TRAINING


The following links are to videos I made in the very early days of my apprenticeship in dog training.  Teaching my dog to do these things is a form of training called 'shaping'.  I never used any form of contact, eg:  leash, collar, pulling, shoving, forcing, or corrections while teaching him these behaviours.  I used only a clicker (marker) and rewards (food and praise).

This is a trick 'Sit on Your Bum'.  Something I noticed in some of my earlier training sessions was that he was sitting on the target, and I simply marked and rewarded, another form of training called 'capturing', to teach him this final behaviour.  I was certainly far, far from perfect in those days, and I probably made lots of mistakes, but I was still able to teach him these tricks - without using force, pain, coercion, or even using a collar or leash.  In fact, I never so much as layed a finger on him during our training sessions, and I still don't.

Sit On Your Bum:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PZdZpE9NCAs

In this next video the assignment was to teach our dog to paw target a spot from a distance of 10 feet away, that is, touch a small target with his paw starting from 10' away.  Here I also used 'capturing' and 'shaping' to achieve the final behaviour, and again, never so much as touched him throughout our training sessions.

Paw Target a Spot From 10 feet:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qO-UtgSshTE

This is a video from earlier in our training sessions:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gja5JDb5pEs

Another assignment we had was to teach our dogs to target a spot on the wall with his paw.  Here's a couple of short videos showing our process.

In this video I am starting to teach him to paw target a specific target (a spot).

Wall spot 1:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BAtxPSZ15pg

Here we've moved the target closer to the wall.

Wall spot 2:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-q5EvAJiZiw

Here we've moved the target on to the wall.  I give him lots of time to think and figure out things.  At one point in our earlier training he was getting a little frustrated and walked away into our hallway (and I allowed that without 'correcting' him for not remaining in the session because - it's ok to take a break when he needed to.)  He sat down, and I could see the gears turning in his head.  After a few minutes he came back into the room and plastered his paw smack dab on the spot.  He'd gone off, thought about it for a while, then came back like, "Here, is this what you want!" and emphatically landed his paw dead center of the target, lol.

Wall spot 3:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KO0ILjMZU4g

Here we've moved the spot a little higher up on the wall.  This sort of thing could be continued to teach as something like turning on/off a light switch.

Wall spot 4:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-rY2sjpnBWk

Our dogs are learning from us every second of every day, and they are MASTERS at reading our emotions and our body language.

When we are trying to teach our dogs how we'd like them to behave, many people use force, e.g. teaching a dog to sit by pushing on his backend until the dog relents and allows his backend to relax on the floor.  Some people say, Sit, Sit, Sit until the dog, after offering a gazillion behaviours, finally gets some sort of acknowledgement when he puts his bum on the floor.  As I said, they are masters at reading our emotions and our body language to figure things out!

Another way we 'teach' our dogs is to yell at them when they're doing something we don't like.  If yelling doesn't get through to them, we'll likely resort to some sort of physical punishment.  The thing is with punishment techniques, if they don't work the first time the punishment will need to accelerate until the dog finally catches on that if they do X, they will get punished or hurt.  When they figure this out, they may very well stop doing it, but, they will have absolutely no idea why, and many times they don't know exactly what they were doing that gets them hurt or punished in the first place.

Severely punished dogs will simply stop doing everything out of fear of getting punished or hurt.  Mia is a dog I fostered, and that's how she was. She was a great dog to have around because she didn't do anything wrong, but she didn't do anything, period.  She mainly just kept off to the side and out of the action.  She had learned that was the safest way to go through life.  Some people view this as a well behaved dog.  I don't.  I'd much rather have a dog that enjoys its time here on earth!

Punishing our dogs for doing something we don't like only creates anxiety and fear in our dogs.  Dogs cannot learn when in an emotional state.  No one is saying that punishment doesn't "work".  It does "work".  It very often stops the behaviour.  If a dog jumps up on me and I knee it in the chest, hard, it will likely learn that jumping up on me will get a painful knee in the chest. That is operant learning.  Do this a few times and the dog will likely catch on, and he won't jump up on me again.  But he has only learned that jumping on ME gets the painful knee in the chest.  Everyone else is still fair game.  What we want them to learn is that a polite four feet on the floor gets a nice scratch under the chin.  If this is taught consistently, by everyone in the family, he will understand very quickly what's expected of him.  If we offer a reward such as a treat when he sits nicely, he will likely sitting nicely even more, and he will start to offer this behaviour because he wants to, rather than doing it because he's afraid of getting hurt if he doesn't.

What we're concerned with when using punishing techniques while we're trying to teach our dogs what we want from them - is the fall out from punishment.  For example, the dog gets fed up with being punished and retaliates by turning on you, growling, or even biting.  This happens most often in dog/child relationships because the child simply does not understand that the dog doesn't like what he or she is doing to the dog.  Many parents don't understand how to read a dogs communications, in fact many people flat out expect the family dog to put up with anything and everything the child is doing to the dog.  If, after the dog tries to communicate his dislike, and no one listens or respects the animals desires, he may resort to using stronger language in the form of a growl, nip, or bite.

Never punish your dog for growling

When a dog is "mis-behaving" they are not being stubborn or disrespectful, are most certainly not trying to assert dominance over anything, and they are definitely not trying to become the leader of the pack with a hostile takeover of your home.

THE most important thing you can learn about is the physiology of the flight or fight response, and this applies to both us and our dogs.  It applies to every sentient being on this planet.

