Tag Archive: dog training


Clicker Training for Dogs

Have you used clickers to train your dog? If done correctly, it is an amazingly effective and very humane method. But if the trainer or owner does not understand what they are doing or they do not do it correctly, clicker training can confuse the dog and will not get the desired results.

What is clicker training? It uses the principle of operant conditioning. An association is formed between a behavior and a consequence. An easy example is when you ask your dog to “sit” and you give him a treat. The dog then learns that when he sits (behavior) he gets a treat (consequence). Clicker training uses a clicker to tell the dog that he did the right thing. The clicker is a small plastic box with a metal strip that makes a sharp, clicking sound when pushed and released.  The sound of a clicker is very distinctive. It grabs the dog’s attention. When you pair the sound of a clicker with a reward, your dog will begin to associate the sound with something pleasant. A clicker allows the trainer to mark with great precision the behavior for which the dog is being reinforced.  Paired with something the animal finds very reinforcing, the clicker becomes a powerful tool for shaping behavior.  

I know a lot of trainers who insist on only teaching obedience classes with clickers but I have found that many people cannot master the clicker. It’s tricky.  Here are a few pros and cons of clicker training:

Pros:

1. When used properly, a clicker tells the dog precisely that he did the right behavior. Therefore, timing is imperative when training with a clicker. The trainer must click at the exact instant that the dog performs the desired behavior. A click can be delivered much quicker than a treat or a “good dog.”

2. The sound of the clicker is distinctive and eliminates ambiguity for the dog. When the dog hears the sound of the click, he knows that he is being rewarded. Humans’ voices, on the other hand, can be loaded with uncertainty. Our tone or volume can be confusing to dogs.

3. Clicker training is an excellent way to train dogs who participate in sports such as agility. Because timing is so critical when training, a clicker is invaluable with shaping a dog’s behavior.

Cons:

1. One of the biggest problems with clicker training is the lack of understanding of why and how to use the clicker. I recently met a novice trainer who didn’t know that the clicker needed to be “charged,” that is, before any training can begin, the dog must learn an association of something good when he hears a click. After all, the sound of the click by itself is meaningless. “Charging” the clicker involves simply clicking and immediately giving the dog a high value treat. Click and treat, click and treat. Do this about 20-30 times. The dog is sure to learn that whenever he hears the click, it’s a good thing!

2. The other issue with lack of knowledge of clicker training is timing. If the click is not delivered at the exact instant that the dog performs the desired behavior, then you may be reinforcing a different behavior.

3. Some people think that the clicker is used to gain the dog’s attention. I’ve seen people clicking when dogs bark and clicking when dogs aren’t paying attention. This is not clicker training.

4. The use of clickers in group training classes can be confusing for dogs. If you have 6-10 people in a class and everyone is clicking, the dogs may not know which click is meant for him.

5. Many people find that they cannot handle a leash, treats and a clicker in their hands. It can be too much to juggle.

6. In my work with puppy mill dogs, some of them are afraid of the noise of the clicker. Instead of it being rewarding, it creates fear.

From the above list, it appears that there are more cons than pros for clicker training. Don’t let that dissuade you!  Try it. Once you learn how to do it properly, you may never want to train dogs any other way.

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When NOT to Use “Leave It”

One of the most useful, versatile and even life-saving cues to teach dogs is “leave it.” If it is taught and used properly, dogs can learn not to pick up dangerous items off the ground, not to eat the slice of pizza you just dropped and even not to touch your dinner when you place it on the coffee table. But when “leave it” is not taught correctly or used for other purposes, “leave it” can be ineffective or even detrimental.

