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Posts Tagged ‘Training Tips’

Why Clicker Training?

Monday, August 24th, 2009

Author: Dawn Archer Pizzoferrato, ABCDT owns Arrow Dog Training and offers dog training classes at AnnaBelle’s Pet Station.

Usually the first question I am asked when tell people I offer clicker training is, “what is clicker training?” The answer to that is simple…It’s a dog training method using a clicker to mark the desired behavior.  That usually satisfies most askers, but the question most people have next is, “Why?”

Now THAT is a great question. Why clicker training? As with any training technique, clicker training has its proponents and opponents. Many trainers just don’t see the benefits of an additional tool to deal with, some trainers prefer a non-treat based reward and don’t like the clicker/treat connection, and some just don’t like positive reinforcement training. Whatever the reason for opposing clicker training, there is only one answer to “why” I favor the clicker training method…It works.

Karen Pryor, the godmother of clicker training in the United States, in her article, The Neurophysiology of Clicker Training, which covers research on stimuli and the limbic system of the animal brain, writes:

“… another contributing factor to the extraordinary rapidity with which the clicker and clicked behavior can be acquired might be that the click is processed by the CNS (central nervous system) much faster than any word can be. Even in the most highly-trained animal or verbal person, the word must be recognized, and interpreted, before it can ‘work,’ and the effect of the word may be confounded by accompanying emotional signals, speaker identification clues, and other such built-in information.”

clicker2So, in other words, this means that the clicker sound needs no interpretation. Once the dog learns that a treat follows a click and learns that to get a click he needs to do a requested behavior, he’s got it! You, however, still need to get the dog to DO the behavior. But if the dog is clicker trained, once he does the desired behavior and gets the click, he knows what you want from him and he will repeat it as often as you want. Clicker training is fastest way I have found to teach a dog a new behavior. And the more you use the clicker on new behaviors, the better and faster the dog will learn them. It has a positive cascading effect.

The other main reason that I use clicker training is because it’s fun. Dogs love the “game” of it. They seem to be less tired from training and show a stronger willingness to learn. It works wonderfully for shy or fearful dogs, because it gives them confidence.

In my view, the only downfall to successfully clicker training a dog is teaching the handler correct clicker timing. It can be tricky. In your hands, you have the clicker, the leash, the treat, AND you’re luring the dog AND you have click at the precise moment that your dog does the desired behavior. WHEW! That can be hard.  But like any new skill, practice makes perfect…just ask your dog! The timing of your click is extremely important because if you click too early, your dog hasn’t completed the behavior; if you click too late, then he’s on to something else. I often recommend practicing clicker timing separately from training with your dog just for this reason.

So, if you want to make training and learning fun for your dog, if you want to teach new behaviors quickly with better retention, or you simply want to learn a new training technique yourself, clicker training is definitely for you. Come join us at Annabelle’s Pet Station. Class size is limited. Six week class is only $109. Sign up today!

Learn More About Dawn  and How to Get Your Dog On Target!

Dawn is an Animal Behavior College Certified Dog Trainer, an experienced Nose Work Instructor, an AKC Canine Good Citizen evaluator, and the owner of Arrow Dog Training.

Dawn is AnnaBelle’s resident clicker training specialist and she can help you Get Your Dog on Target! Dawn uses scientifically proven “clicker training” and “free shaping” to teach your dog all the basics plus other fun, useful behaviors. She uses operant conditioning and positive reinforcement, without correction, to help you and your dog build a bond of trust and respect.

In addition to presenting Doggie Do Good clicker classes, Dawn also offers Nose Work classes, TDI® (Therapy Dog International) classes and in-home private training. Dawn’s group classes are taught at AnnaBelle’s on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings. Click here to see her complete class schedule!


The All Important Dog Walk!

Thursday, July 30th, 2009

Author: Dawn Archer Pizzoferrato, ABCDT, owner of Arrow Dog Training.

Most dog owners know that their dogs need exercise. But most don’t know how important this need is to the relationship between dog and owner and many dog owners don’t know how much and even more importantly what kind of exercise their dog needs.

