Wednesday, January 27, 2010
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As I read through some of the old posts, I find I am using dog training terms and verbiage without really ever having explained them or for that matter defined them. Bad Trainer! Well, we are going to take care of that right here and now. We are going to cover the meaning of positive and negative markers.
Markers are nothing more than how we let our dogs know when they have done something right or wrong. Let’s start off with the positive marker. Most people simply say “good dog” when the dog does something correct. I, on the other hand, use, a clicker a simple noise maker that when you depress a button it makes a clear and consistent noise (or mark) the dog can relate to. There are several reasons for this but the biggest is “DOG’S DON’T SPEAK ENGLISH”! I know there are people out there that will argue this point with me, but dogs don’t really understand language the way humans do. Yes, they can, over a period of time, learn that Sit means put my rump on the ground, but they can also learn that Pineapple Sherbet means put my rump on the ground if I spend the same amount of time associating the word and the behavior! I have also noticed that different people use a different tone of voice when marking a behavior either positive or negative and this one can confuse a dog since their main way of understanding is tone and body language. The other real reason for my preference for using a clicker is timing! We as humans very rarely mark a behavior with our voice with the correct timing. We are either early or late and that can make for a very confused dog. Let me give you a really oversimplified example that might shed some light on this. Let’s say we are working with Fido on Sit and we say SIT and presto Fido puts his rump on the ground, but we were not quite ready and we say “Good Dog” a little late. In those precious couple of seconds Fido has not only sat, but he has chewed a flea, seen a purple butterfly and smelled the poop in the neighbor’s backyard! Now in Fido’s world, he has to figure out which of these four behaviors got him the good dog. Yes, he will figure it out in time, but why not use a positive marker that can pinpoint the exact time the correct behavior happened, and take all the human inflections out of the picture? Enter the clicker. The idea is that at the exact moment Fido’s rump hits the ground we click and then reinforce with a reward, maybe a nice liver treat! Wow, would Pavlov and Skinner be proud of you. Yes, you already knew this from your high school or college Psychology 101 class; do you remember operant and classical conditioning?
Now what about the negative marker? Well from my vantage point as a trainer, I am shocked that most dogs don’t think there name is “NO, NO BAD DOG” Because that is what most owners say when their dog has done something inappropriate or incorrect. Once again I will repeat, “DOGS DON’T SPEAK ENGLISH”, so yelling, pleading, explaining or discussing will not make a dog understand what in the world you want. Let’s say you want to be concise and clear and decide to use just the word NO to mark a bad behavior for your dog? Well you are back to being human and forgetting to think like a dog! Does it mean NO or KNOW? If you live in a household like mine, where there are 6 and 10 year old boys running around, how many times is that word used daily? Next thing you know your dog will have a nervous twitch and hide in the corner because he has no idea who is getting the mark. This also brings up the idea of learned indifference. Let me give you an example. I am a Dad to the afore mentioned boys, and I hear the word Dad 4,362 times a day. You honestly think I don’t tune out that word from time to time? “Dad, Dad, Dad, DAD!!!!!!!! Huh…were you talking to me?” Sound familiar? The moral of this story…don’t be that dog owner saying a command over and over and over. The real message here, communicate with your dog like a dog not another person! So, what do I use as a negative mark? Just a simple sound, one syllable AAAGGGH! (Not sure of the spelling) but it is sounds like the word egg with out the hard G at the end, very guttural.
Keep in mind that the negative mark is less about the dog doing something wrong and way more about getting the dog to stop the inappropriate behavior long enough for me to direct the dog to an appropriate behavior, so that I can then reward the good! This is the basis of dealing with most, if not all, problem behaviors with dogs and will be the subject of a future post. But we still need to cover release words and cues (both verbal and hand signals) in the next post, TERMINOLOGY PART 2.
Monday, January 18, 2010
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Ok, now you have a dog who is recalling to their name on a regular basis, and quite frankly, you are pretty darn proud of you self, until…Yep it happens to all of us, the dog gets too far away or something really interesting pops up, like that squirrel that just took off in front of Fido right out into oncoming traffic. Now what! An emergency recall cue, simply put, a whistle!
A whistle, whether old school, from the mouth or one bought (I can’t whistle to save my own life) might be the only thing between your dog and a ¾ ton pickup truck! The technique for teaching whistle recall is much the same as all the other recall training we have done up till now. It only differs in the fact we will be combining cues. Put simply, the dog will have more than one command or cue for recall. One might be a simple slap to the side of your leg (hand cue); another might be their own name, spoken (verbal cue) and this one, another noise, the whistle (emergency cue). Each is different in form, but the meaning is still the same…come see me and get a groovy tasting reward!
