Training Tips - Your Questions Answered
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Amy Peterson is a dog trainer living in Vacaville, CA. She operates her own business, My Clever Canine, has been training dogs professionally for over ten years, and has attended classes and seminars by notable trainers such as Michael Ellis (Michael Ellis School for Dog Trainer’s), Dr. Ian Dunbar, Trish King, and many others. In addition to running her own dog training business, Amy has worked at the Solano SPCA helping to evaluate dogs as well as hosting training workshops for volunteers and potential adopters. Amy trains and competes with her personal dogs in sports such as Dock Diving, Obedience, Lure Coursing, and various other events.
My dog only seems to listen to me when I have treats. He’s a really sweet dog, but the only commands he follows all the time are come and sit. He knows other commands and tricks, but he won’t do them unless he knows I have treats for him. What can I do get him to listen whether I have treats or not?
This is the number one problem all people who train with food have. The problem is you are using cues so the dog knows if you have it or not. It could be how you hold it or he watches you go get it. They are also smart and can smell it. The trick is to get the dog to offer the behavior and then is surprised you have something not bribed into doing something.
So here is an example. My dog is in his crate. I put his leash on I already have my treats in a pocket. He is unaware that I have anything for him. I ask him to sit he’s like for what. Stay persistent and when he does sit you surprise him with a treat. Now he is building trust that he may do something for you but that you will have something for him.
Another problem that can arise is that people actually teach their dog not to pay attention to them by repeating the commands a lot. It’s called learned irrelevance. Make sure every time he does or doesn’t do the behavior you have to have a plan. If he sits he gets a treat but if he doesn’t, now what? It is important to have a consequence if they do it or if they don’t do it. If the reinforcement (food) is not predictable it actually teaches the dog he is out of control of his reinforcement.
~ Gary Cassera
My two year old border collie is always trying to run away from me! Any time the door is open he tries to dart out and I’m afraid he’s going to get hurt. He also tries to run away from me whenever he is loose outside in the yard, and it takes forever for me to catch him. Help!
Thresholds like doors and stairs are important places to build a waiting mentality for your dog. Dogs should not feel free to burst through these places. Teaching him a solid sit stay is an easy fix to this problem. A leash will give you access to block these bolting and running away behaviors. As far as the running away it sounds like you guys may be playing the “chase me” game, or he finds it fun to be chased. Never ever chase your dog unless you have a crazy good recall. It you decide to walk to your dog they may think “I know this game” and start running away from you. I would fix this is teaching the dog a good recall. Michael Ellis has a great DVD on this topic. This is a life-saving skill, literally. A sit stay or down, recall, and loose leash walking is
99 percent of what my clients are looking for, so you’re not alone. This dog should not be taken off leash out and about until you have control over their response to a recall command. Freedom here has to be earned.
~ Gary Cassera
My dog loves going to the dog park and playing with all the other dogs, but he gets so excited he stops listening to me and I’m having trouble keeping him from bothering other dogs that don’t want to play with him. How can I make sure he gets to play and have fun with the dogs that want to play with him without him getting so excited he stops listening to me? ~ Anonymous
Dog parks can be a useful resource for many dog owners as they provide off leash time that might not be available elsewhere. Unfortunately, dog parks are often used inappropriately and can create and reinforce undesired behaviors. I could fill up an entire book with the pros and cons of dog parks. Every day I get new clients whose dogs have developed inappropriate social skills directly resulting from their use of dog parks.
Not listening while playing with other dogs is a very common issue with dogs that frequent dog parks, especially if the dog park is the primary source of exercise and training outside of the home. If you aren’t putting in a decent amount of training and one on one play time (just you and your dog) it doesn’t take him very long to learn that other dogs are more fun than you. An all too common scenario goes like this: Rex the 10 month old Labrador is home all day while his owner is at work. Owner get home and wants to make sure Rex is able to burn off that excess energy so owner takes Rex to the dog park. When they get to the dog park owner lets Rex off leash and Rex bounds away to play with other dogs. Owner, tired from a long day at work, sits at one of the benches and chats with other owners while Rex is happily playing with the other dogs. Rex wrestles and runs and has a grand time playing with the other dogs. The only time owner interacts is when the play is getting out of hand and eventually when it is time to leave owner calls Rex. When Rex comes (or when the owner is able to corral Rex) she puts the leash on and leaves the park to go home. It doesn’t take too long for Rex to learn that other dogs are fun and owner means the end of fun. Pretty quickly Rex starts avoiding his owner while they are at the park and when it’s time to leave Rex avoids coming because when owner calls it signals the end of fun!
