Category: Dog Training

I share training videos so people can see how a moderately educated non-professional trainer does stuff. Sometimes I set a good example, and sometimes I show you what not to do. Many of these posts have demonstration videos. Enjoy!

Calling My Dog off Rabbit Scent at Night

Calling My Dog off Rabbit Scent at Night

A black and white photo shows a bright white dog standing in a dark backyard with leaves on the ground. The dog is alert and his tail is curled over his back.

I love training recall. When my dogs come to me, I love making it worth their while. I love being generous with treats, toys, and fun.

It’s hard to stage a surprise recall with Lewis. Whenever he is lingering in the yard and I get the bright idea to go get a high-value treat and practice his recall, I find him waiting for me at the door when I get back. He and his nose are too smart for their own good. (He’s not the first one of my dogs to have that problem!) But the other night he was very turned on by recent rabbit visits in the yard. He was enjoying it so much I let him spend quite a bit of time out there. I sat on the cold cast iron patio chair longer than usual, taking occasional videos while he galloped, paused, stopped, sniffed, and galloped some more.

He was so engrossed that I was able to go into the house and get a sizable chunk of roast chicken. I came out, he was still engrossed (and out of sight), and I called him.

Sound warning in the video: jingling tags.

One thing you can’t tell from the video is the large quantity of chicken I gave him because my hand was initially out of the frame. By the time I moved the camera, the food was already down the hatch.

A brown and white dog has his mouth on the palm of a woman's hand, having just eaten a treat she was holding.
By the time of this frame, Lewis had already sucked the chicken right down

I’ve stopped doing the often-recommended practice of parceling out multiple pieces of food to make the reinforcement activity last longer. This is a personal decision, based on three things.

1. Dr. Erica Feuerbacher’s recent research about treat delivery.

2. A comment by Ken Ramirez in his book, The Eye of the Trainer. It’s a short section on drawn-out treat delivery on page 47.

3. Observation of my own dogs.

Oh yeah, one more thing: it’s easier!

I’m not suggesting anyone else change their practice; I know that giving multiple treats is part of some brilliant recall methods. There are probably good reasons to do it either way. I hope to write a post about my decision later.

But in the meantime, I didn’t want anybody to think I was being skimpy. That was a mondo piece of chicken Lewis got!

Then, on impulse, I sent him back out to explore again. Why not strengthen that recall just a little more?

Related Posts

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Oops, I Trained the Better than Perfect Recall
Teaching Your Dog to Self-Interrupt
Safety Behaviors: Down at a Distance and Recalls

Copyright 2022 Eileen Anderson

“No” Is Not a Behavior . . . But That’s Not the Problem with Saying It

“No” Is Not a Behavior . . . But That’s Not the Problem with Saying It

Lewis, a brown and white dog, is lying on a leather couch holding a snuffle mat between his paws. He is looking at the camera.

I don’t think this post is going to win a popularity contest, but here goes anyway. I can’t get it off my mind.

Trainers regularly work hard to teach people alternatives to endlessly saying “No!” to their dogs. Even those of us who know the pitfalls of the habit lapse into it from time to time.

But I seem to disagree with many others about what exactly those pitfalls are.

Here’s why I think yelling “No!” is a bad idea: most people who are doing it haven’t taught it as a cue for a behavior trained with positive reinforcement. It ends up as an aversive method and carries all the usual potential for fallout. It relies first on a startle response. If the dog habituates, then people escalate the aversives.

But that’s not the objection I usually hear.

The Common Objection to “No”

I read it again the other day, in a discussion advising someone who was dealing with an undesirable behavior by her dog. She had been telling her dog “No!” when he performed the behavior. Several people chimed in, pointing out two related things: “no” is not a behavior, and saying “No!” didn’t tell the dog what he should do.

Both true statements. But they point to a failure in training, not some magical property (or lack of property) of the word.

Eileen is sitting on a day bed reading a book about behavior. Her three dogs are with her, doing "naughty" things like pulling trash out of a wastebasket.
A moment when it might have been tempting to say, “No”

The statement that “no” doesn’t tell the dog what to do is also true for every single verbal cue we use—we have to teach the association. For instance, merely saying the phrase “turn around” doesn’t give the dog any information about what we want them to do, either. A cue and a behavior are two different things. We train the latter and associate it with the former.

R+ trainers commonly say two things that are contradictory.

