Do any of these scenarios sound familiar?
Your dog dashes out the door, ignoring your calls to come. He jumps up on someone to say hello while you repeatedly call him to come. Finally he does, and you say “Bad dog!”
You suddenly realize how quiet it is and wonder what your dog may be up to, only to find her chewing on a new pair of expensive eyewear, shoes, or a pen. You say, “Drop it.” She does, and you say “Bad dog!”
You let your dog out into the yard. It’s 6 a.m., and he starts to bark. You are in your pyjamas, and you call for him to come. He does, and you say “Bad dog! No barking!”
You take a roast out of the oven and go to answer the phone. Out of the corner of your eye, you see your dog jumping up onto the counter to reach for it. You say “off,” she listens, and you say “Bad dog!”
These are all very common scenarios, and it feels right to want to punish your dog in that moment. Frustration takes over logic. It is imperative to be mindful of those moments, as they are great training and learning opportunities for your dog.
Imagine it from your dog’s point of view. Say you were in the middle
of doing something and someone called you over. You listen only to get punished. Would you go again the next time that person called?
Behaviour is driven by consequences. This is what’s called Thorndike’s Law of Effect. It’s all about what happens right after a behaviour. Good things happen, and your dog will repeat the behaviour. Bad things happen, and your dog will learn to avoid the behaviour.
Reward your dog for doing the right behaviour even if he was doing the wrong behaviour moments before. If your dog comes when called, drops the item when cued, or gets off the counter when asked, then those are the moments that need to be reinforced, rewarded, and praised.
So what can you do to prevent your dog from doing “bad” behaviours?
Teach your dog a reliable recall. That is, to immediately return to you when called. Coming to you should be much more rewarding than whatever he or she is doing.
Keep items out of reach if your dog is not allowed to chew on them. Make sure that your dog has plenty of toys to play with and supervise him to prevent mistakes.
If your dog is “counter surfing,” climbing up on the counters, management is the best option. Don’t let her learn that behaviour in the first place by keeping the counters free of any food. Don’t feed table food while you are preparing it. Teach your dog an alternate behaviour, such as going to her bed and staying put while food is out. If your dog is about to go for that roast and you tell her to get off and she listens, reward her.
If your dog is in the backyard and barking, consider the reasons why. Is he bored? Did he hear a sound or see a squirrel? Accompany your dog outside. Reward him for paying attention to you. Teach him to be quiet when cued. Reward him for silence.
Every moment we have with our dogs is an opportunity to affect their behaviour. Dogs want to know what’s in it for them and need motivation, just like we do. Make sure the behaviours you want are generously and consistently reinforced and the behaviours you don’t like are prevented through diligent management rather than punishment.
Treat your dog as a learner and not your adversary and always be mindful of the moment.
Marlo Hiltz, CPDT-KA, KPA-CTP.
As a dog trainer, I believe that using treats for training is one of the most efficient ways to reinforce desired behaviours. How you use them matters. Also, I often get asked the questions “When do I stop using treats and is using human food as treats bad for my dog?”
Does your dog only perform a behaviour if they know that you have a treat? If yes, this is often the result of a training technique called luring. Luring is when you move the treat in front of your dog’s nose to manipulate your dog until you get the desired behaviour and then give the dog the treat. For example, for sit, you would move the treat above your dog’s nose until the dog’s bum hits the floor and then treat. If you only use this technique then your dog will become dependant on the treat for a sit.
Luring can be effective if you fade the lure as quickly as possible. To do this, have a treat in both hands. Lure your dog into a sit by holding the treat in one of your hands over his nose, and then reinforce using the treat from the other hand only. Eventually you can remove the treat from the luring hand and continue to treat from the other hand.
You can also teach your dog a reward marker. It’s a signal that lets your dog know that he made the right choice. A clicker or the word “yes” make good markers. When your puppy is paying attention to you, pair your reward marker with a treat.
Your dog will soon learn that when they hear the reward marker they’ve earned a treat. The treat comes after the behaviour.
You should also hide treats. Either keep them in a bait bag or in a bowl on the counter but in easy reach.
