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!
Email: info@cambridgepuppytraining.com
Web: cambridgepuppytraining.com
Facebook: facebook.com/cambridgepuppytraining
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Boredom in puppy training! – Cambridge Puppy Training

boredom in puppy training

I’ve worked with a lot of puppies and a lot of owners, all with completely different personalities and temperaments, all with different requirements and needs. There is no ‘one rule for all’ with puppies and indeed with owners, too. You can advise a certain method of tackling a particular aspect of training or behaviour, however without actually working with that puppy, spending time understanding how it works and what motivates that puppy, you will never really know the very best course of action. I have said before, no two puppies are the same, and indeed no two owners are. However, one aspect or problem in training does repeatedly show itself to me when working with puppies and owners, boredom! The puppy seems quite simply, bored. So what is going on? Surely, if we have treats, a puppy cannot be bored, can it??

Many times I have watched puppies working with their owners, the puppy is slowly going through the motions, or drifting off looking at something else, the owner is pulling the puppy back to insist it works with them, the puppy is getting more frustrated with being hauled back, the owner is getting more frustrated with the lack of interest from their puppy, and we end up with a rather exacerbated puppy AND owner. Quite frankly, the puppy looks BORED, and the owner doesn’t really know how to deal with this.

So what is really happening, what can we see from a puppy who appears ‘bored’?

  • disinterested (in you or your treats/toy/etc)
  • established behaviours seem difficult or slow to be offered (they were good at ‘sit’ yesterday, why aren’t they now?!)
  • wandering off (oh that leaf/dog/smell looks much more interesting!)
  • over-arousal/excitement or stress (are they getting very bitey? And taking treats with a very hard mouth?)

This is just a few ideas, there are more which you may well be able to add to the list. The puppy just quite simply lacks interest, seems easily frustrated, and no amount of ham or sausage or cheese will bring them back to you.

If this happens to you during your training sessions, there are a few things that could be going on here.

1. You are raising your criteria too quickly – you are making it much harder for the puppy to understand and follow what you are asking, either with the behaviour itself, or with your schedule of reinforcement being transferred to variable too quickly
2. Your treat delivery is predictable and dull – if you are on a continual reinforcement schedule (feeding for every correct behaviour), and your treat delivery is straight to the mouth, this doesn’t really elicit excitement or interest
3. You are being too repetitive – when trying to teach something, we have a habit of going over and over the same exercise again and again!
4. Your training sessions are too long – trying to drag out a training session for an hour with no breaks is tiring for your puppy!
5. You are over-reliant on treats – you only use treats to reinforce good behaviour, not life rewards

This is just a few ideas as to why your pup may be losing interest or seem slow in offering behaviours, or simply wanders off. So, how can we tackle some of these to increase the likelihood of our pups maintaining interest and retain engagement?

1. You are raising your criteria too quickly
When teaching any new behaviour it is essential to break it down into small and achievable tasks. Leaping straight into extended loose-lead walking or down stays without building it up in tiny increments will be extremely difficult and frustrating for your puppy. Take it slow! And make it achievable for your puppy. Can he only last 3 seconds in a stay? Excellent! Gradually extend that to say, 5 seconds, and keep building in tiny manageable increments. Additionally, if your pup is used to continual reinforcement (a treat for every correct behaviour) and you decide to transition to a variable ratio of reinforcement (a treat for a certain average of behaviours), don’t be too stingy! Transfer gradually, and set your puppy up to succeed.

2. Your treat delivery is predictable and dull
In my puppy classes we touch on treat delivery, and the importance of it. There are many different ways to delivery a treat and each way will elicit varying emotional responses from your puppy. A hand to the mouth is great, but it can be a bit dull. Try instead, tossing the treat to the side of your pup, this will help in building interest and the running back to you to do more work, will in itself, be something to reinforce.

3. You’re being repetitive
No one wants to do the same thing again and again. I always advise clients when teaching any new behaviour, a few repetitions at a time is enough. Any more, the pup WILL lose interest. With my own dog, who is 8 years old, she gets bored with more than approximately 5 repetitions of any exercise! Keep interest by mixing it up.

4. Your training sessions are too long
Trying to teach a new behaviour is fun, I get that, however trying to teach a new behaviour for 30 minutes is not advisable! Short sharp sessions are essential. I advise clients to train for no more than 5 minutes at a time, lots of times throughout the day. Keeping it quick and snappy will increase interest from your pup, and give your lots more to reinforce.

5. You are over-reliant on treats
Very very common! We are all guilty of keeping the treats in front of our pups nose for far too long I am sure! In truth, a lure should be phased out within about 5-6 repetitions of a behaviour, possibly slightly longer for highly complex behaviours, but not much longer! I see people still luring weeks down the line! This is far too long. If your pup performs perfectly with a treat on his nose, but is completely disinterested when that treat is no longer on his nose, you can hazard a guess you have lured for far too long, and really need to work on removing that lure. There are, of course, other reasons for disinterest ie. raising distraction levels too quickly etc, but in my experience, luring a puppy for too long is so often the reason a pup will not perform behaviours when asked.

Have a think, could you alter your training to accommodate your pup slightly better? Could you change your training style in any way to keep interest? To limit boredom?

