Your Attention, Please
Like any skill, we can teach Cocoa to pay attention. We do this by reinforcing that attention generously and with great timing. The easiest way to begin is to drop a series of treats on the floor. We drop five or six treats, one at a time—then stop.
When Cocoa looks up to see why the stream of treats has stopped, that is the moment to mark.
We use a clear marker sound to let the dog know how much we appreciate the eye contact they gave us. Even a simple word like YES will do the job.
This part is critical: we always, but ALWAYS follow the marker with a piece of food. This is what gives the marker its power.
We mark and reward Cocoa for making eye contact. We keep it short and sweet to start with. Not only that, but we mark even a brief glance into our eyes with YES and drop a piece of food on the floor.
We have dog kibble on hand always, so we can grab the opportunity whenever it happens.
We started in a quiet room alone with Cocoa. No distractions allowed. Then we established the desired behaviour by practising often in that room. In this case, we were looking for eye contact.
Then we started again in another room, then another. This is proofing at a very basic level. Each time we start from the beginning, but each time the dog catches on a little quicker.
Next we added a little duration. We waited for two seconds of eye contact before marking YES and releasing a piece of food for Cocoa.
We added duration and distractions in simple increments.
Of course, training in small increments took time. Or at least it appears to take time. In fact, because it is more likely to be effective, eventually this kind of structured training saves time. We won’t need to keep going back to correct all the mistakes we didn’t make!
Time to Focus
Usually, dogs that don’t listen outdoors can listen at home.
Cocoa isn’t naughty, or stubborn even. He simply struggles to understand the cues or signals we give him, if we change the context in which those cues are given.
We can teach Cocoa to listen!
The secret to success with training him to obey in real-world conditions, where distractions are everywhere, lies in the way we go about proofing.
The trick is to teach in one context, then teach the same thing in another context—one that’s slightly more challenging. And to repeat this training. Raising the bar a little each time.
For example, we teach Cocoa to lie down in our yard. Then repeat the training in a quiet corner of a large park, well away from others. Then repeat in a quiet street, then in a busier one, until he can eventually do it in a bustling public place.
In each environment, we start over, as if the he has never done this before.
A structured training plan that includes these different circumstances can transform our ability to be controlling Cocoa outdoors in open spaces.
And it works by adding distractions in incremental stages.
The distractions that we introduce during effective proofing, don’t just include the distractions that can happen around Cocoa during a walk or a training session.
They include all aspects of the environment that he is working in. And features of the way we interact with him. And the responses we are asking him to make.
Proofing actually starts at home, in the kitchen. And it includes variables such as time and space.
It’s simple really. It’s about how far Cocoa is from us, and how long we want him to continue doing the thing we are asking him to do.
Add duration in tiny, tiny, increments to begin with!
The foundations of training are not the positions we ask Cocoa to adopt and maintain, or the response to that all important recall cue that means so much to us.
The foundations of training are more simple yet.
They include our ability to gain and hold his attention. And Cocoa’s ability to offer and sustain it.
Even when those pesky distractions are involved.
We taught Cocoa to pay attention before we taught him to sit!
It’s crucial to secure this attention and focus from him to build a new and better relationship together.
Graduation Day – PetSmart Puppy Training Program
Today was the final day of Cocoa’s Puppy Training course at PetSmart.
The PetSmart Training program focuses on positive reinforcement techniques. The course is fun and effective for both us and Cocoa. They also teach us about how Cocoa learns and communicates. This helps us work on training outside the classroom. They know it is crucial to integrate training into our daily lives.
Throughout the class, Marissa, our instructor, used both the Pet Training area and the store aisles to simulate real-life experiences. This training, combined with practice at home, helps Cocoa achieve consistent behaviours regardless of the surroundings.
We will be returning in January for the Intermediate course. It is important to keep Cocoa’s training (and ours) consistent and ongoing. My High School principal always told us, “You can never say ‘I don’t have any homework’, there is always review.”
Training your dog is a long and rewarding process
By teaching your dog to obey you, you’re increasing the quality of life for both dog and master. As with every healthy relationship, both parties need to develop an understanding of who is the boss, what their expectations are, and so on.
Imagine being able to take your dog out for a walk without being jerked around on a leash. Telling your dog to ‘stay’ and knowing that you won’t have to keep your leash handy. Imagine letting your dog play with the kids and knowing that no one will need a band-aid or disinfectant later.
When it comes to dog training, psychology is simple. Good behaviour needs to be rewarded, and bad behaviour must be corrected. By rewarding good behaviour, your dog will learn to enjoy obeying you, and to associate good feelings with good behaviour. Similarly, your dog will learn to avoid bad behaviour, and all the headaches that could cause you, and, indirectly, your dog.
