Archives for posts with tag: training

So you have your mind open, your Skills on auto-pilot, but you are still looking for the path to some better Behavior in your precious pooch under certain circumstances, yes?

Welcome to the most fun and exciting part of the SIMPLE System — Behavior!

I am totally biased here. Behavior is the reason I became a trainer. Frankly, anyone can teach rote physical Skills like Sits and Downs, but Behavior — ooolala, it is a delicious dish I could  consume endlessly (and have done so over nearly two decades — yum). There are sooo many nuances and different situations; every time I’ve solved a particularly vexing problem it was like I had won the lottery!

Sorry, off track. 

Despite my endless fascination over the nuances, etc., I have found there are some basics anyone can apply to create acceptable Behavior and/or deal with unacceptable Behavior. Just as in teaching a Skill, if you master these SIMPLE steps, you will create the happy, well-behaved canine citizen we all wish for. (Time to remind you I said SIMPLE, not easy. Keep that mind open!)

Basic Steps to Teach Behavior

The best time to start creating “good” Behavior is the moment your dog steps through your front door. But you can do it anytime; just realize that the longer you allow other Behaviors to cloud your message, the longer it will take to clean that up so your dog will understand what you want and reliably make the proper choice. 

Common-sense thought to keep in mind whenever you are dealing with Behavior: Your dog will always choose to do things that benefit him somehow. Isn’t that what we humans do all the time? If it gets us something we want, we do it! Clearly showing your dog the way to get what he wants (ie Behaving) is the key to getting what you want (ie that “well-behaved” dog).

Figure 4.1 shows you how to do that. Let’s dig in!

Reward appropriate responses. Unless your dog is an absolute maniac (if so, contact a professional now), she is Behaving properly the majority of the time without being told to do so. Yet we usually ignore all this “good” Behavior she is constantly choosing and only pipe up when it goes sideways. Wrong energy distribution, people! You should be drowning your dog in praise/rewards during these times so she knows you like what she’s doing, so she will choose to keep doing it. Open your pie hole and dish! Food usually not needed but can be used to jackpot when they do something truly awesome without being asked.

Prevent inappropriate responses. The first time you see something go sideways, do not treat it as a one-off. Interrupt quickly and quietly — no yelling, or NOs/Bad dogs, just remove/separate and take note. Then put steps/procedures in place so it can never, and I mean never, happen again. I don’t care if it’s a jump, a snap or paws on the table. You want them to have zero chance to turn that into a habit. See ^^ for more.

Reward proper Attitude. The way your dog feels toward any situation is what creates the Action she takes. You want her to feel great — calm, confident, relaxed — in as many different situations as possible. That is the dog that will make good choices in most cases. A dog you can trust. A safe dog. So whenever you see that Attitude, drown in praise. 

Important side note: If you are stressed, irritated, frustrated by your dog’s Behavior, you need to change your Attitude first. Dog mirrors person! (For more, see “The Solution(s)” chapter of my book I’ve Never Had a Dog like This!)

Teach new behavior. Sometimes, just rewarding proper Attitude is enough to change your dog’s Behavior — ie when your dog’s feeling about the situation changes, the Action she takes in response to the situation changes. Boom and done! Other times, they need a little more help in understanding what Action to attach to that new Attitude. Here is where a Skill can help tremendously, since Skills are fun. The feel-good Attitude plus a fun Skill will soon have your dog thinking nothing but good thoughts about the situation she is in and Behaving like a champ.

Reward heavily. Should be obvious, but this stuff is new and hard. Old habits are hard to break, and new habits need to be reinforced over and over to stick. Practice makes as perfect  as possible. Being told you’re doing a great job never gets old, does it? So make it your business to be a constant stream of “atta-dog!” in some form — praise, petting, food, toys, snuggles, car rides, backyard romps, etc., etc., etc. We all like to be appreciated!

BOOM! There you are — the SIMPLEST teaching system with the greatest chance for success and happiness for both you and your precious ones, whoever they may be. Peace.

—————————-

^^ There are more ways than I can count to prevent, from gates/crates to adding a leash/tether to putting things away to constant monitoring to avoidance. There are also many ways to properly interrupt a sideways Behavior, and they all involve being calm and quiet. I call them Low Energy Interrupters (LEIs), the common factor being that they stop the Behavior without giving it a lot of attention (which is a powerful reinforcer). One of my favorites is the Simple Walk Away, which you can use for virtually any problem Behavior that you can attach a leash to. It is a thing of beauty when done properly because it gets you and your dog out of trouble without making the problem worse. For more, see my dogpogblog post: The beauty of simplicity: How the leashed walk away can be the gateway to solving tons of Behavior problems

All of the above should be considered temporary measures that help you replace the unacceptable Behavior with an acceptable  one. The less your dog does the old thing, the more quickly it fades away.

All righty, time for the magic!

I assume if you are reading this that you have done your prep work outlined in the previous post — dump your stories; open your mind; watch, listen and learn from your dog; accept this is about CHOICE not FORCE.

If you haven’t: What are you doing here? Stop being impatient! Get back to Part Two and DO THE PREP WORK. Now!

Are they gone? Okay! Welcome to the rest of you. Congrats on doing the prep work that will set you up for success as we move into this first SIMPLE Sequence: How to Teach a Physical Skill.

In the old, outdated, creaky days of yore, these things would be called “obedience.” But since we are no longer desirous of bending our dogs to our will, but rather seeking partnership through proper communication, the more accurate label is Skill.

