Your 5 Step Guide to Starting Dog Training on the Front Foot
So you know you need to train your dog. Whether you have a puppy or adult dog, follow this simple guide to ensure you’re in pole position to start your training.
1. Motivation- Do you know what motivates your dog? When was the last time your dog had a different treat that drove them wild? Or played with a new toy so exciting they couldn’t leave it alone? Know what motivates your dog before you start training and commit to using it. When your dog wants what you’ve got, they’ll approach training with an attitude of “What can I do for you?” and it’s with this attitude that we can achieve fantastic things. Once you know what your dog will sell their soul for, DON’T let them have free access to it- keep it just for training.Training a dog with their favourite motivator isn’t just great for the dog- it’s bound to motivate you as well as you get faster and more permanent results within a training process that’s a whole lot more fun.
2. What’s The Problem? Do you know what problems you’d like to address? Could you list them off clearly and succinctly? Avoid trying to address only one issue when there are many- all the issues you have with your dog are important, probably related and need attention. Enjoy the positive flow on effects from addressing and working on multiple issues at once! Involve all members of the family and write a list of problem behaviours today.3. Goal or Dream? The difference between a goal and a dream is simply a plan. If you want to improve your dog’s behaviour, you need a plan! Your training plan should include a time frame to assess improvements- we recommend 2 weeks for simple issues like jumping up or mouthing and 4 weeks for more complex issues involving anxiety or aggression. Who is going to help you implement your plan? While there are elements you can achieve on your own, skilled, professional trainers can shorten your training process, ensure it’s less stressful for you and your dog and make sure everyone is accountable!
4. Lead and Collar- Hindrance or Help? The majority of dogs we see LOVE their walking equipment. They become excited, overly aroused and lose all self control- before you’ve even clipped the lead on. They carry this excitement, arousal, frustration and poor self control with them as they walk out the front door. If you have any problem with your dog that occurs on a walk OR if you want to use the aid of a lead to settle your dog at home, the answer is simple. Put your dog’s lead on and off during the day without going for a walk. Move the lead around the house rather than hiding it in a draw or cupboard- the more repetitions the better. Break extreme lead associations so that your dog’s brain hasn’t gone into overdrive before you even start your training session.
5. Commit to consistency- In dog training, there’s an old saying that “the only thing two dog trainers will agree on is what the third one’s doing wrong”. But number 5 in our guide is something EVERY dog trainer would agree on without exception- the need for consistency. If you and your family don’t commit to being consistent when interacting with your dog the only thing I can guarantee is that nothing will change. When one person pats the dog for jumping up and another ignores or corrects them, this lack of clarity confuses the dog. Some dogs react to confusion by withdrawing, becoming timid or anxious while others boldly and boisterously continue the behaviours they’ve come to enjoy. Commit to consistency- you won’t regret it!
Modern dogs spend more time on their own than ever before.
Separation Anxiety, Boredom and Destructive behaviour are all on the rise and often we can do little to change the structure of our world to increase the number of hours spent with our canine friends. So what can you do to ensure your dog is content until you return?
1. Enrich the Environment- What is there for your dog to do when you’re gone? Do your dogs toys provide interest and activity, even when no one is home to throw them? Use treat dispensing toys, scent tubes, food scatters, scent trails, buried toys, hanging toys, sand pits, ice blocks and frozen treats, and raw vegetables on a rotational basis to ensure your dog’s environment is ever changing. Even playing music or talk back radio in your absence can make a boring or sterile environment more engaging.2. Spend Quality Time- When you are with your dog, what do you do with them? Are you working their brain and body constructively? Whilst just hanging out with a dog or going for a leisurely walk is certainly more beneficial than the dog being alone, there are easy ways to improve the quality of your time together and get more bang for your limited buck! Work both brain and body- searching for hidden treats or toys, fun agility exercises, tug of war, free shaping, training a new trick or obedience skill, puzzle toys and problem solving activities (we love the Nina Ottusson toys) are just a few examples of what’s possible.
3. Break Up Their Day- For most dogs, whole days alone are a challenge. Perhaps you can come home at lunch times or negotiate working from home one day a week- your dog will certainly thank you. For many, this is simply not possible but don’t despair- we can help! Book your dog some one on one quality time full of fun, training challenges and enrichment with Underdog’s Training Walks.
Available Monday- Friday, these sessions are the perfect way to break up your dogs day when you can’t. Our sessions go far beyond just taking your dog for a walk as we incorporate the above into a jam packed 45 minutes. Reduce the risk of behaviour problems developing in your best friend or let us help you deal with pre-existing problems! Book occasionally or regularly- it’s up to you! Discounts are available for regular bookings- email us for details.
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-
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!!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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
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- firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
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???
As Melbourne moves through an easing of restrictions, we are permitted to operate many of our services in a limited capacity. We encourage you to enquire about training for your dog but ask for your patience as we work through our waitlists and set new dates for classes. We look forward to being of assistance to you and your dog as soon as we are able to.