Are you using the fuel to get you to where you want to go?
Before you can train your dog to do anything you must know what you want. If you don't know what you want you'll never see it and therefore never be able to reinforce it. The laws of learning say a behavior that pays off continues and one that does not, doesn't. To say the laws of learning do not apply to your dog is like saying the laws of gravity do not apply to your dog. I bet if I threw him off a building he wouldn't fall up.
Last week was a bad one for a dog trainer. I had one student after four weeks of class show up with her baby puppy with no treats. None. Nada. Nothing! That same night I had a student whine about her dog not coming when called and then in the same breath ask how long she'll have to keep using food.( They never ask when they can stop using punishments). After just four weeks she expected perfect recalls without having to pay for them.
Here's how I look at it. Every time I reinforce my dog in a meaningful way it's like putting a drop of fuel in his tank so I can get to where I want to go with my dog. If I puts lots of drops in I have a full tank and I can go far. (Further than my wildest dreams actually). Every time I fail to reinforce my dog I take a drop out of the tank and if I continue to take out more than I put in the tank will run dry and I won't be going anywhere.
You cannot expect to not have to reinforce your dog and get what you want out of him. Taking him to a six week class then never paying him for what you want is unreasonable at best. You know how to do lots of things that I bet you don't do because there is no pay off in doing them. Can you imagine me expecting to you to stand on one leg flipping the light switch to a burnt out bulb over and over again and not even acknowledge your doing it? How about if I paid you a dollar for every time you moved that switch, still standing on one leg of course? Changes how you feel about doing a seemingly useless behavior.
Go to the Mat
Teaching a dog to go to a designated spot is useful in many circumstances. When a dog can go to a mat and stay there while meals are prepared and eaten or when guests arrive he becomes an appreciated, valued member of the family.
Begin by teaching the dog what your bridgeword or clicker means. Place a mat, rug or dog bed on the floor near your dog. Mark and reward ANY acknowledgment of the mat, even something as small as an eye shift towards it. When you click the dog will turn towards you to get his treat, once given, wait. Look for any movement towards the mat, click and treat. Then wait. First click and treat for any movement towards the mat, then for a nose touch or putting a paw on the mat. Soon the dog will be deliberately going to the mat and waiting for the click. Then going to you for the treat then back to the mat and waiting for the click. Once the dog is going to the mat quickly start waiting 2 – 3 seconds before clicking. Slowly work your way up to several minutes before clicking. If the dog gets off the mat before you click just wait until he returns, click and treat. If he is getting off the mat often there is a good chance you have moved through the steps too quickly. Go back to clicking and treat before he gets off the mat and slowly increase the time he must stay on the mat before he gets a click and a treat. You can start adding distance between the dog and the mat, no more than ten feet to begin with. When the dog will go to the mat quickly at ten feet add another three feet. Keep adding distance three feet at a time until you get the distance you want. Any time the dog fails more than three times go back to the distance/time the dog was successful at and proceed from there. Always keep the dog successful by clicking and treat correct responses. When the dog is fast and reliable you can now click and treat randomly for him going and staying on the mat.
Stay during Greetings
There is nothing more aggravating than a dog who lunges and jumps when meeting another person. Teaching a dog to sit quietly by your side while you engage in a conversation is well worth the time and effort.
There are two elements that must be reliably taught before a person to be greeted is added to the exercise. They are the sit by your side and the stay. The first step in teaching your dog to sit by your side is to determine which side you want the dog to sit on while you are approached by and speaking to another person. Start with your dog facing you. Take a highly valued, tasty treat in the hand on the side you determined you wanted your dog to sit on. Hold the treat close to your dog’s nose letting him smell and nibble at the treat without actually eating it. Slowly bring your hand straight back so it is aligned with your side but behind your leg. When your dog’s head is behind your leg feed him the treat. Repeat this step until the dog is quickly following your hand behind your leg.
Next have your dog follow your hand behind your leg as before but don’t give him the treat. Slowly lure the dog’s head in towards your leg then in front of your leg so the dog has changed direction and is facing the same direction as you. Give him the treat. Repeat this step until the dog quickly follows your hand behind you then turns to face forward. Next repeat the first two steps but when the dog is facing forward say “sit” ( if he knows what that means) or slowly lift your hand straight up and slightly behind his head until his rear end goes into a sit. Give him the treat. Repeat this step until the dog quickly turns and goes into a sit at your side. Now you can start naming the behavior by saying, “heel” before you use your hand to lure the dog into position. Once the dog becomes reliable with a verbal cue and a slight hand cue start to randomly reinforce only the fastest responses.
Now that the dog is nicely sitting at your side, keep him sitting there by reinforcing the sit often. If you have taught the dog what “stay” means use it. Then reinforce the dog generously for staying in the sitting position by your side. Start by reinforcing every 2-3 seconds then slowly increase the time between reinforcement by several seconds until the dog is reliably holding the sit for 30 seconds. Reinforce randomly within that 30 seconds, sometimes treat at 3 seconds, sometimes at 17 seconds, sometimes at 22 seconds, etc. It is very important to give the dog a release cue when it’s alright for him to get up and move, this is the only way he’ll have a reliable stay.
Now that the dog can reliably stay for 30 seconds at your side it’s time to start adding a person walking up to you. Give your dog a treat for staying as the person approaches. If your dog gets up and move towards the person, the person needs to turn and walk away, you need to back away from the dog until you have the dog’s attention. Once you have the dog’s attention ask for him to sit at your side, then have the person approach just close enough so your dog won’t get up. Treat your dog for staying and have the person take another step closer, give your dog a treat for staying. Work like this until the person can walk up to you close enough to shake your hand. If at any time your dog gets up have the person retreat and you back away until the dog’s attention is back on you. This may take many attempts over several days to get to this point.
Now that your dog can hold the stay while someone is standing next to you just glance at that person then give your dog a treat for holding the stay. Then turn and look at the person. Give your dog a treat for staying. Then shake the person’s hand, give the dog a treat for staying. Next shake the person’s hand and say “hello”. Give the dog a treat for staying. Work your way up to having a short conversation with the person, randomly reinforcing the dog for staying. Slowly add more distraction and longer conversations. Reinforcing often at first, then randomly, always keeping your dog successful.
The Power of the Release
In order for your dog to truly understand the “stay” cue he must understand the “release” cue. The ‘release” cue tells the dog he has been released from his obligation to remain in the position he was in when he was given the “stay” cue. Without a clear release the dog will be left to break the stay whenever he feels like it. Therefore your stay will never be reliable.
The release cue is best given when you are close enough to touch the dog and encourage him to move from the position he was left in during the stay. Say “release” and encourage your dog to get up. There is no reinforcement given after the dog has been released. The reinforcement is given while the dog is maintaining his stay so he’ll want to stay. The release should be a bit of a disappointment to the dog because now that he has been released he won’t be getting any more treats until he’s given another cue. This way the dog is thinking, “ I get yummy treats for staying and nothing for getting up, I’m going to remain staying.” When the dog understands the “release” cue he will wait to hear it before moving out of position.