Apr 2, 2010

Identifying Effective Rewards

Dog and his Toy

Knowing what your dog considers to be a reward and having the ability to use that as an advantage in training can make the difference between making a behavior 99.99% reliable in a couple days and making it reliable in a couple weeks.

Giving your dog a piece of cheese or a good pat on the head is all find and dandy but it might not be as effective as we think. If the dog's main attention is on something else, or expecting something completely different, the "Good boy!" and the pat on the head is a poor reinforcer.

As a rule of thumb whenever you want to find a high reinforcer for your specific situation ask yourself this simple question: "What does my dog really want as this moment?"

Lets see a few examples:

Mar 24, 2010

2 year old girl had jaw ripped off by dog.

This news story absolutely blew my mind!

Here's the link if you haven't already read it: 2 Year Old Girl Mauled by Dog

Basically in a nutshell, this young 2 year old girl was playing with toys and the drawers in her bedroom (apparently with the dog in there) and the father was there supervising. He turned away from "2 seconds", heard a growl and when he turned back the dog was mauling the young girls face. The father beat the dog off of his daughter, took her to the neighbors, went back and stabbed the dog with a knife.

Alright here is what I have to say on the subject.

Let me say it right now, I feel really sorry for the poor girl (Taylor), the poor child wasn't even screaming when the dog was taken off of her, which goes to show how traumatic this experience must have been, and will most likely leave emotional scars on her for the rest of her life. I honestly hope she gets better.

Now here are some things that seriously bugged me. I completely understand a desperate father's attempts at trying to save his daughter by punching and beating the dog, its a moment where one doesn't really think and time is of the essence. I don't judge the father for that whatsoever. But the fact that, after he took his daughter to the neighbors, that he left her there and went back to stab the dog is outrageous! Should have something been done about the dog? Yes. But stabbing the dog? No. The last act was purely out of revenge, not self defense seeing how no one else was in danger, and would justly fall into the category of animal abuse.

Mar 16, 2010

Two different kinds of walks.

Not long ago a dog trainer brought to my attention something, soon after I inquired about Junior's pulling tendencies. What he mentioned wasn't anything highly complexed, as a matter of fact it was quite elementary, but it's a piece of information I've never been able to forget. He told me that there are two kinds of walks on which to take your dog on: the dog's walk and the owner's walk.

He didn't realy coin those terms but to make it easier to explain I've given each that name. A 'dog's walk' is when you take your dog out and let it explore to it's heart's content. The 'owner's walk' is where a dog should be at the owner's side, heeled, at all times and not being distracted by anything. One is definitely much easier to go on than the other but in truth neither is more important over the other and almost every dog should be taken out and trained for both kinds of walks.

Now we all know how important walking our dogs is, after all a 'tired dog is a good dog'. Going on walks helps use energy that could build up and become distructive behaviors. For others its a good way not only to keep their dog's in shape but themselves too! Regardless of why we go on walks, both the dog's and owner's walks help in separate aspects and one shouldn't be written off as unimportant. Lets take a closer look at each one.

Mar 12, 2010

Housebreaking: Are you expecting too much?

Its not uncommon to get frustrated dog owners on forum and q/a communities asking what is wrong with their 3 month old pup that continues to have accidents in the house. The answer is always the same: your dog is still too young. I can say from experience that housebreaking is one of the most tedious and frustrating problems one comes across in dog-ownership. However we should try to avoid expecting so much in so little time.

Most pups may not develop full bladder and bowel control till about 6 to 8 months. Take this and add to it that most pups haven't yet learned a way to let us know that they need to go to the bathroom and you can easily see why a pup has frequent accidents at first.

So what can you do? Well its true that in time the pooch will eventually be able to hold it in, but you can't simply stand back and watch. There are plenty of things you can do to speed along the process. The first thing is never to set up your dog for failure, if you know the pup can't hold it in for long don't allow long periods of time to go by without having had taken out the pup. I usually recommend after meals, after play time, after exercise, before bed, when you wake up and maybe even once during the night.

Mar 5, 2010

A Great Dog Training Book!

I wanted to share with everyone a great book I just finished reading. Reaching the Animal Mind by Karen Pryor.

This book has taught me a whole lot about clicker training and operant conditioning. I actually wasn't all too comfortable with the thought of using a clicker as a reinforcer but the simple and clear explanations given by the author along with some great examples teaches you just what you can do with a bit of shaping.

This might be an excellent read for those that are reluctant to stop using "traditional" means of training dogs such as dominance or force. There are chapters dedicated to talking about the effect of fear on learning as well as explanations as to how the clicker works in the brain.