DOG TRAINING TIPS

For more training tips and information about dog behaviour and training in general, please visit my blog and facebook page. I post current information on a regular basis. 

DOG TRAINING TIPS page 2 click here.

Good Communication

Good communication is key when working with someone who doesn’t speak your language. Focus on being proactive as best you can vs waiting for an unwanted behaviour to occur then correcting.

Give immediate feedback when you see what you want. Don’t wait for it to fall apart.

The clearer your feedback, the clearer the message.

Reactions to Thunder Storms

If you are lucky enough to have a puppy who is not reacting to rain, thunder or lightening - great! Now is the time to start playing with your pup during every rain storm. Negative reactions to storms often appear when the dog approaches 3 or 4 years of age. 

Don't be complacent. You have 3 years to establish a positive association. Changes in barometric pressure, the sound of rain, the sound of thunder, the flashes of light all mean Mom has chicken and we play fetch or tug or do agility or any other fun activity!!

Exiting Doorways

Whether going out the front door or exiting the car, I always cue my dog to "wait" and release with "okay" when I see he's calm and relaxed. I never want my dog to bolt out from any exit point. It's a matter of good manners as well as safety. It has nothing to do with being the boss.When first practicing this, it may take longer than you like to see calm and be able to release with the cue. The more you practice and are consistent, the faster your dog will learn to wait for the release cue before stepping or jumping out.

Rotate Toys To Maintain Interest

I often arrive at a client's home and see the floor is covered with an assortment of toys and chews. When I ask how often the dog interacts or plays with the toys, the answer is, hardly ever.

Toys lose their value when left out and available all the time.  To keep an interest in the toys, rotate them about every 2 – 3 weeks. Leave out a floppy toy and something he can chew on.

The selection of toys should include a variety of textures such as a floppy one, a harder rubber or silicone based one and a fleece one.  Every dog develops a preference for particular textures. 

I keep a special selection oftug toys and balls in a separate place, only bringing them out for interaction with me. That keeps them special and builds value in playing with me!

How you deliver a treat to your dog is important.

If you are giving a treat to your dog, ensure you do not slow down or stop until you get to his mouth.
When you slow down or stop just short of the mouth, your dog will move forward to grab it. That often results in a nip to fingers.
A cycle then begins. A catch 22. You are reluctant to go all the way to the dog's mouth and begin to always stop just short. The dog figures out the only way to get the treat is to reach up and take it.
Take a deep breath. Once you make the commitment to delivery the goods - follow through directly to the mouth.


Giving your dog human food does not create a dog who begs at the table. 

Westie and food bowl. Dog Training Thornhill

The behaviour of begging (as labelled by humans) is developed by its reinforcement history not by the fact he is getting human food. The same behaviour would likely develop if you gave him a stuffed marrow bone or bully stick from the table.

The same behaviour is displayed anytime your dog sits in front of you staring with big round puppy eyes until you give him what he wants - belly rub, food, ball toss, ear scratch or an invitation to get up on the couch for a snuggle.

In my opinion, there is no need to be afraid of giving your dog human food as long as it's not directly from the table nor when he stares longingly at you (and as long as it's safe for him to eat).

"He only does it if I have food in my hand".


Pug with cookie

It's something we hear on a regular basis.
If you are working with a food lure - holding a piece of food in your hand so your dog follows it into a position - it's necessary to fade that food lure or it becomes part of the cue itself.
It should be in your hand, as a lure, for only a few repetitions.
When he is reliably following your hand signal (which usually happens after 2-3 reps) keep your hand signal the same but don't have food in your hand.
Do the same motion and reward from your other hand.
If you think of working in groupings of 5 repetitions, do the first 4 with a lure and the 5th without. End the session on a good note.

The next time, try luring for 3 and empty hand for 2. If at any point you don't get the behaviour, try with the lure again but make sure you feed from the other hand - not the hand with the lure!

Eventually you should be able to get the behaviour without food in your hand.
When in a new environment, you may need to use a lure for one or two repetitions. Repeat the process.

Communication Is Key

Successful training requires communication between your trainer, you and your dog. Nothing will change once the trainer walks out your door unless you follow protocols outlined.
Hearing a client say they saw a difference after the first session is encouraging for me because I know they are doing their part of the job once I leave their home.
If there is no change, I want to know about it so we can figure out where the problem lies. Not to place blame, but to change something so it does work and they can be successful.
Communication is key.

