How to Teach your Dog to Come when you Blow a Whistle

bigstockphoto_girl_blowing_blue_whistle_38094411Whistle Come

There are many different methods to teach dogs to come when called. Here is an easy way to teach your dog to come when you blow a whistle. You may be creative with your whistle signal. For example, you could blow a short toot followed by a long toot.

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Get a whistle.  Any type of whistle will do. Sporting goods stores stock a selection of whistles. Walmart and Target have some in their sporting goods sections.

Use special treats for this exercise, not the normal treats you use for training. Small pieces of chicken, ham, cheese or turkey work well. The idea is to choose a treat that your dog will LOVE! Choose a unique and delicious treat that your dog never ever gets any other times!

From this point forward, you will only blow the whistle during whistle come exercises.

IMPORTANT:Do not use the whistle to call your dog when he or she is misbehaving!  It will increase the misbehaviors! THEREFORE , if your dog is digging or barking or misbehaving, first get your dog’s attention, then blow the whistle when he or she is looking at you.

Do not speak to your dog, or touch your dog during Steps 1 and 2.

Step 1) Go to your den or family room and have your dog next to you. Blow your whistle and hand your dog a treat. Wait a couple of seconds, blow your whistle and give your dog a treat. Repeat 4-6 times. You are finished now. Put the whistle away.

Wait 3-5 minutes and repeat the sequence in another room of your house. Do this in 3 or more different rooms during 3 or more different sessions.

Step 2) Go to an outside area and have your dog on a short leash next to you. Blow your whistle and hand your dog a treat. Wait a couple of seconds, blow your whistle and give your dog a treat. Repeat 4-6 times. You are finished now. Put the whistle away.

Wait 3-5 minutes and repeat the sequence in another area outside. Do this in 3 or more different outside areas during 3 or more different sessions.

Step 3) Practice in the front yard or other unfenced areas with your dog on a 10-25 foot line. Practice in 3 or more different outside areas during 3 or more different sessions. When your dog comes, hand him or her a treat. Praise your dog! Toss a ball! Play with your dog!

Step 4) Go to a fenced area outside with your dog off leash. Let your dog wander around for 5 minutes. Blow your whistle and wait. When your dog comes, hand him or her a treat. Praise your dog! Toss a ball! Play with your dog!

After several sessions, vary the rewards.  Use treats sometimes, or use praise and play as rewards. Soon, your dog will always come when you whistle!

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IMPORTANT:Do not use the whistle to call your dog when he or she is misbehaving! It will increase the misbehaviors! THEREFORE , if your dog is digging or barking or misbehaving, first get your dog’s attention, then blow the whistle when he or she is looking at you.
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Happy Training!

 

AT

Alan J Turner, Companion Animal Behavior Counselor & Trainer – Canine Specialization

Private and Group Dog Training in Memphis,

Owner: How’s Bentley – 

 

Yuk! My puppy’s ears stink!

 

img_0346Ear infections are common, especially in dogs with floppy ears. If your puppy or dog is constantly shaking his or her head or scratching his or her ears, there’s likely to be an infection. 

Ear infections are stinky. To determine if your pup’s ears are infected, place your nose directly into your pup’s ear and take a whiff. Do this a couple of times every week so you’ll notice any changes in the odor, before the infection develops into a serious problem. Contact your veterinarian if your dog’s ears are smelly! 

As reported in the Journal American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA), Veterinary Pet Insurance Company, of Brea, Calif. reports that ear infections in dogs was the number 2 reason for vet visits. Skin allergies was number 1. The rankings were for 2004. 

Happy Training!

 

AT

Alan J Turner, Companion Animal Behavior Counselor & Trainer – Canine Specialization

Private and Group Dog Training in Memphis, TN

Owner: How’s Bentley

Alan J. Turner Launches New Web Site

img_0030Alan J Turner is a companion animal behavior counselor and trainer.  Alan operates How’s Bentley in Memphis Tn.  Alan works full time in the companion animal field. Alan’s specialization is canine behavior and offers group and private dog training classes. Many of Alan’s clients have dogs who are aggressive or fearful. Alan works closely with the veterinary community in Collierville, Germantown, Cordova, and Memphis TN.

The web site, dogand.com, is designed to deliver information to people who live in areas where there are no canine behavior counselors. In addition, Alan offers many instructional guides for a fraction of the cost of a private dog trainer! Visit http://dogand.com for dog and behavior and help!

Jump Start – Puppy & Dog Obedience Training Booklet – $4.95

bentpup5
Bentley, 9 week Australian Terrier, September 1999

Picture is Bentley, my Australian Terrier at 9 weeks.

For puppies and dogs of all ages!

Teach your puppy or dog very quickly using kind methods! Everyone who wants to use rewards based training methods to teach their new puppy or older dog will benefit from owning this 46 page booklet! How’s Bentley Jump Start is a “must have” for positive reinforcement trainers.

Most of the information in this PDF e booklet is on this site for FREE.

This PDF e booklet is for those who want an indexed copy of some of the instructions on this site.

Written by Alan J Turner,

Basic Obedience and Manners – 46 pages including cover and table of contents.

