So why is reward dog training the way to go? It is really simple: if you are the most rewarding thing in your dog’s life, they will choose you every time! Not only is that exactly what most owners want from their dogs. Using anything but positive reinforcement or reward dog training is a welfare issue. It shows a lack of understanding of what motivates a dog and what doesn’t motivate a dog. There have been numerous scientific studies that haven proven again and again that punishment increases anxiety and the likelihood that your dog will resort to aggressive behaviours. Don’t believe me, check out some of the science here.
So, how do you become the most rewarding thing in your dog’s life? Well, it starts simply by building a relationship that is built on trust and positive interactions. Like any relationship, this takes time and consistency. It means shifting your focus and looking for all the things you like about their behaviour. Then all the things you don’t like should be seen as opportunities to learn alternative ways.
One game that I love to play which is good for you and your dog, is to count out 30 treats in the morning. Your goal is to hand them out before their dinner that night. It just starts to gently shift your focus and is also particularly great for those that may have an anxious dog, as often your focus quickly becomes about their triggers. This can bring back the joy in your relationship.
So what are dogs motivated by? Again, what science has proven is that they have the thinking capacity similar to an 18 month old child. So let’s forget all that dominance garbage as that definitely has not been scientifically proven. Dogs are motivated by what feels good or doesn’t feel good. So if you make them feel good 100% of the time you are off to a great start. Of course, like any relationship this takes ongoing commitment and if you need help we are here to cheer you both on.
At Fur Get Me Not we use treat training as one of the ways to reward behaviours we like from our dogs. We know that behaviour that gets rewarded gets repeated. The more we can reward the behaviours we want, the more likely we are to get that desired behaviour in the future. For example, if we ask Fido to sit, and he gets a reward each time he puts his bottom on the ground, the more likely we will get that behaviour next time we say ‘sit’.
We use treat training in our classes and one on one consults for a number of reasons:
Food is a primary reinforcer
All animals find food reinforcing. We need access to food to live, and it generally feels good to eat a tasty treat. This is the same for dogs and humans. If your dog does not find food reinforcing this may be because your dog is unwell, overly scared, hyperaroused (this means way too excited), or your dog may be closer to another competing reward that is more valuable than the food (for example the potential to chase a bush turkey). In addition, if your dog has had access to too much food in the day, they may be full and food temporarily stops being as reinforcing.
Treat training can be used to quickly teach new behaviours by using a lure
This is where we use the movement of a treat to position our dog’s body. Once they are in the position we want, we give them the treat. Luring is quick and easy, but can be misused if the lure is not faded out within 3-5 repetitions. It is crucial to fade out the lure, otherwise us holding the treat in our hand becomes part of the cue. Often people who say that treat training didn’t work for them, or that their dog will only do the behaviour if they are holding a treat, it is because they didn’t fade the lure fast enough, or they may have never faded the lure.
We can establish a new behaviour quickly using treat training
This is because we can reward a high number of repetitions of the behaviour in a short period of time. We can use other reinforcers such as sniffing, and play, but these may not be suitable for the dog, the behaviour or the situation. These other reinforcers also take more time and skill to implement successfully.
We can use our dog’s response to treat training as an indicator of stress
If our dog is not eating in class or when in a potentially scary situation, this can be an indication that they are too stressed and they may not feel safe. No one wants to eat when they feel unsafe. If you are seeing this with your dog, and you think they may be scared, there may be a more serious behaviour concern going on. Please get in touch with us so we can help.
Used correctly, food can be a tool to help our dogs be calm in certain situations
We want to create calm associations for different situations for our dogs and food is an excellent tool to do this. Read more about this concept in our Dog Yoga blog.
Next week we will be giving you more tips on what to consider when treat training, reach out if you have questions in the meantime.
We all want our puppy or adult dog to be comfortable hanging out at home alone. We want our dogs to feel relaxed with us leaving the house, and us being away from the house. During the course of pandemic, most of us have had extra time at home with our dogs. While this has been delightful for both the human and dog, this does mean that our dogs have had much less experience in practicing being alone.
This blog is written for those who want to learn how to leave your puppy home alone for the first time. It is also written for all dog owners who are looking to transition their dog back to being home alone more of the time.
This blog is general information only. If you think your puppy or adult dog may be severely distressed at you leaving or attempting to leave the house, please contact usfor specific support.
Leaving your puppy home alone is not normal
Canines are social creatures. They are not designed to be alone for long periods of time and if left alone for too long too often, behavioural issues often occur as a result. Keep this concept in mind when starting to leave your puppy home alone. It is easy for us to get frustrated when our dog barks or whines as we leave, or if the neighbour tells us our dog was barking. Instead of getting frustrated, we need to respond to what our dog is telling us, which may be that they don’t feel ok alone.
We need to help our dogs feel safe and relaxed being alone. Once we change how they feel about this situation, their behaviour will change. You can help your dog feel comfortable being alone.
