How to choose a training method? – Cambridge Puppy Training

training methods

I haven’t written an article for a while, I quite simply have been SO busy with adorable little pups I have had zero time. I do, however, love writing, so decided to crowbar in a small window to write about something I hope will be useful to all of you new puppy owners out there!

I’ve talked a lot in the past about the different ways to train, we have SO much choice. There are, of course, kind/fair/ethical ways to train, and there are aversive/fear-inducing ways to train. I will not touch on the training methods I don’t agree with here, there is no point. There is a wealth of information online and research is always being done to analyse and improve on training dogs, the many techniques, and how dogs learn generally. I thought it would be a good idea to have a look at some different training techniques, see exactly what they are, and see how on earth you can decide which one to choose for the particular behaviour you are training!

Often, the best place to start is by looking at what it is you’re trying to achieve in what you’re training. For example, you may like target training, but for some behaviours this wouldn’t be the best option for teaching a particular behaviour. Similarly, luring may not work for every single behaviour you want to teach. So, have a look at the behaviour you want to perfect with your puppy, and have a think about the best and most effective way to achieve it.

Let’s have a brief look at a few training methods:

Luring – hands-off and easy to do, simply holding food in front of the pups nose, and moving the food around to encourage the pup to follow into certain places and positions. Very easy for beginners, however care should be taken long term as a lure is incredibly difficult to phase out if you are not experienced at it or being shown how to. On the plus side, it’s simplicity means the puppy doesn’t really have to think about it, doesn’t need to problem-solve, it simply follows a treat.

Targeting – touching or ‘targeting’ a specific place/object, with a body part. Could be nose to hand, nose to target stick, paw to hand, paw to object, any kind of contact from a body part of the puppy, onto a place/object. Very easy to begin, however becomes more complex very quickly, and more tricky to phase out the target if used when teaching another more complex behaviour.

Shaping – rewarding tiny increments of a behavoiur until you have the finished behaviour you want. Not so easy for the handler/owner, takes precise timing on the humans part. Increases mental participation from the dog, the puppy really has to think about what is getting rewarded, and what isn’t! Perfect for clicker enthusiasts due to the precision a ‘click’ can provide.

Capturing – marking and rewarding a behaviour which is offered frequently, and is naturally-occuring. Easy for beginners if the behaviour is offered regularly, simply reward your puppy when you like what he does! Not so good for complex behaviours, relies on a behaviour being naturally-occuring.

There are other ways to teach, these are just the ones that are most commonly used.

So, which should you choose for the behaviours you want to teach? To ensure you pick the right one, there’s a few things to consider first:

  1. Does your puppy know how to learn in this way? – There is no point in starting to offer targets, or lures, if you haven’t shown your puppy how to do it. So, before starting to teach a new behaviour with a particular method, ensure your pup understands the rules of the game and has had a little practice in how to learn in the way you are attempting.

  2. How much experience has the puppy had in this method? – If your puppy isn’t very experienced in a certain method of training, it will take a little longer to teach a new behaviour and get the results you are aiming for.

  3. How quick does it need to be? – You may think luring is best, for example, as it seems quick and easy, but long term you may not get the precision of the behaviour you want. You may find the behaviour takes off quickly, but doesn’t maintain it’s accuracy once you start to phase a lure out for example, if you are not fluent in how to do this. You may find shaping, maintains a behaviour for longer. (Studies have shown a dog learning via problem solving and ‘thinking for himself’ learns not only more reliabily, but retains the information for longer).

  4. Does the dog need to reliably ‘think for himself’? – If you have never shaped or captured a behaviour before, your puppy will not be fluent in thinking for himself, offering new behaviours, or trying new things, to see what works. Luring may be quicker if your pup is used to being shown exactly what is wanted from the off. Long term, this may not be as effective however. You may need to clicker load if using a clicker, or partake in some free-shaping prior to shaping a complex behaviour, for example.