A few years ago, I watched a novice dog trainer as he taught a dog how to “leave it.” He first put the dog into a sit-stay then he threw a couple of treats on the ground and told the dog to “leave it.” The very smart dog did as told – he didn’t touch the treats, however, it was not because he was told to “leave it.” It was because the man had placed the dog in a stay! I asked the man to try “leave it” again but this time, without a sit-stay command. As predicted, the dog did a nosedive for the treats.  He had not learned how to “leave it” and in a real-life situation when the dog’s owner needed to use the cue, the dog would not have responded. To learn how to teach “leave it,” read my post from January 14, 2011

I’ve also seen people use “leave it” for the wrong reasons which can and will have detrimental repercussions. I worked with a young couple who had a dog that liked to lunge out the front door and bark at anyone who walked by. The couple had worked with another trainer before calling me. This trainer put a choke chain on the dog and advised the couple to shout “leave it” to the dog and yank on the chain whenever he saw a person. As predicted, the dog’s behavior did not change and in fact, it grew worse. The dog was not originally aggressive to people but because of the negative association of getting yanked and shouted at whenever he saw a person, he became more agitated and tried to bite passersby. The better advice would have been to work on getting the dog to calm down and associate good things with seeing other people. And skip shouting “leave it.”

“Leave it” is best as an emergency command, that is, only use it when you really want to get your dog’s attention. If it is overused, the dog will become desensitized and may ignore you.  But used correctly, it’s a beautiful thing.

Association, Emotion and Training Dogs

A couple of weeks ago, as we watched the commemoration of the September 11 events, some people posted comments on Facebook that they could not remember what they did the week before but could vividly remember where they were and what they were doing ten years ago on 9/11. There’s a very good reason for that – association and emotion. The more intense the feeling we have with an event, the better we remember it.

As I explained to the audience at Groom Expo recently, dogs learn the same way that people do. We form associations using our feelings. Because September 11 was such an intensely emotional event as we watched the tragedies unfold, our brains developed deep pathways that help us better remember the details of that day. We effortlessly resurrected the same feelings as we watched again.

Dogs have feelings too. They feel joy, pain, pleasure, and fear just as we do. If a dog strongly feels one of these emotions while in a certain situation, a deep association will be built into their memories. Think: A visit to the veterinarian where a painful shot was administered, a trip to the groomer when nails were quicked, an attack by a neighbor’s dog as he walked past their yard. All of these fearful situations will form fear associations for dogs that they will remember and feel again when they revisit these locations.

Pleasant experiences and associations are what we aim for – dogs and humans. And happiness forms neural pathways that are just as deep and enduring in our memories. We all remember the fun events just as vividly as tragic events like 9/11. Our birthdays, wedding days, graduations, the day we met our sweethearts, etc.  The happiest days of my life were the days I adopted my dogs! Boy, do I remember them.

In my teachings about dogs, I strive to communicate that we want dogs to feel strong emotions of pleasure and happiness when doing training and behavior modification. When dogs associate good feelings with what they are learning, they will be more likely to remember it. Using high-value foods that dogs rarely eat helps to form very deep, happy associations. If you only got to eat your favorite food once a year, you’re sure to remember where you had it and what you were doing, right?

When dog owners or trainers use fear or punishment, the wrong associations may form. The dog may learn not to pull on the leash when the trainer yanks the choke chain, for example, but the dog also may form a fear association as well which may be deeper-rooted than the learning. I frequently see a woman walking her yellow Lab in my neighborhood. I saw her training this dog as a pup – with scary leash pops. Now, as an adult, the dog walks behind the woman with his ears pinned back, anticipating the next pop. Walks have an association of fear for this poor pup; instead, walks should have formed fun, pleasurable associations. His owner deprived him of this should-be-happy experience because she failed to understand the principles of learning and association.

So the next time you remember an event and feel the emotions that accompany it, realize association is at work here and your dog’s mind operates just the same way.

Dog Parks – Yes or No?

In preparation for one of my presentations at Groom Expo in September, I have been visiting dog parks to watch dogs as they interact. I could do this for hours. It’s so much fun to watch dogs play! I’ve also met some very nice, dog-loving people. For the most part, it’s been a good experience. However, I’ve witnessed a few disturbing incidences that made me wonder – are dog parks a good option for dogs?

Dog parks are the place to go to give your dog off-leash exercise because the world we now live in requires that dogs be leashed at all times in public. And not all people have fenced in yards. Dogs need to have that freedom as much as possible, especially sporting and working breeds. But another benefit of dog parks is supposed to be socialization with other dogs, also very important for young dogs.

As I watched, I saw a huge variety of breeds and sizes.  I was relieved to see that the larger dogs were gentle with the smaller dogs. And the dogs that have the stereotype of being “aggressive” were actually scary-cats!  The little dogs seemed to be the most confident, for which I was grateful because the difference in size can spell problems. A large dog can hurt a smaller dog – not always intentionally but just because they are bigger and stronger.