Meet your dog’s needs before practicing home alone time
We want our dog’s emotional and physical needs met before we start practicing alone time. Give your puppy some mental stimulation in the form of training or sniffing or foraging; and some physical stimulation of play, walks, digging or chewing. You can also practice some doggy yoga to leave them in a calm state before practicing puppy home alone time.
Cover the basics and make sure your puppy isn’t in pain, isn’t hungry and doesn’t need to go to the toilet when you start to leave your puppy home alone.
The picture below of a dog’s emotionalcupgives a good idea of how we want our dogs to feel. If you have a situation which empties your dog’s cup, don’t choose these days to practice leaving your puppy home alone. For example, your pup may be having a particularly bad teething period where they are in pain, or they may be feeling a bit over stimulated due a busy day. These feelings are not conducive to your puppy being calm when left alone.
Build up your puppy’s home alone time gradually
Ideally we want our dogs to be bored with the idea of us leaving. This means we need to practice leaving our dogs alone so many times that our dogs get bored with each of these potential triggers of us getting ready to leave including: showering, dressing in particular clothes, putting shoes on, packing a bag, picking up keys etc. We then also need to practice the alone time as well where we aren’t at home.
More importantly, we need to practice at a level of intensity where our dog is not worried or distressed. If you are extending the duration and your dog is distressed, they are creating an association that you leaving is distressing. The right duration will vary depending on your dog. For some dogs, five seconds of you being out of sight will be distressing for them, for other dogs eight hours will be their limit. If your dog is getting distressed, reduce the time frame so you are always practicing at a duration where they are not distressed. Remember, we want them to be peaceful ambivalent with us leaving. Depending on your dog, this may mean that you are walking out the door for literally five seconds before turning around and coming back in again. As your puppy feels comfortable with this, you can then slowly increase the duration.
There are a variety of camera options to choose from so you can check in how your puppy is going home alone. We like Alfred as a free option.
Pair your puppy’s home alone time with something nice and relaxing
Give your puppy a puzzle food toy, a lickimat or a chew to be engaged with while you are introducing puppy home alone time. The activity of chewing and sniffing will help calm them down, and the tasty food will be a nice association with you leaving. Whatever type of food puzzle or chew you leave your puppy with, make sure it is one they will not choke on accidentally.
How do I leave my puppy home alone right now if I haven’t practiced?
Hopefully you are reading this before you are going back to work outside of your house full time so you have the opportunity to build up the alone time gradually.
Without the practice, it can be a bit daunting for you and your puppy to transition to 8-10 hours of alone time. To help with this transition you can get neighbours, family or friends involved in providing some much needed human contact. You can also look into hiring a pet sitter to come and visit in the middle of the day.
While dog day care may be an option for some pups, we find that most puppies become over excited in these places. While this is usually a ‘good’ form of stress, this continued experience of heightened stress can lead to long term issues such as an inability to settle or regulate emotions and general hyperactive behaviours.
Happy practicing everyone!
We’d love to hear your success stories! It can be daunting at the beginning if your pup or dog is unhappy with you leaving for even a few minutes. I remember when we first got our second dog Henry. At the start I thought I’d never be able to leave the house again. But with practice we got there.
As noted above, if you think your dog is extremely distressed when you leave the house please contact us for specific support.
Tara Ross – Blog author and Fur Get Me Not Trainer
Many years ago, when I got my first dog Liana, we enrolled straight away into a group dog training class for adult dogs. She’s the fawn colored one in this photo (how great is she?!).
For many dogs, a group dog training class is a great way for the humans to get some introductory information. In a good class set up, it is also a perfect environment for the dog to learn and be calm around other dogs.
Liana needed specific support
If I knew then what I know now, I wouldn’t have enrolled Liana for a group class straight away. Instead, I would have enrolled with her in a private one on one session with a qualified behaviorist.
I’m not suggesting that this is what every dog needs. However for Liana, she needed help. As her humans, we also needed a lot of help to be able to understand how to support her best. Teaching her to sit or go to her mat was exactly what we did not need. As newbie dog owners, we didn’t know that. We thought if we just worked harder on her loose lead walking skills she would stop trying to charge every dog she saw. Or if we just spent more time training she would be less anxious.
Unfortunately for Liana’s anxiety, she did not need her humans spending more time telling her what to do. In fact, she needed the opposite. From what we know of her history she was severely abused. Because of her past, a human standing front on to her and saying a cue was pretty intense and confrontational for her. So what she needed from us, and eventually got, was time, medication, and to feel safe just being herself.
What we needed as humans from the dog training school was for them to recognize that a group dog training class was not in her, or our best interest. If that had been the case then we would have been able to help her much earlier.
At Fur Get Me Not we will refer you to a one on one consult instead of group dog training class if we think this is in your dog’s best interest. Here are a few factors to consider.