Category Archives: General Training

Dog Treats Everywhere…

Remember my post “Always Training All the Time”? (If not, you should read it here). Well, in order to be always training, you’ve got to be always ready! One way to always be ready is to be armed with reinforcers at any moment!  I use lots of reinforcers other than treats, but treats are usually the most valuable for my dog. This makes treats my go-to reinforcers for new or challenging behaviors.

The Treat Drawer

The Treat Drawer

This means that we have dog treats everywhere.  And it also means I put more dog treats through the washing machine than I care to admit!  I did a whole-house tally and here’s the list of the places I keep dog treats:

  • In my car
  • In my husband’s car
  • In the kitchen
  • In the treat drawer
  • In every coat pocket
  • In my office
  • In our bedroom
  • In the fridge
  • In the basement training space
  • In the training bag(s)
  • In my purse

Do you have other strategies for being ready to train at any time?  Leave your comment below!

Happy training!

Why a Recall Matters

The dogs got out this week.

I had only let them out for a potty break into our fenced in back yard.  But it had been windy and the gate came open and I didn’t notice.  It was a rainy Sunday morning, so Justin and I were still drinking our coffee in our PJs.  I was listening for a bark that they were ready to come back in when Justin looked up and said “umm…there’s Sammy.”  She was standing on the front porch.  Uh oh. 

We let her in and Justin went to check the backyard while I checked the front sidewalk for Dan.  He was nowhere to be seen.  I was standing in my slippers on our front sidewalk whistling for him and a man was walking by across the street.  “Are you looking for a black and white dog?”. he asked.  “YES!”.  “Oh he is down the street, he just walked by me a minute ago, oh look here he comes.”

I ran across the street to him and looked down the sidewalk.  Here comes Dan!  He was running to me faster than I have ever seen him go (and he’s fast!).  We went inside and he got a very special treat.  And now our gate is bungee corded shut in addition to the latch.

This is the importance of a really, really good recall (“come”).  Because mistakes happen.  And Dan wanted to take himself to the park, but because of our practice, he wanted to come to me more.

Do you have a great recall story?  Share it below.   And check back soon for a series on teaching and practicing your recall.

Dan and Sam

What’s a blog post without a picture? Dan and Sam, posing for a photo.

Training Sessions Part 2: Types of Training Sessions

In my last post “Always Training, All the Time”, we explored the concept that your dog is always learning from you and his environment with every interaction and activity that he partakes in.  The take away from this was that you should always consider what your dog is learning from his day-to-day activities.  Is it what you want him to learn?  If not, how can you change it so that he is learning good habits and behaviors?

This idea is very useful for teaching good manners and how to behave in certain situations.  For certain skills or behaviors though, you will need to set aside time for a more intentional training session.  I have several different types of training sessions that I use with my dogs.  Of course there are an infinite number of ways to incorporate training into your life, but here are some of the ways I do it.

You can think of the different types of training sessions on a scale of formality.  The most casual being “Always Training, All the Time” all the way to very structured, explicit training sessions.

Always Training, All the Time

We have covered Always Training, All the Time in our last post, but this type of training should be ongoing and you will need to think about the behaviors you want to reward and what to reward them with on the fly.  In a way, this is more challenging than a very structured setting because you have to respond to your dogs behavior (or predict it) quickly.

Impromptu Sessions

The next type of session is probably the one I use the most.  I think of these as Impromptu Sessions.  This is when I have a few minutes and my dog is hanging out with me, looking at me like “well, what next?”.  I grab a handful of treats or a toy and do 2-3 minutes of intense training.  Then we play a little and I move on with my day.  To make it easier to be ready for these sessions, I keep stashes of treats all over the house.  We have a jar on the kitchen counter, sometimes I use kibble from the dog food bin (or cat food!), and there are containers in the dining room, my office, and the basement.

For an Impromptu Session, it is easiest to practice behaviors your dog already knows.  We do rapid sit, down, stay, come, heel, sit, etc.  It is a good chance to mix up the order and ask your dog to practice these familiar behaviors in a new setting.  This also keeps those older behaviors fresh while working on new ones.

However, you can also use these sessions to teach a new behavior.  If you do this, it is important to remember where you left off with your training so that you can pick up next time in the same place.  To make this easier, I usually pick one new behavior to work on in Impromptu Training sessions and get it mastered before doing another one.  Right now, Dan is learning to “Turn” which means he should turn away from me when he is sitting at my side.  The last one he learned was “Back up” which has turned into an impressive leap backward – all four paws leaving the floor! Both of these are fairly simple behaviors so they are great for this type of training session.

Again, I do this with the cat too!  He is learning to touch a target with his paw.

Here is a video of an Impromptu Training session with Dan working on “Turn”.  You can see he has it when he is on my left but still is unsure when he is on my right.  There are times where I use a lure or prompt with a hand signal and times when I try it without.  If he isn’t successful, I take a step back so that he can have success and later try the harder version again.  I ended with him on my left so we could end on a good note.

