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Posts Tagged ‘positive reinforcement

Enrichment for Senior Dogs

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Judd is 15

All dogs need enrichment in their lives no matter how old they are.  By enrichment I mean exposure to interesting and novel experiences and things, mentally stimulating activities, and fun, enjoyable activities.  Senior dogs are often denied enrichment because they simply lack mobility and their health may be at risk under extreme conditions.

Fortunately, there are many options to add more enrichment to the lives of senior dogs that don’t require much mobility.

* Just enjoying the outdoors.  Dogs can smell what’s going on in the neighborhood by putting their noses in the air.  A breezy day can bring in even more scents.  Dogs don’t have to walk the whole neighborhood to get to enjoy stimulating smells.  For an added bonus, take your dog outside on garbage pickup day before the truck arrives.  Be sure to avoid extreme conditions like hot afternoons, uneven surfaces, and slippery surfaces.

* A relaxing visit from old or new friends.  Dog or human, seeing a friendly face can brighten even a tough senior day.  Nothing like a head scratch or belly scratch to help a dog feel better.  Throw in a human crotch sniff or a dog butt sniff and a great visit is made.  Try to avoid play that could cause injury or pain.  Keep visits short and sweet.

* An interactive toy or puzzle.  There are great toy choices out there!  Find something that will challenge your dog.  Puzzles are great because most do not require any mobility… just curiosity.

* A little Nosework.  Nosework is an activity that encourages your dog’s scenting ability.  It’s like hide and seek for dogs.  There are certain best practices that will help keep your dog engaged and prevent your dog from becoming an obsessive searcher.  Consult a trainer that has attended a seminar with the K9 Fun Nosework founders for some basic ground rules.

It’s hard to watch your dog get old.  Many senior dogs live with pain and discomfort.  Providing some safe enrichment could get your dog’s tail wagging again.


Finding Time To Maintain Your Training

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Play with me!

Working training into your daily schedule doesn’t have to be a chore.  As a dog trainer that completely understands the busy lives of her clients, part of my job is to help my clients find time to make training a part of their daily life.  Admittedly, when you get your new puppy or a dog that is new to you and your home, a lot of time has to be devoted to housetraining, socialization, bite inhibition training, basic obedience, and addressing special needs of rescues if needed.  Teaching your new dog or puppy how to get a long in your life takes a lot of up-front time and dedication.  For those of you that have trained with me, thanks for making that commitment to your new family member.  I know it was sometimes frustrating and emotional, but I’m sure most of you will agree it was worth it.  So what happens after all of this exhausting work during the first year?   Well, a few (very few) will get the training bug and go on to intermediate or advanced levels, competitive activities, or therapy work.  But most dog owners forget to maintain their new found skills and then find themselves in embarrassing situations at dog friendly events or out in public when they least expect their skills to fail them.

The key to maintaining your basic skills is to practice them often and in different environments. My best advice about remembering to practice and finding time for it is… MAKE IT FUN!  First think about some of the fun things you do with your dog.  A quick training session can take place in or near the parking lot of your favorite venue.  Some of Maddie’s favorites are:  a county park, a nature trail at a county park, dog friendly events, Sunday morning Jazzfest, or a quick trip to Starbucks.  Keep your practice session short.  The reward is getting to do whatever activity you came to do, once your dog completes a couple of quick cues.  Start with something easy.  Hopefully you’re not so woefully out of touch that your dog forgot ‘sit’ or ‘watch me’.  If you are in that category, you’re going to need a few remedial trainings at home in a distraction free environment first.  What else do you do for fun?  How about playtime in the backyard?  There’s no rule that says that playtime can’t include some practice too.  Why not incorporate a ‘down stay’ in exchange for throwing the ball?  How about a ‘drop it’ in exchange for a tug game.  Most dogs consider walks to be pretty fun.  Why not try some snazzy heeling in the driveway in exchange for a brisker than usual pace on the walk, or trying a new and previously unsmelled route?

I will leave you with my personal favorite for finding time every day to practice with Maddie:  training while multitasking.   Maddie has figured out that while I blow dry my hair is a great time to drop a toy at my feet and give me that pathetic look so I’ll kick it to her.  Currently, I am working on ‘back up’ in exchange for me to kick a toy.  There are no rules against multitasking while training.  You can also incorporate this into your TV watching rituals and cooking tasks.  Be creative and have fun!!

How To Handle a Bad Day

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2013 Walk for the Animals

Another Walk for the Animals has come and gone.  It’s a great feeling to have the support of friends and family, generously donating to a cause that I love.  The weather couldn’t have been better; nice and cold so we didn’t have to worry about heat stroke.  How could anything about this day be bad?  Well my walk partner Maddie had more than the usual number of reactive outbursts which was frustrating and disappointing.

