Should I Get Another Dog / Puppy?

2DogsHere’s the deal. Your 7 month old Labrador Retriever is driving you nuts. Walter has so much energy, you can’t seem to wear him out. You take him on 2, 30 minute walks every day, one in the morning and one when you get home from work. He is crated during the day, because Walter would “remodel” your house otherwise.

Every evening, you play fetch for at least an hour. You want to teach Walter some obedience commands, but with your busy schedule, you just don’t get around to it.

Walter knows sit, and will usually come when called, unless he sees a squirrel or other dogs.

People tell you, “Get another dog. They can play and exercise together.”

This sounds like a great idea! If you add another dog, a playmate for Walter, they can wear each other out. Walter will have a friend and your life will be easier. Right?

Things to consider:

Can I afford the expense of another dog?

Expect to spend anywhere from $60 – $235 per month, per dog.

Will Walter  get along with my current dog?

There is always the chance that your friend for Walter may become his enemy! Managing a multi-dog household can be tricky, specially if the dogs are untrained. They might fight over your attention, rawhide chews, or that perfect spot on the sofa.

How will I find the time to train 3 dogs?

When you have 2 dogs, you have the training workload of owning 3 dogs. You’ll need to train Dog A, when Dog B is not nearby. Then you’ll train Dog B, when Dog A is not around. Great, now you have two dogs that will listen to you. Put them together and it all goes down the drain! The dogs act differently when they are together. They are another Dog, let’s call this one Dog AB. So, you really have 3 dogs to train. Train Dog A, Dog B, then train Dog AB.

Will I become a 3rd wheel?

Anyone who has litter mates can tell you. They become very accustomed to each other, so much so that they become anxious when separated. If you have time to work with each dog, without the other dog nearby, you can remain relevant. If the 2 dogs are always together, they may become one unit. And you may be the 3rd wheel.

What if both dogs chew up my stuff?

Dogs play in many ways. They chase each other, wrestle, jump and mouth each other. AND, dog dig together, hunt together and chew together. Monkey see, monkey do! One dog may never dig, but when the other starts, he or she may decide to dig too! Two dogs can destroy a set of patio furniture, or remodel a couch much quicker than 1 dog!

Will Walter teach my new dog bad habits? Or vice versa?

Dogs feed off each other’s ill manners. For instance suppose Walter is a friendly guy to everyone. He watches out the window at passing dogs and people, and rarely barks or jumps at the window. Enter new dog, who is always on patrol, barking and jumping at the window anytime anyone passes by. Walter watches and then decides to get into the act. Now you have two dogs barking and jumping! House training is another issue. If one dog has accidents inside, it’s likely that the other dog will too! Some dogs start to mark their territory when another dog is introduced. So, a problem that did not exist before is dropped into your lap!

Conclusion

When you add dogs to the house hold, you are taking on a greater responsibility for training and meeting the social, physical and emotional needs of your pets. I never suggest that a client add a dog if they are having trouble meeting the needs of 1 dog. On the flip side, if the client has one, well balanced trained dog, another dog could be a great addition!

Alan J Turner – Howsbentley

Dog Trainer – Memphis TN


Does Your Dog Own You? Resource Guarding of Territory, Food, Items, or People

Ace_BallResource guarding is when dogs posture, growl, snarl, bark,  snap, lunge, or bite for reasons we believe are efforts to keep other animals or people away from what they consider to be valuable resources.

Resources include food, territory, items and persons.

Food related aggression, territory aggression, and possession aggression are specific labels for different types of resource guarding.

Resource guarding can be confused with protection aggression and fear aggression.  People believe their dogs are protecting them, when in reality, the dogs are guarding what they believe to be their property, or the dogs are exhibiting fear aggression. Fear aggression is often present with territory aggression. Resolving the fear issue is the solution.  A behavioral history, questionnaire, careful observation,  and testing can usually identify the specific types of aggression.

In my experiences, resource guarding is commonly directed at other dogs, which many people accept or manage. When the aggression is directed at people, I am likely to get a new client.

Food related aggression is seen more often when high value rawhides, bullie sticks, pigs ears, etc.  are involved.

Some dogs guard dry dog food (less common), and severe cases involve dogs that guard empty bowls, and feeding or food preparation locations.

Territory aggression is when dogs posture, growl, snarl, bark,  snap, lunge, or bite when animals or people approach specific areas. Clearly defined areas, such as fenced yards, motor vehicles, homes, crates, kennels, rooms, chairs, couches, beds, and areas underneath furniture are guarded by dogs who exhibit territory aggression.

Less defined territories, such as doorways, and the areas within the length of the dog’s leash or tie out can be considered valuable by some dogs.

Possesive aggression is when dogs guard non-food items, regardless of the location.  Common items are toys, and stolen treasures, such as socks paper towels, ink pens, remote controls, etc.. Some cases of posessive aggression can be resolved by teaching the dog basic obedience commands such as leave-it and drop.

Some aggression behaviors can be fueled  by miscommunications and the balance between dogs and people, better described as the relationship. In some cases, the dog’s physical, social, or emotional needs are not being met, and / or, the chosen training methods are flawed.  A 21st Century Canine Relationship Specialist can help you with these areas. Visit the APDT to find a trainer near you.

Regardless of the type of aggression, the first step is to manage the environment so the dog does not practice (and people or other animals are not injured). Prevention can include simple steps like removing high value food items, feeding in a crate or secure area, crating the dog during social events, removing toys, housing the dog inside the home, and dog proofing the home.

Next, you’ll need to establish a clear system for communication and motivation. Condition a reward marker and follow the rewards awareness program, no free F.A.T.!

