Move Your Range, Rover!

When we train dogs, (or any animal) we often talk about the importance of goal setting. Indeed, having a goal as well as setting realistic time frames for the goal to be achieved is a critical early step in behaviour modification. Without identifying the specifics of what we are trying to achieve or a time frame in which to achieve it, how we want our dogs to behave will remain a lofty ambition.

However, I was recently reminded of the need to take care when goal setting with regards to dog behaviour. Improving dog behaviour is a unique type of goal setting because all dogs (like people) have a starting RANGE of behaviour. This range simply refers to the variance in your dog’s behaviour from day to day, even when in the same or very similar situations.

It’s common to notice your dog appearing more or less playful, more or less energetic or more or less reactive on different days or at different times of the day. Dog owners often report to us differences in their dogs behaviour that do not seem to align only with the presence of primary problematic triggers. These variances relate to things like amounts of uninterrupted sleep, amount and type of exercise, opportunities to play or explore, food type and frequency, the provision of social contact and company and much more!

This range of behaviour can make assessing training progress confusing, as you need to ascertain whether the behavioural differences you are seeing are part of your dogs normal range OR indeed, a positive response to your training efforts. So how do we ensure we really are moving our dogs RANGE of behaviour rather than just seeing them having a good or bad day?

  • Identify the dog’s original behavioural range- Look at the dog’s behaviour over time, rather than assuming the dog is always the same. Know the dog on a good day as well as you know the dog on a bad day! Keep track formally until you know this individual dog’s behavioural range- a 2-3 week diary will start to give you a more complete picture of the dog’s starting point.
  • Use the identified behavioural range to guide a behaviour modification plan. Understanding that your training will not be the same every day is critical to training success. When a dog is at the “good” end of their behavioural range, push them. Teach new skills, make existing skills more difficult, increase distractions, encourage independence and let the dog start to “do it on their own”- challenge the dog’s brain at the times when they are most likely to succeed. When your dog is at the “poor” end of their behavioural range, BACK OFF. Practice KNOWN exercises, lower the level of distraction, lower your expectations, shorten the training sessions and make decisions for them in difficult situations- teach the dog you can be trusted to manage things when they feel ill equipped to do so.
  • Set a time frame to do a “Progress check”. I feel it’s ill advised to assess a dog’s progress by analysing the level of improvement every day. In addition to being demoralising on the “bad days” it can also set unrealistic precedents on the “good days”. Stick to your training plan (and get the professional help you need to do so) for at least 2-4 weeks (depending on the intensity of the dog’s issues) before doing a “Progress check” at which time you should track their behaviour for 1-2 weeks.
  • Compare the original behavioural range to your new recorded behavioural range and ask yourself- Are there now more good days than bad days? Are the bad days better than they used to be? Are the good days better than they used to be? Can I now set new goals for the next 2- 3 week period? How can I move the new behavioural range again?

This post was triggered because of a particular horse who made it very obvious to me how a behavioural range can shift. (although horses and dogs are different animals, they both have behavioural ranges and horses are particularly good at making such concepts VERY clear!)

In March 2019 this horse’s bad days involved frequent stopping and rearing. His good days involved very basic, simple exercises and less stopping and rearing! Fast forward 6 months and the same horse’s behavioural range looks quite different. A bad day involves some stiffness or tightness in the horse’s body, a far cry from stopping or rearing. A good day involves far more complex exercises, chained together and done well, with a lovely spirit of cooperation and relaxed compliance. The most critical point here? That there are still good days and bad days!

It’s critical to remember how the RANGE has moved, so that today’s “bad days” can be dealt with sympathetically. We must never set a goal that suggests we can get to a point where the animal in question will never have a bad day. This unrealistic goal leads to frustration, disappointment and angst in both the animal and human! We must instead focus on moving the behavioural range, to the point where the animals bad days are still safe and manageable, even though not as easy or enjoyable as the good days.

So next time, you set about setting a goal for your dog or trying to improve their behaviour, remember that what you’re really asking them is to-

Move Your Range, Rover!!

The Value of Turning Left

The Value of Turning Left
(And loose lead walking tip number one!)

NB The following is for dogs that walk on the left or in front of you. For dogs that walk on your right hand side swap the word left for right and the same advice applies!

I have recently become much more aware of the value of teaching dogs (and owners!) how to very specifically turn left when loose lead walking. The number of dogs and owners who find this immensely difficult at the start is not surprising when we consider the difficulties involved but the potential benefits are well worth the effort!!

So why is turning left difficult to do without the dog bouncing in front of you or you nearly tripping over them!? When we turn to the right (which we often do to help teach the dog the concept of loose lead walking) we allow the dog to come with us by moving in a wide arc. The dogs hind legs step out or in some cases fly around beyond the line their front legs take as they turn to come with us.

