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Basic Obedience Workshop

  1. How Dogs Learn
    1. Dogs easily make simple associations “If this, then that happens”. We use this to our advantage with the Positive Reinforcement method of training where we reward the behavior we want by giving the dog something it wants (motivator).
      1. A Motivator could be anything the dog really likes. i.e. a toy, treats, belly rubs, etc.
      2. If you “sit”, then you will get a treat.
    2. “Learning to Learn”: This happens with dogs that are trained new things frequently. Most dogs love to learn and when they understand how you train and how training works, they will learn additional things at a faster rate. They will also start treating the marker word as a reward since they know it is coming.
    3. Phases of Learning: Dogs learn each new task in 3 distinct phases and each phase should have a 90% success rate before the next phase is attempted.
      1. Acquisition: The dog is learning a new task and the command that goes with it. This is the very beginning where you are using luring or shaping to get the behavior you want and then starting to pair it with the command word.
      2. Generalization: The dog knows the command but now needs to know that the command is to be followed in all situations and from all people. You need to work with the dog in new areas outside of the home (at the park, petco, outside in your neighborhood) and have other people also work with the dog.
  • Maintenance: The dog knows the command but needs to be reminded and trained regularly in order to keep that understanding.
  1. Fair Learning: In order for dogs to see us as fair leaders, we need to understand that learning is a give-and-take situation. If all you do is ask without providing a motivator or some sort of consolation (for a bad behavior), then the dog will see you as unfair and will not want to listen to you or follow you. They may also start guarding their resources if it is only ever taken away from them.
    1. Trading is a key factor when dealing with dogs. Make sure that when you ask for something from them like giving up a toy or something they shouldn’t have, or asking them to do a sit in a very exciting and distracting place, you have something to offer them in return like a more appropriate toy, a treat, or a really excited “Yay! Good Girl” and belly rub.
  2. Three key things are important for a dog to understand a simple association:
    1. Timing: In order for the dog to make the association, timing is important. Dog’s short term memories are very short indeed and if our timing is off, it will take longer for them to learn. The reward for a behavior you asked for must be immediate! Using a marker word will help with your timing.
      1. Additionally, any corrections of behaviors must happen at the time of the behavior, not even a few minutes after!
    2. Motivation: The DOG gets to choose what motivates her. If she doesn’t like a certain treat, she wont work for it and learning will not happen. Make sure the treats and motivators you choose are something that the dog truly likes. All training sessions should be positive and filled with motivation.
  • Consistency: Consistency is very important so that a dog truly understand what you want out of her. If you keep things consistent, a dog usually learns and responds quickly. If you don’t, then the dog will become confused or frustrated and learning will cease.
    1. All family members must use consistent language when dealing with the dog. All rules in the house (i.e. sitting at the door) must be followed by ALL family members ALL of the time!
  1. Tools
    1. Chewing Toys
      1. Kong: Fill with PB (NO Xylitol in ingredients! Use Jif or Skippy), yougurt, biscuits, etc. You can freeze it or combo PB with kibble to make a fun dinner
      2. Antler: Naturally shed elk antlers make a great chew toy if they are less than 1 year old. Best place to get them is online. I have not found a local retailer that carries fresh ones at a reasonable price.
  • IQ toys: Check Petco clearance for brain games. Kong Wobbler is also very good to provide long lasting food based enrichment.
  1. Wood Based chew toy: Available at Target. Not sure of the name. It is similar to a nylabone (synthetic plastic chew toy) except it is infused with real wood. May help by giving her something woody to chew on without it being your chairs.
  1. Treats
    1. Treats should be high value and used to motivate the dog to learn new things. Low value treats can be carried to reward unexpected good behavior or spontaneous commands, but high value should be used for learning. Treats that I use for training include:
      1. Freshpet Vital refridgerated food (the pellets, not the rolls)
        1. I separate into small sandwich bags and freeze all but one bag for training to make it last longer.
        2. Available at Petco or Pet Supplies Plus
      2. Ziwipeak dog food (available online)
      3. Old Mother Hubbard Biscuits (Petco/Pet Supplies Plus)
      4. Full Moon Chicken Jerky (Target)
      5. Purebites Freeze Dried Beef Liver (Petco/Pet Supplies Plus)
        1. Also great to crumble into a powder to top their food with.
      6. Training Methods
        1. Positive Reinforcement
          1. Positive reinforcement is the main method of training these days. It includes providing a reward for a behavior you ask for or like, such as giving the dog a treat when it sits. The more a behavior is rewarded, the more the dog will offer that behavior to get the reward. (You saw this when Charlie sat for me a lot after I started rewarding her with pets and treats.)