If this sounds like something that is happening to you, don’t stress it is a VERY common issue. It does take some time on your part but there is definitely hope. First you need to make sure that you are spending a good amount of one on one play time with your dog outside of the home. Play ball, play tug, join an agility class or a nose work class, go hiking or swimming with your dog. Have fun just you and your dog. You need to improve your relationship before your dog spends all his fun time with other dogs. Don’t make the dog park his daily source of exercise or his only source of fun outside of the home. You need to work on reward based obedience skills, and working on a solid recall is going to be key. I would look for a balanced trainer in your area that can show you how to properly incorporate the use of food and toy rewards into your training program. Once you have improved the play relationship between you and your dog, you can start visiting dog parks again.
Once you are at the dog park it is time to be more interactive. Even though you are likely tired and worn out from a long day at work you can’t ignore your dog while you’re at the park. While you’re at the park randomly call your dog over to you (you should have a solid recall from the outside training you’ve been doing) and when he comes play with him or reward him with food and then send him on his way to play with other dogs. Your dog needs to learn that coming to you doesn’t always equal the end of fun. I would call your dog and release back to play at least ten times for every park visit. You should start seeing a major improvement in your dogs focus on you and willingness to pay attention even when playing with other dogs.
Good luck and happy training!
~ Amy Peterson
My family has Jack Russell Terriers, and I was wondering how we can best control their barking. They seem to bark at everything! Shadows, leaves, birds, etc. What are the best ways to help control this?
Oh the joys of owning a high energy terrier! Dogs bark for a variety of reasons; boredom, alerting to an intruder (even if it is just a neighborhood cat or song bird), for attention, excitement and genetic predisposition (think beagle) are some of the most common reasons. Your dogs are probably barking for a combination of reasons. The first step is to find alternate activities for them to do, this will help them burn off some of their excess energy which will reduce boredom. Food puzzle toys, dog sports, training, hiking and swimming are all great activities to keep your terriers busy and out of trouble.
Some of the barking is likely alert barking and excitement/arousal barking. They are terriers after all and there isn’t much that doesn’t get a terrier excited. Contacting a qualified trainer is probably a good idea so they can get you on a training plan to address these issues. To put an immediate stop you might consider using a citronella bark collar. The collar emits a harmless spray of citronella whenever the dog barks. Many dogs dislike the citronella so they cease to bark when they are wearing the collar.
~ Amy Peterson
I recently adopted a very active pit-bull mix and want to find activities and/or events for her that she will enjoy doing and will keep her happy and exercised. How do I go about finding something that she enjoys doing, and how do I work with her to learn how we can work together in this activity?
Congratulations on your new addition! Bringing a new dog into your home is always exciting but does require some work on your part so things run smoothly. Finding an outlet for your high-energy dog is a great way to prevent many common behavior problems. There are so many different activities that dogs can participate in, even mixed breed dogs. Dock jumping, nosework, agility, obedience, rally, weight pull and lure coursing are all activities your dog may find enjoyable.
There are several resources you can use to find dog events in your area. My first suggestion would be to call local trainers and find out if any of them have experience with dog sports. They may be able to point you to a club in your area or a trainer that specializes in each type of sport. You can also google the individual sports and find out if there are events in your area. I would suggest attending several different events so you can get a feel for what might best suit your dog and you. AKC and UKC trials are sometimes a good place to start as they will often have a variety of events all at the same location. Each organization has their own website where you can search for events in your area. Meetup.com is also another great resource for dog owners looking to meet up with other like-minded dog owners in their area. Often there will be organized hikes, play dates and training groups that you can check out and join.
Best of luck finding a sport or activity that fits your new companion!
~ Amy Petersen
I adopted a three year old Male neutered Dachshund last November. He is high energy and sweet to the bone. I’ve worked in Veterinary medicine for 10 years so I am familiar with the ups and downs of a new older pet in the house and I don’t coddle him. But this dumbfounds me. Why does he urinate in the house on occasion right after I walk him with my other Doxie/chihuahua?
