The Zen Dog Dallas Group Class

One of my favorite classes, The Zen Dog, is a group class conducted here in Dallas. It’s a course that not only covers all the basics, but there is also a behavior component to it. We work on impulse control, calming skills, and focus. This class will help dogs that may pull just a little bit harder on the leash when passing another dog (or maybe he is dancing on the end of the leash), it will help your dog great people politely, and so much more.

Classes are conducted every month! We hope you will join! Click here for more info.

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BLOG WRITTEN BY MICHELLE HUNTTING

BUILDING THE BRIDGE OF COMMUNICATION BETWEEN DOG AND PET GUARDIAN.

COME CHECK OUT MY YOUTUBE CHANNEL

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Boy’s Pick of the Week: Leash Belt

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I am a dog lover. Okay, so maybe a little on the obsessive side. I am also a very busy woman. I wear many “hats” in the day: mom, friend, sister, dog trainer, house keeper, cousin, taxi, dog walker (for my own dogs), writer, cook, you name it. 

In my free time you can find me outdoors usually with my two dogs and twin boys. We go on walks, strolls, and bike rides. One of my frustrations in doing this, is trying to manage all the activities with just two hands; walk the dogs, push the stroller, stay sane. I was really excited when I found out Squishy Face makes a dog walking belt and could not wait to try it! I fell in love with their other products and am even more impressed with the belt.

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I am not sure a better design could happen with a leash walking belt. You simply clip the belt on the leash handle and then around your waist.

I was able to easily run with this, push the boys in the stroller, and go on a family walk.

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Tip: If you are a runner, I strongly recommend leashing a harness on your dog rather than his collar to avoid your dog  any neck injuries. 

Want to try out our favorite leash walking belt? CLICK HERE

Of course, having a nice “polite leash walking” cue would be very handy with this tool, so here is one of my leash walking secrets from my book “Control On Leash.” 

What you will need:

You will need treats, clicker*, leash, dog, and bait bag (treat tote).*Clicker is not required. Handler can use a verbal marker like the word “yes” instead.

For the first few times you work on this exercise, you will use your leash with the Squishy Face dog walking belt.  Having the leash in this position (up against your core) will help you realize how much you are using your arms versus your body as a whole to get your dog into position.

How To Teach:

Step 1#:  Start walking.

As you are moving forward, observe your dog. If you get one to two steps with your dog at your side, fantastic! Click (or say “yes!) and deliver treats, but make sure you keep walking. Please do not stop and ask for a sit as you deliver a treat, and then move on. It is completely fine to slow way down especially at first while you get the hang of it to deliver the treat, but please continue the movement.

 

Step 2#: (If dog goes out in front of you), stop and quickly begin to move backward. 

 

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Please note: After training hundreds of people I continually see pet owners stop, stand and wait for their dog to look at them. Please don’t! It’s crucial when you are going through this entire process that you go through the steps quickly. Don’t wait for him to look; simply start moving and he will look at you once the movement begins.

Step 3#:  Continue backing up until your dog is behind you or at your side.

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It is important to make sure that he is actually beside you or behind you. Many new handlers think that right in front of them is okay and reinforce this position. Right in front is not beside or behind.


 Step 4#: When he’s behind or beside you, click (or verabl mark with “yes”) and quickly move forward again.

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The reward in this situation is the movement forward, not a treat. If you treat after your dog moves out in front of you, your dog will more than likely learn the pattern of going out to the end of the leash and return for a tasty treat, and then repeat by going back out to the end of the leash.

Step 5#: During this entire process, any time your dog walks two or more steps alongside you, click (mark), and deliver a treat. 

Again, do not stop walking when delivering the treat, and never cue a sit when you are working on leash walking! Expect that it will take some practice to learn how to keep moving while you hand the treat to your dog, but I know you can do it. Watch your dog for ANY eye contact toward you; then click and treat.

You will start the training process with the Squishy Face walking belt for polite leash walking. Once your dog is doing well you can begin using just your hands and only use the belt when you would like to keep your hands free. 

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BLOG WRITTEN BY MICHELLE HUNTTING

BUILDING THE BRIDGE OF COMMUNICATION BETWEEN DOG AND PET GUARDIAN.