Steps to Success – How to Communicate – Establish a Reward System – Condition a Reward Marker – Cues – Capture Sit – Door Knock Game – Teach Target Here – Lure Down -Teach Attention (with command and without command) – Target Touch – Go to Place – Stay – Inside/Outside, and More!

You may purchase PDF ebooklet on the “Products” page.

Happy Training!

AT

Alan J Turner, Companion Animal Behavior Counselor & Trainer – Canine Specialization

Private and Group Dog Training in Memphis, TN

Owner: How’s Bentley

Door Knock Game- A Solution For Dogs That Bark and Attack the Door $.99

codyscarf
Cody, AKC Yorkshire Terrier

You can teach a dog to come when you blow a whistle. You can teach a dog or puppy to come bump your fingers. You can teach the dog to come when you say “come” and when you say “here”. Dogs can learn multiple signals or cues that mean, “perform come behavior”.

Does your dog bark and attack the door when people come to visit?

If your dog barks at visitors, but likes them once they come inside, teach your dog that the sound of the door bell or a knock on the door is a command to come to you! Once your dog knows “come”, you teach him or her to perform “come” when someone knocks on the door.

The door knock sound and visitor outside can become the command or cue for your dog to come to you.

Cues are words or signals we use to talk to our dogs. It’s best to begin by selecting a single word, simple hand motion or short phrase for each command or cue.Cues are words or signals we use to talk to our dogs. It’s best to begin by selecting a single word, simple hand motion or short phrase for each command or cue.

When first teaching new behaviors, everyone in the house should use the same cues.

You can make any visual signal or word into a cue. If the dog’s senses can receive the signal, it can be a cue. I like to use normal events as cues.

That’s why you can teach your dog that the sound of the door bell or a knock on the door is a command to come to you!

When working with deaf or blind dogs, get creative with your cues!For instance, a thumbs up or high-five signal can be used as a marker when communicating with deaf dogs. Stomps that cause vibrations on a wooden floor can be used as cues when working with dogs that are both deaf and blind.

There are other topics to consider about cues! I have put together a document so you can learn about:

Teaching Multiple Cues for the Same Behavior – Follow the instructions and teach your dog that a knock on the door is a command for “come”.

Rules for Repeating Cues – Yes, you may repeat the command while teaching, but not without changing something.  Follow these rules to teach your dog that you only ask once!

You can purchase the Door Knock Game document for the price of a song – .99!
Please visit the “Products” page and purchase Door Knock Game today!

Happy Training!

AT

Alan J Turner, Companion Animal Behavior Counselor & Trainer – Canine Specialization

Private and Group Dog Training in Memphis, TN

Owner: How’s Bentley


AA-1 Steps to Success – Think Like a Trainer

quickstart1jpgSteps to Success

– Dog Training Theory

– Too often, a puppy is brought into the home and our methods of teaching consist of “screaming no” and “swatting with a newspaper”. I know that’s how I did it before I learned about animal learning and behavior! How primitive.

Stubborn Dogs

Many clients begin our conversations by exclaiming their dogs know Sit and Come, but refuse to perform. The next phrases during these discussions are “she refuses to listen to me when visitors come into the house”, or “she refuses to come inside when I call her.”  She knows what she is supposed to do, but she is stubborn”

My experiences have taught me that it’s rarely a stubborn refusal to sit or come.

Training method flaws and lofty expectations are the root causes for these failures.

In many cases the client doesn’t understand how to motivate their dogs to comply. In other cases, the client has never practiced in those situations and the dogs are not prepared to succeed.

The dogs cannot match the owners’ expectations because the owners have not prepared the dogs for real life environments.

Many of us expect college level performances from a dog that has only been practicing in kindergarten settings.

Our dogs need to practice in controlled environments before we can expect them to perform in exciting situations.

Door Manners

For example, suppose your goal is teach your pup to ‘relax-when-people-visit’. Identify all the skills and behaviors that make up ‘relax-when-people-visit’ behavior. Teach and practice each skill with various levels of distractions.

First you might teach the dog to sit, down, and relax inside your house when it is quiet. Next, you might practice when house members are sitting…. standing…. walking….. passing doorways……waving their arms, clapping, jumping, et cetera.

Once your dog can sit, down and relax inside the house with house members as the distractions, you start all over and practice with family members entering the house. Finally, you practice the same sequences with willing visitors.

You should hold these practice sessions when you have total control of the classroom environment. That is – when you can guide your dog into choosing the correct behaviors. Set up the environment so your dog has limited choices of which behaviors to perform. Once he masters the current level of distraction, introduce another, higher level distraction.

During these well planned practice sessions, your dog has only a few choices. Because you have a leash attached, none of those choices include mug-the-people behaviors!


Edward Thorndike’s Law of Effect

“Of several responses made to the same situation, those which are accompanied or closely followed by satisfaction to the animal will, other things being equal, be more firmly connected with the situation, so that, when it recurs, they will be more likely to recur; those which are accompanied or closely followed by discomfort to the animal will, other things being equal, have their connections with that situation weakened, so that, when it recurs, they will be less likely to occur. The greater the satisfaction or discomfort, the greater the strengthening or weakening of the bond.”

Here’s a definition I pulled from WikEd.

