I love clicker training. I love the way the dog (or other animal) is a willing participant in the learning process. I love how fast the learning process can be and how much fun can be had.
Unfortunately, some people dismiss clicker training because they think we are just a bunch of hippies that try to ignore bad behaviour and just passively wait for the dog to offer good behavior before we reward. Whilst I am sure that some trainers attempt to use this ineffective approach, a good trainer (regardless of what tools they prefer to use), will adopt a proactive approach to solving unwanted behaviour (so-called bad behaviour).
So how do we clicker trainers and other positive trainers deal with unwanted behaviour? Well management is high on our agenda and ignoring behaviour should be fairly low down: depending of course, on what the unwanted behaviour is. If my dog ignores a sit cue, I’m probably going to be fairly chilled about it all and not stress. If it ignores a recall cue, I may get a bit worried if the dog is clearing off to chase rabbits, other dogs or just going over to bug other people and dogs…..that one would mean that I’d have to go and put some work in on proofing my recall around distractions and making sure that I pay the dog a decent wage for ignoring those distractions and heading back to me. Management would involve a long line clipped onto a harness.
So what if my dog is jumping up people. Am I going to ignore that behaviour and wait until the dog decides it is going to do something else? Absolutely not! everytime the dog jumps up someone, it is getting rewarded, so the behaviour is going to increase and not go away by being ignored. What I need to do, is reward the dog for doing something else; something that it can’t do at the same time as jumping up. Sit is an excellent one to pick (as you can’t jump up whilst you are sat) as is keeping four paws on the floor. So again we’d manage the situation by keeping the dog on a lead and then rewarding the dog for either sitting or keeping its feet on the floor when people are about, and then as people approach and then when people come over and say hello to the dog.
What about a dog showing aggression? Am I going to ignore that behaviour and wait for the dog to do something else? No! This needs addressing. Again management will come in to protect whatever the dog’s target is; so lead, muzzle (once the dog has been trained to accept one) and then work is needed on treating the emotional component of the aggression (if it is ear based), on treating the pain (if the aggression is medically related) and then desensitising the dog to its triggers. How to deal with this, would need several blog posts, but do look out for our TRUST programme. Also see our blog post on Muzzle types to ensure that you choose the correct type.
What about barking? Am I going to ignore that? Generally, no I won’t, although it does depend on where and when it occurs. I probably won’t try to stop my dogs barking when they first go on the beach for a run, but I will stop them barking in the house, when someone comes to the door and barking at me to get me to throw a toy. barking does tend to be a rewarding thing to do (makes the dog feel good inside), so ignoring it isn’t really going to make it go away. We need to be proactive and teach the dogs what quiet means.
Dogs can’t bark and sniff (bit like we can’t talk and sniff…try it!), so if your dog starts barking, pop a tasty treat on their nose, they will sniff (and go quiet), then say quiet, count to 5 and then reward. You have just rewarded your dog for 5 seconds of being quiet. You can build on this and gradually increase the duration of the quiet behaviour.
For dogs that bark when people come to the door, then I really like Kikopup’s approach of using a positive interrupter to interrupt the barking so that you can then reward the quiet behaviour. Works even if you have multiple dogs.
For dogs that are getting over excited and barking because they want to play with that toy now! I’d be wanting to work on their self-control (impulse control). I play a series of games to help to teach the dog to stay calm and focused, no matter how exciting the game or the environment. These games now form part of my successful EPIC self control and focus course
We’ll have a look at other so-called problem behaviours in another post in the future. Have a think about the behaviours that your dog does that are maybe not appropriate and see if you can think of a proactive approach to teaching your dog to do something else instead.
If you’d like to do more about why dogs bark and the other ways in which dogs communicate, then join us on our online Canine Communication course
Please do not use this cloth/tight fitting of muzzle on your dog for anything other than a routine vet check. If you have a dog that you think might bite, then please use a basket muzzle (and insist on a basket muzzle even if the pet shop recommends one of these restrictive cloth muzzles). Basket muzzles shown below;
The cloth type muzzles will cause your dog to overheat rapidly because they are unable to pant effectively – dogs can only lose heat by panting (they don’t sweat) so if they can’t get their mouths open and their tongues out, they are in danger of overheating.
They also cannot drink effectively. On a warm day, they can get very distressed on a hot day (above 20C), they can rapidly become so hot that they can collapse and die! Please do not use the cloth muzzle when walking your dog on a warm day and definitely NOT on a hot day; you run the risk of killing your dog!
