Well, this could be a blog about my as-yet-to-be-successful attempts to lose 10 pounds, but more on point, it’s a discussion about the value of a dog’s dinner in training and behavior modification. I am inspired to write this after seeing Kathy Sdao’s seminar last January in Orlando, and reading her new book, Plenty in Life is Free. It’s a really good book, in which her primary point is that the so-often-recommended “NILIF” (Nothing in Life is Free) programs recommended are based on a flawed assumption, and should be replaced with using Operant Conditioning to teach the behavior we want.
I say “Here Here!” to that. It’s just another version of dominance theory, and as Kathy argues, it can have a negative effect on the relationship between a dog and its owner. What I especially like about the book (besides perhaps the most endearing cover to a book imaginable) is its focus on teaching a dog what you DO want him or her to do, and how to use what she calls “Get SMART” to do so. SMART = See, Mark and Reward Training. In other words, first you focus your attention on your dog, paying attention to when he does something that you like. You Mark it with a clicker or a verbal marker, and then Reinforce it with food, play or touch. No “commands,” just watch, look and listen… and use your increased awareness to reinforce your dog for behavior that you like.
Here’s a short list of some of the many things we can notice and reinforce (she recommends 50 times a day!): looking at your face, walking by your side, relaxing quietly while you work, staying in the crate. Besides being attentive, the key here is to use the dog’s dinner to reinforce the behavior you want. The example from Redstart Farm is Tootsie heeling when we walk to the barn. There’s no fence around the front yard and the driveway leads to a county highway. But I want Tootsie to be safe off leash in the yard, so without using any cue at all, I’ve taken part of her breakfast and dinner with me every time we walk past the driveway to the barn. She gets a treat every time she is in heel position on my right side. (Willie is trained to the left, so I thought I switch sides so that someday we can all walk together.)
She now walks with me from the house to the barn like an obedience trial champion, about 65 yards or so, in a kick-butt, eyes glued to my face, head and tail up, with a big grin on her face. Would it work in other contexts? Not yet, but on our walks anywhere I wait for her to choose that position and reinforce her for it. It makes her dinner bowl pretty sparse indeed, because she’s gotten so many treats during the day for training, but it works, it works and she still gets some good food every morning and night in a bowl, so we’re all happy.
What about you? How much do you use your dog’s dinner throughout the day? What behaviors have you found best to watch for, mark and reward? And have you seen Kathy’s book yet? It would be a great addition to anyone’s library. As always, I look forward to your thoughts….
Now, would someone please monitor the food in my bowl every meal? It would help if I hadn’t learned to make crusty-on-the-outside and creamy-on-the-inside French bread and if I do say so myself, the best berry pie you’ve ever had. Sigh.
MEANWHILE, back on the farm: Whew, I am sure that some of my friends will roll their eyes, but it’s cool and rainy and I’m so relieved. Now all the beautiful flowers will stay around awhile rather than burning up in a day or two, you can work sheep without overheating them or your dog, and the grass is so green it almost hurts your eyes. The storm last night brought cool temperatures and needed moisture, but poor Tootsie is seriously thunder phobic, so we’re all running on very little sleep right now. But the rain was good for many reasons, and the sheep held off from having their lambs in a downpour before I got them into the barn. (I told them to wait until the weekend to lamb, so far they’ve been very obedient.) Even though it rained so hard last night you couldn’t have slept through it even if there hadn’t been thunder, the flowers seemed to have come through it without too much damage. Now we just have to cross our paws and hope for no killing frosts.
Here’s that green I was talking about. Yup, honest, it really is that green out here. The green strip you see if alfalfa, which has the most intense green of just about anything that grows in spring.
And here are the blossoms of our wild plum trees. More probably I should call them “feral,” not sure where they really came from, but I’m trying to help them spread because their fruits are fantastic. I combine them with wild apples and make Apple Plum Butter Sauce. Uh oh, there I go talking about food again. Bad Trisha, bad Trisha.
Beth with the Corgis says
Hmm. I understand completely what you are saying and that is much the way assistance dogs get their early training (from what I hear).
On the other hand, I don’t really WANT my dogs to hover around me and stare at my face all day. And my dogs are so food-oriented and so intent on looking for cues that I have a very real fear they would do just that.
Isn’t there some danger in raising dogs this way (randomly rewarding them all day for paying attention to you for no particular reason) that they will become obsessed with you, rather than attentive to you?
I have heard of this method before and have some serious concerns about unforseen negative results.
Beth with the Corgis says
I should add that I DO use this method for specific things: walking nicely by my side on-leash, lying quietly while locked in the crate. I will play with my pushy dog if he is lying still on the floor instead of dropping toys or barking.
But if I treated them for coming up and looking at me while I was home, I’d create little staring monsters! I just think for very vigilant dogs, care needs to be taken in what we reinforce and when we reinforce it, and I prefer rewarding very specific behaviors in very specific circumstances. For dogs who are known to blow through a whole repertoire of behaviors trying to figure out what we want, truly random rewards for random nice behavior might backfire.
And yes, since my dogs are on strict calorie control, we reduce dinner when we give lots of treats.
I love this approach but I wish I knew how to modify it for a raw-fed dog. I still haven’t figured this out in order to keep my reactive dog’s weight stable. I use the smallest treats I can to keep the calorie intake lower, but a balanced diet doesn’t consist of treats (just like you, I wish someone would monitor my treat intake as well;) I never did like NILIF as the method did stress “alpha status” in the guise of “leadership” in my opinion. Kathy’s is a much better approach. Since it involves actively watching for behaviours (aka not for the lazy dog-owner) might be the only reservation for some.
I’ve frequently thought that if my eating was like Elka’s (3ish cups a day with some natural-as-possible, no sugar snacking), I wouldn’t have to have “calories” in my vocabulary. I envy you that French bread, though, I assure you! I haven’t yet his upon the correct recipe myself.
Plenty in Life is Free sounds like a great book; perhaps it will be my next “dog book” purchase, as I seriously doubt my library system will have it. We’re pretty hit and miss in that department, unfortunately. “Get SMART” is a training acronym that appeals to me for a number of reasons!
Roberta Beach says
Ach, and I thought I was doing right with NILIF :(. What I liked about the blurb re: Kathy’s book was the word “partnership.” A horse trainer I worked with not so long ago emphasized this – how we are partners with our horse; I have been using the same term with my dogs and adoption inuquirs – these dogs will be partners in your life so know what and who you need though often you don’t know till after they find you.
Thanks – will find the book.
Yeah for Tootsie and obedient sheep.