  1. On one hand, we tell newbies any word can be a cue. This is true. “Lightbulb” can cue sit. “Resonate” can cue the dog to look at me. Trainers just have to remember them and be able to teach the dogs. Cues don’t even have to be words. A cue can be a hand on a doorknob, the sound of a car approaching, a time of day, or the odor of vinegar. This takes a while for most of us to comprehend, because the language aspect is typically much more salient to us humans than anything else. And we tend to backslide. We persistently mix up the meaning of the word with its function as a discriminative stimulus. I discuss this in my blog post, “Good Sit!”
  2. But then we also tell people that “no” is not a behavior. That’s also true, but not really relevant. When we say “sit,” “down,” or “lightbulb,” those aren’t behaviors either when they come out of our mouths. They are cues. “No” is not a behavior, but it doesn’t have to be. It just needs to indicate reinforcement is available for a behavior. We don’t say that a hand on a doorknob or the smell of vinegar can’t be cues because they aren’t dog behaviors.

Singling out “no” as uniquely meaningless isn’t logical.

The Real Problem with No

Eileen is sitting in a chair outdoors. Her young dog Clara has put her head under the arm of the chair and is prodding Eileen's breast.
A moment when I definitely said something suboptimal

I believe the root problem with “no” is that people don’t train it; the word doesn’t point to a behavior that will be followed with positive reinforcement. And if saying it doesn’t successfully interrupt the dog, people usually escalate. So “No!” comes to predict aversive conditions: nagging, yelling, stomping, clapping, or even physical aversives like hitting.

Dog trainers rightly advise their clients to start over and use another word if they are going to teach a “leave-it” or an interrupter, because most of us rarely say the word “no” to dogs nicely.

But we can. I have a friend who practiced for ages to use “no” as her leave-it cue for her service dog so she could say it in a pleasant and neutral tone of voice.

When I Yelled “No!”

Lewis, a brown and white dog, is on his hind legs, sniffing a container full of food on a counter.
A reenactment of Lewis’ countersurfing with a tempting but safe food

Believe it or not, I yelled “No!” on the same day I started this article, right after I was pondering this whole thing.

I make a baked dessert out of oatmeal, egg whites, almond butter, dried cranberries, and dark chocolate. A lot of dark chocolate. I warmed a piece of it that night on a plate and put it on the counter. You know what’s coming. I turned around and Lewis was countersurfing. He had his nose up, sniffing the dessert, about to take a bite.

Even though I have taught Lewis a leave-it cue, I panicked, yelled “NO!” and clapped my hands. I did exactly what I’ve been describing. I yelled, hoping to startle him, and when that didn’t work instantly, I clapped, with the same goal.

What did Lewis do?

He didn’t cringe or cower or run away. He slid slowly down from the counter and calmly came to me, expecting a treat. I gave him a handful, then I removed the dessert from his reach.

I haven’t trained the word “no” as a cue, but I’ve trained several other words that function to interrupt, and he is accustomed in particular to being called away from the counter. So to him, it didn’t matter what I said, nor, apparently, how I said it. Lewis associated a behavior (reorienting to me) with my saying “No!” because of other things I trained.

I taught him “Pas” (leave it), “Excuse me,” (put all four paws on the ground), and “Lewis” in a high, singsong tone (come here). None of those words or phrases “was a behavior” when he first heard them either, but now they signify good stuff if he performs the behavior I’ve associated with them. And by generalization, so did the “no.”

I used to train “Hey!” I carefully conditioned it to predict great things for dogs who come to me, since that was what usually came out of my mouth when I panicked about something that affected a dog. I even practiced it in an irritated tone, so the good reinforcer hopefully counterconditioned my cranky tone. You can see a demo here. I should do this with Lewis as well.

There is a lesson to be learned here. The positive reinforcement-taught cue for Lewis to get down from the counter is: “The lady says something while I have my feet up on the counter.” Yes, any word can be a cue, but often it’s not the word at all. We humans are the ones stuck focusing on the words.

And of course, I’m not suggesting that yelling “No!” to our dogs is a good thing. I’ve delineated the problem with it already. It worked out for me in that instant without fallout, but only because it resembled real training I had done. We might not have been so lucky. It would have been safer if I’d come out with one of my trained cues. I need to practice more, or maybe I should condition “No!” as well as “Hey!”.

Not Only a Semantic Argument

Zani, a small black and rust hound mix, is lying on a mat looking up at the camera. There is a big pile of pieces of something she has ripped up in front of her.
I don’t think I ever said “No!” to Zani

I thought hard before publishing this. It may give people the false impression that I am supporting yelling “No!”. I’m not! Or it may seem pointlessly picky. Maybe.