  5. How experienced are YOU? – If you feel you wouldn’t be able to tackle one particular method, have a go with another, weigh up the pros and cons of each method and see which would be best for the particular behaviour you want to teach. Remembering all the wihle, which would be most FUN for you and your puppy!!

There are many considerations to take into account when thinking about teaching a new behaviour, and I am a firm believer that no two puppies are the same, and indeed no two owners are. So, have a think, what are you teaching, and which method would not only work best, but which would be most enjoyable for you and your puppy, for that particular behaviour.

Happy training!!

For more information about the services I offer just get in touch!
Instagram: @cambridgepuppytraining

Bonfire night: fireworks and puppies! – Cambridge Puppy Training

fireworks cambridge puppy training

I really wouldn’t be any kind of puppy trainer if I didn’t say something about firework night! I have seen a multitude of dog-related posts across social media, detailing how to deal with your dogs fears or worries about firework night, also advice regarding what NOT to do. Some I agree with, some is simply ‘what everyone says’ and accepted as fact. However, not many have simply focused on puppies…..and what am I? I am a puppy trainer! So, what should we be doing with our puppies on firework night??

Firstly, I must start by stating that I am working on the assumption that your puppy has had no prior negative experience with fireworks. If you DO have a puppy or dog who has an already established fear or phobia, please seek professional advice on how to deal with this.

I am speaking with the assumption that none of your puppies have had any experience of fireworks, and this is their very first night exposed to the big bangs! So, what should we do? Nothing. Yes, I said nothing. If per chance, you have been exceptionally well prepared you may have invested in some cd’s with fireworks or thunder sounds, and your puppy will be fairly relaxed with these sounds by now, so your evening should be pretty peaceful! If you haven’t done this, do not despair, there is absolutely NO real reason for your puppy to be fearful or worried providing you have been positively socialising your puppy thus far. Above all else, do not sit there all evening presuming your puppy is about to have a minor meltdown with every bang, he may well cope just fine!

However, it can help to have a few handy hints and tips, just to cover yourself exceptionally well and to give you a few new ideas:

1. Environmental management – now just because your pup may have a fairly relaxed emotional response to fireworks, it doesn’t mean he wants them literally right outside his window! Consider environmental management, shut the curtains? Have the tv and radio a notch or two louder? Block off access to the garden if you know there are fireworks nearby?

2. Train – nothing can beat a bit of classical conditioning on firework night, pairing the sound of fireworks with something very positive like food! A bit of yummy food whilst doing some fun training will be not only good for your pup, but fun for you too!

3. Distract – if you find your pup is a bit bemused by this strange sound, not to worry, distract with a new toy or game, and have some fun! Distraction and redirection may help your pup to settle and desensitize him to this strange sound.

4. Calming aids – as I said earlier, I am working on the assumption your pup has never experienced fireworks before, so calming aids may well not even be needed. However, some feel they help (research proving scientific efficacy of such aids is fairly non-existent, however I know people who do swear by these thing!).

5. Relax!! – your pup may well be just fine! Enjoy your evening, have fun with your pup, have lots of available toys and activities planned, a stuffed kong? A new yummy treat to give? A new interactive toy? Enjoy it and certainly don’t panic before your puppy does.

How many of you have heard “you have to ignore your puppy because otherwise you reinforce the fear”?? Lots of you I don’t doubt. It seems to be a common line of thought, but it is actually not true. This simply isn’t how learning takes place, you can only reinforce a behaviour, not an emotional response. Fear is an emotion, there is no thought in fear it is not a ‘doing’ behaviour, not an operant behaviour, no thinking or learning or planned action takes place, (if you want to get really scientific, strong/intense emotions such as fear bypass the cortex), therefore no learning will be taking place. If something is to be reinforced, something needs to be learned or an association needs to be made and a behaviour needs to increase in frequency, intensity or duration. You COULD feasibly, in theory, reinforce the behaviours shown ie. going behind a chair, or laying under your legs, this is a ‘doing’ behaviour borne out of the emotional response to the fireworks. However if we really think about it, a puppy or dog in that emotional state is highly unlikely to be able to learn under such circumstances. Studies show a puppy or dog experiencing a high degree of stress will have a huge decrease in learning abilities. Remember, there is a huge difference between reinforcing behaviour (operant actions), and conditioning emotions ie. I’m going to pair the sight of a cat with some sausage every time my dog sees a cat, so he starts to have a positive emotional response to cats because of the emotional response associated with sausage! A silly example, but you get my point.