          2. Marker Word: A marker word is used to communicate to the dog that they did the correct behavior. I use “Yes!”. A clicker can also be used. I like using a verbal marker because I can vary my tone of voice to get more or less excited depending on how well or quickly the dog did what I asked of it. I also like that it leaves both hands free to work with the dog. Timing on your marker word is very important! If you are off, it will take longer for the dog to learn what you want.
            1. Example: If you ask for eye contact, and you say yes even one second after the eye contact ends, the dog will think that the “yes” was for ending the eye contact rather than giving it.
  • Varying rewards: Many dogs trained in this method are given a treat every single time they do something right. They should be, but only while they are LEARNING the task. Once they are getting it right every time you ask, you should vary when you give the dog a treat. If the dog expects a treat every time, they wont listen to you if you don’t have any treats. Additionally, varying the time between treats triggers the “gambling” center of the brain. Dogs actually perform better when they don’t know whether they will be getting one treat, no treats, or a bunch of treats for a reward. It acts on them the way that slot machines act on us.
  1. Commands:
    1. A dog doesn’t understand English. You can use whatever commands you like for your dog as long as everyone remains consistent. Do NOT give a command until the dog is already consistently performing the behavior you’re asking for when lured. Adding the command too soon makes the dog tune it out while they are trying to figure out what you are asking them to do. If they tune it out, they wont hear you when you ask for it. Also, only use the command word ONE time. If the dog doesn’t respond, give them a few seconds, then start the exercise over. If you repeat a command, the dog will either learn that she doesn’t have to sit until you’ve said it 4 times in a row (and that 4th time is when he will sit), or she will tune out the word completely and unlearn what it means.
    2. Release word: A release word means that the dog no longer needs to perform what you asked of her. I always make the dog continue performing until I release them. I use “Ok!” for my release, but you can use whatever you choose.
  • The most important commands in my opinion are:
    1. Sit (butt and front paws on the floor)
    2. Down (elbows and butt on the floor)
    3. Stay (don’t move)
    4. Stop (Stop moving)
    5. Recall (I use Here, you can use Come. Dog comes when called)
    6. Leave It (Stop sniffing/eating/interacting with that)
    7. Name
    8. Loose leash walking (I use “By Me”). I consider this more of a behavior than a command.
  1. Luring
    1. Luring is where you use the scent of a treat to put your dog into a certain pose. They only get the treat once they reach that pose. Luring is the main form of teaching the dog how to do the behavior you’re asking for. You need to make sure that the treat is kept right at their nose and move it very slowly. Pull it too far away and the dog stops instinctively moving with it.
      1. To Lure a Sit: Take the treat and put it right in her nose. Gradually move it up and behind her head so that her head follows it up. The dog might back up, but if you do it slowly, the butt should hit the floor. As soon as the butt hits the floor, say “Yes!” and let her have the treat
      2. To Lure a Down: Take the treat and put it right in her nose while she is standing. Slowly move it down and between her front legs. Her front end should hit the ground first like a play bow, then her back end should follow. As soon as her elbows and butt are on the ground, say “Yes!” and give her the treat.
    2. Shaping By Successive Approximations
      1. Shaping is used generally for more complex behaviors or behaviors that cant be lured. Stay, recall, leave it, and name are a few of them. Shaping means that we are asking for very small steps towards a larger goal. So if I am shaping a stay, I will start right next to the dog and say “Stay”, then wait one second, then give them the reward. Gradually increase time and distance (but not at the same time) as long as the dog continues not to move. Start very small, and work your way up to the dog staying while you’re running past them or walking around them.
        1. To Shape a name: Have treats in both hands and hold them in closed fists so that the dog cant get them. Let her smell your fists then put them next to your face. The dog will look from one fist to the next, then get frustrated and look at you. The second the dog gives eye contact, say “Yes!” and give them a treat. Repeat until the dog is giving eye contact easily, then add the name. “Charlie!” > eye contact > “Yes!” > Treat. Add distance, take away the fists, etc.
