Thursday, June 15, 2017

Do you know what you are rewarding or reinforcing?

Do you pay attention to how and when you interact with your dog all (ALL) of the time? For example, when you are letting them out for their morning pee do you just open the door and let them go? Then you probably are not aware of how your actions and reactions affect the behavior of the dog. In the above example, if you allow the dog to charge out the door every day then why would they not think that is okay when you open the front door and visitors arrive? Being observant and setting criteria for behavior that matters to you through reward and reinforcement will help with a cohesive relationship full of understanding and good manners.

Here are some examples on how you may be reinforcing your dog and not even aware of it:

Attention
Attention is a VERY strong reinforcement.  Much behavior gets created and maintained by attention alone.  For example leash biting.  The more you tell your dog to stop biting the leash the more you are interacting with your dog, therefore, the more you are reinforcing the behavior (read: vicious circle).  Jumping, the more you push your dog down the more you are rewarding them for jumping.  Getting too far away off leash (ranging), the more you call your dog back for going too far the further he will go so you will call him back.

You!
I see this a lot when it comes to being able to catch your dog.  The dog is off leash and the owner goes to catch the dog and the dog keeps backing up (and moving away).  Owner reaches into their pocket pulls out a cookie and the dog allows himself to be caught (huh!?!). Think about it? What did the dog learn from this interaction?
Another situation I see is the owner asks the dog to sit; the dog stands there and looks at them without sitting (you know this look well don’t you? I sure do!).  Owner reaches into their pocket and pulls out a cookie and the cues the sit, the dog sits (again I say “huh!?!”).  What rewarded the behavior in this situation?

In both of these situations, the owner reaching for a cookie is what is rewarding the behavior, not what you asked of them.

The Environment
The environment rewards our dogs all the time. For example, dogs pulling on the leash. The dog quickly learns when I want to see something I just pull towards it and I can get to it.  By allowing the dog to pull you forward you are rewarding the behavior.

So how do you solve this problem?
Well first, you need to pay attention to your dog, your surroundings and yourself and actually SEE what is being reinforced and rewarded in the situation? Observation and self-awareness are the keys to managing situations that you don’t want to happen. In our first example of letting the dog out to pee, if every time you go to a door you ask your dog for a ‘sit’ and release them outside with a release word (Okay, break, free etc.) would this solve your problems at the front door as well?

Shake-a-Paw Basic Manner Classes and Private in home consultations help you become an observant and self-aware dog owner. If there are some nasty behaviors or just little things that drive you crazy, then reach out to us. We would love to help!


Sunday, January 1, 2017

To Pee Pad or Not to Pee Pad

How to House Train Your Puppy to use Pee Pads

Canadian winters often with wind chills of -30°C or lower are best enjoyed from the warmth and comfort of the indoors. However, life with a young four-legged companion usually means going out in any weather condition. Woe is the naked dog ... especially a small naked dog.

The temptation to teach your puppy to go on a pee pad is strong. Really who wants to house train a puppy in the dead of winter? Standing outside for five minutes or more waiting for your puppy to do his business is nobody's idea of fun and it's definitely not fun for your puppy.

Training with pee pads can create habits that are difficult to break for your dog. Pee pads can tell your dog that it's ok to relieve himself on any absorbent surface in your home. Repeated use of a pee pad in the same area conditions your dog to do his business there with or without a pad. Challenges aside, sometimes pee pads are a necessary evil in the house training of a puppy. Here are some suggestions for making them work; 

Always follow puppy house training rules.  Puppy’s need to be taken out approximately every hour,  when they wake up, finish eating and a few minutes after play.  Most puppies suddenly stop moving around and start sniffing right before they go.  Every puppy is different but if you are observing your puppy you will soon learn his/her cues that they are about to eliminate.
  1. Establish a pee room. Naturally the bathroom is a perfect pee room!
  2. When your puppy has to pee, take him to the bathroom, put down the pee pad. (At first, you can cover the whole floor with pee pads and then remove pads reducing to only one as habits are formed);
  3. Close the door to confine puppy in the bathroom with you in there.
  4. When your puppy relieves himself, praise and reward  him with a treat usually I use their kibble.
  5. Clean up the mess and leave the bathroom. Don't forget to close the door behind you. Keeping the bathroom door closed at all times, helps the dog understand that the bathroom is the place to go to relieve himself and that he needs to let you know when he needs to go.

