Clicker Training: What is it and why does it work?

A clicker is a small device that makes a clear click-click sound when its button is depressed.  It is a tool we use to teach your dog how to do ‘new stuff’ (learn a new skill) and once the ‘new stuff’ is learned, the clicker is put away. It is not something you must use for the life of your dog in order to get him/her to do things.

Your dog learns that the clicker is valuable to him/her because of its association with the arrival of a reward. We teach the dog about the association just by clicking and rewarding several/many times.

A cool thing about clicker training is that the dog quickly becomes a willing participant in the training process.  It’s a two-way conversation and it’s awesome to watch.

We organize things (lure to get the behaviour/catch the behaviour when it occurs) so that we can click and reward.  Meanwhile, the dog is actively trying to figure out how to make us click so they may get rewarded.  They usually try to make that happen by repeating the last skill (eg..sit) that got them rewarded. 

For more in-depth information about clicker training, I encourage you to check out www.clickertraining.com.  There is a wealth of information there and some excellent video’s to see.

Happy training!

Lynn Hyndman

What Have You Got In Your Mouth? Getting dogs to stop grabbing your things

It’s true that dogs and puppies alike view those things that are currently in their mouths as theirs, and only theirs.  Sure, dogs will play tug-of-war together with a rope or stick, but by and large, if they have that tasty bone or that special toy, it’s theirs until they leave it.  That’s Dog Etiquette.

Teaching our dogs that some things fall into the “Not for Dogs” category is important.  Take the TV remote for example…actually, right now, the puppy’s got it! It’s on the list of “Not for Dogs”.  Now, we could go the route of chasing the puppy around (what fun for the puppy!), cornering the puppy (not so much fun) and removing the article which now is decorated with teeth marks and saturated with dog slobber. And yes, we’ll probably have to do that but, how much better would it be if you were able to say “Give” and the puppy dropped it.

How do you relieve your dog of something in her mouth when she’s intent on keeping it?  By practicing in advance.

Dr Ian Dunbar, veterinarian, animal behaviourist and dog trainer states in an article: Practice taking away bones, toys and other objects from a dog before the inevitable incident with that essential TV remote control or your cell phone.  Offer the dog a boring toy, something not a favorite.  Once the dog has grudgingly accepted the toy, say, "Thank you," offer a tasty treat with one hand and take the toy with the other.  Once the dog has eaten the treat, give back the toy, saying "Take it."  Repeat this with more valued objects, such as balls, squeakies, and Kongs, moving up to very valued objects, bones.  When working with more highly valued objects, the attractiveness of the treats must increase accordingly, so that no matter how valuable the object the dog has in its jaws, you always have more valuable and tastier treats in your paws.  A dog must develop the confidence that giving up a valued toy or bone does not necessarily mean it's the last of it he ever sees.  On the contrary, the dog learns, "Thank you," means the owner wants to look after the dog's toy (how considerate!) while the dog eats the tasty treat (how generous!) and then, the owner wants to return the dog's toy (how honorable!)

Practice this dozens and dozens of times under different circumstances.  Have other family members practice as well.  It will ultimately serve you well when your pup has picked up that forbidden object and readily puts it down again when asked.

Happy Training!

Lynn Hyndman

Kangaroo Dogs: When dogs jump up!

Kangaroo Dogs!!!! Jump! Jump! Jump!

We all know about them; we’ve probably met them, those four-footed friends of the canine variety that greet us enthusiastically with front paws on our best clothes.  It’s not too bad if those paws are small, aren’t muddy, and those nails are short but, let’s face it; it’s much better for your clothes and much less embarrassing for the dog owner if all four paws are kept on the ground.

So, for all you embarrassed dog owners out there, here are some tips to help with your Kangaroo Dog.

 Set up a Sting Operation!

