Category Archives: How Dogs Learn

A dog learns from the consequences of his actions. Whether the action pays off for the dog or whether it doesn’t, something will still be learned. This education will occur regardless of our involvement.
Left to their own devices, dogs can learn a great deal of things that would not allow them to live harmoniously in human society. Ultimate Puppy puts a strong emphasis on being involved in what the puppy learns so that you end up with the dog you dreamed of living with.

I Sit. You Sit.

Pomeranian weaves in between lady’s legs as she walks toward the camera. Dog is looking up at the woman.

Watch Me Move

Body language is the subtext for us humans but for our pups, it is their first language. They take their cues from other dog’s body postures and subtle movements as well as being masters at watching people move.

We can inadvertently appear threatening to a dog by the way we move or approach them. Even our own dogs can get weirded out by our strange movement if for example we have a big coat, strange hat or move with a different gait then we usually do. Check out the scary monster game for more on this.

The flip side of being aware of how our posture is perceived by a dog is you understanding what your dog is communicating with his body posture.

pull quote says: Since dogs keenly watch us, we can communicate things to them without ever needing to speak at allCheck out this infographic by the wonderful Lili Chin. Take time to observe your pup as you go through the day and are in different situations. Can you tell what they are communicating or how they are feeling?

Body postures that let you know your dog is feeling happy and relaxed are a loose wiggly body or a play bow. Then there are the less apparent cues to watch for that might indicate stress such as head turns, lip licking, wide eyes or pinned ears.

Since dogs keenly watch us, we can communicate things to them without ever needing to speak at all.

Let’s look at some fun ways to use your pup’s natural inclination to watch you and learn how we can use our movement as cues to the dog to perform a behavior such as sit or lie down.

Marvelous Moves

Settle On The Go (or at home)

This is an excellent skill for any dog. When you sit, it’s their cue to settle. More and more dogs are getting to head to the office with their people. How great is it to have a meeting savvy dog.

Prerequisite Moves

Your pup needs a solid down on a verbal cue or hand signal for this. Some duration on a ‘settle’ cue is a plus too. Of course, this is always something that can be a work-in-progress. More motivation for you to work at your foundation moves with this as a game plan for refining them as your puppy is able.

How do you teach it?

Do multiple repetitions of approaching a chair and as you are bending to sit cue your puppy to down. Reward the dog with three to five treats in rapid succession.

With a treat right against the pup’s nose so they can smell it, stand up and lure the puppy out of the down position. Take a few steps away, do a U-turn and return to the same spot and repeat.

Do multiple repetitions for 1 to 3-minute training sessions.

Fade the verbal cue as your dog starts to get the idea.

Next, add some duration to the down. You are on your way to a pup who chills when you sit down for a bite, a meeting, or whatever brings you to your seat.

A Hand On The Door Knob Is Your Pup’s Cue To Sit and Wait For What Happens Next.

Teaching your puppy to hold his sit as you open the door is helpful in preventing door crowding, jumping on people and of course door dashing. Front door etiquette is a favorite of mine to teach, this is one of the beautiful components of it.

Prerequisite Moves

A nice solid sit around moderate distractions is helpful. Impulse control exercises where the pup has learned to look away or wait calmly for a reward.

How do you teach it?

This is a two-parter – first, you train the auto sit, next you teach the pup to hold the sit as the door opens.

Part One

Begin by having your puppy on a leash and approaching a door.

As you put your hand on the doorknob ask your puppy to sit.

Reward the puppy for sitting.

Lure the puppy away by placing a treat right against his nose – it should be like a magnet in that the pup’s nose does not leave your hand as he is sniffing the treat.

Do a U-turn and return to the spot and repeat.

Continue practicing in short sessions with multiple repetitions until the puppy is sitting on his own as your hand moves toward the doorknob.

Fade out the verbal cue so a hand on the doorknob is all that is needed for cueing the pup to sit.

Part Two

Next, you will teach the ‘hold the sit’ behavior.