Physical Skills are all the standard actions most of us want to teach our dogs: Sit, Down, Come, Walk, Stay, Leave it, Drop it, etc. They are also the Tricks we like to teach them like Shake, Roll over, etc. There is NO DIFFERENCE in your dog’s mind between Skills and Tricks. Hence, there is no need to teach them differently. (We do though, which is why Tricks are usually more reliable than Skills. More on that here** if interested.)

Now, important clarification coming: Skills are not at all the same as Behavior (ie how your dog thinks about/feels about/reacts to a particular situation).

If your dog is not Behaving acceptably, you might be able to control Behavior in the moment through requesting a Skill, but you will never permanently change Behavior with a Skill. (This is why, for example, a jumpy dog will “get down” but will never stay down. For more, see “WORDS MATTER: Knowing the difference between ‘behavior’ and ‘Behavior’ can mean the difference between frustration and success” (available as a blog post and as Appendix D: behavior vs. Behavior in my book I’ve Never Had a Dog Like This!)

Think of Skill as learning how to hit a tennis ball, and Behavior as how you play the game.

This post is about teaching basic Skills. The next post will address Behavior.

Basic Physical Skills: Four Simple Steps

Think you know this one already? Bet you don’t!

Review Figure 3.1. See that second step there, “Mark”? That is usually not included in standard teaching. It should be, because it is the gold in that sequence! 

Also, notice that initially there is no word attached to the Skill (eg Sit). Waaah? Why?

Because it’s the fastest way to teach it, that’s why!

Let’s break it down: 

You Create the Skill, without a word attached to it, using any of the methods listed. Most can be achieved through luring (see treat, follow treat). Note there is nothing approaching force described here! 

The Mark tells the dog what he just did that you loved — and that he will get a Reward for — so he doesn’t have to guess! It is applied at the precise moment the dog does that thing — butt or belly touches floor, takes one step toward you, walks beside you one step, etc. When the Skill happens, the Mark happens!

(I highly highly highly recommend using a one-syllable verbal Mark you can say quickly and happily. Examples: Yes, Yay, Bam, Nice, Wow. Smile when you say it! It’s the start of the party, after all!)

The Reward(s) come after the Skill is Marked. Reward in at least two ways at first: Food and Praise/Toy/Pet. Always Food at first — it seals the deal at the highest level! Imagine getting $100 every time you sat down. How eager would you be to sit? 

Finally, once you’ve told your dog to do that, you have to tell him when to stop doing that. So Release him from the Skill. Then do it again — another chance for a party!

Once you both are on auto-pilot with the sequence, then you can label the Skill with a word, phrase, hand signal etc.

Remember: This will go much faster if you think of every Skill you teach as a Trick. In other words, have fun with it! The more fun you both have, the more reliable the Skills will become — for both of you.

—————————

**Tricks are usually taught with lots of fun. We laugh; lots of food is generally shared, if mistakes are made, oh well, try again, all part of the fun — Tricks and Parties go hand in hand! Is it any surprise that Tricks end up on auto-pilot, happily offered by your dog without being asked, because she is expecting something good might happen every time she does it? 

On the other hand, Skills are usually taught like orders — You will comply or else! No! Wrong! Bad dog! When Skills are given as orders, your dog is often unsure what will happen — will it be good or bad for her? When they don’t know what to expect, dogs are likely to hesitate or otherwise not respond properly. Then we get mad/stern, cementing in the dogs’ brains that hearing that word from us means bad things for them. That makes them even less willing to respond.

Teach everything as if it were a Trick. You will have a crazily responsive, happy dog!

Next/Final: Part Four — Teaching How to Behave

Are you ready to embrace the Siriusly SIMPLE System? Okay! Let’s do the prep work — not for your dog. For you.

To successfully use the Siriusly SIMPLE System, you must first commit to making these brain adjustments:

 – Dump your stories

 – Open your mind

 – Watch, listen and learn from your dog

 – Accept this is about CHOICE not FORCE

Hey, remember I said SIMPLE not easy! Here are some tips to accomplish each of these:

Dump your stories: Stories are the excuses we make for not giving our dogs the information they need to make a better choice. Stop making excuses! Every time, every single time your dog does something, and the words that come out of your mouth are along the lines of “Oh he’s just doing that because X,” immediately say, “Am I sure about that? How do I know that for sure? Could there be another explanation? What could that be?”

Open your mind: Admit that you -gasp- may not know everything there is to know about training a dog, and that possibly someone with more experience — say a progressive dog pro — might have some new information for you that could really help you out. That doesn’t involve things like yelling No or making up stories. Be willing to listen and try these new things.

Watch, listen and learn from your dog: I would bet my next paycheck (caught you! I’m retired) that you overlook and/or misinterpret about 90% of what your dog is trying to tell you. You think wagging tail always means happy dog. You think he looks “guilty” because he’s done something “bad.” You think when she is not reacting, that always means she is “fine.”

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Five cents, please.

Learn what you’re missing by picking up a dog body language sheet or book, or get my second book, I’ve Never Had a Dog Like This! and check out “Body Language Basics” and “The 5-minute Spy.”

Accept this is about CHOICE not FORCE: Which would make you happier, if I shoved you into a chair OR I asked you to sit on it? Duh, right? Force bad, choice good, yes?

Time to apply that same thinking to dogs. See, if dogs are intimidated (yep, that’s the right word for what you do when forcing) into sitting with snapping fingers, firm/harsh tones, and butt pushing, he is much less likely to want to do that again because the experience was NO GOOD FOR HIM. 

If however, he is played with, treats flying, and every time his butt contacts the floor a party erupts, he is going to be thrilled to do that thing again because IT STARTED A PARTY. And who doesn’t love a party?

