The Dog’s Homework (Not to be Eaten)
Practice with your dog frequently. Short training sessions several times a day are ideal. Try making your morning session a training/retrieving session, and use several different toys as lures, so as to maintain your dog’s interest, while burning him out so he is a good and sleepy dog while you go to work.
Also practice with your dog in real life scenarios. Have your dog “sit” to earn his breakfast, “sit/down/sit” to earn snuggles on the bed, “stand/down/stand” to earn a walk and so on.
Concentrate this week (and this lifetime) on noticing and quietly but sincerely praising the dog’s good behavior (however brief). This way you will get more good behavior.
Remember, give the cue, or “command” only once. Behavior is controlled by its consequences, not by the cue, or antecedent. The cue warns the dog what set of circumstances to expect, or it should warn, or hint, to the dog what to expect. If you give the cue multiple times without attaching to it any consequences (“sit, sit, sit, …Can you sit down?, sit, sit…”) your cue will not hint of anything interesting or useful to the dog, and he will ignore you. Repeated commands don’t teach the dog the behavior, they teach him the irrelevance of the command.
When you introduce a new behavior, initially you will not give the cue at all. You will simply guide the dog into the behavior and reward him for completing it, or (in some cases) reward him for his best attempt at the behavior.
Once you and the dog have worked through the behavior/reward, behavior/reward sequence a number of times, you will notice that the dog is becoming more and more competent. He does the behavior more smoothly, more rapidly, with fewer “off-target” attempts. Once he is fairly reliable at doing the behavior, you can start giving the cue, just once, before you prompt or lure him into the position. Note that at this stage of training the command is not yet acting as a hint. It suggests nothing to him. Only once you have consistently given the same cue, just once before the behavior for which he is rewarded, for perhaps 30 -50 repetitions will the dog start to respond to the cue, and not require other prompting or eliciting.
Using Your Clicker
What is a clicker?
Just a little plastic device with a metal tab inside. When you depress the tab with your thumb, the clicker makes a “ca-click” sound.
Why use one?
The clicker increases the accuracy and therefore the speed (and fun!) of training.
How does Clicker Training work?
You pair the click sound with the delivery of something your dog loves, such as a yummy treat. (Note: It must be Click then Treat, not the other way ’round.)
Soon, the dog acts as if the click were as exciting as the treat. Why? Because Click now announces, “You just won a prize!”
Now that your clicker is “Charged up”, you can use it to “mark” behaviors that you like.
The brief, novel sound of the click is a much more accurate communication, and often a more exciting one for the dog, than is your voice.
This cues the dog to make eye contact with you. You can probably picture many uses for this. You can:
- Draw your dog’s attention to you before calling him to Come, increasing your chances of success.
- When your dog is about to incite another dog to riot, or is being incited himself, by the hot exchange of eye contact (and other potent postures), you can interrupt the interchange without increasing the tension by cueing a “Watch Me”.
- You can keep him focused on you as exciting things go on, for example a cyclist or skateboarder passes by.
To teach this:
First, “charge up” your clicker, (see above),
Or, you can just begin to teach the exercise, and your clicker will get “charged up” as you teach.
Pick your cue word (Remember the Rules of Giving a Cue). You will always use only this word, said just once, to cue the behavior, so pick a word that you will not overuse in everyday life. (“Watch”, “Watch Me”, “Look”, “Attention”.)
- Give the cue, then draw a line from the dog’s face to yours with a food treat. The moment you get eye contact, click, then treat.
Repeat 10 times. Be careful: Give your cue word just once at the beginning of the behavior, so it “predicts” the behavior and the consequence for the dog.
- Now, give the cue, then using your finger (no food lure) draw a line from the dog’s eyes to yours. As soon as you get eye contact, click and treat.
Repeat 10 times.
- Now, with no visible lure, hands behind you, give your cue (“watch me”), then wait, giving no further cue, ’til your dog makes eye contact. It may take several seconds. Your dog may make wrong guesses first. (He may sit, paw, bark…ignore these. Wait for success.) The second he makes eye contact click, then treat.
Repeat. He should get quicker. Repeat 10 times.
- Now hold a food treat out away from your body in your right hand. Give cue “watch me” or whatever cue you are using, then wait quietly until dog looks away from treat and makes eye contact. Click instantly, and deliver the treat.
Repeat 10 times. Your dog will respond more and more quickly as he becomes sure of the goal.
- As above, but with the treat in the left hand!
- Now up the ante a bit more…If you have a training partner (spouse, child…) hand him/her the food treat, and have him stand beside you. Cue “Watch Me”. Don’t repeat, just wait. Your dog must decide to turn from the treat-holder to find your eyes. Click, then your partner can deliver the treat. Repeat until your dog does this smoothly.
- Try having your partner on your left, your right, 2 feet from you, 8 feet from you…Gradually increase the difficulty level until your dog can have his back to you, staring at your partner (or, more accurately, at the goody!) and on cue, turn 180′ to find your eyes.