This stage requires some good impulse control on your pup’s part so be sure that you have practiced ‘leave it’ or some other good impulse control games beforehand with your puppy. This is helpful for keeping the pup out from underfoot in the kitchen. Out of the dishwasher. Safe from things that drop and helps prevent the dreaded counter surfing.

For this part of the lesson don’t worry about the pup sitting when your hand goes to the doorknob. Focus on one piece at a time. Get both steps smooth. Then put them together.

With your puppy on a leash in the sit position slowly start to open the door.

If the puppy gets up, close the door. Reposition in the sit and try again. The signal to the puppy that we want him to hold the sit is the door closing. We stay quiet and merely control what the door does. Not what the puppy does. The pup figures this part out.

If your puppy holds the sit reward him with a delicious high-value treat and repeat. Sometimes you can also pay him with the opportunity to go through the door with a verbal release such as ‘Okay.’

Lots of different things happen at the door. People come and go, and sometimes the pup stays or goes. Teach your puppy that an open door is not always a predictor of ‘going through it.’ But is a predictor of a big reward.

Refrigerator Door Opens – Pup Heads To A Mat To Settle or Just Outside of Kitchen.

This is helpful for keeping the pup out from underfoot in the kitchen. Out of the dishwasher. Safe from things that drop and helps prevent the dreaded counter surfing.

Prerequisite Moves

Settle on a mat with some duration in place.

How do you teach it?

Start with a mat just outside the kitchen.

Do several warm-ups of just asking the dog to go to his mat.

Reward!

Next, as you put your hand on the refrigerator door cue the pup to go to his mat.

Keep practicing until the dog heads to the mat as you are moving toward the refrigerator.

Fade the verbal cue.

Keep on paying large.

Next, you will add distractions such as washing a plate, opening a drawer or loading the dishwasher.

Keep rewarding the pup for holding his position on the mat as you move about the kitchen.

pull quote says: Can you tell what they are communicating or how they are feeling?That Pup’s Got Moves

The beauty of this type of training is that it takes a lot of pressure off of you and the dog. Do remember to continue to reward the dog for their excellent behavior. The sky is the limit in training. Anything you do on a regular basis can become a cue to your dog about what it is you want him to do at the same time. Get creative, have fun.

Happy Training.

Patience

a puppy laying on his belly in the sun with the shadow on a fence on him.

A New Year

As we come to the end of this year and look forward to… WAIT! (cue sound of screeching breaks). Let’s pause for a moment and consider the last sentence, specifically the words ‘look forward’.

Merriam Webster’s definition of the word patience is “the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset.” 

We will assume since you are here and reading this that you have a puppy, are about to get a puppy or that you are into dogs and dog behavior. I want to talk about the importance of patience in relation to puppy raising.

The ability to be patient might be the single most important part of raising and training a new dog.

Tempo of The Dog

We live in the times of “I want it yesterday” this mentality will not only undermine your puppy raising efforts but may also damage trust in the relationship. It simply will not do when it comes to raising a pup. They don’t move to the same beat.

Our hope for you is that you not LOOK FORWARD with your puppy but rather stay here in the now with him. This after all is where your pup is.

Enjoy all the joys and be patient with the challenges of this path. There will be plenty. From dealing with bathroom training to biting and nipping. Strive to understand the creature before you with all their differences. Their needs and wants. Their fears and joys and their heart’s desire. You can bet it is much different from yours.

The thought of a hot bath may be your idea of fun but your pup’s is more about rolling all over a dead fish.

Thank You!

We thank you for being a part of Ultimate Puppy. For taking the time to educate yourself, or help to educate others thoughtfully and compassionately.

Be patient with your puppy and with the ones you love.

Happy New Puppy (Year)

Warmly, Peg, Syd and the UP family.

a hand shadow of a dog

 

 

The Magic Lives In The Details 

A young jack russell puppy’s head has burst through the white paper on the left of the page. He is facing the camera. On the left is text which reads: Did you know that being present is a key component of good training?

Hello! Is Anyone Home?

We could take many lessons from dogs. How about the lesson on being present? They love it when you pay attention to them. Did you know this is a key component of good training?

