The perils of hiring dog trainers or behaviourists.

Many of you may not know that being a dog trainer or dog behaviourist in the UK is not regulated.  Effectively that means that you could set up a website or print a few business cards and be the next dog trainer or behaviour “expert” in your area, without ever owning a dog.   Scary isn’t it?  It’s happening everywhere today and many of the techniques used by these so called experts to “train” are extremely harmful for your dog.   Many believe that shouting, hitting, electrocuting or jerking a dog’s collar is acceptable as they conform to a belief that you must treat your dog harshly in order to gain respect.  Teaching any animal (including humans) with fear or force is not acceptable in today’s society – not that it ever was.

Yet it remains prevalent everywhere, even amongst trainers who promote themselves as positive reinforcement trainers.  I find it very disheartening to meet with distraught pet owners who have been given such poor advice much of which will make their pets a great deal worse.  Hitting a dog who barks because they are anxious isn’t going to make them less anxious – it doesn’t take a behaviourist to work that out – yet many recommend just that.

Over the years I have witnessed dogs being shouted at and “scruffed” in classes, sprayed with compressed air canisters or water bottles, yanked around by the lead and collar and shouted at for not understanding what was actually in hindsight, very poor instruction.  The same is true of behavioural issues – I’ve met many owners whose dogs exhibit separation problems and who have been told to just leave them in their crate until the dog gets over it – that simply doesn’t happen and will almost certainly make the problem worse.  Hitting or electrocuting a dog for barking and lunging at another dog may stop the behaviour, but it is unlikely to stop the fear which is often causing the barking and lunging in the first place – the fall out of punishment can be a whole lot worse in the long run.

The good news is that the industry is becoming more and more regulated, albeit slowly.   And thankfully, there are many qualified and experienced trainers and behaviourists out there today that work hard to train with compassion, science and sense.  With this in mind, I decided that I wanted to be like them and help dogs, rather than punish them into submission.

 

So I researched the many options for study and decided to undertake a Bachelor of Science in Canine Behaviour and Training with Bishop Burton College and the University of Hull.  It was one of the most interesting and enlightening things I have ever done in my life.  It challenged me academically as well as challenging many of my beliefs – but moreover it provided me with an extensive knowledge of animal behaviour and a large circle of friends and professionals who appreciate and promote animal welfare and science.  Understanding what motivates certain behaviours, such as the genetic and biological influences, as well as how learning impacts on behaviour are just a few of the pre-requisites for work as a behaviourist.

I graduated from 5 years of study with first class honours and use almost every aspect of that learning in my daily interaction with dogs and their owners.  Since, I have joined the International Association of Animal Behaviour Consultants as a Certified Dog Behaviour Consultant and now enjoy an even greater network of professionals and friends who have the same goals of helping animals at both ends of the lead in a kind and compassionate way.

And so to the point ……

Do your research when considering the services of a dog trainer or behaviourist.  Ask them about their qualifications and about the techniques they will use.  Simply being a member of a dog training organisation does not imply that the individual has sufficient background knowledge or skill to assess and address behaviour problems, although it can be a good indicator that they have proved the ability to train a dog in a compassionate way.   If in doubt, walk away because you are your best friend’s ambassador!  Check out the Register of Accredited Animal Behaviourists with the Animal Behaviour & Training Council or IAABC for more information.

Got a new puppy?

What is the most important thing you need to do with your new puppy?

You need to socialise your puppy effectively before they are 16 weeks of age, sooner for some breeds – and then maintain fear free experiences throughout their lives.

Why am I saying that this is the most important thing?  Failure to socialise your puppy effectively is the single most common cause of behaviour problems in dogs.  The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior highlight the point and state that “Behavioral issues, not infectious diseases, are the number one cause of death for dogs under three years of age”.  This is why they recommend that puppies should receive effective socialisation before they are fully vaccinated.   Puppy socialisation starts as soon as they are born which puts a great deal of the responsibility firmly in the hands of the breeder, although it switches to you, the moment you bring them home.