Collar Grabs

How often do you grab your dog's collar? My guess would be only when you need to move him, take something away from him or prevent him from doing something.
Dogs make associations all the time. If the only time you grab him by the collar is to do one of the above, he will make a negative association and learn to avoid it. Making it more and more difficult for you to grab his collar. if and when necessary.
Teach your dog, a hand coming to grab his collar means chicken (or other super yummy treat) !
In order for him to make a positive association, the order of events is important.
1) grab the collar and hold while you
2) feed the food
3) repeat.
Practice many times a day. The more repetitions of collar grab and chicken, the greater the likelihood your dog will get excited when he sees you coming vs trying to run away.

Reading Suggestion

If you are looking for a book to read, consider Inside Of A Dog: What Dogs See, Smell and Know by Dr. Alexandra Horowitz.
Once you do, I hope you will have a new outlook of what your dog experiences during a walk.
Too many people rush walks. "Hurray up, stop sniffing". I hear it all the time.
I believe what dogs need more of, is the opportunity to explore and scent and take in all the sensory information provided by the environment.
Provide a nice mix of aerobic exercise such as fetch or chase to burn off energy and opportunity to be a dog and scent.

Management Tool - Baby Gates

Baby gates - they are valuable management tools when raising a puppy, for dogs who need space from each other, for young children and puppies living together and a myriad of other reasons.
My preferred type of gate is a walk through one, pressure mounted when possible. It's easier for the human to go back and forth and better for teaching wait at doorways.
The mesh ones make it easier for puppies to get a foothold and climb over. The other thing I don't like is the need for the human to climb over. Your puppy or adolescent dog is always watching you. What does he see and learn? Climbing up is how to get to the other side.

Walk Through Baby GateMesh Baby Gate


Pats on the Head - Not Always Fun for your Dog

Pat on the head. No big deal, right? You do it all the time. It tells your dog you love him.
Watch your dog's body when you pat him on the head or have someone else watch while you do it. What behaviour do you see?
Head lowered, just a bit? Head turned to the side, just a bit? Do you see him lick his nose? Lift a paw? His body shift slightly?
These are all signs your dog does not enjoy being patted on the head.
Most dogs don't. Most dogs will tolerate it.
Be kind to your dog. Don't reach over his head to pat him. Before you say to me "but he likes it" watch his body and then decide.

Prevent Anxiety When Leaving Home

In order to lessen the likelihood of your dog developing anxiety or stress when you leave the house, start teaching him right away that arrivals and departures are no big deal.
Avoid big effusive greetings upon your return home as well as big farewells when leaving. Place your dog in his confinement area 15 minutes or so before leaving. Simply go about your business preparing to leave. Do a quiet, low key "so long" if you feel you must say something then leave.
All family members need to follow the same protocol.

It can be challenging for new puppy owners to follow through with this as the first thing we want to do is rush in and give the puppy big hugs! We all know how hard it is to resist puppy kisses. 

Think long term. What he learns in puppyhood will effect the rest of his life. It's best to learn right away, comings and goings are uneventful. 

It's okay to be alone sometimes.

Uh Oh! Your dog got off leash and is running around.

What do you do? Your first instinct will be to start shouting, chanting your dog's name over and over and chasing him. What does he do ? Runs faster in the opposite direction. Why? Because he's having a blast playing chase me - which you unwittingly initiated.

As difficult as it is, the more effective way to get your dog to come back to you is to:

#1 not chase

#2 run in either the opposite direction or parallel but angling away from him.

Pretend you are having a blast, kneel down and pretend to find something amazing.  It's a scary concept but you know if you've ever chased your dog trying to get something from him, he will run in the opposite direction.

#3 practice recalls over and over and over and over........

Will this work in all circumstances? Likely not - but it will in many. The important thing is to try and not panic. Practice recalls in the above manner, in a safe area, with your dog on a long line (15  to 20 feet) so you can step on the line to prevent him from getting too far. Practice many repetitions of your dogchasing you as you run away. Make it highly reinforcing for him to catch you. Play tug, feed super high value treats or initiate the game again.

Dogs Get Bored

Think of the route you walk everyday with your dog. Do you ever veer from it? Take a different turn? As much as dogs like to check out pee mail, providing the opportunity for new and different scents is a good idea. It doesn't have to be a big trip far away. Even a few streets over, somewhere you don't normally go is good enough. 
Hop in the car and drive a few streets beyond where you normally walk. There will be a whole new set of scents for your dog to discover! Watch as he gets his nose down to the ground and sniffing gets more intense than usual. It's a joy to watch :)

Tight Leashes

Dog Training Vaughan

When you shorten the leash and hold the leash tight against your body to prevent your dog from lunging at another dog, you are not accomplishing anything more than preventing him from lunging. He still wants to lunge.