That’s all there is to it.
Rewards are pretty easy—either by heaping praise on the dog, giving a thorough petting, giving a treat, or what-have-you. Care should be taken not to overdo it. Rewards are rewards, not bribes, and if you resort to using rewards as bribes, your dog may learn to never do your bidding, unless you have tasty treats or a tennis ball on hand.
If you find that you don’t like the idea of over-feeding your dog, simply apportion the rewards from the daily food ration. Alternatively, you can use a technique called ‘clicker training’. You’ll need a child’s toy that produces a loud clicking sound. The idea behind clicker training is that you should feed your dog some treats, and every time he gets a treat, give a loud ‘click’. Your dog should eventually start associating the sound of the click with getting a treat, and from there, associate a click with good feelings.
Ongoing training is vital
There are of course many reasons for owners to want a calm, obedient and faithful dog. For one thing, obedient and trained dogs are happier dogs, less likely to get into tussles with people or with other dogs. Another reason is that many communities require that the dogs living in their neighbourhoods be well-trained. This is especially true for many breeds thought to have aggression and behaviour problems, dog breeds like pit bulls and rottweilers for instance.
And of course, training your dog well will also make them a much better family companion, especially in households where there are young children. Many studies have shown that proper dog training makes a big impact when it comes to cutting down the number of dog bits and other behaviour issues encountered by dog owning households.
We are now at Week Four of Cocoa’s training at PetSmart. The behaviours taught this week help to prevent unsafe situations by keeping Cocoa close to us on the leash and taught him to return.
When considering training your dog, or having someone else help you train it, there are certain basic commands that must be mastered in order for a dog to be considered truly trained. These basic commands include:
The goal is for your dog to come to you without a verbal cue. You can practice the ‘come when called’ by gradually adding more distance between you and your dog in a safe environment with little or no distractions. Remember to avoid saying the cue or your dog’s name, use other happy sounds and reward with treats, praise, and petting.
It is important that any dog learn to walk beside its owner on a loose lead, neither pulling ahead nor lagging.
Respond to the word No
The word no is one word that all dogs must learn. Training your dog to respond to this essential word can save you a ton of trouble.
Training your dog to sit on command is a vital part of any dog training program.
A well-trained dog should remain where his or her owner commands, so stay is an essential command in dog training.
Lying down on command is more than just a cute trick; it is a key component of any successful dog training program.
For a safe on-leash encounter, your dog must remain calm and focused on you in the presence of other stimuli. This will help keep you and your dog safe in a variety of situations. It will prevent your dog from becoming overstimulated, jumping on passersby, and dragging you in pursuit of another animal. This behaviour also enhances your bond and your walk.
Dog training does much more than just create an obedient, willing companion. Training your dog properly actually strengthens the bond that already exists between dog and handler. Dogs are pack animals, and they look to their pack leader to tell them what to do. The key to successful dog training is to set yourself up as that pack leader.
Establishing yourself as pack leader is a vital concept for any potential dog trainer to understand. There is only one leader in every pack of dogs, and the owner must establish him or herself as the dominant animal. Failure to do so leads to all manner of behaviour problems.
A properly trained dog will respond to all the owner’s commands, and will not display anxiety, displeasure or confusion. A good dog training program will focus on allowing the dog to learn just what is expected of it, and will use positive reinforcement to reward desired behaviours.
In addition to making the dog a good member of the community, obedience training is a great way to fulfill some of your dog’s own needs:
- the need for exercise,
- the security that comes with knowing what is expected of it,
- a feeling of accomplishment and a good working relationship with its handler.
- dog training gives the dog an important job to do, and an important goal to reach.
Giving the dog a job is more indispensable than you may think. Dogs were originally bred by humans to do essential work, such as herding sheep, guarding property and protecting people. Many dogs today have no significant job to do, and this can often lead to boredom and neurotic behaviour.
Basic obedience training, and ongoing training sessions, provide the dog with an indispensable job to do. This is especially critical for high-energy breeds like German shepherds and border collies. Training sessions are a great way for these high-energy dogs to use up their extra energy and simply to enjoy themselves.
Incorporating playtime into your dog training sessions is a great way to prevent both yourself and your dog from becoming bored. Playing with your dog helps to strengthen the essential bond between you, the pack leader and your dog.
A well-behaved dog
One of the most cited problems with dogs is that of jumping up on people. This is one of those behaviours that is often encouraged by well-meaning owners. It might be cute and adorable when that little 10 pound (4.54 kg) puppy jumps up on you, your family members and your friends.