But what is Puppy Socialisation?  Socialisation is about safe, careful and positive exposure to the world.  The aim is to build confidence through experience with lots of different environmental stimuli.  Exposure to people, other animals, to being handled, to noises and to lots of different places, making sure that your puppy never becomes stressed or fearful.  Puppies should learn about adults, children, elderly people, different surfaces, noises, traffic and other puppies and dogs; all before 16 weeks of age.   Socialisation is not about overcoming or facing your fears and it is not about uncontrolled play with other puppies – this can result in a fearful puppy and lead to associated behavioural problems.  It’s about setting your puppy up for success in life by ensuring they have nothing to fear.

Professional puppy training classes can provide a safe environment where puppies can be exposed to people and other puppies in a safe way whilst learning some very important life skills – puppy classes should be considered a must for all puppy guardians.   It is important to do your homework and ensure that the classes you attend are suitable – punitive treatment or aversive training techniques can cause significant behavioural problems – search for a force-free or certified trainer and be sure you are in safe hands.

When considering socialisation for your puppy the rules are simple, you cannot over socialise – but you must ensure that each new experience is positive and fear free.

For a great resource and puppy socialisation checklist, click here.

Does your dog jump up?

It is important to understand why dogs jump up on their owners so that you can start to understand why many of the common techniques don’t seem to work.

Adorable little dog enjoying time jumping up on her owner!
Dogs just love to be close to their owners; often as pups, they learn that jumping up is good fun, because it allows them to get even closer to the people they love and they get lots of attention for doing it.

Jumping up is effectively an attention seeking behaviour – chastising your dog rarely works because they are normally receiving the attention they seek; the behaviour is reinforced by social interaction whether that be verbal or physical!  Pushing your dog down is hugely reinforcing for dogs that love to be touched.

But I turn away and it doesn’t seem to work!

Ignoring them for jumping up will work for many dogs, but not as quick as many owners require.  Consistency is key to extinguishing all attention seeking behaviour.  If you ignore your dog for jumping up 9 times out of 10, then push them off on the 10th time because you are wearing your fur attracting work clothes, then you have taught your puppy to keep trying and eventually they will get your attention!

Why not try 1 of these 4 methods?  Don’t give up without trying hard; all of these methods work – they just require patience and consistency.

Method 1 – Incompatible Behaviour.  Train your dog to sit and cue them to do so as they are rushing to greet you!  We are not talking about a dog that sits every now and again when you ask, but one that sits every time because you have practiced, practiced and practiced some more in lots of different environments.   When your dog is approaching, cue them to sit and when they do so, give them the same level of reinforcement that they previously got for jumping up.  Talk to them, pet them and give them a treat.  Reinforcing an incompatible behaviour is by far the best way to stop your dog from jumping up, because they are getting the same reinforcement for doing something you find appropriate – it’s a win-win for all.

If there is inconsistency within the home; for example, dad forgets and still reinforces the jumping up, then you may need to try method 2.

Method 2 – Reinforce the sit with jumping up on cue.  In order to teach your dog to stop jumping up, we can teach them to jump on cue.  When your dog approaches you cue them to sit, when they sit you pat your chest and cue them to jump up as the reward.  Once your dog is reliably sitting prior to you asking them to jump up; you simply stop asking them to jump up anymore!  Instead, you switch the reinforcement to something else such as treats, praise and play.

Method 3 – You probably won’t need to try this because method 2 rarely fails – but just in case!  Ignore your dog when they jump up on you!  Ignoring them means no eye contact, no touching, pushing, chastising, talking etc.  This will reduce the likelihood of future behaviour, but it will take time to extinguish.

Method 4 – If you have absolutely no patience and are unable to train your dog to sit, then method 4 might be for you.  This requires you or anyone else to leave the room every time your dog jumps up.  This amounts to a time out, but it is important that you are the one that leaves.  If you touch, talk to or direct your dog out of the door, then you will have reinforced the attention seeking behaviour with attention!  Instead, you or anyone else that your dog jumps on must leave the room and close the door behind them – 30 seconds is sufficient for your dog to realise that jumping up caused you to leave.  The only reason why this method may not work is if your dog doesn’t like you – think about it, if jumping up results in you leaving and it increases after you start to leave, then chances are, you leaving is actually reinforcing for your dog!  Reinforced behaviour increases in the future!

