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!
- 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!
Crate training can be beneficial to both human and canine companion if done correctly. The crate provides your dog a safe, quiet place to retreat from stressful situations and creates a recovery zone for your pooch after medical procedures when rest is what the doctor orders. Crates are also key in house training and eliminating destructive behavior and can be helpful during travel.
Follow these easy steps to get your dog off on the right paw:
- Size Matters – Make sure your pup can easily stand up, turn around and lay down in his crate. Most crates come with a divider that comes in handy for puppies during house training and allows the crate to grow with your dog
- Start Slow – Introduce the crate to your dog by leaving the door open and tossing treats inside to encourage them to explore the crate. Once your dog is going in the crate willingly to retrieve her treats begin to close the door behind her for a few seconds before allowing her out. Gradually increase the time the door is closed until she is comfortable inside for longer periods.
- Create Positive Associations – Help your pup learn to love his crate by feeding him his meals inside the crate. Be sure to provide toys and a chew bone or stuffed Kong to occupy him when he’s crated for extended periods
- Put It On Cue – Ask your dog to “go to your crate” and reward with a small treat for going inside; repeat. Leave the door open between training sessions so your dog can relax inside
- Tough Love – Ignore problem behaviors like whining in the crate. Wait until your dog is quiet before allowing him out in order to instill calm behavior in his den
- Use Wisely – Never use the crate as a punishment or “time out” place for your dog. A time out spot is an effective tool for eliminating undesirable behavior but has no place sharing your dog’s safe spot
- Play Time – Be sure your pup has adequate exercise and time outside the crate. Using the crate excessively – think 15 hours a day – is a surefire way to create a pup who runs when it’s time to go to his crate
- Cozy Up – Give your dog soft bedding or blankets (unless he’s the type to destroy these items) in his crate. Some dogs also prefer the crate to be covered with a blanket to create a dark den.
All dogs young and old benefit from appropriate chew bones. Not only does chewing help with the furniture-ruining puppy teeth but bones also provide mental stimulation and help keep teeth and gums healthy. Ditch the rawhide and check out these safe and natural choices.
- Bully sticks
- Texas Toothpicks
- Canine Caviar’s buffalo line including Flossies and Rib Bones
- Raw marrow bones (freeze them for longer lasting fun)
- Antlers – long-lasting and green (antlers are collected after being naturally shed from deer)
- Water Buffalo Horns (a great choice for dogs with allergies)
- Be sure to look for chews that are sourced in the USA (New Zealand is another good source).
Providing appropriate chews doesn’t have to break the bank either. I recommend Bestbullysticks.com to my clients for great prices and a wide selection of products including odor free bully sticks and novel protein source chews for pups with allergies.
So go on, give your dog a bone!
Lately it seems as though I’m meeting more and more families who are having difficulty house training their new puppies. Here are some tips to help get puppy on the right track.
- Have a designated potty area and take puppy there immediately upon arrival home
- Take your puppy to the potty area after eating, drinking, playing, naps, first thing in the morning and right before bed in addition to every 1-3 hours depending on the age of your puppy
- Put puppy on a feeding schedule 2-3 times a day depending on her age and only leave food down for a half hour each time. Puppies will usually potty 30-60 minutes after eating.
- Praise and reward for pottying in the correct location
- If puppy thinks potty time is play time use a leash to keep him focused on the job at hand
- Supervise, supervise, supervise! Puppies should not be left unattended unless confined to the crate
- If you catch your puppy having an accident interrupt and bring to the potty spot (you are supervising, right?)
- Select the appropriate crate size. Your puppy should have enough space to stand, lay down and turn around in the crate. Too much room too soon and he may potty inside
- Crate train your puppy and use the crate for sleeping and times when he can’t be supervised
- Use a leash and tie puppy to your pant loop or a piece of furniture in the room so you can keep a close eye on her
- Keep a potty chart so you can track your progress