If you are using a treat as a reinforcer (which is anything your dog likes and will work to get), the best way to use it is to go from a continuous schedule of reinforcement, which means that every desired response is reinforced (one sit = one treat), to a random or variable schedule of reinforcement, which means reinforcing desired behaviours after varying numbers of correct responses (1 sit = 1 treat, 3 sits = 1 treat, 5 sits = 1 treat, 2 sits = 1 treat).
While we’ll only be covering treats here, it is good to vary your reinforcers. Here are some examples, but remember it has to be something your dog will work for: toys, games, belly rubs, access to other dogs, and praise. Make a list of your dog’s reinforcers and vary them.
Treats should only compose 10% of your dog’s daily food ration, and they should only be about the size of a pea. That way you’ll have a lot to work with during training sessions.
I always keep treats around. I keep them in my pocket, in little containers around the house, and in the car. I never know when there is going to be a rewardable moment, and I like to be prepared. I never take my dog’s good behaviours for granted. I always use treats for recalls when we are out in the park.
If you read the list of ingredients on your dog’s food bag, you’ll see that it is made of “human” food. It is important to make sure that your dog is getting a balanced diet and that it comes primarily from your dog’s food. Some human food is bad for dogs, like chocolate, grapes, raisins, cooked meat bones, avocados, and some nuts. People will often use leftover meat as treats. Lean meats with no spices are okay in small amounts. Do not feed from the table though, as it will promote begging.
I use pumpkin, apples, carrots, lean meats, lean cheeses, and peanut butter as treats for my dogs. I’ll even smear peanut butter on my skin to teach dogs to give kisses.
So in conclusion, keep the treats coming and happy training!
Marlo Hiltz, CPDT-KA, KPA-CTP.
As a trainer, all too often I get called in to fix behaviour problems that pet owners could have easily prevented their puppy from learning in the first place. Easily? Yes.
Preventing your puppy from learning unwanted behaviours is so much
easier than fixing them once they have become a problem. The more opportunities your puppy has to practise a behaviour, the better they will get at it. If you prevent these opportunities, then your puppy won’t have the chance to learn those behaviours.
A few examples...
Jumping on People at the Door
Puppies usually learn to jump on people at the door when they are first brought home. Many people allow their puppy to run to the door and greet people BEFORE they have learned how to greet politely. Most puppies will jump up to get attention, and since they are so small and cute, that is what they usually get.
Even if you push them off and say “no,” you are still giving them attention. To set your puppy up for success, do not allow them access to the front door.
Or if you do, keep them on a leash and only allow people to pet them if the dog has all four paws on the floor. I usually will keep my puppy behind a baby gate in the kitchen and work on polite greetings (all four paws on the floor or a sit) before allowing anyone to say hi to them.
Using what your puppy wants (attention is normally the motivation behind jumping), you can easily get those polite behaviours. Preventing your puppy from jumping on people is the first step.
Counter Surfing and Rummaging Through the Garbage
All it takes is for your puppy to be successful ONCE for this to become a problem. Here’s a human analogy: imagine you walked by a garbage bin and found a $100 bill! You would be hard pressed to walk by that very same bin without checking it again, and probably for the rest of your life.
Simply keeping the counters clean and free of food and locking up garbage behind a cupboard is the solution. Keeping your puppy crated while you’re cooking will also help.
Prevent your dog from chewing inappropriate objects by putting them away. Shoes are a great example. Keep them in a box or closet until your puppy has developed an appropriate chew-toy habit. Anything left on the floor is fair game to a puppy.
Pulling on the Leash
Prevent your puppy from learning to pull by never moving forward while
there is tension on the leash. Allowing your puppy to get where they want to go will only reinforce the pulling.
Only move forward when there is slack on the leash. Reinforce your puppy
for a loose leash by giving them treats when they stay beside you. You can also use the things in the environment that your puppy wants to see or smell as a reward by only allowing the puppy to get to those things when on a loose leash.
Set them up for success by identifying the environments and situations where your puppy is doing the behaviours you don’t like and come up with positive solutions to prevent them from having the opportunity to practise those behaviours. Remember, the more they get to practise the unwanted behaviours, the better they will get at them.
