Sunday, August 13, 2017

Clicker Loose-Leash Walking

Loose-Leash Walking: Part One

Age-old issue

Walking is a natural behavior for dogs, so what is the big deal about teaching them to walk nicely on a leash? It shouldn't be that hard, should it?
Yet dog trainers all over the world always have clients with this problem (almost single-handedly guaranteeing the trainers' job security!). Leash-pulling is a problem that even some of the best trainers are unable to solve for their clients, despite the latest and greatest "no-pull" equipment that offers a helping hand.
Once and for all, wouldn't it be nice to find the technique that can solve most leash-pulling problems?

The answers are in the foundation

A systematic and basics-focused approach to training loose-leash walking can lead to greater success. With an emphasis on foundation behavior skills, realistic expectations, solid leash mechanics, the right equipment, and a relaxed dog, your chances of training a praise-worthy walking partner are increased. Be willing to start at step one and progress slowly.
This article, part one of two, will describe the best preparatory steps. Loose-Leash Walking: Part Two, to be published next month, will delve into the step-by-step instructions for training the behavior. Do not underestimate the power of a thoughtful completion of the opening steps in part one to influence positively the training steps to be described in part two!
"Build good foundation behaviors," is a very common instruction from positive reinforcement trainers. The analogy is that of building a sturdy house. If you build a strong foundation under a house, it will be rock-solid, but if you build a shaky foundation, at some point that house will crumble.
Loose-leash walking is just like that; build strength under the goal behavior with foundation skills and the rest should fall into place. But there is a problem defining a foundation in dog training. Not everyone agrees about what a strong foundation looks like, and about when construction on that foundation should commence.

Expectations and commitment

Reasonable expectations regarding the amount of training time and the steps involved with training loose-leash walking for a lifetime need to be set, too. For training to be successful from the outset, the person on the other end of the leash needs to have a grasp of the commitment it takes to garner solid loose-leash walking skills for a dog. A commitment to teach any dog positive leash-walking skills begins with expectations—whether the task is remedial leash-walking or getting started on the right paw with a new dog or puppy.
The place to start is asking what the handler would like to see and feel with the dog at the end of a 6-foot leash. Will the handler be okay if the dog walks ahead in a casual manner, sauntering and sniffing the ground, checking out things, but on a relaxed leash? This might a good choice for dogs that are friendly and casual about life and don't have a strong reinforcement history of pulling on leash. These dogs are likely to have been well socialized, so they don't feel the need to forge ahead to inspect every novel person or thing that crosses the path, all the while inadvertently dragging the reluctant handler along. (I say inadvertently because it's essential to realize that the dog is not thinking about the person he is dragging along; the dog is simply pursing his own goal of being safe or getting to where he wants to go!)
Closer leash walking, as demonstrated
here by Nan Arthur and Gaia, is
ideal for dogs that are more concerned
about their environment.
If the handler prefers a closer stance and more emotional contact with the dog, training might take more repetitions and more patience in order to reach that level. Dogs that are more concerned about their environment might benefit from walking closer to their handlers, allowing the human to set the pace and make decisions about when to take breaks to sniff and/or potentially greet people or other dogs. For these dogs, the learning curve may be higher and require a tighter set of skills. Of course, those facts necessitate a longer training commitment, but a commitment worth the effort in the long run.
Finally, there might be a need for a combination of both styles—asking the dog to walk in a tighter heel as needed and more casually at other times. Note that addressing leash walking for competition or for dogs that are reactive on leash is not the focus of this article. However, all well-trained leash skills can be moved to those arenas if desired. The foundation behaviors are the same.