Turning left requires the dog to move their hind legs in- more like the movement of a pirouette- and many dogs simply don’t have this level of hind end awareness. In addition, to turn left, the dog must be aware of your movement to a degree not required in right turns. There is less time for the dog to respond before you would accidentally step on their toes and so more distracted dogs find left turns even more difficult.

So why should you teach your dog to turn left? Aside from the practical benefits where a left turn might be more useful than a right turn, properly taught left turns can seriously enhance your dogs focus, loose lead walking and heeling.

Teaching a good left turns helps to-

– Teach your dog to turn on a dime- particularly useful for busy situations where space is limited.

– Teach your dog to be more aware of your movements, as they must be in order to turn left.

– Teach your dog to look up- it’s easier for a dog to pivot with their head up rather than their head down.

– Provide great hind end awareness so your dog moves in a more coordinated, functional way

– It’s also impossible for a dog to be turning left AND pulling on lead at the same time! Teaching a left turn is a great way to become more aware of how much you depend on your lead to guide your dog. By being aware of this, you can start to make your dog less dependent on lead pressure and guidance and increase the amount of time your lead is really loose!

How to start teaching your dog to turn left-

– Start in a hallway OR with a fence on your left hand side. Bigger spaces make left turns harder and should be added in once your dog is getting the idea not to bounce out in front of you. Walls or fences make it easy for the dog to know which way to turn as there is a physical barrier that prevents them from bouncing in front of you and going to the wrong side.

– Choose a cue (I just use the word turn) that means I’m going to turn left and you need to maintain your position on my left hand side.

– With the dog between you and the wall, step across in front of the dog towards the wall and gently inch your way forward until your dog moves back into a normal walking position or loose heel. Continue to walk in the new direction.

– Food rewards can be used to reinforce this behaviour but MUST only be delivered when the dog is in a good position on your left. DON’T reward the dog in front of you!! You can also lure the dog as you commence the left turn for some of the repetitions to help the dog- If doing this try using the lure first whilst you walk a small circle (dog on your inside) so that you get the idea of where to position the lure to ensure the dogs body moves the correct way!

– The goal is for the dog to move their head slightly away from you as you turn left, while their hind legs come closer to you, pivoting around their front feet. It should become easier for you to turn on the spot and the dog will begin to understand your cue word means to drop back (if they walk in front of you) and pivot.

It’s normal for dogs to not be able to turn left as easily as turning right to begin with. Our goal is to improve this so your dog is easy to manage whether you’re turning left OR right! Give this a try and let us know if your dog becomes an ambi-turner!!

If You Teach your Dog Nothing Else, Teach this Skill!

We are frequently asked what training exercises are the most important for a dog to be able to do reliably. What should every dog be able to do well? It’s a good question, and one that would generate much discussion among trainers. With so many different skills worthy of your time and attention, what do you prioritise?

Even if you teach your dog nothing else, teach them to walk on a loose lead!!

In over 15 years of training dogs, I have noticed a worrying trend when it comes to how dogs behave when on lead. Good leash manners are becoming less common, with many owners focussing on physically tiring their dogs off lead instead. Little consideration is given to the behaviour of pulling on lead, when the intention is to let them off lead at the park anyway. Some owners inadvertently become habituated to their dogs pulling and don’t notice it anymore while others struggle to change ingrained, pulling behaviour.

When trying to decide whether this issue deserves your full attention, remember the 4 F’s-

FRUSTRATION- Pulling on lead is the number one reason for dogs to become increasingly frustrated in public. (running fence lines when at home is an equally important frustration builder in dogs but we’ll save that for another article) When your dog pulls on the lead, they do so to try to get to something more quickly- each time they get to that something, their pulling is reinforced, and the behaviour becomes stronger- literally (the dog physically becomes better at pulling on lead) and scientifically (reinforced behaviours are more likely to be repeated, with more intensity in the future).

As the dog’s pulling worsens, owners pull back, or restrain the dog (for safety or practicality) and the dog becomes more and more frustrated. Frustration increases the intensity of excitable, reactive or aggressive behaviour and- much like an elastic band at full stretch- when the restraint is finally released- look out!! This situation occurs daily for many dogs, with altercations in dog parks commonly caused by extremely frustrated dogs having their leads removed. This energetic, intense frustration moves rapidly and freely through the park, negatively influencing every interaction the dog has with other dogs and people.