And when can you start training your puppy? As soon as you bring them home. They are always learning! By changing YOUR behaviour and setting your puppy up for success, you will change THEIR behaviour.
Marlo Hiltz, CPDT-KA, KPA-CTP.
If your dog pulls on leash, walking him can literally be a pain – for both you and your dog. Your arms and shoulders hurt, you can develop bursitis, or you could slip and fall. You could also cause your dog long-term damage if you are using equipment around his neck; chronic pulling on the leash can result in tracheal collapse, whiplash, eye damage, or even hypothyroidism. Collars should only be used to hold tags.
Loose-leash walking (LLW) is defined as having your dog walk with you on a leash that has no tension. A retractable leash is not a good tool to help you teach your dog this behaviour, as it provides constant tension. I recommend using a harness, preferably a front-buckle harness like the Easy Walk or the Freedom Harness. This takes the pressure off of your dog’s neck and will give you more control and comfort.
So why do dogs pull? Because it works. Whenever they pull, they get to go where they want.
Practise loose-leash walking by first slowly building the behaviour of staying by your side. Start in your home, where there are minimal distractions, and without a leash. Decide which side you would like your dog to walk on, and have some kibble ready in your hand. When you have your dog’s attention, take one step and immediately feed your dog a piece of kibble at your knee that is closest to your dog, and then repeat a few times. Start varying the number of steps before feeding, as well as the speed at which you are walking. Finally start changing the direction you are waking in to keep your dog interested and attuned to you. When you stop walking, ask your dog for a sit and be sure to reinforce that randomly. Keep your training sessions short and enjoyable for you both.
Next, attach the leash and be sure to keep it loose. Try to keep your hand anchored to your body so that you avoid pulling or, better yet, opt for a hands-free leash.
Once your dog has gotten the hang of LLW, you can introduce a visual cue, like tapping the side of your leg, or a verbal cue, like “let’s go” or “close”
or “with me.” Say the cue just as your dog is walking politely with you, and then reward her in the correct position (by your knee). Repeat, using the cue each time you notice her performing the behaviour. Eventually you can say it earlier so that you’re cueing the behaviour rather than naming it.
As you practise this, remember that if your dog cannot walk on a loose leash in your home, then he’s unlikely to do it outside. When you’re outdoors, you will have to compete with exciting sights, sounds, and smells. But don’t worry. If your dog is interested in a certain smell or a person, use it as an environmental reward, and allow him to investigate or say hello as long as the leash is loose.
Now take it on the road! It may be helpful to let your dog out in the backyard to eliminate and / or burn off some steam before going outside. You should also give yourself some extra time when working on LLW, as you may be making many stops. Remember to use treats or a squeaky toy outdoors instead of kibble; it’s always better to match the value of the treat to the level of difficulty or distraction in the environment.
When starting off, pick out a short route so you have fewer distractions to contend with. For example, walk back and forth the length of the next four houses. The goal is to make it easy for your dog and to set her up to succeed. You can increase the distance as you and your dog improve.
To practise the behaviour, think of the game Red Light/Green Light. Every time your dog pulls and creates tension, think Red Light and stop. Once there is slack in the leash, think Green Light and move forward. If your dog refuses to move, you can turn 180 degrees and slowly start walking the other way. As soon as your dog is coming up alongside of you, immediately reinforce him in position. You want your dog to think that walking beside you is the greatest place to be!
A fun exercise to practise is the figure eight. Imagine there is a figure eight outside, and walk along that image with your dog. Anytime you come to
a turning point, make sure to reward your dog in position; this keeps her focused on you when there’s a slight change in the direction you’re walking.
Loose-leash walking is one of the most important skills to teach your dog. It gives both you and your dog the opportunity to go out, get exercise, and enjoy each other’s company. Engage with your dog (i.e., stay off your cell phone), and reward any attention he gives you and all good behaviour. Be patient and remember that practice makes perfect.
Marlo Hiltz, CPDT-KA, KPA-CTP.
Have you ever heard the phrase “the dog ate my homework”? Well, your dog may in fact be helping your child with his or her homework.