When leash walking = leash pulling

Gathering as much information as possible about the dog is important so that the handler or instructor can work successfully with the dog. Knowing the dog, and thoroughly examining the dog's past history of leash walking, helps to unravel complaints about how the dog walks on leash. It's also important to discover what maintains the leash-pulling behavior, or what makes dogs stop in their tracks and refuse to move forward.
Ask the following questions:
  • How long has the dog been pulling on leash, and to what degree?
  • What kind of equipment has been used on the dog while walking on leash?
  • Is the dog pulling right away, as soon as he steps out the door?
  • Is the dog ramped up when the leash comes out?
  • Is the dog able to eat outside of the house?
  • How long are typical walks?
  • Does the dog ever relax, calm down, and stop pulling during a walk?
The answers to these questions can become the start to a training plan to overcome leash-walking concerns. A big and powerful dog with a long history of dragging people around on a leash and with a history of punishment training will be more of a challenge than a young dog just beginning to learn about walking nicely on leash. Plan accordingly.
Take the following examples that require thoughtful, individualized training plans:
  • If a dog won't eat outside of the house, the dog is not ready to be working outside. The training program for this dog should be stepped back in order to clarify the problems.
  • If pulling out the leash causes a dog to turn into a bucking bronco, start reviewing and adjusting the training routine just before that step.
  • If a dog overreacts at the very sight of the leash, it's time to make the leash less exciting but more reinforcing in a different way. An overwrought dog is not completely cognitive; trying to walk a dog in that state only serves to reinforce the same behavior each time you pull out the leash. In other words, the dog comes to believe that behaving wildly is what makes the coveted walk happen.
Always start where the dog is successful, attentive, and relaxed.
Always start where the dog is successful, attentive, and relaxed—even if you are just beginning to work on a dog's leash walking—rather than trying to train in a crisis.

Starting over

One way to begin to unravel the wild and crazy behavior associated with bringing out a leash is to store the leash in a completely different place. Dogs, like humans, are used to routine and habits. According to The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg:
"Habits are formed as a 3-step process. This process within our brains is a three-step loop. First, there is a cue, a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use. Then there is the routine, which can be physical or mental or emotional. Finally, there is a reward, which helps your brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future: Over time, this loop—cue, routine, reward; cue, routine, reward—becomes more and more automatic. The cue and reward become intertwined until a powerful sense of anticipation and craving emerges. Eventually, whether in a chilly MIT laboratory or your driveway, a habit is born."
This explanation makes it clear why dogs not only go crazy when the leash is presented from the same location each time, but how simply reaching toward that location will become the trigger over time. Move the location of the leash as a first step, and then change what reaching for the leash actually means.
The next step, which is so reinforcing in the sequence, is clipping on the leash while the dog is squirming and thrashing—and that step ultimately leads to going for the walk.
Think about it this way: each piece of the sequence serves as reinforcement for the step before it. Reach for the leash = Clip the leash on = Move to the door = Door opens = Step outside = Major jackpot for the dog.
Now think about how the sequence plays out in a dog's mind—behaving all wild and crazy is how to make that entire behavior chain happen over and over! This conclusion by the dog is why it's important to work when the dog is still under threshold and able to think. Learning to walk nicely on a leash cannot occur if the dog is over the top. To change the sequence you need a more relaxed, thinking dog. The beauty of teaching a new behavior chain is that the dog can still earn the "jackpot" of going for a walk. The dog earns the jackpot in a different way, but does not lose the reinforcement. The dog gets the reward in a different manner.