FEAR– For those dogs with more reserved, shy or anxious personalities, tight leads increase fearful responses to dogs, people and other every day stimuli. In difficult situations tight leads make flight impossible and as a result, freeze or fight become the only remaining options. Dogs displaying aggressive behaviour are extremely fearful in most cases, and this fear is intensified by constant, unrelenting lead pressure.

FOLLOWING- When I teach puppy classes the first exercise we do is known as “Follow me” and teaches puppies to follow their owners wherever they go, rather than owners following their puppies. This tendency to follow our dogs assumes that the dog understands what they are walking into when of course, they do not. Dogs that walk on loose leads tend to be quick to follow their handler and this following makes it exponentially easier for owners to provide guidance and direction to a dog in a stressful situation. Following is not about dominance or being the “pack leader”. Following simply allows dogs to follow a human that has the foresight to see around corners where they cannot.

FOUNDATIONS- If you’re focussed on more significant issues with your dog, I still implore you to work on their loose lead walking. Whether you’re wanting to improve your dog’s recall, or their behaviour around other dogs (two extremely common requests), you must teach loose lead walking. Loose lead walking is an exercise that provides solid foundations at both ends of the leash. Want your dog to show self control and make good choices when distracted or motivated by outside influences? Teach loose lead walking!

These concepts aren’t just for your dog. Ask yourself- How does your timing and consistency stack up when you are distracted or motivated by outside influences? Foundations aren’t just for dogs; they are critically important for dog owners and this is where our focus should lie.

If we want better behaviour from our dogs, we must demand better skills from ourselves!!

Understanding the importance of loose lead walking is the first step. Check in with the Underdog Facebook page over the coming weeks for practical tips on the “how to’s” of teaching loose lead walking.

No Secret Ingredients- A Recipe for Dog Owning Success

In my 15 year career as a dog trainer one thing that has become apparent to me is just how different the dog owing experience can be for different people. I have worked with people whose lives have been enriched, enlightened and overall made better by owning a dog. I have also worked with people for whom dog ownership has increased anxiety, distress and hardship- sometimes on such a frequent basis that this becomes the overwhelming reality of their dog ownership experience. This flies in the face of the research that indicates dog ownership is good for a person’s mental and physical health.

So why does this stark contrast exist? What is the secret to ensuring dog ownership improves the quality of your life? The good news is that there is no secret, no mystery- this is the recipe for dog owning success-

Have Realistic Expectations- This applies in equal measure to people who have had dogs before and those who have not. Experienced dog owners frequently compare a new dog to a previous dog, particularly if they are of the same breed. It’s easy for normal variation to then cause disappointment or frustration. Those new to dog ownership may compare their dog to a friend’s dog or simply be unprepared for what dogs’ do and what they need from you. Do you know what is normal, natural dog behaviour? Are you willing to accept that your dog will be unique, with their own personality and temperament and their own challenges and weaknesses? Even the easiest and most brilliant of dogs can be trying at times- it’s not reasonable to expect your dog to never make a mistake. Spend time with and around dogs before making the decision to welcome one into your home.
Choose Wisely- Could an individual dog be a success in your hands and home whilst another is a disaster? YES! Dog breeds have developed over time to provide us with incredible variation and it is not an overstatement to suggest a lack of research prior to adopting a dog is the number one cause of unhappy dog- owner relationships. What breed is right for you? Should you get a puppy or adult? How much exercise are you able to provide? How much exercise are you able to provide-in Winter!!?
Research the common characteristics of different pedigree breeds to help determine what breeds will best suit your lifestyle and family. Understand that crossbreeds can make wonderful companions too, but may provide you with the traits of any of the breeds within their lineage. Avoid buying a dog that is highly likely to need things you simply can’t provide- this includes the necessary grooming, exercise, company and stimulation. Be HONEST about what you are willing to provide for a dog.

Choose a dog breed that is likely to enjoy what you enjoy- if you are highly social and want to mix at the local dog park each afternoon, don’t choose a dog that is likely to be reserved, shy or unhappy in this environment. Don’t assume you can always train the dog away from their natural inclinations and preferences- genetics matter!

Choose Wisely- Again- If choosing your dogs breed and age are the ingredients in your recipe, choosing where to source your dog from is the mixing bowl! Sellers of dogs can be many things- are you buying your dog from a knowledgeable expert? Or someone who is innocently ignorant? Perhaps you’re unlucky enough to have found the more unusual seller who is deliberately deceptive. How will you know what type of seller you are dealing with unless you have done research of your own? (I use the term seller to encompass all sources of dogs- breeders, shelters and rescue groups- all of these sources vary greatly in quality and ethics.)
If you are purchasing a puppy from a breeder, how were the parents of the puppy chosen? How has the puppy been raised before you get them? Don’t underestimate the impact the breeder has on your dog before you bring them home. Choose a breeder who raises the puppies in an environment that shares some similarities to your family home- this is very important, particularly if you are inexperienced with dogs.

