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Puppies Need an Off Switch! (Puppy Lesson Four)

Puppies Need an Off Switch! (Puppy Lesson Four)

So how many of you with puppies out there wish sometimes that you could flip a switch to turn them off, just for a little bit? Catch your breath, do the dishes, sit down for just a minute?

I have it on pretty good authority that most of the puppies would also appreciate having an off switch, too! Just as human babies can get all wound up without knowing how to come down on their own, puppies get overwound too.

Some of the advice that gets passed around is off the mark.  Owners of high-energy dogs are told to exercise them more and more to burn off the energy. Every time the dog leaves the house it’s for a rousing run or play time. While stimulation and exercise are vitally important, taken by themselves, they can actually exacerbate the problem of being wound up. The dog rehearses a pattern of arousal.

That’s why learning to relax and settle is an important life skill. Marge is really good at teaching it, in my opinion. She teaches “relax” as a behavior, just like teaching sit, down and come. And it’s a win/win for puppy and caregiver.

Black and white parti-colored Portuguese Water Dog puppy in a bright blue plastic kid's pool. The dog is on his stomach with his back legs stretched out straight behind him.
Zip takes relaxation to a whole new level

Resources

There are many, many resources for this. A lot of what Marge does with her dogs, including what you will see with Zip, is from the work of Leslie McDevitt (Control Unleashed, Control Unleashed– The Puppy Program, Control Unleashed Seminar DVD) and Dr. Karen Overall.

Lots of other trainers have methods for teaching this behavior, too.  Sue Ailsby teaches it in her Training Levels program.  Nan Arthur has a method in Chill Out Fido, Laura VanArendonk Baugh has a whole book about it, and Emily Larlham has some videos. I have some resources here in the blog as well. You can search the blog under “1,000 Treats” to see Clara’s progress in relaxation. 

The goal of all of these methods is far beyond just getting the dog to stay still. It is to teach the dog to chill out and relax.

From Practice to the Real World

Being able to recover and think through increasing levels of arousal can be taught. Most people play with their dogs and puppies without breaks. But breaks allow the puppy to reset, and to learn how to transition between different states of excitement and arousal. They also can keep the pup from going over the top. 

In the movie, you will first see Zip relaxing in a non-challenging situation. Then Marge transitions him back and forth between relaxing and getting up to play.  Marge works with lots of puppy owners, and has them start with play increments of 5 seconds (one banana, 2 banana, up to 5.). Reset/relax, then start again. Gradually increase duration and difficulty.

At 1:06, watch Zip’s right front leg. He is not just lying down; he is relaxing his muscles. Later you can see him also change his breathing when asked to relax. I’ve watched the movie several times, and keep seeing other aspects of the relaxation.  In the last tug session, between the 2:00 and 3:00 minute marks, Zip is growling–a symptom of high arousal for him. You can see how hard he has to work to control himself when Marge asks him to release the tug and relax. “Ohhhh I wanna bite that shoe……but I won’t.” This is yet another version of impulse control.

Take note as well, how Marge reinforces Zip for the relaxed behavior. She is using food rewards, delivered with soft body language right to his mouth. Nothing active, no tossing treats. This is in contrast to the active play with the toy during the “up” states.

The final part of the movie shows a real world application. You can’t see it in the movie, but while Zip is chilling on the floor at the animal hospital, there are two very active toddlers and another dog nearby. This is where you can see yet another benefit of playing tug with a puppy (with a rule structure such as Marge uses).  Environmental stressors can also bring about an aroused state. A dog doesn’t have to be jumping around to get over-excited. But playing tug has helped Zip learn how to “come down” from that state, and his lessons carry over beautifully to the new environment.

Link to the movie for email subscribers.

 Just like last time, this is another lesson on how to teach a puppy not to do something using positive reinforcement-based training. Notice all the things Zip is not doing?

  • Biting
  • Running around screaming
  • Stealing the toy and running away
  • Leaping up to investigate the other dog or the kids at the vet

All because Marge has “filled in the blanks” with desirable behaviors, and is teaching Zip at a very young age how to calm down.

How about you all? Does your puppy have an off switch? Also, any guesses about Lesson Five? Because we have left out something BIG!