Let me know how you progress – remember consistency and patience is vital. #learningwithchoice.

Pack leader rubbish is harmful

Over the last few months, I have received a large number of calls from owners of very nervous, anxious or aggressive dogs who have decided that enough is enough and feel it’s time to resolve their best friend’s problematic behaviour.

It is fantastic to meet some amazing people who are prepared to work hard to improve the lives of their anxious dogs.

There are many reasons for animals to exhibit aggressive behaviour and many factors that contribute to fear or anxiety.

That said, there is often  a common theme within many of the owner-pet relationships which revolves around outdated and harmful “pack leader” theory.   At puppy or dog training class, these poor owners have been told that their dogs are trying to dominate them, challenge their authority and be the leader of their household.  Many have been told to walk through doors first, eat first and never allow their exuberant puppies to initiate play; those behaviours are the gift of the pack leader which must always be the human.   I’m hearing various accounts of owners being told to punish barking by holding closed their puppy’s muzzle or spraying them with water; I’m even hearing reports of an entire puppy class who each got issued with a water bottle on the first day and had to bring it with them each week!  Some owners have been told to eat from their dogs bowl whilst others have been told that their best friend is pulling them on the lead because they are trying to be the boss.

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There are many dangers associated with punitive treatment of animals, not least making the animal even more anxious and fearful.   Similar to human relationships, treating an animal badly is likely to impair the owner-pet bond.   Whilst there are normally many different reasons and contributory factors, it is not uncommon to find punitively treated animals with behavioural problems.   But worse than that, when you believe that your dog is trying to be the leader of the pack, dominate you and/or take over the world, you will find that you very quickly begin to compete with them and consider that every behaviour they exhibit is a challenge to your authority; for many people this can significantly weaken their relationship with their dog.

Your dog doesn’t pull on the lead to be the leader of the pack, he pulls on the lead because:

a) he is excited and wants to get to where he is going.

b) he is desperate to get away from traffic or other scary things.

c) he simply hasn’t been taught how to walk nicely beside you.

Every time your dog does pull on the lead, he is likely to be reinforced and therefore will be more likely to pull again in the future.

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Dogs either exhibit innate behaviours, which are species specific survival type behaviours, or those that they have learnt through experience and have become personally advantageous.   When your dog initiates play, it’s because he wants to play with you.  Consider it a compliment and play with him occasionally.  Yes, it is important not to play every time your dog wishes too because it may result in them continually seeking play and attention, but occasionally is fine and is good for your relationship.  When you open the door and your dog bursts through, it’s because they want to go outside; teach them to wait to improve self-control and stop them rushing out to potential danger, but don’t consider it a challenge on your authority!

There are many studies which have shown that punishing dogs in the presence of other dogs is likely to lead to dog-dog aggression; but we don’t need science to tell us this.  Spraying your puppy in the face with water when he is barking at another puppy isn’t going to make him like other puppies or dogs!  Whilst the fallout of a specific punitive treatment is often very difficult to measure, it is likely to contribute to fear and/or anxiety and be associated to whatever was in the environment when it happened.

Give your puppy or dog the best start in life and do not be scared to challenge your trainer or the pack leader rubbish you hear online, in books or on tv.  If you are advised to do something punitive or harsh, ask if there is another way?  Ask why you are punishing or trying to stop behaviour instead of teaching something incompatible?  Ask what effect this could have on your relationship and/or your dog’s well-being.

Beagle Puppy Sleeping On His Owner Breast At The Sea Side

Dogs are not trying to take over the world, or even your world; they are simply doing what is personally advantageous for them.   If you find your best friend’s behaviour inappropriate, then teach him what you would prefer him to do instead.

Forget the pack leader rubbish and much of your frustration will go!

Reinforced behaviour continues …

So as you can see, I’ve not posted on here in a long time; I’ve just not had the time, even though I have had the inclination!

So I’ve decided to fix that and try my hardest to post some useful information on a more regular basis.

So here is the first one in a while.