If he chooses not to do that thing, one of two things is going on: 1) He doesn’t yet understand what started the party OR 2) the party wasn’t big enough, or enough to his liking. (Think dry kibble versus steak. Peas versus donuts. You get the idea.)

I hope that, as you read these points, you start thinking this advice sounds familiar, though not for training dogs. It sounds like something that you would apply or are applying to kids, or heck just about anyone you’re trying to communicate properly with, perhaps to teach something but absolutely to live harmoniously with. Common sense for people, right? 

Cool! You already know how to do this! Now you just have to apply it to dogs.

Next: Part Three — SIMPLE Teaching Sequence for Basic Skills

Have you seen these ads telling you there is a SECRET to training? And that for $$ the keeper of the secret will share it with you? 

Well, I’m here to share the REAL SECRET to training — at no charge!

Why am I being so generous? I’m not, really. That’s because the secret is… there is no secret. There is, however, a big myth to bust about training, and it is this: That there is some hugely complicated system that trainers need to use and/or owners need to master in order to get their dogs “trained properly” or “behaving well.”

I’m here to toss the BS flag on that. Take that myth, launch it over the railing, and let it fall. Buh-bye.

Look, I know it’s tempting to deify someone who can do something you can’t — I have been called a dog whisperer, a magician, a genius, as if I’d solve som great mystery of the universe — but honestly, folks, it isn’t that mysterious or complicated. Once you pull the curtain back, you realize the basics of training are, well, pretty basic. 

The Siriusly SIMPLE System of Teaching a Dog Anything

After nearly two decades of dog work, I have reached the point of intolerance. For people. Who think they are properly addressing their dog challenges but actually are making them worse (one reason I wrote my first book, Reverse Dog Training, was to show parent/owner/guardians [POGs] that, to deal effectively with common problems, they needed to do literally the exact opposite of what they were doing).

When I hear people describing their dog training challenges, be it basic techniques or problem behaviors, I fight the urge to grab them, shake them, and scream STOP COMPLICATING IT!!! (See, intolerance. Which is why I’ve retired and taken up meditating. Is “Grrrrr” a good mantra?) 

Oh, the stories we tell about our dogs. These long, detailed soliloquies about what and why  and how. So heartfelt. And so massively unimportant, misdirected and often untrue.

What do I mean by stories? A sample:

 – He’s doing X because he is mad/sad/vengeful/stubborn

 – She knows this, she’s just not doing it

 – He does X because he was abused/X happened before we got him. (Even though I got him as a puppy and he’s five now.)

 – She’s okay, it just takes her awhile to warm up to you.

 – He was abandoned as a puppy and been in 12 homes so that’s why he’s eating my couch.

 – She’s aggressing because she’s protecting me.

These stories are our attempts to analyze and/or rationalize what we see. And look, I loooove to analyze behavior; it is one of the funnest things about training. But when POGs are faced with a training challenge, this is what I tell them: We can analyze it to death, or we can take care of it. Wouldn’t you rather be done with it? (If your answer is not emphatically YES, then I suggest therapy.)

The clean, clear unshakeable basics

Fact: Everything a dog does benefits him/her somehow. 

So, if you teach them something and clearly identify the benefit, the dogs will do that thing most of the time. 

The way to do that is incredibly simple.

Want to teach your dog something? Follow 4 basic steps.

Want to change your dog’s behavior (ie “fix” something)? Follow 5 basic steps.

That’s it. No psychoanalysis, no angst, no drama. Simplicity.

Are there nuances? Sure. Every dog is different, so some tweaking is inevitable. But THE BASIC STEPS DON’T CHANGE. If you want to establish an unbreakable, effective communication system with your dogs that can take you practically anywhere you want to go with them, burn these fundamentals into your brain. 

Will your dog do everything right, every time? Of course not! Will you? Ha! What you will do is get moving in the right direction as quickly as possible, with less frustration and confusion and much much more DogJoy! Along the way, you will do massively more good stuff than bad, and everyone will be happier faster.

Are there dogs that these basic steps don’t work for? Yes. Exceedingly rare, but yes. Usually they have a medical issue. But for healthy dogs with working brains, I have never seen a failure. In the dogs, that is. Humans are another matter entirely.

SIMPLE doesn’t mean easy

Are you now wondering why you haven’t heard this from other trainers and animal professionals? Me too. I have my theories.

First, I must include my standard disclosure: My brain works differently from most other humans. I have been told this often, and I have noticed it myself. When the machine works differently, unusual things are produced. So there’s that. 

Beyond that: There are many trainers who unfortunately are stuck in old-school thinking land, where they learned a way to do things years ago and it brought them success so they just kept using it. Unfortunately, the stuff they are using, perhaps on your dog right now, is outrageously outdated. Rooted in misunderstanding, like the dog knows right from wrong (she doesn’t). Or that she’s being stubborn. Or that you have to be tough with dogs and show them who’s boss. Trainers have stories they need to let go of too!

Even wonderful, progressive, up-to-date trainers have stories. They might lean more toward overanalyzing (every dog is sooooooooo different we have to come up with a different plan for each). I used to think that too. Give me a progressive trainer to work with any day, but these complicated storylines can really monkey up the works and slow the teaching to a crawl. Well-meaning, but in the end, not as useful as it could be.

Give up your stories, and you can start writing your dog’s tale of success!

It is SO SIMPLE. However, I must caution, SIMPLE does not mean EASY. (I was an English major; I choose my words carefully.)

Because these stories are deeply rooted, often passed down through family and shared by peer groups. And assumed to be proven, true, fact. So they are very hard to give up!