It only takes one dog, or one irresponsible owner, to create havoc at a dog park – and to potentially ruin a dog for life. One morning, I observed a group of five dogs – an Italian Spinone, a Shih Tzu, a Bichon, a Lab and a German Shepherd. They were getting along great! The Shep was young and a little tentative. The other dogs respected her and didn’t push her to play with them. Then along came an American Bulldog. He was young and very, very energetic. His owner simply let him off of the leash and allowed him to bowl over the other dogs. He systematically tried to bully each one. If a dog engaged in play with him, he chased it until the other dog was no longer interested in constantly being the one chased. (Optimal dog play is balanced where the roles reverse: one chases, then the other chases, etc.)  The owner simply stood at the entrance and watched. She made no efforts to stop her dog’s persistent chasing.

Then the trouble really started. The Bulldog spotted the young Shep and began to jump on top of her. The Shep cried out and desperately tried to get away but the Bulldog grew more and more agitated. To the trained eye (mine!), I could see that the Bulldog’s adrenaline was quickly climbing and he needed a time out. Thankfully, the owner did come over and grabbed him by the collar – a prong collar – and dragged him away from the Shep. But she allowed him to come back for more. He barreled over the Shep and pinned her on the ground. She was terrified. The Bulldog’s owner again grabbed the dog as the Shep’s owner also was able to rescue her. It was a miracle that no one was bitten, and that the dogs were okay.

I watched as the Bulldog’s owner dragged the dog out of the park, yelled at him and smacked him on the face.  Trust me, I wanted to have a talk with her to say that her behavior to this dog was inappropriate. She just made his issues much worse, and he will continue to aggress at other dogs. His dog-to-dog skills were bad and bound to get to the point where he will hurt another dog.

Then there’s the poor Shep. She was tentative around other dogs to begin with. Now after the confrontation with the Bulldog, she is probably scarred for life. It only takes one incident to make a dog afraid of other dogs, and she could become highly reactive to other dogs as a result.

What’s the conclusion on dog parks? If you frequent them or are planning on taking your dog to one, be vigilant. Watch the other dogs’ behaviors, engage with the other owners to be sure that they are watching their dogs, stand with your dog and pay close attention and maybe even take an air horn with you to break up a fight.  Dog parks can be wonderful but they also have the potential to be dangerous and detrimental to your dog.

A better option: planned and organized play groups. Many doggie daycares, boarding facilities and even some pet stores are offering this option. I’ll talk about play groups in a future post.

In the previous two posts on barking (June 6 and June 13), the important points were: 1) Barking is a natural activity for dogs, 2) some breeds bark more than others, 3) people can inadvertently reinforce their dogs’ barking by inappropriate methods such as yelling, scolding, laughing and punishment, and 4) dogs can also learn to bark by imitating their “friends.”

Okay, I know all of you are waiting eagerly for the solutions! Like I said in the other posts, teaching a dog to stop barking after it has become a habit is very difficult. And also as important, changing the way you react to your dog’s barking is just as challenging.  Your dog has habits; so do you. And the reasons why your dog is barking also play a huge part in resolving the problem.

In this post, I’ll discuss alert or excitement barking. The next post will address territorial barking (usually outside) and the final post addresses fear and play barking.

Alert/Excitement Barking – In the House

I’ll bet that everyone who reads this post expects a magic solution to stop your dog from barking when he sees someone walk past the house or if someone comes to the door and enters the house. Sorry, there is no quick, easy and effortless solution that does not involve punishment (which jeopardizes the mental health of your dog and your relationship, so please try to avoid it). My first suggestion involves managing the dog’s environment.

Dogs bark because they get excited; their adrenaline rises. The very best way to prevent barking is to prevent the adrenaline from rising in the first place. How do you do that? If you have a dog who likes to bark at windows, ensure that he cannot be perched at the windows. Keep him away from the windows when you’re home, and when you cannot be home, close the curtains or shades.  Pair this step with some training, which will be discussed below. So, that’s tip #1, remove your dog from the source of barking.