But my motivation is practical. Focusing on the word “no” and what it means or doesn’t mean feeds into the idea that cues drive behavior. If we center our argument on the word “no” not being a behavior, we are very close to implying that words like “sit” and “down” are behaviors. And this can strengthen our unconscious tendency to believe that dogs automatically understand language the way we do.

That’s the downside of saying, “No is not a behavior.” It adds to the confusion about words that are both cues and verbal descriptions of behaviors. Sometimes cues may describe behaviors, but it’s not necessary that they do.

I understand that the statements people make about “no” that bother me are shortcuts. Trainers don’t usually give a lecture on discriminative stimuli when first introducing people to R+ methods. And it’s true that people yelling “No!” are not usually thinking of what they want the dog to do; they are thinking of what they want the dog to stop doing. So it’s great to introduce the concept of training with positive reinforcement and get people thinking about building incompatible behaviors instead of repeatedly reacting in the moment.

I’m not a pro trainer; I don’t work with humans training their dogs every day. If telling people that “no doesn’t tell the dog what to do” helps most of them break the habit, then great.

But I bet there are others like me who eventually want to understand this stuff about cues a little better, and the claims about “no” can slow that down. I know, because it’s taken me 10 years to unravel even a little of it for myself.

Related Posts

Copyright 2022 Eileen Anderson

How I Taught My Dog to Sleep Later in the Morning

How I Taught My Dog to Sleep Later in the Morning

A white dog with reddish-brown ears and speckles lies asleep in a curved position on a colorful blanket
Lewis sleeps in

When Lewis first came, he had just spent 10 critical weeks of his puppyhood living in a vet’s office. He grew up keeping clinic hours. He was ready to get up in the morning between 5:00 and 6:00 AM.

Groan. Now, I’ve been both an early bird and a night owl, and sometimes, unfortunately, both. My current hours lean more toward the night owl. But the switch to getting up early was not the problem. The problem, and it was a big one, was that on Lewis’ schedule, I lost my morning work time.

My normal schedule for the past few years has been to get up sometime between 7:00 and 9:00 AM, then work in bed for a couple of hours before I take dogs out and do “getting up” chores. And suddenly my morning work time, my prime time, was gone. Because when I first got eight-month-old Lewis, we sure weren’t going back to bed after we got up.

There’s a Fix for This

I knew there was a fix for this problem; I had even recommended it to some of the desperate people posting about their morning woes on social media. “My dog gets me up at 5!” or “My dog is getting up earlier and earlier!” But I had some immediate panic. What the hell? I couldn’t do my work?

Then I reminded myself of the training plan and talked to Marge Rogers about it. It took every ounce of willpower I had, but I did it. I taught him to get up much later, and in general, to wait until I was ready to get up.

The Fix

This plan is for an adult or late adolescent dog who has no problem sleeping through the night without having to get up to eliminate. If you have a young puppy, you’ll be on their schedule for a while. In that case, don’t try this as I have written it. Lewis had already learned to sleep through the night, so we didn’t have to work around house training at the same time.

The concept is simple: it starts with getting up earlier than your dog.

This seems counterintuitive at first. It’s tough to convince yourself to get up earlier as a step toward the goal of getting up later. But it makes sense in the long run. Here are the steps I took, written out as instructions.

  1. For 3–5 days, record the time your dog gets you up in the morning. Include workdays and non-workdays in your record-keeping.
  2. Using the information you got, get up earlier than your dog, consistently, every day. If they’ve been getting you up at 5:30 AM, get up at 5:10 AM. Whatever it takes to beat them to it.
  3. Keep this up for a week or more at that oh-so-early time. You are teaching them a new cue for getting up or “dogs are active now.” Lewis’ previous cue, I assume, was the staff arriving at the vet clinic, and that was probably at a consistent time. He internalized that time of day as “time to get up.” I wanted his new cue to be me getting dressed. Not the time he got accustomed to before, and not just me stirring around (details about this part in “My Personal Challenge” below).
  4. Once they’ve learned the routine, write out a schedule to gradually and SLOWLY push the new ritual later. First in perhaps 5-minute intervals, then maybe 10-minute intervals some days. Not more than that, and not every day. Keep some days the same, or even get up earlier again. You are adding duration, and just as when you train a stay, bounce around a little. Don’t create a schedule that gets inexorably longer with no breaks.
  5. Now implement your schedule for changing the time. Be ready to adjust the schedule in case you have made the time change too fast. Again, this is like teaching a duration behavior.
  6. If you mess up one morning, and your dog gets up before you do, get up immediately. Don’t give them a chance to bug you. Also, do not succumb to the temptation to coax them back to bed. It probably won’t work. What will probably happen is that they will fidget and bug you, and you will finally cave and reinforce a long sequence of bugging. Cave instantly and you won’t teach duration behavior. If this happens, backtrack your schedule and get up earlier again.
  7. Be fair. This is for an adult dog, but don’t ask them to stay in bed for 12 hours. If you stay in bed in the morning, give them a chance for a late-night potty. Or teach them, as an offshoot to this plan, to go outside for a potty in the morning and go back to bed. And obviously, if your dog is in distress, drop the schedule and get up with them.
  8. Gradually adjust the schedule until you have one that is to your liking.
A tan dog with a black muzzle has her head propped up on the corner of a laptop while she sleeps on a bed. There is a white dog sleeping back-to-back with her.
Clara shows her cute teeth while snoozing on the laptop

