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The Listen Dog Blog

Welcome to the Listen Dog Blog!

 

I'll be keeping it up-to-date with regular catch-ups on what I've been up to, plenty of original articles on obedience training and behavioural best practice, plus top tips and ideas you can work on at home with your own four-legged friend!

 

If there's anything you'd like to see covered here, simply drop me an email at:

 

Lisa@ListenDogTraining.co.uk 

 

or get in touch via our Facebook page:

 

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By listendogtraining, May 17 2016 08:52PM

Some people just LOVE teaching their dog tricks… getting your canine to perform on cue – especially if you have an audience – can be great fun! Others however, deem trick-training to have no real purpose, arguing only in favour of the meat and potatoes of a good solid foundation in obedience training. After all, in what circumstance is it ever going to be handy that your dog can spin in a circle on his back legs upon request? Probably none whatsoever. But that doesn’t mean that trick-training is pointless… far from it. Read on to find out all about the wealth of benefits trick-training can offer you and your four-legged friend, what you’ll need to try it out, and exactly how to get started.



Benefits of Trick Training:


Mental Stimulation


Think about it – your dog can’t play a board game, read a book, or enjoy a good film… he needs other ways to engage his brain, and trick training is a fantastic opportunity to give his brain a good workout! You’ll be improving his problem-solving skills as you encourage him to work out what behaviours you are looking for through luring, shaping, marking and rewarding.


It’s Great For Rainy Days


If you have a high energy, high endurance dog, like a Labrador Retriever or a Border Collie, you’ll be amongst the first to wax lyrical about the importance of ensuring your canine companion gets oodles of daily exercise!


However, most people are unaware that a good 5-10 minute trick-training session can be more tiring than a walk itself. Of course, at Listen Dog we are firm advocates of your dog getting enough physical exercise on a daily basis, regardless of the weather – however a well-placed trick training session can help to take the ‘fizz’ out of an exuberant dog who’s yet to receive his morning walk, or buy you some time if you’ve had to delay a jaunt in the park due to an unpleasant storm. Using all that brain-power uses up energy, and can leave dogs feeling just as spent as a hearty game of tug, or a stretch of fetch.


Enjoy A Better Relationship


The more positive things you do with your dog, the better your relationship will become – it’s simple isn’t it? If you keep training sessions upbeat, enjoyable and successful for your dog, he’ll actually look forward to them – and he’ll look forward to trying to please you as a matter of habit. And owning a dog whose default setting is to try and please you is always a joy!


Improves Your Dog’s Ability To Learn


The more time you spend training your dog to perform tricks, the better his problem-solving abilities will become as he grows accustomed to the process of running through behaviours, paying attention to you and looking for ever-more discreet cues, and generally becoming more aware of the lines of communication between you both. All of this adds up to improving your dog’s general ability to learn, which in turn will improve his basic obedience (you know, that crucial meat and potatoes stuff, that is definitely useful in the big wide world!)


Top Tips For Successful Trick Training:


Invest in Literature


As simple as it sounds – stocking up on a few good quality dog-trick books is a fantastic way to jump-start your new hobby. Find one or two that you really like (if money’s tight, try road-testing a couple from the library first) and leave them on the coffee table or out on the kitchen worktop – wherever you go about your daily routine! It takes less than a minute to flick through a book and find a trick you like the look of, and it takes less than 5 minutes to introduce the trick to your dog in the form of a training session. So all those little moments throughout the day – waiting for the kettle to boil, waiting for dinner to cook, waiting for the bathroom... suddenly they’ll become the moments you come to utilise and look forward to!



Shaping


Some tricks – like ‘lay down’ are fairly straightforward, and luring your dog into the correct finishing position is easy, whilst other require a little more guidance. Be patient with your dog, and reward baby steps along the way. The goal of each training session is simply to get better results than the last time. For example, whilst training an over-enthusiastic Labrador to ‘beg’ (sit on hind quarters whilst both front paws are offered up in a stationery position) I initially lured her front end off the ground, and marked and rewarded (using a clicker) every time she lifted her front paws. Progressively, I then aimed to ensure she kept her rear end in a sitting position as she raised her front feet, so I only marked and rewarded this behaviour. Once she understood this, I then only marked and rewarded when she held the position for a split second, as opposed to just throwing herself up then straight back down again. This process is called shaping, and is a really helpful way to break down more complex tricks into manageable chunks so that neither you, nor your dog ends up confused and frustrated.


Timing

In trick training, it is imperative that you ‘mark’ the precise moment your pet performs the correct action. Dogs make very direct associations, and will only associate a reward with whatever they did immediately prior to its delivery; if, for example you tell your dog to lay down, which she does, but whilst you’re fishing in your pocket for a treat she stands up and takes a step toward you, you are not rewarding the correct behaviour. However, rewarding your dog with a treat at the exact moment or in exactly the desired position is not always possible – hence why most trick trainers wax lyrical about ‘marking’...


