There is an old saying, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” Fortunately for our beloved dogs, this is not necessarily the case in the world of dog training and behavior. Granted, there are still far too many professionals who cling to old-fashioned methods of violence, pain and coercion. To them, things seem to stay the same. However, the corps of enlightened training professionals who routinely read, absorb, and apply behavioral innovations is growing every day, and I am proud to consider myself one of them.
That means, of course, that from time to time I will have opportunities to change what I say and how I say it. I sometimes look back at something I wrote years ago and am shocked when I realize that, as much as there was general agreement (whatever it is) in the profession back then, there is growing or widespread agreement, now that there are none really like that. Here are a few examples of things I’ve changed my mind about over the years:
* The importance of putting reinforcements on an intermittent reinforcement plan.
Early on, when the use of treats in training was somewhat revolutionary, we “gourmets” absorbed a lot of heat for the use of treats. As a result, In the past we put a lot of emphasis on moving one’s dog continuous schedule (by reinforcing it every time – very important when learning new behavior for the first time) to one intermittent schedule the reinforcement, which means that he learns to offer the behavior multiple times when asked and is only reinforced occasionally. Continuous reinforcement, we thought, would make dogs and People who rely on the presence of treatment to achieve the behavior.
We found that using intermittent reinforcement is not that important unless You need the behavior to be permanent – resistant to extinction. There is absolutely nothing wrong with amplifying the behavior every time it happens. And I pretty much do! The Miller dogs generally have an ongoing reinforcement schedule, even if it’s just a happy, “good dog!” Is.
Remember, “reinforcement” doesn’t have to be fun. While I almost always have goodies in my pocket, I can also give praise, a toy, petting (for dogs that love to be petted), opening a door to go outside, the ability to do some other behavior the dog loves – or use anything else The dog will find reinforcement instead of a reward.
We know that if a behavior is not reinforced, it goes away over time, and that behaviors that are temporarily reinforced are more permanent than others. But how many of us are often in environments with our dogs where we cannot reinforce the behavior every time or most of the time? I can imagine a few – a dog in an obedience process at the American Kennel Club, a dog actor on stage in a play, a working dog that naturally has to work at a distance from its handler. . . not too many!
In the real world, few “reward” owners, ending up with dogs who refuse to work unless they are shown a reward first. More often I see owners who fail to “catch their dogs doing something right” – that is, they often cannot encourage their dogs for the behavior they like to see. Without reinforcement and with it experience to teach them which behaviors reliably lead to pleasant consequences caused by their owners, dogs will find things they can do themselves!
That’s why I now advise you to strengthen your dogs and everyone When you see behaviors that you like – look at squirrels out the window without barking, go to their mat when the family is sitting down for dinner, take you for a walk, greet friends at the door with all four paws on the floor. And reinforce these great behaviors something Your dog finds it pleasant – a reward, a happy word, a stomach massage, a favorite toy or a rousing tug of war.
* Rules for tug of war with your dog.
Speaking of tugs, I’ve improved my recommended “rules of tug of war” with dogs a lot. Due to criticism from the old fashioned trainer crowd, we have set strict rules for pulling your dog. Pulling tugs even under these rules was viewed as dangerous by many old school trainers, who warned owners that tugs could make their dogs aggressive. I would never go that far – although I certainly would not advise an inexperienced owner to casually play with an already aggressive tug Dog or one known to protect resources.
Many dogs love to roam with their owners so it has a ton of potential for use as a mutually entertaining and fantastically reinforcing game. In order to get the most out of the game, ask your dog to play by some basic rules. To protect yourself, play around with some security guidelines. Here are my current rules and guidelines for towing:
• Use a toy that is long enough to keep your dog’s teeth away from your hands and that you can comfortably hold when he pulls.
• Hold up the tractor toy. If your dog pounces on it, say “Oops!” and quickly hide it behind your back. He has to be polite when tugging with you.
• If he stays seated while you offer the toy, tell him to take it! and encourage him to grab and pull. If he hesitates, play carefully until he learns the game. If he’s excited, do it!
• During the tug game, randomly ask him to “act!” Offer him a tasty treat to take after he hands you the tug toy. Then offer the toy and tell him to take it! once again.
• If you crawl the toy toward your hands while playing with your teeth, say, “Oops! A pity! “In a happy voice, let him give you the toy and put it away for a moment. (This is for safety reasons. You can take it out and play again after about 15 seconds.)
• If your dog’s teeth touch your clothes or skin, say, “Oops! A shame! “And put the toy away for a minute (again for safety reasons).
• Children should not pull your dog unless and until you are sure they can follow the rules. Whenever you allow children to walk your dog, always supervise the game directly.
• Only pull from side to side, not top to bottom (pulling top and bottom can injure your dog’s spine) and moderate the force of your play according to your dog’s size and age. (You can pull more forcefully with an adult Rottweiler than with a Rottie puppy or small terrier.)
Here are the rules for dragging that I dropped or changed:
• • Keep the tug toy away. Only bring it out when you want to play tug. (There is no logical justification for keeping the tug toy away from the dog at other times.)
• • Ignore the dog when he invites you to tow. You can decide when a tug will happen. (What does it hurt if your dog asks you to play? You can always say, “No thanks! Not now!”)
• • You should “win” most of the time – that is, you own the toy, not your dog. (As long as you’ve allowed the dog to take the toy and he hasn’t used it aggressively, it doesn’t hurt to have it sometimes, or even frequently. In fact, some dogs are quick to learn how to play with the toy making on its own by far not as fun as playing with you.)
• • When you’re done playing, put the toy away until the next time. You control the good things. (Play with you is the Really good stuff! It’s okay to let the dog run away with the toy when you’re done, as long as it is safe for him.)