The law of effect is the idea that behaviors are selected by their consequences. Behavior that is repeated is often followed by a desired consequence and behavior that is not repeated had previously been followed by a bad consequence.

The key to animal friendly teaching is to initially get the animal to perform the behavior and then reinforce the behavior via positive reinforcement or rewards.

The steps for perfecting all new behaviors are identical.

  • Get the Behavior.
  • Tell your dog when it occurs.
  • Deliver some sort of reward.
  • Practice the behavior in various, controlled settings while adding distractions.
  • Practice the behavior in real life.

Get the Behavior

I’m sure you’ve noticed. It’s impossible to use positive reinforcement to increase behaviors if the behaviors never occur.

There are all sorts of actions one can use to get a particular behavior to occur. For instance, standing and leaning into a dog’s space might a useful tool for getting the dog to sit. If you use this tool, don’t forget to move back into a neutral position the instant the dog sits.

Other dogs move away when you crowd their space. When teaching these dogs, stepping away or leaning out of the dog’s space might be useful tools for getting the sit to happen.

Both of these body movements (leaning in or out) have an effect on the environment; sometimes the effect is useful, other times it’s not. It depends on the dog, the environment, the handler, et cetera.

Professional trainers are experts at getting the behavior to occur; not because we know exactly what will work with every animal, but because we are constantly and delicately changing the environment until we “get” the desired behavior.

Professional trainers are always aware of body language, tone of voice, value of the food treats, dog’s state of hunger, distractions, et cetera.

We manipulate these and other conditions in the environment until we get the behavior. Sooner than later, we hit on the right combination.

There are many methods to get behaviors, some work well for already learned behaviors and others are for teaching.

Here is a list of methods that trainers use to get a behavior to occur.

  • Cue
  • Capture
  • Lure
  • Shape
  • Target

Canine Success

  • Meet your dog’s social, emotional and physical needs.
  • Kindly prevent your pet from practicing unwanted behaviors.
  • Learn how to tell your dog exactly what you want.
  • Learn how to motivate your dog to want the same things as you.
  • Change your behaviors in order to change your dog’s behaviors.
  • Crate train your puppy. (a crate trained pup will relax in the crate when the family is home and throwing a party.)
  • House train your puppy.
  • Teach your puppy about play biting.
  • Socialize your puppy.
  • Form a global training plan.
  • Teach your dog coping skills.
  • Teach your dog basic commands.
  • Practice with your dog every day.
  • Practice with your dog in many different locations.
  • Practice with your dog while increasing the level of distractions.
  • Practice with your dog on a short leash, and then on a long line – before you go off leash.

Off Leash Obedience

Off leash obedience is an advanced skill.

Master all commands on a short leash, and then practice at a distance on a long line. Practice in areas with few distractions, then in areas with more distractions – on a long line.

Once your dog will obey on the long line in all situations, then you can go off lead!


Happy Training!

Alan J Turner, Companion Animal Behavior Counselor & Trainer – Canine Specialization

Private and Group Dog Training in Memphis, TN

Owner: How’s Bentley

Video ** Puppy Clicker Training Demo – Harry in Class: 4 Commands, attention, here, sit, down

img_2019Click the You Tube link below this text to see Harry, the AKC registered Norwich Terrier puppy, perform 4 obedience commands. The commands are Attention on Cue (Look), Here, Sit (verbal command and “folded arms” cue) and Down (with hand signal). Harry is less than 4 months old in this video; The client chose to use a clicker as the reward marker. The client’s excellent timing of the click tells Harry the instant he succeeds. Using a reward marker is a very quick method to teach your dog basic and advanced obedience behaviors!

You can hear me coaching the client as they work with Harry. This was my second session with the client, and Harry’s first introduction to the Down command. First we lured him into the position with a hand signal and then taught him to “down” with a non-verbal hand signal.

Our non-verbal cue is a raised hand at shoulder, as if you are taking an oath. It took Harry less than 3 minutes to learn the hand signal for down- smart puppy!

After the short time training (6-7 minutes), we ended with a play session of fetch. That puppy, Harry, is a real turbo terrier!

Want to teach your dog to sit for the “folded arms” cue in less than 5 minutes?

Would you like to teach your dog to “look” and “here”?

Follow the linked words above for FREE Instructions.

CLICK HERE for YouTube Video HARRY IN CLASS

Happy Training!

AT

Alan J Turner, Companion Animal Behavior Counselor & Trainer – Canine Specialization

Private and Group Dog Training in Memphis, TN

Owner: How’s Bentley

AA-2 What is Animal Training? Communication & Cooperation

quickstart2jpgAnimal Training

What is animal training? Animal training is the act of encouraging or discouraging an animal to perform specific behaviors more often or less often under particular circumstances.

It’s really all about increasing and decreasing behaviors.

Every time you increase one desirable behavior, you decrease multiple undesirable behaviors. For example, when you teach your dog to “sit”, you decrease jumping up, bolting out open doors, et cetera.

When you increase “come”, you decrease running into the street, chasing cars, et cetera.

One of the best animal trainers in the world, Kayce Cover, M.A., B. S. taught me the following summarizing concept.