Here’s a fact that may help: Everything we believe about dog training right this second is based on theories, which we strive to prove through experiments and research. Thank heavens for science! It has finally confirmed a lot of the theories progressive trainers have supported for years, and it has also disproved a lot of the long-held beliefs of others. (See pack behavior, dominance, aversive training, for example.) Your stories, in many if not most cases, come under the heading of disproved long-held beliefs.

“But but but!” I hear you sputtering. “X worked with old Sparky. It didn’t hurt him and he stopped doing X. So it was the right thing to do.”

Oops, another story emerges. Sure, intimidation tactics work on a lot of dogs (though not as many as you might think, and certainly not in the way you think). A leash jerk, a sharp NO, a light smack on the butt, may well get your dog to stop what he is doing, or do something he doesn’t want to do. I would argue that instead of fixing one problem you simply added another, one connected to fear and distrust. If I shove you into a chair, sure, I got you to sit down, but what else has happened? In both cases, the end does not justify the means.

There are other, so much better means. Let go your stories, open your mind. Your dog will love you for it.

Oh, I forgot! I do have one more secret for you: This stuff works for any being, furry or not, with a working brain. 

Ready? Let’s go!! See Part two: First SIMPLE Steps

Why does your dog pull you all over the place but walk beautifully for your sitter? Why does he pee in one room of your house but not others? Why does she jump on you but not Aunt Sara? Why does she not take stuff off your counters until you are out of the kitchen?

Hard to trust a dog who’s so unreliable. Guess in response you’ll have to monitor/supervise/restrain/constrain/avoid and otherwise completely contort your life forever…. Ha! Kidding. By the end of this post you will know why s/he’s like that and how simple it is to change.

Selective memory? Stubborn? Or something else?

Longtime dog POGs and well as newbies are often flummoxed by this seemingly erratic behavior (oh for a dollar every time a client describes a dog’s “sudden,” “for no reason” action). They give voice to many possible explanations: this is just how dogs are; he’s very stubborn; she’s not very bright; I need to be more dominant, etc.

Thankfully, none of these is accurate in most cases. Here is your Keep It Simple, common-sense reason for unreliability:

Your dog doesn’t do X all the time because s/he doesn’t know s/he’s supposed to. Which means you haven’t finished teaching yet. Your lesson is not complete.

See, dogs have this interesting way of learning that is very specific, and it can often fool POGs into thinking their work is done. Then when their dogs suddenly don’t do that thing, POGs blurt out things like “What is wrong with you?” and “You know this. You’re just being stubborn!”

Take the standard method of teaching Sit: Person says Sit, slowly raises a treat up and over a dog’s head till the butt goes down, then says GOOD and gives him the treat.

Humans see this pattern of two connected dots: Sit-reward.

Dogs see THIS pattern of connected dots: Sunny-warm-family room-TV on-kids nearby-near my bone-Mom standing facing me-staring-wearing shorts-hair pulled back-smells like peanut butter-holding FOOD!-in right hand-hand turned up-I hear a bird-cat just walked in-Mom said SIT in slow, high voice-moving FOOD!-must follow-butt touches floor-I get FOOD! And PRAISE!

…I may have missed a few, but you get the idea. Where you see a simple exercise, your dog sees a string of things all linked together somehow that results in him getting a treat. The more observant the dog is, the more dots he connects. (For the geeks, in trainerspeak, this is called associative learning.)

Our teaching job then must continue past the establishment of the basic exercise we see and enter into our dogs’ world so we can help her identify which specific dots in the long string are actually the ones that produce the reward (in trainerspeak: shaping). If we don’t do that, we then are leaving the dog to think that possibly ALL those dots are somehow connected to the result. Which means they ALL need to be present for her to produce the behavior we want.

So the next time you work your Sit exercise, if even ONE of those dots is not present, your dog may not Sit. Or he may hesitate. Or he may jump at the treat. And you will snatch the treat away. Or say “No, SIT” in a lower, irritated voice. Or push his butt down to “help” him. Now, not only has at least one dot disappeared, all these new dots have appeared! Are they connected to getting the FOOD or not?

It’s pretty easy to see how quickly this could get confusing for both parties. The break in communication and understanding can completely undermine the teaching process to the point where POGs literally throw up their hands and declare their dogs stupid, unable to listen, incapable of learning. Meanwhile, the dogs keep waiting for a clear message that never comes, and may well end up deciding we are not worth listening to.

We don’t realize what has actually happened — that something changed, the dog noticed, and he now isn’t sure what to do.

Dogs are very detail-oriented (good survival skill!), so they tend to notice way more things than we do. If we are aware of this, the learning process smoothes out substantially. POGs realize they need to reconnect the dots repeatedly as they expand their exercises, say moving to a different room, or a noisier place, or weaning off treats. It’s helpful to remember the less dots you remove at once, the easier it is to reconnect. One dot at a time is best. You are telling your dog, “Yes, I know I changed something again, but this is still the way you get the good stuff!”

Trainers call this proofing, I guess to mean they are proving the dog really knows the exercise. Connecting the dots makes more sense to me.

Continue the teaching by backing up a bit

Think back to a time when you were taught a new task. Did you get confused if a new step is added? Did you struggle if the task was done under different conditions, say noisier or with interruptions? How do you adjust — go back to basics by rereading the directions, listening again to the instructor, watching the video? Take a deep breath to calm and focus yourself? Remove the new step, reestablish the basic task, then attempt the new step again?

Dogs need the same help. So, the next time you start practicing with your dog, if she hesitates, does something else, looks at you with that confused Scooby-Doo face, simply back up in your exercise. Go back to the step she can do with enthusiasm and confidence. Repeat a few times then try your next step again.

