How To Reinforce

 

What we use to reward/reinforce our dog is important, but so is HOW we reinforce. Here are the basics.

WHAT TO USE?

Cheese, liver, anything your dog likes to eat and can be broken down into small pieces. You can use larger food pieces but consider how much time it takes to chew up the treat, lick up all the crumbs, double and triple check for any missed crumbs – that is all time that could have been spent getting more reps in.

For training geeks: If vacuuming for crumbs is in our training cycle often, looking for crumbs becomes a part of the behaviour! You can use toys as well, providing your dogs like toys and is happy to work for them, but it takes more time than feeding a small treat. The more good reps you can get in, the faster your dog will learn!

EVENT MARKERS

You need a clear way to tell your dog they the moment they did something you like. When teaching your dog to sit, you can use a clicker to ‘click’ as your dog sits, or you can say “Yes” as your dog sits, and some people click with their tongue. Once you mark, then you can deliver a treat or toy or affection – whatever you are using as a reward. Watch the video, this isn’t as easy as it sounds!

We have multiple types of markers. In this lesson you will also see me demonstrate a “get it” marker which tells my dog I am about to toss the treat.

REINFORCEMENT

Your dog determines what is reinforcing. As much as I would love it if he did, my Riker does not find toys reinforcing. As much as I would love it, Enzo does not find touch reinforcing. A reinforcer is something your dog wants enough to work for in the current environment.

 

Bitey Nippy Puppies

Is your puppy driving you crazy biting and nipping at you?

If the traditional method of trading your bleeding hand with an appropriate toy isn’t working, here are some tips.

Over-tired?

Is the nipping primarily happening after a walk or in the evening? Does your puppy just go-go-go until he finally collapses?  Chances are your pup is over-tired, and there is absolutely no way to reason with or train an over-tired puppy.

Pups need an insane amount of sleep. A young puppy might have 9 hours asleep at night plus three 2-hour naps, and two 1-hour naps throughout the day.  Crate training your puppy is a great way to provide structure and help your pup get the sleep they need. You don’t need a crate, but you might need some way of restricting your pup’s movement.  If you have a puppy who needs more structure, try nap time in a laundry room or even a tether to the couch.

In the Video, I discuss common reasons for your sweet puppy being a bitey hellion, how to prevent it, and how to address it in the moment.

 

Gear

Having the right tools makes training your puppy easier. Here is a list of the equipment I like to have.

Treat Pouch

You can buy a treat pouch starting at about $12 at most pet supply stores or on amazon. Some people use a fanny pack or a chalk bag, it doesn’t really matter what you use as long as the treats can be easily accessed yet not in your hand.  Jean pockets do not work well, but a pocket on the front of your hoodie can. Keep in mind that you will sometimes have icky stinky treats and you might not want your clothes smelling that way 😉 A baggie inside your pocket will be too awkward to access quickly. A good treat pouch is one of the best investments you can make. Here are two of my favourites that are easy to use and last through my heavy use.   The larger is by Blue-9 and can hold my keys, phone, etc. It comes with a waist belt.  I tend to use it on long training walks or hikes.  The smaller is my main pouch made by RC Pets. It has a clip on the back and I can quickly move it from one pocket to another, or clip it onto my belt.

  

 

Harness, Collar, Head Halter

 

The best option depends on your puppy. If you have a sensitive dog who doesn’t pull much at all, a collar is likely fine. I prefer a wider option made of nylon, bio-thane, or leather. Nylon tends to be cheapest and since your pup will probably outgrow whatever you use now, is a great option.   I am not a fan of martingale collars (they look like a partial choke chain) as they work by collapsing your pup’s trachea when he pulls.   It probably goes without saying that I am not a fan of choke chains or pinch/prong collars. There are better options =)

If your dog pulls so hard in a collar that he makes choking noises or your arm and shoulder hurt, you should choose a different option.

Harnesses are great for light pullers. If you have a small dog, a harness with a clip on the back can work great. For larger dogs, a front clip harness such as the Balance Harness, Pet Safe 3-in-1, or Ruff Wear Front Range are great options. Avoid front clip harnesses that work by chaffing your dog’s armpits (Easy Walk for example).  Look for harnesses that have a ‘Y’ shape across the chest, not a ‘T’, and that sit a bit back from your pup’s armpit, out of the sensitive area that is easily irritated.