The behaviour will likely worsen because he is unable to get the scary thing to go away or able to move himself away.

It's important to understand why the behaviour is occurring in the first place, change the way he feels, and teach new behaviours.

Classical Conditioning with Reactive Dogs

When doing Classical Conditioning/Desensitization it may seem as though you are rewarding your dog for barking or lunging at another dog because you are feeding your dog as he displays this behaviour. That is not what is happening.

This is what happens: every time your dog sees a scary stimulus, chicken appears. Over time, the appearance of the scary stimulus changes the emotional response from fearful to happy.

It's important to remember in the first steps, you are working on changing the associated emotion - not a specific behaviour.

Punishment in Dog Training

If you choose to use punishment with your dog when he displays unwanted behaviour such as growing, lunging, snarling, you teach him to inhibit it. You don't teach him to enjoy, be safe or comfortable. Example: you punish for barking at children without doing anything further. Now your dog cannot tell you he's feeling unsafe, plus he's afraid of being punished. How do you think he feels about children now?

In order to change the way the dog feels about his trigger, you need to stop punishing him for letting you know he's concerned. More often then not, the unwanted behaviour is fear - not an aggressive attempt to deliberately harm. Most dogs will do what they can to get the scary thing to go away to avoid a confrontation. It may not look like that to someone unfamiliar with dog behaviour.

If you are concerned about your dog's aggressive displays contact an experienced dog trainer to discuss your options. Avoid any trainer who espouses the use of force or discusses the problem as a leadership or dominance issue.

Snuffle Mat - A Fun Way to Feed Your Dog

Feeding your dog a meal or two is a great way to engage his brain and burn off energy. The snuffle mat takes time to make but pays of big. As always, use under supervision and this is not a toy for dogs who ingest fabric.

For instructions on how to make this fun and creative feeding mat click here.

Reactive Dogs

You practice new skills, you avoid other dogs, you carry food with you, you do everything you can to avoid triggers. Sometimes, life happens. All the practice in the world can't predict when a trigger will pop out of nowhere and you are faced with a dog, 3 feet away from you. 

Life happens - just turn around and move. Yes, your dog may be barking and/or lunging and you likely will have to pull the leash to get him moving. Life happens.

Don't beat yourself up for what did or did not occur, for what you did or did not do.

Living with a reactive dog has a learning curve for both the human and the dog. Each has to develop new skills to the point where they become second nature.

Using Food in Training

It's important to think of your reward as a pay check for a job well done. If you are holding a treat in your hand, in front of your body or in your pocket, your dog is focusing on that and not at the task at hand.

Keep your hands empty and in a neutral position. Use your mark - either "yes" or click. Only after that mark is given should you be reaching for your reward.

The only time you have food in a hand is if you are luring your dog into a position. Even then, you would only use food in the hand for a few repetitions and then use an empty hand.

Changing Unwanted Behaviour

Preventing your dog from practicing unwanted behaviour while you teach new desired behaviour is key in making changes. 

Working on recall? Keep a long line on to prevent your dog from running off. Remember though, the line is not meant to be used as a fishing rod - it's to be stepped on, to prevent him from getting further away. You need to get creative and figure out how to get him back to you, without using the leash or chanting your cue. Reward heavily when he makes the decision to run happily back to you!

Barking, rushing the front door? Prevent him from practice by keeping the dog tethered, crated, in an ex-pen or behind closed doors while working on new behaviour in a controlled environment.

Pulling on leash? Walk your dog on a harness with a chest attachment (not back). After your dog is well exercised and tired, attach the leash to the collar and practice your loose leash walking on the way home from the park, when he is less likely to pull. Mark and reward the desired behaviour. Not in the mood to train? Keep the leash attached to the harness.

DIY Easy Mental Enrichment Ideas

Tired of spending a lot of money on toys for your dog? Here are two easy ways to make your own toy. Disclaimer: Do not make or use these if you dog ingests items! All interactive toys should be used under supervision.

For a DIY Tug Toy, click here.

For dogs who like to shred toys (but not ingest!), click here.