The day was not a total write off.  We were able to sit for our pack photo without incident.  I had a few conversations with friends accompanied by their dogs without any reaction.  While I lamented over several reactions with small dogs and dogs running in the FunZone, we recovered with a nice walk along the river just the two of us.  When we were done, we said our goodbyes to our friends without incident and called it a day rather than pushing our luck.

Ironically, when I came home, I read a Facebook post from a fellow dog trainer proclaiming she was “guilty of bad dog training”.  I actually laughed out loud because I know she is an outstanding dog trainer.  The reason I’m sharing my setbacks with everyone is because we all have room for improvement (even dog trainers).  We all can do things better.  We all have good days and bad days.  The good thing about positive reinforcement training is that although your cues, markers, timing, rewards, etc. may be way off, you are not going to do anything to ruin, traumatize, or hurt your dog.  My fellow dog training friend is going back to foundation work for her sport with her dog, and I will go back to some threshold work with Maddie.

People often ask me how Maddie could have possibly earned a Canine Good Citizen Award with her reactivity issues.  I always smile and tell them that it only represented a thin slice of time and everything just happened to fall into place that day.  So if you encounter a bad day when things fall apart, remember that it only represents a thin slice of time in your dog’s life.   There will be better days.  On this day, with the help of my friends and family, we raised over $1,500 for the Humane Society of Broward County.  That’s a victory by any standards!

Shaping Exercises for Your Dog (and You)

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Shaping button pressing

Please allow me a healthy amount of geekiness for a moment. “Shaping by successive approximations involves a process of differentially rewarding some behaviors and not others.”

I introduced the Sophia Yin “box” exercise to my basic obedience students last session.  Take a look at this great video demonstration of operant conditioning.  In my basic obedience class we use luring with treats to get the dogs to do behaviors like sit.  Using treats that dogs follow closely with their noses, makes it easy to achieve results FOR SIMPLE EXERCISES.  Complex behaviors are not always well suited for luring, so my students found this frustrating and challenging.

My students were immediately challenged by having to be quiet.  Other than saying yes every time the dog successfully met a criteria, the human should not be giving cues.  For advanced behaviors, successful completion of the behavior is not usually immediate.  So if the handler says down, but the dog takes a few minutes to put his belly on the floor, the dog may not associate the word with the behavior.  For advanced behaviors, I try to get students to successfully shape the behavior and add the cue later.

My students were also frustrated by the slow process.  When shaping begins, the dog is often perplexed by what is expected.  After all he has been led around by a treat on the nose for weeks.  This process is new.  These exercises give dogs great problem solving skills and confidence.  Once you have shaped a few tricks with your dogs, he will catch on.  Next time the treat bag comes out, he will confidently offer new behaviors and explore novel items you bring to the session (like a box).

If you watch the video, you’ll notice that Dr. Yin keeps raising the criteria for which Zoey. The dog gets rewarded as she gets closer to the final desired result.  You’ll also notice that Zoey gets a little lost in the exercise after a few tries.  Dr. Yin lowers the criteria to keep Zoey engaged.  Then Zoey quickly gets back on track.

The frustrating part of this video is that I suspect Zoey has already done some shaping exercises before.  Most students and dogs that are new to this will take much longer to achieve the result than Dr. Yin and Zoey.

Shaping exercises are great fun for dogs because it allows them a stress free experience of problem solving.  The experience is free of humans  hovering over them and barking out cues repeatedly (why would anyone listen to my “say it once” advice?).   This exercise is great for handlers too.  No more repeating cues until the dog learns the cue is irrelevant.  In addition, my human students gain some much needed patience.

Dogs wow me every day with their amazing ability to work things out.  I encourage all of you to try some shaping exercises with your dogs so they can wow you.  Try Dr. Yin’s box exercise this month and let me know how it goes.

Moving Out of Your Dog’s Comfort Zone

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Confidence Building Exercises

Doesn’t it feel great to take on a new and fun challenge?  I know I love getting out of my comfort zone and trying something new… especially with a little support and camaraderie from friends.

Thirteen years ago, I received a black belt rank in karate.  When I first stepped into the dojo, I knew no one there and had no idea what to expect.  I was never athletic and I was lucky to find a a school that was incredibly supportive and encouraging even with my lack of coordination and balance.  It took me ten years to work my way through the ranks.  It took some discipline to go to class after some long days at Ryder and even while I was working on my MBA.  All ten years were really rewarding and challenging and gave me great confidence.  Karate was one of the most amazing experiences of my life because it was so completely out of my comfort zone.  It made meeting each challenge just that much sweeter!

