Saturday, September 24, 2011

What Motivates your dog or puppy?

What motivates your DOG or PUPPY?
A well-trained dog does not work for free!
Why is it important to motivate your dog?  Many think that dogs should just want to please us and the truth is that dogs do what benefits them and what earns them reinforcement.  Pulling to sniff a bush is reinforcing, because he pulled and received the benefit of sniffing the bush.  What if he could also get to sniff the bush if he first did what you want?  Let’s say, he walks on a loose leash, then you could reinforce him by allowing him to sniff a bush.  This is just one example of reinforcement.  There are countless ways one can reinforce a dog.  Keep in mind that dogs are always learning.  They can either be taught the right behaviors or they can learn bad habits all on their own.  “You can’t blame him, if you don’t train him”, so ask yourself, “is he learning the right behaviors?”  Are you teaching him what you do want, rather than punishing what you do not want?  
How do you teach him the appropriate behaviors?  First, determine what it is that you want your dog to know.  Next, find things that your dog finds reinforcing.  Now, use those reinforcers to reward all the behaviors that you like.  Soon your dog will choose to do what you like, because he is earning what he likes.  In other words, good things happen to the dog when he does the proper behaviors.
Positive reinforcement is not about becoming a cookie pusher.  Comments such as,  “I do not want my dog to get fat” or “I do not want to always have to give my dog treats”, are not true if reinforcement is used properly.  Many use treats as bribes to elicit a behavior.  I am not suggesting that you bribe your dog with a reinforcer, but rather wait for the acceptable behavior and then reinforce.  Reinforcement is much more complicated and important than just giving dogs treats.  If reinforcement is used properly it can have a long lasting effect on the dog’s behavior.  I always say, “Reinforcement drives behavior” because the more a particular behavior is rewarded the more the dog will offer and perform that specific behavior.  I like to think of reinforcement as a paycheck for a job well done.  I would not go to work if I did not receive a paycheck. I love training dogs, but would not train my client’s dogs for free.  Do you work for free?  
What is reinforcing to a dog?  
When a trainer says they use reinforcement, the first thing people think of are treats or food, but reinforcement could be food, toys, play, or environmental rewards.  Think of reinforcement as something valuable, a reward, or motivator. Being able to get in many repetitions in the beginning of training is important because it will help the dog build muscle memory for that particular behavior, which is why many use food rewards in training. 
Why should one use reinforcement or rewards when training a dog?  
Well as I mentioned earlier, “Reinforcement drives behavior”.  What exactly does that mean?  It means that if a desired behavior is rewarded many times, then the likelihood of the dog doing that behavior will increase.  From the day I brought my puppy home, I rewarded him for being next to me.  Whenever he chose to be next to me either on or off leash, I would give him a piece of food or play tug with him.  Now, he is a permanent fixture at my side, which is just one great example of how reinforcing a behavior really works.  
Food Rewards
The great thing about reinforcing a dog with food is that all dogs need to eat. Some dogs are more interested in food than others.  Using food as a reward is simple for dog owners.  In addition giving treats, allows for many repetitions to take place of a desired behavior in a short amount of time, which is important in the beginning stages of training.
Training Tips Regarding Food Rewards:
  1. Use treats that are more valuable than your dog’s daily dinner when training a new behavior. Here are some examples: chicken, lamb, beef, cheese, kibble, lunch meat, hot dogs, canned chicken, salmon, and cereal.  
  2. Prepare the treats ahead of time and make sure they are about the size of a pea for large dogs and smaller than a pea for small dogs.  This will prevent the dog from filling up quickly and will allow for more repetitions of a given behavior.
  3. If the dog gives you an outstanding effort (faster, snazzier, or around distractions) feel free to give the dog a jackpot.  A jackpot consists of about ten treats given one right after another along with praise, which tells the dog that he did an amazing job.  Dog’s, like a human sitting at the slot machine will remember that jackpot.