If you still get hesitation/confusion, then you probably added/subtracted way too many dots at once without realizing it. Go back to the start and repeat the basic task just the way you first taught it. You may only need one or two repeats to reconnect the dots (watch for that little doggie light bulb to come on!). Once that happens, continue on to the next level.

If your dog got nervous/hyper because of the confusion, take an extra moment or two — slowly walk her off, take a few deep breaths, and quietly wait for her to relax a bit. Then go back to the basic task, etc. (If you can’t read your dog well enough to see all this, then it’s time to go back to basics for you — learn some more dog body language. A place to start: I’ve Never Had a Dog Like This! [https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B07RJV89YR ] has a sidebar in it that points out some important stuff about body language that will help you assess quickly.)

Hope this post connected some dots for you!

When I ask clients what their goals are for their dogs, whether we are dealing with basics or behavior problems, they tell me they want a “good” dog — that is, well-socialized, well-behaved, well-trained. They describe dogs that won’t jump on people, walk nicely on leash, play nice with other dogs, can be taken anywhere, always listen and so on. You know, perfect. And impossible.

I contend what they really mean is they want a safe dog. One they trust. One they don’t have to watch all the time. Or constantly have to keep a leash on, put away or be ready to say No or Off to whenever X occurs.

A safe dog is a more realistic and attainable goal than perfect, and it is a more clearly defined goal than “good.” Here’s how I define it:

A safe dog is one that happily and predictably makes the proper choice most of the time without prompting.

The key pieces of that definition are:

Predictability. POGs need to know their dogs will almost always act properly in a given situation.

Most of the time. Dogs will make mistakes sometimes.

Choice. Dogs can learn to reliably make an appropriate choice in a given situation.

Prompts (“Commands”). Dogs can’t make proper choices if they are always waiting for you to tell them what to do. What happens if you forget to tell them, or you aren’t watching, or you’re not even there?

Happiness. A good attitude is everything. It’s the gas that powers the behavior car. When everything a dog learns is taught with delight and great results, she will be happy to use what she’s been taught. Even when a dog fails to make a proper choice, it’s usually a one-off oopsie with no long-term effects.

Doesn’t that sound like something every POG wants?

The path to safety

If we have agreed that a safe dog is the goal, we next have to figure out how to achieve it. So how does one create a safe dog?

As usual, the answer is simple but not easy. Because, loving POG, it involves YOU changing — your thinking, your attitude, your approach.

That means thinking teaching not correcting/punishing/disciplining.

That means realizing your dog does what he does because A) he thinks it will get him what he wants or B) he thinks it’s what you want or C) he has no idea what to do and is just flailing. In all three instances, the dog is working off no information or misinformation. The only way to fix that is or provide correct information.

That means it is up to us to consistently give our dogs the information necessary to make the desired choice (i.e. this is what to do, this is why you want to do it). And regardless of if you are working on a Sit, a jumping problem or reactivity (“aggression”), every molecule of information needs to be delivered without a hint of threat (i.e. no yelling, no grabbing, no smacking, no yanking, no time-outs in a crate, no frustration, no anger). Because critical to the success of this approach is making sure your dog trusts you 110%. In other words, if you want your dog to be predictable, you have to be predictable too. (One of my favorite sayings is ” ‘Sometimes’ doesn’t work in dog training.”)

But just as you are not perfect, dear POG, neither is your dog. And while we don’t require 100% on things like Sit, we do on things like attacking other dogs and jumping on 90-year-old Granny. For those types of things, we cannot allow our dogs to err. To get to and stay at 100% on those things, in addition to teaching, you must add in some management (aka safety nets). Some common safety nets: Not putting your dog in a situation you aren’t sure he can handle without testing his tolerance first. Or if you have put him in a situation and see him getting nervous, calmly calling him away or walking him away. Using management techniques like this, you prevent a mistake from happening and — bonus — your dog will love you for noticing and trust you all the more. Which could lead to less and less management as time goes on.

Kind, joyful teaching builds trust and more

This isn’t rocket science, folks. Let’s put this concept in human terms: If I ordered you to sit in a chair, and every time you tried to get up I shoved you back down and said “No, Sit,” eventually you would probably stay seated, even though you had no idea why you had to sit in that chair. I got what I wanted, but you got — what? Nothing good, that’s for sure. Anger, confusion, anxiety, resentment are just a few of the possible reactions.

However, if I waved $5 at you and told you it could be yours for sitting in that chair, your butt would be down before I finished the sentence, right? And you would sit as many times as I wanted for $5 a pop (well at least until your legs gave out). If you started to get up, and I said whoops and put the bill away, you would quickly sit back down hoping the bill would reappear, making the clear connection between the action taken and the rewards resulting. This time, we both got something we wanted, making it something we both enjoyed doing. A game where everyone wins.

The next time I saw you, you might slide onto the nearest chair before I pulled a bill out of my pocket, just in case the game is again afoot!

This is the beauty of kind, joyful teaching, and the main reason why it is the surest path to a safe dog. Virtually every exercise results in success for POG and dog, with few mistakes! Good feelings are attached to everything your dog does. No fear, anxiety or mistrust appears because it is not warranted.

That happy attitude brings confidence — Look at me, I know what to do here! Confidence promotes qualities in your dog like tolerance and forgiveness. And even if she isn’t sure what to do, she is more likely to make a choice on the good-attitude side (re-read the chair example) because that’s all she has in her behavior bag. Fear-based or defensive-based behaviors are much less likely to come from a happy, confident, trusting pooch.