If you are purchasing an older dog from a shelter or rescue group, what information can be provided to you about your new dog? Does the organisation provide follow up support and assistance? Do you know what your new dog will need with regards to training and socialisation?

Regardless of the source of your dog, settling into a new environment requires help- are you in a position to provide that help?

Train Pro Actively- To train pro-actively simply means to anticipate problematic behaviours and get in first! You don’t need to wait for something to become a problem before you act- either on your own or by seeking professional help.
For example- Your dog is likely to become overly excited when visitors arrive and may jump, mouth or sneak out the front door!

A reactive owner waits until the dog is jumping on your guest and then tries to grab or remove the dog from the situation. This is often ineffective and does little to improve the behaviour for next time.
A proactive owner knows that a reliable “place” command or “go to your bed” is a great way to ensure there is no chaos around the door and sets about reliably training the behaviour BEFORE the dog is in the more challenging situation with a guest.
Find a Dog Hobby- A dog hobby doesn’t have to be serious or competitive. It is simply finding a regular activity that both you AND your dog enjoy together. A hike, a picnic, agility training, teaching a new trick at home- the list is endless! Rather than thinking of things you can’t do with your dog, explore the things you can! Your dog hobby is your own secret ingredient and it can be as individual as you!
And Finally-

Understand- Relationship, not Robot- Owning a dog is not like anything else you might own. Dog ownership goes far beyond the choice to buy a dog and bring them home. Your efforts in developing, evaluating and improving the quality of your relationship with your dog are paramount. This is ongoing, at times relentless and can’t cease for long periods of time without consequences. Having a dog is not simply a hobby to be attended to only when the weather is right or when you have spare time. Your efforts will be rewarded with the benefits of dog ownership- improved mental and physical health and unconditional companionship that owning a dog can bring.
Whilst gathering all of these ingredients sounds like hard work, their inclusion helps to ensure your dog owning experience adds value to BOTH your life and the life of the dog fortunate enough to call your house home.

Training the Untrainables

Logan & Skylar - Underdog Dog Training

We’ve all heard of these dogs. Many breeds and individuals within breeds land with the “Untrainable” label. I have lost count of the number of times I have been told by a client that their dog was labelled “Untrainable” by another dog trainer, dog owner, groomer or self-proclaimed dog expert. Sometimes a breed is even labelled “Untrainable” by the breeder themselves!! I’ve also stopped trying to keep up with the number of dog breeds added to this ever growing list. From Beagles to Terriers, Greyhounds to Huskies, it seems that when a training technique proves unsuccessful with a particular dog, that the dog or the breed is the one labelled “Untrainable”.

It may be more appropriate in these circumstances to label the human training the dog inflexible. “Inflexible” trainers seem to see more “Untrainable” dogs.

The “Untrainables” are on the receiving end of many other nicknames- Stubborn, Lazy, Stupid, Wilful, Dominant just to name a few. Of course it is possible for a dog to be generally lazy. It’s even possible for a dog to be generally stubborn.

But these traits do not need to see an end to the training of that individual. Whilst we know that certain EMOTIONAL states (like fear or extreme arousal) can completely inhibit learning in any dog, having a different personality trait does no such thing. Dogs can have an incredible variety of personality traits, still be trained and learn to love it.

So what are the real problems of “The Untrainables”?

Dogs labelled as “Untrainable” often have one of or many of the following issues-
– They lack motivation, quite simply they are underworked and overpaid!! You’d be amazed at how dogs change when you start delivering food in training, rather than for free.

– They don’t have a great deal of physical stamina meaning training sessions have to be short and sweet

– They have not “learnt to learn” so they simply don’t understand that they can earn reward by offering different behaviours. This is often compounded when people take the dog into a difficult environment (usually with distractions of other dogs and people) to learn a skill when the dog does not understand the concept of learning

– They don’t respond to one particular training technique (whatever that training technique might be) and need flexibility in their training or a combination of techniques to get a positive result.

– They are genuinely overwhelmed by the situation they are being trained in- this can be related to the complexity of the skill or difficulties in the environment.

– The training being done is simply not fun and the dog is quickly bored, disinterested and disengaged

The fantastic thing about the above list is that humans are either COMPLETELY responsible for the problem OR at the very least, have the ability to address it. Addressing training problems will always be the responsibility of the human- not the dog.