There are all sorts of fallacies regarding exercise: Small dogs need less exercise and large dogs need more. If you have a large yard where your dog can run free, he will get enough exercise. If you play fetch with your dog for a few minutes each day your dog is getting plenty of exercise. Well, these are all false. There are many small breed dogs (Terriers come to mind) that need much more exercise than large breed dogs (Great Danes also come to mind). And in my opinion, a romp in the back yard after you come home from work with a few minutes of fetch is simply not enough exercise for most adult dogs.

Dogs need to walk. That’s what they do. Yes, they are great runners and absolutely love it, but walking (or a trot) is their natural pace for getting around in the world. So as the “Pack Leader” it is our responsibility to walk with our dogs. Did you notice I wrote, “walk with our dogs”? That’s because that is really how it should be. Your dog shouldn’t be pulling on you and you shouldn’t have to be pulling on your dog. It should be a calm, stress-free, relaxing yet focused time for both of you. When a group (pack) of dogs walk together they are bonding. They establishing and strengthening their roles in the pack.

So how do you make that happen? Well, first let’s discuss WHEN to walk your dog. It is my belief that dogs should be walked BEFORE being fed. I don’t think it matters whether it is in the morning or evening.  It just needs to be before they are fed. Why, Do you ask? I have two reasons. One-it is the natural order of things for dogs. A dog wakes up in the morning, goes for a walk “looking” for food, eats, then naps. Walking is how a dog “works” for it’s food. We all must work for our food, and so should your dog. No free-rides allowed. Two-If you have a dog prone to Bloat (the deadly problem when the stomach fills with air and can possibly twist), it’s important that your dog does not exercise after eating.

So you’re ready to walk, now is the time to start acting like a leader. It is important that you initiate the walk. If your dog is begging you to go walk and you do, who is the leader? Your dog is. Just wait (taking away your attention) until your dog is calm and make the walk a reward for it’s calm behavior. Now make your dog “sit” and be calm while you put on the leash. If your dog can’t sit still, put the leash down and walk away. When your dog is calmer, have her “sit”, then try again. This may take awhile the first time, so give yourself plenty of time so you can be patient. Pack Leaders do not lose their patience.

This might be a good time to talk about equipment. If your dog is capable of walking on a “loose” leash, all you need is a flat buckle collar and a regular 6-foot nylon or leather leash. I am not a fan of “Flexi leads”, choke chains or prong collars. If your dog is a puller or a lunger, a head collar or anti-pull halter (Halti, ControlEase, Gentle Leader or Canny Collar) is usually an instant fix. They provide a natural deterrent to pulling by making the head (or chest in the case of the halter) pull BACK when the dog is pulling forward. It is wonderful and preferable that your dog learns to walk on loose leash with just a flat collar. But it is perfectly acceptable to use and always use a head collar or anti-pull halter. It is important to know that a regular halter will actually PROMOTE pulling in dog that tends to pull. This is called “oppositional reflex” which causes them to pull against anything that’s pulling against them.

Donned with all the right equipment, you are now ready to proceed on your walk. But first you have to get out the door. Your dog should sit and WAIT for you to open the door. Allowing your dog to bolt out an open door again tells your dog that he is the leader. So ask your dog to “sit” then start to open the door. If your dog moves out of the “sit,” close the door, ask for a “sit” again then start to open the door again. You need to keep doing this until you can open the door all the way without your dog moving. Now go through the door AHEAD of your dog. From now on you will exit or enter a door AHEAD of your dog. Okay, now walk!

Are you walking beside your dog, “with your dog”? Or is your dog walking ahead of you, sniffing the ground, stopping to pee on every tree? If the former is true, just keep going; don’t stop for at least 2-3 blocks. If you sense your dog needs to relieve itself, YOU decide where and when. When your dog is done, start up again and walk. If you have a working dog, get a backpack and have him carry a couple bottles of water.  When you have a breed that was bread to work, you MUST fulfill that need in them. I have 3-4 different routes I take around my neighborhood and I alternate between them. This way my dogs have a slightly varied route everyday with different smells, sights and sounds. This helps keep them engaged while walking. Their brains will be working as much as their brawn.