Dogs too can benefit from getting out of their comfort zones and experiencing new challenges and experiences.   Getting your dog out and about and trying new skills is very enriching.  Advanced, intermediate, and competitive activities provide opportunities to enhance your dog’s life.  By challenging your dog, he will learn to deal with frustration – some activities and skills just aren’t a piece of cake.  Face it, life isn’t a piece of cake, even for dogs.  Learning how to deal with frustrating situations and getting great rewards  for patience is a valuable skill in a dog’s life.  Dogs also gain lots confidence from being out of their comfort zone and getting rewards and enriching experiences in return.

So what’s a dog owner to do after basic obedience?  As I write this, my window is open and I am enjoying the sunny 73 degree weather.  If you live in South Florida, you could not pick a better time to get out there and have some fun with your dog.  In February, Oh Behave will be offering K9 Fun Nosework and an Intermediate class so you and your dog can learn some snazzy skills and benefit from spending time with your best buddy!

Mind Your Manners

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ImageTeaching manners to puppies is pretty easy to do, yet many pup parents overlook this important step in puppy rearing.  The fact is that puppies are adorable no matter what they are doing.  However, many behaviors that may be cute now, are not so cute when a puppy grows to be a 75 pound monster. The way to keep your puppy from becoming that monster is to develop manners by teaching some impulse control.

When I get a 4 or five month old puppy in my group class, one of the first skills that I need to teach is a gentle mouth.  Some pups are completely unaware of the sensitive human fingers when gobbling down treats.  I’ll close my treat hand with the treats inside and let the puppy get frustrated.  He’ll bite, paw and try to bully me into releasing my hand.  The pup eventually gives up and backs away. That’s when I say yes and release my hand.

There are so many areas that impulse control can be taught at an early age: greeting guests, walking on a leash, getting out of the door, getting leashed up, coming out of the crate, waiting for the food bowl and many more.  Nobody wants to be knocked down by an exuberant dog during any of these activities.  That’s why it’s important to teach impulse control BEFORE the dog gets big enough to knock you down.

Take a look at the video at the link below of Sammy coming out of his crate.  Through several blocking techniques using the door or my arm, I prevented Sammy from barreling out of his crate. Instead, I taught him to sit and wait to be leashed.  I had already introduced a stay cue with Sammy, so the exercise was pretty simple and he caught on fast.


Of course it’s still possible to teach manners to an unruly 75 pound dog.  I do it all the time.  It sometimes takes tools to give a small owner more leverage and alot of patience to undo a behavior that is ingrained.  It’s oh so much easier to teach a puppy some manners from day one.

The Four P’s Of House Training

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Potty Time

On Leash Potty Breaks

That’s PROPERLY PLACED PEE AND POOP.  House training a puppy or even an adult dog can be errorless and speedy with consistency and structure.

There is a 2 part formula for efficiency and effectiveness:
*Preventing improperly placed pee and poop.
*Rewarding properly placed pee and poop.

Without prevention, accidents happen and owners become frustrated because they have fewer opportunities to encourage properly placed pee and poop.  Without rewards, accidents will occur when freedom is allowed.

Rewards: Imagine there was a magic patch of grass in your backyard.  Imagine that if you urinated on the magic patch of grass and hundred dollar bills immediately sprouted from the ground.  Hmmm…  If I had a magic patch of grass, I’m not sure that I’d ever use the toilet again.  Of course, dogs are not motivated by hundred dollar bills, so it’s up to the pet parents to find their dog’s “hundred dollar bill”.  If a dog successfully places pee or poop, there should be something extraordinary for the dog immediately following the “P” event.  It could be the freedom to run around the yard, maybe enhance the experience by chasing the dog; a game of tug; a tasty treat; a walk around the neighborhood.  You’ll have to do some proactive scheduling to be able to give timely rewards.

Prevention: The prevention piece of the solution involves tools like leashes, crates, gates limited freedom and vigilant supervision.  The limited freedom is temporary.  Freedom is allowed slowly as the dog learns about the rewards associated with properly placed pee and poop.  A properly sized crate is the only place where the dog should be placed unsupervised.  Puppies and adult dogs are unlikely to use the bathroom where they eat and sleep, so this is an ideal area to leave the dog when the owners need to live their lives.  Potty breaks at the designated potty area should be on leash so the dog does the business at hand rather than busying himself playing.

If you are house training an adult dog, your challenge will be undoing the habit of improperly placed pee and poop.  If you are house training a puppy, you will be challenged by the short holding times of a small bladder or bowels.

There are many more details and best practices to efficient and effective house training.  Consult a positive reinforcement, certified professional dog trainer for assistance.