The basket type muzzles (images above) are much better as the dog can pant effectively, can drink effectively and can be given treat rewards easily so that you can reward your dog for good behaviour.
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We’ve had a couple of warm days recently and hopefully, there are more to come. Our canine companions enjoy the sunshine as well, but we do have to take care.
Dogs are not very good at maintaining their own temperature in warm weather. Try not to let them sunbathe for too long as they will overheat; let them sunbathe for a short while and then move them to a shaded area.
Avoid walking your dogs in the hottest part of the day (lunchtime) as even on a 30 min on lead walk in full sun can cause a dog to overheat and get sunstroke. Allowing them to play fetch or runabout like loonies for 30 mins or more in full sun, can also cause heat stroke.
You are best to walk early morning and late evening when the temperature has dropped. Always take water with you so that your dog can have a drink. Also be aware that the temperature at your dog’s height may well be different to that for you…long grass will trap the heat low down and make the dog warm as it will prevent that cool breeze reaching them, although you may think that it is cool. Pavements can get very warm in the sun, resulting in your dog’s feet getting warm, which impacts his ability to cool himself down (dogs can sweat through their feet).
If your dog is panting heavily and the end of the tongue has taken on a spoon shape, then your dog is too hot and is starting to suffer from heat stroke – get the dog into the shade, use tepid water to cool the belly and groin area. Phone your vet and get there ASAP.
Dogs can over heat whilst on a walk round the streets on lead, whilst running in the fields/park, playing ball and so on. They can even overheat whilst you are driving along in your car with all the windows open as the sun shines through the glass straight onto your dog. Use sun blinds to shield your dog from direct sun and make sure that they have plenty of water and are actually drinking. Frequently stop and check your dog on long trips.
Do not leave your dog in the car in this weather, the glass causes the car to heat up like a greenhouse in a very short time and dogs can die in less than 30 minutes. If it is too warm for you to sit in the car with your windows shut and your airblower/air con turned off, then it is definitely too hot for your dog! even with the windows partially open and bowl of water in the car, it will soon heat up too much for the dog to be able to cool itself down. Special modifications are needed to keep dogs cool in vehicles in this weather.
Heat stroke is a very real killer; if you suspect your dog has got heatstroke, then pour cool (not cold as it can cause shock which in itself is fatal) water onto your dog’s belly/groin area, offer frequent cool water drinks and contact your vet immediately.
If you have a dog with a short muzzle (French Bulldog, Boston Terrier, Pug, etc.), then you will need to be even more careful that they do not overheat. Due to their short muzzles, they cannot pant efficiently which means that they cannot lose heat. Be very careful to only walk them in the coolest part of the day and to keep the walks short to prevent overheating. There is nothing wrong with skipping a walk if it is too warm, your dog won’t die from missing a walk, but may well die if you take them for their usual walk on a really warm day. Your dog will enjoy some food searching games or playing with a snuffle mat or a tasty frozen stuffed Kong (check out our Frozen Kong Recipe page on Facebook)
A kiddies paddling pool is likely to be appreciated by your dogs in this weather, but please don’t force them into it if they don’t want to get it.
Tug is a fabulous game to play with your dog but sadly many dogs never get to enjoy this game with their handlers. Why is this?
- Playing tug makes dogs aggressive
Playing tug does not intrinsically make dogs aggressive, it actually makes them more careful with their teeth IF you play using the following rules:
Play stops if canine teeth touch human skin or clothing
Play stops when you want it to.
Teaching a dog to be careful with its teeth is very important in this day and age. Playing tug without rules can result in a dog that thinks that the tug game also includes playing tug with people’s clothing and or grabbing hands to play tug. Using the rules above menas that tug games are controlled and safe.
- Letting my dog win the tug game will make my dog dominant
Play between dogs is very much a game of give and take and our games with our dogs should also be interactive. Watch what happens when you let your dog win the tug toy; does the dog suddenly try to take over the World or does it bring the toy back and thrust it at you in an attempt to get you to play again. Generally dogs will bring the toy back to you and try to engage you in play, which isn’t the behaviour of an animal trying to be dominant (if you still think that dogs are here to be dominant of people there is plenty o information on the Internet which disproves this thinking).