COME CHECK OUT MY YOUTUBE CHANNEL

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Twelve Days of Dog Training: Day 5

 

5 Training Tips for Deaf Dog Pet Parents
brought to you by Michelle Huntting and Dog & His Boy

The very idea of living with a deaf dog can be terrifying if you’ve never met a deaf dog and, to be honest, that includes the vast majority of the world’s population. Beginning a lifelong adventure with a deaf dog can seem overwhelming at first: learning then teaching hand signs and actually remembering to USE them- and that’s just communication! That doesn’t even begin to address safety, startle responses, deaf dog singing or all the other unique things about a life lived with a deaf dog.

Yes, deaf dog karaoke is something no one should miss! Here Edison sings his portion of The Twelve Days of Christmas

The first few weeks after we adopted Edison, the first of two deaf dogs to join our family, were intense, frightening and intriguing. The hours stretched into days as we exhaustively combed the internet for information about living with deaf dogs. My husband and I were looking for websites, blogs, books or articles that could tell us more about a life lived with a deaf dog.

We were hungry for training tips and we learned a lot during those first weeks and months and have learned many more things in the three and a half years since. Ultimately, what I’ve realized is that living with and training a deaf dog isn’t harder, it’s just different.

Here are a 5 training tips to help new deaf dog pet parents get started with hand sign training. I hope these ease your anxiety and fears as you begin to communicate with a dog in a way you never imagined. If you have any questions or have one of those “Holy Guacamole, what have I gotten myself into?” moments, please reach out. I’ve been there and I can help or get you to someone who can.

5 Basic Hand Sign Every Deaf Dog Should Know

  1. Thumbs Up (Visual Clicker Training): This modified-clicker training exercise is critically important. Since deaf dogs can’t hear a clicker, we mark the behavior we want with a thumbs up (or a flash of the palm).To teach this, I give a thumbs up immediately followed by a treat. I repeat this many times throughout our first days and weeks together. The point is to get your dog to associate a thumbs up (the click) with a reward (the treat). Once he has made this association, you can use clicker-training principles when teaching new skills to a deaf dog, my simply replacing the “click” with a thumbs up!

Deaf Dog Bonus: Unlike a clicker, you’ll never leave home without your thumb!

  1. Watch Me:

The next important skill I recommend teaching is a “Watch Me” sign. By teaching your deaf dog to constantly check in, you are able to communicate with him, redirect him away from undesired behaviors to appropriate ones, keep him safe in the event of a dangerous situation and generally help him make better life choices.

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For “Watch We”, I draw my index finger up towards my nose. In the beginning, as soon as my deaf dog makes eye contact, I reward the behavior by giving a treat. With time and repetition, your deaf dog will consistently check in with you for information. Or a treat!

  1. Sit:

Sit is a basic obedience command every dog, deaf or not, should know. Not only does it demonstrate good manners, it is also a skill that allows you to gain control of any situation. Once your dog will sit consistently when asked, you can impress at smart dinner parties or diffuse a chaotic situation if you need to.

If, for example, our boys are roughhousing too much, I can simply have each of them sit so I can gain control of the environment, their behavior and give each of them a few minutes to calm down. There are many other situations where this skill will come in handy.

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I teach my deaf dogs two signs for sit: an obedience sign and the ASL sign. I always teach them the obedience sign first and then, once mastered, I add the ASL sign. I teach two signs because, well, my dogs like to show off! They take after me that way.

4. Directional Training:

Directional training is the non-verbal way of saying, “come here”, “go there” or “move this way”. This is another foundation skill you should teach your deaf dog early on. Not only can you ask your dog to come to you or go to bed, but you can also direct him out of the way of danger if need be.

Pointing to myself is “come”, or I can point at him and move my finger towards where I want him to go, say his crate, away from the front door or out of the kitchen. The easiest way to begin to teaching this skill by luring him with a treat and then build from there.

  1. No-Release Stay: Stay is a skill with many obvious benefits, but why a stay with no release? The reasons are simple, and they have to do with both focus AND safety. When I teach a deaf dog to stay, I teach him to stay where he is until I use directional pointing to move him someplace else. Generally, after he sits nicely, I will point to where I want him to go and then give him the sign for “play”, “food”, “go to car” or some other fun activity.