Same thing goes if you are expecting visitors to your home. Keep your dog away from the door, the scene of repeated excitement. Place your dog in a quiet room or outside, preferably with another person and even better, have the other person distract your dog by doing some obedience training or engage in play. You can even go as far as placing a sign on your doorbell asking people not to ring it – at least while you are in the process of re-training your dog! 

Once your visitors are settled in and the initial excitement has ebbed, bring your dog out on a leash to greet them and have some treats handy. Calmly take your dog to your guests and reward him with treats and praise as he remains calm. If he gets excited, remember not to fuel the excitement by barking with him like so many of us tend to do: “Sit!” Down!” “Off!” We all try to get our dogs to obey but if he is in a state of excitement, you are just wasting your breathe and getting your dog even more jacked up. Instead, remove your dog from the room. Take him somewhere else and give him a Kong filled with treats. Sorry, I digressed… We’re discussing barking.

If you are not expecting guests and the doorbell rings, your dog is sure to bark. Stay calm and quiet and before opening the door, escort your dog to another room and close the door.  The idea is to keep your dog from the excitement that happens at the door. Once you have worked on the training tips below, you can keep your dog with you as you open the door.

Okay, those are the management portions of controlling barking. Here are the training tips. And this will take time and work.

One of my all-time favorite commands to use for many situations where you’d like to get your dog’s attention is “Watch!” This word tells your dog to look at you. Some people also use the word “Look!” When I teach dog training classes, this is the very first thing I teach. It’s a basic foundation for getting your dog to listen to you.

For barking problems, you may want to employ the use of “Watch!” Or pick another word. It could be “Quiet!” but ensure that you’re not already using this word when you are agitated.  Okay, begin training. Get some high value foods – canned chicken, cheese, hot dogs, liver bites – and work with your dog when you have some quiet time. When your dog is paying attention to you, say your cue, if it’s “Watch,” “Look” or whatever, and immediately feed the dog a small bit of treats.  Continue doing this until you see that your dog is showing lots of interest as you give the cue. This is classical conditioning at its best, pairing a cue with a response. When your dog hears the cue, he immediately thinks, “Yum!” With enough practice, your dog will be conditioned to stop what he’s doing, look at you when you say the word and know that good things are coming his way.

Of course, this cue will work like a champ when there are few distractions once your dog gets it. That’s why it’s important to practice this exercise by gradually increasing the distractions. In other words, if you only practice when there are no distractions it’s not realistic to expect your dog to respond to you when the doorbell rings!

The trick to getting this combination of tips to work will be to keep your dog’s level of excitement low so that he does not bark. And  if he does start to bark, you catch him in time to stop him with the practiced interrupt cue.

Any questions? Next time, I’ll get into outside territorial barking.

How many of you dig your dogs but don’t dig it when they dig?  It’s spring – almost summer – and your flowers are blooming, your vegetable garden is planted. And your dog is thrilled to have so many new, fun places to dig up!  Some dogs simply love to dig and could care less about how much time and tenderness you spent creating your beautiful oasis.

There can be several reasons why dogs dig. One primary reason is genetic. Certain breeds such as Dachshunds were bred to dig. Believe it or not, humans actually created this dog for the purpose of finding critters way, way back when. And when some people get this kind of breed and the dog digs up their yard, they get mad. DUH!  It’s what the dog is instinctively supposed to do.

 “Just doing my job, mom!” the dog says when scolded.

And even if the dog was not bred to dig, many dogs are curious creatures. With the excellent smelling abilities of their noses, some dogs like to dig to find out what’s happening down there. My first Golden Retriever, Caper, dug a hole in the drywall of our kitchen. To this day, I still wonder what she was going after. Mice?  Old chicken bones left by the builder? Yeah, could be. 

And the two most prevalent reasons why dogs dig: lack of exercise and boredom. So many of our poor doggies live their lives according to our rules and are forced to conform to our schedules and lifestyles. For dogs, that can translate into lying around the house waiting for us to come home. Or for some dogs, it could mean being put out in the yard all day with no one to play with. Without the proper outlet for their energies, trouble is bound to follow.

And finally, many dogs dig under trees or bushes in order to find a cool place to lie, and it’s no wonder on days like these when the temperatures are in the 90’s.  (I hope that you’re bringing your dogs inside when it’s this hot!)