Successful animal trainers all have these traits in common. Successful trainers know:

  • which components of a behavior he or she wishes to increase or decrease
  • how to communicate this to the animal
  • how to motivate the animal to want to perform those behaviors

Components of Behaviors

All behaviors consist of many individual behaviors. Dog trainers analyze behaviors and decide which of the individual components should be increased and decreased.

Before a trainer can form a lesson plan, he or she must identify the components that make up the target behavior and identify which skills or components should be taught first.

This sounds easy, but many people never think about it.

In fact, until they meet me, most of my clients never formally teach their dogs the most basic skill that is necessary before the dog can learn “sit” and “come”.

What is the basic skill, the first component or prerequisite behavior your dog must know to comply with “sit” or “come”? It is “Attention”.

Although you can teach your puppy “sit” and “come”, without ever teaching your dog to look towards you on command, these behaviors are likely to break down when there are distractions.

For instance, your puppy may come when he or she is in the back yard and totally ignore your requests when running free in the front yard.

The point is – before you can teach your pup to perform a behavior in distracting environments, you should teach, practice and refine each component of the behavior in less distracting environments.

And yes, before you can do any of these, just like a trainer, you’ll need to identify all the components of the behaviors.

Communicate and Motivate

In order to communicate with anyone or any animal, we must have a language in common. Since dogs don’t speak our language it’s our job to introduce words, signals or phrases and explain their meanings.

Without knowledge of how animals learn, we often send conflicting signals.

“No” and “Come”

Most people naturally use the word “no” and expect their puppy to understand the meaning. People add harsh voice tones in attempts to explain the meaning.

In some instances with some dogs, it works. The dogs stop the behaviors and never perform those behaviors again. In other instances, it fails miserably. More often people unknowingly give the puppy conflicting information.

For example, a puppy jumps up and the person says “no” as he or she pushes the puppy off. This is a very common mistake.

The act of touching the puppy with their hands, and talking to the puppy (even in harsh tones) tells the puppy that jumping up is a good strategy to receive attention and touch.

When your pup jumps up, he or she is soliciting touch and attention. To communicate to your very young puppy that jumping up is not the best strategy to receive touch and attention, just turn and walk away.

Take a few steps, turn to face your puppy.  Ask him or her to sit. Once your puppy sits, deliver attention and touch!

Since puppies rarely learn from one instance, your puppy will immediately jump up when you offer attention for sitting. That’s okay, just disconnect again and repeat the sequence. After a few days with many repetitions, your puppy will catch on!

This sequence communicates two concepts. One, “jumping up makes me go away” and two, “sitting politely makes me deliver attention and touch”!

Another example is the word “come”. People say “come” and expect the puppy to run towards them.

This may be effective for a 10 week-old puppy, but as the dog ages, he or she gains confidence and is less likely to come just because the people say the word “come”.

Off leash obedience is an advanced skill. You’ll need to practice on leash in many situations before you can expect your dog to come anytime you call.

Some people actually teach their puppies to ignore the come command. They “end” their puppy’s fun or even punish their puppy after they come.

Examples are scolding and taking away an item after the puppy comes, crating the puppy and leaving the house after the puppy comes, pointing to a mess on the floor and scolding the puppy.

Hugs and Head Pats

Other primitive forms of communication include hugs and head pats. Sometimes we are so sure our dogs enjoy particular interactions, that we fail to recognize their likes and dislikes.

A natural assumption is that puppies like to be picked up and “loved”. Another assumption is that pups really enjoy a pat on the head.

All dogs do not necessarily like hugs or head pats.

Many dogs consider top-of-the-head pats and hugs as unpleasant. These dogs lower their heads and/or move away from their people.

Watch your puppy’s body language. If your pup starts moving away when you reach for him or her, whatever it is that you usually do, is not considered pleasant by your puppy!

Body Blocks

If you watch dogs at work or play, you’ll notice they use their bodies to block or herd other animals. When dogs use body blocks, they rarely make contact. They control the other animals’ access to areas by occupying territory with their bodies. In addition to body blocks, they use head position, tail position, body stance, et cetera to communicate.

We can’t imitate canine body language but in some situations, body blocks are an excellent method to teach dogs about areas that are off limits.

Anytime you gently restrain or touch your dog, you are rewarding your dog with attention and touch.

Instead of reaching for your dog’s collar, herd that rascal away from the door, the kitchen counter, the living room, et cetera with a body block!

To use a body block, just step in front of your dog and block his or her access to the area.

Because dogs naturally control space with their bodies, they understand the meaning of body blocks. Using body blocks is a clear method to communicate “Stay away, this area is off limits”.

Happy Training!

Alan J Turner, Companion Animal Behavior Counselor & Trainer – Canine Specialization

Private and Group Dog Training in Memphis, TN

Owner: How’s Bentley

iPhone Dog Whistle App

iPhone Dog Whistle application

photo-3This application can be a useful tool for training your dog. The program emits a tone. You may adjust the frequency and pattern of the sound, which will cause the noise to be more, or less, noticeable to your dog. Some of the frequencies are outside of human hearing range, but within the hearing range of canus lupus familiaris, our domestic canine companions, which are better known as dogs!

