Tag Archive for: positive reinforcement

VIDEO: What You Can Learn in Dog Tricks Class

Lisa’s Dog Tricks class just finished up their 3rd class, so we thought we’d show off a bit of what they’ve learned.

Check out these super duper pups: Bodhi the collie, Beryl the lab, Syrio the cocker spaniel, and Xander the beagle mix.

Other tricks (beyond the video!) the class has worked on so far:

  • Rest head on human’s hand
  • Nod for “Yes”
  • Shake head for “No”
  • Back up
  • Paw target, used for things like:
    • Pressing an Easy Button (they sell fun ones that say Yes/No/Maybe/Sorry)
    • Playing the piano
    • (and about a million other tricks!)

If you’re interested in signing up for Dog Tricks the next time it’s offered, you can learn more about the class and put your email on the wait list by going to the class page. (Waitlist is at the very bottom.) Have a young human (ages 9-13) that wants to learn how to teach tricks? Our kids’ instructor, Hedda, offers a Kids & Dogs: Tricks class.

We look forward to seeing you in class!

Photo collage showing baked dog treats, two cocker spaniels begging for a treat, and the text Dog Training Treats Cheap. High Value doesn't have to mean high ost.

79 Cents for High Value Dog Treats from Safeway

Photo collage showing baked dog treats, two cocker spaniels begging for a treat, and the text Dog Training Treats Cheap. High Value doesn't have to mean high ost.

I can’t believe I’m going to share this secret with you. Especially if you shop at “my” Safeway (the new one on Rockville Pike). If there’s a sudden lack of my secret dog treat weapon, I’ll have no one to blame but myself for telling you all about this…

But it’s okay because Your Dog’s Friend fans deserve it.

Secret Cheap Chicken

At Safeway, there is a cooler where they keep hand-trimmed chicken breasts. Next to those beautifully trimmed chicken breasts are packages labeled “Chicken Fat.”  They are $0.79 a pound. Grab a package of about 1.5 lbs (under $2!). Look for one that appears to be more meaty than fatty.

These are the trimmings from those expensive chicken breasts. They have fatty bits attached, but getting rid of the fat is as simple as boiling water.

Getting Rid of the Fat

Go home, fill a pot with water and put the chicken in it. Boil for 20 minutes or so. This will render off the majority of the fat, leaving just chicken. Scoop out the chicken pieces, rinse them (if you want), and bam, you get about 12 ounces of perfectly useable boiled chicken!

Ta-da! You Can Be Done Right Here.

Cool off the chicken. Chop it up. Toss it in your treat pouch and bring it to class.

You can use the fatty broth for anything else you like. Make soup. Mix it into mashed potatoes. You get the idea.

Make Some Cheap Dog Treats!

Ingredients

  • 12 oz (or so) of boiled chicken meat
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup of flour (for grain free, chickpea flour or rice flour works!)
  • 1 cup of parmesan cheese (I use the sprinkle kind from a can)
  • (Optional) 1 tbsp PB2 (powdered peanut butter) or 1 tbsp fresh or dried parsley

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350F.
  2. In a food processor, process the chicken chunks until they’re a ground meat consistency. (You may have to add a little water depending on the amount of chicken and the strength of your food processor.)
  3. In a large bowl, mix ground chicken, eggs, flour, and parmesan cheese thoroughly.
  4. You should have a consistency that will form into loose meatballs. If it’s too crumbly, add water. If it’s too squishy, add flour. (It’s not an exact science.)
  5. Cover a large baking sheet with aluminum foil and spray with cooking spray.
  6. Spread the chicken mixture so it fills about half the tray. It should be a fairly thin layer.
  7. (optional) Sprinkle the top with PB2 or parsley.
  8. Bake at 350F for 20 minutes.
  9. Turn oven down to 200F. Bake another 20 minutes.
  10. Turn the oven off. Leave the tray in the oven another 20 minutes, longer if you want them more dry.
Tray of Dog Treats

(This is a double batch, so it takes the whole tray.)

You will now have a pan of delicious homemade chicken treats!

Treat Size

Slice them into whatever size works best for your dog.

One they’re cool, store them in a ziplock bag or sealed tupperware in the fridge. They’re usually long gone before you have to worry about them going bad.

Enjoy!

Rhodesian ridgeback with a tennis ball in her mouth, ready to play.

How Playing 20 Questions Improves Your Dog Training Skills

Rhodesian ridgeback with a tennis ball in her mouth, ready to play.

You ready to play?