There are solutions to the digging problem, and many of you may not want to hear them. First of all, a tired dog is less likely to get into mischief. I recommend that you walk your dog at least once a day. The length of time depends upon your dog and the outside temperature. If your dog is young and healthy, as much as an hour or two of exercise may be necessary. My boy, Gizzy, needed several hours of daily exercise when he was younger.  But if your dog is older or not in the best of health, or if you have a brachycephalic breed (Pugs, Bulldogs, Boxers, etc.), limit the exercise time. Regardless, all dogs need time to explore their worlds. I wrote an article several years ago, Mind, Body Spirit Fitness for Dogs, that addresses a dog’s need to get out.

In addition to physical exercise, your digging dog needs to do something that he digs – other than digging, that is. If you have a dog who was bred to work (collies, shepherds, retrievers, spaniels, pointers), he needs to have an outlet for this instinct. You don’t need to buy sheep and have your dog corral them! But some training time every day gives your dog something to focus on that uses his brain. Brain work is just as tiring as physical exercise.

Next, if you want to stop your dog from digging, management of his environment is key. First, start by placing a barrier around the area where your dog likes to dig. Prevention works wonders!  If that works, great. If not, then you will have to do some training. As difficult as this may be for some people, dogs require guidance to do the right thing. I know, I know, you just like to open the door and allow your dog to go about his business.  But if his business is digging your yard, he must be watched and trained.

Catching your dog in the act of digging may be the only way to stop the behavior. If you see him beginning to dig, do not scold him. (Remember, if you are a regular reader of my blog, when you call attention to a behavior, it rewards the behavior.) Instead, call your dog to you and when he comes, praise him lavishly. Get a toy or a treat and motivate him to do something else that may be more fun than digging. Move away from the area where your dog was digging and either play with him or do some training. Repeat this every time your dog attempts to dig.

One final way to stop you dog from digging – keep him on a long leash. You can quickly interrupt the behavior and redirect your dog.

Sorry, sometimes there just aren’t easy and convenient ways to correct inappropriate behavior! Our dogs like to do what comes naturally and makes them happy, and often the behaviors are in conflict with living in a human world. They need to be kindly and compassionately shown what we expect of them. We owe it to the ones we dig!

Puppy teeth. Little needles that pierce your fingers when they chomp down. Puppies are inquisitive creatures and explore their worlds with smell and taste. Everything goes into their mouths. If they are not guided at a young age, puppies will continue to use their mouths and teeth inappropriately.

In an ideal world, puppies stay with their moms and littermates until they are at least 8 weeks old. Those weeks are a pivotal behavior classroom where pups learn good manners. If a pup bites his littermate too hard, the littermate will yelp and run away. “I’m not playing with you anymore!” the pup seems to say. So the offending pup learns that if he bites too hard, he no longer has friends to play with.

But many puppies are being denied this critical period of education: Puppy mill-bred dogs are usually removed from their moms and littermates at about 4 weeks to be shipped to pet stores. And some backyards breeders, especially of Pit Bulls, allow pups to leave too soon.

Puppies who have not learned bite inhibition will grow up to be mouthy adults and be quite difficult to live with. I know, I adopted one. His name was Donner and I wrote a story about him called The Old Dog Nobody Wanted, published in the book, Pets Across America.  Donner, a handsome red Golden Retriever, was no pup.  He was about 9 years old when I adopted him.  He became very grabby when he was overexcited.  I still have a scar on my arm as a memento. As I explained in his story, I tried several different methods advocated by various dog “experts” to validate what I already knew to be the proper means to extinguish the behavior. Just to see how Donner reacted to these dumb methods, I did the “alpha roll” otherwise called “dominance down” to get Donner to calm down, as well as holding him by the jowls. These methods didn’t work, as predicted. They only jacked him up more and he grabbed harder. Okay, Donner, stop laughing. He knew that these methods don’t teach dogs not to grab!  Here’s a list of other things not to do:

–          Never use your hands to correct the dog/pup when he nips. I’ve heard of trainers telling people to either clamp the dog’s mouth shut or chuck the dog under the chin with your fist. These actions will cause your dog to fear your hands by associating them with punishment. You also may make the nipping worse or cause your dog become more aggressive with the biting.