As the weather gets warmer, you can start taking him outside when they go to the bathroom door. Eventually, they will start asking to go potty at the outside door instead of the bathroom door. The key is to keep the bathroom door closed so he never gets an opportunity to go potty in the bathroom for at least six months after the last time you allowed it.

You can use the same technique to train your dog to use a litter box. Dog-sized litter boxes and special dog litter are available from your local pet store. Treat the litter box the same as a bathroom in your house. Don't change the location of the box, put an x-pen around it. If he enters the litter box, don't let him out until he performs his business. Once he's done, reward him and let him out. It's about shaping behaviour.

What other methods have you tried in meeting your dog's bathroom needs? Let us know by commenting below!

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Where and how you reward your dog makes a big difference to the final product.

Treat placement is a big part of teaching any behaviour.  Treat placement will help the dog understand where to look, where to focus and what he should be concentrating on.
Food being held high encouraging dog to jump

Dog owners tend to feed their dogs where they are holding the food, for example in front of them at waist height.  Where this becomes a concern, is when dogs end up learning to jump for food.  If the food is held high,
Food offered low and in the centre of your body
when the dog approaches the dog is looking up and therefore more likely to jump towards the food.  What I see a lot is dog jumps, gets told to sit and then gets rewarded.  This will build the jumping behaviour into coming and into the sight of food means jump for it.  Instead, when dog comes offer the food in the centre of your body and below the height of the dog's chin.

 This way the dog will always look down for the food and never think of jumping up because that is not where the food is delivered.

When teaching any stationary behaviour, like sit, down or stand, you want to make sure you reward the dog in the position.  If your dog is in a down and you reward with his head high the dog will eventually start to lift his elbows when you are coming down with the reward.  I reward under their chin, when I don't want to bend that far I throw it in between their elbows, always encouraging looking down.

Another example is teaching a dog to go into a crate.  Whenever you teach a behaviour, your first task is to picture what exactly you want the dog to do.  For this example, I am not worried about the verbal cue, just the dog going in quickly and smoothly.  If I reward out of my hand, after they have gone in, then the behaviour I am creating is going in and spins back to get the cookie.  Not bad, but since we don't like to bend, you will probably start feeding them further from the door of the crate and soon your dog runs in, spins and runs out of the crate.  If instead, you reward at the back of the crate, by throwing the reward as soon as your goes in, your dog will drive in looking at the back.

Always remember, if your dog is not learning what you are trying to teach him, check out your reward placement. That might be your answer.




Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Feeding Your Dog

There is a lot of debate about what and how much to feed your dog.  Let me start by saying these are my opinions.  I am not a vet and am not endorsed by any dog food company.  I have had dogs for over 20 years and have always considered proper nutrition to be an important part of keeping my dogs in good shape, content and comfortable though their competition ages and into old age.

The first thing I tell all my students is - feed your dog the best food you can afford.  I am not denying that buying a high quality dog food is hard on the wallet but I truly believe that if you spend on food your will save at the vets office.  I am often surprised how dog owners will feed a lower quality dog food and then spend money on treats and toys.  Dogs fed a good diet have less skin issues, stomach issues, allergy issues... the list goes on.  As they age, well-fed dogs have less joint issues and look and smell better.  Once you start studying foods there is a lot of information out there and it is hard to decide.  I recommend checking out the Whole Dog Journal's list of approved dog foods.  This magazine accepts no advertisers and research dog food companies independently - a great list to start with.  Another piece of advice is - change it up, go ahead buy a different brand every time you buy dog food, variety is a good thing.

Regardless of what it says on the bag, how much you should feed your dog is decided by your dog.  Get your hands on the dog... Do you feel ribs? Is his belly tucked up? Can you see a waist from above?  All these indicators will let you know if your dog needs more or less food.  Here is an article that I feel does a great job in explaining what a dog at the correct weight should look like.  The amount you feed your dog should be constantly adjusted to life.  For example my 6 year old Border Collie this summer still goes out for a run and plays every day. But in the house its hot so, he does a lot of sleeping. I have already cut his food by 2/3 cup in the last month and am about to take it down another 1/4 cup.

