Distractions in puppy training; life happens! – Cambridge Puppy Training

distractions in puppy training

Distractions, they are all around us! So often in puppy training we recommend that we teach a new behaviour in a low distraction environment, and gradually increase the level of distraction until you reach your final goal of having a dog that will perform the behaviour in ALL environments. This is, of course, the best and most effective way to train. However, real life gets in our way, life is annoying like that! In the ‘mid way’ stage, between starting training and BEING trained, is a bit of a grey area where owners get a bit confused and panicky.

All of us wish to have a dog who will behave well (or how we want them to) in all environments. From the house, to the park, to the car, to the vets, to training classes. We do ask an awful lot of our dogs! Often, with distraction training, one of two things can happen.

  • Firstly, the distraction levels are simply ignored, and a dog will be perfectly behaved in their obedience class, and in their living room at home, because this is where they are taught their gold standard training. However, if we put that dog into a vets waiting room or a pet shop, we see a very different dog who does not appear to have done any obedience at all! The behaviours taught have not been generalised (or proofed) and the context in which they are being asked has changed far too quickly.
  • Secondly, life happens! However much we try to set up scenarios in which we can train and gain focus from our dogs, we can not control what we encounter in life. So, you’ve done fantastically well with teaching your pup to walk on a loose lead, you’ve progressed to getting out of the house with no pulling and full attention on you, but uh oh……there is a dog walking past just as you leave your front door and your pup is delighted and pulling like a train to see it! Life happens.

So, what can we do? Distraction training is important, essential in fact if you are to have a dog who will engage with you well in varying environments. That won’t change and I will continue to teach all puppies how to focus around distractions using various exercises. So we continue to set our pups up in the best way we can and prepare them for all manner of distractions.

But what else can we do?

  • Management of the environment – break behaviours down into achievable increments, and work through them. Say, for example, you have a guest coming over, long term you are hoping to have your pup go to his bed and wait to be released to greet the visitor. This will take time to practice, and you will likely have guests over in the mean time! Try asking for ONE part of the behaviour to start off with, simply sitting for the guest in the beginning stages. Or, more practically speaking, pop your pup on a lead whilst your guest is over and reward him for settling next to you. Use a baby gate and let your pup have a nice stuffed kong to munch on whilst you are with your guest. You can still continue to practice and teach your ‘on your bed’ and wait, you can still set up ‘mock guests’ to work on this with, but in ‘real life’ you may just want to chat to your guest!
  • Know your pup – recognise your pups current level of training and don’t expect too much too quickly. What is your pup capable of? If you can’t walk up to a person to say hello without your pup pulling, can he maybe walk 3 steps without pulling and sit for the person to approach? Can we reward that? Building up to 4 steps, then 5? etc? Work with your pup and his current level of ability.
  • Be practical – sometimes in life you have to be realistic. If you have an extremely exuberant pup and you are, for example, having something delivered to your home, there really is nothing wrong with popping your pup in his crate or behind a baby gate with a chew toy to minimise disruption and keep everybody safe and happy. You don’t need to stand with your delivery man struggling to keep your pup from jumping up at him whilst trying to sign for your delivery and muttering words of apology in the process! Be practical, if your pup is not up to the level of sitting for visitors and it is not an appropriate training situation, then take the easy way out, there is no shame in making life easy for ourselves sometimes!

As I said, distraction training is very important and will help your pup long term to focus and engage with you in any environment, however, life does happen! Distractions are everywhere and we can not always predict when they will occur. Be prepared, if you are going to a new environment with your pup think ahead, what could happen and what will you do, at what level is your pup and how will you tackle it if he does pull you somewhere new, or jump up at people in a new and exciting place, or bark at a strange and unfamiliar dog. Think ahead, plan as best you can, but don’t forget it is not always a bad thing to sometimes take the easy way out!