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I do this because I want to know with complete confidence that he will stay where I put him, without fail- until I move him elsewhere. This skill teaches him focus and impulse control, but it also gives me the confidence of knowing that, if I encounter a dangerous situation, whatever it may be, that I can put my deaf dog in a stay position and he will not break it until I move him.

In time, and in with practice, you will gain confidence in training your deaf dog. My favorite moments are still those ones where I can see a light bulb going off in Edison or Foster’s head when they finally understand what I’m saying with a new finger movement or flip of my wrist.

As you make lists of new signs you want to teach, learn those signs, practice them and then teach them, you will find that you have begun to wordlessly communicate with your deaf do. That, my friends, is a magical gift wholly unique to those of us who shares our lives with deaf dogs.

Have you connected with Edison on Instagram? It’s as easy as a single click and it’s right here!

As weeks turn into months then years, the bond between you and your deaf dog organically grows and deepens. Communication becomes subtle and intuitive and, in many ways, it feels like you are reading each other’s mind. When that day comes, give your deaf love bug an especially big hug and celebrate. But don’t stop there…

The only limitations when training a deaf dog are those that you place on yourself. Shoot for the stars, I say, because you’ll probably grab a few!

For more thoughts about communicating with your dog using only your body, check out Talk To Your Deaf Dog. Don’t Just Sign!

Check out Michelle’s other 12 Days of Dog Training Tips or the Pet Holiday Zen Tips!
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Train and Save; Prevent Bolting

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One of the preeminent responsibilities of any pet owner is to provide for the safety of the pet. So much of what owners and trainers do is to ensure that the pets in their charge are safe and well cared for. Owners vaccinate, feed a proper diet, make sure their pets get adequate exercise, give them lots of love and attention, and so much more. Trainers dutifully work to make the lives of both the owner and the pet easier and more in sync with one another.

One of the most important and challenging safety precautions for dog owners is how to prevent their dogs from bolting from an open car door when the dog is along for the ride and the owner makes a stop at the store or bank, for example. It doesn’t take more than once for a pet owner to realize the horror of a dog running around a parking lot or out into the street.

The solution to this frightening possibility is for the dog to be well trained in the stay and release commands. Following are the steps I recommend to teach both cues and ultimately prevent bolting.

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tay is an extremely important cue if bolting is an issue for your dog. You must work on a strong cue so that if the door is opened either to the vehicle or to your house, you can cue “stay,” and your dog will be able to have the impulse control to wait until he hears the release cue.

The stay cue promotes strong impulse control for your dog and helps him learn to focus. You will use stay while out walking your dog, before you cross the street, if you need to tie your shoe, and a plethora of other occasions, not the least of which is when he is inside your car and you want him to stay there.

When you first start teaching the behavior of stay, you establish the behavior by encouraging duration. Once you’ve established a 15- second duration, you will start working with distance by having the handler back up.

How to Teach Stay:

To teach the stay cue, you will have first taught sit.

  1. Cue your dog to “sit.” Using a clicker, my preferred training tool, click when he sits. Stand by him and give an occasional treat.
  1. Once your dog is able to sit with you standing by him for about 15 seconds, then move on to the next step.
  1. Start adding movement. Click if your dog stays in a position. Note: If my dog moves into a complete down (lying) instead of a sit, I find this acceptable.
    1. Rock back and forth. If your dog stays in a sit position, click and treat.
    2. Pick your feet up as you rock back and forth. If he stays, click and treat.
    3. Move your feet back and forth in front of dog. If he stays, click and treat.
    4. Pivot your foot back and forth. If he stays, click and treat.
    5. Take one full step to the side then the other side.
    6. Take one full step back.
    7. Take two full steps back.
    8. Take a step to the dog’s side. If the dog stays, click and treat.
    9. Step to the dog’s other side. If he stays, click and treat.
    10. Walk around the dog while luring him with a treat in front of his nose.
    11. Give your dog your back while you turn your head to maintain eye contact.
    12. Dance in front of your dog.
    13. Talk in a high-pitched voice.
    14. Run up towards your dog.
    15. Sing in front of your dog.
    16. Give your dog your back and only look back occasionally to build stay
    17. Walk away, giving your dog your back, but still look back occasionally.
    18. Move halfway around your dog.
    19. Shift weight and rock in front of him.
    20. Move all the way around the dog.