Ranger collects way too many treats just for being wonderful. It often seems like everywhere we go people have treats for him. He only gets one meal per day and sometimes that’s pretty small. Finna on the other hand gets a good portion of her meals during the day for not barking wildly at my husband. This is an ongoing issue and you often hear him asking her to go away and find the quiet Finna because he has yummy treats for that Finna. Outside she couldn’t care less about food. Outside it is all about the ball. If she can ignore the neighbors on the other side of the fence she gets to stay out and play ball. Barking wildly or trying to escape under the fence and she doesn’t get to play anymore instead it’s time to go in. Of course with her sometimes going in is the best reward since it takes the pressure of noisy neighbors shouting at their dogs or the nasty little pack of rat dogs across the street brawling just a few feet from her fence off–always assuming she’s in a mental/emotional place where she can listen and respond otherwise it is capturing her and hauling her inside. The good news is that she’s not wound as tightly as she was four months ago. The bad news is that she’s still too, tightly wound. Still, we’ve gone from comparing her to a screw that won’t budge to one that can turn even if it’s still pretty stiff. She’ll be a work in progress for sometime to come.
As I’m transitioning to canned and raw food for health reasons, I don’t use my dogs’ dinner for treats.
But my treats do effect the amount of dinner and breakfast my dogs get.
For a brilliant spring green, I vote for winter wheat! Or moss next to a stream. Could fall into the green and stay there!
LaDonna King says
Thanks for the tip on the book ” Plenty in Life is Free”. I just placed an order. It sounds like something I would really enjoy having in my doggie library. Now I think I will go get something to eat. You have made me hungry with your talk of yummy pies and such.
Carla Karr says
Great photos Trish! Love the concept of keeping your eyes peeled for good behaviors and then rewarding them. I look forward t0 reading the book. It is so easy to get caught up in all the negatives. I find I like my dogs alot better when I focus on all they great things about them.
I just finished reading Kathy’s book. I can’t say enough good things about it! I’m not at all geared for the NILIF mindset, and time after time I got that advice for my little rescue dog. “Don’t let her get away with ____________ (fill in the blank). Make her work for everything.” It’s exhausting and just no fun, and I don’t want to live like that. I breathed a huge sigh of relief that such a well-respected trainer is saying it’s not necessary.
Beth with the Corgis says
Ok, I’m going to give two examples of situations that made me question just how far we can take what I think is commonly called “capture” training (capturing good behavior, and either labeling it later, or continuing to reinforce it for being offered on its own).
Maddie had developed “creep” when she would go into her crate; she would sit with her hind end inside but the front third of her body (front legs, chest, head) leaning out.
Rather than re-label her command to go in her bed, I decided to let her think about it and reward the correct behavior, without labeling it anything. At bedtime my dogs sleep downstairs on the couch or floor, but I send them into open crates as a signal that the day is over and it’s time to settle in for the night.
I would reward Jack for going in, then stand and wait to see what Maddie would do. Soon enough, after a few minutes, she put her front paws back into the crate. Her head was still out, but I rewarded the feet first. It took just a few nights for her to get the idea (and it was rather humorous to watch her thinking very slowly through the process, and draw her feet into her crate in slow motion).
After we had this down, I worked on her pulling her head in too. This went faster.
Fast forward a few weeks. Usually when we are leaving the house, we give the dogs a small treat so they associate our leaving with something pleasant. Maddie usually runs into her crate when she’s expecting this treat. One day I decided to give them a large dental treat. Since Maddie usually eats hers rapidly and then goes and hovers near Jack, I gave Jack a head-start. I handed him his treat, waited til he went into the living room and started eating (my eyes were on him, my back to Maddie)….and when I turned to face Maddie, she was plastered as far back into her crate as she could possibly get. Not scared, or intimidated, but I guess she figured since pulling back into the crate made me cough up the reward earlier, AND I was clearly ignoring her, perhaps she should back up further… and further… and further.
Now, it seems harmless and I even laughed at first, but after I thought about it I realized it is incredibly unfair, is it not? to never clearly define what has been done well. It made me question the thought process of the dog. If we reward captured behavior but never name it and repeat it, does the dog clearly know what behavior is desired? Or does the dog forever think “Ok, this worked last time so we will try again. Or maybe this instead. Or that?”
Another example: I have, for years, had a particular minor medical ritual I undertake at home every week or two weeks. To keep the dogs out of my hair for that short time, I have always given out large treats that take awhile to consume. Jack and Maddie both know when that treat time is approaching. The thing is, I decide when to give it based on convenient timing for me. But I’m not sure they realize what triggers the magic reward, and Jack especially will start offering behaviors at me trying to get me to cough up the big treat faster. He’ll speak, wave his paw, lie down, sit and shuffle his front feet to remind me he’s sitting. Since nothing HE does actually triggers the reward (and it’s based on my routine), but he can’t know my motivation, it seems to cause him increasing stress levels til I get the treat for him. He does not seem certain if it’s related to a behavior of his, or not related to a behavior of his.
Finally, I have seen first-hand dogs (especially agility or obedience dogs) who have been constantly rewarded for certain behaviors involving focusing on the handler, who seem to have trouble just relaxing and moving away from the handler and enjoying being dogs.
I’m not against rewarding polite behavior and I do it all the time, but I tend to be more in the camp that for a dog to be truly relaxed and know what is expected, behaviors should be tied to certain signals (a leash means walk close to me) or cues (verbal, hand cues, whatever).
Having not read the book I can’t be totally clear on the method being advocated, but any type of training, even the most positive, can cause a dog stress if he is not clear on what is expected of him, when. And capturing, like anything else, can cause a dog distress if he’s highly reward motivated and eager to please and you’ve conditioned him to never know when you might be looking for some unknown behavior to reward him for.
My agility instructor has an exercise where she clicker-trains a person to try to figure out what is being asked of her (no words allowed). It’s meant to illustrate how stressful it can be to try to figure out what someone wants when you are not using language, and how rewarding that “Eureka!” moment is. My fear with capturing behavior is we are always giving the dog the stress of trying to figure out what we want, but not giving them enough Eureka moments if we don’t then label the behavior and condition it using more classical methods. In other words, there is no such thing as a fool-proof stress-proof training method.
What an interesting topic. I’ve used both methods (capturing and NLIF) in training Daisy and I do believe that there is a place for both without really necessarily having to be “ALPHA”.
For instance, for a dog with poor impulse control, who jumps all over you to throw the ball, I can see the value of asking for a sit before throwing that ball (as the in the NLIF method). On the other hand, I see nothing wrong with a dog bringing over a toy and “asking” to play, as long as it’s not totally pushy.
I’m all for capturing behaviors, although I have some concerns(like Beth from an earlier post) about my dog constantly staring at me expecting to be rewarded, esp. since I have a dog who has a problem with Separation Anxiety. She’s just about a velcro dog anyway, and she’s an agility enthusiast, who might not be able to excel in the sport if she’s constantly looking at me.