By definition, the fight or flight response is a physiological reaction - not under conscious control (and that part is especially important to understand) that occurs when an animal or human feels fear or a threat.  Something will act as the trigger, maybe a startle, for example a fast movement in peripheral vision.  In that split second the body will activate a cascade of stress hormones that produce a well-orchestrated physiological response. This combination of reactions to stress is known as the "flight or fight" response because it evolved as a survival mechanism, enabling people and other mammals to react quickly to life-threatening situations.  This is a carefully orchestrated, and near instantaneous, sequence of hormonal changes and physiological responses to help ward off the threat off or to flee to safety, again - not under conscious control - of the animal.

When a dog is barking, growling, lunging, or trying to get away - they are not using their 'thinking' brain.  The ability to think and reason consciously - is long gone!  They are in a state that some of us call 'rabbit brain'.  Pure instinct.  When a dog sees a rabbit in the distance, boom, all other thought leaves its mind, and the rabbit, and chasing the rabbit, is the only thing taking up space in the dogs brain.  They are not mis-behaving, being disobedient, or stubborn!  They have absolutely no conscious control when the brain flips from conscious to unconscious processes.

In highly stressed dogs, e.g. one that's taken to the dog park or on walks every day where it barks madly, lunges, and growls at everything it sees, DESPERATELY TRYING TO COMMUNICATE THAT IT'S UNCOMFORTABLE WITH WHAT'S GOING ON AROUND IT, and especially if it's punished for its behaviour every time, the body can start to overreact to stressors that are not life-threatening and fears and phobias can develop.  This is extremely unhealthy for the dog physically.  I see this every single time I go to a dog park, especially in smaller dogs.  I get apoligies, "Sorry, my dog's a little aggressive."  No, they are not "aggressive".  Yes, they are behaving aggressively because they are afraid, and they are screaming to the world to GO AWAY, I'M NOT COMFORTABLE WITH YOU COMING CLOSE TO ME!

It was first described by American psychologist Walter Cannon in 1920. This chain reaction causing a cascade of events is meant to help the body deal with threatening circumstances.  It all starts in the amygdala which triggers activation of the pituitary gland causing a sudden release of catecholamines such as hormones and neurotranmitters, specifically cortisone, adrenaline, and noradrenaline. This causes a series of changes in the dog's body, mind, and nervous system.

Physiological Changes Caused by Fight or Flight in Dogs

The release of hormones and neurotranmitters during the fight or flight acute stress response causes a variety of physiological changes in the dog. These physiological changes are the body's effort to create a boost of energy sufficient to get the dog out of trouble and survive. While a brief, acute response to a suspected trigger may cause temporary physiological changes, the effects of chronic, prolonged stress in dogs can long term undermine the dog's immune system.

Following are some physiological changes seen in a fight or flight response in dogs.

Increased heart rate
Increased breathing
Increased blood flow to muscles (so the dog can sprint into action)
Increased muscle tension
Increased blood pressure
Increased blood clotting (so to prevent excessive blood loss)
Increased blood sugar
Appetite suppression (blood flow goes from skin and intestines to muscles for action)
Dilated pupils (so to see with more clarity)
Heightens your senses
Piloerection
***Inability to concentrate, lack of impulse control, lowered threshold***

https://pethelpful.com/dogs/Understanding-the-Dog-Fight-or-Flight-Response

Here are a couple more little articles you may want to read:  Why Did That Dog Growl and Why Methods Matter.

If you are having difficulties with your dog, try this exercise, diligently, for a week and see what a difference you see in your dog by focusing on what you like about your dog rather than focusing on the things you don't like.  Try to simply ignor the things you don't like.  Closely observe what your dog is doing and reward him with verbal praise, a little pat or scratch behind the ears or on on his chest, or give him a treat whenever he is doing something you like.  That includes simply laying quietly and being well behaved.  See how much better your dog starts to respond.  

Before you jump right into training your dog, take a little time to understand Canine Body Language (links below) and start to learn how your dog is trying to communicate with you and its environment.

It's important to understand that dogs learn many different ways and the words we use are really just sounds to them, like the famous cartoon, Blah, blah, blah, Fido, blah, blah, blah.  The most important thing is that the words/sounds and cues we use, are used consistantly. That's why we use words like Sit, Stay, Down, Come, etc.  Those words have pretty much been burned in to our brains and are easy to remember, especially at times when we're a little stressed.  The word Come instantly pops in to our minds when we see our dog bolting toward traffic, or we shout the dogs name.

We want to make sure that we teach a super positive connection for the dogs name and words like Come.  I always start teaching recall by associating the recall word, Come, to a treat or reward.  e.g. say Come and give the dog a treat right away.  This is Classical Conditioning, and once the dog likes hearing the word Come, and associates that sound with something great, it will be easier to teach it as the recall cue.

Never punish a dog for coming to you, regardless of how long it takes!  All you will teach them is that coming to you will get them punished.  Surprise, the dog will stop coming when you call them!

Here's a few links to get you started understanding Canine Body Language:

I Speak Dog:  http://www.ispeakdog.org/

Understanding Dog Body Language, Kristen Crestejo:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8bg_gGguwzg

Understanding Dog Body Language, Part 2, Kristen Crestejo:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t4N2XvnY7Mo

Stanley Coren lecture (a little outdated, but still useful information.  It's almost 45 min. long):  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S6D-RITYklI

This is an excellent blog on the trials and tribulations we can run across.  Sure, all the specialists tell you what to do, but in the reality of our lives, not all of it is probably possible.

Relax, all we can do, is what we can do.

Quick Fix or Never Fix blog by Theo Stewart:  https://dogidogblog.wordpress.com/2016/03/26/quick-fix-or-never-fix/