One of the great comments on my post about the new Puppy Book reminded me that training “step by step” is not intuitive. Someone may know that there are multiple steps between a dog sitting on cue when asked in the kitchen at dinner time, versus being asked to sit when barking at the visitors at the front door. But what are those steps? And how do you know when to move on to the next one?
I thought it would be helpful to give a few examples. However, I would love it if some of the experienced readers would add an example of their own. My favorite part of writing this blog is the wealth of knowledge of its readers, and I am sure that many of the readers would benefit greatly from hearing a range of examples.
Here’s an example, using the dog sitting on cue when it’s easy for him to comply and when it’s hard (in kitchen, no distractions versus at door, company ringing door bell): Note that this is only one way to get to Step 25: There are many paths to the top of a mountain…
Step 1: Teach the dog to sit (I use the Lure/Reward method to get it started quickly) when holding a treat as a lure, with as few distractions as possible. Use food as lure, do not say “sit” yet.
Step 2: Once dog will sit as you move your hand through its ears and toward its tail, say “sit” before you move your hand.
Step 3: Modify your hand movement so that it is less of a lure and more of a hand signal, sweeping your hand upward toward your face. (This could be in session 1, 2 or 3, depending on how well things are going)
Step 4: 3 times in a row, use your visual signal (hand movement) and reinforce with the treat. The 4th time, immediately after the first 3 (assuming they were successful), say “sit” and don’t move at all. Wait for the dog to respond just to your voice.
Step 5-8: Practice using either the VISUAL or the VERBAL cue one at a time, being careful to only use one or the other.
Step 9-12: Begin to ask your dog to sit when there are MILD distractions. For example, try it outside in the yard when it’s relatively quiet or in the house when someone else is making some noise. Be sure to practice in many different places, not just the kitchen. Begin to give a food reinforcement when asking during mild distractions, and substitute other reinforcements for times when it is easier. For example, you could clap, say GOOD! (I also teach people to condition an association between a praise word and a food treat) and let your dog chase you as a game. Or throw a toy, or rub a belly….
Step 13: Start asking your dog to sit when you are by the front door, or whatever door company comes in through.
Step 14-18: Have all family members ask the dog to sit when they are greeting the dog. Put treats by the entry door so that all family members can easily reinforce the dog for sitting while greeting. Get in the habit of ringing the bell or knocking before you enter your own house, then ask for the sit. Once you’ve given the treat, squat down to greet your dog so that he or she doesn’t have to jump up to get to your face.
Step 19: Have good friends who are dog lovers AND who will listen to you (the hardest part!) start helping you teach your dog ‘door manners.’ Have only one person come at a time. Ask them to ring the bell or knock, and immediately ask your dog to sit (using BOTH the verbal and visual signals) as soon as you open the door. They ask for the sit, but YOU reinforce the dog (because you are the one with the best timing, right?!). If the dog doesn’t sit, close the door and have the person try again. Repeat 3-5 times in a row if you can.
Step 20: (Can be during the same time period as Step 19) When people come over who aren’t part of training, get the best food treat imaginable, and ask your dog to sit (not sit and stay, too hard for now!) before you open the door. Give copious treats for any positive response. If your dog tends to jump up a lot, even after a first greeting, just lure him away from the door with pieces of chicken and put him in a crate, or give him a stuffed toy once he’s made an initial greeting.
Step 21: Once your dog is sitting well when your friends come over and ask for a sit, try it with two or three people coming together (even more exciting and distracting!). Have each of them ask for a sit, and be ready to give out lots of food as fast as you can!
Step 22: Assuming again, that all is going well (at least 80% compliance), ask for a sit before you open the door when ‘regular’ visitors come over, but this time don’t have a food treat in your hand. Explain through the door that you’ll be right with them (I always say “Just a minute! I’m training my dog to be polite to visitors!”), ask your dog to sit and if you get compliance, praise liberally and run to the kitchen and give your dog a great treat.
Step 23: As above, with anyone, but this time use your praise word and skip any primary reinforcement.
Step 24: Continue alternating primary reinforcements (especially food or toys if dog is toy motivated) with a praise word that you have conditioned.
All this can easily take nine to ten months! (Hey, it’s hard for a dog to control his or her emotions and excitement when people come over. I can relate.)
Step 25: Dog becomes an adolescent. Go back to Step 9, rinse and repeat.
I know that sitting at the front door isn’t a serious behavioral problem for many people, but trust me, for some it really is. I’ve seen so many families whose dogs were out of control at the door, which has resulted in dogs being yelled at, kicked, or stashed in crates for too long. I’ve also met lots of people who have just simply stopped having visitors because they are embarrassed about their dog’s behavior. It can be very stressful to have a dog misbehaving around company (like you didn’t know that.) Of course, there are many alternatives to problems related to greeting visitors (my favorites are training to run into another room when the bell rings, or going to a designated place, see the Manners Minder that Sophia Yin designed.)
Of course, this is just one tiny example… (and I’ve SURE I’ve actually skipped some steps, I reserve the right to modify later!) I’d love to hear from you if you’d like to tackle a description.
Meanwhile, back on the farm: On Sunday, the University of Wisconsin Vet Students interested in small ruminants came out to do pregnancy checks under the supervision of Dr. Harry Momont (standing in back on the left). That’s my girl Rosebud on her butt, getting an ultrasound through her lower belly. We didn’t get a shot of the screen, but the lambs are far enough along that the students could see beating hearts, backbones and other bones of the lambs, all due within 4 to 6 weeks. The ewes didn’t exactly volunteer, but everyone was very gentle and I doubt that any of the sheep were unduly stressed. Jim took the photographs, (thanks hon!), because I had gone up to the house, a tad under the weather and wanting to get out the raspberry/cherry/strawberry pies I’d made for everyone. Ahhh, a little bit of summer in the middle of a snowy day goes a long way!
I’d add step 15.3 — regularly order pizza and allow the dog to share the crusts. Good things come to dogs who don’t bark when the doorbell rings and who then behave themselves. I find food delivery workers are excellent visitors with whom to practice, because you know more or less when they are coming and they bring gifts that smell good. My sometimes reactive border collie rescue has gotten to like men a whole lot better since they started bringing yummy food to the house. And if you tip well and order from the same place a lot, the delivery workers may also be happy to treat your dog. Plus you can control if you invite them in, take delivery in the hallway or porch or what.
And you get pizza for dinner .
Jeanine: Fantastic addition! Thanks. I do the same thing; delivery people are all asked to throw a ball or give a treat. This is good for all dogs, but I really needed it with Will, who went through that fearful adolescent phase in which unfamiliar men became monsters. Now they are an occasion to bark, but then to cock your head and wait for something good!
LOL!!!! Can’t stop laughing – how true, but don’t tell the first time dog owners, or they may think twice!
I would really stress the rinse and repeat! It is so true! I think way too often we expect that once a dog does what you want a couple times, they’ve got it forever, when in fact, training is something we can keep doing for the entirety of the dogs life. We have a lot of friends with toddlers, who require extra practice for our Chi mix (who loves them so much it’s hard for her to resist kissing their faces), but we just keep practicing and she is getting better and better, yet I suspect it will always be an area we have to watch and work on, for everyone’s good. Thanks for the reminders!
Does anyone want to take a crack at a similar list for counter conditioning? I know the basic steps, but knowing when to step it up is the hardest for me. My aggressive dog is a pretty stoic guy; a boxer/German Shepherd mix, he doesn’t exactly wear his heart on his sleeve. Sometimes his intent “I’m waiting for a treat” look is similar to his “I want you to go away right now” look. Especially challenging when you’re trying to decide if your decoy stranger should back up or take a step forward. I’d love to hear how other people decided when it’s time to increase the stimulus.
Thanks, Trisha, this was a really fascinating read.