If you have already reinforced your dog for nudging you, poking you, running around the room, rattling something, barking at you, or for any other behavior by getting up and starting your day, this will be a harder process. I’m not mocking anybody; I’ve done it all. It’s a hard cycle to escape. You can use the plan above as a jumping off point, but you will probably need to stretch it over a longer period and change the time in smaller increments. I was fortunate to start as soon as Lewis arrived, and that helped a bunch.

Also, I wrote this as step-by-step instructions, but such a plan doesn’t have “if” branches for all the ways things can get off track. There are plenty, and I can’t address (or even think of) all the individual issues. For instance, I didn’t go into detail about shifting the cue to something other than the human getting up, but I described below some of what I did. Non-pro trainers like me might need to consult expert help. But I hope this plain version will be useful for some people.

My Personal Challenge

My situation had a specific challenge. Because of my work habits, I needed to wake up but not get up. I needed the cue for dogs getting up to be a couple of hours after I got up. So once I taught Lewis the initial predictors that it would be time to get up, I tweaked them. I taught him I was going to stir around a little, then come back to bed and work, and dogs weren’t getting up yet.

Two dogs lie on a bed. One is tan with black ears, muzzle, and tail, and is stretched out. The other is white dog with reddish-brown ears and speckles. He is curled up but his eyes are open and he is alert.
The dogs wait while I do morning chores

Once I got him staying in bed until 8:00 or so, I started quietly, with as little fuss as possible, getting my laptop out at 7:30 and working for a half hour before doing the full “we’re getting up now” routine. I didn’t even turn my light on, which was probably bad for my eyes, staring into a back-lit computer. But I needed to decouple “Eileen wakes up and does stuff” from “we all get up.” And I did this while keeping the getting up time steady. I started moving it again after he was used to this addition.

He also learned my alarm going off was not a cue for us all to get up. He doesn’t even stir now when my alarm goes off. And he learned that Nothing Interesting for Dogs happens while I’m in the shower, so that was another way I could extend my morning activities before it was time for dogs to get up.

The Hard Part

Keep in mind: Lewis’ arrival in my life diminished my ability to work to about one hour a day at first (if I was lucky). I was desperate to work, getting behind, and starving for some focused time for myself. I had to absolutely force myself to hold to my pre-planned time of getting up before him. It was so tempting, while I was on a roll with some work and he was sound asleep, to tell myself I could cheat a little and work longer. But I didn’t do it. There’s that human tendency to push our luck until the dog does something “wrong,” then we can correct it. That sequence of events doesn’t work here! This is an example of a situation where it’s essential to minimize errors.

Despite the temptations, I held to my schedule. I knew I had to put up with diminished morning work time to create a permanent change in his behavior. I played the long game, and I won.

This is another example of the ways I have limited choices for a younger dog to give them more freedom in the long run. Grownup Clara enjoys our mornings in bed, but also can jump off the bed and look at me, and we’ll get up when she wants to instead.

The Science

What was the mechanism of this behavior change? Did I punish Lewis’ behavior of getting up before me? Did I put it on extinction? I think neither. I changed the antecedents. I established stimulus control for getting up out of bed in the morning. He still got up in response to an external cue; I just taught him a new one.

Getting up in the morning is followed by a whole crowd of potential reinforcers. He still has access to all those and also seems to enjoy lounging in the bed while I work.

Epilogue

The morning after I wrote the bulk of this post, Lewis hopped off the bed at 7:30, at least two hours before the dogs usually stir now. I instantly turned on my light, got ready to get up, but also invited him back up on the bed for a snuggle. He loves to do that after Clara, who has priority and seniority, has gotten off the bed. We had our snuggle, then I got up “first.” He settled down and waited while I did my getting up stuff and got dressed (that’s exactly what he’s doing in the photo above). He has practiced our system enough now that an occasional glitch doesn’t hurt anything. But mostly, he dozes through the morning as he waits for me to start the day. And after that one-day deviation from the schedule, he was back to lazing in the bed longer again.