Meet Logan and Skylar. Both dogs have been training with Underdog since they were puppies. Logan is a Shiba Inu- a breed often labelled as an “Untrainable”. Fortunately, Logan’s owners were confident in his ability to learn and they set about training this boisterous, bold, exceedingly clever and sometimes wilful puppy! Puppy School, Group Obedience, Advanced obedience and Agility- nothing was off limits with this clever Shiba and younger West Highland White terrier Skylar soon joined in too.

These videos are the result- and I hope by sharing these (with the owner’s permission) that anyone with an “Untrainable” stops and thinks twice. Chances are, your dog is not “Untrainable” at all and is simply challenging you to do something different, to try again, to ask another question, to find someone to help you, to learn a new set of training skills.

ACCEPT THE CHALLENGE, NOT THE LABEL

With Love, the Underdog Training team x

What’s More Important than Your Dog’s Aggression?

Underdog Training Dogs

Each week, I see many dogs and owners who are struggling with aggression and/ or reactivity issues. Yes, that’s right- the dogs are struggling as well.

***While there can be distinct differences between a dog that is reactive (over reacts to certain triggers in their environment- their response may or may not include aggressive displays) and a dog that is aggressive (with the intent to do physical harm), for the purposes of this article we’re not going to distinguish between the two. Controversial I know- but what I want to bring to your attention applies to dogs with EITHER of these issues.***

As humans, we tend to want to address the big issues immediately. They are the issues at the forefront of our minds. When it comes to problems with our dogs, we identify the issues creating the biggest disturbance to our life, our dogs’ life or both and we (hopefully) seek help for that problem first. But what if issues that are more like occasional annoyances are more relevant than you realise?

For instance- Your dog turns into Cujo when they see another dog on the other side of the street. They lunge, bark, growl and try to drag you (sometimes with success) toward the other dog. At this time food rewards, verbal encouragement, warning or correction do so little, you consider doing an interpretive dance to distract onlookers from the frothing out of control creature on the end of your lead. At this time you and your dog are completely disconnected- a lead the only thing preventing your dog from physically being in the same place where they are mentally. There is no focus, no self-control, and no engagement. In this context your dog’s brain is totally inflexible, unable to offer a different behaviour and absolutely unable to look to you for direction.

Back in the home environment, you have no major problems. Well- nothing life altering or likely to trigger interpretive dance… Your dog does barge out your back door when you let them outside after dinner but it’s no big deal. At this time, you generally stand aside to avoid a collision and life continues.

However… At this time you and your dog are completely disconnected. Again, there is no focus, no self-control and no engagement. In this context your dog’s brain is totally inflexible, unable to offer a different behaviour and absolutely unable to look to you for direction. Same dog, same brain, two different contexts. (and this is just one example)

Where would your focus lie? The dog owners’ focus generally lies with their dogs Cujo like behaviour and they direct a dog trainers’ attention to this issue as well. The barging issue may not even be mentioned as, whilst annoying- it’s considered easily managed. However, in both circumstances- the dog lacks vital skill sets. If your dog can’t demonstrate these skill sets in a familiar, low stress environment, how can they suddenly display these skills in a frightening context where they are highly stressed?

If your focus lies only with the high intensity triggers and stressful contexts, your training prognosis is poor. Stress interferes with your dog’s ability to learn. In some cases, no permanent learning takes place at all and it starts to feel like the movie Groundhog Day.. When commencing a behaviour modification plan 50- 90% of your training (the variation depends on the dog and the issue) in the first 2 weeks should focus on the building of relevant skill sets WITHOUT the presence of stressful triggers. You’ll be amazed at how this focus allows your dog to recall the necessary skills more quickly and easily when you introduce the more problematic trigger/ triggers.

Underdog Training recommends getting an experienced professional to assist you in this process which should include-

Identification of ALL triggers

Maximising motivation

Stress reducing solutions (independent of training)

Development of relevant skill sets in low stress environments

Developing your dog’s brain- Can they problem solve? Are they capable of thinking through conflict? Is their brain flexible enough to offer a different behaviour when the first one doesn’t work?

A plan for complete exposure to the trigger and management strategies to assist in the short term

Contact Underdog Training for assistance- info@underdogtraining.com.au

 

Don’t Be a Tool

The Dog Training Equipment Debate Debacle

All over the world dog training tools are created and discussed, used and loved. Dog training tools are thrown out and banned, dismissed and hated. Associations are made between dog training tools and cruelty, dog training tools and kindness. Judgements are made based on what tools a person uses to aid in the training of their dog or their clients dogs.

So what is the purpose of dog training tools? Why do we use a flat collar on one dog and a head collar on another? I ask this question to countless groups of dog training students that I teach and the answers vary. Is it control? Management? Correction? Safety? To stop a behaviour? To create a new behaviour? Do dog training tools train the dog? The answer to the last is almost always no- the dog trainer trains the dog or the owner trains the dog- not the training tool.