The problem I have with training in steps is two-fold: 1) Remembering that my puppy doesn’t speak English, and can’t make the jump from sit in one situation to another (or come or drop it, or any of the other commands I am working on). I KNOW this, but when he is being a pill, it is hard to remember. And 2) My husband is not a dog person, he is a cat person, and doesn’t understand why we have to treat the puppy for doing something correctly all the time, and why the puppy can’t transfer that skill. I think this is partly my fault, because I don’t think I have done a great job in explaining it. As a result, training at home has gotten rather lax. (My husband does like the puppy, but I think he wishes he were more like a cat…)
It doesn’t help that my very smart puppy has learned how to game the system: as soon as he knows something, he does the opposite behavior, so that we will pull out the treats to get him to do the correct behavior. This is the case on walks – he will balk for no apparent reason, because he has figured out that he can get a treat to keep going if he does. I’ve had to stop using treats on walks for that exact reason, but we still have a walking problem some days. I’m still trying to figure out how to get past that step.
How do you teach door manners to a highly reactive dog? Sure, my dog can sit and down very nicely…when she is calm. I suspect there must be 101 steps in this process with dogs like mine. My dog goes from calm to out-of-control in a flash. Once she is over that threshold, she will do nothing I ask.
Lacey H says
Most of my training is aimed at desensitization to strangers with my rescue dogs. I always begin with our “office ladies” who are both at least fairly dog savvy, and for most dogs are easier because they are women. This step, of course, comes after the dogs are taking treats calmly from me – I started as a stranger too, after all. Then we take the show on the road, giving treats to others to toss or hand over, depending on the dog’s intensity of anxiety. When we’ve done this in varied environments we’re much closer to an adoptable dog.
Nancy Langston says
Thanks for writing all those steps out. I love the Manners Minder for training polite behavior at the door. In large part, the Manners Minder is so wonderful because Dr. Yin’s training DVD and booklet break every portion of the process into clear, tiny steps. I think that, by the time you’ve gone through all the repetitions of all the bits leading up to the end behavior (running to the mat when guests come), Dr Yin has had you complete hundreds of small steps. Even though I’ve been clicker-training for over a decade, working through this step-by-step was a revelation to me. I was surprised to see how many short-cuts I normally tend to take in training, and how much faster my dogs learn when I don’t take those shortcuts.
Step by step? Well, there are a lot things I do to help my reactive dog make friends, but the best method is a three hour hike or two. Going “step by step” on trails for all that time really does the trick. It’s sort of one step – being in a social group – for a half-dozen miles. Ha ha.
But I suppose we mean steps as in process.
I taught door manners to my reactive dog by spending ages working on relaxation and downs and sit stays. And keeping it up. The steps are teaching the sits and stays as described for a puppy. Baby steps. Very short duration with no distraction at first and for quite a long time. (In fact, this book should be marketed for damaged dogs, as well as pups. The attention span and emotional states might be similar.) Having the relaxation cue was helpful for keeping her in a quiet state for working on the downs and the stays and the trips to her place.
With a reactive dog, or even a drivy dog, you have the problem of the dog getting excited by the interaction of training. It helps me to go out in the yard and throw a ball around and do so grooming or something easy and out in the open. Even a walk around the block if I really want to have another five or ten minutes of work.
And I would just leave the room if she got over-amped. (And I just laugh and take a break when she decided to go to something that is not her place.)
For me, in all things with most dogs, the most important step is to stop. (I’m prone to drilling.) So my step between every step is to stop and think about what we’ve accomplished, and stop and take a break frequently.
Khris Erickson says
I came across a really fantastic series of videos on youtube that illustrate how much work can go into teaching a dog to sit for greetings. There’s six videos in all, and each video changes something — environment, number of people, types of people, etc. Each video was taken during a different week.
I’m working with a group of at-risk kids, and this has been one of the more difficult concepts for them to get. They’d been working on leave-it and were so proud that the dog “knew” leave-it after only 2 training sessions. I observed for a while and noticed that they were clicking for the dog leaving it and then immediately saying ok — releasing the dog to eat the treat that was on the floor. So I told them that we were going to change things up a bit — they were just to click the dog for leaving it, not say ok and instead hand the dog a treat – this time the dog wasn’t to be allowed to eat the treat they told her to leave it.
The first time they were dumbfounded when they clicked and the dog immediately went to the treats on the floor and ate them. They kept saying — “but we didn’t say ok”. And I explained that the dog had learned that the click meant she could have the leave-it item, and so we had to retrain leave-it in the context that she doesn’t get it all the time.
I showed the boys these videos today as an example of what kind of work goes into something as simple as sit, and I think they really are starting to get it. Today’s leave-it consisted of asking the dog to leave a pheasant wing that had been thrown on the floor, and the boys found just how much harder that is to a pile of treats on the floor. But to their credit they were able to eventually (with a lot of body blocks) get her to leave even that dead animal part.
Personally I love to teach a brand new behavior — there’s something magic about when I dog first understands what it is you’re trying to get them to do. It’s much more work and a bit tedious to go through all those steps that Trisha outlined in this post, and I think many people find it easier to try and skip steps so that they can rush though it.
I have a few questions related to the step-by-step approach.
1) I was taught to “load the clicker” with a food reward. My question related to the clicker is do I still have to give her a piece of hot dog every single time that I click? Or can I still click after the correct behavior to let her know she did it correctly but reward only every 3rd time…?
2) Second problem is related to dividing one behavior into several steps and teaching those steps individually. For example, behavior “C” is composed of steps “A” and “B”. How do I blend steps A and B together (which are taught separately initially) to show my dog that the “big picture” behavior is to actually perform “C”? (I hope I did not lose you with all of my variables…)
Karen – My dog Izzy is reactive and there were about 1,325 steps (give or take :)) involved in getting her to automatically turn and watch me when a strange dog passes. It took me a year to get her really reliable, but she did make enormous progress. The hard part, I have found, is to reward relaxation and keep the dog sub-threshold while also gradually pushing the their boundaries. It is really, really important to work sub-threshold, and in the beginning that might even mean the other dog is 100 yards away if necessary. Don’t just reward for eye contact or a sit; be sure you aren’t also rewarding early signs of going over threshold (which means you are going too fast) – dog’s mouth is shut, dog is holding it’s breath, tension in the face/body, hard stare, etc. I needed a professional trainer to help me learn to see the subtle moments when my dog was starting to reach her threshold, and if you have a good one in your area I highly recommend it! While it’s not rocket science, it is really hard to teach yourself these things while also being worried about your dog doing something crazy… a trainer can set up a safe environment for you to learn and also coach you. Also, I found Brenda Aloff’s photographic guide to canine body language, as well as Trisha’s Feisty Fido booklet, to be very helpful.
Rose T. says
I think it helps to think of a behavior is a series of pictures – like they way they used to make cartoons..drawing by drawing. Say for example you wanted to teach a dog to “go to place” when the doorbell rang. If you were to do this by free shaping, here’s how it might go.
1. Place mat on floor and wait – once dog glances at mat. Click/reward tossing treat towards mat. Repeat this step a few more times until dog is repeatedly looking at mat and being reported.
2. Up the ante – now instead of just glancing at the mat – dog needs to take one step towards mat , when she does treat/reward. Repeat severals times until dog is readily taking a step or two towards mat.
3. Once dog is taking a step or two towards the mat – then wait for the dog to touch the mat with her nose treat / reward
4. Dog puts one foot on mat
5. Two feet on mat
6. Three feet on mat
7. All four on mat
8. Sitting on Mat (bingo!)
9. Once dog is readily offering sitting on the mat. I’d then add ringing the doorbell or other cue, like go to place.
10. After cue is added, I would then start with distractions and guests coming in. First I’d try with a family member, than I’d up the ante by having stranger or less familar people do it.
11. Family members rings doorbell
12. Stranger (pizza delivery person yum!) rings doorbell
Keeping in mind that if at any point the dog cannot figure out what’s she’s supposed to do, you have to regress on the distraction/criteria., i.e. if got to the point where the dog will only put two feet on the mat and will not go to the third or fourth…you’ll regress to rewarding the two feet and then try for three feet after several repetitions at the two foot mark.
Free shaping is such a wonderful too – most people are amazed at how well it works.