  4. Food rewards should be easy to chew and swallow.  You do not want your dog choking.
  5. If the environment is distracting, then the food reward should be of higher value and worth the effort for your dog. When you are training a behavior in your kitchen you might get away with using kibble, but when training at the park you will need to bring out the high value rewards.
  6. Use a variety of food rewards in training.  This will help prevent the dog from being bored of that particular food and will keep the dogs attention.  When you vary the reinforcement, you will become unpredictable and this will keep your dog engaged.  
  7. To prevent weight gain, make sure that when doing a lot of training, you cut back on the dog’s daily food intake.
  8. If your dog is more toy motivated, you could give a piece of food as a reward and when he eats the food, he gets to play with his favorite toy.  This will build the value of the food. 
If your dog is not “food motivated” then I would suggest cutting back on the dogs daily food intake.  Sometimes dogs are just over fed and are not hungry when training.  By decreasing the amount of food the dog intakes and putting the dog on a food schedule, you will find that the dog should be more interested in the food as a reward.  In addition to limiting a dog’s daily food intake, you could use their regular dinner for training.  Lastly, if your dog is normally food motivated, but will not take food it could be that he is too stressed to eat.  Move to a different location or create more distance between your dog and the distractions until your dog is able to eat again.
Toy rewards
Some dogs are very motivated by toys and play, so you should definitely use toys as a reward anytime you can.  You should vary the reinforcer and alternate between toys and treats to prevent boredom as well as teach your dog to work for many types of reinforcement.  
For dog’s that do not prefer to play, you can train him to like it more by associating play with treats.  Get the dog interested in the toy and for playing he gets a treat.  Eventually your dog will enjoy playing and you can use play as reinforcement in training.  
Start playing with your dog or puppy to build the desire to play and keep using play as a motivator.  Put the toys away and only bring them out during training and when you are playing with your dog.  This will increase the value of the toy and help build a positive connection with you.  
The great thing about play is that it really allows the dog and owner to build a strong connection and bond.  This wonderful relationship will grow the more you get to know and spend time with your new shelter dog.  Playing is also good exercise and mentally stimulating. 

Many are afraid that too much play will cause the dog to stress or become over aroused, which could be true depending on the situation.  However, if you make sure your dog knows the rules of the game and acts appropriately by taking it, dropping it, bringing it back to continue play, and does not to put his teeth on you, then you are probably just fine.
Use a variety of toys such as: tugs, balls, Frisbees, and squeaky toys.  The variety of toys that you can find at a local pet store is astounding.  
Environmental rewards
There are many things in the environment that dogs find reinforcing.  So, use those things as rewards.  This method is called the Premack Principle and basically can be used with anything that your dog finds exciting.  In short, if the dog does something you like, he gets something he likes.  You ask your dog to walk on a loose leash and he gets to sniff a bush.  You ask your dog to come to you and then he can go back and play with his doggie friends.  You ask your dog to do agility obstacles and then he can go and sniff gopher holes.  I personally use a clicker or a word to mark the behavior I like and then a release cue such as “Ok, Break, or Free” to tell the dog he can go to his reward.  Every dog finds things in the environment rewarding, so why not use them in training.  
Some environmental rewards might include: playing with human family members, sniffing (bushes, grass, dogs, sidewalks, gopher holes), playing with another dog, swimming, and running.  By observing your dog you can figure out what he really enjoys.  
Your homework
It does not matter if you just rescued a dog or if you have had your dog for years, it is never too late to find something that will motivate him to learn.  The best way to find out what your new dog will go nuts over is to try out many food items, toys, and to observe your dog to find out what he likes to do.  I challenge you to find at least five food, five toys, and five environmental rewards that your dog loves.  Once you find out his favorites, rank the items and know which ones are more valuable than others.  You can rank them according to one being the most valuable and five being the least.  Now you are ready to use these rewards to train your dog.