~ Aimée, Chicago
Thanks so much for your question. I understand how this could be frustrating. The first thing I always address in situations like this is to make sure nothing is going on medically. Since you’re a vet, I’m guessing you have already taken this into consideration.
As far as training, going to the bathroom in the house is a strict management situation. Don't let them do it! What is your routine when you get back from a walk? Is he allowed to roam free? Does he bolt in? What I would do when I got back to stop this is put him in a crate or on a bed sometimes people call this the “place” command. This will make it impossible for him to pee. I would also not leave him unsupervised in the house at all. Earning areas in the house is a gift not a necessity. Dogs need to earn trust in your space. Not chewing, destroying, or peeing on things is so important for peace in the house and cuts down on conflict in the relationship from telling them no all the time. When you can keep an eye on him let him be in the area you are in and build on time and amount of space. Before he's allowed to be out, first let him out to bathroom. Good luck, if you need further help let me know and I can pass you on to a trainer your area. Thanks again.
~ Gary Cassera
I have a Maltese mix, that is almost 5 years old, who exhibits a terrible amount of territorialism when he is in our yard. Our yard is fully fenced in and yet he races up and down the fence barking ferociously at people and dogs who walk along our front yard sidewalk. This is extremely annoying (not to mention noisy) and I have tried everything to break his apparent focus on protecting our home and property from people and dogs who pass by. Sometimes he gets so riled up, he will attack our other dog (a very sweet Bichon/Coton mix) when he is in this frenzy.
My wife and I love this dog. He is sweet and lovable to us overall and is indoors unless he is on a walk or going to the bathroom. Any suggestions or guidance?
Thank you for your question. This is a very common problem. A lot of dogs who get excited behind barriers, fences, on leash, in crates, etc. start to display these kind of unwanted behaviors from repeated inability to interact with whatever is outside their reach, which builds up time after time and starts to display in unwanted behaviors like barking and fence chasing.
An important solution to this is exercise and mental stimulation and some structure around the house. My first question is how much exercise is your dog getting? Walking? Training? What is your dog’s life like? Running in the backyard is not sufficient enough. Your dog needs to get out and interact with the world. Also, how is your dog’s recall? A solid recall taught well should be able to overcome all distractions. This is a gradual process taught in steps.
I will be posting some videos about the recall to help people with this life saving skill. For now I would keep him from practicing this behavior by taking him out on a leash to go to the bathroom or let him out when you know your neighbor is not home. Be diligent! Then periodically take him out when the other dog is out and just sit and relax at a distance that does not get him agitated. You have to show your dog how you want him to behave.
A lot of people focus on what they don’t want but need to focus on what they do want. If it is possible to make a play yard in a different part of the yard where they can’t see everything happening that can help as well. Another video that will help will be the one on our place command (coming soon!), which will give your dog a rock solid place to hang out … on his bed.
Please keep us posted on your progress and thank you for your question!
~ Gary Cassera
What are the most important things you need when beginning training with your dog?
Great and very common question. First thing's first - instead of using the term "dog training," focus on "leading your dog." Dog Training is a blanket statement and there are too many variations of training a dog to boil it down in to one definition. For example, human-centered dog training typically includes commands such as sit, come, heel, lay down, etc. This part of training is like going to Harvard. You learn these practical applications, but they don't make you a stable person or help you reach the depths you need.
Dog psychology-centered training (often called behavior work or canine psychology) includes eye contact, owning your intentions, body language, spacial pressure, owning your emotions as a handler, and understanding different thresholds. This is the deep work you need to do to have a healthy and balanced dog.
If your furry friend is displaying behavior that you don't enjoy (and that behavior persists), look at where you are and where you want to be, realistically. In the middle of that is determining a better communication system with your pup, the tools that can help you become more successful, how to control space, etc. Your goal is to create less conflict and stress in your relationship and achieve more peace, harmony, success, and growth.
I would suggest learning about and learning to understand the mind of your animal, or any animal your dealing with. Realize why your dog is excited, feeling insecure, anxious or a number of other behaviors is important before determining what you need to fix the problem. Where are they coming from? Poor behavior is a symptom, not the problem.
We will dive into these topics more intensely in months to come. Your dogs appreciate your education, so keep it up!
~ Gary Cassera