So what do tools do for us and why do we need them?

When we choose dog training tool X over dog training tool Y, we do that because we believe that- in that situation, with that dog, that handler and that behaviour problem, that training tool X is actually going to provide us with MORE opportunities for reinforcement. Wait. What? Dog training tool selection is about reinforcement??? Indeed.

We know that it is the building of reinforcement history that creates habit- good and bad- in the dog. Dogs pull on lead despite physical restraint and discomfort because they are given repeated access to reinforcement- smelling that tree, playing with that dog. So when we need to address these issues it makes sense that we address what are fundamentally reinforcement issues, with reinforcement.

I can see the nodding now.. the trainers and the interested saying yes, yes that’s why we don’t need XYZ dog training tool, because we know it’s about the re-allocation of positive reinforcement!! Yes- but training tools are about the provision of that reinforcement- maximising opportunities TO reinforce the dogs desirable behaviour.

It’s for this reason dog trainers need options. What Mrs Smith needs with Freddy to maximise opportunities for reinforcement will not be the same as what Mr Jones needs with Dozer. We do ourselves no favours by arguing against correct use of any tool.

BUT- Will the tool be used correctly? If it is not used correctly we are no longer maximising opportunities for reinforcement- the dog trainer must assess the likelihood of THAT tool being used correctly in THAT situation with that dog and that handler- it’s not always the same. Ultimately though, it’s not about the tool.

So today I say to every dog trainer- you are not a tool. You are your timing and consistency. You are your understanding and knowledge. You are your foresight and insight. You are your organisation and management. You are your patience and determination. You are your kindness and intelligence. Importantly, you are your attitude and demeanor. What sets great dog trainers apart will never be about what tool you use- it will be your genuine skill.

You are not a tool. You are a dog trainer.

“It’s Just a Stupid Trick”- Or is it??

We are often asked the purpose behind particular exercises we teach in our classes or consults, especially those exercises that have essentially been branded as tricks for one reason or another. This is always a great question but not always so quick and easy to answer!

Targeting is an exercise that we commonly teach- a simple skill where the dog touches an owners hand or other object with their nose (Targeting can take many forms but this is the one we teach most often). It’s a skill that dogs tend to pick up within a session and owners find fairly straightforward and fun.

So you would think that the question “What’s the point of this?” would be just as straightforward to answer.

What makes it difficult however (and also quite fantastic!) is that the answer can be varied and the benefits numerous! This seemingly simple exercise can be used in such a variety of applications. Have a look at the short video below- this was taken in one of our recent puppy school classes and gives a great example of where targeting can be added to improve engagement, fun and focus in your dogs training.

Next time you start thinking of targeting as being “just a trick”, remember the following benefits-

Fun- Never underestimate the importance of fun in training. What’s the difference between targeting and teaching your dog to sit? The main difference is that targeting allows movement and most dogs simply love to move. In fact, the more boisterous, bouncy, active or even naughty your dog is the more they are likely to want to MOVE! Targeting allows us to allow them to MOVE- but in a controlled and directed way. Movement is fun!
If you have more fun with your dog, particularly in situations where they might normally be distracted you are guaranteed to improve both engagement and focus from your dog. Whilst obedience exercises of sit and drop are important as well, they are part of teaching your dog self control and inhibition. Your dogs focus in these exercises is completely dependent on how motivated they are for your food reward, pat or praise as the exercise ITSELF is not naturally fun. This means that for dogs that are less motivated, a total focus on obedience exercises can be challenging. By adding exercises like targeting, you DOUBLE the reward available as they enjoy the exercise AND get their reward from you.
Position your dog- Having trouble with loose lead walking or getting your dog to go to a bed and stay there? Targeting is a great way to position your dog to where you want them by simply moving the target item!
Build the dogs confidence- Targeting teaches the dog to deal with mild conflict as they need to move away from the food reward in order to get it. The difficulty of the exercise can then be increased and the dog becomes more confident and persistent over time.
Teach the dog to approach the human hand with a closed mouth- this is particularly important for puppies and young dogs who often approach a hand with an open mouth or become ver excited and nip or mouth.
Physical exercise- By placing targets down the other end of a hallway or cricket pitch targeting is a great way to exercise your dog- work the brain and the body at the same time!!
Use targeting to teach other exercises- whether it be going to a bed or mat, agility exercises or the foundation of other tricks (remember, some of the above applies to other tricks too so teaching tricks is not pointless or stupid!!!) targeting can speed up the learning of other skills.
Help children interact with your dog safely. Using target sticks or simple hand targets can be a great way to control interactions between dogs and children your dog may be meeting for the first time. As an added bonus, kids LOVE IT.
What do you and your dogs love about targeting???