Trish, and all I’d love it if you might expand on how you think NLIF can have negative effects relationships with dogs and if you think using something like the “SMART” method with an SA dog might have an unintentional negative effect.
I often work on the principal that any behaviour that is not the bad behaviour (i.e. jumping) is good behaviour!! And as such can be reinforced. I think people sometimes find that a hard concept to understand. We are very good at finding the bad behaviour and pointing that out but very inefficient generally about finding the good behaviour and reinforcing that. I have Kathy’s DVD but I’m yet to watch it. I love Kathy’s work and watching her in DVD’s, she’s so enthusiastic and clear in her message!
I have a dog who came to me as a feral puppy at 10 weeks old. Since day one I have used a lot of her meal to capture behaviors I like and also to build some associations through classical conditioning. Clara is now 9 months old.
I am proudest of two of these efforts.
First, I rained food from the sky whenever my reactive dog barked. So now Clara runs to me with delight whenever Summer _or any other dog_ barks. It generalized!
Second, I rewarded any reorientation to me or self interruption when Clara was barking at something herself. This has become so strong that she will self interrupt to come find me, wherever I am, instead of persisting at barking at something, even if the exciting event is still going on.
Because of her feral background, she is potentially quite alarmist, so both of these modifications have been godsends.
Barbara D. Brill says
Oh, how much I wish I could agree 100%. I already do teach the subject dog what *to* do for all the behaviors we’ll need, as I’m able to do so. Nonetheless, I just grabbed Dr. Nicholas Dodman’s page of instructions for his behavior plan when dealing with dominant dogs to pass along to a new client. Her newly adopted 5 y o dog is exhibiting lots of very assertive behaviors.
His current responses are way over the top, inappropriate for the social settings.(He is not reading the owner’s social cues, even though I have her quite exaggerating them — to welcome a visitor, to indicate that she is giving the visitor permission to enter the house. I haven’t seen a dog who seemed to pose such danger in a couple of years or more. That last case worked out beautifully, and I hope this one will, too. My aim here first is to strive with all my might to help keep this client safe from injury from her huge (120 lb) assertive dog.
Toward that end, I’m non-confrontational with it, and I’m teaching the owner to be non-confrontational while we strive to build a cooperative-working relationship with this dog. That may be difficult, quite difficult to do; it’s exhibiting over-the-top guarding behaviors. Focusing on the good things this dog may do is not enough, not nearly enough.
I am not at all opposed to an owner requesting normal social deference from his or her dog. I encourage that, for just as we want dogs to exhibit a modicum of respect for our private persons, so too do we need to demonstrate equal respect for their personal bodies and space. Maybe I’m getting all tangled up in the words, whereas each of has a clear understanding of the concepts, and we may not disagree very much at all. My reservations arise from witnessing some owners who institute a totally permissive dog-rearing environment, and I know we don’t want that.
Lynn Ungar says
While it wasn’t the same casual, around the house training, my puppy worked for her meals for her first several months. Both the puppy and I were vastly entertained, and she learned the obedience exercises through Utility and a large number of tricks for freestyle. Everyone had a fabulous time. Started showing my brilliant puppy, who figured out post haste that dinner wasn’t going to show up in the ring. Now I’m having to go back and teach her that she can actually put in some effort without food being in evidence, and that maybe we could do some stuff for the fun of playing with me rather than because the all-important food will be there all the time. Learning delayed gratification has been way harder (and more frustrating) that anything else we’ve done together, although we’re finally making progress. So yes, working for meals is great, but it definitely has limitations for dogs who will have to sustain several minutes of intense effort without food.
I have always been a bit uneasy with NILIF, although I could see its value in calming down an over exuberant dog – I suspect many of us have used parts of the approach to give us something very similar to PILIF! Sophy very quickly learned that she can make me do almost anything by lying down, cocking her head on one side, and staring at me soulfully … very, very hard to resist. Another book for my growing library, though.
I have solved the raw/treats issue for us by making liver cake. My dogs are not keen on raw liver, so I liquidise a couple of weeks ration with an egg, mix in enough flour or cooked pudding rice to make a cake consistency, and bake it in a loaf tin. Once done it either gets cut into tiny pieces and frozen, or sliced and baked again to make liver biscotti, which keep for ages (not that they last that long!). That way the treats are healthy, they love them, and I count the calories to their daily total.
Off topic a bit, the training without words is working extremely well with Poppy – she was developing a bad habit of jumping up at the backs of my legs at the top of the stairs. A few days of simply taking a half step back away from the stairs every time she moved to jump seems to have solved that! And she now needs only a glance to remember not to jump at me when I am putting my shoes on to go out.
And I am another one who should pay as much attention to the balance and quantity of her own food as she does to her dogs’ food! Just water to drink instead of more interesting beverages would probably do the trick without any more complex interventions …
I just started reading this, and am finding a lot of parallels between Kathy Sdao and Jan Nijboer, an dog training guru out of Germany, who basically stressed that communication is the essence of trust. Communiction has to be two-way — you have to listen to your dog as well as have your dog listen to you. That was the basis of my training of my now 5 year old girl, who is my heart dog, has increadible focus and loves to work/play. There’s a lot of overlap and I really really like the emphasis on letting your dog just be normal.
And can we have the french bread recipe as well?
Kerry M. says
I’ve only read blurbs about NILIF so I liked the idea of the program, or what I thought the program was about, which is to reinforce using their daily food behavior you liked. THAT concept I can get behind and I do. It sounds like Kathy Sdao took the good and tossed the alpha so I will definitely check out her book. I got the DVD of of her What Not to Err seminar and there were several lightbulb moments for me during her talk.
I have a 1 year old service dog in training that I’m currently co-raising and we do this all the time. On a typical day, I’ll reserve half his kibble from breakfast and dinner to work on cues and behaviors. He’s a lab so he will absolutely work with it. I only break out the premium stuff when I ask for something extra hard.
I teach my very first training class today and my plan is to talk to pet parents about bringing in both kibble and premium treats so that we can determine when they can use their kibble. I’ve been talking to those who sign up for classes about why pay their dog $100 (liver treat) when $10 (kibble) will do? That seems to click with people – at least in theory. Time to see how it works in practice.
Sharon Woolman says
So Trisha, how does SMART work when herding sheep – given that working the stock is the reward? Just curious as the control over the reward is a little different than a treat or a toy…
Always enjoy your blog posts – especially the ones about the farm!