For more information about any of the services I offer, just get in touch!
Email: puppies@cceg.co.uk
Web: http://www.cambridgepuppytraining.com
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Reinforcement in puppy training – Cambridge Puppy Training

reinforcement in puppy training

I have touched on reinforcement in various articles before, essentially because it is a huge part of how dogs learn. We talk a lot about reinforcers because they are essentially what makes behaviour more likely to occur again. So, largely we use reinforcers to increase the likelihood of the behaviours we want to see, being seen again. Reinforcers can be absolutely anything, from a tangible object like food or a toy, to an event like playing with dog friends. However, there are many different types of reinforcement, and there are two types of reinforcers I want to talk about today, primary and secondary! Bear with me, all will become clear.

Primary reinforcers are essentially things that are inherently reinforcing. These are, technically, things an animal needs for survival. Things like food, or water. If I ask my dog to lay down and I give her a treat for doing so, I am using a primary reinforcer to increase the likelihood of her repeating that behaviour.

Secondary reinforcers (or conditioned reinforcers) are slightly different, in that they are not something an animal ‘needs’, and as stand alone entities they are not reinforcing. Secondary reinforcers are only valuable when paired with a primary reinforcer, thereby eliciting the similar response to the primary. It takes on a reinforcing function by being paired with the inherently reinforcing primary reinforcer, such a food.

If, for example, every time my dog does something I like I say ‘good girl’ and give her a treat, she will learn that the ‘good girl’ is swiftly followed by something nice ie. food. She will, in time, learn that the good girl is extremely valuable IN ITSELF and will work to achieve those words as they begin to elicit the same emotional response as the primary reinforcer, the treat. Clicker training is another example of secondary reinforcers, the ‘click’ as a stand alone noise means nothing, however when paired repeatedly with food or a toy, it very quickly takes on meaning and a dog will work to achieve that ‘click’, knowing high value reinforcement is coming.

It is, however, still important to pair your secondary reinforcer with the primary reinforcer at least some of the time, even when the association has been made, for a behaviour to be truly established. You can, in theory, condition many things to become a secondary behaviour. For example, I tickle my dogs chin then give her a treat, even though she may inherently LIKE a tickle on the chin, by pairing it with the treat it makes that ‘tickle’ become a far more powerful reinforcer long term. Hence, when she does something I like, I can give her a tickle on the chin which will have taken on the same properties as a secondary reinforcer (ie. ‘good girl’).

Some do feel that a clicker, whilst it is a secondary, or conditioned reinforcer, is a ‘marker’ rather than a reinforcer. I am still in mixed minds about this myself, however it IS always important to pair that click with the a primary reinforcer to maintain the association. However, when you think of us mere humans, when we for example hear clapping there is nothing particularly exciting about that noise. By pairing it with praise and adoration or reward, it takes on meaning to us and we LIKE the sound and will work to attain it.

Try and remember with reinforcement generally, it only ever occurs if the behaviour is strengthening or increasing. Be it positive reinforcement or negative reinforcement, they work to increase behaviour in different ways. (I won’t delve into the positive/negative reinforcement at this stage, another day maybe).

Remember reinforcement is not simply ‘using food in training’, it is a far more complex process. Using food in training is certainly a form of positive reinforcement, adding something good thereby increasing the likelihood of that behaviour being repeated, but reinforcement alone is not simply ‘giving the dog a treat’.

For more information about this topic or the services I offer, just get in touch!
Email: puppies@cceg.co.uk
Web: http://www.cambridgepuppytraining.com
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The Premack Principle – Cambridge Puppy Training

premack principle

In dog training there is so much terminology thrown around, quite often it can seem confusing and mind-boggling! Largely, the terms used are extremely simple and many times you may follow a line of training which encapsulates many varying terms, and not even realise it. One of those may well be what is called the ‘Premack principle’. I will hazard a guess many of us, without realising, have encountered the Premack principle on more than a few occasions!

So, what is the Premack principle? We can break the Premack principle down into ‘the probability of behaviours’. So, essentially, a high probability behaviour will reinforce a low probability behaviour. For example, a lot of people liken the Premack principle to the age old problem of ‘how to get children to eat their vegetables’! What do we often do? We offer a lovely dessert if they eat the veg! So, we use the more probable behaviour (eating lovely dessert!) to reinforce the less probable behaviour (eating boring veg!). In this scenario, a mum will use the Principle to change the boring vegetable eating into a behaviour which is more likely to be repeated in the future, by reinforcing it with a high probability behaviour, eating dessert.