–          Never scream at the dog and don’t tell him “No!” As discussed in my post on February 6, 2011, “No” teaches them nothing.

–          Never use force to try to calm the dog, as explained above.

–          Believe it or not, some people actually get so frustrated with their dog’s nipping that they muzzle the dog, tie a cord around the dog’s mouth and I’ve even seen dogs with duct tape wrapped around their muzzles. I hope I don’t have to say “Don’t do this!”

The best ways to stop pups and adult dogs from using their teeth inappropriately employ the same dog psychology taken right from watching littermates at play. If your pup/dog nips you too hard, first try letting out a loud, high-pitched “Yip!” like a pup would do if bitten too hard. If your dog stops and looks at you, give him an enormous smile and a very soft, calm “Good dog!” It’s very important not to be too enthusiastic and loud with your praise because that may excite your dog again and the nipping may resume.

If the “Yip!” method does not work, try this: When your pup nips you, give him a toy or a bone, and again praise him softly when he takes the toy. (Remember that we always praise our dogs when they are doing good things!)

Finally, if your dog persists with nipping despite these two suggestions, simply stand up and silently walk away from your dog. That’s what littermates do. Your dog will learn that he loses the privilege of your attention if he nips you.

For any of these solutions to help, it is so important that you and everyone who interacts with your dog must be consistent and not allow the dog to nip by employing whichever of these suggestions are effective.

Tune into your dog’s behavior. Watch him and learn to see when he gets nippy. Is it when he is really wound up? If he is anything like my Donner, keeping him calm will “nip” the issue in the bud!

If you read my previous posts, Teaching “Come” Parts I and II, I hope you got the idea that you must make training time fun for your dog. And that’s what we’ll review in this post, playing games to ensure that your dog comes to you every time when called. Plus, if your dog is smart, playing games helps to alleviate boredom and anxiety.  And it’s fun for you too!

Before we get into the games, it’s important to realize that all dogs are individuals.  I can’t say that enough. I’ve said it before and I’ll keep repeating it because I’ve come across so many people who don’t understand this truth.  A dog is not a dog… Consequently, obtaining a 100% reliable recall from your dog is next to impossible for a variety of reasons.  Some dogs have naturally clingier personalities, making them easier to train and more apt to come when called.  While others dogs, such as hounds and terriers, could be more prone to distractions and may tune you out. The secret is lots of entertaining and positive training sessions.

What games can be played to help your dog learn to come? I like to recommend a variety of indoor and outdoor games. Of course, your ability to play these games will be dependent on your home and yard, or access to open areas.

One of my favorite indoor games that I like to play on rainy or icy days is “hide and seek.” I place my dog in a stay in a room where he cannot see where I’m going. Then I hide somewhere – a closet, behind a sofa, in a bathroom. And then I call my dog with a happy “Come!” that is loud enough for him to hear me. It is so much fun to hear your dog scampering around to find you! If you feel that it’s taking your dog too long to find you or if he gives up, call “Come!” again ntermittently. Now here’s the fun part: When your dog finds you, give a great big “yippeeee!” and jump up and down.  I guarantee that your dog will be soooo excited.  You can give your dog a treat, a toy or something that he loves too. There’s an added bonus with playing this game, especially if you live in a multi-level home: Your dog will get exercise.  A few minutes of this game will help to burn off a lot of energy for your dog because he’s using his body and his brain.

I also love to use mealtimes as training opportunities for your dog. While preparing your dog’s meal, place him in another room in a stay. Be super-quiet so your dog doesn’t know what you’re doing! When you’re ready to give him his food, walk into the room, show him his bowl and call him to “Come!” Most dogs are motivated by mealtime and will fly to you to get that food!  Praise him and give his the food (after asking for a sit and a wait, of course!).

Outside games can be a little more challenging due to distractions and the size of your outdoor area. I like to find a fenced area with several trees or outbuildings like sheds.  Allow your dog time outside to sniff and let the “novelty” of being outside wear off. When your dog is not watching you, go hide behind a large tree or some other large object. Whistle (if you can!) and call your dog to “come!”.  If you have done a good job with training your dog to come, he will immediately look for you. Many dogs will even panic a little if they cannot find their persons.  Just like hide and seek above when your dog finds you, act like an idiot – jump up and down and say “good dog!!” or whatever you like to say. You may also want to give your dog a “jackpot” of treats when he finds you.