I use very nutrient dense high value treats, mostly homemade so I know everything that goes into them (for example, I’m perfecting a salmon and sweet potato brownie that is really a hit). I substitute them for the “raw” portion of my dogs’ diet. That way, I only have to quiet the inner ” nutrition nazi” in me a little bit, and it’s kind of fun doling out cookies for breakfast!
I have a Golden Retriever, Leo who is a puller. I have tried everything with him. I started taking treats with me and when he does not pull and walks nicely beside me he gets a treat. Now for the problem, he comes back to me walk beside me looking at me and as soon as he gets the treats takes off in front again. You would not believe the amount of food we go through on a walk. I have tried the turn and walk the other way when we are walking and he starts to pull, he watches out of the corner of his eye and as soon as I let go of the leash to turn he beats me and heads off the other way. We are using a Gentle leader at this time which makes it a little better.
Angel Stambaugh says
I never read any books or followed any set protocol for NILIF, but I thought I was implementing it in the early stages of training my dog. Maybe I was only using parts of it? I mainly used it as a tool to get polite behavior, as in sit while I put your food bowl down, put on your leash, if you want attention, etc., instead of jumping or running around. Also, sit nicely at the door before we go outside. I also do that at the doggie daycare where I work. I’ll throw the ball or give you the toy if you stand or sit politely, not if you jump on me, try to grab the toy, jam the ball you want me to throw into my leg, or wrap your leg around my ankle to get my attention.
But I’ve also used the SMART method when he was a puppy. Our trainer told us to watch our dogs and reward the behavior we liked. If he was lying quietly, reward with praise and a treat, even though we haven’t worked on down or settle yet. If the cats go running by and he ignores them, good boy! Etc.
I think it’s important to realize that there are a lot of great training methods/tools out there and to use them. One tool might work for some behaviors, in some circumstances, and at some points in the dog’s life. But other tools will work better at other times for other things. It’s silly to say, “This is my training method, period.” and only ever use one tool.
While I have yet to thoroughly research either philosophy, I try to bring a bit of both to the table depending on circumstance. I have also seen the consequences of dogs taking operant rewards to undesirable extremes, as well as dogs whose behavior has nothing to do with leadership so our prioritizing of roles interferes with training approaches that are effective and pleasant to all.
I should look into both more, but aspects of each leave me initially a bit stuck:
Not providing a meal for a dog, rather using their behavior as work to be rewarded throughout the day seems contradictory to plenty in life being free. Seems to me the dogs are in fact working for the rewards, which can lead to a dog who actually doesn’t expect food to be placed in a bowl but that behavior must be performed to earn food. I think that an indication of a truly free reward would be predictability based on a schedule (feedings at the same time each day) and not contingent on any particular behavior.
Nothing in life being free, on the other hand, seems to ignore the progress and maturation of relationships. Not allowing the relationship to evolve is not only unpleasant to me but can seriously cut a dog’s abilities short. Taking the approach of an ‘entry level position’ may have a place and time but it seems like that should be brief and less rigid than implied.
It does strike me that there are great benefit to aspects of Plenty and Nothing. I especially like being encouraged to observe our dogs as much as possible, and to not feel compelled to always label a behavior. But there are also aspects of guidelines and philosophies I just don’t get. I’m reminded of the wise words, “Confusion means we’re getting somewhere,” and hope to figure it out … someday!
Beth with the Corgis says
I agree with others who pointed out that they use different methods for different situations. I think the average owner with one compliant pet might never need to use NILIF, but for someone who has 3 dogs, the structure can help. I think some OWNERS need the structure of NILIF; my husband is a great example of a dog lover and very smart man who just does not see how he actively rewards undesired behaviors. So much easier to say “Ask the dogs to sit before putting down their bowl” than trying to get him to understand the concept of watching for good behavior (he’s not that attentive) and capturing it.
And I agree that I have trouble with even the most positive trainer who says “My method works for everything.” One thing I always like about your books, Trisha, is that you don’t have one defined method; your idea to say “No!” before asking for a recall when a dog is about to roll in something nasty is a perfect example that works well for my dogs where just the recall does not always work.
I have another example of how using operant conditioning to reward desired behaviors without putting them on cue has come back to bite me.
My last cat would not tolerate a closed door (inside only cat, I’m talking about closets, bedrooms, etc). It was so bad that I had to leave my bedroom closet door ajar at night in case she might decide she wanted to go in.
When I got my new cat, I though “That’s it, I am teaching this cat that doors never open when she meows.” I was diligent (and used opening the door as the reward) and only rewarded good behavior; in this case, quiet.
And it worked. It worked very well. I’d say we are 97% successful. She will very rarely meow at a closed door, and if she does, she only meows once or twice and then leaves. Fabulous!
Except everything in life has a downside. And now I have a cat who has been left locked in a closet all day more times than I care to admit. I will come home from work to be greeted by two dogs but no cat. I walk upstairs, open my walk-in closet, and out pops Miss Kitty, quiet as a churchmouse.
I could rectify this by teaching her to meow on command, but alas she is deaf. Whoops. So now I have rewarded a behavior that could honestly put her life at risk if she ever got outside. She does seem to hear some high pitches, so I am seriously considering teaching her to vocalize to a dog whistle.
Similarly, one of my dogs was perfectly crate-trained by her previous owner. She will stay in there as long as you want and never make a peep. The dog I raised as a pup is quite good but no where near perfect. He’s a pushier dog but also was raised that he might get rewarded for initiating behaviors on his own. I have accidentally left the one crated longer than I intended when I forgot her (my dogs are rarely crated; I’m talking about fractions of an hour here). The other, the noisy one, has never been left locked up longer than was necessary for the task at hand. As soon as he thinks I’m done with what I wanted him in there for, he begins to bark.
Nuisance behavior? Sometimes. But which dog will stand a better chance if there is an emergency and they are trapped somewhere and need help?
I think, too, of Trisha’s fabulous story of Luke saving her from an angry ewe. To me, that’s a dog who has been rewarded for being polite and ALSO rewarded for making his own decisions.
I read the methods used by one of the top agility trainers out there, and they sound a lot like this book. And honestly I would rather be mediocre at agility and have my sometimes-misbehaving dogs than be an agility star with dogs who mostly think that humans are the only source of all good things. Which brings me back to my original conclusion: ANY method can cause stress and has a downside if taken to an extreme. The time-honored tradition of putting behaviors on cue seems to me to create the least stress and have the fewest unforeseen consequences. Bear in mind, training a dog to sit for a greeting is still putting behavior on a cue (the cue being the greeting ritual). Teaching a dog to watch your face instead of chasing when a cat walks in the room is still putting the behavior on cue (the cue being the cat). Rewarding a dog for watching your face with no cue can lead to a dog who increasingly and more frantically tries to offer various behaviors to elicit a response from his person.