According to wikipedia, some dogs can hear frequencies as high as 60,000 Hz. To learn more about the hearing ranges of people and dogs, visithttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hearing_range.

The dog whistle can be used  as a signal for your dog to perform a particular behavior, or as a punisher to reduce behaviors.

How you use the dog whistle iPhone application is up to you!

First, let’s clear the air. The iPhone dog whistle app does not magically attract dogs to want to come when called. It’s more often an interrupter, which means most dogs will stop and listen when they hear the tone. Some dogs become frightened by the noise and will cower or run away. With these guys, it’s not a good come when called signal!

If you want to use the whistle as a come when called command for your dog, it’s up to you to teach your dog what to do when he hears the sound.

Conditioning your dog to come when you blow a dog whistle is no different than teaching your dog to come when you blow a coach’s whistle.  To learn how to condition your dog to come when you blow any type of whistle, visit How’s Bentley web site and sign up for the mailing list. Follow the instructions for Whistle Come, but instead of blowing a coach’s whistle, you will sound the iPhone dog whistle.

Now I’ll explain how I used the iPhone dog whistle application to interrupt and reduce excessive licking of fabric behavior by my AKC registered Australian Terrier dog, Bentley. The sound of the whistle performs the role of a positive punisher, which is a stimulus that is added, which reduces the immediate behavior of licking. Bentley’s licking is caused by chronic pancreatitis, and at times, the behavior is classified as compulsive by dog behavior experts.

It’s important to note that routine amounts of brief licking is a normal form of self grooming by dogs and should be allowed. Many dogs perform this grooming before they go to sleep. The licking that I want to reduce is the compulsive licking of fabric, which has developed because of the many times Bentley has practiced the behavior. If I allow him to lick fabric excessively, he will absorb enough small particles of the material and vomit.  Any time you want to use a positive punisher to reduce behaviors, it’s best to consult with an animal behavior counselor. Poor timing, and unwanted side effects, of using positive punishers during dog training can sabotage your good intentions!

I set the frequency to 20,000 Hz, which is well above my hearing range, but within the hearing range of my terrier dog, Bentley. I sound the whistle when Bentley starts licking fabric. I say nothing, and from Bentley’s point of view, I am not responsible for the ultrasonic sound, thus no attention is coming from me. Bentley will stop licking, perk his ears up and I stop the whistle. The instant he stops licking, I stop the tone and praise him!

By using the iPhone dog whistle application in this fashion, I have successfully reduced licking fabric behavior!

Happy Animal Training!

Alan J Turner – companion animal behavior counselor and trainer, Memphis TN

Owner: How’s Bentley

Private and Group Dog Training in Memphis, Collierville, Germantown, Cordova TN

AA-3 Markers, Reward System, Rewards Awareness Program (NILIF)

quickstart3jpgWhat are Markers?

In order to communicate, it’s helpful to teach the animal a few phrases, actions or events that have specific meanings. I refer to these signals as markers.

Markers can be words, phrases, noises, sounds, hand signals, flashes of light, stomps on the floor, touches, odors or other stimuli the animal can sense.

Professional trainers teach and use multiple markers to give the animal constant feedback. Interrupt markers rarely affect the dog’s long term behaviors, but are useful when we want to interrupt a behavior for the moment.

Reward Markers

Some markers communicate praise and motivate the animal to perform the behavior again. I call these reward markers.

The timing of the marker is important. For best results, the trainer delivers the reward marker the instant the animal performs the desired behavior.

The reward marker tells the animal the instant in time that he or she has succeeded.

Verbal Reward Markers

Saying “Good boy”, the instant a dog sits, is an example of a primitive, reward marker. I refer to this as a primitive reward marker.  Dogs hear the words “Good Boy” many times each day during normal conversations and, in these situations, “Good Boy” is not used to mark an instant of success.

Food Reward Markers

Using a food treat to tell the dog the instant he succeeds is a great method to communicate and to motivate.

When I pop a tasty food treat into Bentley’s mouth, the instant he sits, I am communicating to him about the correctness of his behavior. And, I am motivating him to sit more often, now and in the future.

The delivery of the food treat is both a marker for success and a reward which will motivate Bentley to sit more often.

Delivering a food treat for sitting is effective, but it is not a very accurate method to mark an instant of success.

By the time Bentley gets the treat for sitting he has licked his lips, tilted his head, looked up, and performed numerous behaviors.

How would Bentley know that the instant he touched his rump to the floor was the instant of success? He wouldn’t. That’s why this method usually requires several repetitions before the dog finally understands.

Food treats are excellent rewards but inefficient markers.

How can you mark the instant of success with food if your dog is not next to you, or your dog is not hungry, or you have no treats, or your dog is on a diet, or your dog is ill, or you want to increase a motion behavior such as jumping over a bar or running fast!

In those situations, using food as a marker for the instant of success is not practical.

Conditioned Reward Markers

If you wish to teach an animal very quickly you will need an instant reward marker that has been paired with the delivery of food.

Pairing the marker with food is called conditioning. The marker is called a secondary conditioned positive reinforcer or conditioned reward marker. A conditioned reward marker will elicit the same involuntary “oh goodie” brain chemistry responses as does a piece of food.