Another outside game will require you with another person. Stand a good distance apart, depending on how large the area you’re working in, and have your helper hold your dog. You get your dog’s attention by either jumping up and down and being silly or waving your dog’s favorite toy.  Your helper is egging your dog on by saying, “Go get it!!!” or something else to charge your dog up. When you have your dog’s interest, you ask him to “Come!”. You may even want to run away a little, clapping your hands and slapping your thighs. When your dog comes to you, give him lots of praise and the toy if you used one and treats too.

If you are not getting reliable recalls from your dog with the training suggestions and games in these past three posts, I would recommend that you try clicker training with your dog. Karen Pryor is the guru and you can find lots of resources on her web site: Karen Pryor

In the previous post on February 28 discussing how to train your dog to come, I talked about what not to do when your dog comes to you. I always tell people that teaching a dog to come is easy, but getting your dog to do it reliably is the challenging part. Today, let’s go over how to teach your dog to “come” and then in Part III, I’ll review some games that we can play with our dogs to reinforce “come” and make it a happy event.  As we know, training needs to be fun for everyone – your dog and you! 

First, think of an object that your dog really loves, something that will motivate him to come to you: a particular kind of treat or even a toy. Since most dogs are motivated by food, it’s best to use small bite-sized treats like cheese or canned chicken. I like using something that your dog is not accustomed to eating and it smells really enticing. But if your dog is not food-motivated, a toy is a great option if your dog has a favorite like a ball or a retriever roll. With this treat/toy in your hand, hold it in front of your dog so he can see it/smell it. Once you get your dog’s attention, take a few steps backwards and say the word “come” to your dog in a happy, upbeat tone.  When your dog follows you, give the treat/toy to your dog and praise him happily.  Remember, when your dog comes to you, it must always be an enormously happy event!  Hugs and kisses are good things too but only if your dog really likes that. 

Continue practicing luring your dog to you in this manner with a treat or a toy by walking backwards and rewarding your dog, and gradually increase the distance that you walk backwards. You will be able to see if your dog is responding to you obviously if he comes to you. If so, then you can move on to more advanced work.  Put your dog into a “stay” and walk away – not too far, maybe just a few feet. Call your dog by saying “come” happily. (Your tone of voice is sooooo vital.  No dog is going to want to come to someone who is screeching or clearly unhappy.)  When your dog comes to you, give him the treat or the toy. Some trainers also like to give dogs a “jackpot” of treats when the dog comes to you.  By doing this, you are really showing the dog that coming to you is wonderful!

Important: If your dog does not come to you, do not scold him. I don’t even like to do an “Aw, try again.” We only want to reward your dog for doing good things, not call attention to when he doesn’t do it properly.  

It’s best to begin training your dog to “come” when there are no distractions.  Inside your home with no other dogs, people or kids around is ideal. As your dog becomes more reliable with coming to you inside the house, you can then take the training outside where there are usually more distractions (smells, sounds, etc.). Always use a leash when outside doing training work for “come.” I like to use a long, 30-foot cotton leash for this training so that you can gradually increase the distance between you and your dog.   Allow your dog to walk around and sniff to his heart’s desire while on this leash. Then call your dog to come. Make it happy and enticing. You might even want to run away from your dog and slap your thighs to make it more of a game. If your dog comes to you, great! Give him treats, toys, praise and hugs. If your dog ignores you, take the leash and as you say “come” again, guide the dog back to you. Don’t yank, just gently bring your dog back. 

Practice, practice, practice!!!  And be the person that your dog can’t resist coming to. Those are the keys to a dog who will come every time he’s called.  Next time, some games to play to reinforce your dog’s reliable recall.

Why Cesar Millan Is Not a Whisperer

Facebook is such great fodder for my blog! Last week someone posted an article about Cesar Millan, a.k.a. the dog whisperer. It’s amazing how just the mention of his name creates controversy. Almost as much as Michael Vick!  You either love him or you wish he would go away. Yes, I was one of the people joining in the “conversation” about Millan.  Want to take a guess at where I stand?

