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!
The recent rain in So Cal has many of my clients crying uncle. Formerly housetrained pups are pottying on the floor while others are going stir crazy from lack of exercise. Here are some tips to help your dog (and you!) beat the bad weather blues.
- Establish good habits from the start with young puppies. Resist the urge to use potty pads when it rains (I know it seems easier now but see note number two below!). Instead take him outside and make a big deal about him going even though it is wet.
- If your dog has a tendency to make potty mistakes as soon as the grass is damp go back to the basics. Take your dog out at regularly scheduled intervals (yes, this may mean you need an umbrella) and reward for pottying outside.
- If your dog is particularly stubborn about going in the rain confine her to small area or room (think puppy potty training 101) and try again an hour later. Do not allow her full reign of the house until she is successful.
- For active dogs the lack of exercise that often comes with inclement weather can lead to boredom (read: getting into trouble). Provide mental stimulation with training sessions, chews or Kongs stuffed with peanut butter and frozen, and inside fetch sessions. Try to get your dog out when there’s a break in the rain, even if it’s short lived.
- Take some time to cuddle up with your pup for some extra love and attention, after all, isn’t that what rainy days are best for?
Your pup’s favorite things are a gift for them (and you!). Remember a tired, content dog is a well-behaved one!
- Appropriate chews like bully sticks, Himalayan chews, antlers, beef trachea and duck necks
- Daily exercise! This one is free, and good for you both! Shoot for a minimum of 30 minutes per day for more mellow pups, and an hour+ for young or active breeds.
- Boredom busters – Kongs filled with frozen peanut butter, dog puzzles, or toys you can put small treats inside
- Regular training. Even if your pup is a master of the basics, training is important mental stimulation and builds confidence. Incorporate tricks and other games into your routine to make things fun and interesting.
- Quality time and new experiences – spend some down time giving your dog the love and attention he craves, or take her to new places to explore (parks, shopping centers, doggy daycare).
- Structure! Believe it or not, dogs love clear cut rules and knowing they can depend on you as their leader. If being consistent isn’t your thing this one to add to your New Year’s resolution list!
Teaching your dog the “stay” command gives you more control in many situations and is a great safety tool as well. The key to teaching stay is patience! Some dogs, especially puppies, would rather do anything than hold still!
- Ask your dog to “sit” or “down”. If your dog doesn’t know “sit” or “down” teach those commands first!
- Use sit-stay for short periods of time – think at the curb, while chatting with a neighbor while on a walk or checking out at the pet store. Use down-stay for longer duration stays like in the house with your pup in his place (if you missed how to teach “place” check out last month’s newsletter)!
- With your dog in position say “stay” and hold your hand out away from you, palm flat like you are telling someone to stop. After a few seconds of holding the position say “yes” and reward your dog. Remind her to “stay” and repeat.
- Gradually increase your distance from your dog, how long you ask her to stay between rewards and the distraction level. At first you will want to increase one component at a time. For example, if the house is quiet and you are only two feet away ask her to stay in place longer. If you are walking across the room reward more frequently.
- Incorporating toys is a great way to challenge distraction level. Start by holding a low value toy while she stays, progressing in distraction level to squeaking the toy, to tossing it in the air, all while she holds her position.
- When the session is over approach your dog, say “free” and encourage him to get up. Be sure to use your release word at the end of each “stay” session, and do not use the word unless you are done!
- You can also use the “come” command to release your dog. However, a mixture of the “free” and “come” command to release works best to avoid your dog anticipating you calling him before you are ready.
- If your dog gets up say “no” and have him go back into position and try again. If he breaks three times in a row that is a sign that you are making it too hard for him. Go back a step.
- Keep “stay” sessions short and fun, stopping before your dog becomes bored. For high energy dogs or puppies several three-minute sessions per day is more effective than one long one!
- “Stay” is a great command to combine with “place”. Simply send your dog to his place before asking him to “stay”.
Teach Your Pup the “Place” Command
Teaching your dog the “place” command can be helpful in a variety of situations – controlling your curious pup when you need a moment to relax, encouraging polite door greeting behavior, a safe spot for shy dogs when strangers visit, or even giving her a place to stay when she accompanies you to a pet-friendly restaurant. An added bonus is that many dogs will naturally gravitate to their place on their own once they learn the command.
- To start, pick a bed or blanket you will use for your dog’s place. You can have more than one in different areas of the house if desired.
- Put the place in a location where they can be close the action of the family but tucked out of the way. A corner of a room or next to the couch works great.
- Get your pup’s attention and say “place” while pointing to the spot and walking towards it. Reward when she gets on her place and lays down (you can give her the “down” command at first if needed.)
- Repeat sending him to his place until he is going to the spot and laying down without the “down” command.
- Once she starts to get the idea, start mixing it up. Walk towards the place from different directions and stop a few feet before the place so she learns to continue to the bed on her own. This will allow you to send her from across the room in the future.
- Next, move the place around to different areas of the room. This will help solidify the “place” being the bed or blanket, no matter where the place is in the house, or out in public. This is also a good time to increase the level of distraction around your dog when asking him to “place”.
- Once you and your dog have mastered the “place” command, work on sending her to her place and having her “stay” there until released.
Check out next month’s newsletter for tips on teaching a solid “stay”!
- 1 pound of ground turkey
- 1/2 cup mashed pumpkin
- 1/2 cup diced green beans
- 1/4 cup chopped cranberries (not sweetened)
- 1 beaten egg