There are specific exercises for treating different types of resource guarding. Each dog and case is different. The treatment plan must be fluid and should be adapted for the dog’s success. You’ll probably need help from a dog behavior counselor.

Visit this Solve-It section on this site for specific examples and detailed solutions for aggression.

Happy Training!

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

How’s Bentley – Memphis, Collierville, Germantown TN

21st Century Canine Relationship Solutions

Group Dog Obedience Classes

Private Dog Training in Memphis TN

Reactive Dog Specialist


Memphis Animal Shelter – Death Camp for Dogs and Cats is Raided by Shelby County Sheriff Department

Mississippi River MemphisAs recently as October 27, 2009, the conditions at the city operated, Memphis Animal Shelter, would shock animal lovers and haters alike. Animals starved to death, at the hands of employees, at the Memphis Animal Shelter. The dead animals lay in their cages.

Other animals were sick and neglected. Deputies of the Shelby County TN Sheriff Department raided the shelter last week, in response to complaints from volunteers. Fox news and the Commercial Appeal have posted a picture of one emaciated, now dead dog.

A volunteer recently told me of the conditions, the week before the raid. I was told dogs were being euthanized with no regard for their adoptability, or the amount of time they were held. Apparently volunteers have been aware of the conditions for months and their complaints were ignored by Memphis city officials, under the rule of W.W. Herrington, the city mayor who recently resigned . Shelby County Sheriff office was notified and took action, because of the reports of unlawful animal abuse. Officers seized records and are currently investigating the case.

What I cannot imagine is that the fellow in charge of the city shelter, and shelter employees, are still on the job. Recently elected Memphis city mayor AC Wharton stated that the shelter will have publicly accessible web cams installed.

The death camp shelter has the citizens of Memphis in shock, and for good reason.

I am thankful that the situation is being resolved.

Happy Training!

Alan J Turner – Memphis TN

How’s Bentley – 21st Century Canine Relationship Solutions

Reactive Dog Workshops – 2010

Group Obedience Mini Courses – December 2009

iPhone 3Gs Video ** Do it or Suffer: Your Weimaraner Needs Exercise!

WeimaranerToday I went with my clients, Derrick and Megan, to Shelby Farms to exercise Bimmer, their 1 year old Weimaraner dog. Scroll to the bottom of this post to watch 2 iPhone 3Gs videos of Bimmer playing fetch.

I first met the clients January 2009, when Bimmer was a puppy. Derrick and Megan were model students, and it shows. Bimmer was an excellent guest at the dog park. Derrick and Meagan have a wonderful Weimaraner dog who is well mannered and loads of fun! That’s not the case with owners who do not obedience train or exercise their dogs.

If you do NOT teach your puppy basic obedience and provide enough stimulation for your dog, problems will emerge. Excessive digging, escaping, jumping, barking, chewing, and destruction are common signs that an untrained dog’s needs are not being met.

At 4.500 acres and 20 bodies of water, Shelby Farms is one of the largest municipal park in the USA.

In the lower picture, Bimmer has a fire hose fetch toy. I could throw this toy much farther than the plastic retrieving dummy. Dogs seem to really like fire hose material. Although it’s not a chew toy, the texture is a bit different and the fire hose is very durable. Amazon has a great selection. Here’s the best one I’ve found at the best price.

Weimaraner Fetch

Click below to see 2 videos taken with iPhone 3Gs. The Splash is my favorite!

Fetch

Splash

Happy Training!
Alan J Turner – How’s Bentley – 21st Century Canine Relationship Solutions
Reactive Dog Group Workshops
Mini-Obedience Courses
Group and Private Dog Training in Memphis, Collierville, Germantown, Bartlett TN

New iPhone app -Dog and Puppy Shake – Fun Facts and Trainer Truths
21st Century Dogs – Dog and Puppy Club

iPhone 3Gs Video ** Georgia Pit Bull Sweetie Romps in the South East

GeorgiaSay, Here’s a happy video of Georgia the Pit Bull terrier, romping in Memphis TN.  I used my iPhone 3Gs to make the video.

Like all breeds, a very small percentage of  pit bull terrier dogs are unpredictable, dangerous or violent. Georgia is the sweetest pit bull dog ever!

CLICK HERE for Video of Georgia, the pit bull terrier.

How’s Bentley – Alan J Turner – Memphis TN Dog Trainer

Animal News Network

Buy Canny Collar USA – Buy for $25.95 plus $6.95 shipping anywhere in USA.

CannywebStop your dog from pulling! The Canny Collar is the first head collar that anyone can fit and use. If you can attach a buckle collar to your dog, you can fit the Canny Collar. Price is $25.95 plus a flat rate, USA shipping charge of $6.95.

Click Here to Order a Canny Collar today!

For years, I have suggested head collars for my clients.  Clients use the equipment to get the dog to perform the good behavior, then they reward the dog for walking nicely!

A core problem with the Gentle Leader, Halti, and the Snoot Loop is fitting the collar correctly. Until now, all head collars required fine tuning and adjustments.  Toss in an exuberant dog (why else would the people need a head collar?) and many people become frustrated and switch to other no pull devices.

The Canny Collar has fast become my favorite choice for many situations!  Just order the correct size and you are ready to start enjoying walks with your dog!  Click Here for a Size Chart.

None of the big box pet supply stores in Memphis, Germantown, or Collierville TN carry the Canny Collar. None of the speciality pet supply stores, such as Three Dog Bakery or All About Pets, or Hollywood Feed carry the Canny Collar.

Visit the Products Page to order your Canny Collar today!

Alan J Turner

Companion Animal Behavior Counselor & Trainer – canine specialization

How’s Bentley – Memphis, Collierville, Germantown TN

Private and Group Dog Training

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