The company Pets At Home conducted a survey of 1,000 children between the ages of 5 and 16 that revealed 79 percent of those students believed that owning a pet had a positive effect on their sense of responsibility and improved their social skills.(1) When you take a look at your child’s report card, you’ll see that responsibility is an essential skill for success. What’s even more surprising is that researchers in the U.S. found that reading to dogs helped children improve their reading fluency by over 30 percent!(2) That’s a lot! Children feel safe reading around dogs. They feel like they are not being judged or corrected, and they can be more animated, which can help them build more confidence.
With these benefits in mind, let’s look at responsible pet ownership and how you can get children more involved...
Prior to getting a dog, your children can help you research what supplies you will need, and they can make a list and help with the shopping. Here are some tasks you can assign to children, depending on their age:
Parents must also know that sometimes the novelty of a new pet will wear off for a child. In that case, the responsibility really is theirs. It’s important to praise children for any active role that they take in caring for their dog; tell them how much you appreciate their help.
Parents should, however, avoid making their children feel guilty for not helping look after the family pet, as that will just build up resentment. Parents definitely shouldn’t tell their children that if they don’t do a particular task then they will get rid of the dog because that just teaches children that dogs are disposable, which they aren’t.
Marlo Hiltz, CPDT-KA, KPA-CTP.
Often you’ll hear me say the phrase “set your puppy up for success,” but what exactly do I mean by that? First off, knowing what to expect from a puppy will help set you both up for success. Normal puppy behaviours can include biting, barking, chewing, and digging.
See It from Your Puppy’s Perspective
Managing the environment is one of the best ways to set your puppy up for success. By doing so, your puppy may not develop undesirable behaviours such as jumping on people at the door, chewing shoes, and eating garbage.
Take jumping up on people at the door as an example. Setting your puppy up for success in that situation would mean preventing them from having access to that area, either by keeping them in their crate, putting them in the backyard, or having them on a leash until they are trained and know how to sit for greeting people.
For destroying shoes or other valuables, setting your puppy up for success by managing the environment means putting shoes and other stuff away and providing lots of appropriate chew toys. This goes for the garbage as well; put it out of your puppy’s reach. Puppies, just like babies, explore
the world with their mouths. If it’s available to them, it’s fair game.
Sounds like common sense, but whatever the issues are that you may be experiencing with your puppy, ask yourself if the environment is arranged in such a way to help your puppy make good choices. If it’s not, then make the necessary changes.
People like to show me what their dogs can do. More often than not, the dogs don’t perform the requested behaviour. It can be both frustrating and embarrassing for the owners, and they always say the dog can do the behaviour at home. This tells me the dog knows the behaviour but not under distractions or in a different environment.
When we teach our puppies behaviours, it is usually with the same person and in the same location. It’s a controlled environment. To help set your puppy up for success when learning new behaviours, first practise at home, in a non-distracting environment. Then practise in at least ten different areas of your home, including the yard (if you have one). Next, practise while out on walks. This will help your puppy learn how to perform behaviours around distractions. Also, when teaching behaviours, break them down into baby steps to make it easier for your puppy to understand what you are asking.
Just think back to when you were learning something new for the first time.
More dogs are euthanized annually due to behaviour problems than due to illness. Many of these behaviour problems can be prevented, as they come from a lack of socialization. Socialization is the process of exposing your puppy to the world around them in a safe and positive way.
It’s not just about exposure but also about making positive associations. Use treats, allow your puppy to set their own pace, and be their advocate. Setting them up for success – to be comfortable and happy with the world around them – means introducing them to all kinds of different people, places, animals, sounds, and surfaces and making positive associations with all of those things.
Learn as much as you can about dog body language so that you can let your puppy be the one to guide you through this. Your job is to make sure that they feel safe and are having fun and that they are forming positive opinions about the world around them.
When training a puppy, we need to check our own expectations and make sure that they match what our puppies are capable of knowing and doing. Ask yourself:
“Are my expectations too high?”
“Does my dog really know what to do?”
“Is the environment arranged in such a way to help my dog make the right choice(s)?”
“Have I helped my dog to feel comfortable, safe, and confident?”
And this is what I mean when I say, “set your puppy up for success.”
Marlo Hiltz, CPDT-KA, KPA-CTP.