Dave Hala jr. says
When doing lure/reward in a group class, I switch to an imaginary lure as soon as the dog starts to sit. With a motivated dog, it usually takes 5-6 repetitions. Sometimes more, sometimes less… After the dog is sitting, then I add the verbal que. I don’t change the hand motion, I focus on the verbal que. People really screw up the hand signals, motions and timing when you start changing them. The average dog owner will really struggle with the “body language” portion of it unless they are someone who has a lot of body (spatial?) awareness. Dancers, athletes and especially martial artists seem to be the naturals.
When I get a sit on the verbal que, I preferentially reward it. After about a dozen or so sits, I’ll have everyone in the group get their dogs excited, then ask for a sit. If the dog doesn’t sit they can do whatever to get the dog to sit, but in this order: Verbal command that is preferentially rewarded or imaginary lure. If those don’t work, then its body blocking a sit, manipulation, just holding a leash steady and waiting or as a last result a bribe. I borrowed this method out of some of Ian Dunbars dvd’s and made a couple of minor tweaks. Generally, at the end of group classes, the entire group (8-12 dogs, mixed ages) will sit on verbal que within 2-3 seconds. A great group will sit in less than 2 seconds.
Steps 26-35 can be to practice all of this when a dog comes over to visit! That’s my biggest problem.
My dog will not remain in a sit-stay or down-stay when a dog comes to visit. I do in-home dog daycare and my dog has learned that I will be more focused on the guest who is dropping off his or her dog and am unable to reinforce my own dog’s sit-stay. Suggestions??
I know I need to be more consistent and practice in smaller steps and probably explain to each individual who stops by what I’m working on with my dog and to please ignore him.
Also, to give you an idea, here is a short list of steps I started with my reactive dog:
1. Over the course of a week, make a list of anything that sets your dog off. Observe what your dog does when she sees her triggers but before she goes completely nuts. I was amazed to discover how scared my poor dog looked just before she turned into a barking, snarling maniac. With time, you will get better at reading your dog.
2. Avoid her triggers like the plague. Go as far out of your way as you need to. Try not to give her the opportunity to get over threshold. Reactive dogs are scared and generally just want the scary thing to go away. You are giving them that space and over time they will start to trust that you can protect them.
3. In a quiet place at home, put your dog on a leash, get some tasty treats, and just watch her out of the corner of your eye. Be a tree. Whenever your dog looks at you, mark and reward. Big reward – jackpot – 10 or more treats – say lovely, gooey things.
4. Gradually lengthen the duration of soft eye contact, initiated by your dog. Think happy thought while you do this. Work toward around 30 sec to a min of eye contact. Some say to put the watch on verbal cue, but I was taught to let the dog initiate and then reward her copiously for finding her “happy place” until you have a good 30 sec of watching, and only then start adding the cue.
5. Ask for a watch, then sit, or a down, or a heel while maintaining eye contact. Work up the duration again.
6. Take the show on the road, starting in back yard at a quiet time of day back at step 3. It took 10 min for my dog to look at me the first time I did this, so be prepared for patience.
7-50ish. Gradually build up duration of eye contact and add some behaviors like heel or sit, then add a distraction or new location and build up again. You are teaching that looking at you in many situations is fun, safe, and rewarding. While still in back yard have a friend come over, move to the front yard, the sidewalk, a quiet park, etc. while still avoiding triggers.
51 and beyond. Once your dog will offer eye contact and hold it in a variety of every day situations, you are ready to introduce some of her triggers. That’s a lot more steps, but hopefully you get the idea of gradually building duration of offered eye contact. The end goal is a dog who sees one of her triggers and turns to look at you instead of barking like mad. If your dog fixates on the trigger no matter how far away it is, and you can’t seem to make progress, you can also click the dog for seeing the trigger, which is kind of counterintuitive but described in detail in Fiesty Fido. A clicker savvy dog will turn to look at you when you click and then you can reward for eye contact.
That is in no way comprehensive, but it’s where I started.
That was a really great explanation. I have been training for so long that it’s automatic to break things into steps and gradually increase difficulty, but until you have done it 100 times it’s not an obvious thing to do at all.
One of my training programs:
Teaching a dog to down:
1. start by luring the dog into a down, give treat each time.
2. start saying down as the dog downs with the lure.
3. lure the dog to the down with an empty hand, reward with the other hand.
4. gradually make the lure gesture smaller and smaller until the dog responds to the verbal
5. reward for downs which happen with only a verbal, still lure with a treat when the dog didn’t respond to the first command but don’t give the treat.
6. start rewarding the fastest downs and nothing for slow ones.
7. In distracting environments, such as in public, dog class, or outside near other animals go back to luring and treating for each response, as needed.
8. For distance downs, tie the dog to something, step back a few steps and use an obvious hand signal.
9. Gradually or quickly (depending on the dog’s response) run through all the steps 3-6 with the dog tied so he can’t quite reach you.
10. Step back 5 feet and repeat step 9.
11. Step back 5 feet and repeat step 9.
12. Begin having the dog down near livestock. This is when I introduce a correction if the dog doesn’t respond, since they will usually be so focused on sheep that treats are not interesting.
13. Have the dog stop on her feet while working, with me in between the stock and her. I have a video that demonstrates my 6 month old pup learning this. I give the command after I have stopped her by body blocking.
14. Have the dog stop on her feet on the other side of the sheep, but with sheep standing still.
15. At this point some dogs will lie down on their own, others like Pepper prefer to stand. After she has had a few sessions of this I will start telling her down after she stops.
16. Repeat step 13 and 14 in the middle of the pen instead of at the edge.
17. Repeat step 15 in the middle of the pen instead of at the fence.
18. Repeat step 15 in larger pens, up to open fields.
19. Repeat with flightier sheep.
20. Start downing her when she is out of balance ie. the sheep are not headed toward me.
21. After many repetitions of step 20 start asking for the down when the sheep are running off. Immediately send the dog after stopping so the sheep don’t entirely get away.
22. After many repetitions of step 21 allow the sheep to run off a little further before sending the dog.
23. Repeat step 22 many times, gradually allowing more distance from the sheep.
24. Repeat all steps in new places with new sheep.
By the time the dog is 5 years old he should be able to lie down in any situation!
Dave Hala jr. says
Are you friends with a local groomer? Often times I take my dog to the groom shop in the morning. They have a large entry way and all dogs show up in the morning during a 2 hr window. This is a great time to stand in the entry way work on your sit or some basic conditioning. Bring donuts and coffee for your groomer… PR works wonders on them.
To Carolyn: Here is what I was taught about a clicker:
1) It is a marker of the correct behavior. You can click exactly on the correct behavior and make a precise impression on your dog with the clicker.
2) It is a promise of a reward. If you do not reward every time you click, then the click looses it’s value. It’s just a noise. The reward does not have to be food every time. It can be play for example. Also, you do not have to click every time as your dog gains mastery. Later on, your verbal praise (which you will have loaded with lots of good feelings) can be enough. The clicker is for the beginning training new exercises where you can precisely mark a specific behavior.
I know that not everyone would agree with point #2. I’m just repeating what I was taught in class from two different instructors. But it makes sense to me.
Concerning coming up with all the steps: That is precisely the difficulty that I have. Being able to come up with all those steps is the difference between a real trainer and novice like me. I’ve been actively struggling/trying to figure that out for any exercise for three years now. And I still rarely get past Duke having the ability to do something when in the quiet of my own house or backyard and when I have a treat. No treat? Some distractions? Forget about it. (Maybe not as bad as all that. Duke REALLY has come a long way. I’m making a point that is an exaggeration, but has some truth in it.)
Thank you for this discussion. It really is the key. And I think it really is the reason that taking classes is so helpful. It is a very simple concept intellectually. It is entirely different to execute.