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Marge’s Channel on YouTube: Subscribe and see Zip’s next lesson!

Marge’s FaceBook business page: Rewarded Behavior Continues

Impulse Control. Impulse Control. Impulse Control. (Puppy Lesson Three)

Impulse Control. Impulse Control. Impulse Control. (Puppy Lesson Three)

OK, wait a doggone minute! How is it that in Zip’s last lesson, I was being all poetic about how the behaviors didn’t matter all that much, but all of a sudden we are zeroing in on just one thing? And it sounds so…cold! How did we get there? Does this mean that Marge has given up on bonding and positive reinforcement and creating fun for her puppy (and rainbows and fairies while we’re at it)?

Of course not! What Marge has done is make learning impulse control a win/win situation. With good teaching of impulse control (including what people call “Leave It,” “Zen,” or “It’s Yer Choice,”) dogs learn that when they control themselves around stuff they want, they can get even better stuff! As Sue Ailsby says:

It’s not my job to control the animal. It’s the animal’s job to control herself. It’s my job to put the animal in a situation where she can learn what I want her to know as quickly and easily as possible.

Sue calls it Zen, since the way to get the thing is to leave the thing alone. It’s just something else to learn, and Zip has already had many lessons in “learning is fun!”.

Zip on rug

That Puppy Sure Sits a Lot!

For a puppy that didn’t have any formal training sessions on “sit” Zip sure sits a lot. How did that happen? While Marge may not have done any training sessions on “sit,” she was still teaching Zip to sit by reinforcing that behavior when he offered it. Since, as Marge would say, Rewarded Behavior Continues, Zip started sitting more. When barking doesn’t work to get out of a pen, he’ll try sitting and will get rewarded (you can see this in the movie). If dashing towards the door doesn’t work, he’ll try sitting. That’s how highly reinforced behaviors can start to fill in the blanks. I love seeing puppies put two and two together and try it out, like Zip does.

Having default, highly reinforced behaviors are one of the lovely things about positive reinforcement training. At first, when teaching impulse control, any behavior but lunging toward the desired object or goal is usually reinforced. But soon, the trainer can select out of these other behaviors that she has already been reinforcing what she’d like to have. You can see that Marge is building in eye contact and a general orientation to her in all these situations, as well as sitting.

By the way, one of the reasons Marge hasn’t done any formal “sit” training is because she wants to teach Zip a “tuck” sit and just hasn’t gotten around to it.  Zip turns 10 weeks old today. She has plenty of time.

What Do They Practice?

So, what did Marge show us in Lesson 3? Zip is working on impulse control in the following ways:

  • Waiting for permission to grab the tug toy. Getting the permission by looking at Marge.
  • Staying away from food in Marge’s hand (at puppy level). Getting the food by looking at Marge.
  • Being quiet in his pen when Marge approaches.
  • Sitting quietly to get his leash put on (see, she is teaching sit, but she still has yet to say the word!)
  • Waiting to go out the door. Getting permission by looking at Marge.
  • Reorienting to Marge after they go out the door together.

Not only is he learning to control his impulses, he is learning to look to Marge when he wants something. A huge part of impulse control is focus on the handler. And Marge has been building that since Day 1.

Link to the movie for email subscribers.

Using Positive Reinforcement to Teach the Dog Not to Do Something

So many of us came to dog training because our dogs had behavior problems. We wanted them to Stop. Doing. That. And that is also one of the main questions that people ask about positive reinforcement based training: how to you teach a dog not to do something? Today’s whole movie, plus the two before it, do exactly that, but you have to know what to watch for. When you increase some behaviors, some others decrease without a whole lot of work. Some of the things that Zip is learning not to do are:

  • Lunge for the toy
  • Run off with the toy (since Marge has made herself the entertainment center–and also because the toy has a handle on it!)
  • Help himself to food without permission
  • Jump around when Marge puts his leash on
  • Run out the door without permission
  • Go nuts once he gets outside
  • And countless other behaviors that humans do not prefer!

All without a harsh word, a stern look, being forced into a position or held in place, or any kind of physical punishment.