I notice that a lot of clicker trainers who take training to this level worked with dolphins, or took their method from dolphin training. And I have learned a lot by watching dolphin trainers too. But there are a couple key differences. One is of course that we don’t live in the tank with the dolphins. The other is that every time I’ve seen captive dolphins, they seem to regularly exhibit what appear to be stress behaviors while looking for their handlers in between performances.
FYI, in response to many of the thoughtful comments: I too use a mix of methods, and can’t imagine ever using only SMART or any one method to teach everything. I should have made that more clear in my post, so thank you for adding that important addition. I often put a behavior on cue even if I begin reinforcing it after the dog initiated it on its own, I just find life to be easier that way–it just depends on the context and the behavior. And I still use more pro-active methods to teach lots of things: I combine Body Blocks with lots of Pos Reinf to teach Stay for example, because dogs understand it so well and it teaches a good Stay so fast and effectively. (But you have to do them without putting pressure on a dog; admittedly takes some skill.) I’d write more but I gotta go get the sheep down from the pasture: Barbie and Rosebud are 5 days overdue and I want them close to the barn instead of the field where the coyotes have been yip-howling. But yet again, your comments have inspired me to think about: when do I use each method? Any pattern there? Hummm, yet another blog idea develops….
I guess NILIF has gotten a bad rap because it’s associated with dominance theory. I’ve always implemented it and I teach it to clients, but I teach it as a way of reinforcing self-control and using life rewards instead of treats all the time. I have a workshop all about it in which we practice sit to greet, waiting at doors, sitting when there are tempting treats moving above the dog’s head (to discourage nabbing and jumping for treats), and so on. I think most everyone here would agree that these are good skills for dogs to have, no? And this is the way that I’ve always used NILIF.
My dog gets half his calories from Primal raw, fed through a squeeze tube, and half from two dehydrated foods called ZiwiPeak and Real Meat, which I use instead of treats in low-distraction training. ALL of his food comes to him via training sessions, because it’s the only way to reliably get him to eat. He turns his nose up at food in a bowl. Fortunately he’s only 10 pounds, so it’s not a large amount of food.
Lisa W says
@ Kathy, I ,too, have a puller and have tried everything. The tree, the look at me, the crazy man dance, the long, low nooooooo, the treats in my hand by my side (which works well for heel on and off leash), she will respond to them all and then go right back to pulling. I have given them all lots and lots of time, and she responds in the moment, and then it’s gone. Finally, after 51/2 years, I got her a please-don’t-pull-so-much harness. She is the type of dog that needs clearer boundaries than SMART alone would give her.
I think it is a tool to add to my box and use when appropriate just like a firmer approach works with her under certain circumstances (my vet lovingly calls her a cement head). Each dog is so different and each person’s interpretation of these methods is different. That’s what makes it so interestingly frustrating and fun.
I really like the sound of this training style, but unfortunately it, as well as many others, don’t really accommodate raw-fed dogs. I can’t really keep a raw chicken leg in my treat bag all day. I do have raw-friendly treats for training, but carrying them around all day and portioning them out when I get good behavior would 1) end up being stinky and gross after several hours and 2) totally ruin my dogs’ dinner. Instead, I try to use clicks as rewards (I reinforce it as a reward during dinner time when I CAN hand over the raw meat) and also toys/games. It’s not as smooth and neat as you described, but I think a lot of trainers are assuming owners are all feeding kibble, which is simply not true.
Beth with the Corgis says
Reading my posts, I have realized that it may sound like I’m against the method and I’m not; I’ve used it extensively. I have successfully used capturing behavior to teach a puppy to sit, come when called, and leave it. When Jack was growing up I never went anywhere without a pocket full of kibble. He was an extreme wanderer as a pup and thus needed to be leashed for safety well before the age when it’s possible to really do leash-training, and so he picked up bad habits. Frustrated, I finally hit upon the idea of training “heel” by working off-leash with captured behavior, then adding the cue, then having him drag a leash behind him, before finally picking up the leash after the behavior was mastered. And I’ve advised so many people, in life and on various forums, how to train pups by doing this, and also how to diminish the frequency of pushy barking, pawing, jumping etc by ignoring the bad and rewarding the desired behavior.
I just wanted to illustrate that it’s not without its own limitations. Plus, I have very alert, clever dogs who try very hard to see patterns. A less responsive, more independent dog might shine under constant random reinforcement that would drive a pattern-finding dog mad.
I have also seen “positive-only” agility trained dogs who seemed much more stressed than some gun dogs and working farm dogs who were trained using a mix of reward and more old-fashioned punishment. I do think there is a lot to be said for consistency; a dog who is occasionally punished but knows exactly what provoked that might find life less stressful than a dog who is only ever rewarded but never knows when it is coming, or for what.
This discussion is fascinating to me. One of the reasons I enjoy this blog so much is because it makes me think more critically and clearly about why I do the things I do with my dogs. Ranger, or as we’ve started calling him, Saint Ranger the Good, coped with a lot of different training styles and methods as I struggled to figure out what training means to me and what my underlying philosophy for training is. Saint Ranger coped well with whatever I threw at him and learned what I was trying to teach. Finna is a different kettle of fish altogether. She should be very grateful I trained Ranger first because the experimental approach while working out the underlying philosophy would be hell for her. She is a seriously damaged dog thanks to a very bad start in life. SMART is safest and most effective training strategy for her. NILF would be total punishment for Finna. When she came to us she didn’t have any concept that she could in any way affect her environment to make good things happen for her. She only knew that if she behaved fiercely enough all the things that terrify her would stay further away (which, unfortunately, is a good thing to her way of thinking). By rewarding every sit and adding a cue “Sit” she learned to sit when asked and now it is becoming a default behavior. (Yes!). By learning to sit Finna discovered that it is possible for her to do things that result in rewards. When I create a clear mental image of how I want her to behave in any given context and reward successive approximations of that behavior we give Finna more tools and better ways of dealing with the vagaries of life. I think Lisa W. captured it best “Each dog is so different and each person
Re raw: Possible to dry foods? And/or use peas, etc etc? And of course, Pos Reinf doesn’t have to be food, especially if the dog loves to play…
Beth with the Corgis says
I did train weave poles using nothing but a tug toy as a reinforcer; the idea being the dog only gets that tug toy as a reward and rarely, if ever, gets it any other time (after you build value, of course).
For the raw people, is cheese out of the question for a raw-fed dog? Cheese is one of my dogs’ favorite treats, and while I don’t feed raw, I guess I’m having trouble seeing how that would be counter to the raw diet? Yes dogs are often lactose intolerant, but so am I and aged cheeses have zero lactose left in them; check the carbs on the label to be sure.