Copyright 2022 Eileen Anderson

Teaching a Dog to Station While Another Dog Works

Teaching a Dog to Station While Another Dog Works

A tan dog is lying on a green cot while a white dog with brown ears sits on a low platform next to her. Both dogs are looking at something to their left that we can't see.

Lewis and I have achieved two of my personal holy grails of dog training. He can both wait quietly in another room while I train Clara, and he can station successfully in the same room while I train her. Hallelujah!

The effects of these abilities are far-reaching.

Continue reading “Teaching a Dog to Station While Another Dog Works”
You Have to Stop! Interrupting Unwelcome Puppy Play Toward an Older Dog

You Have to Stop! Interrupting Unwelcome Puppy Play Toward an Older Dog

A tan and black dog lies on the grass holding a ball and a brown and white puppy runs toward her

Or: The Magic Buffalo Tug

In my post about the challenges of living with and training Lewis, I mentioned that the worst problem we faced was his hassling Clara to play. We’ve made some progress.

When he first came, his most frequent behavior toward her was humping. I remember telling Marge Rogers I had removed him or called him away dozens of times in a day. The humping diminished, thankfully. He does it far less frequently and less intensely and will happily dismount when I call him away.

But the next phase was tougher.

Continue reading “You Have to Stop! Interrupting Unwelcome Puppy Play Toward an Older Dog”
That One Leftover Negatively Reinforced Behavior

That One Leftover Negatively Reinforced Behavior

It took only four pieces of kibble to fix a problem I’ve had for about eight years.

Long ago, I sought to stop using body pressure to move my dogs around in space. This was a conscious and serious effort. For me, and for my dogs, using body pressure was not a benign endeavor. You can see two of my very early YouTube videos about it. Negative vs. Positive Reinforcement and Teaching a Dog to Back Up without Using Body Pressure.

Continue reading “That One Leftover Negatively Reinforced Behavior”
Training a Teenage Puppy

Training a Teenage Puppy

Two dogs are sitting on a couch. The younger red and white hound dog on the left has a playful look on his face. The older, larger, black and tan dog looks happy but tired.
Clara looks as tired as I feel. (But notice how happy she is!)

Whew! It’s more than a month later and I maybe, possibly, barely can write about how things have been with Lewis.

Preparation

I had only a couple of days to prepare for Lewis before he came. I did three main things.

Continue reading “Training a Teenage Puppy”
Out and In: Door Training with My Puppy

Out and In: Door Training with My Puppy

What are the first things to train a puppy? I’ve seen so many lists. Behaviors at the door rarely make the top five because there are so many other important things! But I work on doors early on because I’ve always had a household with multiple dogs. My dogs need to learn how to respond to my traffic direction. This is something I take entirely for granted until there is a new dog in the house. Whoops! I make the smooth “go ahead” motion with my hand, indicating to the pup to go ahead into the next space (room, crate, outside) and get a blank look. Or, in Lewis’ case, a gleeful leap to grab my hand or sleeve. Yay, this must be a tug game!

Continue reading “Out and In: Door Training with My Puppy”
Questions to Ask About That Bizarre Prong Collar Diagram

Questions to Ask About That Bizarre Prong Collar Diagram

Dear Dog Owner,

I’m writing to let you know of some really dreadful misinformation going around.

But first, here’s the truth.

It’s very simple. Prong collars hurt dogs. They can hurt a lot, depending on how tightly they are fastened and the handler’s behavior. Sometimes the sensation may be as low as mild discomfort. But make no mistake: if wearing a prong collar gets your dog to stop pulling on the leash, it’s because it becomes uncomfortable to do so.

If you take a good look at a prong collar, your intuition will be correct. Ouch! Even though those prongs are blunt,

Continue reading “Questions to Ask About That Bizarre Prong Collar Diagram”
Clara’s Stand Disaster and Why She Still Hops

Clara’s Stand Disaster and Why She Still Hops

tan dog with black muzzle stands on all four feet on a mat
This calm stand happened during a time when we weren’t working on it, of course

I considered titling this post “Eileen’s Stand Disaster,” but I thought that might be too confusing. Clara was the one standing, but the disaster part was definitely on me.

Thousands of people worldwide have used Susan’ Garrett’s fun method for teaching the stand and gotten fabulous results. I wasn’t one of them, but I blame myself, not the method.

The method is to have the dog in heel position in a sit, and to use a hand target above the dog’s head

Continue reading “Clara’s Stand Disaster and Why She Still Hops”
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