If your dog pulls out ahead of you, stopping to sniff every tree, a quick collar correction before your dog gets to end of the leash is quite appropriate. But it must happen before there is any tension on the leash, be quick and strong enough to get your dog to IMMEDIATELY turn back to you and then you must immediately create slack in the leash again. If your dog is wearing a head collar or anti-pull harness, stop in place until your dog moves back towards you and takes the tension off the leash before proceeding forward. If pulling continues, stop, say “EH, EH” and change direction. Do this as often as necessary to stop any pulling. Same thing goes for a dog lagging behind, don’t wait for him, keep going and encourage with voice for them to catch up. Talk to your dog when he is doing a good job and keep your pace up. Your dog is more likely to keep up with you and to be less interested in extrinsic distractions if you are walking at a fun pace for your dog. Keeping up this pace will help keep your dog focused. When you have the perfect walk, you’ll know it.  You’re relaxed, you’re holding the leash gently, and there is plenty of slack on the leash. You are aware of your dog, but not focused on him. Your dog is aware of you, but also not focused on you. You each check in once in while, but you keep moving ahead.

Every walk, even for the smallest dog should last at least 20 minutes. If you have a larger or more energetic dog, they may need as much as an hour, twice a day. Your dog should have a good pant going on when you return home — where you enter through the door ahead of your dog.

Remember, your walk with your dog is your greatest opportunity to establish your leadership and to bond with your dog. It’s when you can live in the NOW with your best friend, and free yourself from all the junk you have to deal with the rest of your day. It’s one of the healthiest things you can do for yourself and your dog!

Learn More About Dawn & How to Get Your Dog On Target!

Dawn is an Animal Behavior College Certified Dog Trainer, an experienced Nose Work Instructor, an AKC Canine Good Citizen evaluator, and the owner of Arrow Dog Training.

Dawn is AnnaBelle’s resident clicker training specialist and she can help you Get Your Dog on Target! Dawn uses scientifically proven “clicker training” and “free shaping” to teach your dog all the basics plus other fun, useful behaviors. She uses operant conditioning and positive reinforcement, without correction, to help you and your dog build a bond of trust and respect.

In addition to presenting Doggie Do Good clicker classes, Dawn also offers Nose Work classes, TDI® (Therapy Dog International) classes and in-home private training. Dawn’s group classes are taught at AnnaBelle’s on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings. Click here to see her complete class schedule!

Article may not be reprinted without express written permission

Loose Leash Walking: “No Pulling, No Fooling”

Wednesday, July 15th, 2009

Author: Carol Hein-Creger, owner and director of the CANINE TRAINING CENTER

Dogs form their perceptions of people based on the messages they pick up on during every day life with each individual. Whether intended or not, people send messages to dogs with virtually every interaction, and the dog forms an “opinion” or perception of the person’s status based on those messages. This perception determines how the dog will interact with and respond to the person in question.

Even when dogs understand what’s expected of them, they generally won’t comply or respond to commands unless they view the person giving the orders as “higher ranking”, or, in other words, as an authority figure. This is evident when we see trained dogs fail to respond to certain individuals, often within the dog’s own family. This is because those individuals have failed to present themselves as authority figures to the dog, so even though they know what words or commands to say, the dog feels no sense of obligation to the person giving them.

Good, effective leaders have certain characteristics that mark them as leaders.  They don’t have a million rules, but the ones they do have are enforced emphatically. They are consistent. They are fair. They maintain an air of calm. They control access to all resources. They lead, and subordinates follow them.

When we allow dogs to pull us from place to place when on a leash, we effectively send the message that the dog is the leader and we are the follower, or, put in other terms, that we are subordinates to them. This greatly influences how they respond to us on several levels, including whether they respond to our commands or direction when there’s something else they’d rather do. In other words, when our behavior “tells” them we’re not in charge, they happily take over. Dogs innately understand that the one in charge gets to make the rules, and those that are not in charge must follow them.