How about dried herring? I got them in a pet shop. They also sell dried salmon.
I’ve also used peanut butter in a tupperware container; the dog gets about 3 seconds of licking as a reward and back the lid goes. You could do the same with tinned fish (though it would stink). Or yogurt, or cottage cheese.
Or prosciutto. 🙂
We feed raw. Most freeze dried raw products work great for training rewards. Of course we’re less fanatical than many so we often use kibble for treats. Finna is especially fond of Kitty Kibble. Since the cats get high end grain free kibble I figure there’s no real harm. At this point keeping her rewarded and engaged is more important than strict dietary rules. We also use a lot of hot dog jerky and string cheese. Fortunately, for her waistline outside she’s all about the ball so rewards outside are fetch games. Sometimes just paying attention to her can be a reward. I guess what I’m trying to say is that rewarding behavior I want takes a lot of forms; it might be food, or play, or attention or … anything she is interested in.
I love Kathy’s very engaging book and her SMART approach. As Trisha says, of course, food is only one of many reinforcers that can be used as a reward for behaviors that the human wants to strengthen.
Her “cow killing” (the sacred kind), her striving for simple and sticky expressions, her humanity and her genuine desire to connect in the most meaningful and joyous way with her friends (4-legged included) – it so speaks to me. A wonderful treat!
Mike Hatch says
Take a look at John Rogerson’s book “The Da Vinci Code.” Rogerson has been mentioned by Patricia McConnell in one of her books. He has a very unique approach to teaching loose leash walking. I saw his seminar and he can teach any dog to walk on a loose leash. It’s too hard for me to explain his methods, but it doesn’t involve treats nor is it traditional either. One method that he does teach that isn’t in the book and only can be found in his seminar is his guide dog derivative approach. When the dog’s leash becomes tense he will trip and fall and pretend he’s hurt. IF you have a good relationship with your dog, the dog will come back to see if you’re okay. If your dog doesn’t come back, then your relationship needs improvement. After you fall you would then get up and limp for a bit. Then keep continuing this each time leash becomes tightened. Please see his seminar on Aggression and read his book. You will glean a more thorough understanding of what I’m talking about.
Amy W. says
My dogs like to look out the front (screen) door, and whenever they quietly watch someone walk by I try to capture this behavior – usually with a treat. If I catch my dogs doing something I like (ignoring a passerby, waiting politely for me to open the car door, pausing to cross the street), I usually reward it. Sometimes with a simple “good”, othertimes with a treat or with play.
There is a trail I frequently hike with my dogs. At the end of the hike when we return to the parking lot, I ask my dogs to stop and wait, while I go ahead a few steps to make sure it’s safe and there are no cars pulling in the drive. Yesterday, my girl, Skylee, stopped and waited without being asked. I captured/rewarded her behavior by grabbing the first stick I could find and playing a game of fetch.
When Tucker was a puppy I used a NILIF approach to his training to instill some self control in him. That approach seems to set boundaries that he needed at the time. We now use a much more lenient approach, maybe a modified PILIF mentality. I’ve tried to give him opportunities to use his brain and make his own decisions and it works for us. We are more like partners. He can make his decision to go dig for a bunny but he always lets me know where he is. Sometimes his timetable and mine don’t quite agree but if I go sit with him and just wait for him to be done with whatever is attracting him at the moment it seems to strengthen our relationship. I require obedience in the house but our walks are for both of us and I want him to know that we both in it as a “team”. So..I think both approaches can and do work with modification and also with knowing and trusting your pal.
Off topic ( a little, anyway), I’m sorry to hear that Tootsie is storm phobic – I’ve got two storm phobic dogs, and the third has only just lost it as she lost her hearing! Have you thought of asking your vet for drugs to help, at least at first? I use Valium for my two, the only trouble being you have to give it half an hour before the storm hits, the third used a stronger drug prescribed by a vet behaviourist that could be given many hours before, which worked better, and was easier, but much more expensive. So far my two current storm phobics haven’t been severe enough to warrant it. What is your opinion on drugs? I couldn’t stand watching my little one shake, drool and get wide eyed terrified at storms, so I thought it well worth it. I might add she was fine with fireworks, guns, and thunderstorm cds, just the real thing frightened her. If you don’t use drugs, how do you cope with storm phobia?
We feed raw, too, so treats don’t come out of the food dish. Not directly, anyhow. I often use simple bits of cooked food or prepared treats without much attempt to mentally deduct the same quantity from his meals. Yet another of the advantages/compensations of a large dog is that the handful of treats that 150lb Otis gets during the day makes up only a tiny fraction of his caloric intake for the day. I find that I do have to be a bit more conscious of it with Sandy, who is only 70lbs and much, much more food-seeking, but it’s still quite managable.
The most effectively and permanently, trained behaviors that I taught Otis, I taught with capturing then tying to a cue (if he had to do NILF, he’d have starved to death long ago. He’s better now, but he’ll still walk away if a food treat comes at the cost of training stress, and it takes surprisingly little to stress him, he HATES not knowing what I want him to do.) Otis learned to stay on his bed during human dinnertime this way. I started by rewarding him for lying on the bed when I brought him over to it, then for staying there for a moment, then a bigger treat for a longer moment, hopping up to reward him periodically as he continued to stay, etc. until he would lie quietly for a whole meal in exchange for a big reward at the end. Worked great, and I love the result. Unfortunately, however, I simultaneously reinforced a less desirable behavior-eye contact avoidance.
Because lowering his head and/or breaking his stare while we were eating indicated that he was relaxing into his long-haul stay, I often rewarded him at that moment, and because it fit in so nicely with his natural tendencies to avoid direct eye contact generally, he picked that up hard and fast and it became his default behavior when he didn’t know what to do. We’ve worked on it a lot since, but just yesterday, I was standing around eating a bagel (standing while eating is usually a cue that some will come his way, so he’s always interested when I hover in the kitchen rather than sit at the table). It was a chewy bagel, and taking me longer than Otis felt was normal for me to get down to the last two bites, traditionally shared between him and Sandy. Sandy was sitting in front of me, staring raptly at my face, as is typical for her, but when I looked down, there was Otis, lying on his bed, head turned completely back over his shoulder in the opposite direction-he was pulling out all the stops. In one way, I’m glad. A cocker spaniel who stares anxiously, fidgets or paws for a treat is a minor annoyance. A great dane pressuring people for food is a half-step away from a mugging. But part of me is sad to see it, I have to admit (I’m a sucker. I’ve accepted it). I guess I often do have the dogs sit or something similar for that bagel piece, but really, it’s just a treat (for me and for them) and in a weird way, I don’t want them to be stressed out trying to ‘earn’ it.