Many people reward this behaviour for a small puppy with kisses and treats. This is a huge mistake. That cute little puppy may soon become a full-grown dog who could weigh well more than 100 pounds (ca. 45 kg). That cute jumping behaviour is no longer quite so cute.
Jumping up on people can be dangerous as well. A large, heavy dog, jumping, can knock over a child or an older or handicapped adult. Such an incident could make you, as the dog’s owner, the subject of an unwanted lawsuit.
The time to teach a dog that jumping up on people is unacceptable is when he is still young and easy to handle. Retraining a dog that jumps up on people can be difficult for the owner, and confusing for the dog.
When the puppy tries to jump on you or another member of your family, be firm but gentle when you place the puppy’s feet back on the floor. After the puppy is standing on the floor, be sure to reward and praise him. It is important that everyone, both family and visiting friends, understand this rule and follow it.
Don’t confuse your dog, if one member of the family reprimands the dog for jumping and another praises him. As with other dog training issues, consistency is key. You must teach the dog that jumping is always inappropriate.
When praising and rewarding the dog for staying down, it is essential for the trainer to get down on the dog’s level. Giving affection and praise at eye level with the puppy is a great way to reinforce the lesson.
Pulling on the leash is another problem trait that many puppies pick up. This behaviour is also one that is sometimes encouraged by well-meaning owners. Be careful playing games like tug of war with the leash, or even with a rope (that can look like the leash to the dog). This can encourage a problem behavior.
Use a quality body harness when training a puppy not to pull. It is also best for retraining a dog that has picked up the habit of pulling on the leash. Try training the puppy to accept the body harness the same way it accepts the regular buckle collar.
When walking with your dog, try using a lure or toy to encourage the dog to remain at your side. Proper use of a training collar, can also be a good training tool for a problem dog. When using a training collar, proper fit is critical. Use a size that is neither too big nor too small for your dog.
When walking with your puppy, it is important to keep the leash loose at all times. If the puppy begins to pull ahead, the handler should change directions. The puppy will fast finds itself falling behind. It is essential to reverse directions before the puppy has reached the end of the leash. The leash should stay loose except for the split second it takes the handler to reverse direction. Use a quick tug, followed by an immediate slackening of the leash.
When training a puppy, never let the puppy pull you around. Training the puppy the proper way to walk while he or she is still small enough to handle is vital. Especially when dealing with a large breed of dog.
Do not to yank or pull on the puppy’s neck when correcting him. A gentle, steady pressure will work much better than a hard yank. The best strategy is to use the least amount of pressure possible to achieve the desired result.
Off to School
There are many important guidelines that you need to keep in mind when teaching your puppy the basics about good behaviour. Exercising the right training techniques is what will make or break your training regimen with your dog.
Although we have had dogs in our lives for over fifty years, we felt that it would be best to have formal training for Cocoa, to let him be the best he can be. We enrolled in the Puppy Training Class offered at the local PetSmart. The class is geared for pups 10 weeks to 5 months old and runs for six weeks on Saturday mornings. It is an introductory class that teaches communication, basic skills, socialization & more.
The trainer, Marissa, has an easy-going manner with both owners and pups that keeps the sessions relaxed and fun.
There are five critical guidelines for teaching a puppy that will make it easier than ever to learn.
1 – Be Gentle
Your new puppy will be extremely sensitive at first, and as a result will not be able to handle anything that is too stressful on both an emotional and a physical level. Although learning generally takes place quickly, now is the time when your puppy will react poorly to stress or being trained too rough. If fears are picked up too easily during the training process, then it may inhibit the puppy’s ability to learn, so make sure to be gentle but firm in your training.
2 – Keep Things Brief
Puppies have even shorter attention spans than children. Your puppy is only going to learn when his or her attention is on you, and you will not see the results that you are looking for when your puppy is tired physically or mentally. Make sure to be brief when putting your puppy through training activities, and then you can move on.
3 – Exercise Patience
Expecting overnight results is only going to frustrate you and cause your training regimen to lose its focus. Relax, and understand that things like this will take time, and puppies learn in spurts. Puppies also do go through brief memory lapses, so do not allow yourself to become overwhelmed if your puppy seems to forget some of its training from one day to the next. Exercise patience when it comes to training, and you will be just fine.
4 – Exercise Simplicity
Teaching your puppy should be done in a step-by-step process if you want to attain the best results. This is the best way that your puppy will learn. Exercise a simple, step-by-step approach, and your puppy will learn more quickly and will enjoy the process more thoroughly than if you were to employ a more intensive training regimen.
