Jan's Blog

Dog training insights from Dog Barn Training owner Jan Gould, KPA/CTP.  Dog Barn Training is a new indoor/outdoor dog training facility in Chimacum, Washington.

 

Reinforcement, What Exactly is That?

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My dog, Huntington sits when cued, I click and deliver a treat to him.  He takes it with some hesitation, slowly chews some of it and lets some of it fall on the ground.  He was reinforced, right?

Well, maybe or maybe not.  If it had been a piece of chicken or bacon, he would have taken the offered treat without hesitation and no crumbs would have been left unattended on the ground. 

In both cases, I may feel like Huntington was reinforced, after all, he took the treats.  The question isn’t about what I think though, it’s about what Huntington thinks!  He doesn’t speak in human language, so I can’t ask him if he thought he was reinforced.  So how do I know if he was reinforced?

The answer lies in future behavior.  Does he repeat the behavior?  Does he repeat the behavior as quickly or is he taking much longer to start to sit?  Is the behavior deteriorating?  If the behavior is repeating, i.e. Huntington sits when cued, those treats were reinforcing.  If Huntington’s cued sit behavior is starting to deteriorate, taking longer to start to sit or sometimes not sitting at all when cued, those treats probably weren’t reinforcing.

A lot of dogs bark at the mailman.  He walks up to the house, puts mail in our mailbox or mail slot on our door and then walks away to the next house.  That’s his job and he may or may not give any thought to the dog in the house barking and snarling.  To the dog in the house, it could be a scenario where this man walks up to my house, I bark to scare him off as he is doing something to the house or shooting all this paper into the door slot.  Look, he moves away from the house as I tell him to leave in my “protection” voice!  Job well done, I protected the house!  Then tomorrow comes and the mailman is just doing his job, but to the dog it could be “oh my gosh, here he comes again!  I must need to get out my scarier voice to make him leave”.  The barking and snarling get more animated, and the mailman, having delivered the mail, walks away.  The dog pats himself on the back for a job well done.  He, once again, protected the house from that man!

In the mailman scenario, the dog will only get louder, snarl more and perhaps work himself into a frenzy as days go on.  Why?  Because the mailman leaves the house each time.  To the mailman, he is just going to the next house.  To the dog, he scared the potential intruder away!  The mailman leaving is the reinforcement for all the barking and snarling.  It is highly likely, that the dog will continue to bark and snarl when the mailman comes to the house each day.

When dealing with behaviors we would rather our dogs not do, it is important to discover what is reinforcing the behavior.  If your dog is repeating the behavior it must have some sort of reinforcement.  The laws of behavior tell us that organisms behave to either get something they want or to get away from something they don’t want.  Those “somethings” are consequences.  If the consequence is reinforcing, the behavior is likely to increase, if the consequence is not reinforcing, the behavior decreases.

Sometimes recognizing what is reinforcing behavior may be obvious, a lot of times it takes some investigative work.  Why does your dog bark in training class?  Perhaps he just likes to hear himself, perhaps your hand is in the treat bag prior to the behavior being performed, perhaps you haven’t marked/clicked the behavior, but rather just handed out treats, perhaps you are giving attention to your dog that you don’t even realize you have been giving.  Sometimes, to the dog, the behavior itself is just fun and therefore self-rewarding.  Once we figure out what is reinforcing the behavior, we can begin to change the behavior.

We change the behavior by training or cueing a different behavior that will be able to gain the same reinforcement as the behavior we are trying to change.  If we don’t like the barking in training class, we can cue a down on the mat where your dog can enjoy a chew toy or food puzzle.  This can quiet a barking dog who wants to do something in class when we are listening to the instructor.  By giving your dog the chance to earn the reinforcement he is seeking in a behavior that we find appealing, he won’t need to perform the unwanted behavior. 