Marking


This is why clickers are so wonderful – they’re both easy and instantaneous – two things that the swift delivery of a piece of cheese just cannot always be! If you and your dog are entirely new to clicker training, you will need to initially ‘charge’ the clicker up – which means building a positive association with the clicker in your dog’s mind. Put simply, sit with your dog, your clicker, and a pot of treats for a few minutes, and click-treat, click-treat, click-treat... you get the idea. Your dog quickly learns that a click represents success and impending reward. So for those moments when you can’t deliver a treat immediately, you deliver a click – cementing in your dog’s mind the exact behaviour that the following treat is a reward for, and increasing the likelihood that he will repeat that exact behaviour, the next time you ask!


Put In The Time


Honestly, I can’t stress this enough, because it’s happened to me so many times – you may feel like you’ve been trying to teach one trick for weeks but your dog is just never going to understand it... he’s just squirming, pawing and obsessing over the treat in your hand... don’t stress. Keep going through the motions, day after day, and you will SEE the lightbulb moment when it occurs – and boy will you be glad you persevered!


Maybe it’s just me, but I love the buzz of seeing a dog fully understand a complex request, and knowing that it’s because of the work I’ve put in. And remember, when your dog succeeds at something, HE feels great about it too; you can sleep easy knowing that your dog is happier, because of you!


Motivate Your Dog


Try to ensure you always set your dog up to succeed; don’t ask too much of him, and always break down bigger or more complicated tricks into smaller steps that he can achieve and be rewarded for. Try not to let him be wrong more than two or three times in a row, or he will end up feeling frustrated and discouraged. For trick-training to work, you need your dog to WANT to learn, and the best way to achieve that is to ensure he enjoys the process of learning. If he repeatedly fails at something, take it a step back, and practise executing and rewarding an earlier stage of the trick for a while – always set your dog up for success, not failure. Also remember to keep training sessions short, and end on a high note. When you are about to finish, it can be good to quickly run through two or three commands your dog is confident with, to let him finish on a high, in anticipation of the next session, rather than dreading it.


Want To Take It Further?


Dog trainers tend to train the hardest when working toward a goal – it helps to keep you motivated and focused when you’re striving towards a specific end-game, and Do More With Your Dog provides you with just that, in the form of progressive Trick Dog Titles which you and your dog can work towards, one at a time, as your trick training progresses! Each title, from Novice to Champion involves the successful training and performing of a checklist of progressively complex tricks, and will earn you certification and a title ribbon.


For more details on how to get involved, click here to find out about the first certificate, and download your first checklist and application form!


Always remember – trick-training is meant to be fun for both of you! Keep it positive, and you and your dog will go far.


Listen Dog training will be launching tailored Trick Training workshops in September 2016. To register your interest and be added to our waiting list, get in touch today!





By listendogtraining, May 6 2016 11:37AM

Most dog owners have been there – you teach your dog to sit perfectly with a 100% success rate in your living room at home, you take him to the park to show off your new trick and… he ignores you, stares at you blankly, or runs off after a squirrel.


So many people are perplexed as to why their dog won’t perform the command they KNOW their dog understands, and end up labelling their dog as defiant, disobedient, or madly rebellious.


The truth is – dogs’ minds just aren’t wired in the way that ours are, and they simply don’t generalise rules the way we do. So when your dog learns that ‘Sit’ means park your rear end, on the rug, when the TV’s on (because this happens to be where and when you trained the behaviour), he can’t then generalise that rule to other locations and situations, like the park, a friend’s house, when some children run past, the vet’s office, etc.




In order to help him generalise the command, you need to do what’s known in the dog-training world as ‘proofing’. This means exploring the three Ds of dog-training, one at a time, in order to increase your dog’s reliability so that eventually, your dog will responder to you wherever you are, whenever you ask, and under whatever circumstances you find yourselves.


What Are The Three Ds of Dog Training?


Duration – How long your dog will remain in the requested position.


Distance – How far away from your dog you are able to walk, without them breaking the command, or how far away from them you can be when you give the command, and still receive a successful response.


Distractions – The dog’s ability to listen to instruction and fulfil your command, amidst various levels of distraction (traffic noise, children nearby, cyclists passing, etc.)


After only a couple of days of training, you can’t expect your dog to remain in a sit position for 6 minutes, after you walk away, whilst 3 other dogs stroll by… that’s D-overload!