Reinforced behaviour continues and will increase in frequency. You may have heard that before, but what does it mean to dog training and your dog’s behaviour.

All behaviour is evoked by an environmental stimulus and then subsequently reinforced or punished by a different environmental stimulus.  If you say “sit” and your dog sits and then you give her a treat, sitting is much more likely to occur in the future when she hears the same stimulus again; i.e. you saying “sit”.

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This is known as the antecedent, behaviour and consequence.   The antecedent happens before the behaviour to evoke it, the behaviour then happens and the consequence follows.

Conversely if you ask her to “sit”, she sits and then you pet her on the top of the head, one of 2 things may happen.  If she enjoys being petted on the head, then the behaviour will have been reinforced and is likely to happen more often in the future, whereas if she finds being touched on the top of her head aversive, the behaviour will have been punished and is less likely to occur in the future.

Training Tip

So what?  It is important to understand the things that your dog finds reinforcing and recognise anything she finds aversive so you can avoid inadvertently punishing the behaviours you are trying to reinforce.  Reinforcement and punishment are the critical elements of behaviour change, but it is always from the animals perspective.

Do you ever wonder why your dog steals things and runs away?  In the past she may have picked up a sock or other inappropriate item to play with.  You will have tried to get if from her and she will have run away; playing chase can be extremely reinforcing for many dogs. Does your dog love to steal things and does the behaviour seem to be getting worse?  It is likely that she is being reinforced.

What does your dog steal?

So why use a clicker?

IMG_0013Clickers are not the magic pill, nor are they a super remote control that will have your dog performing crazy behaviours just because you click.  That said, clickers do provide simple communication between humans and animals; the clicker always sounds the same, therefore always means the same thing to your dog and therefore significantly enhances learning.  The click noise marks exactly what your dog is doing at the precise moment you clicked.

Used correctly and accurately, it can capture tiny behaviours or moments in time when your dog is doing exactly what you want.  After each click your dog will receive a treat, therefore the click will not only indicate success, but also that a tasty treat is coming. 1

Clickers are used primarily to teach new behaviours.  Once your dog understands the behaviour you are teaching, you can change the click to a verbal or visual cue and maintain the behaviour that way.  Clicking enables you to use a “carrot or no carrot” approach, rather than traditional “carrot or stick” methodology.  If your dog gets it right he gets a click followed by reinforcement; if he gets it wrong …… nothing happens.  The absence of the “stick” or any other form of punishment or correction in training results in a dog with greater confidence who is prepared to try hard without fear of making mistakes.

There are 3 main methods of clicker training to enjoy with your dog:

Lure and Click.  Website Media 02 Jun 13 335Using food, you can lure your dog into position and then click to mark that your dog has performed correctly.  After a few repetitions you can fade the lure, but continue to click as your dog repeats the activity.

Capturing.  This is useful for communicating to your dog that he is doing something you like. If he is lying calmly at your feet, you may click to reinforce the calm behaviour.  Your dog will enjoy getting rewarded for doing nothing (staying calm) and as a consequence is likely to offer the behaviour more often.

Remember reinforced behaviour will occur more often.

Shaping.  This is very much like the hot and cold game you may have played when you were younger.  You reward your dog for ‘getting warmer’ by completing very small improvements towards the end goal.  Your dog will think about, and work out, what it is you are asking him to do in a bid to attain the elusive click and reward. Remember to keep it simple for your dog to achieve success to avoid a loss of interest.  With shaping greater progress is made when the improvements you require are small.

Keep Sessions Short.  Short sessions are more productive as your dog will struggle to concentrate for long periods. 10 minutes is ideal for most dogs, however you should adjust your timings to suit your dog’s attention!

Treat your best friend….. Dogs love to use their minds and thoroughly enjoy working things out.  Providing mental stimulation is as important as providing physical exercise; provide your best friend with the chance to enjoy clicker training on a regular basis and watch his confidence grow.

Together you will have lots of fun!

 

 

What’s in a sit?

033We all know that getting Rover to sit on command in one of the first things that you should teach him, but have you ever thought of just how important it can be?

Does Rover sit every time you ask?

When your dog performs a really reliable behaviour on cue such as sit, it can have endless uses.  Is it time to go back to the drawing board and strengthen Rovers sit?

Greetings

I often hear of dogs that jump up, in fact it’s probably one of the most common problems that people contact me about.  Of course they jump up on you; they are normally extremely happy to see you and pushing them off or shouting is really rewarding for such socially reliant creatures, don’t be surprised when they do it again tomorrow and next day and so on……rewarded behaviour gets stronger.

Website Media 02 Jun 13 335To break the chain, ask Rover to sit when you greet him.  When he does, give him the same level of interaction, ie pet him and tell him he is a good boy and give him a lovely titbit.  If at any time he does try to jump up, ignore him and he should revert to a sit which you can reward.  Overtime he will cease jumping and meet you with a lovely sit instead.

 

Door Rushing

Dogs inherently rush past you at doorways, not because they are trying to dominate you or take over the world, but because the other side of the door is normally really exciting.  Instead of Rover zipping past, train a sit and wait.

Doorbell and Visitors

Many dogs can’t seem to contain their excitement and go nutty when someone comes to visit; teaching Rover to sit and wait until you open the door and allow him to greet your guests politely is invaluable, especially for those guests that don’t know just how lovely Rover really is.

Food Manners

imageMost dogs are extremely motivated by food, many to a point where they can’t help themselves from stealing food or getting into their bowl before you have even put it down.  Having the self-control to sit and wait until he is allowed to eat, will help Rover to improve his food manners and can also help avoid food stealing.  If Rover always has to sit and wait before he gets food then he is more likely to wait for any food that is extremely tempting to him.

Street Sense

Having Rover sit nicely at the side of the road will not only keep him safe from traffic when you are out on your walks, but with consistency it can also teach him that he is never to cross without being allowed to.  This could be a life saver if Rover was ever to break free from his lead or escape from his house.   For this to work, you should always have Rover sit and wait before using a command such as “let’s go” to cross.

Of course all this training takes a little time, patience and effort, but should be an enjoyable process for both you and your best friend.

Those are just some of the uses for training a reliable sit, however I am sure you can think of many more.  Please feel free to comment on your own uses for this simple yet invaluable behaviour.

When to Start Training Your New Puppy

So you’ve got a new puppy?  Ok so there are lots of things that you must do, socialisation, toilet training, chew toy training …… but what about basic life skills training, when should you start?  The answer is immediately.  Puppies are like little sponges who are able to learn lots of different behaviours very quickly.  Of course you are likely to carry on throughout her life, but there is no time like the present.

Below is a list of only the very basic behaviours that you should train with an explanation of why each is important.  It is not a how-to guide, as there are many ways to train each of these behaviours.  Speak to your trainer or research the best methods online, ensuring that both use only positive training methods.

The most important rule to remember is that rewarded behaviour continues and becomes stronger; sadly this includes bad behaviour!  You must ensure that you reward your dog when she is being good.  Don’t forget to do this when she is lying nicely at your feet, or chilling in her crate, after all, we all want that sort of behaviour to continue!

iPhone Back Up - Pictures 029Name Recognition

Having your dog respond to her name reliably is an important requirement which helps with training many other behaviours.  If you want her to do as you ask, she must learn to pay attention and focus on you.  Start by training her to respond to her name.  When she looks at you play with her or give her a treat.  Later you will be able to use her name as a prefix to other requests; upon hearing her name she will automatically be waiting for further instructions, only if it is worth her while of course!

Sit

Having your dog sit on command has endless uses.  It is the easiest behaviour to teach and by far the most useful. The following are the main benefits of teaching a solid sit:

 

Control at doorways Control on roads For ease of grooming
Politely greeting guests Self-control at mealtimes For putting lead on/off
For petting and inspecting For teaching focus For teaching other behaviours

Settle

Reinforcing your dog when she is chilling beside you is a particularly good idea.  The behaviour can be put on request, so that she will do it when you ask.  This can be useful when she is overstimulated and you want to calm her, or when you simply want to relax with a glass of wine or read a book or newspaper.

Leave It

It is extremely useful to teach you dog to leave things on command.  There are any number of dangerous items that your dog can pick up when out for walks that could cause her harm.   In addition, there are many exciting things for her to steal indoors such as socks, slippers, the mail or the remote control.  Establishing leave-it on command will ensure that she will drop items immediately in exchange for a better prize.

Go to Bed or Crate

Crates are an ideal sleeping and safe area for your puppy.  They can also significantly enhance toilet training, which is one of the first lessons that your puppy should learn.  Introduced correctly your dog will love her crate and will happily go there of her own accord.  Once trained, you can also use your crate to keep your dog safe when travelling, visiting friends or staying in a hotel.

You can use the go to bed/crate command at bed times, or other times when you want her to go and chill out on her own.  Also, if you train her that the doorbell or door knocking means go to bed/crate, then your visitors will be able to enter the house safely without being mauled by an over exuberant friendly puppy!

Come

If you can get your dog to come when called, irrespective of what is going on around her, then together you have mastered one of the most important doggy lessons.  This will give you the confidence to let her exercise off-lead, explore the world and have the freedom to behave like dogs should.  That said, training a solid recall takes time and should be practiced in many different places in order to ensure she fully understands.  She should always be rewarded for coming when called and never be met with anger or punishment for something she may have done previously such as chasing a squirrel or rabbit.

Walking

Walking nicely on a loose lead is another important lesson that is much easier to teach to a young puppy than to an adult dog that has pulled for years.  To that end, be patient and never allow your puppy to pull you.  Don’t get frustrated if she tries to pull, instead just stop and wait for the lead to go loose.  When it does, start to walk and she will soon learn the game.  Remember it is normally her exuberance that is causing her to pull; do not punish that enthusiasm, but be careful not to reinforce it.

Play

Providing interactive owner-pet play will significantly enhance the bond between you.   Not all dogs will initially want to play games, chase balls or tug on ropes, but it rarely takes long for them to learn.  Just remember that play can lead to over stimulation and should be controlled with frequent breaks.  Being able to stop play and relax is an important lesson for every dog to learn.

Exercise routine

Along with play and training, exercise is an important requirement for the welfare and wellbeing of your pet.  Regular walks should be undertaken along with off-lead exercise if safe.  Many behaviour problems can be attributed to a lack of exercise or mental stimulation, therefore having a regular schedule of exercise and training is advised.  As a guide, a puppy should have 5 mins of exercise per month of age twice daily; a 3 month old should have 2 x 15 min walks.

 If you are fair, calm and consistent, and train and socialise your dog, you will have a wonderful companion who is calm, well-mannered and a pleasure to be around.

 

Introducing a kitten to a home with dogs.

So we got a new kitten a few weeks ago; well actually he got us.  8 weeks old, a stray and suffering from ‘cat flu’…….  We brought him in, took him to the vets and advertised him through a number of pet’s lost and found websites.  Unsurprisingly we received no replies and so Tiggy quickly became a part of the family.

The problem however is that Misty and Shadow (both Collies) are not so keen on cats; Shadow is fearful of them and Misty has a strong predatory drive, like many dogs I suppose.  Whilst Shadow tended to avoid Tiggy, we knew that continued exposure could result in aggressive behaviour unless we took action to resolve his fear.  Worse still, Misty couldn’t even look at Tiggy without lunging and whining desperate to get at him; the result of which was not worth finding out!

So we set about counter-conditioning and desensitising Tiggy to the dogs and vice versa.

Whilst the process is relatively simple, it requires a good knowledge of canine body language and an understanding of the drivers behind the aggressive behaviour.

Starting slowly with short exposures, we introduced each dog one at a time to the kitten.  Making sure that both the dog and the kitten remained calm and below their reactivity threshold, we employed simple counter-conditioning using small pieces of ham.  Each time one of them looked at the other, they received a piece of ham; there was no other treat earning criteria other than simply looking.  Starting with exposures of around 30 seconds we progressed steadily to 5 minute sessions.   At all times the animals were kept apart at a safe distance and any signs of excessive stress or anxiety ended the session.

After a couple more days, we started to hand feed the dogs their evening meal whilst in the presence of the cat and continued to do 4 or 5 small exposure sessions at various other times throughout each day; this carried on for about a week.  Pavlov would be proud as the dogs now salivate and drool when they see the kitten in anticipation of ham or their dried food.

The first step was complete. With Shadow we continued to reinforce him for just looking at the kitten calmly and started to reduce the distance between them.  For Misty, we began asking her to touch Tiggy with her muzzle.  Tiggy remained relaxed and both him and Misty were reinforced for the calm and gentle muzzle touches (we felt it important to teach Tiggy to be comfortable with approaches from Misty so that he did not feel the need to run away as this could initiate Misty’s predatory drive and result in an over excited chase).

A few days later we began working with all three together, beginning once again with short exposures of about 30 seconds and increasing the duration gradually.  The programme has been going for about 2 weeks and we have now started short, controlled, yet uninhibited interactions.  Tiggy tends to walk around and mind his own business, occasionally pawing one of the dogs or rubbing against them, whilst the dogs are becoming more and more relaxed in his presence; Misty even attempted to initiate play, although Tiggy didn’t quite understand the gesture.

Shadow & TiggyToday, just 3 weeks after they met for the first time, all three of them felt sufficiently relaxed to fall asleep in each other’s company shortly after one of our 5 minute counter-conditioning sessions.

Shadow sleeping beside Tiggy on his bed.

We are not completely there yet; we will continue reinforcing and extending the duration of the calm interactions until they are totally relaxed in each other’s presence.

With any type of behaviour modification there is rarely a quick fix.  Patience and gradual exposure will help avoid any over threshold conflict which could be potentially damaging. Changing animal emotions can be a very slow process, but with a little patience and planning it is achievable.  Above all, employ less haste to gain more speed!

 

Crate Training – The Power of Positive Association

CRATE TRAINING – THE POWER OF POSITIVE ASSOCIATION1

Introduced correctly your dog will love his crate and will happily go there to rest and sleep.  Once trained, you can use a crate to keep your dog safe when travelling or when leaving him unsupervised.  It is also an extremely effective tool for toilet training a new puppy or when visiting friends or staying in a hotel.

The training process must remain positive throughout for your dog.

 Stage 1 – Building a positive association with the crate.

With the crate door open, throw a few treats into the crate and allow your dog to go in and explore. Keep the door open throughout this stage of the training and reward your dog with a tasty treat every time he goes into the crate.

Repeat this for  5 – 10 minutes  a few times each day for 2 -3 days moving the crate to different places around your house.  You can also feed him some of his meals in the crate at this stage, but do not shut the door.

Stage 2 – Progressing with the door closed.

It is important to progress this part very slowly.  When your dog goes into the crate close the door, give him a treat through the bars and immediately open the door.  Gradually increase the confinement duration before opening the door.  Occasionally, open the door treat your dog and close the door again for a few seconds before reopening the door again.

Repeat this for 5 -10 minutes a few times each day for 2 – 3 more days, moving the crate to different places within the house.  Continue to feed occasional meals in the crate and whilst doing so briefly close and then reopen the door, again gradually increase the duration of confinement.

Stage 3 – Building upon success.

During this stage you will build upon the time with the door closed and begin to leave your dog alone.  Allow your dog to go into the crate of his own accord (by now he should be doing this frequently to get treats). Throw in a handful of treats, close the door and leave the room briefly.  Return, open the door, give him another treat and leave the door open.  Start with 10 seconds and gradually increase the duration by 20 – 30 seconds at a time, until you can leave him for 20 minutes.

   After you have progressed successfully to 20 minutes your dog should be comfortable being left alone for longer periods, but ensure you continue to build the duration gradually.

Crate Rules

  • Never force your dog into his crate or use it as punishment.
  • Never leave him for long periods without a toilet break.
  • Provide your dog with a stuffed chew toy or puzzle to keep him occupied when confined.
  • Do not attempt to work too quickly; ensure your dog is comfortable throughout the process.
  • If your dog is barking or whining, wait until he is calm before releasing him.