First, stock your pockets with tasty treats.  Next, encourage your dog to jump up on you.  Do whatever it takes to get those front paws up off the floor.  As soon as those paws leave the floor, say firmly those words you would normally use to stop behaviour of your dog.  It could be something like, “Ack! Ack!” or “No!” or “Off!!”  Turn sideways away from your dog and stand perfectly still while keeping a weather eye on his antics.  At some point, he will stop jumping and, as soon as those front paws are on the floor again, reward with a “Good Dog!” and give a treat from your pocket.  If your dog wants to help you deliver the treat by jumping up again, wait until his feet are back on the floor to reward.  Then, encourage him to jump again doing whatever it takes like slapping your legs or clapping your hands and as his feet leave the floor, repeat the “Ack! Ack!” or whatever words you have chosen.  Turn away while watching and reward for feet on the floor.  Repeat the exercise many times.  You’ll find that it won’t take very long before your dog figures out that the only way to get treats is to keep his feet on the floor.  Reward lavishly this new behaviour.

Repeat the entire exercise at a later time the same day.  You’ll note that he will have a period of “forgetfulness” at first, but will quickly catch on to the game.  Change locations for the next set of exercises then change people for new exercises.

Do this several times over a period of days with as many different people as you can find.  When you’re 80% to 90% successful in “no jump” the first time, it’s time to take the exercise on the road.  Go outdoors and start anew.  Once again your dog will have a period of “forgetfulness” but soon you’ll find him happily with all four paws on the ground meeting new people on the street.  Remember to reward his wonderful new manners with treats from your pocket.  After many sessions outside, begin using “Good Dog!” alone, gradually eliminating the treats.

Now your dog has learned a new behaviour for greeting people, but like any other behaviour, it can begin to slide if not practiced.  As well, new and different excitements may occur simultaneously with greeting someone and your dog may relapse into what is hard-wired in his system.  Practice and patience and consistent expectations are what will serve you best in the long run.

Happy training your Kangaroo Dog!

Lynn Hyndman

House Training Tips and Tricks

The task is to ensure that the puppy understands that it pays off to eliminate outside.  They need repeated positive input that they’ve guessed correctly. 

To effectively housetrain, new puppies need to be taken outdoors during the day and evening about every hour. They need to be taken out after they’ve eaten, after a nap, and after bouts of high activity, and after training. Every successful elimination warrants a Good Puppy and a treat from your pocket. Take every opportunity you can to provide him with the information that it is a very good plan to eliminate outdoors.

In addition to the housetraining protocol is the appropriate use of a crate.  The rule of thumb is: “If you can’t supervise, you must confine.”   The space inside the crate should only be big enough for your puppy to move around easily and lay down comfortably.  Dogs have a natural aversion to eliminating in their sleeping quarters. 

Always be vigilant in watching your puppy for signals that he needs to eliminate.  He may abruptly stop what he’s doing and begin to intently sniff the floor.  That’s a good indicator. Another is circling and sniffing.  He also may disappear behind some furniture.  Some prefer privacy when eliminating. 

In a perfect world, your goal is to have an perfect reward history…the puppy never has a chance to eliminate indoors.  But we’re not perfect, just like our pups, so if you happen upon a spot that he has used recently….maybe 5 seconds ago, or 2 hours ago,  the ONLY thing you should do is clean it up.  Correcting the puppy late only teaches him that you’re unpredictable and occasionally scary.

Your job is to supervise him, anticipate when he needs to go, watch for the signs, and to praise him (with a treat and “Good Puppy”) when he gets it right. 

Happy Training!
Lynn Hyndman

Emergency Vet Visit: do you know what to do?

It was a beautiful fall day.  The sun promised warmth to the cool crisp autumn air and the colours were spectacular against the clear blue sky.  Koen, my then four-year old German Shepherd Dog, had already alerted to a deer in the woods but I called him off to follow me up a winding path to the summit overlooking the beaver pond.  I saw him jump over an obstacle in the long grass and, as he ran gleefully ahead of me, I noticed a dark mark on the back of his hind leg.  I investigated and was shocked to discover a gash which pumped blood to the rhythm of his heart beat.  He weighed 42 kg (to me, a very heavy 90+ lbs) and impossible to carry the 2 km back to the car.  I was unprepared and I was panicked.  We eventually made it back and I rushed him to the vet on the other side of town. We were whisked into an exam room with two technicians quickly following behind but before much could be done, most of the floor was smeared with blood.  It seemed to be everywhere.  I was crying; the techs were working feverously to stop the bleeding and in the midst of all this activity was Koen, an ever patient pool of calm in this chaotic scene. He never complained. He did what I asked him to do: to lie down and stay, to roll on his side, and to permit the wound to be checked without giving any interference.  I was a wreck but his big brown eyes held my gaze as if to say, “It’ll be OK.”  He spent five days in hospital after the surgery to repair a sliced tendon and severed artery and came home in a cast that made walking very interesting indeed, especially because the snow came shortly thereafter.