Start with sit

One of the easiest steps in the quest to improve the leash-walking process is to teach a dog that the leash means sit.
One of the easiest steps in the quest to improve the leash-walking process is to teach a dog that the leash means sit. Sit is a great behavior to teach, no matter how a dog behaves when the leash comes out! If a dog has a solid sit, it's just a matter of transferring the cue to the leash. If not, teach the sit first.  
When your dog has a solid sit behavior, all you have to do is switch the cue for that behavior to the leash. To do that, use a "new cue, old cue" process. Show the dog a folded-up leash brought out from its new location. The leash will be the new cue; quickly follow its introduction with the sit cue. When the dog sits, click and treat. Repeat these steps 5-10 times, and then try dropping the verbal cue "sit." Simply present the leash and wait. The dog should be anticipating the sit, and will fold back into the position. When he does, click and treat.
The leash gains a new meaning; it is the cue for sit, and not a trigger for leaping and screeching.
Practice a number of times more to ensure that the dog really has the new cue down. Take breaks after 5-10 trials. When the dog truly understands the new cue, move it around to different areas in the house; this will help generalize the cue. The leash gains a new meaning; it is the cue for sit, and not a trigger for leaping and screeching.
After practicing with the leash in a number of areas (try approximately 10 locations, which can just be moving from room to room and shifting position in the same room), then it is time the next step.
Next training session, unfold the leash just a bit. Since the leash will look a little different, you might have to wait a bit longer for the sit response. If it seems like the dog doesn't get it, go back to the "new cue, old cue" process. Repeat these early steps with breaks between training sessions so that the dog has time to process. Be sure to generalize again.
The goal is to keep unfolding the leash until it dangles, holding just the clip/fastener. When you reach that point, again transfer the cue, this time from the leash to clipping the leash on the dog. The cue will still lead the dog to sit.
These training steps may seem like a slow progression, but if you keep the unwanted sequence in mind as you proceed, you will appreciate the process. If at any point the dog believes his crazy behavior will result in going for a walk (no matter what part of the sequence that happens), you are reinforcing the entire sequence, a sequence that leads to extreme pulling on leash.

Leash mechanics

For this next step in the training plan, put the dog away and practice the mechanics that are necessary for good leash walking. Many people believe that holding the leash is about their own comfort, but it's much more than that. Rather than trying to control the dog, what you should be striving for is cooperation (not restraint).
Using your core, your center of gravity, is the best way to protect yourself. This way you can prevent the pulling a dog can do when your arms are stretched out, elbows straight and your weight off-center. Keeping your elbows bent and tucked into your midline helps you stay balanced—and helps you hold on to the dog should he get to the end of the leash. This strategy is important, since the dog learns quickly that pulling, and then pulling harder, causes you to step forward. That in turn reinforces the pulling, and a vicious cycle is started or maintained.
The proper way to avoid putting your hand through the leash loop. While some people feel more secure that way, that grip discourages keeping your arm tucked in and your elbow bent. When you let go of the leash after putting your hand through, the leash is free on your wrist and the dog can more easily move in other directions. Looping the leash handle over your wrist also puts you in danger if your dog takes off and pulls or lunges on the leash. Many people have been injured when a dog pulled them over and the leash was stuck around the wrist. Two of my clients suffered serious injuries (injuries that led them to become my clients!) when the leash was over their wrists and they were unable to let go. One broke her finger, a break that required surgery. The other was dragged on her face on the ground for several hundred yards, an accident that necessitated reconstructive surgery on her nose (her powerful Lab went after a cat).
It's far better to hold the leash with the leash looped around your thumb or forefinger and the balance of the leash gathered in your hand—just in case you need to let go. 

Equipment

It's hard to talk about leash walking without talking about equipment. But, the goal in teaching cooperative leash walking is to work as though there is no equipment on the dog at all!
Gear is not what makes good leash walking. Good training does.
Leashes, collars, harnesses, head halters, and more help keep dogs safe, comply with the community laws, and can prevent some unwanted behaviors. However, the real aim of teaching your dog to walk on leash should be walking independent of equipment. With that in mind, equipment should be as comfortable and non-invasive as possible. Gear is not what makes good leash walking. Good training does.
One problem with equipment is the potential for positive punishment, which sometimes can be extreme—and not conducive to good leash walking and the relationship it requires! Consider how punitive it is when a dog lunges on a pinch collar. The correction is harsh. The same goes for choke chains when a dog pulls or lunges.
Body harnesses are less likely to be painful or punitive, although they can still be aversive. They do offer a way to move a dog if necessary. Front-clip harnesses, like the Freedom Harness, or the Perfect Fit Harness, offer a different design than a typical back-clip harness. Many front-clip harnesses can be used with two points of contact to help balance a dog's weight a bit better. The design goal of a front-clip harness is to make the center of gravity on the dog more manageable. If the dog pulls or lunges on a front-clip harness, the dog is less likely to be hurt or injured if the harness is fitted properly.
Although dogs and handlers have equipment preferences, the end goal is not to need anything but a leash and collar or harness. The litmus test for excellent leash walking is to remove all but the bare necessities (what is required to comply with local regulations). When a dog can walk nicely on a leash without any extraneous equipment, success has been achieved.
If you need equipment to control the dog, the dog needs more training.
If you need equipment to control the dog, the dog needs more training. It also means that there is the possibility that the chosen equipment can be punitive, so choose equipment that is the least invasive. My preference is a well-fitted front-clip harness.