How do you teach your dog about impulse control?

Zip holding tug

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The Second Thing To Teach Your Puppy

The Second Thing To Teach Your Puppy

A lot of people have enjoyed seeing what my friend Marge Rogers decided to teach her puppy first.   She taught Zip (and continues to teach him) that she is FUN. So I asked her what she was going to teach him second. (I love to watch her training, too!)

She said, “Now I’m going to teach him that learning is fun.”

Teaching a Dog that Learning is Fun

Why would this be so important that Marge would embark on it so early on? Doesn’t she need to train Zip how to behave acceptably?

First, we need to shake the notion that training is something we do to the dog. It is something we do with the dog. Then, it wouldn’t hurt to drop the “obedience” model from the back of our minds. With positive reinforcement-based training, we can get something better than obedience. We can build a joyful, trusting partnership between two species, and along the way we can ease our dog’s path into the weird human world.

And right along with that:  Using aversives in training is known to inhibit learningIf you went to math class and the teacher hit you over the head with a ruler every time you got the answer wrong, you could still learn math.  It probably wouldn’t be your favorite subject and you probably wouldn’t learn it as fast as you would if you enjoyed it.

What if, instead, the teacher valued above all that the student be happy, relaxed, and enjoying himself, and did all in her power to make that happen? This is not only humane and kind, but also very practical. If Zip is “in the game,” if he and Marge are partners, he will value the game. She can help him build resiliency. If at some point she makes mistakes or gives unclear information, he’ll keep trying.  And that’s where we see that the partnership works both ways. Zip will teach Marge to formulate training plans, improve observation skills,  and work through timing errors.

Marge goes so far as to say, “At this stage, the behaviors I’m teaching him don’t really matter.” Wow. So obviously true, yet so radical.

What she wants, what she values, and what she is building: an eager student.

A dog can learn a behavior at any age if he has the physical skills to do it and the trainer has the mechanical skills to teach it. That’s why the lesson right now is two-way communication.

If learning is fun for him, Marge can teach him anything.

Zip holding tug large

What Do They Practice?

So, what did Marge show us in Lesson 2? Keep in mind that the actual behaviors they work on are less important that the growing partnership. But I know some of you will be curious about some of what they do, so here is a list with short explanations.

  • Name training. She is teaching him that hearing his name predicts something great. He is learning to shift his attention immediately to her when he hears his name.  The name game builds a positive classical association to hearing his name and to her, and also builds a recall.
  • Puppy retrieve (with optional somersaults!). What all is this good for? Let us count the ways. It is an interactive, cooperative game.  It’s great for exercise: it drains the dog’s tank, but not the owner’s.  It’s a great interaction for kids and dogs. Also, Zip is rehearsing returning to her and releasing things to her. Deposits into those “Let Go of Stuff” and “Return to Me” accounts are always good!
  • Impulse control. Just about all of life with dogs boils down to impulse control, doesn’t it?  Many “good dog” behaviors share the principles of that exercise: do not help yourself to things you want. Look at your person when there’s something you want.  Do it in the face of distractions (starting with a food distraction).
  • Turns. Those are some agility moves Marge is making, and they teach some nice lessons. Prime among them are moving with Marge, turning, and switching seamlessly from being on Marge’s left to her right. For many of us, the days of teaching our dogs to walk exclusively on the left side are long gone.
  • Perch work. This is for both hind end awareness and strength. It will help in sports, everyday coordination, and tight turns for competition heeling. Plus cool stuff like a “tuck sit” as you can see at the end of this short video.
  • Hand targeting. Hand targeting teaches puppies that hands near their face are a good thing.  It teaches them to use their nose on hands instead of puppy teeth.  It is a foundation behavior for a recall. The dog is at point A, and you want them with you at point B: use a hand target.  Marge says it is a great way to start a training dialogue.
  • Experiencing new things. Just like in Lesson 1, Marge is continuing to introduce Zip to new things. Can you see that she has made it more challenging?  Dogs are great discriminators, and as they get older are quick to categorize things as abnormal and scary if they haven’t seen them before. So the more surprising and rare stuff she can show Zip, as long as it happens with good associations, the better. What she shows in the movie is the tip of the iceberg. She is taking him every day for different levels of observation of and interaction with the world.
  • Conditioning praise. Did you hear all the utterances of “Good boy good boy good boy”? This is not just filler. Dogs find repeated sound stimulating.  You’ll hear that kind of  repetition from many good trainers when they are having an exciting fun time with their dogs. But also: how many times in his life is Zip going to hear “good boy” and get a treat or special play? Answer: a lot. Marge is also conditioning praise as a secondary reinforcer. If she keeps it conditioned well, the phrase by itself will gain some reinforcing power. This is another foundation she is laying down in their training relationship.