The difference between a great training session and mediocre one is the attention to detail. Mental presence helps create a connection with your dog. The magic will start to happen once you and your dog maintain eye contact with each other during your sessions and you are both equally engaged in the process of working together. This is good stuff!

If you are taking the time to educate your dog you may just as well strive to make it the best education you can offer. Let’s look at what other components of training are worth understanding and paying attention to.

It Is The Journey Not The Destination

When you are teaching something new or polishing up an existing behavior it is important to stay focused on the process rather than the end result. This is not to say that a goal is not important but the reality is it will take some steps to achieve that goal. Stay focused on the steps. This makes for a great training session.

 

Same puppy ripping through the white paper on screen, This time the text say: Are your training sessions shot, fast paced and fun?

Reinforcement Lingo

A high rate of reinforcement means a lot of rewarded repetitions in a short period of time. This is one of the most valuable things you can strive to do while working with your pup.

I teach my students a game called the 1-Minute Sit Sprint. What it does is gives an accurate account of how many repetitions can be done within the span of one minute. Aim for 10 to 15 rewarded repetitions of sit within one minute. This is a high rate of reinforcement. It will help your dog stay in the game and learn faster. You can teach your pup how to sit playing this game or use it to sharpen his moves and yours too.

Set a timer for one minute, count out 15 soft, tiny treats that your dog loves. Put yourself on the clock. Ask your pup to sit, reinforce the sit with the treat, release , and repeat. This game gives you a clear goal and important information about your training skills. It is a great warm-up before a walk or training session. Playing this game regularly will improve your training skills as well as your pup’s sit and attention.

A strong history of reinforcement translated means your puppy has been rewarded many times for a particular behavior. This means the likelihood of your pup repeating that behavior is increased. Let’s look at the example of calling your puppy to come. If you call your puppy to come 20 times in a fun, fast paced training session (set a timer for three minutes, and each time pay large) and you do this a few times per day you are creating a history of reinforcement with the behavior associated with the word ‘come’.

Conversely if you use the word ‘come’ recklessly and don’t reinforce each time you call you are decreasing the probability your dog will always come when you call. Who wants a pup who won’t come-a-running when called? No one, that’s who!

Timing of your reinforcement is your ability to get the goods to your puppy at the right moment. This should be just a few seconds after the desired behavior. Don’t be slow and sloppy with your treat delivery. Have a treat pouch or your treats easily accessible on a near by table or shelf.

Om

Dogs are always paying close attention to our body language and movement. When you are not reinforcing/rewarding with treats keep your hands quiet in front of you at belly button, side of hips or chest.

Economy of words is a worthwhile effort. We are chatty ones. All this gabbing can get confusing and distracting for dogs. If we have to keep asking for a behavior such as sit or down the pup needs more training. No big deal, we all need to keep working at things. It is a fun game to try and communicate with a dog without speaking. Try just using your body or hand signals. Can you get your dog to follow you, sit or lie down without talking?

Let’s Get Busy

Don’t forget to proof the behavior around distractions and train in different environments. Train in the places and situations you want your pup to be able to perform the behaviors.

Keep your sessions short, fast paced and fun. For a young puppy one to three minute sessions are plenty.

The Origin of Puppy

Please keep your expectations and goals realistic. A new puppy is not going to behave the same as a well-trained adult dog. Focus on ‘puppy- friendly’  moves. Create a solid, thoughtfully constructed base to build on.

 

7 Things You Might Not Know About Your Dog

young woman standing on a dock with a dog. They are facing away from the camera looking out over some mountains. The woman is carrying a backpack. They look like they are about to set out on an adventure together.

Big Plans!

New puppy, exciting times! You are now responsible for another creature with an entirely unique agenda that is much different from yours. Whether this is a new puppy, an adolescent or an older dog you are adopting; I’m sure you have some ideas concerning the behavior or your dog and what you want him to do for you. Common things that top most people’s list are not mess up the house with bathroom accidents or destructive chewing. Not pull you when you walk on leash together. Sit and down when you ask. And to come a running quickly when you call. Okay you’ve got your plans now what about your dogs?

Learning about what makes a dog uniquely ‘doggy’ is something that anyone caring for a dog should aim to do.