The trick here is getting one recall cue down pat before trying to combine another. So far, with all the posts on recall we have used a verbal cue, the dog’s name. We have even made sure that the cue works in ever more distracting environments. Remember…in the house, the backyard, the front yard and then to the dog park or city park? We now want to add the sound of a whistle to mean the same thing. The trick is the order of the cues given! If I were to call the dog by name and then whistle, the dog would have a hard time understanding they meant the same thing. Think about it, the dog already knows that when they hear their name they are to come running for the reward, right? The whistle in this case becomes background noise, and never really becomes synonymous with the other cue. However, if we whistle first then call their name, both noises begin to mean the same thing. This is about the time where I start adding a hand signal to the mix as well. When your dog is out side and at a long distance. Once the whistle has gotten the dogs attention, I make sure that when they look at me my right arm is straight out. I then bring it down to my side slapping my leg before I call the dog! Over time all of these signals become part of recall. As important as this command is the more the better.
The nuts and bolts of the technique are the same, get your long line out and let your dog explore. Once they are out a distance from you, give the whistle two short bursts and then immediately follow it up with the dog’s name. When the dog recalls, reward and repeat, again and again, till both cues have the same meaning. Off leash work is important to fine-tune the whistle recall cue, but only attempt it in a secure area where both you and your dog are safe. With practice 10-15 minutes a day for several weeks your dog begins to recall as well to the whistle as they do to their name. Before you know it, people will be asking you how on earth you got such a smart dog! Now you have an emergency cue for recall! And please don’t forget the most important part of all of this; make sure both you and your dog are having fun!
Why a whistle you might wonder? From my experience, there are two reasons. First, a whistle is louder than you are, so the sound works much better for long distances. Second, since a whistle is so much louder, you can get the dog’s focus off the distraction and back on you. I believe the second reason is considerably more important than the first. We have all seen a dog’s focus lock on anything from a deer to a kid on a skateboard, or maybe even on a squirrel. Choose whatever distracts your dog the most and with the use of the whistle, you now have a fighting chance!
So, why not just use the whistle as a negative marker (something that tells the dog their behavior is inappropriate)? Because I want recall to be 100% positive! By making the whistle a recall cue, there is always a reward to them for coming to you. Yes, the noise might shock the dog off the distraction, but if trained correctly it will also cue the dog to run back to the owner for the expected reward. This might seem trivial to some, but to me it is a very important distinction between using something as a negative or as a positive! I guess I am a glass half full kind of guy. The meaning and use of both positive and negative markers, as well as other terms will be in an upcoming blog.
Friday, January 15, 2010
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At this point you should have your dog coming to you when called anywhere in the house. Whether you are in the same room as the dog or elsewhere in the house, all you need to do is call and the dog should come running to find you and get their reward. If this is not happening, you need to review the posts on the “non-negotiable rules” and “games to play”, because apparently the dog is not yet having fun. Remember, the dog has to look at this as a game! And as I have said from day one, if the dog is not having fun, they are not learning. So before we move on to distractions and being able to recall anywhere, we must be at a level of recall that works well inside the house.
Our next step is to move the game playing into the back yard. It is more distracting than the house, and gives us a chance to introduce another working environment! At this point, it is important to realize that dogs do not generalize very well, and there is a distinct possibility that he/she will act like they have no idea what ping pong or hide and seek are in the back yard! Take it slow and start with the basics (AGAIN!) The good news is they should pick up faster the second time around. A word of warning, DON’T GET COCKY! Just because your dog is showing great prowess at recall in the house and the backyard, don’t be fooled into thinking it will work anywhere! If you do, you will be cussing me because you went too fast too soon, especially since there are still two steps left!
We now move to the front yard, and let’s face it; this is where most of the recall whoopses happen. We have all been there, chasing a dog up and down the block with most of your neighbors standing on the front porch laughing hysterically while you scream, cuss and plead with your dog to just sit and stay for goodness sake. Sound familiar? Why is the front yard so hard? Well, because it is not a working environment and it is way more distracting than either the back yard or the inside of the house. Think about it…how often is your dog off leash or loose in the front yard? All he/she wants to do is check out this new world, and it usually happens when the dog darts through the front door, or manages to get past you, out the car door, after a wonderfully enjoyable ride in the car. I do not for one moment recommend that you work with your dog off leash in the front yard, but rather I encourage you to work with your dog on a long line. I would suggest you work with a 15-20 foot line. (Cotton will not tear up your hands, but boy nylon will!). You are going to simply allow the dog to investigate and experience the area till the line is taught, then call the dog back to your side, and reward. Practice this at least 10-15 minutes every day. It would be best if you can do the exercise twice a day for the 10-15 minutes. You are not only working on dealing with the distractions of the front yard, but are also creating an environment in which your dog is used to working. This way, when Fido does get loose in the front yard, he will be as likely to come running to you for the reward as he is when inside or in the back yard!