As you can see, I’ve removed all of the rules that insist on you always being in total control of the game – the ones that were based on the old-fashioned thought that if you weren’t in total control, your dog would be in total control would take advantage of you and maybe even get aggressive. We know better now. Have fun pulling!
* Leave it / go away
Many of us teach our dogs a catchphrase, “Leave it!” (Also known as “Off!”) For use in situations where you see something you don’t want your dog to mess with – be it a pile of cat poop, a discarded chicken bone, a cat crossing the sidewalk, or a snake. I still teach this cue when I want the dog to understand, “Whatever you desire or consider, I want you to leave it alone.” But I Likewise Teach an alternate cue, “go away,” which means, “whatever you see, I want you to do a 180 degree turn and walk away with me.”
While there are many situations where the two cues could be used interchangeably, and in some cases where “Leave it” is still the more appropriate choice, I find that dogs are much more reliable to the “Walk away” cue, simply because we teach them it’s a fun game. Given the choice, my preferred behavior is to ask for it.
I first discovered this on my Cardigan Corgi, Lucy. She had learned “stop it!” in her youth and responded fairly reliably to this cue. When she was 10 years old, I learned about New Jersey trainer Kelly Fahey’s “walk away” protocol and taught Lucy how to do it.
Then I did an experiment. I put a bowl of delicious food on the floor and when Lucy walked up to it I said, “Leave it!” She took two more steps and began to eat. Then I said: “Go away!” and she spun away from the bowl and ran away with me.
The moral of the story and a good memory: we are almost always more successful at asking our dogs to do so to do something (run away with me!) than Not do something (not eat that!). This is one of the cornerstones of positive, reinforcement-based dog training.
For complete instructions on teaching your dog to “Get Away”, see “Get Away!” Sidebar in the “Frustrated on a leash?” Article in the October 2019 issue of WDJ.
* Head holders can help – or hurt.
Like almost every other positive trainer, I was excited about head racks when they started the training scene in 1995. They helped many people prevent their dogs from dragging them around on walks without painful jerks from choke chains or pinching collars. The leash is attached to the dog’s neck with a normal collar. With a head halter, the leash attachment is just below the dog’s head, making it very difficult for him to lean against the leash and pull. The dog is turned back to the handler by applying slight pressure from the handler on the leash.
But the more halters were used, the clearer it became that the majority of dogs hated them, even after a fairly thorough effort to desensitize and condition dogs against wearing.
Then front clip straps came along and did largely the same function: they gave us a significant amount of control over dogs that pulled hard. Changing my allegiance to these new products was easy (and we covered all of the reasons for this in the February 2005 issue of WDJ).
Most dogs will accept harnesses without protest and are far less likely to damage a dog’s neck or spine if they hit the end of the leash hard. (I occasionally come across a dog who finds front clip straps off-putting, and I don’t use them on these dogs.)
For an overview of the front wiring harnesses, see Harness the Power, WDJ, April 2017.
* Changed recommendations for your dog’s crate.
Some people believe you put your dog in a crate – ever – is cruel. Don’t worry: I am still a strong believer in the box. However, there are a couple of things about boxes that I do differently now than I did years ago.
I was on board with this general caveat for the owners: “If your dog / puppy is crying in its crate, ignore it until it stops, or you will amplify its vocalizations.” I shudder now when I think of it.
Okay, of course, if your dog barks a few times, it’s still good advice to ignore him so that you don’t encourage him to bark. But anything beyond that – ongoing, emotional vocalization – needs to be approached behaviorally. If a dog cries for long periods of time in its crate, its stress increases and it has a balanced effect More negative association with the box.
A dog that is stressed about the crate but still needs to be locked up for management purposes needs a gradual habituation program (first a few seconds on you, then longer and longer as you gradually move away) or needs alternatives to the crate (on a practice pen or a dog-protected one Room).
My other change that has to do with boxes is in size. I’ve always said that a dog’s crate should be just big enough for him to stand up, lie down, and turn around. That still applies if you’re exercising around the house – you don’t want the box big enough for him to dirty one end and sleep dry and comfortably in the other.
But after If he’s still in a box, there’s no reason to keep depriving him of more spacious quarters.
THE GOOD NEWS
In general, the positive world of dog training has a quantum shift from “I will do The dog wants me to want him to do it … I bought him so that I could compete with him in an agile way, and he’ll do damn well! “to” I will explore possibilities with my dog to see what he would like to do. I will be really happy if he wants to do agility, since I love agility, but if he tells / shows me that he prefers nosework , Rally obedience or canine freestyle, I’m good at it too. “
Personally, I also made a quantum philosophical shift. I’ve been very competitive with my dogs. My wonderful terrier mix (and “crossover dog”) Josie held multiple obedience titles and was one of the first 26 dogs in the world to receive rally obedience titles through the Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT). I no longer need my dogs to be precise competitors. You are sitting perfectly straight in the perfect heel position. Just being who they are is good enough. While today I respect those who enjoy mutual partnership and competition with their dogs, I just want to be with mine, do barn chores, hike the farm, and share and enjoy our life together.
As I read through my earlier writings to find things that I now disagree with, I was pleased to find that there weren’t as many as I thought there were. I went through my articles all the way back Whole Dog Journal Established in 1998 and found nothing terrible to complain about. Yes, I’ve found some things that I would do or say differently now, but nothing that would kick me out of the Force Free Trainer Club. However, it is always good to remember that we do better when we know better.
The author, Pat Miller, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA, is WDJ’s training editor. She and her husband live in Fairplay, Maryland, which is their Peaceable Paws Training Center, which offers dog training classes and trainer classes. Miller is also the author of many books on dog friendly training. See page 24 for more information.