My favorite audible, conditioned reward markers are: the sound of a clicker; the words “good”, “kick” or “tic” (spoken sharply – like a sound), or the letter “X”.

If the dog is deaf, I might use a thumbs up signal, an exaggerated head nod, or an exaggerated blink of both eyes with a head nod, or the flash of a led light. If the dog is deaf and blind, I might use the vibration of an e-collar that is set on vibrate.

Conditioned reward markers:

  • have been conditioned or paired with food and elicit the same involuntary  “oh goodie” brain chemistry responses as does a piece of food
  • are short and sharp, sounds or signals that are different from everyday sounds and signals
  • provide the animal with immediate  feedback
  • are teaching tools used to communicate the instant of success
  • can be discontinued once the animal learns the behavior

Using a conditioned reward marker will increase your significance to the animal!

From this point on, in this text, I’ll refer to a conditioned reward marker as “marker”.  When you read the verb “mark”, it means to deliver the marker and follow it with some sort of reward that the animal desires.

Since the marker elicits an involuntary, desirable, physiological response, the animal will become aware of the behaviors that cause you to deliver the marker.

Your animal will choose to perform behaviors that make you deliver the marker. Now you have a willing student. Your animal wants to cooperate!

The conditioned marker becomes the actual reward. The animal will perform for the sound of the marker, and the marker will act as a reinforcer.

The goodies delivered after the marker maintain the “power” of the marker.

Conditioning a Reward Marker

The method to establish a conditioned reward marker is to use classical or pavlovian conditioning to pair (or associate) a marker with the primary reinforcer of food.

Regardless of the marker you choose, the steps for conditioning the marker are identical. You only need to condition the marker this one time. Your animal is not asked to perform a behavior during the conditioning process.

Do this when the animal is attending to you and not distracted. Do not speak or touch the animal before, or after, you deliver the marker and the treat.

Remember, a marker can be any signal the animal can perceive. My favorite audible, conditioned reward markers are: the sound of a clicker; the word “good”, and  the letter “X”.

Here’s how to condition a reward marker.

You are not asking the animal to perform any behavior during this process.

In this example, I’ll use an audible marker, the letter X, spoken abruptly, like a sound

Speak a crisp “X”; give a food treat. Wait until the animal has finished eating the treat. Say “X”; give the animal a food treat. Repeat 3-5 times.

Using the Reward Marker

Once conditioned, you will deliver the reward marker the instant your pet does what you want. It marks the instant of success.

The marker is not used to interrupt or to get the animal’s attention. It is used to mark the instant of success!

The conditioned marker becomes the actual reward. The animal will perform for the sound of the marker, and the marker will act as a reinforcer. The goodies delivered after the marker maintain the “power” of the marker.

You’ll always deliver some sort of reward after the marker.

For example, you might follow the marker with food treats when teaching new behaviors or when working in distracting environments. A simple “thank you” or quick pat may follow the marker in less distracting situations.

With some animals, it’s better to follow the marker with a food treat 3-5 of every 10 times. It really depends on what the animal wants at that instant. If you have a ball crazy retriever, the toss of a ball might be better than any food treat.

The timing of the marker is very important, because it tells your dog the instant of success.  The delivery of some sort of reward after the marker need not be immediate. You might mark an instant of success (with the marker) and then trot off with your dog to get a food treat out of your cabinet.

The reward marker serves two major functions. It tells the animal the instant of success and it motivates the animal to perform the behavior more often.

Once your pet knows the instant of success, and is motivated to perform, you may stop using the reward marker.

Even when I don’t use the reward marker, I always acknowledge cooperation with praise or touch or maybe even a food treat.


Reward System

What exactly do you have that your dog wants from you?

You own (and have complete control of) a few rewards that your dogs may want from you. These are food, attention and touch (F.A.T. or FAT).

Understanding how to make your dog aware of the FAT and understanding how to manage the delivery (or removal) of FAT is the key to using a successful reward based training system.

Food

Food is food treats or a whole meal. I own and control the food. Bentley cannot receive food from me unless I choose to give him the food.

Attention

In this context, attention is any interaction that does not involve food or touch. Examples of attention are eye contact, verbal praise, walks, toss of a ball, car rides, et cetera.

I own and control my attention. Bentley cannot receive attention from me unless I choose to give it to him.

Touch

Touch is interacting with your dog via you hands. To social mammals, touch is very important and a sort of social bonding exercise.

We’ve all seen the apes or monkeys on Animal Planet. The lower ranking members often touch and groom the higher members. Grooming is performed by subordinates.

When you pet and touch your dog, the dog views it as a sort of grooming. In some ways, you are telling your dog that you are lower in rank and he or she is the king or queen. Yikes!  Kings and queens do not often follow the demands of lower members.

Most normal dogs seek out touch by jumping up, nuzzling our elbows with their muzzles, moving next to us, et cetera.

For some very confident assertive dogs, this is a statement about controlling resources and the hierarchy of social status. For others it is not an attempt to establish ranking, but an indication of the need for normal social interaction. It depends on the individual dog and the context.

I own and control my hands. Bentley cannot receive touch from my hands unless I choose to deliver the touch to him.