 

If your puppy pulls like a sled dog, you will likely want to use a head halter. My two favourite brands are Halti and Gentle Leader. These fit on your pup’s face similar to a halter on a horse. You can direct your puppy’s nose and therefore their body. Used incorrectly, head halters can be aversive, and dogs will learn to pull in them, similar to in the collar or harness.   If you use a head halter, please watch the video link that comes with it when you buy it, and send me a video or ask questions if you are having trouble.

No tool will teach your dog to walk nicely on a leash. Aside from that 1 in 100 puppy who is born with great leash manners, this skill is taught.  The equipment we choose can make teaching our puppy easier.

 

Leash & Long line

 

It is handy to have a 6’ leash and a long line 12’-15’.  The Dollar store sells 15’ leashes, but I wouldn’t trust them to hold a Great Dane.

I love leashes with a clip on each end. My favourite is made by Canine Equipment. These leashes are very versatile and allow for hands free training by connecting one end around your waist.

Flexi leashes instead of long lines can be great tools if you are careful. Never use one in a high risk environment such as along a busy street. The inner mechanisms can fray and wear and you don’t know until the leash snaps. There are tape and cord options. The cord can burn and cut you or your dog if it gets caught up when your dog is running or if it gets caught in the wheel of a bike. I do use a flexi regularly, and I think they can be great tools to give your puppy freedom to explore while staying attached to you.

Clicker (optional)

Clickers are inexpensive devices that make a sharp sound when you press them.  They are used to mark the moment your puppy does a something that earns reinforcement. Clickers are clear and concise and many people find that using them improves their timing and clarity.     If you don’t use a clicker, you will say “yes” to mark behaviours.

Food Toys

Food toys and chews are a must have for teething puppies who don’t yet know how to relax.   Instead of feeding your puppy from a bowl, which they might finish in 5.3 seconds, or leave to pick at throughout the day, feed their meals in toys that challenge their minds and satisfy their genetic need to forage and chew.

Here is a link explaining some of the toy and puzzle options: https://positive.dog/foodtoys/ .  I also keep bully sticks, dehydrated tendons hooves, and rib bones on hand.

If your Puppy is frustrated and not eating from the toy, it too difficult.  Add more water, don’t freeze it, or otherwise make it easier for your puppy. Settling and chewing on a toy is a learned behaviour for most puppies.

Rotate the chews! If you only have one type of chew, or leave the same bully stick with your puppy, it ceases to be interesting. Have a few that you keep as special incentive to help them settle after they exercise, when you have company, etc.

Confinement Training

Be sure that even though you are home a lot right now, you help your puppy feel safe and confident when alone. Help your puppy become used to being confined with you at home but in another room, as well as with you leaving the home. Practice during the day when the sun is up and you are moving about, not only at night.

Some people use a laundry room or an entrance way, others use a crate or an ex-pen. Regardless of how you choose to contain your puppy, be sure it is safe from hazards and has a few appropriate chew and play items in it.

In this crazy time where many of us are off work or working from home, I am worried that we will raise puppies who are never left alone and who develop separation anxiety because of it.

The confinement area is not used to punish your puppy. Instead, think of using this area as giving your puppy the structure they need to be successful.  After exercise and a mental workout, place your puppy in their area with 2 or 3 amazing chews. These should be items they haven’t yet seen today. To start, keep the area quiet if you can.  If you have a busy home, or loud neighbours, quietly play a radio or TV to mask the sounds.

My personal preference is to use crates in the car and bedroom or when I go out, and an ex-pen during the day when I am home to allow for a little more room.  If you choose to use a room, a baby gate across the door (two stacked for the jumpers) can make the process less stressful for everyone.

My puppy Jubilee came with anxiety about crates, so I used an ex-pen to start.  She will grow up to be a sport dog who will need to be happy in a crate at events, so I couldn’t avoid this challenge. Here we are working on building confidence:

 

COVID19 Socializing

Don’t worry. I have a plan =)

 

Body Language

 

Our puppies only know how to communicate with us their language. We need to know enough to understand when they are telling us they are anxious, overwhelmed, or downright terrified. If we listen to them when they communicate using subtle body language, we will build trust and a stronger bond. When we don’t know enough to see the signs, or intentionally ignore the subtle communication, then puppies can resort to growling, lunging and biting, or simply shutting down.    It is important that we learn to read canine body language to help them be their best selves in a human world.

This is a must read for all dog owners:

http://en.turid-rugaas.no/calming-signals—the-art-of-survival.html

And here is a slide show of photos with explanations:

http://en.turid-rugaas.no/calming-signals-photos.html