Category: Dog training

Ditching the Treats

One of the most common questions I’m asked is how to get your dog to listen without the need for constant treats. The answer – implement an intermittent schedule of reinforcement (i.e. reward your dog randomly for things she has learned and understands).

To better understand this, think about a person at the slot machine of their favorite casino. Humans spend hours sitting there, putting in money and pulling the lever, without being rewarded with a payout, all because they know a payout is coming EVENTUALLY, even if not for them.

This is exactly the thinking we want to instill in your dog. She will follow your instructions even without a reward because she knows one is on the horizon, eventually.

Please note – when teaching new commands, consistency and repetition are key! So when you start “sit”, you will likely be rewarding every time to build a pattern with your dog that we really like this behavior, and there is something in it for him if he listens. Randomly rewarding is a tool we use down the road, when your dog understands the behavior you are asking for.

So how do you do it?

For commands your dog knows reliably well (think you ask him to “sit” ten times and he complies without hesitation at least eight of those ten times) begin to randomize the rewards. Some “sits” receive a treat, some receive praise or a pet. Better yet, mix in “life rewards” (walks, dinner, you tossing the ball one more time) for following that command.

It is important when doing this to go against our human instincts and not follow a set pattern of rewarding (humans are so predictable!). Rather then rewarding every other time your dog follows a command (pups catch on to this very quickly), mix it up, so he may get two rewards in a row, then not another for the following three commands.

And while you’re at it, get those treats out of your hands! When my client’s pups are responding well we move to putting treats around the house in various locations. Then, when we ask the pup to “down” and she complies, we praise and go to the nearest treat location for a reward. Now your pup is figuring out just because there isn’t anything in your hand does not necessarily mean no reward!

Try these tips to take your training to the next level, and have a more responsive pup, sans treats!

Socialization Is The Key To A Well-Adjusted Dog

The Importance of Socialization 

‘Tis the season of new puppies coming home! Over the past 13 years I have been lucky enough to work with many pups as they are welcomed into their new homes. Lots of clients call asking for help with potty training, play biting and the basics. While these are all very important in having a well-behaved companion later in life, an even more important training area is often overlooked – socialization.

I’ve not only seen the cute, wiggly, happy puppies over the years, but also the serious problems that occur later in life with dogs who are not properly socialized while they are developing. Between the aggression, reactivity and fears I’ve worked with in my client’s dogs, and rescuing two of my own who were severely undersocialized early in life, I know just how important socialization is for pups.

When you bring your puppy home (yes, even before all their shots!) it is imperative to get them socialized with new things (think bikes, cars, kids, other pets, and humans of all shapes, sizes and ages). Your vet will guide you on when it is safe to bring your puppy out in the world, but in the meantime you can bring the world to him in the form of visits from friends and family and their healthy, vaccinated dogs. Have newcomers greet your puppy with a favorite treat or toy, and if you encounter something she finds “scary” stop and give her time to check it out (tossing treats near the object helps too)!

Socialization

  • Socialization is imperative to having a happy, well behaved and well-adjusted adult dog.
  • Without proper socialization young pups can grow up to be dogs with fear and territorial aggression and anxiety.
  • The key window for socialization is between 4-14 weeks of age. Talk to your vet about your puppy’s vaccine schedule and what is safe at each stage.
  • You have a great opportunity to socialize your puppy now to help him to become the best puppy he can be!

Puppy Developmental Stages

  • From four to twelve weeks, your puppy’s interaction with people becomes more important. They learn to play with littermates, develop social skills and bite inhibition and begin to understand social boundaries and hierarchy.
  • At eight to ten weeks, your puppy can experience real fear involving everyday objects and experiences. Positive reinforcement with new experiences is important during this stage.
  • At nine to twelve weeks your puppy’s social skills with others advance, and he will begin to investigate his surroundings more. This is a great time to start training.

Firework Tips!

Fireworks & Fearful Fido 

Many dogs, young and old, are terrified of the fireworks the 4th of July holiday brings and with a little planning your dog can be ready for the grand finale.

  • Desensitize and counter condition your dog. Buy a fireworks CD and begin playing it each day. Start with the volume low and play during meal and play times. You can also give your dog a treat each time a firework explodes on the CD. During the grand finale be sure to have many small treats ready so you can reward your dog rapidly. Each day turn the volume up a little more. It is important to use high value treats, not the usual kibble or dry biscuits, during this training. Try pea size pieces of chicken or cheese.
  • If your dog is crate trained and happiest in his den use the crate while playing the CD in preparation for the real thing (you can also use a small room). On the 4th leave your dog in her safe space with a peanut butter stuffed and frozen Kong or another tasty and long-lasting treat. Close windows and leave the radio or TV on to help drown out the sound. Try an herbal anti-anxiety blend such as CBD OilAnimal Essentials Tranquility or Dog Appeasing Pheromone spray or plug-in to help her relax.
  • If you don’t feel your dog can stay home alone during the show ask a friend or relative to watch your dog or take him to his favorite doggy daycare for playtime. If your dog absolutely panics each year when the fireworks start another option is to plan a trip to a quiet area for the day to avoid the noise. No matter where you spend the 4th make sure she has ID tags on and is in a secure area before the start of the fireworks. A large number of dogs run away on this holiday when they become afraid.
  • Some dogs are incredibly afraid of fireworks and have an extreme reaction such as trying to break through doors and windows or destroying the house. Counter-conditioning can be a slow process with these guys and it may be best to see your veterinarian for medication to get him through the day.
  • Remember it is easiest to teach a puppy not to fear loud noises instead of waiting for a fear to develop. Acclimate him to loud noises, starting where he is calm and can hear (but you aren’t too close to the sound!) and reward each time the sound occurs. Use high value treats.

A little prevention now will go a long way to ensure your dog is celebrating alongside you for years to come.

Learn to Earn – Teach Your Pup to Say Please!

  • You can teach your pup to ask nicely for things she would like (attention, food, walks, playtime etc) by asking her to sit each time she approaches for these items.
  • Ignore behaviors like jumping up, barking or pawing at you for attention. When she calms down ask her to sit and reward when she complies.
  • Over time, and with consistency on your part, your pup will start to sit automatically for anything he would like.
  • Remember, your puppy is learning every time you interact with him. Establishing clear rules and good habits now will pay off with a lifetime of a well behaved dog!