Ann W in PA says
In reply to Carolyn:
1) I stop using the clicker once the dog is ready to switch to a variable reward schedule. If you’ve already communicated clearly what the cue means, and trained it enough so that the dog is motivated to follow the cue, then really the clicker has already worked its magic. Thank you clicker, seeya next time we’re learning something new… So at the point you’re at, the dog gets verbal praise always, and a treat sometimes. (or that’s the way I do it anyway) For me, click ALWAYS means treat [or other high value reward], that’s what makes the dog sooooo interested in what that clicker has to say. If for some reason I find that I don’t want to adhere to that “rule,” then usually that just means the clicker shouldn’t be my tool of choice at that point or for that behavior.
2) The way I “knit” two things together… Let’s say the dog already knows both “go to your mat” and “lie down” (and lie down has been practiced on the mat) and both have been practiced separately and both are very rewarding. Now, I ask for “go to mat,” and once the dog is on the mat (no treat yet), I ask for “lie down” – then the dog gets the treat. The trick is, wait a second or two once the dog gets to the mat before giving the “lie down” cue… usually, after a few tries, the dog begins to anticipate – ‘hey, I get it, I’m not getting that treat till I lie down.’ So they’ll start lying doing before you give the cue once they get it – the dog taking the quickest path to getting its treat, because they’re smart like that. Once you observe this aniticipation, then you can drop the “lie down” cue, and from then on “go to mat” means the whole enchilada. You’ve raised the criteria on what the cue “go to mat” means. (again, that’s how I’ve done it anyway) Also, when “knitting” I relax the rest of the criteria – making it easier by making it a very short distance to go to the mat, standing close by, etc. Even if we were able to do each part to a higher level before, when I put them together, it goes back to kindergarten briefly.
Ann W in PA says
If you want teeny steps, you’ve GOT to check these out! Chris Puls from Dog Scouts of America created checksheets that break down Heel, Stay, and Leave it into training steps.
On the page below, under Reward Based Training, look for #13 Training Steps, and there is a PDF for each. Also, in the Puppy section, #10 is a PDF of crate training step-by-step.
Carolyn – I agree with JJ- you MUST give your dog a treat EVERY time you click! It is a mark of the correct behavior, which then buys you time to give the treat (as long as the clicker has been correctly “loaded”). ie. If you are trying to get your dog to stay, you have to walk all the way back to your dog to give it a treat. You can click when you are far away (make sure you’ve done your 100 steps before though!), so the dog knows it is correct, but you have to make your way back to the dog before it gets its’ treat. Be very careful what you are clicking for, because you can get some very unusual (maybe unwanted) behaviors if your timing is off.
PS – my above post was suppose to have Step 25 in the .
Thank you Trisha for those steps! and all the comments and resources generated by the post. I think just like my dog’s learning, I will need to do many repetitions of the step by step process so that I can use it effectively.
Many of the websites and tips are now part of a document in my dog-training folder. Thank you, and lets see if I can put the information to good use.
I like to think of the steps in teaching a dog a behavior as being like learning to play the piano; you don’t go from playing Mary Had a Little Lamb to playing Beethoven’s Ninth in its entirety. You have to progress from the stage of learning the notes through a host of other learning to the point where you can play the Ninth Symphony just as he wrote it. And even once you’re a concert pianist you still have to practice everyday–as soon as you stop practicing all the time you stop being good enough to play in concerts. Best of all though by the time you’re a concert pianist the daily practice is so ingrained that it becomes automatic and is much less of a chore than those early lessons. By the time your dog is doing Ph.d. level behaviors you’re both so accustom to rehearsing this behavior all the time that it doesn’t really feel like training anymore.
Liz F. says
Thanks for such a funny, helpful post and all of the wonderful comments-so many good comments!
Not that this topic is lacking in analogies, but here
LOL at step #25! That might have something to do with my having two adolescent children right now. There was a great report on NPR yesterday about adolescent human brains and some clues to why they do what they do (which is often maddening and perplexing to adults). http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=124119468&ps=cprs
It makes me wonder–do we have any comparable data on the adolescent canine brain? And, more interesting to me, do different breeds with differing amounts of developmental paedomorphism develop neurological maturity at different rates? Because, if so, the steps outlined to solidly learn and exhibit a behavior could be influenced by the degree and speed of neurological maturation. And to continue on this tangent– physical maturation can be roughly assessed with a radiograph (closure of growth plates), but how would one measure for neurological maturation? (which also probably shows you why I doubt I will ever be a very good trainer–when presented with something completely rational, logical and incremental, my dyslexic brain decides to go on a side trip. I rarely make it past step 13 because that is where you have to be organized enough to do some deliberate advanced planning rather than figuring out that I should have trained this before someone is at the door and there is chaos).
PS I am so impressed that you gave home made berry pie to the vet students who came to learn to ultrasound for pregnancy with your sheep. They must adore you.
Alexandra (and anyone else!): I’ve always been curious about putting relaxation on cue. How do you do it? I have tried clicker training for head down, yawning, blinking, etc., but found the clicker too arousing all by itself. I’ve done a bit of Karen Overall’s relaxation protocol, I couldn’t say for sure whether I thought it was helpful or not. My reactive dog, for example, is terrible at camping because she just can’t calm herself. This is less an issue of counterconditioning a specific trigger and more an issue of general ease with the world.
Also, I’m really curious about your comment about accidentally rewarding tense behavior. The definition of over threshold comes into play here. I’ve always assumed that over threshold was that mad bark-lunge, where all bets are off and the only thing to do is increase distance between you and the trigger to regain control. Could threshold be lower than that? Some hackles or a closed mouth? I have literally seen my dog Gustav wag his tail all of two times out on a walk, it’s hard to find the “gooey” to know that it’s time to progress. Is it impossible to make progress if your dog is tense at all, or just slower? I have noticed that progress is quicker with increased distance between the trigger and us, but I’m wary of taking the drastic step of never seeing a trigger without total relaxation, that would pretty much eliminate all walks or backyard time. So it’s impossible. Thoughts?
Love this conversation! We with reactive dogs don’t get to talk as often as we like, for obvious reasons. It’s not like we’re meeting one another at the dog park or pet store 🙂
Janice, I have wondered about exactly the same thing – are the brains of adolescent dogs rewiring in the same way as adolescent humans? It would be fascinating to find out.
Deanna in OR says
One thing I’ve learned in going “step by step” and that I try to reinforce with my puppy-K and Beg. Ob. class students, is the concept of the “Three D’s”: Distance, Duration and Distraction, and only increasing one of them at a time as you go step-by-step through training.
For example, when teaching the pup to “wait”, keep the Distance (between you and pup) small while working on Duration (longer waits…increasing only by seconds at a time), in a low-Distraction environment. By keeping the Distance small, you can reward frequently and at random intervals for waiting.
Then, when increasing your Distance from the pup, start with shorter-Duration waits as you take a step or two away (and then back to pup to release, a life-reward for waiting), all of this still in a low-Distraction environment.
Next, when the Distraction is increased, go back (at first) to short Duration and short Distance, then increase 1 or the other, then the third D. And of course, in a new place, go back to step 1 (short Duration/Distance/low-Distraction) and start increasing each again, one at a time, watching for a high success rate before increasing a “D”.
If the success rate drops, then go back a step or three to where success is higher, then increase the challenging “D” at a slower rate.
It’s step-by-step, but I also see it as a sort of organic, cyclical process…making progress in one “D” then going back around to a lower level of that “D” while you increase another “D”, but always spiraling upward (sort of like climbing a wavy spiral staircase in a tower is the mind-image I have 🙂 )
Melanie S says
Deanna, love the three Ds approach you just outlined.
Trisha, love Step 25! (It’s apt – my whippet Slipstream is 15 months old).
Great comments, and an interesting topic!
I find that duration is the most difficult of the 3 D’s for me to work on with my guide dog when teaching a new behavior. It’s not the long periods of duration, it’s those really short ones that my aging brain doesn’t seem to be able to grasp and implement with my dog.
On the clicker, I too have been taught not to degrade the meaning of the click to the dog, so I always treat when I click.
One area where I diverge from clicker purists, is that my dog is a savvy clicker dog and because of that, her learning curve is generally short when lerning a new behavior/task. Once I’ve gone through the steps to train the behavior, I start fading the clicker relatively fast, unless she shows me she hasn’t truely absorbed the lesson. That almost never happens. If it does, I just bring it back on an intermittent basis for a short time, and then we’re good.