For learning to take place, it is important to know what motivates your dog.  Every dog is different, just like every human is different.  What works for one, may not work for another.  So, experiment and find the perfect rewards for your dog.  

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Be a 'GREAT LEADER' to your dog!

Be a ‘Great Leader’ to your dog! 
In my definition ‘Leader’ is synonymous to ‘Guide’ rather than ‘Dictator’.  A great leader should communicate clearly by providing consequences to behavior, strive to gain trust and respect, create training goals, guide by setting the dog up to succeed rather than fail, and motivate the dog!
Great leaders set good examples by showing, explaining, and communicating clearly as to what is expected and acceptable.  There must be consequences to all behavior, but in no way shape or form is any sort of physical/verbal punishment, force, intimidation, or aggressive actions acceptable when being a great leader to your dog.  Dogs are not wolves, nor do humans need to make them “submissive” or show “dominance” over them.  As a leading agility trainer Susan Garrett says, “positive is not permissive”.  This means that just because we are being positive with our dogs, we do not let them get away with everything.  To provide consequences one simply has to reinforce behaviors that are appropriate, interrupt behaviors that are inappropriate, and prevent the dog from being reinforced for practicing unwanted behaviors.  You can interrupt behavior by making an attention noise that has been trained using positive reinforcement or recalling your dog.  There is no need to become a dictator when stopping unwanted behavior.  Recent scientific data has proven that aggression towards animals can actually increase stress hormones.  Therefore, the reverse effect of increasing aggression and stress behaviors in dogs causing more problem behaviors as a side effect. 
In a world where people are getting dogs specifically to be their companions, benevolent leadership is becoming the popular way to train.  The dog takes on the role as the training partner who is happy, willing and eager to learn; while the owner strives to be a great leader to their dog.  I love seeing results and feel pride knowing that I have never had to yell at or physically punish a dog.  What is the secret?  Well, learning to be a great leader is what it is all about in my opinion.  
1.  Clear Communication:
Clicker/marker training will aid in bridging the gap between you and your dog and is a great way to establish clear communication.  Either the dog does the right behavior and gets rewarded or he does the wrong behavior and tries again.  All species including humans can be trained with markers.  It is as though you are taking a snapshot of the behaviors you like and follow with reinforcement to ensure those behaviors are more likely to happen again.  Once you have conditioned the dog to understand what the marker or click means, you will have established a clear-cut way of communicating.  In my opinion, one needs to take responsibility of training their dog.  Part of training is to teach the dog what you do want him to do; rather than punishing him for doing the natural dog behaviors he might think up on his own.  Through clicker training you can establish a clear and effective way to communicate with your best friend.
A responsible dog owner teaches their dog how to earn privileges and rewards.  We all work for the things we want or need.  Our dogs can work for their dinner, playtime, affection, attention, things in the environment, and anything else he may want.  A leader sets the rules and enforces the rules in a fair respectful way.  One does not need to force a dog into submission or intimidate a dog to ensure he listens and follows rules.  Training a dog using force or physical aggression which is demonstrated by many that call themselves “Pack Leaders” will have the side effect of  teaching a dog that force, aggression, intimidation is an acceptable behavior.  Aggression begets aggression.  I am a progressive reinforcement dog trainer and use marker training.  I have rules for just about everything, greeting (dogs and humans), walking on a leash, coming when called, knowing where to go potty, appropriate play, and house manners just to list a few.  If you do not communicate to your dog what you do want him to do, he will learn, but will he learn acceptable behaviors?  Chances are he will not learn what is acceptable, but rather what is fun and reinforcing.  Barking, pulling, chasing cats, jumping up on humans are all highly reinforcing behaviors for our canines!  What do you want your dog to know?  Once you figure that out, you are ready to start communicating and reinforcing those great choices your dog makes, guiding him in the right direction, and teach him how to learn and earn.