Instead you need to focus on working with only one ‘D’ at any given time. So once your dog has learnt the ‘Sit’ command, try giving the command, and taking a couple of steps backward, then immediately return and praise. Gradually increase the distance whilst there are no distractions present, and only for a short duration. Similarly, if you want to work on proofing the command against distractions, then remain close to your dog, and release him quickly. Ask for a ‘Sit’ whilst a child walks past, maintain his attention, then release and reward him.


Never overwhelm your dog during training, and don’t punish him if he fails – instead take it a step back; his failure is a sign that you have pushed him too far, too fast, not that he is a bad dog. If your dog breaks command after 10 seconds, take it back to 5 seconds, and release and praise him.


Always set your dog up to succeed, keep training sessions short and regular, and always end each session on a high note – leave him wanting more and you’ll always have a dog who is eager to learn, and will work his hardest to please you!




By listendogtraining, Apr 13 2016 08:22PM

Teaching your dog to do something you want him to do – how do you do it? The simplified answer is: reward him when he does what you want! Whenever we are training a new behaviour, we use lots of high-value rewards to encourage a dog to repeat that behaviour. So when your dog fetches the ball you threw for him and returns it at your feet – reward him! If a good retrieve is what you want, that is.


Likewise, it makes sense that if you’re trying to eradicate an unwanted behaviour, you need to make sure the dog is not getting rewarded for it in any way. Does he jump up at house guests? Then instruct every single person who passes through your front door not to pet, praise, speak to or interact with your dog in ANY WAY – even if it’s to call him a hideous brute (he doesn’t speak English, all he sees is that he’s getting attention, and he LOVES that!) - until he has four paws on the ground. Again, it seems simple... doesn’t it?


But there’s a twist.


A third way you can encourage behaviour, is by introducing a variable schedule of reward. This means that instead of rewarding your dog EVERY time he returns the tennis ball at your feet (expensive, and potentially calorific...), he is only randomly and intermittently rewarded. Sometimes he gets a piece of chicken. Sometimes he gets nothing at all. It has been proven that a variable schedule of reward will more successfully increase the reliability of a behaviour than rewarding the dog every single time he delivers the goods.


Of course, when we are first teaching a new behaviour, lots of rewards are a must, but once you are confident your dog understands what is being asked of him, you can cut back on the kibble.


This concept works because of something called ‘the extinction burst’ – a dog trainer’s blessing... and curse.


If your dog responds to your command (‘Fetch it!’) by returning the ball, and then receives chicken, he’ll be pleased. If however, he repeats the behaviour, and then stops receiving chicken, the behaviour he had to perform to get the original reward will increase, in an attempt to bring back the reward. When the reward is only given intermittently, it becomes more valuable to the dog, and the dog will strive to work harder to receive it again. When it comes to playing fetch, this is great.


When it comes to jumping up at house guests however, this is a nightmare. Say you and your partner completely ignore your dog every time he jumps up at you, when once upon a time, you would have greeted him and patted him down. Your dog will quickly become frustrated, and for a short time, the intensity of the unwanted behaviour will increase, in a bid to bring back that lovely reward of attention and affection that he once received. If you stay strong, and continue to ignore the unwanted behaviour, eventually, in the consistent absence of any reward, the behaviour will become extinct.


The only spanner in the works is when the neighbour pops round, receives an over-the-top welcome from Fido and, so as not to seem rude, pats him on the head and says ‘Hi!’ And there’s his reward, and his proof that he needs to up his game and stay persistent in order to receive that lovely affectionate reward, which has now become even more valuable to him than it was previously. Now, before you know it, your dog is jumping up at visitors even more than he was before, and you’re entirely at your wits’ end.


To put the extinction burst into human terms, it’s the equivalent of playing on a slot machine, and the unfortunate reason why so many people can become addicted to gambling. Imagine you put a coin in the slot machine, and you win, first time! You feel fabulous. So for the next five minutes, you continue to put coins in, but you win nothing back. You are getting no reward whatsoever, yet you are continuing to repeat the behaviour that earned you that first reward, in the hope that you might receive it again. If you don’t win again, after long enough, you will give up and leave the arcade. But if, after six minutes, you hit the jackpot, then you feel even better than you did after the first win, and you’re more than likely going to spend the rest of the afternoon there, repeating the behaviour.


Things to Remember:


1. When training a desired behaviour, once the behaviour is learnt, only reward intermittently.


2. When trying to eliminate an unwanted behaviour, ensure the dog is NEVER rewarded again once rewards have been rescinded... or you’ll end up reinforcing rather than eradicating... Lecture everyone who crosses your doorstep!


3. Remember – some behaviours are entirely self-rewarding for a dog. You don’t need to give your dog a biscuit after he chases the neighbour’s cat for him to feel good about doing it; the act of chasing the cat is great fun and a reward in itself, and won’t be stopped by you ignoring it... but that’s another blog post!


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