Get the idea? You want to vary your position and your movements so that the command does not become linked to a single position in your dog’s mind. Once the dog is able to stay while you move, it is time to add the “stay” cue. I verbally cue this, but I also add the non-verbal cue of my hand flat out in front of the dog’s face. You will repeat all the steps listed above, but this time you will add the cue.

Importance of the Release Cue

Once you have completed the training for stay, you must, of course, teach your dog when it is acceptable for him to leave his position by releasing him. The release cue is very important and often forgotten. When handlers forget to communicate the release cue, dogs are confused or hesitant. Dogs need consistent communication. Be consistent with your release cue no matter what behavior you are releasing because, to your dog, this cue means he will have permission to move around.

I use the word “okay” to release my dogs from a stay. You can use the activities on the preceding page and then the release word that you choose. As you give the release cue, be sure to remain stationary. If you move as you say your release word, your dog will learn to watch your body movement rather than learning to listen for the verbal cue. If you move and then say the release word, he will more than likely follow your non-verbal cues.

Cue “stay” —> Do one of the activities —-> Cue verbal release —> Move

Following the pattern I have suggested will help you set your dog up for success. After you say the release cue, then you should encourage your dog to get up (by using movement, a kissing sound, snap of fingers, or a hand clap). Using this method will help your dog to begin associating the behavior of moving out of the stay position with your release cue.

Prevent Bolting from Car

Now it is time to put your training with stay and release into practice to prevent bolting.

While you are working on this next exercise, please have your dog on a dropped leash for safety purposes. In addition, park your vehicle in a safe environment such as near an open field or a park so that if he should bolt before you have successfully completed his training, no harm will come to him.

  1. Once your dog has an established stay, place him in his typical resting place in the vehicle Cue a “stay” and release him out of the car to you. Repeat this 3-4 times for 2 sessions.

Be sure to make the release a “non-event.” In other words, after you release your dog, don’t make a big “hooray” deal. Rather, go about your business as normal. If you do act excited after the release, it will encourage your dog to bolt and this is not what we want!

  1. Practice getting in/out of the vehicle and cueing the “stay.” Leave the door open after you get out. Repeat this 3-4 times for 2 sessions.
  1. Once your dog is successfully and calmly staying, you can begin to add some distractions like a person walking by at a distance or any other thing that you have been having issues with (like another dog on leash). Be sure when you do add distractions that you do so with distance and that your dog is leashed.
  1. Once you are confident your dog has mastered the commands, it is time to take stay to the road. Practice your stays in different locations. The first place can be in your vehicle parked down the road from your home, but thereafter, you will need to add some realism to the training.

VOILA! Though it is unlikely you can ever completely secure your dog’s safety, just as it is unlikely you can completely ensure your own or your other loved ones’, by successfully teaching the stay and release cues, you have taken a giant step toward protecting your dog from a potentially life-threatening situation. If you are going to carefully choose just the right food for your dog, just the right exercise regimen, cuddle and love him, it only makes sense to take this vital step to ensuring his safety in the car or elsewhere.

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Blog written by Michelle Huntting

Stop Your Dog from Leash Pulling (Part 2)

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Many times humans are unaware that they are on a different communication wave length than dogs. The pet owner is frustrated because they think they are clearly communicating, but the dog is confused and many times begins to shut down. It reminds me of someone speaking English to a person who does not understand the language.  Instead of changing what they say or their gestures, they continue to say the same thing, getting louder each time. To work toward polite leash walking skills, you must first know how to successfully speak your dog’s language.

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One of the ways we communicate to each other is through the movement of our hands and arms. “Move the chair over there,” we say as we extend our arm and point to the corner of the room. Other humans would automatically know where “there” is from the arm extension and finger point.  If we want to position our children just right for a family photo, we will use our hands to move them into the exact pose. We do the same with our dogs because, after all, we are human and this is the way we communicate to each other.

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As our dogs begin to pull, our natural instinct is to pull the leash back with our hand and arm, to move them into the desired position. We assume our dogs understand that when we pull back on the leash they understand the desired position, but as we have observed the dogs just don’t get it.

The Body as a Whole

If you have ever watched a dog herd, he will move in the direction that he wants the flock to go. Dogs understand movement in a completely different way than humans.  Dogs use a combination of body movement, pressure and release of pressure to get the herd to move.  Rather than moving only your arm to communicate the direction you would like your dog to go, you must move your entire body.