Leash Walking

  1. When you are teaching your dog to walk politely without dragging you around, it's necessary to do a few things.
  2. exercise him in your backyard, basement, hallway, etc., first to burn off some energy.
  3. have a mindset of " we are not moving forward if you pull - end of story - no exceptions - no cheating (on your part not the dog's). If you have any hesitation at all, you will not be consistent and your criteria will get sloppy.
  4. know what your desired behaviour is. (walk close to your leg, walk in front, walk in back, walk 2 feet ahead, etc) There are many places your dog can be. You must decide which is going to be the "right" place.
  5. be ready to praise and reward the desired behaviour every single time. I use a combination of praise to let my dog know he's awesome plus alternate a food treat or the opportunity to "go sniff". Sometimes I go wild and do both :)
  6. I also use 2 pieces of equipment – a front clip walking harness and a flat buckle collar. My rules are: when hooked up to the harness, I don’t really care if you pull a bit. When hooked to the collar – absolutely no forward motion when pulling – no exceptions.
  7. it takes a long time to teach a dog to walk without pulling. Be patient. Understand your dog is trying to learn something new and while it may seem like an easy thing to do, it’s not a normal behaviour for your 4 footed buddy. 

Teaching Cues (Commands)

Training your dog to respond to a cue does not have to be a big deal. The biggest challenge for most people is to not use so many words when speaking with the dog. Keep it simple.

When I wanted to teach my dogs to turn and go in a different direction on walks, I simply gave the cue I wanted to use; "this way", paused, then turned. Because dogs don't speak English, I had to let him know what I was doing so I did a thigh slap to get his attention or a sound. I did that every time I changed direction. Over time, because the cue preceded the action, my dogs learned to turn with me when I said "this way". 
I have written more about why dogs don't respond to cues. You can find these articles in  my "Blog" section.

Is Your Dog Barking and Lunging on Walks

Too often fearful behaviour is viewed as "bad behaviour" by humans. I sometimes come across people who punish and/or get angry at their dog for barking, hiding or trying to move away from something. Often people drag their dog towards whatever is causing the reaction - "deal with it".

It's important to recognize your dog has no control over his emotions. Just as we cannot control ours. 
Punishing fearful behaviour makes it worse. One of the first steps is to recognize what does fearful behaviour look like? Every dog is different but it can range from, barking, lunging on leash, hiding behind legs, backing away, change in body carriage (leaning backwards), change in ear or tail position (tucked). These are just a few to watch for.
The take home message: do not punish your dog for showing signs of fearfulness. Instead, if you are out for a walk, stop moving forward, give as much distance as you can (go up a driveway, walkway, behind a car, etc).

Contact a force free dog trainer to help. 

Dog Walking

Dogs love routine. So do we. Dogs get bored. So do we.
When planning your dog's walk, consider hopping in car and going somewhere different. Give him the opportunity to explore new smells, sights, sounds. A 20 minute walk in a new place can be more stimulating than 30 or 40 smelling the same old smells. 

Dogs Are Not Moral

It's important to remember - dogs are not moral beings. They do not understand good vs bad . What they do understand is familiar/unfamiliar - safe/unsafe - works/doesn't work. If you keep that in mind, it begins to make a lot more sense as to why they do what they do.

Adolescent Changes In Your Dog

Uh Oh, What happened? Your puppy is now 9 months old and is acting like a jerk. He was perfect!! He doesn't respond to the cues you know he knows, he wanders off and is generally misbehaving. 
Welcome to adolescence. Many dogs you see in shelters are between the ages of 8 - 18 months. This can be a rocky time. 
What do you do? Be there to guide him through this, remind him how to sit, to come when called, to walk politely. Go back to training 101 - review the cues he knew before hormones took over and reward for doing so.

This too shall pass. 

My Dog Won't.....Come When I Call Him In The Park

Many of the calls I receive are from people who say "my dog won't........."
The first thing you should be asking yourself is "did I train him to do otherwise?" Very often the focus is on punishing the unwanted behaviour when it occurs rather than spending time teaching/rewarding the behaviour you do want.
It may seem like a small detail but take a step back and think from your dog's point of view. Does he really know what you expect? Without actual training, no, he doesn't. 
When you punish for pulling or jumping - it stops the behaviour in the moment but doesn't teach an alternative. You haven't taught your dog what to do instead.

If you want to see a difference in behaviour, it's necessary to make it very clear what you want. Mark and Reward training gives a very clear message. "This worked, do it again". 

Refresh Your Dog's Training

If you have cues you only use sometimes, it's important to practice them occasionally. The old saying "use it or lose it" applies to your dog's skills as well your human ones!
When I return from an absence, the first few days always include a refresher of skills. We practice lots of "sit" for everything (food bowl, door exits,cookies, toy toss, etc). Sometimes they need to be reminded about polite leash walking. A few moments spent reinforcing a loose leash and attention to me is all that's needed to remind them of what's expected.
Recalls (come) are always fun to practice. I keep them fun and exciting and always reward with a toy toss or special treat to remind them coming when called always leads to good stuff!