Professor David Premack was the mind behind the Premack principle. Studying cebus monkeys, he suggested that a person will perform a less desirable activity in order to access a more desirable activity, thereby showing the activity itself is a reinforcer.

When we look at dog training, or specifically puppy training, we can use the exact same principle! If you have a think about your own puppy, what are his high probability behaviours? A common behaviour used to explain the Premack principle is chasing squirrels, a lot of dogs have the instinctive desire to chase anything fast moving and if it squeaks, even better! So, we can say that squirrel chasing is a high probability behaviour. A low probability behaviour is giving you eye contact or walking to heel when the puppy spots a squirrel.

High probability behaviour = chasing squirrels
Low probability behaviour = offering eye contact

We can then use our high probability behaviour, as a reinforcer for our low probability behaviour. We can ask for eye contact, and then allow a quick run to see where the squirrel disappeared to! By reinforcing the eye contact with a high probability behaviour we are increasing the likelihood of the low probability behaviour being repeated (eye contact).

The squirrel chasing example is a common one, however you can transfer this principle to many different areas of training. A dog has his own unique personality and each dog will have his own list of ‘high probability’ behaviours and ‘low probability’ behaviours. For example, a dog who loves meeting other dogs more than anything in the world, and who is very unlikely to walk to on a loose lead up to another dog to say hello, may benefit from using the Premack principle. We could, for example, use our high probability behaviour to reinforce our low probability behaviour. Maybe we could ask our pup to sit and offer eye contact before being released to say hello, starting off for a second or two and building up the duration of the sit, always following up with our brilliantly valuable reinforcer of saying hello to the other dog. Try to know your pups capabilities, and set them up to succeed, taking it at your pups pace every step of the way. Once your pup understands there is a bit of a ‘deal’ going on, a trade if you like, they will soon start to catch on to when and indeed where, the reward is coming from and what needs to be done to gain it. The association will be made fairly quickly.

It can be interesting to try and come up with your OWN list of probable behaviours. Remember, probable behaviours are any behaviours which will occur when completely free and under no control at all. Mine, for example, would include

  • cuddle dogs
  • check phone
  • eat biscuits
  • check emails
  • watch soaps
  • walk

I could go on! Why not have a go writing a list of probable behaviours for your pup? My dog would like have a list like this:

  • eating
  • running about on the grass
  • rolling in fox poo
  • playing with her ball
  • greeting dog friends
  • greeting human friends
  • jumping (being on back legs!)

This could be extended hugely, any probable behaviour you can think of can be included and there are more than you may realise.

You could also write a ‘less probable behaviours’ list, for my dog this may include:

  • coming to have nails clipped
  • sit to greet human friends
  • stay still for teeth cleaning
  • leave fox poo
  • ignore a squirrel

This is a slightly tongue-in-cheek list, but you get the idea! So I could, in theory, use her love of greeting friends as a reinforcer for sitting whilst they approach. I’m not going to because I enjoy her excitement at seeing her friends, but if you were trying to achieve a sit upon greeting you could utilise the Premack principle to do so.

Long term, the low probability behaviours become high probability behaviours due to the association with the really very strong reinforcers you have associated them with. Try and remember when you are training any behaviour, it is not always about the removal reinforcement to prevent one behaviour and then teach another, it can often be about thinking ‘outside the box’ and utilising all the reinforcement at your disposal. Use your pups natural instincts, their innate abilities and add these to your reinforcement toolbox!

For more information about this topic or the services I offer just get in touch!
Email: puppies@cceg.co.uk
Web: http://www.cambridgepuppytraining.com
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Arousal in puppies – Cambridge Puppy Training

arousal in puppies

Arousal in dogs is something you no doubt all encounter, but maybe aren’t aware or don’t realise exactly what it is. In puppies, especially, it’s important to know what arousal means, and how it can influence not only the behaviour of your puppy generally but how you interact with your puppy on a day to day basis. Often we say our pups are naughty, over excitable, maybe fearful, maybe we even go as far as to say they get angry! All of these are fairly common words thrown about when thinking about how our puppies behave. But how is arousal linked to all of this? And what can we do to simply calm our puppies down and limit over-arousal?

