Thursday, October 17, 2013

"Positive" Reinforcement

Let's talk about positive reinforcement. The term "positive reinforcement" is often misused by marketing companies and those that sell toys or devices or even training for dogs. It's used to provide a description or a name for a product that they want you to think is happy, and produces positive thoughts or outcome for your dog. And everyone wants their dog to be happy, hence the intentional misuse and eventual misinterpretation of the word  "positive".

So let's breakdown the phrase.
Positive = the adding to
Reinforcement = anything causing a situation or behavior to repeat

In the terms of training, the phrase positive means adding to, not, positive as in: good and happy. So anything that you do with your voice, touch, leash, electronic collars, rattle can, etc are going to be adding to a situation. Now if those things that you add to the situation cause of behavior to repeat, then you are reinforcing. And the behavior will repeat again because of the reinforcement it received the last time.

Example: a dog in the other room is barking from its kennel, you, from your bedroom yell, "no!" The dog goes quiet for a few seconds, then begins to bark again. You repeat, "No!" Again the dog is quiet for a few seconds then continues to bark.

In your mind the word "no" is a reprimand, the punishment for the dog doing something that you don't approve of. After all you do need your beauty sleep.  In the dog's mind they are merely seeking your attention, they can't see you, they can't hear you, so in order to get that attention, they do whatever it is that will get it. In this case it's barking. They are rewarded by merely hearing your voice. You have added to the situation. This in turn reinforces the parking. And so you are POSITIVELY reinforcing the behavior.

Training your dog is not merely giving it treats and putting a leash on it. There are portions of Psychology with you can pull from and learn so much more about how a dog thinks. This is the part that I find fascinating. We can guide our dogs to be better pets, partners, family members by understanding how they understand the world. They don't use logic or reasoning so its not as easy as sitting them down to explain why you have done something. Once you understand how they see the world and interact with it, your next training session will be much more fun and in-depth than you ever expected!

Happy training!

Suggested  reading:

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Rewarding Your Dog

"I've been praise training him and its going great! "

So, consider this:

Your boss tells you from now on he's gonna give tickets to the local opera as payment from now on,instead of money! Yay! They are worth hundreds of dollars each! However,  you can't resell or trade them away, but you can still go as your payment, right? what if your boss told you that he was going to hand out gold nuggets instead of those Opera tickets? Would you then be more inclined to accept them as payment?

Well, as much as a dog may love your "payment" of a head pat and "good girl" it the same or better to her as a chunk of hot dog or other treat? If no...then you are forcing your opinion of a "good reward" on her...if so, then there's no problem.

WE have to be honest in our approach to what works and what doesn't...just cause WE think something is good for them, doesn't mean it's going to be something that gets the best response from them!

Experiment with your dog. Try different rewards, and see if they bring out better results. many dogs like different things, you may find that one magical items at the dog will do anything  for.

Many of the store bought treats may have a good taste of them but may not be overly nutritious, as long as you're not feeding  "too much" to them during training, then it shouldn't  too much of a concern. However don't overfeed them anything that's bad for them. Ever. Refer to the product description and ingredients, and always confer with your vet if you have concerns. over. Go lay down.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Leash Work or Line Handling

It's called different things, Leash work, line handling, leash control, etc.

But the connection from you to your dog is as important as speech is at times. Your dog, whether you realize it or not,  listens to everything that you say through your leash. If you're sad, distracted, mad, whatever your emotion is, guaranteed it will be transmitted down that line. The leash also transmits corrections or tugs that you do intentionally, but at the same time they transmit how you hold your hand,  where you hold it, and the little things that you do that you don't even realize you've done. If you talk with your hands you should be careful about waiting them around as you're talking to others. The dog will get used to this behavior, but in the wrong instance they can take it as a correction should you yank the collar.

Looking at the leash itself, it can be made out of many things, but either way it is either loose or tense during its use. It is used by many people to make sure the dog doesn't run off, this is  can be a sign of an untrained or poorly trained animal. The leash should be there for the dog safety, and any laws or ordinances the required. A well trained dog should never have to held back or restrained in some way so that it doesn't go somewhere or do something with the handler does not want. If you have a good training, and acceptable circumstances around you, you should be able to bring your dog back to you by voice, or not have the dog leave in the first place by training. (Part of our responsibility as dog owners or canine handlers, is to expose the dogs different situations with their training so that we, and they, are prepared and we'll know what they're going to do in those situations. Not every situation can be prepared for or exposed to the dog, so when it does happen, instead of being upset by the situation, use it as a training opportunity. Or mark it down for an opportunity later in that dogs training.)

In a well trained dog's circumstance the leash can be used to communicate to the dog upcoming left or right turns so that the dog knows which way to turn, but even that can be done away with if the dog is already paying attention to your feet and your direction.

So aside from training, let's look at the uses and proper handling for the leash.