For more information about my puppy classes or 1-2-1 home visits, just get in touch!
Email: puppies@cceg.co.uk
Web: cambridgepuppytraining.com
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Positive interrupters in puppy training – Cambridge Puppy Training

positive interrupter

When we bring our pups home, they have no concept of their name (unless your breeder has been working hard!). They respond reliably to no specific sound, name, noise or action. They have learned no associations to any of the words we use, and have no concept of ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ behaviours. So, how do we set about associating certain words, or actions? And how can we use certain noises or sounds to help discourage undesirable behaviours?

When you think of some of the behaviours your pup performs, the undesirable ones, the ones that drive us mad, what would they include? Biting would certainly be one! Chewing inappropriate objects, grabbing trousers/legs, barking, leaping on the household cat even! There are a lot of behaviours we don’t like, however normal and natural they may be. Puppies have no concept of whether certain behaviours are what we want, or what we don’t want.

Often, we resort to using our pups name to either distract, gain attention, or to reprimand. Our pup is merrily chomping on the table leg, and we say ‘Max!’, or ‘Max no!’. There are a few reasons this will prove to be ineffective:

  • Don’t overuse your pups name! Puppies have no concept of a ‘name’ like we do, they don’t associate a name with a ‘self’, or individual within themselves. You can, and indeed should, play the ‘name game’ and start associations being made to their name. (Get in touch for information about the name game). If you repeatedly say your pups name without following up with a consequence, good or bad, there is no associations made and that name means nothing. Additionally, if you use your pups name preceding a ‘no!’ or another negative consequence, you are then conditioning that name to mean something unpleasant will follow.
  • Don’t say ‘no’ without prior conditioning! The word ‘no’ means nothing to our pups, it means a lot to us of course, but if you simply say the word ‘no’, it is a word like any other, like bananas or sun! If you are going to use the word ‘no’, you would need to teach a puppy what that means, and ensure you are including this within your training sessions, not just WHEN your pup is doing something you don’t approve of. This is do-able, but there are easier ways.
  • You’re not telling your pup what you want them to do! The most important one! You’re suppressing behaviour, not asking for new or alternative behaviours. You will be hard pushed to ask a puppy to stop doing one thing, and presume he will simply lay down and settle, without prior training in what ‘settle’ means, plus regular practice during training sessions.
  • What will happen when you’re not there?? If you use a firm ‘no!’, your pup may be fearful of performing certain behaviours in front of you, however when you are out of the room or out of the house, then what happens? He will perform them. There is only a negative consequence to the behaviour when you are in the house, and your pup will very quickly learn this.
  • It doesn’t work! Have you ever tried repeatedly and firmly saying ‘no!’ to your puppy? I think we can all agree, it doesn’t have the desired effect and if anything, encourages the behaviour due to the added excitement!

So, how can we get around this? We can’t say our pups name, we can’t say no, what CAN we say?? We can use what is called a positive interrupter. I’ve touched on these before, but they are VERY very useful for tackling behaviours you don’t like. I am not suggesting in ANY way you should let your pup free roam in the house, and leap in with a positive interrupter when they start chewing! What I AM suggesting, is you manage/prevent behaviours, and use a positive interrupter during your training sessions every day. On the rare occasions you’re not on the ball and your pup gains access to something he shouldn’t, you can then use your positive interrupter to help. You will have done a lot of background work, and built it up to the point where it will be successful in all situations.

So, how do positive interrupters work? A positive interrupter is a verbal cue (or, can be a physical cue such as a finger touch on the back). The cue word you use should be something upbeat and fun, as you are more likely to say it in an ‘upbeat tone’ if it’s something light-hearted. Some people like to use a ‘kissy’ noise, others say ‘pup pup pup’ in quick succession, some may say ‘hey!’ in a high tone, but what word you use is down to you. You simply pair that sound with something positive, ie. a treat and set about practicing this in your training sessions every day.

You will be simply pairing the noise with the treat for a few repetitions, you will then start to mark the ‘turn around’ your pup makes when you say the sound. You can then start to incorporate this into your training sessions, a couple of times at the beginning of each training session, and start to randomly perform it throughout your day too. It is important, once you have established a positive interrupter, that you start to ask for another behaviour immediately following. Also, it’s important to bear in mind what you WANT your pup to do instead, ensure you have worked on it during training sessions, and redirect to that behaviour. Following behaviours may be eye contact, ‘on your bed’, or ‘come’, after your pup turns round then reward.

Word of warning! If you are going to start teaching a positive interrupter cue, ensure you ALWAYS practice this in situations where your pup is NOT performing undesirable behaviours. If you only use this when your pup is chewing/biting/barking etc, your pup will learn he has to perform that behaviour, then you say your interrupter to cue, he stops, and gets a treat! This is called back chaining, they learn that the performance of a certain behaviour elicits a response from you, which results in a treat. So, always practice this regularly when your pup ISN’T biting or chewing or barking.

I must add, watch your puppy! All puppies, at some point, lay down, relax and settle. You may feel these calm moments are few and far between, but they do occur. These are your moments to reward your puppy, reinforce a behaviour we like and which is naturally occurring. Never let yourself get into the habit of only rewarding your puppy for stopping doing something bad! So, prevent -> watch -> reinforce -> repeat.

For more information about the services I offer, including 1-2-1 puppy training and puppy training classes, just get in touch! 
Email: puppies@cceg.co.uk
Web: 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.

So:
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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