsewhere and used what I'm calling "Restrained Release" to teach him a targeting behavior.

What concepts? 

Well, I'm making use of opposition reflex here in much the same way we often do when teaching a restrained recall — holding the dog back and encouraging them to pull forward leads to a naturally dynamic and enthusiastic behavior. I'm also using a location specific marker ("Get it" means food out on the floor) and combining those things with the visual prompt of the food being consistently delivered on the target. 

This is the method I typically use when starting a new dog in Treibball, since it's quick and it builds an interest in searching out the target that can then carry over nicely to going out and around a ball to find their target even when they can't see it.

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Play with Dogs: Play for Everyone!

I think playing with dogs is a really good idea.

When people play with their dogs, they like them better. They smile more. Their dogs start to look towards them more easily and frequently.

In short – it's just nice. It's nice for people and it's nice for dogs.

So. How does one play with a dog?

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3161 Hits

Trainer Persistence and Problem Solving: Training Dogs to Enter the House Politely!

One of my dogs has a rather unfortunate habit. Lyra comes into the house from the yard like a demented bat out of hell, with both of my other dogs after her in hot pursuit.

The results are an impressive combination of screaming, careening into walls and a generic cacophony of noise and energy that is rivaled by few. The mayhem lasts for about a minute or two, at which point the edge is off, and we go back to a more normal situation – only to be repeated the next time the dogs come in from the yard.

I have put up with this behavior for some time now. Not because I like it, but because it usually happens when I'm most vested in my work and I don't want to stop to train dogs. Since I have not addressed this issue and you get what you give, I get…bedlam.

Recently I decided I'd had enough, so I decided to solve the problem. 

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2926 Hits

Socialization: A Positive Parent’s Guide to Raising and Training Dogs and Puppies

I am often asked how we should socialize our dogs so that they will grow up as well adjusted as possible.I think the answer is both simple and intuitive: The same way you socialize your small children.

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3083 Hits

Play for Everyone!

I think playing with dogs is a really good idea.

When people play with their dogs, they like them better. They smile more. Their dogs start to look towards them more easily and frequently.

In short – it's just nice. It's nice for people and it's nice for dogs.

So. How does one play with a dog?

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2576 Hits

Fluency on Cue!

 Let's talk fluency. It's something we all strive for in our behaviors. Behaviors that are fluent are consistent, dependable and reliable. They have been generalized to various location and contexts. In short, the dog has the skill and confidence in the behavior, and we can count on the dog executing it to a high degree.

We not only need to have fluent behaviors; we also need fluent cues.

Whaaat!? There's a difference?

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1992 Hits

Disconnection is a Two Way Street: Why Dogs Disconnect From Training (And What to Do About It)

A student is taking a private agility lesson at my facility. She finishes a particularly challenging sequence and turns toward me to talk about it. Meanwhile, her dog runs off and starts exploring the agility area on her own. While we chat, the dog circles the area, running through random tunnels or searching for treats. The handler finally calls her dog, but the dog is busy having fun.

Eventually, she collects her dog and puts her on leash, frustrated.

I am watching an online training video from one of my classes. The dog finishes a sequence of behaviors, and the handler hands him a treat and turns away, walking back to the area where she started. The dog eats the treat, looks at the handler, and seeing no connection, starts sniffing the ground. After a few seconds of this, the handler notices that her dog is not with her and scolds the dog, saying "get over here!"

As an instructor of both online and in-person classes, I regularly see my students disengage from their dogs while training. This disengagement does not usually occur while training the behaviors, but rather during the resets in between repetitions. I work very hard to maintain connection with my dog throughout our entire training session, and I don't want him to practice the cycle of disengaging and me having to get him back. I want my dog to be working with me the entire time that we are training, rather than possibly self-reinforcing by sniffing the ground or scavenging for treats, or building in other undesirable behaviors.

So how can we fix these all-too-common scenarios?

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4212 Hits