This means learning things other than how to teach your pup to sit or walk with you. This is about understanding what makes your dog tick. This makes you that much more compassionate and scholarly. A pet dog ethologist! This is really doing right by your dog.

You might be surprised to learn the following about your beastie

 

A Jack Russell puppy is biting into a chew stick which is being held by a man's hand.

1. Most behaviors that we perceive as a problem are natural for your dog.

Some examples to help illustrate this point are; your dog wants to walk fast in lots of different directions and explore and sniff. They might want to eat gross things or roll in smelly things. They want to jump up to say hi and greet you and sniff and lick your mouth. They don’t want you to brush them or bath them or trim their nails. They don’t want you to leave them home alone.

 

Dog laying upside-down in the mud,

2. Most behaviours that we want from our dog on a regular basis are unnatural for the dog.

Walk nicely beside me. Don’t jump up to say hi. Stay still; let me clip your nails. Stay still while I give you a bath. Don’t chase that squirrel! Don’t pee there!

3. Dogs don’t know the difference between what we deem as right and wrong. They are not concerned with the rightness or wrongness of something.

They learn to do things that we want when we take the time to teach them with compassion and respect, using force-free methods and positive reinforcement.

Our dogs can also suffer undue stress and learn to not trust us because they may perceive us as volatile and dangerous for reasons they don’t understand. Here is an example. Arriving home to find a mess the dog gets yelled at. So people coming home starts to become a predictor of yelling and anger. The dog slinks and offers appeasing behaviours that people misread as ‘guilt’… his ‘admission’ to his ‘bad behaviour’.

Far different are the emotional lives of these dogs from their fellow dogs educated gently and compassionately with science backed, force free methods.

4. Dogs are concerned with what is safe and what is dangerous.

This doesn’t mean that they naturally understand the concept of crossing a busy street as being dangerous.

Dogs learn from their experiences, be they good or bad. If, after a certain behaviour, something good happens, they are likely to repeat that behaviour. Conversely, if something unpleasant occurs after the behaviour, they are less likely to repeat it.

5. Dog’s never do things out of spite or jealously. To impart these emotions on them without understanding more fully why they behave a certain way is irresponsible.

They may try to keep other dogs away from you at the park when you have treats but this is because an important resource is at risk of being nabbed by an intruder.

6. Dogs are predators, they love to chase, catch and chew.

Providing a pup with these outlets by playing games is an important part of having a dog.

 

A Vizsla running full out across a field.

7. Dogs are not born with a desire to please us.

This is a tough one for many people. This doesn’t mean you can’t build a beautiful relationship with your dog. But the Walt Disney myth of the dutiful dog is a pile of BS.

Dogs are interested in what’s in it for them. Who can blame them for that?

Continued Reading

I applaud anyone who goes the extra mile to really understand the nature of a dog. I think one should be interested in learning about the finer points of their dog. This will certainly contribute to a deeper more fulfilling life together. I have three continued reading picks to offer you now. Every dog person should read these and keep them on the bookshelf to refer to!. They were all game changers for me. I am grateful to the women who wrote them.

Jean Donaldson’s – The Culture Clash will change your life. How you look at your dog will never be the same. Reading this book and taking it to heart will make you a better person.

Suzanne Clothier’s – If A Dog’s Prayers Were Answered… Bones Would Rain From the Sky You will laugh and cry and become that much more of an advocate for your dog.

Patricia McConnell’s –The Other End of The Leash Another inspiring, uplifting and thoroughly enjoyable read. It will elevate your knowledge to new heights and your sense of dog.

Does anything you have learned here surprise you? Which of your dog’s behaviours might you look at differently now? Perhaps with more compassion, wisdom and an educated eye.

The Art of Reward

a hand drawn illustration of a puppy with a bubble above his head. In the bubble are four activities: a ball bouncing, a dog dock diving, a puppy getting a belly rub and a squirrel under a tree. The caption to the right the puppy “Hmm... what do I LOVE?" and below that "I know - let's go shopping for a pink puppy dress!"