Access to Natural Rewards

Natural rewards fill the internal and external environments. In some situations, we can control our dogs’ access to territory, thus indirectly control the available rewards.

Providing access to areas that contain or trigger natural, internal rewards is another consequence that you may (or may not) be able to control.

Bentley likes to chase squirrels and bark because he likes the rush of adrenaline that floods his brain. The adrenaline rushing through his brain is the reinforcer for ‘hunting squirrel behavior’.

Squirrels are in particular areas. When walking on lead, I can choose to move Bentley closer or nearer to the area containing squirrels.

I can release him and give him access to the areas that contain squirrels.

Bentley likes to smell mulch, because his olfactory senses are stimulated. The stimulation of his olfactory system is the actual reinforcer for ‘sniffing mulch behavior’. Mulch is in the environment.

I can choose to give Bentley access to the territory that contains the mulch.

Bentley likes to watch out the window and bark at passing trucks. The release of adrenaline that occurs when he barks out-of-control is the actual reinforcer for bark at truck behavior. I can choose to open or close the blinds.

Free FAT

When my father was growing up in north Mississippi, oranges were not readily available. To a 5-year-old child in that environment; oranges were considered more valuable than candy. When he received an orange or two for Christmas, he was excited and happy. He was very interested in where the oranges were grown and how they were delivered. He was aware of the oranges because oranges were a special treat.

In today’s world, oranges are usually available at any grocery store. Anyone who has the money can obtain an orange. For these people, oranges are not special treats. These people rarely think about how the oranges came to be and who delivers them.

No animal will spend energy to obtain something that he or she already owns. Rats don’t run through mazes to receive a piece of cheese if cheese is placed at the starting point.

Most dogs harvest our attention and touch anytime they want, regardless of their behaviors.

Most dogs already receive free FAT. It’s part of their environment from day one. Just as very young children have no idea that the air inside our homes is conditioned and this conditioning requires electricity, controls, equipment and money, dogs have no clue that we are delivering the FAT.

Sample Rewards for Dogs

Rewards are context specific and individual specific. One dog’s reward could be another dog’s stressor!

Use whatever your dog likes! Here’s some rewards I use with Bentley.

  • Silent smile (attention)
  • Thank you (attention)
  • Excited praise (attention)
  • Applause (attention)
  • High pitched noise such as “bee bee bee bee) (attention)
  • Toss of a ball, game of fetch (attention)
  • Quick round of tug (attention)
  • Rough play (tug-spin, chase, pinch flank, pull tail) (attention & touch)
  • Food treat (food)
  • Car rides (attention)
  • Walks on leash (attention)
  • Opportunity to investigate / sniff items brought into the house (access to territory)
  • Open back door (access to territory)
  • Signal to perform a favorite command – i.e. Bentley loves to spin on command (attention)
  • Command for “Tough Boy” (scratching ground with feet and paws while growling, barking)
  • Release to sniff items on walks (access to territory)
  • Opportunity to chase squirrels (access to territory)
  • Soccer ball play (attention)
  • Pat the dog (attention & touch)
  • Brush or groom the dog (attention & touch)


Rewards Awareness Program


Before we can teach a dog via a reward system based on food, attention and touch (FAT), first, we must bring awareness to the FAT.

My Rewards Awareness Program is a slight adaptation of well known, popular protocols. For years programs such as “Nothing in Life is Free (NILIF)” by Dr. Victoria Voith have been discussed in the world of applied animal behavior.

Many of these programs are touted to be rank reduction, alpha or leadership programs.

Since people don’t compete with dogs for food, territory or reproduction rights, I believe the successes of the programs are rarely related to alpha concepts.

The Rewards Awareness Program is not only an awareness program for the animal, but an awareness program for people.

The program teaches people to examine and change their behaviors in order to modify their dogs’ behaviors.

Once people understand how their interactions influence their dogs’ behaviors, the stage is set for a cooperative partnership.

To begin this program, make the delivery of food, attention, touch, and access to territory, contingent upon your dog’s willingness to cooperate with you.

This means you should not leave food out all day for your dog to snack as he wishes. Remove your dog’s food bowl (with any left over food) after 10 minutes.

Once your dog realizes that the delivery of FAT is an immediate consequence of his or her behavior, your dog will examine his or her behaviors and try to perform behaviors which earn the good consequences.

When this occurs you’ll have the tools to motivate your dog to learn and perform. You will have a marvelous reward system in place!

Only deliver FAT (or anything else an untrained, soliciting dog wants at that instant) after he or she complies with any simple request, thus indicating a desire to cooperate.

The idea is to teach your dog that FAT is not free. Don’t allow him to demand and harvest your attention and touch without cooperating.

For example, if your dog jumps up on the couch uninvited, just stand up and walk a few feet away. Your dog will follow. Return to the couch and, before you sit, ask your dog to perform a simple behavior. Mark the instant of success, and invite your dog up on the couch.

Ask for cooperation before interactions take place. For example, ask your dog to sit or touch or spin or shake or down (or whatever), before you:

  • Touch, pet or groom
  • Attach the leash
  • Adjust the collar
  • Place the food bowl on the floor
  • Invite him or her up on your furniture or lap
  • Toss the ball
  • Go for a walk
  • Jump in or out of the car
  • Open the back door
  • Provide anything your pup desires

If your dog refuses to cooperate, do not repeat your command. Remove your attention. Turn your back, walk away or go out the door without your dog.