- Repeat the above, using a new item to distract your dog. Try a squeaky toy, or a ball, or a Frisbee, or anything else he likes…
- When your dog is “unstumpable” with the second item, try the exercises with a 3rd object!
- Take the show on the road! Work on Watch Me in new locations, but, initially, ones that are not too distracting. Try your yard, garage and driveway.
Branch out…more locations, different distractions. Can your dog “watch” — holding eye contact while he waits for you to attach his leash to his collar? Leash and walk him to reward his success. Can he look away from a dog friend, to earn play with that dog friend? Be creative!
Make sure your dog has the appropriate equipment (buckle collar, Gentle Leader, Easy Walk, SENSE-ation Harness , etc.). Make sure that the equipment is properly fitted, and that you know how to use it.
“Easy”: Walk without tension on the leash, and without crossing in front of trainer.
Pass a food lure over the dog’s nose, then hold it, tucked in your fist, against your tummy, in the belt buckle position.
Do not hold the lure in midair. Your dog will tend to jump for it.
When she is in the correct position, click and give her a food treat.
Make sure to feed the treat in line with your pant seam. If you allow the dog to come round in front of you to get the treat, your are paying her for blocking your way!
Initially set a low standard for the behavior. Have her walk only as many steps as she can do well, slack-leash and happily focused on you. Often, that will mean that you are starting out walking only 4 steps or so then rewarding (in line with your pant seam).
Then cue the “sit” and reinforce. Now try again, just 3 or 4 steps.
As she learns the exercise, have her walk more and more steps to earn a reward.
Prompt her to follow you with an empty hand, then reward after a few steps.
If she pulls, back up until the leash is slack and the dog has reoriented to you, then move forwards again.
To teach the “sit” conceal a lure in your hand, place the lure on the dog’s nose and move your hand back over the dog’s head to just above his shoulders. As the dog’s head tips to follow the lure he will go into a “howling at the moon” position, and then tuck his rear into a sit. Don’t hold your hand so high that the dog jumps, or so low that the dog stands. Do not force the dog into position. As soon as his rear touches the ground, click, then give him the food reinforcer and praise him. Once he is smoothly following the lure, you can start giving the “Sit” cue, just once, before you lure him into the sit position.
To Lure the Down , have the dog sit by your side, rest your left hand (which is also holding the clicker) gently on the dog’s back and put your right hand, with a food lure in it, on the dog’s nose. Lower the treat from the nose to the toes and then slightly forward along the ground, as if you were writing the letter “L”. Click when the elbows touch the ground, then feed the Lure to the dog. Do this 2-3 times.
Now hold the food lure in your right hand, but be sure to hold the treat so that your thumb is holding it in place against your palm. With your right hand palm down, move the lure from the dog’s nose straight down to the ground. (This is just what your Down signal will look like later.) You should no longer need to rest your left hand on the dog’s back. As soon as the dog’s elbows hit the ground, click, then release the food treat. Repeat 2 or 3 times.
Now, put food in *both* the clicker and the Signal Hand. Lure the Down, as above, but, after the click, now feed from the *other* hand (the hand w/ the clicker), and do *not* give the food from the Signal Hand. The dog learns, “Hey, I’m not getting it from the Signal hand, but I’m still getting a reward!” Repeat this twice.
Then quickly move to the next step, which is to repeat as above, but with *no* food in the Signal Hand. Click, and treat from the non-signal hand. By the time the dog flops down and realizes that there’s nothing in that signal hand, you have Clicked and Treated again from the non-signal hand. The dog begins to understand that it’s *not* about “following food”, but about responding to the signal, getting the click, and being “paid” for the click.
If your dog hesitates before lying down at this stage, just wait quietly. Do not repeat the command, do not click, do not reward. Wait. He has practiced, and he is learning that elbows-on-the-ground is one way to motivate humans to feed you. He may experiment with other behaviors, but in a little while, he will Down. When he does, click then treat.
Once the dog is reliably following your signal hand, give the cue “Down” just once, before you signal for the behavior.
OR, To Capture the Down
Take one dog, ideally a little hungry and a little tired, and working in a quiet place initially, quietly wait, thumb on clicker, for the dog to lie down. Don’t coach, just wait.
When the dog downs (elbows on floor) click, then toss a treat past the dog so that he has to get up to get it. He will probably start to mug you for treats. Ignore him. Wait quietly ’til he lies down again. Click, then toss a treat. Repeat 5 or 6 times, then change your position and do a few more. Many dogs will now be actively trying to get you to click. They may be staring at you then staring at the floor. They may be shifting their body about, trying to figure out what makes you click. Some dogs will already be throwing themselves into the down! Others won’t have it figured out yet. No problem, just work a bit more. If necessary, repeat this procedure at 2 or 3 more sessions.
Once your dog is dropping repeatedly, rapidly, deliberately, you can start to give the verbal cue, Down, just before the dog goes down. At this stage reinforce only when you have said “down”, not for downs that are just “volunteered”.
Questions? Send Penny an email penny @ whatagoodpuppy.com (remove the spaces)