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Dogs understand movement in a completely different way than humans.  When walking him on the leash, rather than moving your arm to communicate the direction you would like him to go, you must move your entire body.

Opposite Day

If I wanted you to move closer to me, I would take steps close to you and you would naturally take steps toward me. Dogs are the opposite. If I take two steps toward a dog, he will take two steps back. Have you ever noticed when you start to walk toward your dog, unlike a human, he will back up?

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To communicate on the leash in a way that your dog will understand, you must use your whole body movement in the opposite direction that you want him to go.

Michelle Huntting’s Training Method

You will need treats, clicker*, leash, dog, and bait bag (treat tote).
*Clicker is not required. Handler can use a verbal marker like the word “yes” instead.

For the first few times you work on this exercise, take the leash handle with your dominant hand and place your hand with the leash against your tummy (with hand flat pressing the leash against tummy, as shown in the picture of me below). This position will help you realize how much you are using your arms versus your body as a whole to get your dog into position.

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How To Teach:

Step 1#:  Start walking.

As you are moving forward, observe your dog. If you get one to two steps with your dog at your side, fantastic! Click and deliver treats, but make sure you keep walking. Please do not stop and ask for a sit as you deliver a treat, and then move on. It is completely fine to slow way down especially at first while you get the hang of it to deliver the treat, but please continue the movement.

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Also, be watching your dog for any intention of moving out in front of you.

Step 2#: (If dog goes out in front of you), stop and make a sound. The sole purpose of this sound is to be polite. When I was pregnant, I had gotten so dehydrated that I was admitted to the hospital for fluids. The nurse was taking me down a hall as I was attached to the IV pole. She turned to go in a different direction without saying a word to me as I continued walking forward. I quickly changed directions, but in that moment, I thought, “Wow that must be how dogs feel when they are on leash and no one alerts them of a change.” It has been my experience that a sound gives a polite “heads up” that we’re moving or changing direction. Again, this sound should not be correctional, but a polite sound to let him know you are changing directions. Sometimes I use a quick “kissing” sound, and I have also used a quick “hup” sound.

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                I stopped because Boy went out in front of me. I made a sound and started moving back.

Please note: It’s crucial when you are going through this entire process that you go through the steps quickly. Don’t wait for him to look; simply go through the process. He will look at you once the movement begins.

Step 3#:  Start backing up until your dog is behind you or at your side.

It is important to make sure that he is actually beside you or behind you. Many new handlers think that right in front of them is okay and reinforce this position. Right in front is not beside or behind.

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I will keep moving back until Boy is beside or behind me.

 Step 4#: When he’s behind or beside you, click (mark) and quickly move forward again.

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Boy is behind me so I clicked and moved forward. Note from picture: With this method, at times when moving forward, you will need to shift the leash around your back to the front of your body again.

The reward in this situation is the movement forward, not a treat. If you treat after your dog moves out in front of you, your dog will more than likely learn the pattern of going out to the end of the leash and return for a tasty treat, and then repeat by going back out to the end of the leash.

Step 5#: During this entire process, any time your dog walks two or more steps alongside you, click (mark), and deliver a treat. Again, do not stop walking when delivering the treat, and never cue a sit when you are working on leash walking! Expect that it will take some practice to learn how to keep moving while you hand the treat to your dog, but I know you can do it. Watch your dog for ANY eye contact toward you; then click and treat.
    

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Blog written by Michelle Huntting
www.michellehuntting.com
This information is sourced from Michelle’s book, Control on Leash

Join Michelle Huntting for a Control on Leash Workshop in April!!

Control on Leash Workshop is one day of hands-on learning where you will gain all the needed tools to successfully gain a focused, calm, and self-controlled dog on leash.   Michelle brings together her years of research on a positive leash walking method that truly works combined with biofeedback and other innovative training techniques to set pet owners and their dogs up for success.   Michelle’s background in education and fun personality not only makes learning easy for dog handlers of all levels, but she provides ground breaking training techniques and new ideas for pet owners and trainers through this interactive workshop. You won’t want to miss it!