Re-engage in 5-10 seconds and ask again (assuming your dog knows how to perform the behavior you are requesting, assuming your dog is not distracted and assuming the environment is not too stimulating for him or her to perform the behavior).

Rewards Awareness Program Summary

Whenever your untrained dog is actively seeking an interaction with you, always ask for cooperation (a simple behavior) before you deliver any food, attention or touch.

The goal is to communicate to your dog that delivery of FAT is the immediate consequence of cooperative and desirable behaviors.

This Rewards Awareness Program has some exceptions. If your dog is voluntarily performing a desirable behavior (thus he is already cooperating), deliver the FAT without asking for additional behaviors. For example, if your dog is resting quietly on his bed, it’s okay to deliver FAT without asking for a simple behavior.

Once you have effectively communicated the concept of the program to your dog (in 3 -10 days), and your dog is volunteering polite behaviors, and your dog is not performing obnoxious behaviors, and you have started a training program – you have completed the Rewards Awareness Program. You can ease up on the rules.

If you notice that your dog is not cooperating, reenact the program.

Following this program will do as much (or more) to create a cooperative, senior-junior partnership between you and your dog as any other technique or suggestion.

How Much FAT?

If we deliver a piece of food, a quick touch and lots of praise for ‘half-way’ performing an already-learned command, we limit our abilities to hone and refine behaviors via the reward system.

Why would the dog try harder if he received a high level of FAT for a mediocre performance?

Deliver FAT at levels that are appropriate for the effort.

Dogs are not unlike people. We both tend to put out just the right amount of effort required to get our rewards.

For example, suppose a 6 year-old child is learning to print the alphabet. The very first time she writes the letter “A”, the lines are not straight. Even though the letter “A” is not perfect, the teacher praises her.

Six weeks later, the same crooked letter “A” does not prompt the same level of praise as the first attempt. For if so, the child will not be motivated to improve. In response to the crooked “A”, the teacher will kindly smile and say, “please try again”.

The teacher will ask for increasingly higher levels of neatness as the child’s skills develop.

We should always be aware of the level of FAT that we deliver and adjust the level to match the dog’s skills level and effort.

For instance, suppose I am teaching Bentley to sit on cue. The first time he sits, I make a big fuss and deliver a food treat, touch and praise.

Once he has practiced sit and knows sit, I will not deliver all three rewards when he sits on cue in a quiet environment. I might say, “Thank you” or deliver a smile. If the environment is very stimulating and Bentley sits on cue, I will deliver touch and praise. It depends on how difficult it is for him to sit in that situation.

If Bentley is slow to sit, I’ll just calmly say “thanks”, and then ask for a down, then a sit, then a down, then a sit. If he complies quickly with all the steps of the sequence, I’ll deliver touch and excited praise.

Although I’ll always acknowledge compliance with FAT, I rarely deliver high levels of FAT if I have to ask for a learned behavior (in a calm environment) more than once.

The point to remember is: our dogs will not give us high level performances if we pay them just as well for inferior performances.

As your dog’s skills grow, deliver FAT at high levels for only the best performances.

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Happy Training!

Alan J Turner, Companion Anial Behavior Counselor & Trainer – Canine Specialization

Private and Group Dog Training in Memphis, TN

Owner: How’s Bentley

FREE – Fabric Licking

bentleyheadcloseHere’s how I used the iPhone dog whistle application to interrupt and reduce excessive licking of fabric behavior by my AKC registered Australian Terrier dog, Bentley. The sound of the whistle performs the role of a positive punisher, which is a stimulus that is added, which reduces the immediate behavior of licking. Bentley’s licking is caused by chronic pancreatitis, and at times, the behavior is classified as compulsive by dog behavior experts.

It’s important to note that routine amounts of brief licking is a normal form of self grooming by dogs and should be allowed. Many dogs perform this grooming before they go to sleep. The licking that I want to reduce is the compulsive licking of fabric, which has developed because of the many times Bentley has practiced the behavior. If I allow him to lick fabric excessively, he will absorb enough small particles of the material and vomit.  Any time you want to use a positive punisher to reduce behaviors, it’s best to consult with an animal behavior counselor. Poor timing, and unwanted side effects, of using positive punishers during dog training can sabotage your good intentions!

I set the frequency to 20,000 Hz, which is well above my hearing range, but within the hearing range of my terrier dog, Bentley. I sound the whistle when Bentley starts licking fabric. I say nothing, and from Bentley’s point of view, I am not responsible for the ultrasonic sound, thus no attention is coming from me. Bentley will stop licking, perk his ears up and I stop the whistle. The instant he stops licking, I stop the tone and praise him!

By using the iPhone dog whistle application in this fashion, I have successfully reduced licking fabric behavior!

Happy Training!

AT

Alan J Turner, Companion Animal Behavior Counselor & Trainer – Canine Specialization

Private and Group Dog Training in Memphis, TN

Owner: How’s Bentley