We just worked on a new task over the weekend. I had to teach her to find a stair case, and to ignore, but not forget the path to the elevator, that we usually take. I used the clicker, and because this kind of learning is something she’s done all her life, it went very fast.
Two things that can catch me up when training are I sometimes forget to expect the dip in the learning curve, and I want to take giant steps rather than baby steps. My dog is my best teacher in that case. She is very clear about letting me know when she’s confused or doesn’t get something, and I can almost see the wheels turning as she tries to figure out what I want. That’s usually when I know I’ve gone too fast for her. Then I take one or two steps back, depending on what she shows me she understands.
Great comments, I knew readers would come through! A few things:
One, although I am a tad abashed to mention it, I loved reading Deanna’s comment about the Three D’s. As far as I know, I’m the one who started that, and it feels just wonderful to have something recycle back as part of the umwelt. (A few years ago someone tried to teach me about a “Body Block”… I beamed for hours!)
Another issue, that well might deserve it’s own blog, is the paradigm of always treating after clicking. I have been told the same by many clicker experts, including Karen P. I’ve always wondered about this, because the ground breaking research by Schultz on dopamine (produced when anticipating something good, and the reason that secondary reinforcers like clickers work) was very clear that dopamine is produced at the highest levels when the anticipated event is unpredictable. That means, theoretically, we’d be better off treating after only some of the clicks, not all. Does anyone know where the standard advice to always treat after clicking came from?
To Cynthia, re shaping relaxation. So many good question, some too difficult to answer briefly, but in hopes this helps: Be careful about defining some behaviors as expressions of relaxation. Yawns are often given by dogs when they are slightly anxious. Perhaps I mis-interpreted what you meant when you said “clicker training for head down, yawning…”. Did you mean you are reinforcing those behaviors?
And most importantly, your question about threshold is a critical one. Barking and lunging, in my estimation, is way way way over threshold. I’d be looking for much subtler signs–dogs closing their mouths, yawning, turning away, beginning an offensive pucker. And it’s okay to take your dog out without seeing complete relaxation, the key is to monitor the subtle signs of tension and ask yourself if they are becoming less intense and less frequent. Sometimes it helps to just use one expression or behavior so that you can be consistent and focused (an old trick of field ethologists). Perhaps just watch your dog’s tail, or position of the lips.. etc.) It’s also okay to skip going out for awhile if you don’t see that doing so is helping. I actually kept Will out of dog training class for a year, and avoiding going out much from month 3 to 6 (contrary to what generic advice would tell you.) He was SO over reactive to so many things, and so sound sensitive that exposure, even carefully controlled exposure, wasn’t helping him at all. I kept things close to home, visited neighbors, invited people/dogs over where I could control things for a long time.
Re adolescent dog brains: I have never seen any studies, but I’d bet the farm they’d get the something similar with adolescent dogs as with teenagers. I swear I seen 11 month old dogs do some of the most stupid things!
And to Liz F: you are amazing. I could never be that organized!
Anne: Fantastic work breaking down a ‘down’ around live stock step by step. You could just substitute “big distraction” for livestock. I use very similar methods. Only differences that come to mind quickly are that 1) I don’t usually tie a dog up for a distance down, I use Body Blocks and start close up; and 2) although I do use corrections sometimes when herding, I usually just keep asking for the down, preventing them from having access to the sheep until they do. The second the dog downs, I immediately release the dog and let him go back to working the sheep. They learn quickly that lying down on cue is the window to continuing to work. I haven’t had time to watch Anne’s videos yet, but look forward to it, thanks so much for sending them.
Ed: Loved your step-by-step joke. Wish I could go on 4 hour walks with my dogs!
And to Cynthia, re steps for Counter Conditioning. I go through a relatively thorough description in the booklet Cautious Canine. Perhaps others might comment if they found it useful (or not, be honest, I’d love to hear. Too detailed? Too generic?) Jean Donaldson has a thorough description of CC related to possession aggression. It’s so detailed that some of my clients got bogged down and didn’t follow it, but if you want something spelled out in detail, it’s really good.
I love this topic! I just have a second and not enough time to read all the posts but thought I’d add that for me I find it helpful to keep in mind things like… dogs have dichromatic vision, and how their sense of smell can affect your “training” sessions. The way their brains are wired are similar but where ours differ we really need to be conscious of that as well. (guess where I got that from…hmmm…For the Love of A Dog…maybe!)
Temple Grandin’s book “Animals in Translation” (I read it because it’s in your reference section of For the Love of A Dog) has a lot of really interesting things to keep in mind that are all sensory based. I didn’t however agree with her training style but I LOVED the way she explained everything sensory based !
I have found it really helpful to keep in mind especially when training new behaviours.
The other day when instead of a long hike with dogs (I am sick) I remembered your blog post re: … words dogs know… I thought it would be interesting for Daizy my brainiac to retrieve a specific object within a group of them. I ask her to retrieve stuff everyday but I had not asked her to pick out of a few objects in a group.
Remembering that this would be something new, I did my automatic step by step analysis of the baby steps I would need to set this up so Daizy would be challenged but keeping the “distractions” to a minimum.
THanks to your and Temple Grandin’s book…I now always add to take a minute to look around and see what could potentially compete with what I am “asking’ or “teaching ” dogs to do.
In doing so, Daizy did show me that she knew the objects by name ( I chose similar hues and different shapes, that would contrast against the floor in an open area that was not lit very bright)
The one thing I forgot was to keep the treats in my pocket so she wouldn’t be distracted by them as well…which when watching the video I saw she looked at my hands before retrieving the asked item.
Just goes to show you that while we humans and our brains are able to focus on tasks… It really helps to understand how the environment and sensory stimuli can be kiboshing your “teaching” efforts as well!
Melanie S says
Well, my sheep and I found out last night what it’s like when dogs aren’t taught any steps at all about how to be well-adjusted canine citizens, let alone being taught to ‘down’ near flighty sheep…
My neighbours’ pack of three adolescent dogs has been problematic for a number of months and the owners of these dogs have refused to take any action to intervene in the increasingly bold and aggressive behaviour of the dogs toward stock (horses mostly) on neighbouring properties. I had expressed my concern to the neighbour that if their dogs were stalking, chasing and biting horses that my sheep would soon come to the dogs’ notice as easy targets, and I urged them to do something to restrain their dogs… to no avail. Last night at 12:15am the dogs came onto my place and did make targets of my sheep. Fortunately both Slipstream (my 15 month old whippet) and I have been sleeping lightly of late – we’ve both had an ear out for the dogs – and we got outside and chased the dogs off before any serious harm came to my sheep. The sheep had, though, in their terror, charged through and seriously damaged a fence in order to get away from the dogs and closer to the house.
The dogs returned at 1:20 and 2:55am and Slip and I once again saw them off. I was impressed with both Slip’s deep, throaty volleys of barks and his eagerness to defend his own. While I am in no hurry to encourage territorial defensiveness in most situations, this was one circumstance in which I didn’t want him to hold back. But BTW, I would never allow him to run off into ‘pack attack’ danger.
So, I am left with both a sleepless night and the fervent wish that the knowledge, dedication and sense of responsibility so evident in the posts on this topic were shared by vastly more people, particularly those just over my fence.
Jean Donaldson’s book is called “The Culture Clash”. Great book – reminds me, I need to read it again. (Though Trisha’s are the BEST!!!)
Quick note: I should’ve mentioned it specifically: the book by Jean Donaldon that I was thinking of re step-by-step CC is titled: Mine! (But Here! Here! on Culture Clash.)
