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
Facebook: facebook.com/cambridgepuppytraining
Instagram: @cambridgepuppytraining

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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
Facebook: facebook.com/cambridgepuppytraining
Instagram: @cambridgepuppytraining

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
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/cambridgepuppytraining
Instagram: @cambridgepuppytraining

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
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/cambridgepuppytraining
Instagram: @cambridgepuppytraining