Ready, set…

Completing the "readiness checklist" for loose-leash walking described in this article creates a sense of satisfaction and eagerness to launch the next steps in training the loose-leash walking behavior.
Congratulate (treat?) yourself and your dog, take a deep breath, PRACTICE, and gear up for next month's continuation, Loose-Leash Walking: Part Two!
…GO!

Monday, July 17, 2017

What is Clicker Training?


Clicker Training. 

Clicker training is a method that uses a unique sound, a click, to tell a dog that he has done something right. Because the click sound is hard to replicate in daily life it is a distinct sound that can be used to mark any action or behavior a dog does. The sound is made using a 'clicker'. A clicker is a small hand-held device that gives a 'click' sound when pressed. Clickers have been used to train marine and other animals for many years and have now become very popular in positive dog training.

How Does Clicker Training Work?
To begin with a dog is taught that the sound of the click means he will get a tasty reward. When he does what is asked, such as sits or lies down, the clicker is pressed and the click sound is immediately followed by a reward. This gives a dog instant feedback and reinforces the particular action, choice or behavior he has just done. The dog soon associates the sound with something good and responds quickly again in anticipation of receiving a similar reward.
The clicker device is usually hand held which makes it difficult for some people to use. However if the clicker is put on a finger or worn attached to a ‘bracelet’ around the wrist, it can be easier to access while leaving hands free to hold a leash. Some people prefer to use a simple word such as “good” or “yes” as a verbal marker instead of a clicker while others like to use a verbal marker while pressing the clicker so that both markers become the reward. This can make the transition from using the clicker to just a verbal cue, easier.
 
How to 'Charge’ the Clicker:
  • Start with a handful of really delicious treats cut into small pieces.
  • Every time you click, give your dog a treat. Do not click and treat at the same time; the treat must follow the click. You can also throw the treat onto the ground and click just before your dog eats it.
  • Repeat the process while you are standing up, sitting down, or moving about and in all different kinds of environments, so your dog understands that no matter where he hears the click, he has done something right and will receive a tasty reward.
  • Repeat this exercise a few times a day for a few minutes at a time until, when you click, you notice that your dog is eagerly anticipating the treat.
  • Clicker Rules:
  • Click only once
  • If you click you must treat
  • Do not use the clicker like a remote control and point it at your dog. Hold the clicker by your side or behind your back
  • If your dog is scared of the sound of the clicker, muffle it with a towel, purchase a softer clicker or use another teaching method.
  • Teaching a Dog to Sit with a Clicker:
  • Catch your dog in the act of sitting. As soon as he puts his behind on the ground, click and treat.
  • Repeat this whenever you see him sitting and as he is in the act of sitting, say “sit” and click and treat when he has sat.
  • When your dog understands the meaning of the word “sit” you are ready to ask him for the action.
  • Ask your dog to “sit”
  • As soon as your dog puts his behind on the ground, press the clicker and immediately follow with a food reward.
  • Do I Always Have to Carry a Clicker and Treats?
    No. Clicker training is a great way of motivating dogs to learn new things such as actions and behaviors. It can also be used to mark a change of mood or a good choice your dog makes. Once your dog is proficient at whatever action he has been taught or behavior he has chosen, the clicker can be faded out and used again when teaching your dog something new.