Next month we will talk about what you should add and what you shouldn't to your dogs food.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

How to Get Your Puppy to Enter and Remain in His Crate



There are a number of basic skills and commands that all puppies and owners should know. These include “come”, “sit”, “down”, and “stay”. Another highly useful skill for any puppy is going into the crate on cue and staying in there quietly.

Going into the crate on cue is easy and usually pretty strong within a couple of weeks. Here are a few tips and reminders.

  1. Don't have a discussion with the puppy about going in the crate. Just pick him up and put him in.
  1. As soon as the dog is put in the crate, throw kibble in from behind him so it lands in front of him. Reward him EVERY time.  Very quickly, your dog will run into the crate and wait for a reward whenever you move towards the crate. The more you repeat this pattern, the stronger the behaviour becomes. You can also feed meals in the crate as another way to build value.

Staying in the crate is much more challenging to teach. Be patient as it may take a number of years before the dog can sit quietly in their crate regardless of what’s going on outside the crate. Here are a few things to try.


  1. Use a large portion of your puppy’s meal as a reward for sitting quietly in the crate.
  1. Exercise your puppy. A tired puppy is much more likely to play quietly or sleep in his crate
  1. Keep your puppy occupied while he’s in the crate. Ideas include: baby carrots, chewies (I prefer not to use rawhide), frozen Kongs (go to www.kongcompany.com for great ideas), raw bones, roll a treat, egg cartons, etc.
  1. Be patient. Unfortunately, you will probably have to let your puppy bark it out. He needs to learn how to settle himself down.


Training a puppy isn’t an exact science. It takes time and repetition.

What kind of cue do you give your puppy to get him to go into his crate? Share your command by commenting below!

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

How to Get Your Puppy to Respond to His Name

Training begins from the moment you pick up your new best friend. Along with house training, teaching your puppy his name is one of the first skills to be taught.

  1. Begin training after your puppy has gone to the bathroom. This will help him focus.

  1. Create an incentive for your puppy to come to you. Food is a great reward, so try doing this exercise before meal time using some of their kibble. Sit on the floor with a bowl of kibble. Give your puppy a treat when he comes to you. If your puppy wanders around the room and ignores you, try the exercise in a smaller room or with a different higher value reward. However, if he is happily in front of you waiting for more, then it is time to move on.

  1. Stand right in front of your dog say his/her name and offer the reward in such a way that they have to move towards you to get it.  Not far about an inch.  Repeat this exercise until the dog is happily and confidently moving towards you.

  1. The final step is saying your puppy’s name and take a step backwards. As your puppy moves toward you, give him the reward.

Conduct this exercise multiple times a day. Limit the rewards to about 10 per session. Remember, repetition is habit forming. No matter how old your dog gets, name calling exercises reinforces your dog to come when he’s called. Mix it up with easy and more challenging scenarios.

What other name calling scenarios have you tried? Share your tricks by commenting below

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

How to Manage Your New Puppy in His New Home

Managing a puppy’s environment is key to helping him make the right choices. Management is ever changing as the puppy goes through different stages so be ready to adapt when you see unwanted behaviours.

Keys to Managing the Environment


Great puppy set up.  An X-pen keeps puppy contained.
A piece of linoleum keeps clean up easy and protects
the hardwood.
1.       Create a space that your puppy can call his own like a crate or a pen. This is your puppy’s safe space. Place the crate in a spot where you will spend a lot of your time. This will ensure that your puppy will be included in all goings on. It will also allow you to supervise your new buddy, discouraging unwanted behaviours. Some place close to the outside door will be handy in the event he needs to go to the bathroom.

2.       Create boundaries for your puppy. Populate your puppy’s crate with his things: blanket, toys, water bucket, and appropriate things to chew. This helps your puppy to associate the items in his space as his and things outside of his space as off-limits.

3.       Establish a routine. Repetition forms habits. A prime example of this is house training. The object is to not let him relieve himself indoors. Begin by taking your puppy out every hour to go to the bathroom and slowly increase the time between outings.  But be prepared to adapt, if an hour is too long make it every 30 minutes or less, if necessary to start. Take the same route to go outside each time: pen, outside, bathroom. Pen, outside, bathroom. Very quickly, your puppy will understand that the only place to relieve himself is outside.

Following these three principles sets you up to teach your puppy many skills. And it’s never too late to start managing your dog’s environment. Give it a try and let me know how you make out by commenting below.