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The Training Process

Dogs repeat behaviors that have a history of reinforcement.  This means your dog will go to her mat on cue if she has been rewarded for going to mat on cue in the past.  But how do we get her on the mat in the first place?  And once on her mat, how do get her to remain in the midst of distractions?  This is done step by step, as described in the steps below.   

But first, let's ensure you are prepared and the dog is motivated by:

  • Prepare the treats ahead of time:  cut up treats in pea size pieces - the value of treats matter, your dog may sit for a biscuit but need cheese in order to 'drop it'.

  • Keep the treats in a treat pouch, or similar, to allow for easy access, while remaining out of your dog's reach (and sight).

  • Ensure your dog feels safe - you cannot expect your dog to sit on a busy sidewalk if she is afraid of people, we need to resolve that first.

  • Train new behaviors in an undistracted environment.

  • Find the right time to train; your dog may be less motivated if tired after the dog run, or not hungry eating dinner.

  • Keep training sessions as short or long as you want - given that you both are engaged, relaxed and having fun.


How to train new behaviors

1.  Get the Behavior

Dogs do what works.  If sitting gets your dog a treat, she sits.  But we cannot reinforce a behavior that is not offered.  Saying 'Sit' does not get the dog to sit - your dog does not know English.   But she can be lured into a sit with a treat to her nose, then reinforced.  Below are the main ways to get a behavior - NONE of which include talking!   

1.  Lure:  Use a treat to get your dog into a desired position or behavior.

2.  Target:  Use the "Touch" cue to guide your dog to move to the desired position - such as getting on or off the couch.

3.  Capture:  Wait for your dog to naturally offer the behavior, then mark and reward.

4.  Shape:  Mark and reward successive approximations of the target behavior.  

4.  Add the Cue

Now that your dog has learned that a behavior, such as Sit, gets rewarded, she will readily offer a sit.  But sometimes we want to put the behavior on cue; meaning that it is only when we cue for the behavior, and she offers it, will she get reinforced.  When adding a verbal cue:

  1. Give the cue immediately before the the dog initiates the behavior.

  2. If your dog already knows the hand signal, you can add the verbal cue by saying the cue ONCE, then taking a breath, then giving the hand signal.  Soon your dog will not wait for the hand gesture, and offer the behavior on the verbal cue alone.

2.  Mark the Behavior

Markers tell the dog the exact behavior that will earn the reward.  Clickers are an extremely effective means to mark behaviors.  For example, if you click the exact moment your dog's nose touches your hand, then treat, your dog knows it was the nose touch, not the withdraw that earned the treat.  The rules of clickers include:​

  1. Charge the clicker.  Click and treat numerous times, independent of any behavior, before using it as a marker.  

  2. Keep your promise.  If you click, you must treat, every time. 

  3. Timing is essential.  Click the exact moment of the desired behavior.

  4. Order matters.  The treat must come after the click.  

5.  Add the Three Ds

Now that are dog is readily offering a new behavior on cue, how do we make this behavior stronger?   We do this by adding 'the three Ds', listed below.  Each component is learned separately, using a Training Plan, increasing each component incrementally.

  1. Distance - the farther away, the more difficult; and is relevant for behaviors such as Touch and Recalls.

  2. Duration - the longer the duration, the more difficult, and is relevant for behaviors such as Sit and Down.

  3. Distraction - the greater the distractions, the more difficult the behavior, and is relevant for all behaviors.

3.  Reward the Behavior

Behaviors that get reinforced get repeated.  This does not mean you have to reward every instance of the behavior; that depends on how fluent that behavior is (as per the next three steps).  And it does not mean food is the only reinforcer, but when training new behaviors; it is often the best choice because small treats are easy to dole out quickly and allow for a high rate of reinforcement. ​  

  • Reward every success when training a new behavior, including adding the  DDDs and proofing the behavior.

  • Non-food rewards, such as attention, going into the dog run, greetings, etc. can be very powerful reinforcers in the right circumstances.

6.  Proof the Behavior

Your dog is a rock star at sit, down, and touch in your living room, but then you ask her for this behavior outdoors, and it seems she is ignoring you!  But what is really happening is that dog's do not understand that offering the behavior in other contexts ALSO earns the reward.  Therefore, we need to generalize the behavior by practicing the behavior:   

  1. In various locations, such in different rooms, outdoors, and in public.

  2. In different positions, such as when sitting down, turned away, or upside down! 

  3. With different people, just make sure everyone is consistent with the cues and training mechanics.    

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