Structured Sessions

The third main type I use are structured training sessions.  For this Structured Sessions, I plan out what I will work on, divide my treats into piles so that I use 10-15 at a time with breaks in between, do the training session, take notes and data, and often video tape.

These sessions are great for any behavior of course, but they are almost necessary for new or complex behaviors.  It is also easier to work on more than one behavior at a time because you give yourself the time to create clear data and take good notes so that you can see how your dog is progressing and remember where you left off.

Usually these sessions take 30-40 minutes for me to complete, but I am actually training my dog for about 15 minutes of that time.  The rest of the time is set up, planning, recording and playtime.  Currently with Dan I am working on calm behaviors on the front porch and front sidewalk in these type of training sessions (instead of lunging, barking, pulling me down the steps!).  We just finished introducing a new type of harness.  He has also learned “go to mat”, “heel”, and “target” in these type of sessions.

“Target” was one of the first behaviors he learned.  I decided to use structured sessions with teaching “target” so that he could learn the routine of our structured sessions.  The other behaviors are pretty complex.  “Heel” and “go to mat” both have many steps and component behaviors that I taught separately then put together.

For example, with “Heel” I first worked on having Dan sit in heel position, then we added the word “heel”, and then I worked on taking single steps while he heeled.  We worked on turns with one step, turning in both directions, walking across a room, stopping often or not, working on leash and off leash.  This would be pretty complicated to keep track of in your head or to just work on without a written plan.  So, Structured Sessions were our best bet.

Now that Dan knows “Heel” well, we incorporate it into our Impromptu Sessions often.

Dan "Go to Mat" at Vet

Dan Practicing “Go to Mat” at the Vet’s Office.

When choosing which behaviors to work on in which session types, you might want to consider the following:

Is the behavior complex?

  • For more complex behaviors, start with Structured Sessions.
  • When he masters it, use it in Impromptu Sessions.
  • If it is a day-to-day behavior, think “Always Training, All the Time”.

Is your dog an experienced learner?

  • If not, begin with Structured Sessions and move towards Impromptu Sessions

Are you good at remembering what you did last?  Do you need to write it down? (Be honest!)

  • If you need to take notes to remember what you worked on, you might want to use Structured Sessions more, or maybe something between Structured Sessions and Impromptu Sessions (video tape or take short notes).
  • For Always Training, All the Time, it might help to keep a journal.  Write a few sentences every day about what you were working on.

How well does your dog know the behavior you are working on?

  • For new behaviors, Structured Sessions might be best, but it depends on you and your dog!

Try each type of session with a few familiar behaviors and a few new ones to see what works for you!

Happy Training!

**Stay tuned for the third post in the Training Sessions series:  Setting up a Session for a discussion about planning and taking data**

Training Sessions Part 1: Always Training, All the Time

Here’s a little secret about dog training – your dog doesn’t know the difference between training and the rest of life.

Okay, he probably understands when you are intentionally training.  You have treats, maybe a clicker, you are directly interacting with him in a certain way, specific to training sessions.

But he doesn’t stop learning when you stop your intentional training session.  Every interaction with your dog teaches him something about the way the world works. 

If he jumps and “just this once” you pet him while he does, he learns from that.
If he barks out of fear and the scary thing goes away, he learns from that.
If he pulls toward something on a walk and succeeds in getting to it, he learns from that.
If he snatches a treat from your hand and gets to inhale it, he learns from that.

So, what can you do about this?  You can be Always Training, All the Time.  Be thoughtful in every interaction with your dog.  Think about what he might learn from each action and result.  Is it something you want him to learn to do?  If not, change the result or prevent the action from happening in the first place.

This is where the management of your dog’s time can really come in handy.  Here are some things you can do to make it easier to be Always Training, All the Time:

Use a crate:

Teach your dog to be happy and comfortable in a crate.  A crate (or x-pen) is an excellent tool for managing your dog.  It allows him to be near you, but prevents him from making mistakes (like getting into the garbage) or from frustrating you when you cannot give him your attention (for example, if you have company over and Fido wants to visit by licking everyone, it can be easy to stray from your usual training techniques).

Note – a crate should never be used for punishment.  It should be a resting place for your dog.  I recommend giving him a special toy or chew when he is in his crate so he can be engaged in something if he wants to.  Also, too much crate time can lead to a restless, hyper puppy!  Use the crate as a tool, but balance it with attention, training time, and exercise.