There’s a super powerful dog training technique that most average dog owners (and even some dog trainers!) have a hard time understanding. In this article, I’m going to hopefully turn on the light switch so you can have the a-ha moment and be able to harness this technique to teach your dog all sorts of fun and useful behaviors.

In our classes, we talk about various ways that you can teach your dog a new behavior without the need for harsh corrections or punishment. In case you haven’t been to one of our classes, here’s a quick review of those methods:

  • Capturing: When the dog offers the behavior you want, click and treat.
  • Luring: Use a treat to move the dog into the position you want, then click and treat.
  • Shaping: Click and treat your dog for each tiny step toward the correct behavior.

Of these four methods, shaping is the one that confuses people the most.

“So I just stand here?”  (Yes.)

“My dog is sitting and staring at me.”  (Give him time.)

“This isn’t working!” (Give it time.)

“Can’t I nudge him toward the behavior?” (Nope. That’s luring. We’re shaping!)

“So I click and treat when?” (Whenever your dog does a small part of the behavior you want.)

“This seems like I’m clicking and treating for nothing.” (It’s almost nothing, but definitely on the way to something!)

You Have Played Shaping Games. Yes, You!

Let’s leave the dog behind for a moment and talk about your childhood. (Don’t worry, we won’t get Freudian!)

Did you ever play the game 20 Questions? If so, you’ve played a shaping game!

Example:  Debra and Bob are playing 20 Questions.

Bob:
Okay, I know what the object is.

Debra:
Is it alive?

Bob:
No.

Debra:
Is it in the training center?

Bob:
Yes.

Debra:
Is it blue?

Bob:
No.

Debra:
Is it a piece of agility equipment?

Bob:
No.

Debra:
Is it something a dog wears?

Bob:
No.

Debra:
Is it something a dog would play with?

Bob:
Yes.

Debra:
Is it something you throw?

Bob:
Yes.

Debra:
Is it a frisbee?

Bob:
No.

Debra:
Is it a ball?

Bob:
Yes.

Debra:
Is it a tennis ball?

Bob:
Yes! You got it!

During this game, Bob is using shaping to lead Debra to the correct answer. His Yes or No answers give her feedback and she uses that feedback to refine her line of questioning until she correctly identifies the tennis ball.

Let’s look at it again but add Debra’s thoughts to the mix.

20 Questions + Debra’s Thought Process

Bob:
Okay, I know what the object is.

Debra thinks of the first step to narrowing down the name of the object.

Debra:
Is it alive?

Bob:
No.

Debra now knows it’s an inanimate object. Maybe it’s something in the room.

Debra:
Is it in the training center?

Bob:
Yes.

Debra glances around the room. There are a lot of blue things: the floor, the pods, the A-frame, the dog walk, the teeter.

Debra:
Is it blue?

Bob:
No.

Debra now looks for objects that aren’t blue. There are lots of agility obstacles that are not blue.

Debra:
Is it a piece of agility equipment?

Bob:
No.

Debra scans to the other side of the room and sees a harness hanging on the wall.

Debra:
Is it something a dog wears?

Bob:
No.

Debra keeps looking and sees the container of toys.

Debra:
Is it something a dog would play with?

Bob:
Yes.

Debra thinks about the different types of toys in the container.

Debra:
Is it something you throw?

Bob:
Yes.

Debra is getting excited because there are only a couple toys that are for throwing!

Debra:
Is it a frisbee?

Bob:
No.

So close! It has to be a ball.

Debra:
Is it a ball?

Bob:
Yes.

Yes! Debra goes one step further.

Debra:
Is it a tennis ball?

Bob:
Yes! You got it!

Hooray! Debra wins!

Using Shaping to Train Your Dog

The 20 Questions game is an imperfect analogy since Debra knows that her goal is to identify the object Bob is thinking about. Obviously, your dog does not know the point of the game in advance. Your dog does know that he gets a click and a treat when he’s done something you like. This positive reinforcement increases the probability that he will repeat the behavior you like.

Unlike Bob, who gives a non-reward marker (“No”) to Debra when she is incorrect, we will simply wait for the dog to offer a behavior that is a “Yes.”

Your steps for shaping a new behavior:

  1. Identify the end behavior you want. (Ex: Dog blows bubbles under water.)
  2. Make a list and break that final behavior up into tiny steps. (Ex: Dog puts face in bucket.)
  3. Go back and break it up into even smaller steps. (Ex: Dog looks at bucket.)
  4. Wait for your dog to offer a behavior that is one of the tiny steps. (Ex: Move toward bucket. Look at bucket. Smell bucket.)
  5. Click and treat your dog.
  6. Continue to reward that behavior, and give your dog a jackpot (many small treats in quick succession) when he offers the next step of the behavior. (Ex: Dog holds nose on the bottom of the bucket.)
  7. Now hold out for the new step of the behavior to click and treat.
  8. Repeat until you get to the final behavior.