Therefore, if you want to control your dog’s actions in general, you cannot allow him to drag you all over the place when he’s on a leash.

Below are three effective ways to teach your dog not to pull on a leash, each having their own specific pros and cons:

1. The fastest way to teach your dog not to pull on the leash is to apply a well timed, effective leash correction that PREVENTS your dog from getting to the end of the leash. For the correction to be effective, it must be

a. Applied proactively, BEFORE the dog pulls. The leash must be totally slack unless you are actively correction (including immediately prior to and immediately following the leash correction).

b. Firm enough that your dog wants to avoid it in the future. The level of correction necessary will vary depending on each dog’s level of sensitivity.

c. Applied consistently. This “no pull” rule must be enforced each and every moment your dog is on a leash. To do less will confuse your dog and force him to endure more corrections in the future.  Inconsistency on the handler’s part will result in inconsistency on the dog’s part.

In addition to the corrections, the dog must receive meaningful rewards when he maintains a slack leash. The best trainers focus just as much on rewarding the dog for maintaining a slack leash as on applying corrections effectively.

PROS: Leash corrections are generally the fastest way to teach your dog to stop pulling when on a leash. Following the criteria above, you will see great progress towards that end in just one or 2 training sessions. As the corrections change your dog’s behavior, you will quickly reach a point when corrections are no longer necessary.

CONS: The dog has to endure some corrections that he initially won’t know how to avoid. The correction technique requires practice to perfect. And finally, many dog owners are inconsistent in the correction’s application.

2. If when a dog pulls he is NEVER allowed to move forward in the direction he’s pulling, the pulling will diminish and eventually disappear as the dog learns that pulling doesn’t work. In order for this method to work the handler must follow these steps.

a. Whenever the dog begins to pull, regardless of his intended destination, the owner must immediately STOP and stand as still as statue, preventing the dog from moving even an inch in the direction he’s pulling.  This must be absolutely enforced every moment the dog is on a leash for any reason.

b. The dog must be HEAVILY rewarded, especially initially any time the leash is slack.

PROS: This method requires little skill on the part of the handler. It costs the dog nothing in terms of physical corrections.

CONS: This method can take a long time to teach a dog not to pull, depending on his motivation to move towards something as well as his history of reinforcement for pulling. If he’s been successfully pulling and reaching his intended destination for an extended period of time his pulling will have a long history of reinforcement, which will take much longer to extinguish. Therefore, this technique often works best with puppies that do not have a long history of reinforcement for pulling. Furthermore, to be effective, the handler must be willing to stop EVERY time the dog pulls, even if it’s raining, they’re in a hurry, or just going for a casual walk. Lastly, since the only consequence for pulling is that the dog is not allowed to move forward, this method requires a high frequency of reward in order to inspire the dog to change its’ behavior.

3. There are several devices on the market that when worn by the dog will greatly discourage the dog from pulling. These include head collars and no-pull harnesseseasywalkharnessThe head collars work under the premise that, like a horse, if we can turn the dog’s head in a particular direction, we can influence the body to follow. Like a horse halter, there is a loop that goes over the muzzle and another that fits up right behind the dog’s head. Many dog owners have discovered that a head collar gives them almost immediate “power steering”, enabling even youngsters to control large dogs. gentleleader2The no-pull harnesses generally inhibit the dog’s front legs from freely moving forward when he pulls, thereby changing his behavior over time.

PROS: Once the dog adjusts to them, these devices can quickly make a significant change in the dog’s pulling behavior with only a small investment on the part of the owner.

CONS: Especially in the case of the head collar, many dogs initially resist them, sometimes violently and it can take a significant period of time for the dog to adjust to it. Some dog owners are unwilling to put their dog through the adjustment period. Additionally, again in the case of head collars, some owners are afraid the device will be perceived as a muzzle by the general public and are uncomfortable with that possibility. Lastly, it can be difficult to transition dogs from these devices to traditional collars if the idea is to use them as a temporary training measure.

Want to learn more? Check out the current class schedule the Canine Training Center.

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