Cynthia – Yes, absolutely it has been my experience that my dog can be over threshold without barking and lunging like mad. For her, I know that if her mouth closes trouble is brewing. Even worse is when she will hold her breath and stiffen her body. It has been my experience that you can work through some signs of tension, but not all of them, and knowing which is which is where I found a professional trainer to be incredibly helpful. I was told that hackles raising is actually a very major sign of the dog being over threshold because the hackles will raise when there is adrenaline present in the dog’s body. I did go through about three months where I only walked her after 9 pm to avoid seeing as many people/dogs as possible (I live in a small town, so this is safe where I live). It was a lot of work, I won’t lie. With the trainer, we worked on rewarding Izzy for incremental signs of relaxation – a glance at me, a blink, a moment where she was less tense in her spine. It was very subtle at first, but over about 6 initial trainer sessions with me doing homework for a month in between, we were able to make a lot of progress. I did not use a clicker (in part because I am one of those people who just cannot manage to hold treats, leash AND clicker without dropping one of them!), but instead used a gentle verbal marker “yes” because, like you, I found that the clicker noise was just too exciting. After another 6 months of continuing the training at home, I was able to take Izzy back to group classes.
I also love getting the chance to compare notes about our reactive dogs! I never get to stop and talk to other dog owners much on walks and obviously I don’t take Izzy to the dog park.
Trisha, I reviewed my animal behavior textbook, and I agree that “in theory” the clicker itself as the conditioned stimulus should be enough to reward the dog. But perhaps not in real life?
Also, will you please update us on your step-by-step progress with Willie and Sushi? How are your allergies?
And my dog thanks all of y’all for helping me become a better trainer and teacher.
Deanna in OR says
I hope no one thought I came up with the “3 D’s”! 🙂 I know I had read about it long ago, but mainly it is also a part of the training materials at the dog school where I teach part-time, part of what I learned there years ago and, as I just said, read about (I’m sure in something of Trisha’s!). I’ve found that it is useful in teaching–it helps people to think of WHY their puppy will sit at home, but not in the hallway before class; or to help people increase the distance even a little between dogs in class, to reduce the distraction; and to understand more specifically about what step-by-steps to take with their pup.
It’s interesting about “Click-treat” always including the treat. I’ve read that, too. As Alexandra said, it’s hard for many people to manage a clicker AND leash AND treats AND dog AND remember their timing…so I use a marker word instead of a clicker with my students (and with me, except sometimes when I’m teaching a new behavior to my dogs).
And I definitely do NOT always treat after the marker word, ONCE the behavior is learned, but I still mark and then treat intermittently, or reward with other things (praise, release to “go sniff”, play, a toy, get to keep going in agility…), as we work on generalizing and proofing the behavior. According to “clicker theory”, I should always reward after the marker just like a clicker-click, or not use the marker. But going from always “Mark-Treat” or “Click-Treat” to suddenly no acknowledgment at all seems like it would be confusing to the dog; yet ALWAYS treating doesn’t allow the person to fade out the treats either.
I’ve not seen a good explanation of this (or don’t remember it). I’d love to hear more about this.
Thanks, Trisha. I love Cautious Canine! I’m just still waiting for the “signs your dog wants someone to pet him” or even “signs your dog thinks people might not be horrible monsters”– nearly a year later. Wondering if I’m missing something or if he’s just a tricky dog. I have noticed that drastically increasing the distance between us and people has increased the rate of autowatches and small signs of relaxation, even when it seemed like he would be “fine.” I guess I’ve redefined “fine,” thanks to these discussions and help from behaviorists. Gustav, a three-year-old German Shepherd/boxer mix I adopted a year and a half ago, is so serious and stoic that it’s really hard to find signs of relaxation (when out and about, at home he’s a gooey loveball). His mouth is always closed, his tail always curled halfway up. Piloerection, muscle tension, and eye-squintiness have been my best clues so far. What do relaxed ears look like? Not a lot of commissure action, either.
Love the idea of a behavioral index. I study attachment in young children at UW-Madison. Attachment theory is a marriage between ethology and psychoanalysis, so it makes for a good read and lots of observational research, something that’s helped in dog training for sure.
In terms of relaxation, I reward (when on a down-stay) for a flipped hip, a head down on the floor (instead of staring at me and whining!), and other sleepy-time behavior. I’d love to hear about other people who have successfully shaped a “settle” type cue.
Good for you on all your hard work with Will! It can be hard to accept what your dog can and cannot do, my poor reactive dog (6-year-old Dottie, a terrier thing) was subjected to many a potluck before I finally realized she wasn’t having any fun, and frankly neither was I.
Thanks for all of your good advice Trisha! I just finshed your bookelet about play and had read the section about recalls yesterday morning. Yesterday evening, I was walking through the woods with my weim off-leash. We were working on recalls as we walked the trail (step 30?).
Near the end of our walk, we came around a corner and I saw a small herd of deer walking off to the left of us, I called her name, while turning and running the other way. My dog reacted to my cue perfectly! Now, I don’t think she saw the deer or that we are to step 400 or whatever it will be for her to “leave it” and “come” when chasing deer would be so much fun. But I was so excited that our work paid off and we didn’t have to find out just how enticing the deer are.
Cynthia, another resource you might try is the book “Control Unleashed” by Leslie McDevitt. In it, she talks about teaching your dog to re-orient on you after coming out of a crate, car, or door. Those exercises might be helpful with your boy who sounds like he is fine in the house but hypervigilant outside.
It may be that Gustav will never want certain people to pet him. There are certain types of human body language and energy that Izzy just cannot deal with on any level; she is absolutely horrified by one of my relatives who is very quick moving and energetic.
Ann W in PA says
Regarding the very interesting clicker discussion, we seem to have happened onto a pet peeve of mine – overuse of the clicker (the perceived need to use it in ALL training steps, not just the ones it’s best suited for.) There should be an annotation for clicker trainers: Step 8.5 (or someplace around there) – put DOWN the clicker. 8.6 – step AWAY from the clicker.
Very good point Deanna that you see lots of info about how to use the clicker, but not a lot about fading it out! Interesting! Ideally, the clicker should work so well, it should make itself uneccessary in a very short time (for each behavior.)
Just my personal opinion, but a seasoned clicker trainer still shouldn’t be seen 100% of the time with the clicker in their hand clicking like mad, regardless of what they’re working on, or if they’re working on anything new at all. I love the clicker and it’s frustrating to see it used and taught in a way I find dilutes its usefulness. I’m afraid that people fall into the trap of “if what you have is a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail.” I wonder if they are somehow being reinforced for all that clicking? If your teacher seems more interested in spreading the gospel of the clicker than in creatively finding out what works for the individual dog, behavior, and situation, then I think it might be good to take their instruction with a grain of salt and combine it with what you hear elsewhere.
While I love the clicker and think it’s very valuable, it is Just One Tool. I use it for initially training new behaviors – particularly if shaping or capturing them will work well, for when I have a specific goal to refine a behavior, and for playing games to encourage creativity (and just because it’s fun to see the dogs sort out the problem on their own). The clicker is a great assistant in communicating to the dog what it is that I’m looking for. After that, it’s just no longer necessary. I then drop the clicker, and then “all the usual rules” apply regarding switching to intermittent rewards, adding the 3D’s, and fading out treats. It is so, so important to do those training steps, but the clicker is just not the tool for them in my opinion. I just don’t see the purpose in continuing all that clicking. As a bonus, my dogs know that when the clicker is out, it means that it’s time to play the “let’s figure out what the two-legger means” game, and they put on their thinking caps, offering guesses of NEW things and listening closely for the feedback that they got it right. Also I don’t think they should have to have that kind of concentration for an hour-long class, and I’m not sure they really *can* (thereby diluting the clicker’s utility).
Also, about the juggling, if you’ve loaded the clicker already, that actually *should* make it easier, since you can take a moment or two after the click to get out a treat. It doesn’t have to already be out in your hand, you can walk over to the counter to get it. In fact, I find that the bigger show I make of going to get the treat, that makes it even better.
Thanks this is terrific! (by the way all my students are taught the 3 D’s and I thank you for it every time ;-)). I was recently reminded of how hard it is to be sure you have a solid, and pure, verbal. My labrador’s retinas detached making her suddenly and completely blind. Because of other eye issues I have always emphasized verbal cues with her but it was interesting to discover how shaky she was on some making it very clear to me that she had been getting some body language with the verbal even though I thought I’d controlled for that. So–I’d add, once the verbal is learned, some work on generalizing to positions that preclude body language assists. For example in the low distraction kitchen (with the help of a mirror) get sit on verbal behind you.