Proper, reliable choices made happily. Now that is what I call a safe dog!

She’s in the trash. He’s jumping higher than your head. She snaps when you reach for the shoe she took. He pulls like a freight train on leash. She pees on your bed. He tears up your couch.

“No!” you thunder. “Bad dog!” To no effect. Doesn’t make a dent in the behavior.

“Good grief,” you wail, “Why is my dog so bad?”

Welp, if you are saying that, that’s where the problem lies. Not with your dog, but with your thinking that what s/he is doing is considered “bad behavior” BY HIM/HER.

Because here’s the thing: In the dog’s world, there is no bad behavior. There’s also no good behavior.

Whaaaa?

You may want to sit down.

Here is a science-based dog statement: Research indicates dogs don’t possess a good/bad value system. It is simply not the way they operate.

Let me repeat: Dogs DO NOT work using a good/bad value system.

The way they DO operate is through a results-based system: If what they do gets them something they want, they will do it again. Period. Full stop. No more complicated than that.

So for example, getting into trash nets yummy stuff. Jumping snags lots of attention (yelling etc. is attention just like saying GOOD DOG). Snapping when you reach for the shoe gets you to leave her alone with her treasure. Pulling on the leash gets him where he wants to go. Peeing on your bed mixes scents, and of course gives her relief. Tearing up a couch is fun! And also can relieve anxiety and boredom.

See? Every single one of those can be explained without the word “bad” if you use the dog lens to examine it.

But but the ‘guilty look’

Hold it, you say. Then what’s the guilty look about? Ah yes, most people assume that hang-dog expression dogs display when “caught” proves they feel “bad” about what they did.

You know what happens when you assume, right?

Dogs don’t do guilt (guilt comes from knowing the difference between good and bad; dogs don’t get “bad,” so they also don’t get guilt). The guilty look isn’t a guilty look. It’s a “I don’t want to fight with you” expression of appeasement. Your dog is showing anxiety/fear when you see that look.

Longer explanation from my book, Reverse Dog Training: A Fresh Perspective for Solving Common Problems:

Common belief: I can tell my dog knows what he’s doing is “wrong” because he looks “guilty,” even before I say or do anything.

Reverse reality: Since dogs have no sense of “right” or “wrong,” they certainly can’t experience guilt over doing something they shouldn’t. What your dog does “know” is he should repeat behaviors that work for him (e.g. tearing up pillows is fun and relieves stress!). He also knows you are mad when you come in with your mad face and talk in your mad voice (“What did you do?!”), so he offers appeasement gestures (the “guilty” look) to you in hopes you will calm down and stop being so threatening.

POGs will often assume they dog “knows” because he will often slink away the moment you come in, before you even discover the indiscretion. That “pre-reaction” does not come from realizing he’s committed a crime; rather, it comes from learning. Dogs know only the present, not the past or future, but they can learn. That process goes something like this: “Every time Mom comes home and there is a torn pillow on the floor, she is mad and bad things happen to me, so I better do my best to calm her down/get out of here till she calms down.”

Unfortunately, the dog cannot make the connection that if he hadn’t destroyed the pillow in the first place, the bad things wouldn’t happen.

Helpful side note: When your dog looks “guilty,” he could actually be scared. NEVER correct a dog when he is scared.

—————

Do you feel guilty now? Good.

That’s the first step toward changing your thinking so you can better understand and communicate with your dog. When you acknowledge your dog needs information she doesn’t have, and that you must provide in a way she can process and use it properly, you change from “owner/master” into thoughtful, supportive partner.

Next step: Realize that the best way to get a “good” dog is to 1) Prevent the “bad” so it isn’t practiced/reinforced; 2) Teach and reward heavily the “good” so dog wants to repeat it; 3) Repeat 1 & 2 over and over and over and over… until you suddenly realize your dog is doing the “good” without you telling her too; 4) Keep rewarding often so there is no backsliding by you or your dog!

Go guilt-free yourself (your dog is already there!) by taking the time to learn about rewards-based, kind teaching methods. Head to my Resources page [http://www.trainedwithkindness.com/cphipdogs/resources/ ] to find out how much is out there!

“My dog needs to learn how to behave.”

“My dog needs to learn some behaviors.”

On the surface, the previous two statements seem to be talking about the same thing. Both have a version of the word “behave” in them, so they must be closely related, right?

Actually, no. In fact, these two sentences are as far away from each other in meaning as Pluto is from Earth in light years. (Okay, maybe not quite that bad; I just wanted to say Pluto, ya know, the dog thing. Anyway, they are not closely related.)

This may seem a bit trainer-geeky, but it is soooo very important to understand the difference between behavior and Behavior (capitalization mine), whether you are teaching your dog to Sit or dealing with a problem.

Allow me to define both and explain the importance.

“behavior”

This is one of the newer ways of talking about what used to be called “commands” — Sit, Down, Come, No, Heel etc. — and also “tricks” like shake, roll over, etc. We think of “tricks” and “commands” as two different things, and we tend to teach them differently, but they are the same thing: single-event actions, generally taught with words. Say the word, the action is performed, and some type of reward is usually provided.

Anyone can teach behaviors, and any dog can learn them. I sometimes call them “circus tricks” because of the automatic/rote nature of them. To avoid confusion in this post, I will also refer to them that way here.

