Archive for October, 2009|Monthly archive page

The More You Know The Better You Get

DaphneI had a great time in Maine this past weekend offering presentations on living and working with fearful dogs. What was clear to me when I spoke to people was that the more you understand about the fundamentals of dog training, the better you’ll be at helping your scared dog.

One of the common mistakes that people make with their dogs is assuming that their dogs know and understand more than they do. If a dog happens to do the right thing as far as we’re concerned it’s a done deal, we stop training and rewarding the behavior and then are upset when the dog fails to perform it on cue.

As you are working with your dog it is probably safe to assume that you are not rewarding the behaviors you want soon or often enough. If you are not using a clicker or marker word you may be missing the boat entirely and your dog has no idea what the actual behavior is for which you are praising or treating them. It’s difficult enough for a fearful dog to think and concentration as is, why make it harder for them by being unclear about what you’re after?

I’ll be putting my money where my mouth is and spending five days at the APDT conference in California next week. For most of my life I’d been able to muddle my way through training my dogs, Sunny raised the bar for me. Since he has been so good about making the effort to learn and change I figure I’ll return the favor.

Be sure to visit for more information about working with your scared dog.


It’s Not Just The Dog That Feels Better

Lasts weekend in both shy dog agility class and a Control Unleashed-based class for reactive dogs there were owners returning for a second set of classes with their dogs. Not only was the improvement in the dogs apparent, their owners were looking fabulous as well.

Anyone who finds themselves with a challenging dog will appreciate how simple activities can require special pre-planning and are often fraught with worry and concern. What if someone shows up? What if there is a dog off leash? Not knowing how to respond in these situations, and likely a number of bad experiences fueling the anxiety that is felt, makes it difficult for owners to handle their dogs in a way which will lead to an improvement in the dog’s behavior.

By using positive reinforcement training techniques and rewarding their dog for focusing on them, both dogs and handlers began to appear calmer and more ‘in control’ of themselves. The dogs which had often looked at their owner in the past and received no information, were now looking at an owner who provided a response. That response may have been to reward the attention or to offer a cue to perform a different behavior. Owners were no longer just impediments to their dogs movement because they held their dog’s leash. They were a team (I’m tempted to say ‘couple’), both sharing their preferences as to how they would like impending events to unfold. ‘I’d rather not get closer to that person’ one dog might be indicating and her owner acknowledges the request. A young, high energy dog makes it clear that he’d like to race headlong into another dog while his owner shows him that she had other plans for him.

While observing a training workshop for fearful dogs hosted by trainer Sarah Wilson I was impressed by her positive reinforcement of one handler, a wide-eyed woman who was tense with concern. As the woman began to focus more on her dog and use the techniques the group was practicing, Sarah was quick to compliment her and I watched as her ‘deer in the headlights’ look began to fade. Both she and her dog responded to the information that they were on the right track.

Back in the shy dog agility class one owner was excited to go out and purchase a hula hoop so she could continue the shaping exercises we started to help her dog feel more comfortable going through objects. Interacting with her dog had become a game, instead of a chore. The owner of the young, high energy dog had learned how to use movement to distract her dog and did not hesitate to walk away from a situation in which her dog was becoming over aroused. As I watched her I thought ‘she looks like a trainer’. To her dog I think she might be looking like a pretty good friend.