Just FYI, research has actually shown that stroking can even decrease the stress response and fear! (Hennesey et al. 1998). So, stroke your puppy if you want, it won’t make a bit of difference. At best it may be calming for your puppy, at worst it just won’t make any difference.

Remember the 3 P’s!!
PREPARE – interactive games, toys, training fun, stuffed kong?
PREVENT – environmental management, curtains? Tv? Cosy pen/crate?
PRESUME – presume there won’t be an issue, there probably won’t be!

You may not want to go and watch the fireworks but you will at least have a LOT of fun with your puppy staying in and enjoying yourselves!

If you need more information or advice just get in touch!
Instagram: @cambridgepuppytraining

Zoomies! FRAP! – Cambridge Puppy Training

Cambridge puppy trainingZoomies!!! We all LOVE zoomies, well I do. Is there anything more hilarious than the sight of a puppy or dog flying around at 90 mph, tail often tucked under, racing from one end of the garden or room to the other, with a slightly wild look in their eyes! If you are unsure what ‘zoomies’ are, a quick Youtube search will result in many a video displaying this hysterical dog activity. My personal favourite is greyhound zoomies, there is something so enchanting about a leggy, tall, elegant and streamlined dog racing about like a loon! You may see a play bow, a slight glint in the eye, sudden jerky movements, and then BAM they’re off, just brilliant.

But, what exaclty ARE zoomies? Why do they occur? Zoomies, believe it or not, actually have a technical term, Frenetic Random Activity Periods (FRAP). I know, brilliant isn’t it, they are actually a ‘thing’. There are a few key times your puppy or dog may display zoomies:

  1. After handling/grooming – often you will see some zoomies after a period of restriant ie. after grooming. A ‘thank goodness I’m free’ type situation!

  2. Bathing – after a bath! Possibly an adaptive behaviour as a means to dry quicker?

  3. Tiredness – a puppy may display zoomies in the evening, when they are particularly tired and needing to sleep. A puppy largely will not voluntarily switch off, so a way to deal with and cope with such tiredness is to perform some ‘zoomies’!

  4. Frustration – a dog lacking in adequate physical exercise opportunities may display zoomies as a way to release that pent up energy!

  5. After food…….or pooing! – Sorry, but it is true! A celebration of a full stomach, or an empty one :O

  6. Fun! – quite simply, it’s fun! There is no need to always look for a deep-rooted behavioural reason for every behaviour seen, sometimes, it’s just fun!

There are other reason for ‘zoomies’ but this is a very broad list of some possibilites. So what should we do about zoomies? Leave the dog to enjoy? Stop them? Encourage them? The main thing to consider is safety. If your pup is flying around a room with a slippery floor, or lots of furniture about, be aware of how safe the environment is for such an excitable activity. If in doubt, encourage your pup out into the garden to be (if safe and secure) to ensure your pup doesn’t inadvertantly cause himself, or others, damage.

Alternatively, if you are in an environment where you simply can’t usher your puppy into a safe space, try redirecting to an appropriate toy or activity, which is somewhat less manic. It can be useful to teach your puppy a ‘settle’ early on for these such times. As with any behaviour we don’t like, we can plan ahead and prevent. If you know your puppy is prone to the zoomies at a certain time of day, plan for that time. Prepare a game such as some scent work with cones, or some interactive toys, to engage your pup BEFORE the zoomies begin. You may well find by providing more opportunity for physical exercise the zoomies will decrease, but in a young pup you will have to weigh this up carefully with over-tiredness and exhaustion via too much overstimulation through physical exercise. The behaviours seen through over-tiredness may well be much more difficult to manage than some zoomies, and infact, may contribute to the zoomies! We could delve into the reasons behind zoomies forever, is the puppy frustrated? Is the puppy stressed? Is the puppy over-tired? Is the puppy not getting enough physical exercise? Is the puppy displaying some deep-rooted behavioural issue which must be addressed? I highly doubt it. I think sometimes, we analize way too much.