“Behavior”

Thisis what happens between the circus tricks, and it occupies the vast majority of your dog’s day! It is the stuff your dog does when you are not specifically telling her what to do; it’s what you are expecting or hoping she already “knows.” Though we differentiate between Good and Bad Behavior, your dog doesn’t — to her, Behavior is simply how she conducts herself in our world. Behavior is what happens after the walk but before dinner, while you are working on your computer or running the vacuum, when you are helping the kids with schoolwork, when you are fixing a snack and leaving it on the counter. While you are doing other things, your dog is Behaving.

Why it’s important to know the difference

When our dogs fail to do what we want them to do, we jump to unhelpful human conclusions. Many of us like to say our dogs are “stubborn” when they don’t perform the circus trick every time or Behave the way we’d like. Let me be clear: Dogs generally are not being “stubborn” when they don’t do what we want. There ARE reasons for their improper response — and they can be very different depending on whether it’s a behavior or Behavior.

Your dog may not perform a circus trick/behavior reliably because:

• there have not been enough repetitions,

• rewards haven’t been consistently provided,

• there is too much else going on around the dog (ie distractions),

• the teaching technique isn’t sound (eg punishing your dog for not Coming will make him less likely to Come).

In this instance, cleaning up and committing to your teaching procedure should get your dog performing reliably (80-90% for most things; dogs aren’t robots!).

Your dog may not Behave because:

• he’s scared,

• he’s overstimulated,

• he’s confused,

• he’s learned bad things happen to him under these circumstances,

• it’s a new place/person/thing,

• he’s being bullied by another dog,

• it’s night,

• it’s day,

• it’s noisy,

• he smells something funny,

• his brain is tired,

• he’s sick,

• something hurts,

• he doesn’t trust you,

• he doesn’t feel protected,

• he’s learned how to get what he wants without doing it,

• he sees no benefit to doing it,

• Behaving a different way benefits him more,

• he is expected to Behave though no one has taught him how to Behave.*

In this instance, as you can see, it’s a wee bit more complicated. Which is why it’s fascinating for me and other pros, but so frustrating for many POGs!

Behavior is internal. It comes from within, not without. It isn’t created with a word. Behavior is impacted by personality, life experience, environment, nutrition, breed(s), etc. etc. It is where DogJoy can happen, where the true connection/bond between human and dog is formed and where understanding, communication and mutual respect blossom.

To impact Behavior, you need to understand your dog on a deeper level. To create Good Behavior, you have to understand Dog Behavior in general, and your dog’s Behavior in particular. If you take the time to do that, both of you will be richly rewarded.

For some good places to start learning about dog Behavior, visit my Recommended Reading page.

———-

*For the record, despite thousands of years of domestication, dogs still have no clue how to operate in our world, and since they don’t have ESP or a chip in their heads that is preprogrammed before they arrive in your home, they need us to supply the missing information in a way they can understand and properly process.

This comes a little too late for me to call this a Christmas Wish, so instead I am labeling it a New Year’s Wish.

What is this Wish? Those of you who know me well may guess it’s that everyone finally stops blaming all dog problems on dominance issues (good guess — that one is always at or near the top).

However, I’m on a different soapbox at the moment, and this Wish comes courtesy of an ad in the coupon section of my local paper.

It features an adorable little girl facing a big fluffy dog, noses nearly touching. The girl’s hands are on the dog’s throat, her eyes are closed, and she looks like she is about to kiss him. The ad suggests this is a good way to celebrate the holidays with this member of the family.

So my Wish is this: I hope to never see another ad, photo or video like this.

I am not going to get into whether or not this dog is safe or comfortable in this particular photo (he doesn’t look happy, but not knowing what was going on when it was taken, I won’t comment further).

What I must get into is that this type of photo shows exactly what a child should NEVER EVER EVER do to a dog. This company is clearly ignorant of the potential disaster of the act itself and the irresponsibility of encouraging such behavior. I am going to contact them privately.

But I’ve also got to address this publicly and strongly so it reaches as many people as possible. This is an unsafe situation. Children should NEVER have their face that close to a dog’s. I don’t care if they’ve known the dog for 2 seconds or for all their lives. I don’t care if the dog is as sweet as honey and wouldn’t hurt a fly. NEVER. EVER. DO. THIS.

Here’s why:

1. Dogs are not robots, and any dog can have a bad day.

2. If kids are allowed to do that to their own dogs, they might think it’s okay to do it to all dogs. They will never learn the proper way to approach a dog.

The usual scenario

I’ve trained hundreds of dogs since 2004, and I have been in my share of homes where a dog has clocked a kid in the face, resulting in a bruise, scrape, tear or bite. The parents were shocked — shocked! — that their Sparky would do such a thing. And saddened to think they now may need to re-home Sparky (though who they think would take Sparky after he has bitten a kid in the face is beyond me).

The story I usually end up with involves one or more of these facts: the dog was “okay/fine” with baby until baby started crawling/walking; the dog has rarely/never been around a baby/toddler; the dog is “good” with older kids and/or adults so they assumed he’d be fine with baby/toddler; the baby/toddler was allowed to do anything to the dog; the baby/toddler was at times unsupervised with the dog; the dog is nervous/hyper; the dog was chewing his bone/sleeping/cornered when it happened; the baby/toddler stepped/fell on him; etc.

So in essence, the causes of the incident the adults never saw coming were 1) POGs never taught manners to their child or raised the tolerance level of their dog and 2) Dog took it as long as he could, waiting for help, then finally took care of it himself, in his own way.

If you ever have taken a basics group class from me, you would have attended one entire lesson devoted to this topic: how to prevent handling problems, and why the human-dog greeting sequence is inappropriate at just about every level from the dog’s perspective. In this lesson, you would have learned exactly how to approach these situations so you minimize your chances of having something bad happen.