- Playing tug will make my dog ‘hard mouthed’
This is a common belief of gundog trainers. In actual fact, playing tug is a great way of a dog releasing tension (they hold tension in their jaws) and again by teaching them to play tug with rules ensure that the dog learns to be careful with its teeth. I’ve actually found that playing tug is great for keeping a soft mouth in my gundogs but obviously we have specific toys for tug and different ones for retrieving. The dog then learns contextually i.e. I can bite and tug hard on this toy but need to be gentle with this retrieve item.
- Play tug will make my dog want to kill small furries
I’m not quite sure where this idea comes from, unless it is some people think that by playing tug with a hunting breed such as a terrier will make the dog want to go off and hunt and kill small furries. Yes dog will shake the tug toy when they’ve won it, but this does not mean that they are going to develop into rabbit and rat killers. In fact, it is more likely to provide an outlet for those instincts. Playing tug is a great reward for a dog that has just recalled away from a prey animal such as a rabbit, hare or deer.
Tug is a fabulous interactive game that helps to build the relationship between dogs and their humans. Tug means that you are playing with your dog, not just throwing a ball for then to retrieve and amuse themselves. Tug is a great reward for your dog, great for teaching self-control (Impulse control) and is terrific fun! A good energetic game of tug is a great workout for both dog and handler and should leave you both feeling tired. Enjoy
To learn more about how to build Self-control/Impulse control in your tug play sign up for our online course.
It is great when your dog is happy to be in the company of people and dogs from outside of the family and it means that you can go on walks with friends with no worries. This, to me, is a well socialised dog, but what does that really mean? Well it means different things to different people and there seems to be a real misunderstanding developing.
Everyone knows that we need to socialise our dogs (and yes you can socialise an adult dog just as you can a puppy). It’s great that the message is getting out there. However, socialisation is the process of getting the dog used to (habituated to) everything that it is likely to see during its life; so vehicles, people, children, other animals, household objects and noises, aeroplanes, etc. This process should mean that the dog develops a neutral or slightly positive association to these everyday things and will prevent them developing negative (scary) associations which could lead to problems later on.
However, it appears that socialising your dog/puppy has also developed to have another meaning; that of allowing your dog/puppy run over and play with everyone else’s dog, much to the annoyance of those dogs’ owners. This isn’t socialising, this is allowing your puppy/dog to run amok and potentially learn to bully other dogs. There is a school of thought that a puppy needs to be told off by another dog so that it ‘teaches him a lesson’ but that lesson could be very harsh and end up with the puppy becoming fear aggressive or the dog that they are harassing (and yes, it is harassment in many cases) could be scared and become fear aggressive to protect itself from rude dogs and your dog is likely going to learn how to be the play ground bully and that is no fun for anyone.
Yes, dogs do need to become familiar with other dogs, but in order to achieve this, it is not necessary for them to play with every dog they see, they just need to see other dogs. It is much more important that they learn to respond to cues around other dogs i.e. that they come back when they are called, that they can walk nicely passed other dogs without screaming and barking and leaping about. In fact, letting them play with every dog they see, is much more likely to result in a dog that pulls and screams/barks to get to them and is likely to result in a dog that completely ignores the owner and won’t come back when called (or be caught) until the dog has had enough. That’s no fun at all, and who really wants a dog which wants nothing to do with you? Mind, I suppose for some, it means that they can just stand there and watch their dog play/annoy/frighten dogs for a couple of hours and then they take a tired dog home….easy way to exercise your dog without putting in any effort yourself, I guess.
That doesn’t mean that you can go for walks with your friends and their dogs; that is what having a sociable dog is all about and it can be great fun. If you feel your dog would benefit from having more doggy pals, then why not take them along to a doggy day creche so that they can play with other well socialised dogs that are happy to be around other dogs? Of course, you need to ensure that it is a well run creche where the dogs are well matched for their play styles, where bullying is not tolerated and that the dogs do get some downtime during the day (s roughly one hour play time and then one hour rest time).