What About Sit, Down, and Stay?

Zip profile 2Have you noticed the absence of certain behaviors that many of us are brought up to believe are the absolute foundation of proper dog behavior? How come Marge hasn’t taught Zip to sit or lie down, or stay on cue?

[8/26/14 Edited to remove a comparison with traditional training that wasn’t quite accurate. Thanks, reader S.T.] It’s not really that she isn’t reinforcing sit and down. They are some of the many behaviors of his that she is capturing and reinforcing in contexts. She is putting money in the bank for later. She has Zip’s whole life to teach him specific behaviors and put them on cue. Now is the time to establish a bond, show him that certain things pay off bigtime, to reinforce a large variety of desirable behaviors in an informal way; to teach him that learning and trying stuff aren’t scary. This will give Zip a palette of behaviors to default to in life situations. Sit and down are definitely in the palette, and a tiny puppy “stay” is developing as she waits a little longer and holds eye contact a little longer. And the more of these good behaviors he knows, the less time Marge will have to spend diminishing undesirable ones.

And the verbal cue thing? Believe it or not, you really don’t need word cues at this point. Zip has already picked up situational cues to do certain things. Dogs are geniuses at this; so good at it that we don’t even notice it half the time. We think they know a verbal cue but they are really reading the situation. Zip is already developing a default sit (you can see that in the impulse control section), eye contact, and can walk nicely on a leash.  A word is just a label. There will be time for that.

Link to the movie for email subscribers.

Have you shown your puppy or dog that learning is fun? (And what do you think Marge’s next lesson will be?)

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P.S. Editorial remark: I’m so glad Marge didn’t say she’s “teaching Zip how to learn.” I’ve always thought that was a very human-centric thing to say. Animals already know how to learn. Many of our problems come from the fact that they learn stuff that we don’t want them to.  Marge is teaching Zip how to be her dog, have fun with her, communicate with her, solve problems, and be happy in a human world. And with her gradual challenges, she is helping him develop his brain power.

The First Thing To Teach Your Puppy

The First Thing To Teach Your Puppy

My friend Marge has a new puppy, Zip, a Portuguese Water Dog. I just love what she decided to teach him first.

Marge is a professional trainer. Depending on Zip’s interest and aptitude, he may eventually be able to to help her in her business as a neutral dog, play therapy dog, or uncle dog. He’ll be introduced to a variety of fun dog sports. I think I heard whispers about agility as well as water dog sports. All these are possibilities, of course. No matter what his temperament, health, and inclinations, he will always be a beloved family pet.

Seaworthy's Won Direction "Zip"
Seaworthy’s Won Direction “Zip”

Marge said, “Do you know what the first thing I’m going to teach him is?” I didn’t know, but I figured it would be good.

“I’m going to teach him that I’m FUN.”

I have to say that was not what I expected, but the more I thought about it, the more I liked it.

That first lesson accomplishes so many things.

  • It sets the tone for a lifetime bond.
  • It associates Marge with terrific things. Most of us get strong associations with food with our dogs. That happens almost automatically if we train with food, and if we are careful how and when we feed. (See my article “Double Your Money” in the Spring 2014 issue of BARKS magazine, page 19.) But in addition to being the provider of food, Marge is setting herself up as the entertainment center in her pup’s life. Via classical conditioning, she is building an association with herself to joy as well as nurturance.
  • Zip’s play with her is something he can learn to “take on the road.”
  • The behaviors that happen in the play (little proto behaviors that will be built on for skills later) get imbued with the fun–more classical conditioning.
  • Finally, fun and anxiety are mutually exclusive. Play creates a joyful world.