So, what is arousal? Simply put, it is the responsiveness of a dog to an event and/or stimuli. This event could be anything from you, to a toy, to a particular environment, to another dog. Variation in arousal levels can dictate the response to any event/stimuli, so the same event/stimuli can elicit very different responses from a dog due to a difference in arousal levels. The same stimuli or situation results in very different emotional and behavioural responses, dependent on the arousal level of the dog at that given time. Arousal in dogs can increase heart rate and blood pressure, increase alertness and responsiveness, plus mobility. This, you can imagine, can interfere and interrupt ‘normal’ function and result in poor judgement and undesirable behaviours. There is a lot of scientific background with regards to arousal, however I won’t delve too much into the neurological patterns that occur for fear of boring you all with scientific terminology!

Think, for example, you are playing with your puppy, all is going fine and you’re having a nice little game. All of a sudden it gets a bit too much, your pups teeth land on YOU and it hurts, a LOT. It’s a harder bite than usual and you’re quite dismayed as to why your pup has suddenly shown this increase in nastiness! What has essentially happened here is the arousal level has risen, to the point the puppy is not able to reliably bite with the same level of inhibition as normal. He may have learned fairly good bite inhibition, he never normally bites this hard, but because of the arousal level being so high during the play, and rising quickly, he is unable to gauge correctly how hard is too hard to bite.

Arousal levels being so high may lead to all manner of other behaviours we generally do not like. Barking for example, destructive behaviours, biting on the lead when walking because you have seen another dog, and if left can result in redirection (redirect the frustration onto YOU rather than the trigger, termed trigger frustration). The key point to remember with arousal, it does not simply ‘go down’. It can take up to 72 hours for arousal levels to decrease back to a baseline level. The more the arousal levels go up, the more likely you are to see behaviours you don’t like, even going as far as to see fear responses to neutral stimuli.

So, what can we expect to see from a puppy who is becoming over-aroused?

  • Higher heart rate
  • Tense body – ready for action!
  • Panting
  • Jumping
  • Barking (incessantly!)
  • Mouthing/biting
  • Tail chasing/spinning
  • Lack of control over impulses

So, what can we do about over-arousal? Largely, it’s not very hard to put into place some easy rules to follow. We simply need to slightly alter the way we interact with our pups and manage their exposures to triggers responsibly.

  • Food – be sure you are confident you are feeding a good quality food. It’s personal choice as to how your feed your pup kibble/raw etc, however if you are in doubt about the quality or ingredients ask your vet for advice, some dog foods have been said to increase hyperactivity.
  • Correct levels of exercise and mental stimulation – ensure you are exercising the right amount for the breed and age of your pup and providing daily mental stimulation which encourages calmness and appropriate activities.
  • Avoid daily over-excitement – is there one particular place that your pup gets ridiculously over-excited? Avoid exposing your pup to this environment day in and day out. Too much of a good thing can be quite over-arousing! For example a particular dog park, dog day care, a particular game you play.
  • Desensitize – if you have identified the trigger which sends your pup crazy, work on it! For advice on desensitization get in touch.
  • Manage situations to avoid repetition – repeating a behaviour over and over again, avoid this if we can, manage situations so your pup doesn’t become so over-excited! Alter your style of play for example, switch from games involving tuggy to games involving ‘scent work’.
  • Hands off – if your pup finds your hands on him overexciting, maybe ask for a sit/down prior to stroking for example to try and keep arousal low.

I have talked about arousal levels in puppies before, a good idea is to periodically throughout games ask for a sit/down, and start to add the cue word ‘settle’ in as you progress. This is called the ‘chill out game’. Puppies are happy bouncy bundles of fluff and we love them for it! But be aware of arousal levels, keep it in the back of your mind when interacting with your pup. It’s always hugely important to be aware of general arousal in your pup if you have children, children do add another level of excitement to any household and this needs to be taken into consideration when bringing a puppy into the family.

For more information about his topic or the 1-2-1’s I offer just get in touch!
Email: puppies@cceg.co.uk
Web: http://www.cambridgepuppytraining.com
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