 Saturday April 12th 9:00am–4:00pm

For more details click here

Help! I’m Barking and Can’t Stop!

barkIf you have ever heard a bloodhound bay, you will know how ear piercing it can truly be. My rescued bloodhound Ellie came into my life with, let’s just say, a barking issue. Ellie thought that if someone walked by my house it was her duty to alert not only me, but everyone on the block. Being the responsible pet owner that I am, I taught Ellie a thank you cue within the first month of being her guardian. The thank you cue is something that I taught my dogs that still allows them to bark, but asks them to stop when cued.

I think back to the Iowa winter day when Ellie was outside and some kids walked by on their way to school. I heard her bay and she was on the other side of the garage where I couldn’t see her. I opened the sliding glass door and yelled, “THANK YOU!” Ellie ran as fast as she could and sat in front of me like a little soldier. Remembering her reaction still makes me smile many years later!

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Photo of Ellie by Cheryl Kenyon

Let’s Talk Bark
Dogs bark for many reasons. Some include boredom, anxiety, alerting, elevation, attention-seeking, or in play.

Barking is a natural part of the dog’s world and it’s also a way of communicating. If you are experiencing problems with barking, the first step is to determine what he’s barking at as this will guide your course of action.

Teach the Thank You Cue
The thank you cue will allow your dog to bark, but asks him to stop when cued. You are welcome to use any word that you’d like for this cue. Some of my clients have used that’ll do.

Outside of training sessions it’s important to have stimulus control. That is just the trainer’s fancy way of saying, “Keep the blinds pulled!” Barking at people works really well for your dogs. Think about it. Humans walk by your house, your dog barks, and the people (because they continued to walk past your house) left your yard. In your dog’s mind, barking worked. Your dog’s behavior served him, so he will continue to do it and the more he does it the more it’s reinforced.

So outside of training sessions, make sure the environment (like keeping the blinds pulled) will set him up for success so he won’t bark while you are gone or when you are not focused on training.

STEP ONE:
During your training sessions open the blinds. During this time you will be waiting for stimulus (like a dog/person walking by), so he will bark. When I train the thank you cue, I set aside a block of time and multitask like working on my computer while I wait for my dogs to bark.

Also, have a lot of pea sized treats ready to roll. I like using Charlee Bears.

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STEP TWO:
As soon as your dog barks say, “Thank you!” and start delivering several treats one right after another.* Don’t be afraid to deliver several (5-10 pea sized) treats. Typically after a few treats your dog will sit in front of you. After he is focused on you,  go back to your work and repeat the process as the barking occurs.

Do one session five days a week for two weeks.

*If you have delivered several treats, gained his focus for a few seconds and he starts barking again, repeat the process. Re-cue “thank you” and deliver treats. If he continues to bark after you have gone through the process two times, redirect him with something to chew like a stuffed Kong or bully stick.

Outside of Formal Training Sessions
If your dog barks at a noise or something else outside of training sessions you can cue “thank you” and deliver the treats just as if you are in a formal training session. Be sure to have your treats ready to go.

STEP THREE:
During this week’s training sessions (week three), after your dog starts barking cue, “Thank you!” and wait for him to move toward you. As soon as he gets to you, start delivering treats. Deliver treats until your dog is sitting in front of you and focused.

STEP FOUR:
Formal sessions are no longer needed for the next two weeks. As you are going about your day and your dog barks cue “thank you” and deliver treats. I recommend that you give treats after every thank you for the following month.

Fading the Treats
After this month, you can start giving random rewards (fading the treat). In other words, sometimes you say, “Good boy!” and other times you deliver treats. It’s important that you are still randomly reinforcing from here on out, but treats are not needed every time you cue thank you.

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Blog written by: Michelle Huntting
www.michellehuntting.com

Note: There are many underlying issues and many different reasons why dogs bark. This is a simple article to help the majority of pet owners that have slight issues with their dog barking as people or dogs walk past the house.  If you have a dog that is experiencing extreme barking issues please contact a qualified professional in your area to evaluate and help modify his behavior.

Check out other popular blogs:

  

Stop Leash Pulling! 

 

 

 

 

Treats, Money, and Motivation

I will often hear trainers proudly say, “I don’t use treats because I train in the REAL world.”

In the real world we go to work every day. One of my dad’s favorite lines is from the movie It’s a Wonderful Life and it’s about money. George says to the angel Clarence, “It [money] comes in pretty handy down here, Bub.”