When some people meet me and I tell them that I’m a pet behavior consultant, they often say, “oh, like the dog whisperer.” And that makes me cringe. No, please don’t compare me to him. It’s an insult. Unlike Millan, I have extensively studied animal behavior, learning theory, and behavior modification. I have attended numerous seminars and read just about everything imaginable written by scientists and professionals. Conversely, Millan had no formal education; he learned from watching his farm dogs and from experiences as a groomer. He created his own methods – whatever worked for him, he used on all dogs regardless of if it was sound or not. Pleeeeeeease don’t compare me to him. 

He became famous when he trained Jada Pinkett Smith’s dogs and she then told Oprah about him.  And the rest is history, of course, because of the “Oprah effect.” I do not respect some of his methods nor do I believe that the “results” he shows are always for real. It’s a TV show; it’s edited and made to be spectacular. After all, Millan has to live up to his image as a wunderkind. But guess what, he’s not a whisperer.

Millan advocates the use of force which studies have shown is detrimental to the psyche of the dog and erodes the trust in the relationship. Force evokes fear.  Millan often tells people to hold the dog down to make it submit and to show the owner’s dominance. This method was derived from studies of wolves and contended that the highest ranking wolf would roll the other wolves and hold them down to show dominance.  Sadly, this study proliferated among dog trainers and many still hang onto this notion. What they don’t realize is that more studies were performed and this theory was debunked. But the trainers obviously didn’t get the message! If you remember, a book by the Monks of New Skete advocated this training technique.  But the monks have since come out with a statement that they now do not advocate forced submission. Their book is still on the bookshelves – minus the recant.

Some people contend that Millan is working with highly aggressive dogs and that he has to use these methods.  Really?  Well what do people think most dog trainers and behavior consultants are doing, just teaching dogs not to pee in the house? Trainers work with aggressive dogs constantly; it’s what we do. The dogs we work with are no different than those on Millan’s show.

My biggest complaint about Millan is how he uses that “tsst” sound and a poke at the dog to disrupt inappropriate behavior. People who are well-versed in animal behavior know that what he is doing is not advisable for several reasons:

1) If a dog is growling and you do a “tsst” and a poke, you might make the growling worse.

2) You may get the dog to stop the inappropriate behavior but it may be temporary. What you are in danger of doing is causing the dog to stop the growling, which is in fact a warning signal that he is upset, but the dog is still not happy. He may skip the growl and go right for a bite.

3) Calling attention to inappropriate behavior often rewards and reinforces the behavior.

4) You are not addressing the root cause of the dog’s inappropriate behavior which is often fear. When you’re afraid, would it help if someone were to poke you and say “tsst”?  Not likely.

Others who have studied and understand animal behavior know it’s more advisable to use counter-conditioning techniques instead of force to modify dogs’ behaviors. (See my last post on February 16.) But this technique takes time and that would be boring on a TV show. I guess the American public likes quick fixes, that’s why Millan is so popular – train your dog in 15 minutes!  Real life is not a TV show. Proper dog training techniques require time and dedication.

I think the biggest reason why I hold Millan in disdain is not just for the inappropriate methods but more because he has become so popular. Why can’t someone who knows more about animal behavior and promotes respectful and positive training methods be as popular?  It makes me sad that Millan’s fame proliferates poor training techniques and that so many unknowledgeable dog owners are buying into it, thus the arguments on Facebook. It’s always the people who are not so well-versed in animal behavior who like Millan and defend him and his techniques most vehemently.

In all fairness, he does a lot right and I need to credit him for that. I completely agree that people need to be the leaders. (But not through force.) He’s also right on when he talks about calm energy. Dogs are masters at reading our energy and feeding off of it. And finally, Millan is very correct when he says that dogs need exercise. Just like people!

I hope that this post does not appear to be “bashing” Millan; I’m simply stating my viewpoint as an educated behavior specialist in the same field. After all, if someone in your field of expertise was on TV showing people how to do your job, you would have an opinion too! My passion is advocating for the animals and if I see someone doing something that I believe is not in their best interest, I need to speak up.  You do too!