The Power of the Thrown Food Reward

Daisy the Dog

Meet Daisy. She did her first training walk today and really highlighted to me one of the biggest changes in my dog training processes over the last 10 years.

When i first started training i remember being told about the dangers and issues associated with dropping or delivering food on the ground. “The dog will get distracted”. “You’ll never get his nose off the ground “. “The dog will think the reward comes from the ground, not from you”. As a result, for some time i was careful not to drop food- either deliberately or accidentally- when training.

The more important the training skill was, the more careful i was with how i delivered the food to the dog. So it was when free shaping a somewhat meaningless, unimportant trick one day that i decided to see what would happen when i threw the food rewards instead of delivering by hand. The initial reason was two fold- to try to set the dog up for the next repetition more efficiently and without the dog knowing AND to stop my hands getting covered with slobber..

What was interesting was the immediate improvement in the dogs level of motivation – the more movement i created in the dog by throwing the food to them or to the ground, the keener the dog became to train. This became a fundamental of my free shaping training. It also meant i could be still and relaxed while the dog bounced around and was excited- there was no need to try to “settle the dog down” and there was no struggle between me and the dog- they could be as excited about the reward as they liked without then having to moderate HOW they took the reward from me. Ultimately sessions were more fun- for me AND the dog.

It wasn’t too long before this way of delivering food bled into other types of training – from obedience to puppy training to serious behaviour modification with dogs who were anxious or aggressive with super benefits for all. So before you do your next training session consider the following super benefits to throwing your food rewards-

Eliminates grabbing, snatching and slippery, slobbery hands!
Throwing food allows dogs to move, to be excited, playful, animated etc. Therefore in situations where the dog clearly has an inability to be still, throwing food is a great way to “move behaviour in the right direction” whilst we simultaneously teach better impulse control. For example- Daisy today was super excited upon seeing another dog. There was no chance of a successful sit stay or heel as the other dog walked by- those skills and impulse control will take time to teach and build. So what to do in the meantime? By throwing the food rewards where i wanted Daisy to be, she moved into that space and bounced and played as the dog went by. Most importantly she bounced and played with me- a moment of focus followed by the cue “Get it” and a thrown food reward. The moment her nose came off the ground after getting the reward- “Get it” and a food throw in the other direction. This method not only allowed Daisy to have a great time but also means that over time, the presence of another dog (or any distraction) becomes a trigger for games with the handler rather than a cue for pulling on lead, jumping, lunging etc.
Any handler can learn to throw food rewards to good effect- you don’t need to be strong, experienced or tough!
Throwing food moves the dog, meaning we get the added benefits of increased physical exercise!
Need a higher level of motivation from your dog? Throwing food makes the reward more exciting- no more boring food!
Higher rates of reward are easy using thrown food AND throwing food allows you to position the dog wherever you like. Have a dog that tends to lag behind? Throw the food in front to create a forward way of thinking. Dog surging and forging ahead? Drop the food behind them to encourage them to drop back.
Throwing food encourages dogs to use their nose- dogs who use their nose discover more about their environment AND stay more relaxed- that’s why this type of reward is so perfect for reactive or anxious dogs. Dogs react with their eyes, it’s time to switch their nose on!!
Dogs are clever enough to know that the food reward is still coming from you AND that it’s still contingent on their behaviour – I promise you they won’t get more interested in the ground if you use the power of the thrown food reward to your advantage!

It’s time to throw your food rewards away!!

Going Urban and How to Keep Man’s Best Friend in the Process.

The Australian backyard. Big enough to kick the football. Room for a barbeque and a game of cricket. Or so there used to be. As the average Australian backyard shrinks beyond recognition, families get used to less outside space. But have we forgotten someone in the process? Mans best friend, the dog, needs to adjust- as we have- to highly urbanised living.

With the majority of the Australian population living as close as possible to our state capitals and large towns, high density developments are becoming more common place. Gone are the days where the family dog could wander the quiet street, play with the children in the afternoon and trot home for dinner as the sun fell. And yet, Australia’s dog population sits at over 4 million. Australians have more dogs than ever before and many of these dogs will be found in our inner city areas- contained to small backyards, courtyards balconies or apartments. It is naive to think that this change in the way that we live does not impact our dogs. While we know dogs can live happily in apartments and townhouses, urban dog owners can help their four legged friends to ensure their lives are as enriched as their backyard dwelling companions of yesteryear.