The other side of this coin is that the unwanted behavior’s reinforcement must cease.  Again, because you have investigated and discovered what the reinforcement for this unwanted behavior is, you can now manage the environment so that reinforcement doesn’t occur when the barking in class happens.  Without that reinforcement, the behavior should begin to decrease and eventually stop.

One last thing to keep in mind.  Most behavior we humans don’t care for is normal dog behavior.  Dogs don’t think up behaviors to irritate us.  When your dog performs a behavior you find unappealing, find something else for your dog to do instead.  Saying “no”, “stop” “quiet” doesn’t give the dog any information about what you would rather they do.  Train a few alternate behaviors such as nose touch to your palm, sit, down and spins.  Cue these behaviors in situations where your dog is likely to behave in a manner that you find unappealing and reinforce the performance of the alternate behaviors.  You should see an increase in the alternate behaviors and a decrease in the unappealing behaviors.

It takes knowing what the reinforcement is, patience and consistency to change behavior.  With a click and a treat, you can be on your way to behavior you want to see!

  

 

Jan Gould, KPA CTP

KPA, CTP: Karen Pryor Academy, Certified Training Partner

Knowledge, training and teaching assessed.

  

 

 

How Trained Is Your Trainer?

Letters behind our names…..are they a measure of our worth? Do they tell you anything about who I really am?  Are they really important?  The answer to all of these questions could be yes and it could be no.

Yes, they may show that you have studied and were able to retain the information long enough to pass a test.   They can tell you what organizations a person may deem significant or important to learn from and associates to that system of beliefs. And, yes, they can be important, they can differentiate that one person is continuing to learn and adjust their training to keep abreast of the current scientific information on learning from the one who has been teaching the same way for 10, 20 or even 30 years.

What they can’t tell you is how much knowledge the person has retained.  Is that person following the scientific and/or belief systems of the certifying organization or were they just looking for the “legitimacy” of letters behind their name?  Do they really give you a true idea into who the person is?

With these questions at hand, it is important to know what organization is certifying the person, what is that organizations methods, what do those letters stand for?  What did it take to earn those letters? And, how do you know that the individual retained the information, or adheres to the methods learned?

You can find out who issued the certification for those letters by googling “dog training certification xxx” (xxx being the letters behind the name).  With the name of the organization involved, you can search that organization. Look to see what the course cost.  Who teaches it?  Is the teacher recognized by their peers in the dog training world (do they speak at the Professional Pet Guild, Association of Professional Dog Trainers or Karen Pryor Clicker Expo conferences?)  Have they written any training books? How long was the course?  Is there hands on evaluation, or just video?  Are they tested, if so, what is tested…knowledge, teaching, training? Is continuing education required to keep the certification?

Armed with this information, you can now call and talk to the trainer.  Ask questions about the education provided by those courses, talk to them about the faculty or instructors.  Ask how they handle a situation where the dog is not learning.  Ask what type of corrections they use and equipment they use.  Be wary of the words “balanced”, “when used correctly” and “commands”.  Notice an emphasis on solving unwanted behavior that does not introduce teaching a different behavior (if jumping is the problem, are they wanting you to knee the dog, and/or tell the dog “no” or “off”)?  Or are they suggesting ignoring the unwanted behavior and training a sit or down (the dog can’t jump and sit at the same time) or possibly changing the environment to make it easier for the dog to sit instead of jump.

Now you have information to make a choice.  Follow your instincts, if it doesn’t feel or sound right, then look farther.  You owe it to yourself and your dog to find a trainer who will help you build a great relationship, one where your dog is eager to take part in training and one where you can’t wait to work with your dog.

If you have questions or would like more information about building a great foundation with your dog that will allow you both to thrive, please contact me and let’s see what we can do!

Jan Gould, KPA CTP

KPA, CTP: Karen Pryor Academy, Certified Training Partner

Knowledge, training and teaching assessed.

Such a Cute Baby and What a Great Dog!