5 – Build Confidence
Confidence is the core of every healthy adult dog, and confidence begins with building confidence in a young puppy. Building confidence in your puppy is not hard at all to do; all you need to do is spend positive time with your puppy as often as you possibly can. This will help to build self-confidence in your puppy. You should not always be in training mode when you first get your puppy, but instead sometimes you should step back and play with your dog, having fun with him or her in the process. Training is important, but above all else, your dog needs to know that you are friends.
These five fundamental training foundations are vital in preparing your puppy for an effective training regimen and will drive better results when properly integrated into your step by step puppy training process.
If you have never owned a pet, the idea of dressing up a dog in a Halloween costume definitely sounds a little silly. After all, it’s not like Fido is going to go around asking for candy, right? To some, it may seem like a childish obsession to need to dress the family pet up like you would a person. To others, just another way that the big companies of corporate America have decided to try to squeeze a few extra bucks out of patrons this Halloween season. For others, however, there is a certain charm to family pets being dressed up in celebration of the holiday.
Icebreakers and attention getters
As any kid can tell you, dogs are a great way to get to know people. Especially ones dressed in costumes. Except for the few people who might be afraid of dogs, many love to come up and say hello and offer a pat to a dog that they see on the street.
Of course, every kid out trick or treating has one goal, get as much candy as you can. Having a dog in a costume is a great way to do that. The houses that you visit will love the cuteness factor of the whole get up. Plus, it is certain to inspire some conversation, and the friendlier you are to people, the more likely you are to receive candy in return. Get a dog costume that matches your own for extra cute points.
Protection and safety
A loyal family pet is going to look out for its family. So even though it is a good idea for mom and dad to come along while trick or treating, a dog is an extra bit of protection for your child should he or she get lost. Even a small dog will bark at something that is amiss, and larger dogs have the full intimidation factor. Many children are also more careful about crossing streets when they are with a family pet.
Choosing a costume
There are a wide variety of costumes for dogs. Consider one that coordinates with your child’s costume. As with costumes for any member of your family, you will want to be sure that it fits properly. Avoid any with long hems that could cause your dog to trip while walking. You will also want to make sure that wearing the costume will not interfere with attaching a leash. A few dry runs of walking around the neighbourhood with the costume on may be required to get your dog accustomed to wearing it.
If your child will be the one walking the dog, make sure that they can control it. You do not want your beloved family pet running off into the night. Also consider your dog’s personality, very aggressive or very fearful dogs are not going to enjoy going out with all the ruckus going on. And of course, be the responsible pet owner and always clean up after your pet.
Choosing a doggy Halloween costume can add even more fun to the holiday by allowing your family pet to join in.
Ten Weeks—Broadening Horizons
Training starts with simple things. They include the ability to gain and hold Cocoa’s attention. And his ability to offer and sustain it. Even when those pesky distractions are involved.
We first taught Cocoa to pay attention before we taught him to sit! It’s crucial to secure this attention and focus from him to build a new and better relationship together. One which will enable us to succeed.
We are also gradually expanding his horizons, introducing him first to the backyard (fenced) and then the front yard (on a leash). After this, there are short walks up and down the street as his confidence grows.
He has met a ‘cousin’ also from Cooperslane Kennels, who lives just up the street from us. They get along well, despite the age and size difference.
We have an essential job now, building on what has been achieved so far, and introducing Cocoa to the world at ground level. This part of his education can begin once his vaccination coverage is complete.
Cocoa’s formal training is set to begin at the end of this month (he will be twelve weeks old). He had his first visit to the vet, arranged his followup vaccinations and flea/tick medication. He was eager to interact with the staff and was reluctant to leave. We assured him he will be going back. It is important to introduce Cocoa to as many new people, things, and experiences as possible throughout this puppy development stage.
3 months is the point at which the window for socializing a puppy – making sure he grows up confident and friendly – closes. But, that does not mean socialization can stop. Puppies who are isolated at this point will soon lose that friendly fearlessness.
Nine Weeks – Settling In
Cocoa has been in his new home for a week or so. He’s beginning to feel like part of the family. At this point, we are thinking about proper training.
We have collected an array of games and activities to challenge his brain and exercise his body. Most of these are food motivated to ensure his attention!
The next four weeks are vital in puppy development stages. Our main job is socializing our puppy. This means taking him to plenty of new places and exposing him to many new experiences. In most places, we will need to carry him to avoid the risk of infection.
Cocoa has had his initial vaccinations, but this week we will be taking him to the vet for his first check-up and to schedule his additional jabs.