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Photo from It’s a Wonderful Life

It’s true. We need money for food so we can feed our kids, ourselves, and our dogs. We need money for gas in our car to even get to work or to get to the grocery store. We need money to pay for homes that we live in. Money comes in pretty handy. We live in the real world.

What if your boss says to you, “I decided that you should come to work every day for me and in return I am going to tell you at the end of the week, ‘Atta, boy!'” You would more than likely not return to work.

Money is a motivation and reinforcement for humans. We will do many things for money.

Dogs are living, breathing beings that have their own emotions, thoughts, dreams, and will. It is an unrealistic expectation that they will work just for their owner. You may really enjoy your boss. Heck, your boss may even be your friend, but you will need more than friendship or an “Atta boy” at the end of the week to show up to work every day.

Dog’s need motivation and reinforcement as well.

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When training dogs, there are so many different kinds of reinforcement, but at the top of the list is food.

Are we still living in the real world if food is a motivation for dogs? Yes, because the issue isn’t the treats or food. Bottom line, to get dogs to listen without any food we must first train with food

What I often hear pet owners say is, “I don’t want to use treats with my dog because I want him to listen to me.” Because that’s what I want for you too, I have listed a few tips on using food to reinforce and establish behaviors.

Timing Matters
The timing of treat delivery matters. Let’s say you cue your dog to “come” and start shaking the treat bag and he comes running inside. This is a great example of what not to do:

Cue behavior “come” –> Shake treat bag –> dog comes –> deliver treat

It’s important to deliver treats at the correct time because if the treats are shown or delivered as listed above, then you will be using treats as a bribe not as a reinforcer. If this is your pattern in training you will ALWAYS be stuck in this rut. If you want to always pull out a treat to get your dog to come or in a sit then continue this pattern. Don’t get stuck in a rut. This pattern will not take you down to the road called “he listens without food.”

Here is the pattern that will take you down the path of focus and reliable behavior:

Cue behavior “sit” –> Dog performs sit –> Deliver treat


Reinforce, Reinforce, Reinforce

If you have ever done weight training, you know that doing many reps will help build muscle. If you lift a weight one time and call it a day, it seems silly to even waste your time. You will never tone or build a muscle using one rep. You must condition your muscle with continuous repetitive motion.

If you give your dog one treat for a behavior that you liked, that is like doing one rep to build a muscle. Imagine though, that just like you might hit the gym hard for a month working on a specific area of your body, you decided to do this with your dog.

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For example, you are tired of your dog jumping on guests, so you decide that you are going to reinforce the behavior of sit. So twice a day you do three minute formal sessions. During these formal sessions you cue your dog to “sit” and once he does you deliver a treat. Outside of that time you notice every time he sits (without being cued), and you give him a treat.

For an entire month, you conditioned your dog with reinforcement of a particular behavior. At the end of the month, your dog will be sitting like a little statue. Reinforcement doesn’t happen with one repetition. You must build behaviors, just like you do your muscles.

Fading the Treats
When I first start teaching a desired behavior, chicken is falling out of the sky! But as we progress in the training process and “muscles” are built, I will simply maintain those “muscles” with random reinforcement (radon reinforcement is explained below).

It’s important to note that I wait until after a behavior is strongly established before I begin to decrease the amount of treats used in training.

Once a behavior is strongly established (the dog offers behavior all the time) then you can start the process of fading treats.

Random Reinforcement
I am not much of a gambler, but if you have ever been to a casino you know that the slot machines use random reinforcement. It’s brilliant, really. Humans, just like dogs, work for random reinforcement. The hope for the big win will keep people playing the game.

After establishing a strong behavior, it’s important that you randomly reinforce.

A great example of this, in my household, is the cue come. I incorporate training into my everyday life with my dogs, so sometimes I will give them a piece of steak or chicken when they come inside. Sometimes I will say, “Good Boy.” They never know when they will win big. With random reinforcement I keep them guessing as well as motivated.

Bottom Line
In the real world food isn’t the culprit;  it’s your friend. Use food wisely in training and you will be well on your way to having an engaged, well-behaved dog whether food is present or not.

Blog written by Michelle Huntting
www.michellehuntting.com