Brooke Fagel, Head Trainer
www.PalmSpringsDogTraining.com
760.219.8391

Saturday, April 8, 2017

What To Do BEFORE You Go On A Walk

 
      
      Loose-Leash Walking: Before You Go On The Walk

                  

  1. Define what you want. This is critical to teaching ANY dog behavior. As the handler you have to decide what loose-leash walking means to you. Does it mean walking with you with the dog’s attention completely on you the entire time? Or is he walking next to you but allowed to look around at his environment? Is any tension on the leash ok? (If you’re using a Flexi-leash, there’ll always be tension.) This is completely up to you, but it must be decided. If not you’ll be inconsistent when you teach, and your dog will get confused.
  2. Getting your dog “on the phone.” Getting your dog on the phone with you simply means getting his attention. If you aren’t able to get his attention focused on you in your house free from distractions, you’re definitely not going to be successful outside where everything is exciting and new for your dog. To practice getting your dogs attention, wait for him to come to you or even make eye contact and reward.
  3. Get the right equipment. I recommend using a martingale collar and 4 or 6-foot leash for walking. If your dog is a severe puller, I recommend using a front-hook harness. Choke chains, prong collars, pinch collars, and shock collars do not work. Caution: the allure of a tool that seems to quickly fix a dog’s pulling problem can be very tempting. However, punishment will have the opposite result that you’re going for: your dog will not learn to enjoy walking next to you. Instead, he will learn that going on walks with you results in pain and discomfort.
  4. Get great reinforcement. Take a treat bag filled with tasty treats of your dog’s liking. Remember, what you have needs to be more interesting than the distractions your dog will encounter outside. I like to work on loose-leash walking before meal times with my dogs so they’re extra hungry. You may even want to take your dog’s meal on the road with you and use it as treats! If your dog isn’t as into his normal dog kibble, mix in some higher value treats. For my dogs, tiny piece of hot dogs do the trick. Find your dog’s favorite reinforcement.
 Loose-Leash Walking: On The Move
  1. Reward often. At first, do this AT LEAST every couple of steps. As your dog is able to go for longer periods of time walking next to you, you can slow down your rate of reinforcement. This is the most common problem I see with handlers who have dogs that pull: not treating often enough when the dog is doing something right.
  2. Let go of that leash! I often make new dog handlers put the loop of the leash around their hand and then put their hand in their pocket. What this does is makes you, the dog handler, give the dog the full length of the leash. This allows the dog the choice to stay with you or run ahead (which gives YOU the opportunity to reward good choices.) When you force a dog to walk next to you, you’re not actually building value for loose-leash walking. You’re simply inhibiting what the dog actually wants to do. This will not make the dog want to stay next to you; it will most likely make him want to pull ahead harder.
  3. Be ready to reward any attention your dog gives you. This means eye contact or any other interaction your dog gives you. This will encourage your dog to continue to watch you and want to walk next to you.
  4. Mix up reward amounts. Sometimes feed just one treat and others feed several. Every now and then stop and feed a handful and tell your dog how fantastic they are. This will keep your dog’s anticipation level for being with you high. He’ll never know what he’s about to get!
  5. Make walking with you unpredictable. Slow down, and then speed up. Then change directions. Reward your dog each time he chooses to stay with you.
  6. Anticipate distractions. Look ahead to notice what things may be potential distractions for your dog so that you can reward your dog when he sees those distractions and chooses to stay with you.
  7. Stop along the way and work on other behaviors. Stop at random and ask for other behaviors - even simple behaviors like sit or down. Doing this will keep your dog on in anticipation of what you will do next.
  8. If your dog is pulling toward a distraction and will not come back to you, turn and walk the other way. Reward your dog when he catches up to you.
www.PalmSpringsDogTraining.com
760.219.8391
Serving Palm Springs, Cathedral City, Rancho Mirage, Palm Desert, La Quinta & Indio. 

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Handling Techniques with Brooke Fagel of Palm Springs Dog Training

Recall Training Techniques



Recall Training Techniques

STAGE ONE – 'Catching' or Charging Up the 'Come' Cue

  • Start in a distraction free environment so that your dog can focus only on you.
  • Whenever your puppy or dog is coming to you on his own, wait until he is a couple of feet from you and then say his name and the word 'come.'
  • When he gets to you, make a big fuss.
  • With this exercise, your dog will learn that coming to you is a really good thing. After a while, you can lengthen the distance between you and start using the word when he is coming to you from a greater distance.
  • Coming to you should always be rewarded, whatever the circumstance and no matter how long it took your dog to respond.
  • Motivate your dog to come by being exciting, running away from him, waving a toy, or having delicious food for him when he gets to you. This will show him that coming back to
    you the best thing he can do.