Final exam time! TAKE YOUR DOG TO THE DOG PARK. Use the long line and practice in the most distracting area known to dogs...except for a city park with 9 soccer practices going on (this is another great place to practice!) Make sure to keep the same routine. Practice the first 10 to 15 minutes you are at the park, and don’t forget to reward BIG TIME! You have to be at least as important or interesting as the 30 other dogs running around. As time goes by, you will find that you have a dog that has learned that staying close and continually checking in is a good thing and fun to boot. You will also have a dog that will be the envy of every other doggie mommy and daddy at the park. Now beaming with pride you exclaim my dog knows recall, but what happens when the distraction goes beyond other dogs? Let’s say a deer running through the park, a cat running out in front of you, or the squirrel that bolts straight out in front of you and into a busy street? Stay tuned…we tackle that next with: Emergency Whistle… Recall 103.
Monday, January 04, 2010
The first game we are going to play is ping pong. This game is very reminiscent to “monkey in the middle”, and requires two people and the dog. The dog will be in the middle. If you don’t have another person, you can still make this game work. We will introduce this technique in the next blog when we go outdoors to practice. So if you are solo, work on Hide and Seek, or call a friend! Pick an area of your house with plenty of room. A hallway or large living room works great! Have each person start with 5 treats, stand at opposite ends of the room or hallway and take turns calling the dog back and forth till the treats are gone. The cue or command here is simply the dog’s name. I don’t use the word come. To me this is redundant, and just one more spoken word your dog has to master. Why not just build the understanding that when you call a dog’s name they should check in? This game does two things. It teaches the dog that every time they recall to their name they get a reward (the treat) and also that when they can see you and hear you use their name, they need to come to you. I recommend practicing this game one to two times a day with each person having five treats. As with all training, it is not the amount of training, it is the consistency in which you train. So it is better to have one good, short, positive session every day for a month than to have 10 really long sessions that your dog tunes out after 10-15 minutes.
The second game we are going to play is Hide and Seek, and yes it is basically the same game you played as a kid. The major difference for the dog is that this game adds the element that they can hear you but can not see you. However, the end result should still be the same as when playing Ping Pong…the dog needs to come when called. I know this will sound a little crazy, and it is not the first time I have been accused of being such, but you will need to have treat jars all over the house. I have 8 located throughout my house! Now that you have the positive reinforcement (the treats) located all over the house, you can begin playing the game. This game complements your everyday life, by adding times to practice each time you see a treat jar. For example, I keep one jar in the laundry room and when I am doing a load of laundry I call one of my dogs to me, and if they show up they get the treat. If I am upstairs in the bathroom brushing my teeth I call a dog, and if they show up they get a treat. Before too long, your dog realizes that even if they can not see you, but they can hear you, they need to find you. Guess what? They love this game too, since there is a reward when it’s done right.
To add a twist, incorporate another person into the game. Have one person hold the dog while the other goes and hides somewhere in the house with a Jackpot of treats (2 or 3) in their hand and then they call the dog. When the dog eventually finds you they get the Jackpot of treats! I will be completely honest; adults hide in really boring places! So if there are kids in the family, this is one of the best times involve them. My six year old will actually make his bed so that he can pretend to be a pillow under the covers to try and trick the dog. What an unexpected benefit of dog training…a six year old that makes his bed!
Practice these games for a couple of weeks, but be aware that just because they work in the house does not mean they will work in the big, wide world outside the house. In fact, that is exactly what we will tackle in the next blog…how to recall effectively with distractions like those found outside your front door: Recall Anywhere: Recall Part 2.
- Mike Deathe
Being able to train “any dog” is really not the question to ask. As far as I am concerned, training people is a much more effective way of solving problem behaviors in dogs. What I do is nothing new or magical. I use basic behavior theory, and positive reinforcement techniques to change behavior or teach proper ones to begin with. There are many ways to train a dog and if done right, none are any better than the other. I want all of my students to understand that positive reinforcement is, in my opinion, the best and fastest way to teach a dog. Please take the time to go to my website www.muttzrus.com and look at my blog (keep it simple stupid pet blog) and decide for yourself. You should not make training decisions based off of a brochure; talk to at least three trainers; check out blogs and get references; then make your choice. I hope that in the end you will choose me as your trainer
Mike Deathe is a stay-at-home dad who found his passion as a dog trainer in 2008. He enjoys identifying unique and useful “muttz” related products. He is the author of Keep It Simple Stupid (K.I.S.S.) Pet Blog. Mike has had dogs since he was four years old and there are currently four dogs and two cats living in his home! As an avid pet lover, he regularly sees the number of dogs and cats that never find a home. In 2009, he and his wife Kate founded Muttz “R” Us, a t-shirt and pet product company with a philanthropic motto of “Adopt a Pet, Save a Life.” In 2010 Muttz “R” Us also launched KEEP IT SIMPLE STUPID DOG TRAINING! Visit us at facebook or twitter or follow the blog @http://muttzmembers.blogspot.
com/or check out the website @www.muttzrus.com for more details.