 

It’s a hot, sunny, summer day at the beach. Not a cloud in the sky. The waves gently lap the shore, gulls call to each other. The sun is beating on you and you’re thirsty. You’re waiting for your friend. Finally you see them walking down the beach carrying a gift bag. “Sorry I’m late!” they call. “This is for you!” In the bag is a handmade wool sweater. “I knitted it myself! It is really warm and thick.” “Thank you!” you say, as you think …wow, nice sweater, weird, but nice. I don’t really like wool… and I’m not that keen on the color blue… why wouldn’t she just show up with a cold drink for me instead?

You’re stranded on a deserted island and your food and fresh water supply is dwindling fast. A very promising looking bag has washed up on the beach. Eagerly you run to it hoping for food, fresh water or a communication device. Inside are oodles of hundred dollar bills. Drat!

Silly stories? Sure they are, but they illustrate an important point. Not all rewards are created equal. Things that are rewarding in some circumstances are not necessarily rewarding in other situations. What one person finds rewarding can be of zero interest to another. We are all different and so are our pups.

So how does this relate to us training our puppies with rewards?

When we work with rewards we need to make sure the rewards we choose are actually rewarding to the puppy. In essence this means that the puppy is the one who should be determining what we are using.

How do we do this? We need to observe our pups and learn their preferences. We need to get creative and have fun with rewards. We need to keep a variety or rewards on hand and aim to have plenty of fun surprises for our pup’s great performances! We must master the art of reward!

a hand drawn illustration of a puppy with a bubble above his head. In the bubble are four activities: a ball bouncing, a dog dock diving, a puppy getting a belly rub and a squirrel under a tree. The caption to the right the puppy “Hmm... what do I LOVE?" and below that "I know - let's go shopping for a pink puppy dress!"

Observe and Get Creative

Rewarding your pup with food is great as long as the pup loves the food. Some dogs prefer toys to food, others prefer a chance to chase something, greet a person or get a good belly rub or massage. What my dog finds reinforcing may be very different from what your dog finds reinforcing.

One of my favorite rewards for Fen is to let her chase a squirrel (as long as the squirrel has a good escape route) that I have called her away from. She has to come away beautifully twice and then on the third time she might get to chase. Not always, but sometimes.

This is an example of watching and seeing what my dog loves and using it to reward her great recalls. It’s a win for me, for Fen and for the squirrel that always gets away, although the squirrel might not agree.

Another example of observation is Fen’s response to me clapping and cheering for her when she makes a great catch while we are playing ball. Her body posture changes, it lifts and she runs back to me a bit faster and showier, she looks so happy about her accomplishment and really appears to love the cheering on. Try cheering and clapping for your puppy the next time you are playing a game with them. Do they seem to respond to the cheering in a positive way?

Variety!

What’s in your treat pouch? Our rule of thumb is a minimum of 4 different types of tasty food treats. Does your pup love the food in your treat pouch? If not it is time to experiment and see what your puppy gets excited about. Tasty pieces of cheese, turkey, hotdog or smoked duck are all usually good bets for pups that are food motivated. Kibble tossed with a tiny bit of bacon fat can be irresistible. The challenge is to get creative and have some really ‘high value’ puppy currency available for those times when you need it.

What’s in your puppy’s toy box? Is there a fun array to choose from? If the toys are always put away after play it helps keep them interesting to your puppy. It is really fun to let your puppy pick which toy she wants to play with during a play/training session. Put a few in a line on the floor and then see which one your pup picks up.

One of my students made me laugh when he told me that he buys all these nice toys but what his dog really loves to play with are old deflated balls and other things she finds in the trash. Good for him for being a keen observer of his dog’s preferences!

An Invitation!

We invite you to experiment and get creative with what you use for rewards with your pup. Have fun with it. Once you have a good sense of your dog’s reward preferences you’ll be surprised to find what a treat this is for you. Training, playing and working together becomes much more successful. You’ll both start having a blast!

The 2017 #Train4Rewards Blog Party button

 

 

 

 

 

We’re pleased to be participating in the #Train4Reward Blog Party. Be sure to check out all of the other great blog postings at Companion Animal Psychology!