Living in a home with multiple pets has me visiting the vet clinic often. I am so in tune with dogs that I can’t help but notice them in the waiting room while I’m there. You’ll often find me trying to feed them treats or helping the owners handle the leash.
What I see is a lot of stressed dogs. They’re trembling, whining, barking, panting, or completely shut down. Here are some tips to help both you and your dog relax and hopefully even enjoy going to the vet.
I learned many years ago how to do this for my pets, and I’m happy to say that they like going to the vet. I know this because they appear to be relaxed, perform behaviours upon request, and will happily take treats.
I accomplished this with a mixed bag of tricks.
Visit the vet when your dog doesn’t need too. Pop in to say hello, get a treat, and leave. Try to do this once or twice a month. This will help your dog make a positive association with both the drive over to the clinic and inside the clinic.
If you only visit the vet when your dog is due for their annual vaccines or when they are not feeling well, they will probably see it the same way I see going to the dentist – scary and painful.
Buy a lightweight bath mat with a rubber backing. Make this a happy mat. Give your dog treats on the mat, massages, chewies, or a stuffed Kong. Practise sit, down, and stand on the mat and always use high-value rewards. Bring the mat with you to the vet and put it on the metal exam table. This way your dog already feels comfortable on the mat and doesn’t have to stand on a cold, slippery table for their exam. You can even lightly mist the mat with lavender and/or chamomile essential oils before going to the clinic. Make sure that the lavender oil you buy has the Latin name Lavendula augustifolia or Lavendula officinalis. This has been shown to help calm dogs – consider it a-roo-matherapy!
Bring squeeze cheese or peanut butter in a tube. Anything that will keep your dog focused and licking while the veterinarian performs the exam.
Practise handling exercises at home. You don’t want the first time that someone looks into your dogs’ ears to be when they are infected and sore. Pair your ear examinations with treats. Flip them over, inspect them, and gently massage them. Do the same with their paws and all other parts of their body. Also pair gentle restraint along with treats.
I know going to the vet with a sick dog is stressful. Try to keep yourself as relaxed as possible. Focus on your breathing, bring a stress ball to squeeze, try to stay positive, perhaps bring a friend for support. Your dog can pick up on your anxiety. If you are relaxed and breathing, your dog will be less stressed.
If your dog is uncomfortable around other dogs, stay in your car instead of sitting in the waiting room. Call the clinic beforehand to see if they are on time and call from the car when you arrive to let them know you are there. If they are ready for you, then go straight into the exam room; if they’re not ready, ask that they call you when the exam room is available. Most vets understand and will comply with this.
If your dog is uncomfortable and reactive in the clinic, do not correct them. Soothe and comfort them. Barking and growling are often symptoms of a stressed dog and their emotional state. If you can help them feel more comfortable, those behaviours will go away on their own. Also, when it is time to visit the vet, avoid saying it to your dog with a sad intonation in your voice. Be as up beat as you are when asking your dog if they want to go for a walk.
If all else fails, consider a mobile vet. Some dogs just do better in the comfort of their own home. Happy training for keeping your dog healthy!
Marlo Hiltz, CPDT-KA, KPA-CTP.
Easter’s here and the shelves are lined with chocolate bunnies. They all appear to look the same, but some are hollow and some are solid. The hollow ones break easily when a little pressure is applied, but the solid ones don’t. So what does this have to do with dog training?
Well, do you ever get frustrated when you’ve asked your dog to do something you know he can do, like perform a stay or walk on a loose leash, while other dogs are around. You know he can do it because he always does it at home and walks nicely when there are no distractions. So it appears like the behaviour you’ve seen many times before crumbles under pressure. What’s going on? Is your dog being stubborn or just blowing you off?
Not likely. My bet is that the behaviour you’re requesting is just not solid enough to withstand the pressure being put on it. So how do we get reliable behaviours that happen each and every time we ask for them no matter what we’re doing or where we are? There actually is a very systematic way to build strong behaviours, and I’m about to tell you how. This is for dogs who already understand the behaviour you’re cueing and can perform it sometimes but not always.
First make sure that your dog knows a release cue. This is really important so that when you are building on a behaviour, it is you who tells your dog when that behaviour ends so that your dog doesn’t decide that on her own.