        2. To Shape a “Leave It”. Have treats in one hand. Allow her to know you have them in that hand. Say “leave it”. If she looks away or turns her attention to anything other than the treats, Say “Yes!” and give her one from the other hand. If she goes after the treat, close your fist. Wait 5 seconds. If she turns her attention away from your fist, say “yes!” and give her a treat with your other hand. Practice this until you don’t have to close your fist anymore when you say “Leave it!” Then add a higher difficulty like placing the treats on the floor or using higher value treats. Practice this outside and in the kitchen.
  1. Extinguishing Problem Behaviors
    1. Problem behaviors generally occur because the dog has either not been taught which behaviors are acceptable or because they have been encouraged. Lack of physical and mental exercise also lead to problem behaviors as the dog tries to find something to release his physical and mental stress and engage in a social interaction. Generally for dogs, bad attention is better than NO attention. Make sure you are rewarding your dog for being good! Often, people only notice when their dogs are being bad and don’t see them being good. Then the dog learns that it only gets the attention when it is behaving poorly. Lavish praise on a dog that is sitting politely while you watch TV or is ignoring you while you eat!
    2. Provide a fulfilling lifestyle. Dogs rely on us for everything. We have computers and jobs and get to go to the movies and have TV and go to the bar, and all sorts of fulfilling stuff we get to do every day. Dogs only have what we provide for them. However, they are intelligent, active, social animals that require fulfillment just like we do. Providing a dog with an enriched life will reduce problem behaviors such as chewing on inappropriate things. Dogs should get ample exercise, play time, mental stimulation games, and time to explore the world. Take them to the pet store, for a walk downtown, a walk by the lake. Let them experience the world outside, because otherwise their whole world is your house.
    3. Reward an alternative behavior. When you correct (I use “Uh-uh!” and “Wrong!” with my dogs) a behavior such as chewing on the chairs, provide an alternative like a wood infused nylabone, an antler, or other proper chew toy and praise her when she chooses that. You can smear a little PB on it to make it more enticing if needed, but you don’t want her to only choose those proper toys when there is PB.
    4. Behaviors such as jumping up, whining, and barking are usually to get our attention. They want to interact with us! The best way to extinguish these behaviors is to take away what they want. NEVER give your dog attention when she is jumping on you. Instead, just turn away and ignore her. As soon as she sits in her confusion, reward her! Soon, she will stop jumping and will sit when she wants your attention. I call this “4 on the floor!”. No attention unless all 4 paws are on the ground. Make sure that everyone follows this rule with your dog. This includes telling strangers and visitors to stop petting her if she tries to jump on them. She will soon learn that she only gets the attention when she is polite and that jumping on people is rude.
    5. Pulling on the leash usually starts for 2 reasons: They have never been on a leash and don’t understand the confinement, and they want to go faster due to excess energy. They have 4 legs and it is hard for us 2-leggers to keep up! I teach loose leash walking through constant verbal vending machine and what I call the “Crazy Lady” walk. The crazy lady walk includes keeping the dog on a short leash (only enough to have a comfortable J shape from my hand to the collar) and changing direction as soon as the dog puts tension on the leash. I usually go in circles. Eventually, the dog will think “This lady is crazy! She never goes the same direction. I better pay attention or I will be left behind!”. The verbal vending machine includes constant communication with your dog. You should always be telling the dog either that they are good for sticking next to you without pulling, or “uh uh!” if they start pulling, and then “This way!” to indicate you are changing direction. Usually for me this sounds like a constant string of: “Yay! What a good dog walking next to me, good girl! So very good girl! Uh-uh, this way! Good girl! Yay! Uh-uh, this way!” And I just keep talking until she is keeping up with me. If you notice her looking at you while you are moving, say “Yes!” and give her a treat. Reward her attention on you while you are outside, she will give you her attention more.
  2. What is a walk?: A walk should be travelling. It should not be sniffing, exploring, marking, etc. You should only stop for 2 reasons: 1.) There is a danger (i.e. other dog, curb, coyote, car coming, etc). 2.) The dog NEEDS a potty break. Note the NEED in all caps. Dogs don’t need to pee 3 times on a walk. If you stop every time the dog decides to sniff or pee or wants to explore that bunny trail, they will never get to travel with you and will keep stopping. A dog that travels with you will stay with you. They wont pull on a leash, they wont notice the squirrel in that other back yard, they will just be moving with their pack. Travel mode includes a relaxed posture, ears back, head and gaze forward but not intensely so. If you want to allow the dog to explore or sniff, go ahead! But it should be YOUR decision with a release command, not the dog’s choice.
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