Types of leashes: The type of leash you choose  is completely up to the owner or the handler. You can find them in nylon, cotton, leather, even fake leather. It's up to your hands as to what is comfortable and safe. Another thing to consider is length. Standard length seems to be four or six foot long. You can get shorter lengths but there tends to be more tugging on short leashes by those that don't have  good training with their dogs. And with a leash longer than 6 foot there tends to be a lot of confusion and stepping on leashes, getting them wrapped around things, and the dog tripping over them. So I would stay with the standard length of 6 or 4 foot. For training I usually use a 4-foot lead as it allows me enough room to let the dog make choices and be right or wrong with out unwanted pressure on their collars. And there's not a lot of balling up of leash or winding it up so the dog can be next to me and not have a whole bunch of leash laying on them or around them.

For advanced obedience and teaching your dog to stay or come, using a long lead can come in handy as well. Long leads can be anywhere from 10 to 30 feet long. You can buy them at pet stores or even at feed stores. Usually they come in cotton.

Handling of the leash: Pick a side that you want your dog to walk on. Its okay for the dog to walk on both sides, however start with one side for your initial training and teach the dog how to do it properly, then you can incorporate the other side after the dog learns the basics. Whether its left to right is completely up to the handler. Sometimes this matters due to the handler being right or left handed. If it's a service dog there may be other implications or reasons to having the dog on one side or the other.

The leash itself should make a "U", coming down from your hand and looping back up before touching the ground, to the dogs collar. There should be no tension on the leash where the dog is pulling a handler. Again we're not going to go into how to train a dog not to pull, merely how the leash should be handled. If the dog makes a change from one side to the other or has to navigate around objects, your job is to keep the leash clear of their legs and the objects that they maneuver around. If you're not successful, the leash can hang up on you, the dog, or said objects and can provide a correction. It may not be an intentional correction, but in the dog's mind there was a yank on their coller that stopped their forward movement. You'll notice when this happens the dog looks back to you as if to say, what did I do? You don't need to make any fuss,  you may merely need to clear the line and continue on your way.

If you're a dog owner, your job is to provide a comfortable and loving home and experience for the dog. Good training and good equipment will help you in this challenge. If you are a service dog owner or handler, your job is to do the same, as well decrease the need for micro managing so that they can do their job and provide for their handler. Good training a good equipment goes a long way to making the life and job as a dog easier. And in turn this makes our lives easier! And more enjoyable for everyone!


Friday, June 21, 2013

Learning to Read Your Dog as Well as She Reads You

Learning to Read Your Dog as Well She Reads You

We all communicate in some way or another, even if it's not verbally.

The majority of the animal kingdom communicates in other ways besides audible noises, and humans are no different. But for thousands of years we've developed an amazing language base that differs in so many ways that we barely know what we HUMANS are saying...let alone those that are not human! And in focusing on one type of communication (talking), we seem to have forgotten to listen in other ways!

So, as with all relationships, communication is Key. Gaining a way to communicate with your dog is your first step into developing a working relationship that will benefit both of you. Without it, neither of you will know what the heck the other expects from them!

The first step in doing this is learning how to get your dogs' attention. She needs the right motivation first. After all, would you pay attention to a guy mumbling at you on the side of the road, stumbling back and forth? Or the pretty girl with a nice demeanor handing you a $100 bill? It's all about what motivates us as to what gets results.

So, learn what your dog LOVES...not "likes". Like only gets you so far. Love will take your dog to the limit. Get her favorite toys and treats out...then get another brand. Play with her and see what she goes for most. Then try little chunks of hotdogs, cheese, bacon, boiled or grilled chicken. Find that one thing that your dog goes bananas for! (Please refer to your vet's advice on any allergy your dog may have or be at risk for when attempting new foods and treats).

Once you have found that magic food (or toy), you can begin!

Your first step in gaining communication with your dog, or reinforcing it with the dog you already have worked with is to play the name game or "Watch Me" or whatever you want to call it..

Play with her for a minute or two, just moving around and handing her a treat, move around hand her a she becomes more comfortable with this fun and easy game, begin to say her name and when she looks directly at you, even for a split second, tell her "Good girl" or "yes" or whatever word you want to use. (Remember this word and keep using it in the same tone and inflection each time, as it will be your "Marker" word down the line for all your commands!)

Each time she looks at you after you say her name, reward with a Marker word and treat... do this a lot...A LOT! If she wanders or breaks contact with you, move around...when she comes back, offer the treat and say her name again... reward! Make it fun and a big deal! The more fun it is, the more she'll wanna do it again.

When you can say her name and she'll stop what she is doing to stare into your face each time... you've taught the command :)

Congratulations, you have built a bridge to your dog...this behavior can be taught in a calm, home environment, then in busier and busier areas until the dog will look at you while a pack of dogs runs by after the Oscar Meyer weiner mobile!

Communication begins with the small things, and while this seems very small, you'd be surprised how many times it'll come into play in basic and advanced obedience.

Good training!