The the type of socialising that makes me cringe is when the owner of an aggressive dog rings up wanting to bring their dog to classes to socialise it. No, no no! This is not socialising, this is flooding! Remember that socialising should be a neutral or positive experience. Putting an aggressive dog into a room full of other dogs that it is scared off is not going to make it like other dogs. If you don’t like spiders and I put you in a room full of spiders for an hour, will you like them more? No, you’ll probably be even more frightened of spiders (and also not trust me either for playing such a dirty trick on you). Aggressive dogs will find group classes very stressful, which may make them more reactive or they maybe be so scared that they actually shut down and just stop doing anything. sadly, some owners (and some dog trainers), think the dog is then ‘fixed’ because it is no longer reacting….The dog isn’t fixed, its just been scared into not reacting…bit like you back in that room full of spiders, you don’t know which one to scream and run away from because as soon as you move away from one, there is another near you…so you just become immobile…not cured, just terrified.
Aggressive dogs that are well on with their rehabilitation training can be introduced to dogs in a controlled fashion, where there is one dog introduced at a time and at a distance that the dogs can cope with and then that positive association to other dogs can be built, allowing the dog to become sociable.
Let’s get the foundations right, habituate your puppy/dog to the presence of other dogs, work on them being able to respond to your cues around other dogs and people and allow them controlled access to other dogs rather then just letting them have a free for all. There should then be a whole host of sociable dogs out there that can be allowed to play (provided the other owner agrees and if the other dog is happy) rather than the scores of out of control dogs that totally ignore their owners and do their own thing.
Self-control or Impulse control is my ‘thing’, I spend a lot of time teaching people games to play with their dog to improve their dog’s self control and because I end up with the problem dogs, I’ve usually got several dogs that are ‘work in progress’ with regards to self-control and other issues. With the established pack, I usually have a pretty good idea when they are going to get a bit OTT and have issues with their impulse control, but just sometimes, they catch me out.
Take Mr T, always a bit wild on the beach and gets very ‘shouty’, so we do some work there before they are all allowed to hooli about. He can get a bit OTT at flyball (as expected really as it is a high adrenaline sport) and recently, he has become a bit reluctant to release his tuggy, so back to working on that and getting a bit more self-control. However, at a recent gundog training workshop, the wild child really was released. We got to do some retrieves using a dummy launcher; and that was the most exciting thing ever; he couldn’t sit, couldn’t stay quiet, all he wanted was that retrieve. It was all so much more exciting than flyball which did surprise me a bit.
So why did it all go wrong? The quacking noise that the dummy launcher made and the excitement generated by the gunshot and the dummies flying high in the sky was all a bit much for his current stage of training. I should have taken him further away and reinforced calmness and then gradually brought him closer and closer, rewarding calmness before letting him have that explosive retrieve. But I didn’t, he got several retrieves.
I did learn that despite his excitement levels, he could mark the dummy and do a cracking retrieve to hand without mouthing or trying to play tug with the dummy (something that we had struggled with previously, as he would either drop the dummy short or try to play tug with it), he could also memorise where a dummy had fallen and go out and retrieve it cleanly even if the previous dog had missed it. So despite his high arousal levels, he was still capable of having a soft mouth and of thinking and remembering work that we had previously done in a calmer environment. As soon as we had finished playing with the dummy launcher, he did calm down very quickly.
So, although we had a bit of a blip, and I have more work to do, I’m confident that the games we are playing at various arousal levels is starting to be generalised to other situations. I will admit that Mr T has taken a back seat since Mint arrived and this episode has reminded me that I do need to keep playing that games with him to maintain and develop his impulse control.
Self-control/impulse control can be taught to a dog. Some breeds are genetically wired to be impulsive (spaniels spring to mind as well as working line Malinois and terriers) and other breeds are genetically wired to be less impulsive (many retrievers, many hound breeds, some of the large heavy breeds). The impulsive breeds can be taught to control their impulses and this is best taught allowing the dog freedom of choice rather than trying to impose it. So a dog choosing to sit before it is allowed to carry out an action is always going to learn to control its impulses better than one that is told to wait or stay before being allowed to carry out that desired behavior. Both methods will bring about results, but the dog that is allowed to make choices will learn much better and generalise better than the one that has self-control imposed on it by the handler. And yes, you can train impulsive dogs to settle calmly at home whilst you are working; they don’ need to be bouncing off the walls all the time.
We also need to teach behaviors when the dog is in various states or arousal as behaviours taught when the dog is calm will be forgotten when the dog is aroused (much as happens with us).
To learn more about self-control/impulse-control check out our EPIC courses and also our on-line self-control course, both of which are full of exercises to teach your dogs self-control/impulse control.
Back to training the ‘wild child’ that is Mr T 🙂