Also, with the same dog, we are currently in the midst of a lot of eye meds because she had cataract surgery and will be having retinal surgery. To handle those with as little stress as possible I need her to volunteer to come forward and to sit so I can stand behind her and administer meds–this has to occur 5 or 6 times at three minute intervals several times a day. As we started it struck me that I didn’t want to use “sit” and potentially build some hesitancy into what was a very fluent behavior. So her word for the same behavior in this more aversive context is “plant”. (yes she gets treats but she says drops are no fun and my own experience says she’s totally right about that)
Cynthia’s last sentence about not having fun at potlucks reminded me: I would be sooo verrrry interested in having topic down the lines of “my three biggest training mistakes with my dog and what I learned from them” if it ever fits anywhere in your blog topics, Trisha.
While I love reading about training successes, it often intimidates me, too – as I just don’t see much success with me training Ronja the hound dog. Are other people making as many mistakes as I am when trying to modify their dog’s behaviors?
To Pike: Love your idea of training mistakes. How long do you have? There’s a great old saying of old time dog trainers, “We train by regret” that practically makes me cry when I think of it. It reminds me of the multitude of mistakes I’ve made (and continue to), and the time I put dogs in impossible situations without knowing it.
I think it’s a great idea for a post unto itself.
To Nan: Such a great point. Dogs are so visual and we are so expressive, it is hard to be ‘purely verbal’. I have always been amused by the instructions in obedience competition relating to “just one signal/cue” when just the person’s posture is a HUGE cue all by itself. I think it takes dogs much longer than most people realize to respond solely to a verbal signal, unless one consciously attends to staying still (which, of course, can be a signal itself……!).
To Cynthia: Have you tried teaching Gustav some postures/behaviors associated with relaxation? I’d teach a Play Bow to any dog with anxiety issues. I used it with Willie and it is very powerful indeed. He actually does it now himself much more often than before I put it on cue, both to stretch out (I think it is inherently reinforcing) and when he is anxious and wants to calm himself. (At least, that is what it looks like.) You could also teach “tail up,” or “be silly” or “open your mouth” … Remember that in humans, emotions are composed of both INTERNAL changes (oxytocin, dopamine, cortisol, vasopressin, heart, rate, etc etc) and EXTERNAL changes like posture and expression. They are interdependent, such that you can create one with the other. You can actually make yourself happier by smiling, whether you feel like it or not. There is not biological reason this wouldn’t work also with dogs, and I’ve had a lot of luck with it.
Sorry, can’t write any more, gotta go give my students their first exam in The Biology and Philosophy of Human Animal Relationships. Wish ’em all well, they seem like a great class.
I LOVE the idea of teaching a play bow. I’ll also try open your mouth.
Has anyone else tried this? Are there other cues people have trained to relax their dogs? Has anyone ever taught a low, slow tail wag? Or squinty eyes? I’ve definitely noticed that the “watch” cue has helped other dogs be less reactive to mine, since mine have turned away rather than given the hard stare. This is self-reinforcing, because sometimes the other dog stops barking and my dogs learn that calm behavior can result in less scary behavior from other dogs.
Has anyone tried Karen Overall’s relaxation protocol? I got a few days into it but sort of let it fall by the wayside. Imagine my surprise when, six months later, Dottie and I showed up at Feisty Fido class and she lay on her mat unprompted! I wonder if there’s more to it than I thought?
Totally fascinating topic.
Play bow is a popular one or paw up or soft slow blink, lip lick, look away, with my guys…George does it all the time now for EVERYTHING… it seems to be a popular ice breaker when fosters come in as well. It’s a lot easier to shape/reward and eventually name when you have a multi-dog household too…you can actually capture/mark/reward for use in the context it’s intended!
I’m not sure if it’s my imagination but I have noticed SOME other dogs relax as well and will reciprocate or perform another ‘friendly’ gesture in return.
I’ve also been the one to initiate “TURN’ and retreat if I don’t see any relaxed body language from the other dog my guy has offered up a friendly gesture to.
It’s all so facinating! Just think you have Gustav and Dottie to thank for opening this world to you 🙂
I’ve use play & tricks A LOT. One or Two Steps back away and then play to reward an auto-watch. If they auto -watched in the first place, it’s my cue that they’re looking to me to take the pressure off them and we may be too close.
Wags my last foster beagle made great strides with rewarding the baby steps. Always starting from no distractions up to adding distractions. Always starting from square one in a new area. Always starting from scratch with a new body position in relation to him for me.
I try to think of each step as if I were drawing a cartoon from hand. Have you ever tried that with a post it note pack? ie.. try drawing stick figure of a dog performing a stand into a sit…it’s interesting to see how many pages you have to draw to make it look fluid. Then just remember all those pages are baby steps and cheered and rewarded every step of the way.
I live by the rule that if at anytime there’s a glitch in the training…..it’s my fault.
That and Bob Bailey’s quote ..let the animal tell me what behaviors it had. I then (prompted)(shaped) as needed to get the behavior as quickly as possible. To change an animal
Enjoying reading the post and all the comments. Would love to read more and write a longer comment myself, but I have to get ready for work…well, I should already be getting ready for work, lol!
Quick question for any and all: How long do you spend on training per day? Do you set aside a block(s) of time specifically for training? How many sessions? How long is a session?
There are so many things I want and need to work on with my dog. I know neither one of us can possibly handle doing it all in a day, but I find time constraints and every day life responsibilities to be getting in the way. Like work, lol!
Gotta go. Thanks in advance. 🙂
Liz F. says
-Re Cautious Canine
I found it to be very helpful as a counter conditioning guide. Good balance of a detailed example and general info on the method. I like that it stresses overlearning the link between the
To Angel: I mentally budget about an hour a day of “dog time.” Maybe that’s not enough, but that’s what I have. My boyfriend also walks them, so total they get maybe an hour and a half to two hours of dedicated human time a day, not including snuggling on the couch or visitors or those other teachable moments, like when the mailman shows up, etc. Within that hour, I follow my feelings for the day. It might be an hour jog, or a twenty minute walk in the morning, fifteen minutes in the backyard, twenty minutes individual clicker training, etc etc. Or maybe each dog gets a half-hour separate walk. In terms of actual training, we are always counterconditioning on walks, plus I try to run five minutes of door work a day (maybe five times in and out of the door), backyard work is inherently time for fetch, come, and find it. Clicker training is about fifteen minutes per dog, or however long it takes to get through their dinner kibble. Of course, there are always days when I’m sick or lazy and the dogs only get one walk and some backyard time. And there are days when it’s nice out and we go out for two hours.
To Liz F.: I take the Danish approach to happiness. The Danes are the happiest people in the world, they say. Expect everything to go wrong all the time, then celebrate when it doesn’t. It sounds silly, but I assume every walk will be a nightmare of off-leash dogs and big men with sunglasses and bags. If it isn’t, then I’ve had a great day! I expect my dogs to go overboard on every little thing, then if they don’t, I praise praise praise and treat treat treat. Find the first thing that isn’t awful, and build on it. And assume your dogs can’t do anything and avoid all situations that will bother them. Then your dogs will seem well-adjusted because they’re not facing their fears all the time. And use controlled situations to work on their issues, where you are 95% sure they’ll be successful.
Interesting–I was just thinking about the role of play bow in de stressing an anxious dog last night. My newly blind lab has a strong play bow on cue but seldome does a play bow of her own initiative. She has taken to doing play bows sometimes before doing her “forward” and “plant” to get her drops. Watching what I see is–anxious dog in dining room knowing what is ahead because I’m setting out the meds; play bow kind of shaking off the stress; response to forward; response to plant. She picked her own strategy but I think it affirms your insight.