If it is a safe environment, and your puppy has adequate provisions for both physical and mental exercise, then by all means just watch the hilarity unfold. Remember safety, manage the environment well to keep your puppy safe, and let nature take it’s course!

For more information about any of the services I offer, just get in touch!
Instagam: @cambridgepuppytraining

Bite inhibition for puppies – Cambridge Puppy Training

bite inhibition puppies

You may have heard of it, you may even know it’s quite important, but what exactly IS bite inhibition? And why is it so crucial for puppies to learn bite inhibition??

Puppies bite, it’s just a fact of life, all puppies bite. Some more than others and with varying intensities, but generally speaking they all perform the behaviour at some stage. When puppies are young they will bite their littermates through play and social interactions, all the while learning what is and isn’t acceptable between one another. They will give sharp ‘yelps’ when it hurts, thereby teaching each other ‘that hurt don’t do that!!’. However, once your puppy is home with you, we want to limit the amount of ‘biting’ they do, and we definitely want to limit the pressure of the bite.

Puppy teeth hurt!! A lot. They’re like tiny little needles. Puppies use their teeth to explore, find out about the environment around them, and to communicate, teeth and mouths are pretty powerful tools for a puppy in many different ways .

So what is bite inhibition? It’s the ability to control the pressure of a bite. You puppy will have already learned some degree of bite inhibition from his littermates and mum, it may hurt when your puppy bites but he doesn’t crush the bones in your hand does he? No, because he has some level of bite inhibition. He COULD crunch your hand to pieces, but he doesn’t. But we want to further this. Us humans are sensitive creatures, and our pain threshold will likely not be as high as that of your pups littermates and mum!

You really want to be well on your way to teaching advanced bite inhibition by the time your puppy is reaching approximately 5 months old. It’s important not to simply ‘tell your puppy off’, this may well stop him biting you, but this won’t stop him biting others, especially important to remember if you have children. Gradually acquiring advanced bite inhibition is far more preferable and effective, and safe. We don’t want to ‘stop’ our puppy using his teeth altogether, we want to control his bite. If in the future your dog is in a position where he will feel the need to lash out and bite in defence (we hope this doesn’t happen of course!), we want our dog to bite with as little force as possible causing minimal damage.

The aim is to take away any reinforcement, ANY reinforcement, for any kind of hard biting. If all attention is removed, and by ‘attention’ I mean any kind of interaction, even a ‘no!’ or a touch, the reinforcement stops. Reinforcement, through interaction with your puppy via games, strokes etc, will ONLY occur when your puppy mouths gently or licks. Any hard biting means no interaction, which in turn means no fun for your puppy! As time goes on, by around 6 months, step by step we can up our ‘bite inhibition limit’ a little bit at a time, and any mouthing at all will become a ‘no go’ area. So by the end all attention is removed for any teeth contact with your skin, however gentle.

This is a process done over a period of months, please don’t think teaching bite inhibition is something that will be done in 2 days, it’s definitely not. As with many aspects of puppy behaviour, modifying certain things takes time, patience and consistency. You MUST get everyone in the family involved and everyone must react in the same way to your puppy biting. Otherwise your puppy will happily learn not to bite hard on YOU, but not your children, or your mum etc. Your pup will need consistency in the way behaviours are dealt with if you are to effectively manage them. Otherwise it’s just confusing for him and he doesn’t know if he’s coming or going! And he certainly won’t learn anything.

There’s lots of reasons your puppy will bite, including over-tiredness, over-stimulation or over-excitement, teething and boredom. These are all things which can be managed and catered for! Just get in touch for more information on the management of puppy biting and bite inhibition!