STAGE TWO – Solidifying the Cue Through Play

  • Make sure you play the Back and Forth game with another person that your dog is comfortable with.
  • Start the game in a quiet environment so it is easy for your dog to focus on you.
  • Hold your dog back while the other person calls him excitedly. Try not to use his name or the cue word but talk excitedly to ‘gee’ him up. Do not release him until the person calls his name followed by the cue word “come.”
  • When the cue word is given, release your dog and let him go running to the person calling. As soon as he reaches them they should praise and reward him with a game of tug or a food reward.
  • When your dog has had his reward, have the other person hold him back as you call him and release as you say his name followed by the cue word. When he comes to you reward him with another game of tug or food reward.
  • Repeat this game back and forth but only do a few repetitions so your dog does not get bored or too tired. Keeping it fresh means the game is always fun to play.

STAGE THREE – Adding Vocal Cue With Hand Signal Inside

  • Now your dog knows what the word “come” means you can use the cue word to call him to you while adding a hand signal to the word. Hand signals are always good to build with vocal cues so that even if your dog cannot hear you he will understand what the hand signal means. This is good if your dog is a distance away from you.
  • Start in a quiet environment. Walk away from your dog and call his name followed by the cue word and a hand signal. Praise and reward him when he comes to you.
  • Start increasing the distance you call him from and praise for his compliance. If he does not respond, go back to the previous distance and repeat.
  • Only practice this cue for a few minutes so your dog does not get bored. The secret to success is to always keep it fun, exciting and fresh.
  • When your dog recognizes the hand signal, try calling his name and using the hand signal by itself without the vocal cue. You will then be able to use a combination of vocal cue only, hand signal only and the two together.
  • Now your dog knows what the cue word means you can start to call him from different rooms or from areas where he cannot see you. This will encourage him to respond even when you are out of sight.

STAGE FOUR – Adding Vocal Cue With Hand Signal Outside

  • Now your dog is consistently coming to you in a distraction free environment you can proof your recall cue by taking it outside.
  • Practice the recall in your yard and then gradually build up to the point where you can use it in the park or similar environment.
  • The ultimate test is to use the recall when your dog is engaged in a different activity. Wait for a lull in that activity and then call your dog to you. Praise his decision to comply.

What Not To Do:
  • If you want a reliable recall, do not chase your dog unless it is an emergency. Dogs love to play the game of chase.
  • If you call your dog a number of times and he does not come back to you, do not reprimand him when he eventually returns. It is understandably annoying when your dog ignores you, but if you get angry when he finally returns he is unlikely to respond the next time you call him.
  • Under no circumstances should recall involve the use of a shock collar (remote collar, e-collar, etc).  

Troubleshooting:
Problem: My dog will not come to me when called, especially when there are other dogs around.
Solution: Dogs are understandably drawn to each other and it can be hard to get their attention when they are interacting with each other. If this is the case, wait for a ‘lull’ in the interaction before calling your dog back to you. If he complies, give him lots of positive reinforcement for his decision and then let him go and play again. Dogs are very smart and many soon learn that they only time you call them is when you want to put them on the leash and take them home. Calling your dog back to you and then letting him go play again changes that picture. Coming back to you does not necessarily mean his fun will end.

Why Does My Dog Need to Know This?

Having a reliable recall is vital for the safety of your puppy or dog in all environments, and the sooner you start teaching it, the more reliable it will be.

www.PalmSpringsDogTraining.Com
760.219.8391
Serving Palm Springs, Palm Desert, Rancho Mirage, Indio, Desert Hot Springs and Much More!!!!!
Brooke Fagel, Head Trainer @PalmSpringsDogTraining