Sensible Consequences In Dog Training

I like when consequences make sense. As I write this I am sitting in my living room. One dog is on a chair looking out the window with the blind raised just enough for him to see out. He doesn't always watch people or animals pass by without barking at them. I don't want him to bark out the window. I decided to spend some time and work on changing this behaviour. Changing a behaviour means changing your behaviour first by deciding to set aside the time to work on it.
I decided to lower the blind if he barks - consequence of his barking behaviour - loss of opportunity to look out the window.
I am giving a No Reward Marker of "oops, too bad" said in a neutral tone of voice just before I lower the blind. I raise it after about 5 - 7 seconds without any comment, (if there is no barking).
After just a few repetitions, I am seeing success.
I will have to repeat this procedure every time I allow him to look out the window for a period of time. I am prepared to commit to that as he's learning quickly :)

My Dog Is Stubborn And Doesn't Listen

I know I harp on these 2 points a lot. It's because they are so important to successful training.

1. Try to be quiet when training - stop talking and moving so much. Get quieter when it's not working, become less animated, not more :)
In the first stages of dog training you are simply making an association between the behaviour you want and what it's called (the cue). You are not trying to initiate the behaviour with the cue yet. That's what causes the most frustration. Thinking the dog understands the verbal cue when in fact, they are still learning what it means.
If your dog is not responding to your cue - stop using  it. Continue to work on teaching the association between the behaviour you want and the verbal cue (sit/down/stay/down,etc). (type English as a Second Language in the search bar). 
Read more about this topic: "I'm Not Stubborn, I Don't Speak English" and "The Need For Vocabulary and Definitions" on my blog page (type the titles into the search bar).

2. Work on getting the behaviour you want BEFORE adding the verbal cue. If you say "down" and you don't get a response - your puppy/dog is not ignoring you, being dominant or stubborn - he more likely doesn't know what the VERBAL cue means yet.

Contact me at: janis@sitstaylearn.ca to learn how to improve responses and be more successful with training.

Why Won't My Dog Listen Outside

It's important to know that dogs don't generalize. They learn to respond to cues in particular situations. Your dog probably knows how to sit/stay when you put the food bowl down but may not stay when you ask outside or in other contexts. In order for our dogs to truly understand when we ask for a particular behaviour, it's necessary to train in various situations. When you are working with your dog, on "sit" for example, pra soctice in the backyard, on your driveway, in front of the houe, down the street, in the park, etc. This way, your dog will understand "sit" doesn't just refer to in the kitchen when the food bowl goes down :)

Remember to reward your dog every time you ask for a behaviour in a new situation.

Dog Training is an Ongoing Process

So you've been working on some skills with your dog and you are seeing great progress. What's wrong with that? Nothing, as long as you remember training is an ongoing process.
A tendency to stop training once we see our dog doing as we ask is not unusual. We ease up and uh oh......the wonderful behaviour begins to deteriorate. When you stop rewarding too soon, the behaviour will decrease. 

Once you are getting a solid 8/10 correct responses, you can switch from rewarding every time to rewarding intermittently. That means you reward sometimes, not all of the time. Be careful though - if you stop all rewards and forget - the behaviour will disappear. 
Think of the old saying "use it or lose it". The same goes for dog training. Once a behaviour is well established, a refresher is still a good idea.

My Dog Is Stealing Food From The Counter

Dogs are not moral beings therefore they cannot steal :) They are however, opportunistic. If your dog took something he shouldn't have, it's because the opportunity presented itself.
Good management while you train your dog to leave things alone is the answer to that problem. Ideally, he should never have the opportunity to get close enough to take a forbidden item. That means keeping surfaces clear of tempting items and using management tools such as baby gates, crates, tethers and ex-pens to prevent access during the learning phase.

How Do I Reward My Dog

What is a reward? Anything you give your dog that he wants at that time. What is a reinforcer? Anything that will increase the likelihood of a behaviour happening again. Rewards can vary from food to toys to belly rubs to a game of tug. It's up to the individual dog and what he wants at that time. A reward is reinforcing only if the behaviour you are rewarding increases.
If your dog is not hungry, food won't be reinforcing. If he is tired, a game of fetch or tug won't be reinforcing. 

Prepare Your Dog For The New Baby

When expecting a baby make sure you prepare your dog too!
Keep in mind there are many stages of development. A sleeping newborn presents a very different picture than a 4 month old baby waving arms and kicking legs or a crawling baby or toddler
Your dog should be taught useful skills long before the baby arrives including: leave it, go to mat, wait/stay and drop. Learning to walk politely beside a stroller is another skill which needs to be practiced both for the parents and the dog.

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