There are 3 Ds often referred to in dog training. They are distractions, duration, and distance. It is good practice to build behaviour with distractions first because life is full of distractions, and you want to make sure that your dog finds it more reinforcing to respond to your cue and perform the behaviour than anything else going on around him. Start with very low level forms of distractions – for example moving your body slightly or picking up an item in the area or jingling keys – and build from there, making sure that the reinforcer you are using is of high value, especially around new distractions. Practise in a variety of locations, but only move to higher level distractions if your dog is able to be successful at the current level. Practising in as many locations as possible will help make that behaviour stronger.
Next add in increasing the duration of the behaviour. Initially practise with few easy distractions and vary the duration so that your dog doesn’t learn to anticipate the end of the exercise.
I like to count one second, then three seconds, then two seconds, then five, and so on.
Every time the picture changes for your dog, like the landscape, relax your expectations. Let’s say your dog can perform a stay for a minute in the kitchen. When you practise in other locations, ask your dog for a one- second stay and then build from there. Do that in each new environment. If your dog breaks the stay, then go back to where you were being successful and build slowly from there. And by slowly, I mean one second at a time. Make it really easy for your dog to be successful.
Finally, work on distance. This means being able to move away from your dog and also being able to cue your dog from a distance. Like working with distractions and duration, begin in a very easy environment and increase the distance in small, successful steps.
I often start by just rocking back and forth and then taking one step away and then one step to either side. Each time I make a move, I reinforce my dog for staying. And then I will give the release cue.
If your dog breaks the behaviour during any of the exercises, then just reposition him and start again. Keep your training sessions short. No more than five minutes at a time unless you are working on duration behaviour that’s longer than five minutes.
Use reinforcers your dog loves. Reinforcers can be treats, toys, play, or access. And use reinforcers often; even once your dog is really great at doing the behaviour you want, reinforcing will help maintain that reliability.
Always make sure that you have a willing participant and never force your dog to do anything. If your dog is not performing the requested behaviour, then let it go in that moment and dial it back to when you were having success and slowly build from there.
Happy Easter and Happy Training!
Marlo Hiltz, CPDT-KA, KPA-CTP.
Is the weather outside too frightful? What to do in lieu of a walk.
-tug-of-war (make sure your dog knows the “drop it” cue).
-hide-and-seek (also a fun way to reinforce coming to you).
-a treasure hunt (hide treats and toys around the house).
-a game of chase, or fetch.
Incorporate training. You can use games to reinforce behaviours you like. For example, when I play fetch with my dogs, I'll ask them for a sit or a down before throwing ball.
There are many “mind games” on the market. Nina Ottasson makes great puzzle-like toys for dogs, and these can be found in most retail pet stores. You can make your own homemade puzzle by taking a muffin tray, placing some treats in a few cups, and topping the holes with tennis balls. Interactive toys are a great way to keep your dog mentally stimulated and busy. Kongs can be stuffed with peanut butter, cream cheese, pure pumpkin, or yogurt and then frozen to make them last longer. Google Kong recipes for dogs.
Set up a safe homemade agility course. I’ve seen creative ones, such as placing a broom across two pillows to create a small jump. Try teaching your dog a new trick or behaviour or work on ones that your dog already knows and start to add in distractions, duration, and distance to help proof those behaviours.
Sing with your dog. Give your dog a massage. Read up on Tellington Touch Massage. Do some basic grooming while watching a movie together. Arrange for a play date with one of your dog’s friends in either of your homes.
My friend, a veterinarian, takes marrowbones and wraps them in newspaper or paper towel and lets her dog go to town. It can be messy, but she doesn’t mind as long as her dog is having fun.
Here are some suggestions that involve going out but not outside for a walk:
Visit family and friends with your dog, or go to a store that allows dogs. Go to the vet’s office to only get a cookie and then leave. That will help your dog make a positive association with the clinic. You could even just go for a nice drive together.
Take a class like a tricks class, agility, freestyle, lure coursing, nose work, or an obedience course.
Be creative and have fun. Engaging their mind will tire them out. And as the old adage goes: A tired dog is a good dog.
Marlo Hiltz, CPDT-KA, KPA-CTP