When one trains their dog using this type of leadership the relationship between dog and human will be strengthened and the things you and your dog can accomplish will be unlimited.  
The art of communication is the language of leadership. 
2.  Trust and Respect
Align your words and actions. Stay true to what you believe and with who you are. Your beliefs are the foundation of every decision and every action you make. It is what makes you trustworthy and respectable, when dealing with humans or dogs.   
It is important to establish trust, respect, and for the dog to know that no matter what happens the leader will provide for, protect, take care of, and keep him out of harms way.   Give your dog 100% of your attention when working with him, where ever you are, “be all there”.  Be that dedicated leader your dog deserves.  Human canine relationships are built on trust, not dominance.  So, be consistent and fair.  Training or teaching a dog is not any different than teaching a kid.  In our society it is not acceptable to mistreat, physically punish, or yell at children, so why do so many feel the need to do those things to a dog. Physical punishment, intimidation, and force will only destroy trust and respect. 
You don't lead by hitting people over the head - that's assault, not leadership. 
3.  Goal Setting & Having a Game Plan
It is important to know and write down what you want to achieve and set goals that are realistic and achievable to create a successful dog training plan.  Setting small attainable goals through the use of a training plan, making changes when needed, and being patient to allow learning to take place is what great leaders do. Set goals that allow the dog to be successful and encourage the dog to want to play this game that we call, “training”.  If you want a dog to succeed, you need to have a well thought out plan.  When a dog is successful and rewarded for his hard work, it helps build confidence, makes him more comfortable, and builds a strong relationship between the trainer and dog.  When you build a dogs desire to work, it is a win win situation.  
A great leader can recognize when things have gone wrong in training and can turn those challenging moments into learning experiences and formulate a new plan that will cause the next training session to be successful.  It is important to appreciate differences in dogs, draw from the dog’s strengths, and build a training plan according to each dog.  
I have a Husky mix and two Border Collies and I do not expect my Husky mix to be able to do some of the tricks that my Collies can.  I pick tricks that are acceptable for her size, modify tricks, and make sure she can physically do the tricks.  I would also not expect her to learn at the rate which my Border Collies learn.  However, she is very smart and because I have taught her to learn, she picks up tricks very quickly.  One would think she has the intelligence of a Border Collie.  I set goals and have a plan to ensure she is successful with everything I teach her.  
One of the true tests of leadership is the ability to recognize a problem before it becomes an emergency. 
4.  Provide Learning Opportunities
Great dog leaders provide learning opportunities; setting the dog up for success by using a well thought out plan, and guiding the dog in the right direction.  It is important to allow a dog the opportunity to think for himself, figure things out, and learn on his own. Make sure the environment is safe and will not cause a regression in training, injury, or allow the dog to have a bad experience.  Play learning games with your dog and help him grow into a confident, secure, well-adjusted dog.
Education is the mother of leadership. 
5.  Motivation & FUN!
It is important to be able to motivate, engage the learner and build value for what the trainer wants because it is in the dog’s best interest.  The dog gets rewarded through fun playtime, treats, the environment or with anything the dog finds valuable that you can use for doing proper behaviors.  Great leaders are creative, know how to have fun, and are imaginative. Einstein wrote “imagination is more important than knowledge.” The ability to think and see things differently allows leaders to go in new directions instead of following others.  Look for more ways to motivate and in return open up the pathways for more possibilities.
Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it. 
In conclusion, train your dog to do what you want him to do.  Guide him by teaching him the appropriate behaviors and reward him for it.  Your dog will repeat what he finds reinforcing.  So, be sure to reward him for things that are acceptable or he will find things that are reinforcing without you.  An example of this is barking at people passing by could be highly rewarding, so make sure you make being quiet when people pass by more rewarding.  
You can be a great leader.  You can make a difference, enforce changes, have success, and earn the respect you deserve from colleagues, friends, neighbors, children, spouses, and yes even your dog by being an amazing leader.  
By Pamela Johnson