Get your dog the right amount of exercise:

Speaking of exercise, it is important!  Amount of exercise can contribute to your dog’s behavior just as much as amount of training.  It is important for dogs in the same way it is important for us.  It keeps them healthy, fit, and clear-minded.  For most dogs, a walk or two daily is not enough.  Find a way to let your dog really run whenever possible. Play fetch, go running on trails, let him play with other dogs, go swimming, or get involved in a dog sport like agility.  Every dog is different; figure out what your dog needs and then incorporate it into your daily routine.  Try to find activities that you both enjoy.  For example, I love to go for long walks so I located a park where I can walk while my dogs can run off-leash through the fields, exploring and chasing each other.  Usually I walk about 3 miles and I estimate they run 7 or 8!

Teach your dog to lay on his bed and rest/chew when asked:

When you are watching TV, eating dinner, or doing other quiet family activities ask your dog to lie on a bed or blanket in the same room.  Encourage him to be calm by giving him a toy or bone that involves chewing rather than tug/fetch activities.  This will take a lot of practice, but it pays off in the end!

Dan, chewing his ball on his bed in my office.

Dan, chewing his ball on his bed in my office.

Okay, so now you have some tools for managing your dog when your life is hectic, but how do you incorporate Always Training, All the Time Here are some examples of how we incorporate training into our dog’s daily lives in order to teach them house manners and to strengthen good behaviors:

Use play:

All play at our house involves training.  In fact, the training is the play at our house!  When we are playing tug or fetch with the dogs, we are also asking them to do some of the behaviors they know.  A play session might look like this:

  1. Dog brings toy
  2. We tug, tug, tug, then say “drop it”
  3. Dog drops toy.  “Gooooood dooogggg!” (lots of petting and scratching)
  4. “Dog sit”, dog sits, “goood!!!”, “okay, dog down”, dog downs, “good! Backup!”, dog leaps backward, “what a gooood doggg!!!” (toss toy, dog leaps after it, shakes it around, then eventually comes back)

This teaches your dog several things.  First, that rules are still involved during play.  If I ask for the toy, he needs to give it to me.  If he brings it to me, I need to tug or throw it.  Second, it teaches your dog that training is super fun! Third, it practices impulse control and teaches your dog to have an “on/off switch”.  The play starts and stops all the time but that’s okay, it will start again soon if he is patient!

Create rules based on the room you are in:

Dogs are very dependent on context and will quickly learn whether or not a behavior is acceptable in a certain situation.  At our house, we have general rules based on the environment and our dogs have learned where we play, where we rest, where we cuddle, and where we give a bath (lol!).  Here’s what we do, although you should definitely do what fits for your household:

  1. My Office – No play.  I always give the dogs a treat when they come in and lay on their bed and then they are expected to chill out.  Occasionally they come over for a pet or cuddle but when I say “okay all done” they go back to their bed.
  2. Kitchen – Unfortunately, this is the “play room”.  It can be chaotic.  But what usually happens is one of us is cooking and the other is playing with the dogs while we talk about our day.  It works out well most of the time.
  3. Living room – The dogs are expected to lay down when asked, but we of course play here too sometimes.  I encourage them to play on their own more here, but sometimes we play fetch.  Not much tug, it gets to be too exciting.
  4. Outside – All play goes!  This is the dog’s space to “be a dog”, we discourage barking and digging but otherwise they get to run and play.  (When I say discourage, I mean interrupt the behavior by calling them over to me or bringing them inside – calmly).
  5. Dining Room – When we are eating they are supposed to lay down, but sometimes this isn’t perfect.  Dan loves to herd the cat in this room for some reason.  If they are really good and lay down through a whole meal, they get treats at the end.
  6. Bathroom – This is where we give baths.  The dogs avoid it at all costs, unless no one is home, then Dan helps himself to the garbage!  We usually fix this by simply closing the door.  Easy as pie.

Going on Walks:

Enforce the rules of walking at all times.  This means if the dog pulls, you stop until he focuses on you, then you can continue on your way.  Everyone has different criteria for leash manners.  Decide what yours are and stick to it.  Reward the good all the time and try to prevent rewards for the not-so-good.  Walks should always be happy, fun, upbeat, and focused on the dog.  If you cannot focus on the dog, leave him home and take him for his own walk later.  He will prefer this, I promise.  When a dog is new to walking on a leash, or is learning new rules, your walks may need to be shorter.  Don’t view it as exercise unless your dog is already good at walking on a leash.  Give him another chance to get his exercise in.

These are just examples, some of the most common times that we might not give our dogs the attention they need to learn the right behavior.

Cecil, resting on his blanket in my office

Cecil, resting on his blanket in my office

One more note – these concepts work for all species, not just dogs.  Our cat has learned to sleep in his box on my desk when he is in my office.  And he has learned to cuddle in the living room and meow for food in the kitchen.  He also drives us crazy if he hasn’t had enough attention or activity in a day and loves to do training time, although we don’t do it as often as we should!

Remember, your pet is always learning, and you are always training.  Whether you mean to be or not.

*Stay tuned for the next piece on Training Sessions Part 2 – Types of Training Sessions*