Marge’s lesson would not be appropriate–as a first lesson anyway– for every dog. She’s got a well bred, confident, socialized puppy (of a social breed, no less). She picked the sassy one of the litter. When we get a dog with a suboptimal or unknown history (Marge has had plenty of rescues too, I might add), the first lesson we often need to teach the dog is some version of  “You are safe.” Or “I won’t be mean to you.” Or, “We’ll always go at your speed; I won’t force you.” Those things look a bit different. What you see Marge doing in the video is appropriate for a confident, dare I say “pushy,” little guy.

But even with our fearful dogs, the sooner we can get some  joyful fun in their lives, the better. And the more I think about it, the more similar the approaches are. Whether you are showing the pup a rollicking good time or giving him a place to feel safe, you are prioritizing his emotional state over mere skills or obedience.

Link to the movie for email subscribers.

Do you see all the sub-lessons in the movie, all the bricks that Marge is laying for Zip’s future skills?

  • Zip is getting experience on stable and unstable surfaces, including a metal surface.
  • Zip is climbing through things that touch his legs.
  • He’s getting to put different things in his mouth and getting an outlet to chew and be mouthy.
  • He’s experiencing things that make sudden noises.
  • He is learning to tug.
  • He is learning to release and trade.
  • He is learning a puppy retrieve.
  • He’s learning that Marge will direct him to things that are OK to play with. (Did you notice that there is only one “real” dog toy in the whole video?)
  • He is learning to come when called.
  • He is learning to settle down and to be handled.

All this in a few minutes of play with a really fun lady.

Small tan puppy with black muzzle and tail looking up at camera
Clara on the day she arrived (about 10 weeks old)

I’m trying to remember the first things I taught Clara. In a four dog household, I think one of the first lessons was, “This is how you can happily fit into the group.” But I also taught her “You are safe with me.” (Actually I just remembered: The very very first thing I taught Clara was, “I have spray cheese, the ambrosia of your world.”)

I didn’t set about using play cleverly like Marge. Frankly, I let Zani babysit Clara a lot, since I was really in over my head with a geriatric dog, a reactive dog, and then a feral puppy, most of them incompatible with each other. If Clara and I hadn’t had such a strong bond, all that babysitting could have been a bad idea. Luckily Clara is up for just about any kind of fun with me, and has always played any kind of game I offered with enthusiasm. But I do wish I had been as deliberate as Marge in setting the stage for a playful relationship with Clara. Even more so with Zani, a born party girl.

I’ll remember for next time: there are some things that are even more important than sit and down. Build the relationship. Then the skills will likely be a piece of cake.

What was the first thing you taught your puppy or new dog?

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7 Great Benefits of Flirt Pole Play for You and Your Dog

7 Great Benefits of Flirt Pole Play for You and Your Dog

Two Dogs’ Experiences with the Flirt Pole

If you have been following the blog, you may have seen that young Clara is an absolute maniac for the flirt pole. It is right up there with playing ball in her list of favorite things.

a tan dog is stretched out at her whole length, chasing a toy on a rope attached to the end of a pole
Clara Stretching Out to Get the Toy

I waited quite a while before introducing Clara to the flirt pole because teaching “release the toy” was a real struggle with her when we played tug and ball. I had visions of her getting overly excited and breaking the flirt pole by pulling on the toy endlessly.

When I taught her to release a tug toy, I didn’t use food. I used the method of reinforcing the release with resumption of the game. I had a pretty hard time with that, since hanging onto, chewing on, and dismembering toys is very reinforcing to Clara, and I lacked experience teaching the behavior. You need pretty good timing. I finally got it though, and Clara was dropping the toy pretty consistently.

But it turned out that playing with the flirt pole actually improved Clara’s releases. First,  we lucked into the perfect toy. Marge Rogers gave me this skinny little tug toy from Dog Dreams Toys. It is perfect to chase, but not as fun to chew as, say, rabbit fur. Our flirt pole has a gizmo where you can attach different toys. It works and they do not come off! Second,  the flirt pole helped me make the game immediately exciting when she dropped the toy. I could zip it away instantly and irresistibly. Much more quickly than I could when we were playing tug. The right behavior (release on cue) was set up to predict more fun than the holding and chewing.

