What is your overall training philosophy?
Using the “Force” instead of force
Remember Yoda when he was teaching Luke Skywalker for the first time? Luke wanted to force everything. He always had his blaster and light saber ready. Luke was not patient. Yoda teaches Luke that the “Force” is feeling the energy connecting him to all living things, working with that and letting things happen.
Using non-forceful techniques in dog training is like this, although it is not always quite so mystical. True, there are moments when you and your dog connect on an almost mystical level…and there are also plenty of times when you are simply trying to connect with your dog at all! Training techniques based in a solid foundation of positive reinforcement and classical and operant conditioning give us a non-forceful way to connect with your dog and teach them what we want them to do.
We must establish a relationship of trust and never break that trust. We must first come to understand how our dogs learn and perceive. We communicate with them in ways that they can understand. We meet our dogs on their terms, not ours. We let dogs come to us, to volunteer the behavior, then we reward it. We are not choking or dragging or shocking our dogs! Instead we are teaching them, setting up the situations that will make it simple for them to learn, and letting them know when they get it right. Now the dogs are learning. Now we are using “the Force” to create a partnership without force.
Using these techniques does take more time and patience than old school forms of training using force. However, the ultimate reward of a lifetime true partnership with your dog is worth it!
What are things that you emphasize in your training?
I emphasize that patience and consistency are the most important skills in working with animals. Dogs like consistency. Dogs like a routine. These things help them know what to do and what to expect. For an animal that does not “speak” human, this helps reduce anxiety. Dogs like calm. This helps them relax. Dogs like exercise. This keeps them healthy, happy and relaxed. Often an anxious dog will start to calm down once a steady routine is established. A destructive dog will find calm and purpose when exercised and taught what they need to do. A shy dog will gain confidence as they are trained and rewarded for performing even simple tasks.
I also emphasize that people need to take little steps at a time when training. It is very tempting to push a dog too far too fast; introduce too many distractions before a behavior is proofed under one set of distractions. One must take the time to make sure a behavior is solid, before slowly asking more.
What do you mean about taking things slowly?
I like to set up for success, often starting with simple, even contrived situations, which will allow your dog to focus on one thing at a time without distractions. This will allow you and your dog the greatest chance for success, which can be rewarded and built upon. This will build you and your dog’s confidence.
Once we have achieved success in simple situations, we can gradually introduce distractions and more real life situations for your dog as we continue to encourage and shape desired behavior. I find that the most common mistake made by people training their dogs is that they put their dog at too high of a distraction level too soon; for instance asking their dog to come to them in a dog park when their dog has yet to come to them every time they are requested to do so in their own back yard without any other dogs or distractions around.
How do dog sports and dog training go together?
When you are training a dog in a sport, you are using the same techniques we would use in a basic obedience class. I find that often when training for a dog sport, people and dogs are having so much fun that they don’t even realize they are “training”. Also, dog sports are a great way to review some basic tasks such as “come”, “watch”, “sit”, “stay”, “leave it” that were once learned in a basic obedience class, but now have relevance to doing a sport well.
Additionally, I cannot promote exercise with your dog enough! Exercise helps both canines and humans relax and stay healthy! Plus, by doing a sport, you are exercising together and interacting, building a working relationship together.
You are both having fun, staying healthy, getting exercise, forming a team…how much better can it get?
What is Marker Training and Targeting?
Marker training is a form of operant conditioning in which you use a signal (your voice saying “yes”, or a clicker or a whistle, etc) to let your dog know the instant they perform the behavior you want. Your dog has been conditioned to associate the signal or “mark” with something good and you can use that same concise signal to let your dog know they “got it right.”
Targeting is teaching your dog to go to or follow a target such as your hand, a target stick, a plastic plate of peanut butter etc. We use targeting (along with other techniques) when we are teaching dog tricks or training sports like agility or flyball. We also use it to direct dogs to an object or tell them to go in a specific direction while training service dogs or therapy dogs.
Why are you opposed choke collars, shock collars and other “training collars”?
There are several reasons:
1. They can physically hurt a dog. Would you like to be trained with one on your neck? Choke collars can give a dog tracheal abrasions and pose risks for spinal injuries. Dogs with pushed in noses (for instance pugs, boxers and other “brachycephalic” dogs) should only wear harnesses due to the structure of their noses, faces and necks which make it hard for them to breath. Shock collars do just that… deliver shock and pain to a dog … no matter what euphemistic word you want to use!!
2. Side effects of shock/choke collars include inappropriate association between the shock/choke and another experience. For instance, the dog receives a shock/choke while looking at another dog, child, person, place etc. The dog now associates the other dog, child, person, place with something bad and pain. Now the dog has fear and and most likely aggression (from fear) towards other dogs, children, people, places similar to that place.
In my experience training people to use marker techniques and positive reinforcement, it can be challenging for people to master timing. Missed timing using positive reinforcement may teach an dog to do the wrong thing (which we can then easily re-teach the dog to do the desired behavior), but it will not teach a dog to be fearful and aggressive. In studies it has been shown that most people, even after receiving training for shock collar use, still do not master timing, thus leading to the dangerous and adverse reactions listed above and continued below.