Dog selection is the first and likely to be the most critical step in ensuring an urban dog is a happy one. Many people mistakenly believe that smaller is always better and this simply isn’t the case. Active dogs come in all shapes and sizes and some dogs are simply not suited to such highly urban living. There is a key additional question- does the potential owner of the urban dog also work full time, away from the home? Those who work longer hours should choose a breed noted to be independent rather than those requiring more constant companionship. Breeds suited to urban living depending on other key factors (grooming, companionship requirements etc) may include- Greyhounds, Whippets, Toy poodles, Havanese, Maltese, French Bulldogs, Tibetan Spaniels, Cavaliers, British Bulldogs, Bichon Frise, and Shar Peis. Where should you find your perfect urban dog? A Canine council registered breeder can assist your choice to go urban- predictable temperament, coat and size are key reasons for selecting a breeder with care.

So now, we have our urban dog. The occasional roll of toilet paper is strewn from end to end of the apartment, the neighbours make comment on your new dog (who they can hear like a jackhammer in their living room) and you just know the dog has had an accident somewhere and yet- you can’t quite find it! But is our urban dog happy? Urban dogs may miss out on some outside space, but provide the following and you can ensure your urban dog is truly happy to be one.

Sensory stimulation is key for any canine, in any environment. So how do we provide work for the dogs’ senses, in an area unlikely to catch the summer breeze or have a view to the outside world? In a home with no outside space, dogs should be walked twice daily outside the home. Dogs living with a small outside space require one walk every day. These are minimum requirements for most urban dogs. Puppies without their vaccinations complete should be carried at least twice daily to see the outside world that they are about to join. Can’t meet these requirements? Dog Day care and dog walking services are available in most areas to compensate for busier lifestyles- you don’t have to do it alone! And while it may be true that the dogs you had when you were a kid didn’t need day care or a dog walker- the dogs of yesteryear generally had more space and companionship than what we are capable of providing today. Times change- how we provide for man’s best friend needs to change too.

The outside exercise you provide should comprise of exciting and novel experiences- different streets, parks and distractions are a great opportunity to train and socialise the urban dog. Urban dogs should be permitted the opportunity to scent and smell for at least part of their outside time- dogs look with their nose first so to restrict scenting opportunities completely can be detrimental Olfactory stimulation is not limited to walks- scent detection games can take place in the smallest possible inside space. Don’t understand how the dogs’ nose works and how to harness it? Find a dog trainer to help you or read the Underdog article- Scent work Secrets- harnessing the dogs most powerful sense**.

Is your dog home alone? In between some long naps (it is a dogs life after all!) your urban dog will be looking for things to do. Given running around a large backyard is not an option, what can you do to provide for your dog and ensure you don’t arrive home to a redecorated space or irate neighbour? The rotation of interactive toys is one of the best ways to reduce boredom and work your dogs’ brain! Interactive toys are not the tennis ball that li
es on the ground, waiting for someone to throw it. Interactive toys are games and puzzles that often dispense food as the dog plays- some dispense food regularly, others require the dog to work harder for the reward. Feeding your urban dogs’ morning meal from a bowl? Stop!! Feeding a morning meal from a bowl instead of a food dispensing toy is a wasted opportunity. There is a wide range of interactive toys available- buy 3 and rotate them every 2-3 days. With the novelty value of the toys remaining high- your dog will feel like its Christmas- every few days! Don’t want to give raw bones for the dog to chew on inside? Nylabones and smoked bones can be a great alternative.

Urban environments present unique distractions- high density housing also means high density humans and amenities. So what will your urban dog do when they see hundreds of people? The rush of trams and beeping of horns during peak hour? The Sunday morning pack of cyclists racing down the street? How will they respond to food on the foot path? Picnickers who share the multi use park with their spread of roast chicken and salad- right next to the off lead area you frequent? Train and socialise your dog- the better your dogs behaviour, the easier it will be to integrate them into your normal life. Take your puppy to puppy pre school. Take your adult dog to some practical dog training. The benefits? A confident, well adjusted, calm and well behaved dog in the face of daily urban challenges.

The well behaved dog is welcomed by many and included in a busy lifestyle- a walk to school to pick up the kids, an alfresco coffee, a stroll around an open air market. So where does that leave the poorly behaved dog? At home. Becoming more tightly wound- as the urban dog cannot run off steam in the same way that the dogs of yesterday could. The urban dog depends on its owner more than ever. To provide sensory stimulation, physical exercise, training, socialisation and environmental enrichment. The dog cannot fill their own treat ball. The dog cannot connect their lead for walkies or recall to the invisible person. The dog cannot fill time when you are absent with scent games- without your help. Mans best friend and an urban lifestyle can combine- they don’t have to be at the expense of each other. But adaptable urban dogs are not born, they are created- by the humans who choose and love their urban lifestyle.