 

It could happen to you, or more precisely, to your dog at some point in their life.  It may be because of some kind of accident, especially for the active outdoorsy dog.  You know the kind…the ones who investigate with great vigor every groundhog hole and every animal sound while walking in the woods or chasing a deer because your “Come!” command didn’t work.  Just imagine your dog going nose-to-nose or rather, teeth-to-teeth with a groundhog in his hole. The sporty dog who leaps into the air to catch a Frisbee and has a hard landing…..a sprained or broken foreleg!  Or even the docile home-body who like to forage in the kitchen garbage when you’re not home and eats something dangerous.  It could happen at any time and anywhere.

 

Are you prepared?

Do you have your emergency vet phone number tacked to your fridge?

Do you have it on speed-dial or in memory on your cell phone?

Do you carry your cell phone with you on outdoor trips with your dog?

Do you have a first-aid kit in your car?.....or in your home, for that matter?

Can you make a pressure bandage or tourniquet out of the clothing you’re wearing or do you carry a small first-aid kit?

Is your dog too heavy for you to “scoop-and-run” to your car?  If so, what’s your secondary plan?

Have you thought it out? What you would do?

 

There’s another kind of preparation too; a long-term plan that begins when your puppy or new dog arrives home for the first time.  It’s a simple plan that helps your dog to integrate seamlessly into his very human world.

  • Socialization of your dog with our varied community of people of all ages, big or small, noisy or quiet, on bicycles or skateboards, pushing strollers or lawnmowers, joggers and those in wheelchairs or walking with canes or walkers all helps your dog not react in a frightened or forceful way.
  • Socialization with other dogs and puppies reduces the likelihood of a difficult interaction in the close confines of the vet’s waiting room.
  • Regular handling, holding and restraining, petting, and massage of your dog from nose to tail and all parts in between is essential not only for day to day life but also prepares your dog for the inevitable vet examination.
  • Crate or confinement training is a must.  If your dog is already quite happy in his crate at home, then spending time on an overnight stay at the hospital in a crate is not likely to produce anxiety that is strictly crate-related.
  • “Well-visits” to your vet’s office on a regular basis for young puppies is very useful.  Your puppy’s cumulative experience is positive because nothing ‘bad’ is happening and it’s like money-in-the-bank for those other visits.  I think it so sad to see a puppy or dog balking at the door not wanting to enter or sitting shivering and panting because he’s so stressed.
  • And last, but certainly not least, is obedience training.  It is a huge stress reducer, both for you and for your dog.  If you’re confident that your dog will sit and stay when asked, will hop up on the scales and wait when asked, will greet these strange smelling people (veterinary staff) with courtesy, will not act out if another dog approaches too closely, then you are much less worried about how he’s going to behave and can focus on the current crisis. The medical staff will be able to handle him without the likelihood of confrontation and you don’t have to deal with the embarrassment always associated with a misbehaving dog.

 

It’s always so gratifying to me when I pick up my most wonderful but very klutzy and accident prone dog from the vet’s latest visit that I’m told “he was such a gentleman”.  That’s not to say he’s not anxious to go home and nor ecstatic to see me, he’s just pretty easy to handle by the medical staff even in the most difficult of circumstances.

 

It is in your best interest and the best interest of your dog to actively seek out situations that can prepare him.  Anything you can do to reduce your dog’s stress during a crisis will assist in healing, and make those examinations, x-rays, blood tests more palatable. You will have a much happier dog even in adverse conditions and your vet and other medical staff will thank you.

 

Lynn Hyndman – Head Trainer