Angel I tend to do multiple short (sometimes only 2 or 3 minutes) training sessions. The number varies depending on the challenges of the day and the training objectives I have at the time but there is always time for some of these mini sessions and my dogs and I are much happier for them. To aid in that I have some small lidded jars in various rooms that hold treats so I don’t need to go and get treats but can just initiate some training and pull treats out of thin air (from the dogs perspective)
Ann W in PA says
In reply to Angel:
Oh boy. At the risk of embarrassing myself in the company of so many obviously diligent and disciplined trainers, I am afraid I’m pretty lazy in comparison… 🙂 Nary a training log to be seen at the Withun house.
My strategy is making time via classes and planned activities. For Rowdy’s five years with me thus far, we’ve attended one class per week as a student, 1-2 classes per week with me instructing and him demo-ing, occasional agility or rally trials or herding lessons, and Dog Scouts activities one or two times per month. We spend tons of time together, we hike, we hang out, but at home we’re mostly “off-duty.” Sometimes we’ll do some 5-minute shaping sessions for fun if Rowdy gets bored, but that’s about it. Rowdy covers for me though – he knows a surprising amount of stuff for having such a lax trainer…
Amy W. says
I supervise and train a large number of people to a variety of complex multi-step processes at work, and so much of how I train people comes from what I have learned through dog training. The step-by-step methodology was not innate to me; I had to read it in a dog training book, before it dawned on me that this could also be applied to my work. I wish companies would hire dog trainers to consult/teach instructors how to train.
My actual training sessions are anywhere from 10 sec – 3 or 4mins.. whenever I can a day. I find they look forward to the interaction if you keep it really short.
I’m not sure if this helps but when I show people how I go about guiding my dogs into a new cue I try to keep my demo’s to a 3 step rule. There may be more involved but to get a person started…3 steps at a time.
My three steps are making sure without dog…. that I show the person in slow motion:
– what hand signal/prompt looks like
-when do I reward
-where are my eyes and the rest of my body supposed to be doing.
before I would add a different place, different body position, or up distractions.
Then I’d demo the what ONE LITTLE thing.. there’s always atleast ONE BIG booboo that ALL people do at first….how much my body language CAN mess the dog up…and 9 times out of 10…they could see first hand what tripped the dog up.
Then it’s their turn.
…kinda like before you leave the house…I’ve got my keys, wallet, locked the door.
I tried to do that in a 3 progression video of teaching a foster dog to lay down for the new foster family so it’s not overwhelming too. And it showed me that it really helps the dog out when they come to know what to expect…in small doses.
The footage was all the time it took to teach him the down & fade the treat. there’s no Hollywood edit.
– I used cheese as a lure moving hand to ground between dog feet,
– my body crouched down
-head looking down
Second one –
-moved to a different quiet room
– used the same three steps above
-this time I tried luring with the invisible treat and Wags fell for it!
Third time –
-familiar room but
-added challenge, I changed my body position used same hand movements.
-no food in hand
Plus the added bonus was that I was doing such a good job at my body language being consistent that he naturally started stays…so I went with the flow…and after a successful down…I released him on the next cue.
It really is all about teaching us how to use our body… the dance! How to become magicians making treats and fun stuff appear out of no where, and how to cheer them on to encourage an eager partner.
There I’ve think that’s all I have to add to this topic!
Judy Jurgens says
For the first time in my life I have a dog (sheltie) who needs everything broken down into really, really small steps. All my other dogs have had an easy time moving from one step to another and handling multiple changes at a time.
I am currently teaching the retrieve. We were at the point where he was happily taking the db held in 2 hands, presented at eye level, with me sitting down. It took 2 weeks to get him to move from that to picking up the db from the floor, with one hand still touching the end. And he was highly motivated as he was working for his supper!
It really drove home the point of how small some steps have to be with some dogs.
On using the clicker to train, I find it incredibly useful to convey what i want my dog to do. I tried fixed ratio and intermittened ratios to fade it, and I find the latter most useful, though I can’t say I use any scientific method of keeping track. Mostly I pay attention to how well my dog has mastered what I want her to do.
I keep training sessions to from 5 to 10 minutes. I find it keeps her focus, and it stays fun. Much more than that and I think she starts to lose interest.
I agree with an earlier poster that people are getting reinforced for clicking. As helpful as I found clicker training, it is just one tool in the tool box. But, it’s being sold in many places these days as “The way to train.” When anything becomes a business, there is the danger of self preservation taking over as the primary motivation, rather than the initial reason for creating the business, to teach a valueable tool.
More and more, I find myself drifting toward an eclectic combination of Positive Training, Ethology, and relationship based training as my preferred way to think about training my dogs.
I have a question that you might consider for a future post, trisha. We talk about calming signals and how some are signs of stress. In humans, there is good stress and bad stress. Some stress helps us prepare for things like; presentations, events, etc. It can heighten our senses, increase our clarity of thinking and prepare us to take action. I am coming to believe that not all signs of stress in our dogs are bad. I think it is a more complex equation than we may have current information to grasp.
When my dog is guiding me across a street, I don’t want her relaxed. I want her focused and ready for any unexpected occurrance, like that car that might run a red light, or the Prias that I can’t hear, but she can see!
At the end of a block, especially a busy one, she wil yawn. I bend down, get her attention and yawn back. Then she slowly wags her tail and refocuses on the street. Sometimes, I’ll just lean over and tickle her tummy. Again, I get a slow wag and often a kiss.
In watching her, I think too that some of the signals that mean some things in the dog world, become altered to mean different things when communicating with their humans. I’ve read that licking the corners of another dog’s mouth is a sign of apeasement. I suspect that over time, it has come to mean something different in my relationship with my dog. I think this follows the thinking of the evolution of the canine human bond discussed in the BBC documentary that you turned us on to some weeks ago. We have only recently learned to decipher dogs signals. So, isn’t it possible that there is more to it than we know at this time, and isn’t it possible that the meanings we ascribe to dog’s signals to each other, could take on different meanings when communicating with humans?
I don’t know where the advice about always treating after clicking originally came from but I always do it. Bob Bailey told me to do it this way so I will. 🙂
Seriously I do really think it’s about the clicker being a scalpel. The dopamine might be present but do you loose some precision in the process. The clicker is all about precision (at least to me). In fact after spending weeks with Bob at Chicken Camp I find that I use the clicker less not more (even for new behaviors). I don’t teach “clicking” to clients. I would rather get them focused on their other mechanics (rate of reinforcement, feeding for position, paying attention to criteria). They are really not looking for real precise behavior – any old sit will do.
For instance, teaching a relaxed down on a mat. I would rather teach the person to feed precisely (food on mat under the dogs chin) than go thru all the steps to teach clicker for the chin down and then “feed wherever”. Now I could do both (click for chin down AND feed under the chin) but that just takes to much time when we can be working on other things.
Now for other competition behaviors (agility running dog walk, flyball box turn) I would definitely get the clicker out but that’s beyond this conversation.
Back to step by step I think one the keys (and another posted mentioned it) is short training sessions. Too often we train for minutes at a time. Training in smaller increments (more breaks) allows the trainer to evaluate what has happened and potentially move up a step. Dr. Yin even gets to this in the Manners Minder video – its often “two 15 minutes sessions per day” rather than just “30 minutes a day.”
Liz F. says
To Cynthia: Ha! I loved reading about the Danish approach to happiness.
For What It
Melanie, I’m sorry about your dog chasing sheep problem. I hope the neighbors can be convinced to do something about their dogs. I luckily have very good neighbors that way but my parents, who also own sheep, have had many valuable animals killed by neighborhood roaming pets. They now have a Great Pyrenees who is doing a great job protecting his flock. He shows an odd combination of herding/guarding that I had not heard of before. When a strange dog approaches he “herds” his flock into a group and then stands between the sheep and the other dog, barking.
Chiming in very late, I’m reading some past blogs and taking time to comment. I loved the step by step example. A few years ago, I took a class in computer programming concepts. We had to write a schematic program for some task, so I chose “teaching a dog to sit” (using a lure). It turned out to be quite a bit more complicated and loopy than the assignment required. It was very useful. And fun.
thank you for these steps on how to train your dog