If you had told me you were expecting or had a new baby, I would have sent you my Baby/Toddler Prep Sheet so you could put things in place immediately to avoid/fix problems like this.

Start creating a safe environment TODAY

You can and should make changes NOW to start reducing the chances of injury. The last thing anyone should do is allow/encourage kids to hug, kiss, stare at or otherwise bother a dog around the head. I don’t care how cute it looks. It’s not worth the risk! Stitches, skin grafts, blood, bruises and scars are not cute.

Also important is that the adults get better at reading dog body language so you know when there could be trouble brewing. (Hint: If the dog looks uncomfortable, s/he probably is uncomfortable.) If you see uncomfortable or hear a growl, immediately direct your dog away with a bright Come, Leave it, Move, etc. DO NOT use a sharp tone, punish or correct your dog — this is not the time to fix it (if you do, you will make the problem worse!!). This is the time for safety, so if the dog doesn’t respond, calmly walk toward him/her and gently shoo him/her away. Then call in a kind trainer/Dog Life Skills Instructor to help you fix it.

For a proper way for toddlers to interact with dogs, and also how to prepare your dog if you have a baby on the way or in your arms, download my Baby Prep Sheet.

For more information on how to read dog body language, get my ebooklet Read Body Language!

Have a safe day!
++++++++++++

“If our goal is a happier, more peaceful world in the future, only education will bring change.” — The Dalai Lama

My new client had obviously had a tiring day with her rescue dog. We had been working on some reactivity issues with visitors, and unfortunately Thanksgiving got in the way of our teaching plan. While the day wasn’t a failure, both POG and dog tried hard but also made mistakes throughout the day. By the time her relatives left, my client was burnt to a crisp.

She emailed a report to me, and she ended with a question: “…have you ever worked with a family who isn’t able to turn this behavior around?”
I knew this was a bad-day/exhaustion-based question, so I gave her my usual responses (yes, but: rarely; you didn’t fail, nothing bad happened so something good happened; this is expected; you did fine; she did fine; you can do it; back to work!). My answer satisfied her; in fact, she reported she had since had a great session with her dog. We were back on track.

Yet, for some reason, her question niggled at me. Of course, I had clients who couldn’t reach their goals for their dog. The reasons varied from life changes to “I am afraid she’ll hurt someone.” The common thread comes down to the POG being physically and/or emotionally unable to continue. Essentially, they give up.

It happens to all of us, DLSIs/trainers and POGs alike: We get that challenging dog, and/or we have a spectacularly bad day, and/or a series of bad days/events, and we run out of coping juice. We go into meltdown mode, selecting from the despair menu of crumpled crying, primal screaming, boisterous swearing, redirected anger, manic cleaning and/or yard work, and extreme self-doubt (that’s my list anyway). Generally, after a while, we pick ourselves up, shake ourselves off and get back to work.

But not always. And that got me to wondering: What if I had given up? 

The Tawny Test

My darling girl Tawny was a challenging dog. And that is putting it mildly. She had a lot of issss-ues, if you will, and she was stuck with someone who had her own issss-ues plus, unfortunately, a similar personality–quick-reacting, impatient, intolerant. We were gasoline and a match. Bad combo! Add in the fact that I was wet behind the ears as a trainer, just starting out and with a lot to learn about what “dog training” really was, and oh my, what a recipe for disaster. 

In my group glasses, I would hold up a piece of paper with stuff written on both sides. This was Tawny’s “bad dog” list–all the behaviors we had fixed, from jumping and digging to separation anxiety and reactivity (“aggression”). I stated I had to write it down so I wouldn’t forget any of it because the problems were all gone, but emphasized that it didn’t happen overnight.

In fact, it was often a slow, hard slog for both of us as we worked to understand each other and learned how to communicate. I was slower on the uptake most of the time, and amazingly Tawny for some reason was very tolerant of my flailings and failings then. And still is, I might add. There were times when I blew it, she blew it, and we both blew it. There were times when something would work for awhile and then suddenly stop working. There were times when I questioned whether I should even have a dog, much less try to teach one anything.

But each time, after the ceremonial wailing and rending of garments, in fairly short order, I slid back into the driver’s seat and eased back onto the course. It was unthinkable to me to do anything else. Tawny was depending on me to sort this out with her. Had I given up, I would have let her down, and also let down all the other dogs who needed my help. I would have let myself down too. I couldn’t let that happen. Quite simply, failure was not an option. 

What I didn’t know then but know now is that arduous, tortuous journey produced marvelous, far-reaching results. I have the dog I always wanted–safe, reliable, well-mannered, a joy most of the time–an achievement I could barely have imagined at the beginning. Even more unimaginable is how much she changed me, pushing me to be a better trainer, better POG, and better human being. Had I not kept trying, neither of us would be the beings we are now. We both hung in there, and today we both are reaping the rewards. 

This is especially meaningful to me now, because I am in a personal situation that allows me little time to manage anything in my life, especially an ill-behaved dog. But she is performing majestically, and I thank her every day for it.

Learning resilience

In trainer circles, we talk about the resilience of dogs, how some bounce back better than others. My dog taught me how to be resilient, and I will be forever grateful I didn’t give up on her, or me. I judge no one who makes a different decision. This is simply my story. I hope it helps someone else struggling to hang on in a bad moment.

More help can be found on my Trained With Kindness (TWiKi) site (“Frustration Emergency?“) [http://www.trainedwithkindness.com/take-action-now-heres-how/frustration-emergency-read-now/] and my CP-HIP site (Problem-Solving Formula e-booklet on my Store page). [http://cp-hipdogs.com/train/shop/]

%d bloggers like this: