General Training

WHAT DO I MEAN?

Visual cue- usually a hand signal or signal in the environment whether an object or moment in time for example, these happen first 

Verbal cue- a spoken word, these come once your dog has learnt the behaviour, used only once to cue a behaviour 

Lure- using a reward to encourage your puppy into a particular position, receiving the reward once complete. Lures must be removed relatively quickly in training and replaced with visual cues to prevent bribery.

Mark- words such as ‘yes’, ‘yep’, ‘nice’ ‘good’ or clickers. Used to mark the desired behaviour as it happens to aid more efficient learning. 

Reward– anything your dog finds reinforcing eg food, toys or access to things

TRAINING

While training we CUE > MARK > REWARD new skills to help teach our dogs which behaviours are the ones we want and therefore likely to be repeated again. E.g. We cue the sit (verbal followed by hand signal), we mark the desired response as it happens and then we reward that response. 

In general, during training we use consequences to teach dogs about appropriate and inappropriate behaviour. One of the main ways to do this is the addition or withdrawal of rewards. Desired behaviour gets these rewards, undesired behaviour doesn’t.

The bottom line- Dogs do what works. If your dog is doing something, it’s because that behaviour is being reinforced. Either as they have access to the desired reward or because they can avoid predicted punishment. We therefore need to spend time asking and teaching our puppies what it is that we want. Often we fall into ‘no’ , ‘don’t do that’, ‘stop’, ‘get off’ which has no information for your puppy. Try to give information on what you would prefer them to do, reward this and this is what you’ll see.  The addition of aversives such as choke chains, spray collars, pet correctors and physical and verbal punishments are not needed in dog training. Often these methods can lead to a lack of trust and compliance only due to fear of consequences. This is not how I want your relationship to be with your puppy.

Please note that it is your dog who decides what is aversive and what is reinforcing. Some dogs may find touch particularly reinforcing while others may find this aversive. Some may find food reinforcing, others may not.

If your dog isn’t listening to you:
  1. They don’t understand what is being asked.
    Have you trained them what you’re asking? In the place your asking? At the distraction level you’re asking at? Are you asking a way they understand (some dogs watch you more than they listen)
  2. Your dog was too distracted.
    How many times have you switched off halfway through a conversation to concentrate on something else. You’re looking but are you listening?
  3. The motivation to perform the behaviour isn’t there.
    Your dog is playing with a dog and yet you want them to come for a dry biscuit, the motivation to stay and play is higher than the motivation to come. Train them gradually here, pick your reward carefully and build a habit first. 
REWARDS AND BRIBERY 

One worry when using treats in training is the element of bribery. Please be aware that bribery is very different to reward based training. When training, ensure your dog is doing the behaviour without needing to resort to ‘what’s this’, ‘what have I got’ before asking them to do something for you. Bribery happens when you rely on rewards to get your dog to do anything for you. Following the below rules on reinforcement rates and our rules on fading lures during training, will allow you to fade food out properly, resulting in a reward based trained dog without the need to bribe them to get them to listen.
If you feel you may already be using bribery with your puppy, start from scratch and fade your lures quickly.

REINFORCEMENT RATES

Once your dog has learnt a particular behaviour be sure to fade out your MARK > REWARD in exchange for PRAISE such as ‘good boy/girl’. This will need to be done gradually. Initially we start to MARK > REWARD every second cued behaviour while praising the other. Then we’ll only MARK> REWARD every forth, then second, then seventh, then third, then tenth and so on. You want to keep this varied to ensure your dog doesn’t learn any set pattern but with time you can begin to fade out all MARK> REWARDS and just use PRAISE for that given behaviour. This is a bit like gambling, get your dog to keep putting in the money for a random payout- it becomes addictive! This is incredibly important, if you get stuck luring or MARK>REWARDing for too long, you will run the risk of slipping into food bribery. Equally if you stop MARK>REWARD’s instantly, you run the risk of the dog learning that the behaviour no longer works so they will stop doing it. This is often the problem most of the time when we hear ‘my dog only listens when I have a treat’ or ‘he used to listen and no longer does’. Extinction is a process where dogs learn behaviours no longer work via a process of no reinforcement for that behaviour. We don’t want to extinguish behaviours we like and want to see repeated. This doesn’t mean carrying treats forever though if you don’t want to. Try to think of ‘natural’ rewards such as taking a toy, jumping out the car for a walk, getting off lead. You can begin to use these rewards for longer term which allows you to continue to reinforce these cued behaviours but in a different way.

DOMINANCE, PACK LEADERS, ALPHA MALES 

This will be talked about on different things you read, by some people you meet on the street and during well known TV programmes. Please be aware that all evidence for these theories in dogs have been disproven for a long time by the original people that came up with them. The facts:
  • Dogs are not wolves. They do not behave like them. Much like us being ancestors from apes, yet we don’t hang from trees (at least past childhood!), we’ve moved on. 
  • Wolf packs are centred on the family unit, built around cohesion and cooperation NOT conflict. Often the ‘alpha wolf’ will be a leader and not a dictator and generally there via a popularity contest rather than a fight. 
  • Dogs don’t build hierarchies with people. Their relationships with others are based on experiences and learning. If your puppy is likely to do something for you but not someone else in the home, this is most likely what you have taught them (either via reward history or punisher avoidance) and nothing to do with trying to take over. 
  • Dominant really means that your dog is not doing what you would like it to. This is down to a lack of teaching and education on our part, not them trying to be dominant. 
  • Many situations where a dog is believed to be dominant can actually have more simplified reasons eg: 
    • Dog sits on the sofa higher than you= thats the comfy spot, it’s far better than the floor and you’re taking up all the seats
    • Dog rushes through doorways = they’re super excited to know what’s on the other side 
    • Dog jumps up at you = generally a behaviour thats been reinforced with attention and fuss
    • Dog eats first = great he’s now full and probably won’t pester you for yours because he’s hungry 
    • Dog walks in front of you = he will naturally walk quicker than you, plus that’s where all the good sniffs are 
Branding your dog as dominant will lead to the use of harsh methods and consequently a breakdown in your relationship. Your dog will learn to fear you rather than respect you, watch any dogs that have been taught this way, not one of them look happy. Yes, be a leader and guide your puppy to understand the rules and the boundaries. But do this via cohesion and not force.