Train Your Dog to Blow Bubbles Under Water Using Shaping

See the process in action with this great video from ShapeFest on YouTube.

More Resources

Training a Dog to Flip Open a Picnic Basket Using Shaping by Pat Miller

Shape a “Crawl Under” Trick by kikopup

ShapeFest videos on YouTube

Introduction to Shaping by Karen Pryor

Ten Laws of Shaping by Karen Pryor

Fun Training Using Shaping by Pat Miller

Stop Barking at the Doorbell: A Halloween Training Activity

Photo by Found Animals Foundation

Photo by Found Animals Foundation

Your doorbell is going to ring all night long as the trick or treaters make their way around the neighborhood. What if we told you that you could use this as an opportunity to teach your dog not to bark his fool head off?

This process requires:

  • One human to handle the trick or treaters
  • One human to do the dog training
  • A big baggie of over-the-top awesome treats.
    • Chopped up meat and/or cheese works best!
    • Prepare lots more than you think you will use.
    • Skip feeding your dog dinner since they’re going to eat a lot!
  • One hungry dog that likes to bark at the doorbell
  • A book to read between doorbell rings
  • Ear plugs (optional) 🙂

Set up:

  • Be sure your dog has had a walk so they’re a bit more relaxed and have done all their business.
  • Before the trick or treaters arrive, get your dog and your over-the-top awesome treats in another room of the house and close the door.
  • Your helper human will be handling the trick or treaters!
  • Put your treat bag somewhere you can have quick access to it.

DING-DONG!

  • As soon as the doorbell rings, grab a small handful of treats and feed feed feed.
  • Put the treats away and go back to your book. Your dog may still be barking and that’s ok.
  • Repeat the process for every doorbell ring.
  • Do not give treats for any other reason so the dog understands doorbell = delicious.

What You Should Notice

  • After a few repetitions, your dog should start to look at you expectantly when the doorbell rings.
  • The barking will most likely start to fade away. (Key word: “start.” You’ll want to keep working on this beyond tonight to get the best results.

Troubleshooting

  • “My dog won’t eat the treats!”
    • Be sure you have the highest value treats possible. Normal training treats or biscuits won’t cut it. Real meat and/or cheese is best. You need something irresistible that your dog doesn’t get every day.
    • If your dog turns away from you and won’t eat the treats, toss them on the floor near the dog. When the dog calms down a bit, they will eat them. The important thing is the connection that doorbell = food.
  • “My dog eats and then starts barking again!”
    • That’s fine. There are no other triggers present other than the doorbell, so once you’ve given the food, go back to your book and ignore the barking. Wait for the next trick or treater.
  • “We don’t get that many trick or treaters.”
    • This is why you have a helper human at the front door! Ask your helper human to ring the doorbell if there have been no trick or treaters for 5 minutes. Then you can get in more practice with your dog.

A Great Video

Check out Kikopup’s very thorough video that teaches how to desensitize and countercondition your dog to the arrival of guests.

Need Help?

We have a great resource page on Barking you can check out for more information. And you can always contact us with questions or sign up for a class or a free workshop to learn more about getting the best behavior out of your dog.

halloween dog - cocker spaniel wearing bat wings sitting beside tomb stone on white background

Dogs Don’t Like Wearing Halloween Costumes… Unless You Train It!

A chihuahua dressed in a hot dog costume. The dog's head is down, its ears are back, and one front paw is lifted.

Head down. Paw up. Ears back. This dog is not happy.

Planning on dressing up your dog for Halloween?

How does your dog behave when wearing a costume?

If your dog is so happy-go-lucky that wearing clothing and hats doesn’t bother him, you can go about your day. You hit the lottery and got an extremely well-adjusted dog.

Costumes Stress Out Most Dogs

Most of us have dogs that look a bit like the Chihuahua pictured here. This dog is showing signs of stress: head down, ears back, paw raised.

Signs your dog is stressed:

  • Head down
  • Whale eyes (open wide, can see the whites)
  • Ears back
  • Turning away
  • Single paw raised
  • Freezing / refusing to move
  • Flattening to the ground

Alternatives to Dog Costumes

halloween dog - cocker spaniel wearing bat wings sitting beside tomb stone on white backgroundIf your dog does not deal well with changes in the environment, it’s best to skip dressing them up for Halloween. Here are some ideas to get cute pictures without dressing up your pup:

Festive Collar:  Seasonal collars are a fun way to dress up your dog. Check out these handmade Halloween collars on Etsy.

