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“Dealing With Your Dog”

Extract from Aunty Kaye’s Doggy Dictionary of Training and Behaviour

“Dealing with your dog” provides an easy formula which I developed for translating the motivational aspect of how your dog learns into simple options with clear consequences.

The deal you offer to your dog is this … “do what I want and you will get what you want”. Alternatively: “do anything else, and all access to or progress towards your desired goal is withdrawn immediately.”

For example, your dog wants A. You want B.

It is as if you are making a deal with your dog. The deal is:

If the dog does B, you give the dog A.

If the dog does not do B, or persists with some other (unacceptable) behaviour, you withdraw A from the dog, remove the dog from A, or somehow prevent the dog’s access to A.

A “deal” gives your dog clear options – do this, and get what you want – otherwise miss out.

“Dealing with your dog” reflects the importance of the contingency between the dog’s actions and their consequences – and this lies at the heart of operant conditioning and reward-based training. It highlights the fact that a reward is not something which never changes, so much as an opportunity to get access to whatever is most attractive to your dog any any particular time.

So, to give a practical example, if your dog at this moment wants most of all to go and sniff a tree, it may not be very relevant or effective to try to use food to reward your dog for not pulling on the lead – especially if the dog ignores the food and pulls towards the tree anyway. The most important reward at this moment is access to the tree. Whether this is given or removed should be contingent upon the whether or not the dog pulls. So the deal is:

“If you pull on the lead, we stop, or move away from the tree.

If you walk on a loose lead and wait, I will release you to go to the tree and have a sniff.”

If you have picked up your lead and your dog is jumping around excitedly at the door wanting to go for a walk, you may find yourself yelling “no!” or “sit!” while wrestling with your dog to get the lead on. By the time you do this and head out the door, your dog has been rewarded for struggling with you excitedly. Using the approach of dealing with your dog, ask yourself:

Q. what does your dog want? A. to go out for a walk

Q. what do you want your dog to do? A. sit calmly while you put the lead on

The deal is:

– if your dog sits calmly, you put the lead on and proceed with the walk

– if your dog jumps around excitedly, you put the lead away and wait.

It gives you an extraordinarily powerful training tool. It allows you to turn a distraction into a reward. It is likely that whatever is distracting your dog at this moment is the number one reward available in the environment. If you can’t release your dog to go to the distraction (because that would be anti-social) try to give your dog a functional equivalent.

Extending the concept to dealing with major distractions and chasing.

First, teach your dog to respond to a neutral interrupter, such as the hand clap. This can be done in conjunction with doing “Follow the Leader” on a long line.  Give a couple of quick hand claps before you turn.

Then, teach the dog a tug game, using “get it” and “off” (or whatever you want to say) but they are different from “take it” and “give” used for retrieving. They are kill and stop killing cues.

Next, you need a helper. The helper plays with the decoy toy (which should be the same as your high-value toy). If you dog starts to make a move, use your interrupter, and/or say “off”. If your dog keeps going the helper puts her toy away. The dog misses out. If the dog stops and re-orients to you, you give him or her a big reward in the form of “get it” using your high value toy.

What you will notice is that your dog will soon learn not to go for the decoy, but to always expect the best reward, in the form of chasing and tugging, to come from you, and to be earned and given with the cue “get it”.

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