Here are two of Clara’s nice releases, so you can see what I mean.

Here is a link to “Releasing the Toy Means More Fun to Come” for email subscribers.

But enough about the flirt pole champ. We have an up and coming talent. Little Zani, the challenger.

small black and tan dog chases a red toy at the end of a rope on a pole
Zani Enjoying the Flirt Pole

I had first tried her with the pole months, maybe years ago. And Zani didn’t care for it. She was a little afraid of it, and I didn’t have the interest to work on that at the time. But Zani has developed methods of inserting herself into virtually every fun thing that happens around my house, and she finally had enough of watching Clara play with the flirt pole from the sidelines. One day she asked to play with it.

She went for it! Fearsome little dog! She was so excited that half the time she just jumped into the air or snapped at me before she remembered to chase the toy.

small black and tan dog is leaping into the air, snapping at the sleeve of a woman holding a toy attached to a rope and pole
Zani Slightly Confused about What to Bite

She has a different style from Clara’s when she catches the toy. Clara grabs it and holds. She loves for me to grab it and tug with her. But Zani has to give it multiple killing shakes. I have long suspected that Zani is part Russell terrier. And yes, she does know how to kill small animals efficiently. But I don’t mind her “killing” the tug toy at all.

I hope you find Zani’s sessions as delightful as I did. I just loved how she would  jump around and snap before she got it together enough to chase the toy. If she were a bigger dog, it might have been a problem, but she is a small dog with great bite inhibition and a wonderful sense of fun. She always knows exactly where her teeth are. You can see in the still photo above that she is actually not quite connecting with my sleeve. That was the case every time she jumped at me.

Here is a link to “Zani Discovers the Flirt Pole” for email subscribers.

7 Benefits of Flirt Pole Play

  1. It is great exercise.
  2. It teaches coordination, for both the dog and the human! I am continually having to develop new “moves” as my dogs learn to outwit my old ones.
  3. You can use it to teach impulse control.
  4. You may have a better chance of teaching a good release than with tugging.
  5. The dog gets to chase something at high speed but also stays close to you (you are part of the picture).
  6. She can’t run off with the toy, and thereby develops a habit of sticking around you with it.
  7. As long as the dog has a reliable release, the human doesn’t have to move at all. It can be outdoor couch training!

The toy we are using is a Chase It toy purchased at CleanRun.

Note: I have heard that flirt poles are illegal in some areas because they are associated with fighting dogs. I have not determined any specific locations for which this is true, but I am certainly not condoning dog fighting or encouraging anyone to break any laws.

Thanks for watching! Stay tuned for:

Eileenanddogs on YouTube

Play with Your Dog: For Research

Play with Your Dog: For Research

Clara flirtpole waiting

Alexandra Horowitz and her Dog Cognition Lab are investigating play between dogs and people. So was there ever a more fun way to participate in a research study?

Clara flirt pole still

For those who aren’t familiar with Dr. Horowitz, she wrote a great book called “Inside of a Dog.” She is also the one who authored the study that demonstrated that dogs’ appeasement behaviors after being scolded have no relationship to whether they did the deed in question.

So here’s the link to the new research study on play. Let’s all flock on over there and submit videos!

Dog-human Play Study

The hard part for me was choosing what game to play. But Clara’s current passion for the flirtpole is such fun, even though our releases need a little work. Ahem.

Our submission is below. There’s a time limit of 60 seconds, so that’s why it ends pretty abruptly. It was actually our 5th session of the day. I had cut my head out of the first several takes. She is moving more slowly by this time, but still In the Game for sure.

I hope lots of people participate. I can’t wait to see what comes of the study.

Imminent post: Classical Conditioning: Creating a Positive Response to Barking

ADDENDUM, 12/20/12

At the request of a couple of friends, here is more of Clara with the flirtpole. This is a session earlier in the day than the one we sent to Dr. Horowitz’ study, and Clara is very very excited. She also outsmarts me to get the toy back.

Enjoy!

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