On the purely positive side, Otis learned to wade into the water in the summer in almost the same way. When we first adopted him, he was horrified by water, wouldn’t willingly step into a puddle. When his friends splashed and swam in the creek, he would dash back and forth along the bank, obviously perturbed by their presence in the water but also envious of the games being played without him. We ignored it, not putting any pressure on Otis to go into the water if he didn’t want to. Peer pressure eventually won out, though, and Otis waded (only to his ankles at first) in to continue a game of chase-n-wrassle with his buddy.
We semi-intentionally captured and rewarded this behavior. It is a common practice at the park to “feed the fish”. We stand on the bank or the bridge and throw dog biscuits into the water for the dogs below to find and eat (milkbones float). The original purpose of the game was to lure waders who don’t often swim deeper into the water in order to rinse off the sand and mud that is always all over them. When Otis dipped his toes into the water, he was deliberately included in a game that he had been excluded from before (people would and still will just hand Otis cookies, so he was never really left out of the reward, just the game of find-and-slurp the cookies). So his behavior had its own reward (play with friends) coupled with a deliberate human reward (cookie game) and a straightforward food reward (cookie!). The combination worked in a way that an attempt to lure or a straightforward cue-then-reward never would have.
Oh, last thought! Otis had to learn leash walking late in life (AFTER he had grown to 120 +lbs), and while he was not a contant puller, he was a sudden lunger/stopper and it could be very stressful to manage him. Two things worked for us. A Halti (Gentle Leader) gave us enough leverage to handle him safely but he haaaated it. He’d throw himself on the ground periodically, bucking and writhing, trying to get it off. We waited him out when he did that and he’d get over it after a minute or two.
The only training technique that worked for us (he’s too strong for collar pops, turning was useless since he didn’t pull AHEAD, just in random directions, food had no appeal for him compared to smells, etc.)was stopping. You have to have a good amount of time and patience and a not-very-busy practice space to make this work, but I just refused to move unless he stood properly by my side. I’d tug gently and call him to me- when he was in position, I’d start to walk, when he passed me or turned to the side, I’d freeze in place and wait until he returned to position. The second he was in the right place I’d walk, the second he put pressure on my short leash, I’d freeze. If he was too interested in sniffing something right where we were stopped, I’d back up a few feet to give him an incentive to move forward. It’s kind of silly, but when he looked at me from the end of his leash, I’d say, “I’m sorry Otis, but I can’t walk when you’re pulling me. Come back.”
It probably took three solid weeks before I started phasing out the Halti, and I carried it for another six or so, so that I could put it back on if he started acting up. I’m not sure how much was the stopping and how much was a desire NOT to wear the Halti, but by the end of that time Otis could have won leash walking contests.
Lisa W says
@Mike, Thanks for the book suggestion. I’ll look it up. I had to laugh at your description of Rogerson’s nontraditional, guide-dog-derivative approach. If I pretended to trip and fall, I don’t think I would be pretending that it hurt 🙂
I also think that my dogs would come back and check, but they would be pretty flipped in the meantime.
Margaret McLaughlin says
I have used a version of this method for several years with my service dog puppies. When I serve each meal I put the next meal into a plastic container, & use it for training treats, & then put what’s left into the dog’s bowl for the next meal, & start over. Generally, I only pay for ‘captured’ behaviors until the behavior is on cue; then I c/t only for behaviors I’ve asked for. (I do load a “yes!”, & keep kibble in my pocket in case I don’t have a clicker handy.) The exception to ‘on cue only’ is a LOT of rewarding for lying quietly at my side, since this is an important part of a guide dog’s job, & I want it to be a default behavior that the dog will always offer. With most of the puppies kibble stops falling from the sky by 4 months, so having a dog who’s constantly ‘throwing’ behaviors at me has not been an issue. They have also learned the independant thinking & ‘intelligent disobedience’ required of a guide dog–it has not turned them into robots.
I have not yet read the book (going to order it as soon as this is submitted), so I don’t know how she addresses the issues that other posters have raised, but I do think that working on only one behavior at a time would greatly reduce stress. My dogs always seem to enjoy the game of ‘what the !#$* does she want THIS time?” when I’m teaching them something new, & I only run into trouble when I haven’t broken the behavior into small enough pieces–a chronic issue for crossover trainers. If Lia starts to sniff, or Nina starts to spin, it’s time to stop & reassess.
Caroline McKinney says
keeping your eyes peeled for good behaviors and then rewarding them
Wouldn’t it be great if more parents used these for their children?
“Pretend to trip and fall” … I fell hard, flat on my back, on an icy path just before Christmas while walking three dogs. Poppy the poodle was all over me immediately “OMG, you fell! Are you still breathing? Let me lick your ear! Let me come into your coat! Are you still alive?!!” Sophy the Papillon stood a little further back and watched “You OK? Can you get up? Does this mean we have to go home now?” And Jilly the Border Terrier eventually looked up from whatever she had found for long enough to notice something had happened and wander over “Oh. You’re on the ground. Did you drop any treats?”
Not sure I would recommend it as a training method – far too painful, and very mixed results!
Beth with the Corgis says
FJM, hope you weren’t hurt, but very funny!! Of my two, my cuddle sweet one honestly does not even look if someone gets hurt. If you are moving about a lot she might bark at you. She seems to be a little short in the, uh, empathy department. My more stand-offish one asks if he can call an ambulance? make you tea? maybe get an ice pack? So I agree it really depends on the dog. Dogs can be bonded to their people and still not seem too upset by their apparent suffering— just like some people!
FJM: I laughed so hard reading your comment I almost tripped and fell. Good thing I was sitting down.
Just came home from ClickerExpo in Nashville. Bought Kathy’s book (she was one of the speakers), started reading it over the weekend and finished it on the plane. Still in the “hmmmm, I want to think about this” stage but loved it. It’s always fun to find a book that is about what you’ve been puzzling over. And then 1st thing this morning, I read Trisha’s blog and it’s about the same thing! Cool.
What a great thread!
I just recently trained with my latest fuzzy partner and the school is using food reward almost constantly in training. We were told to reward for almost everything. Sitting quietly, stopping at curb, placing the front paws on an up-step… ect. Anyway, we retrains, would talk about it alot because it was very new for us. We talked about situations in which the constant food rewarding could backfire, but also when it was a great reenforcer, I.E. curb and step work. However, I encountered a situation in which I had it go bad for me. In the dining room at every meal, Seamus was always popping up to stand from his Down. He’d do this and then immediately lay back down again. Well… I did what I thought was good for him and rewarded each time he laid back down again. Who should be sitting at my table on lunchtime and witnessing this but the director of training. She watched and then said, “Ya know Laura, I wouldn’t feed him.” I asked why and she said, “Because Mr. Smarty-pants has turned it into a game. He knows each time he goes doown, he gets food. Just put him in a down and if he pops up again, say down, but don’t touch him, don’t reward him. He’ll get it soon.” She was right. He was resting comfortably by my chair at dinner and even though he does still occasionally pop up from time to time, I do what she told me and just repeat the command. I agree with everyone else here who said it’s another tool we can use and I love that the trainers at our school said as much.