Once again, a video is making the rounds on Facebook showing a very active toddler hugging, sitting and bouncing on the side of a Rottweiler who has been commanded to lay on the floor.

To the unknowing eye, the dog looks like a saint.  It lies there as the toddler bounces up and down on his ribs and loin area.  The child is even encouraged to give this dog a kiss.  He willingly obliges-smooching the dog on the muzzle.

This situation is however, anything but saintly.  It's just one minute and forty-five seconds of increasing stress and anxiety for the dog.  It's a bite or worse in the making.

The adults in this video encourage the child to continue inappropriate and probably painful interaction with this dog, all the while, the dog is begging for someone to make the toddler stop.

Dogs communicate through body language and this dog is screaming for help. How do we know this dog is acutely stressed?  The answer comes in many actions:

  1. Open mouthed panting.
  2. Tongue flicks (no fewer than 16 times).
  3. Whale eyes (you can see the white of the eye).
  4. Head tilt.
  5. He tries to remove himself from the baby.
  6. Shakes his head.
  7. Open mouth-stretched back lips.
  8. Pulled back ears.
  9. Closed mouth.

Luckily for the dog, the toddler grew tired of the game and left.  The dog could have bitten, he was growing more anxious and stressed by the second.  To the unknowing eye it would been the bite that ''came out of nowhere''.  No warning.  No indications.  No nothing.

The dog could have lost his life that day.  He could have gotten to the point where his instincts, due to the extremely big stress he was feeling, kicked in.  He had tried to flee and his owner called him back and commanded him to lie down on the floor where the baby was.

How much more did the dog have to say to get relief of a situation he was not comfortable in?   Sixteen tongue flicks and more than nine other cries in one minute and forty-five seconds.  But no one listened.

If you have little children and dogs, it is your responsibility to keep the interactions safe.  There should only be interaction when the dog can be watched closely for signs of stress.  If the dog wants to remove itself from the situation, please let it do so!  

Children need to be taught that animals are to be treated nicely and with respect.  

Above all, please spend a few minutes learning about dog body language, it could save your dog's life.

 

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Jan Gould, KPA CTP

KPA, CTP: Karen Pryor Academy, Certified Training Partner

Knowledge, training and teaching assessed.

I'm Positive Being Positive Works.

I love dogs.

No.  I'm positive I love dogs.

About 10 years ago, I entered the world of positive, force-free training.  I didn't know what it was at the time but it changed my life.

A short time later, I became a volunteer leader of a dog 4H club and started my six month old puppy in lessons for something called agility.  My experience in dog training up to this time was the choke collar and the pop of the leash when the dog did something you didn't want it to, such as pulling on the leash when walking.

Agility taught me a different way of training.  One focused on telling the dog when they were correct by rewarding the wanted behavior with praise, play or treats.  Being a 4H leader drove home the importance of positive training-for both dogs and people.  I saw first hand how flipping the focus from what's not wanted to rewarding the behavior you want, changed the training from frustration to joy for both the handler and the dog.

A few years later, I was asked to help my agility instructor with a beginning class.  That lead to substituting when she couldn't be available.  Then teaching my own classes.  Before you know it, I was completely hooked.  The number of classes I taught grew as did the different types of classes.  I co-developed the curriculum for the 9-16 week old puppy life skills class, developed and taught a beginning Treibball class while continuing my own progression from beginning agility classes to higher, more advanced skill levels.

Reading, attending seminars and weekly lessons, both taught and taken, keep me up-to-date on the science and techniques that make positive force-free training so effective.

I believe training dogs in a positive manner increases the bond between handler and dog.  The dogs become quicker learners and the skills taught are performed willingly, time after time.

If you are interested in a enjoying a well-trained dog and building a partnership focused on the positive, please give me a call.  I'm positive Dog Barn Training will have something positive for both you and your dog.

 

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Jan Gould, KPA CTP

KPA, CTP: Karen Pryor Academy, Certified Training Partner

Knowledge, training and teaching assessed.