3. These type of collars lead to increased stress levels as measured in heart rates and increased levels of cortisol (a stress hormone).
4. The use of these types of collars can also lead to confusion, depression and shut-down in sensitive breeds of dogs or sensitive individual dogs.
5. Using these types of training tools becomes a “crutch” for people. Rather than coming to understand how their dog learns, creating a learning partnership with their dog and teaching their dog what to do, these tools merely create a crutch for controlling, rather than changing behavior.
6. Any type of aversive training will teach a dog not to volunteer behavior (even if it is helpful) because they become afraid that they might get hurt or punished for it. This type of training kills creativity and confidence in dogs and limits their ultimate potential as working partners with us.
Because of the inhumanity and lack of effectiveness of shock collars, countries such as Germany and Wales have banned their use and sale. Other countries around the world are considering similar measures.
What do you mean you don’t use any form of “dominance ” type training?
Training needs to take into consideration the unique evolutionary relationship between dogs and humans.
First, the underlying tenet of dominance training is based upon flawed observations and conclusions about wolf pack society. Moreover, even though dogs and wolves are genetically related, dogs are dogs, wolves are wolves and humans are humans. Dogs have evolved to live with humans over tens of thousands of years. Recent studies are revealing that dogs have evolved talents to accurately “read” human behavior and body language in a way that wolves do not, and even chimpanzees do not. Dogs see us and relate to us as humans, not dogs and certainly not wolves.
By approaching all training and behavior modification from only the point of view of dominance, one misses several important causes of behavior. First of these might be a medical condition of the dog (pain, sickness, injury, hormonal or chemical imbalances, genetic diseases). A lethargic dog is not “lazy” or “defiant”; they might be sick and need to be taken to a veterinarian!
Other causes of behavior problems in dogs that have nothing to do with being “dominant” can be anxiety, stress, fear, confusion, boredom, frustration, over excitement, past life experiences, neglect or abuse.
Finally, “dominance” is yet just another crutch that people can use to ignore the fact that they need to simply teach their dog what it is they want their dog to do, and reward their dog for doing it.
For a more in depth discussion of this topic here is a good link from the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior’s position statements on dominance.
Does positive-based reinforcement training mean your dog gets to do whatever it wants to?
No. Training your dog is like being a good parent. It is important to set boundaries and to be consistent in enforcing them. This consistency will make it easier for your dog to learn what you want and to to establish a routine. It will also decrease the anxiety level in your dogs life, as they know what to do, and what is expected.
Does positive reinforcement training mean that you give dogs food all of the time?
Positive reinforcement involves finding what motivates a dog and giving that to them as a reward. For many dogs, food is a motivator and we do use it as a teaching aid along with praise. However, I also like to use even stronger motivators that we call “life rewards” to encourage a dog to keep a behavior over the long term. Food is helpful for teaching a dog what to do, but once we can see that a dog knows what to do, we use food only every now and then and we find stronger “life rewards” to use. “Life rewards” can include praise, attention, playing with other dogs, playing with us, “working” at their “job”, freedom to explore (including sniffing and smelling!), freedom to run, freedom to swim and freedom to use the instincts they were born with. One of the greatest ways to connect with your dog is to figure out what motivates them. The greatest life reward for most dogs is inclusion into our daily lives as a companion and a partner.
Will you train my dog for me then give it back so I don’t have to do the training?
You need to be the one actually training your dog because you are the one establishing a relationship with your dog. I am happy to coach, educate, teach, demonstrate and help, but the relationship that needs to form is between you and your dog. Additionally, sometimes behavior change requires that we change things in the dog’s living environment, which means working with you to change that. What we want to accomplish is lasting change and a lasting relationship between you and your dog.
I chose an “easy breed” of dog for companionship and a family dog. Do I still need to train it?
Absolutely! Dogs are like children. Would you ever consider not teaching your child house manners? Dogs need to learn what is acceptable and what is not. Even if you have just brought home a new puppy, it is time to guide them through learning what your house manners are before they turn into an adolescent dog in a few short months! It is utterly unfair to a dog to let them jump all over you when they are a cute puppy then someday as they grow into a dog, punish them for jumping on you when that is exactly what you taught them to do as a puppy! Decide on your house manners at the beginning, gently and kindly teach your new dog what those manners are, and be consistent about those on a daily basis.
What do you mean by the power of positive reinforcement?
Positive reinforcement based training creates a motivated, confident and happy dog as well as builds a healthy relationship between you and your dog.
Dogs performing at the highest levels as therapy, search and rescue, service dogs and athletes in sports are trained using positive reinforcement techniques. These dogs have been given not just food rewards but praise and life rewards. They have been encouraged to not only offer the behavior we are seeking, but to have the confidence to problem solve and create their own unique solutions. They are shown praise and appreciation for their contributions to our lives on a daily basis. And when you get a chance to see the look and carriage of a dog that knows they have done a good job, a dog that is proud of their purpose in life, you will know the power of positive-based training.