P.S. Lisa W, what school do you raise for? I got Seamus from Guide Dogs for the Blind out in California.
on the calorie subject: My dog often gets fresh vegies and fruits as his treats for training. Many of these types of foods seem pass on through without too much digestion or at least do not appear to add to his waist line. So, doggie thinks he is getting a ton of great treats while I don’t have to worry about the calorie problem. I would think this would work for the raw people too, though I don’t know enough about those diets to say.
Of course, it only works if you dog loves those foods. Mine does – thank goodness!!! Note that I have seen some dogs reject these treats, but after multiple introductions and seeing my dog woof them down, the other dog decides that these treats are great too. In other words, just like humans, dogs can have acquired tastes too. And if you want, you can work on helping your dog acquire tastes for foods which are good for him.
For ideas on what to use, try cutting up these yummy foods:
> bell peppers
> sugar snap peas
> green beans
> kale stems
> broccoli stems
My dog also likes beans. The benefit of using beans is that you don’t have to do any cutting up and they are a great size. I don’t think my dog likes the beans as much as the above foods, though. So, I don’t use them as often.
I wish mine liked raw fruit and veg – they take pieces politely, then mumble them into tiny morsels on the nearest carpet … I’ve found the best way to deal with the calorie issue is to plan for it when working out portion sizes – my dogs are fed twice a day, and the calorie content of the two meals adds up to around three quarters of their daily requirement. The other quarter is chews and training treats – by making my own I know exactly what is in them, and can cut them into extremely tiny pieces – I just have to make sure they don’t get confused with the human baking. Liver brownies and biscotti, anyone?!
Joyce Gauthier says
I thoroughly enjoy reading your blogs!! I use my dog’s breakfast/dinner a lot for training w/ my young dogs.
Lisa W says
@ Laura, I’m sorry, I don’t raise or train service dogs, just two DWI (Dogs with Issues) of my own that I have been working with on lots and lots of different issues. They are polar opposites, which is good as far as being a team (only one barks at shadows while the other one waits patiently and only one thinks visitors are manna from heaven, etc), but adapting different techniques for each dog has been a very good lesson for me and a challenge, as well.
This is a timely post as one of my dogs, Olive, is under house arrest due to a strained knee ligament. I work from home so we have spent a lot of time together, and I have been using some of the SMART techniques and some of the fewer calorie treat suggestions. Thank you, it has helped with some of her please, please, please, can’t we do something, anything begging. Unfortunately, most of our tricks and games are verboten, so we have had to come up with a few quiet tricks, but no games. no toys, no fun, and we are only in week 2 of at least a 4 week sentence. It’s hard to keep a good terrier down.
At Lisa W,
woops, must have been someone else then. Anyway, I hope you and Oliv make it through the house arrest just fine. I know what it’s like to limit my dog’s movement. My last guide had a bad knee and he needed to rest it as well. He was ready to climb the walls by day 2. You’ll get through it though. 🙂
I am currently raising a very smart, active, bold, pushy female Airedale terrier mix. When she was about 6-8 mos. old she started exhibiting some over-the-top behaviors that I hadn’t experienced with other dogs I’ve raised/trained. She weighed 85 lbs. I’m fortunate that an actual canine veterinary behaviorist (CAABE, PhD) lives close by…we worked together on a behavior plan. Yes, it included parts of NILIF and it helped tremendously with impulse control and specific behaviors. This behaviorist adapted pieces parts of NILIF (there was no use of the word alpha or any suggestion that I must dominate my terrier, trust me that would have severely backfired and I knew that) They don’t recommend it for all dogs in all situations, but with dogs like mine it can work well. They also recommended more marker reward training, too, so it obviously doesn’t have to be either/or. In practice, it is nowhere near as harsh as people think it is who have not employed it or tried it. We now know that animals in zoos do much better when they ‘work’ for their food, too. They must at least search for it or conquer obstacles to get it. Much more fulfilling for them.
There is nothing wrong with expecting a sit before I open the door, or do anything for her. Keep in mind, this dog is very bold, demonstrative and communicates to me what she wants clearly and I love that. When she drops a toy in my lap hoping for a go, I might ask for a ‘high five’…then we have a blast tugging. Sit has become a default behavior of hers, she’ll look at the object of her desire and sit to ‘ask’ for it. I realize that there are many other training methods that will accomplish that, but categorizing folks who use NILIF as alpha or dominance heads is quite unfair IMHO. (not saying you’ve done this here, but I’ve come across that condemnation many times elsewhere) PS: She’s such a cool dog, she knows over 100 toys by name now and will bring them when asked and put them away. Love your blog!
Thank you for the reference to Plenty In Life Is Free! I bought the book and i’m enjoying it very much. I love her spiritual perspective on dog training and living with dogs, in general. Great book.
I just finished reading Plenty in Life is Free. I learned alot and like Kathy’s approach. I love her compassion for dogs! I have always felt NILIF seemed to be too controlling a training approach. I agree that there are many good training methods out there and I try to use the method that best fits the dog and problem I am working with.
Wonderful blog-so interesting! Thank you!
Deborah ArmstrongDeborah Armstrong says
As a blind handler, I cannot tell if my guide is looking at me, but I reward touching me as long as he’s calm. I’ve always therefore had dogs, both pets and guides who snuggle close, with some body part resting on my foot. My sighted husband rewards lying across the room in the doggy bed, but both accomplish the same thing; dogs that aren’t constantly throwing behaviors just to get treats, and because you reward calmness, they aren’t stressed about when the next random reward might arrive. The important thing here is duration: our fuzzes need to be relaxing for at least several minutes before treats might rain down. Every other behavior is on cue, so they know that without a cue, the only behavior that “works” is to just “chill out”. I do have dogs that follow me everywhere, but I need to know where the dogs are, so that’s not a problem. I do have dogs who try to snuggle when I’m sorting laundry or cleaning the kitchen, but I can send them to their beds and they know my husband will eventually notice and reward that too. But I also have dogs who at the dog park race over to me and throw themselves down on my feet; dogs who sleep quietly in meetings at work, and dogs who lie quietly at the table in an outdoor dining venue. I think this rewarding for looking at the handler is over-rated!