Fake Costume: Check out the adorable BatCocker! Attach the wings to the wall and position your dog in front of them. Ta-da!

Props: Gather your jack-o-lanterns, fake spiderwebs, and scarecrow and pose your dog in front of them for a great Halloween photo.

So You Want Your Dog to Like Wearing a Costume…

To get your dog accustomed to wearing a costume, you need to start bit by bit. This process will take 1 minute per training session.

Training Goal 1: The sight of the costume predicts treats.

  1. Grab the costume and 10-12 pieces of GOOD treats. Leftover meat, cheese stick, etc.
  2. Show the dog the costume and feed a treat.
  3. Hide the costume behind your back.
  4. Repeat steps 2-3 until you run out of treats.

Do this process several times per day. Once you see your dog getting excited at the sight of the costume, move on to the next training goal. (If your dog does not get excited to see the costume, do not proceed. Scroll back up for costume alternatives and keep that pup happy!)

Training Goal 2: Touching the costume predicts treats.

  1. Grab the costume and 10-12 pieces of GOOD treats.
  2. Show the dog the costume and feed a treat.
  3. Hide the costume behind your back.
  4. Touch your dog with the costume (reach to your dog’s side, not over the head) and feed a treat.
  5. Repeat steps 3-4 until you run out of treats.

Do this process several times per day. Once you see your dog getting excited at the sight of the costume, move to the next training goal. (If your dog is looking stressed, do not proceed. Scroll back up for costume alternatives.)

Training Goal 3: Wearing the costume predicts treats.

  1. Grab the costume and 10-12 pieces of GOOD treats.
  2. Show the dog the costume and feed a treat.
  3. Hide the costume behind your back.
  4. Touch your dog with the costume (reach to your dog’s side, not over the head) and feed a treat.
  5. Hide the costume behind your back.
  6. Put the costume on the dog* and jackpot feed the treats. (Save 2 treats for removing the costume.)
  7. Take the costume off while feeding the remaining treats.

*NOTE:  If the costume involves multiple pieces, do this process for each individual piece in separate training sessions.

“I Don’t Have Time for That!”

Sure you do! Each training session is 1-2 minutes long. You can dedicate just 5 minutes a day to this training protocol and (most likely) have a dog that’s happy to dress up for you. And when your dog is happy, your Halloween pictures will be super cute!

Positive Training in Action: Down / Stay in the Kitchen (VIDEO)

Everybody wishes that their dog would have the impulse control to stay on his bed while the rest of the family is buzzing about the kitchen, getting food prepared for a meal.

We teach Relax on a Mat in our Puppy Kindergarten class. It’s a valuable skill because you can take it anywhere you go! PuppyK teacher Sarah Stoycos says that a friend of hers can even use a paper napkin as a “mat” and her dog will happily down-stay on it.

Here’s a great video of a child helping his puppy learn how to relax in the kitchen:

Video by The Family Companion, a positive training center in NY.

Notice two important things:

1) Nothing happens when the dog gets up. The child simply waits for the dog to offer the correct behavior (down on the mat) and rewards the dog.

Other trainers will tell you that you need to:

  • Say “no!” in a stern voice.
  • Jerk on the leash to correct the dog.
  • Press a remote to shock the dog with an e-collar.
  • Force the dog to return to the mat.

None of these things are necessary. Dogs will do whatever behavior benefits them the most. This pup is smart and you can see her thinking about what to do to get those treats!

2) The child is “proofing” the behavior. Many people forget this very important step to training. When you proof a behavior, you introduce other variables that may distract your dog into making a mistake.

In the video, you see the young trainer:

  • Opening the oven door
  • Opening a drawer
  • Opening the fridge
  • Walking around the kitchen

Each time the dog holds the correct position (down/stay on the mat), she gets a reward. This drives home the lesson that NO MATTER WHAT, down/stay on the mat is where the dog should be when in the kitchen.

Later on, they could increase the temptations:

  • Running around the kitchen
  • Pouring dog kibble in a bowl
  • Dropping food on the floor

Again, if the dog makes a mistake, nothing happens. (Be sure the dog cannot self-reward by grabbing the dropped food, though!)

When the dog returns to the mat, the rewards begin to flow again.

No force. No fear. Just a dog that understands her job and is happy to do it. This is positive training in action!