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
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Humping (or mounting) in puppies – Cambridge Puppy Training

puppy mounting and humping

Puppy humping, the very shame of it. You have a guest over and before you know it your adorable little ball of fluff is attached to your guests leg and humping away like crazy…mortifying! As our dogs grow we may start to feel less ‘surprised’ by it, reaching sexual maturity can forgive all manner of sins! However, in a young puppy, why is this behaviour being performed? And what can we do about it?

Firstly, it is important to say, that humping (or mounting), is not uncommon. If you do have a ‘humper’, please don’t think you are alone as it is a very common behaviour shown. Male and female pups may hump, so again don’t feel if you have a female pup that it is ‘strange’ that they hump, it’s not.

Humping is a topic which is actually still being researched to this day, and if you do your own research you will find a LOT of varying opinions as to why dogs (and puppies) do it. Lots of these opinions are scientifically shown to be untrue, and some are in the process of being researched. Many people will throw ideas around as to why it occurs, but largely many people are still fairly unaware as to why this behaviour occurs in the first place. A lot of assumptions are made with regards to mounting behaviour, but how much do we really know?

Humping is a behaviour which can be seen in relation to ANY object or being. A dog may mount another dog, another animal ie. family cat, an object like a cushion or bedding, a persons leg or arm, or indeed objects like toys. Mounting, whilst not the most pleasant behaviour to witness for an owner, is in fact a perfectly normal part of a dogs behavioural repertoire. Whilst we don’t necessarily want our dogs or puppies to do it, it is, in fact, normal canine behaviour.

Largely we see mounting or humping as a sexual behaviour, a reproductive behaviour which we may believe should only be displayed in that context. However, there are many other contexts in which mounting and humping can occur, such as play.

For example, some common instances of mounting or humping may be seen during:

  • Play
  • An anxious emotional state
  • A high arousal/excitement level
  • During stress
  • As a displacement behaviour

For puppies, the key reasons we should be looking at are play and high arousal/excitement levels. This is not ALWAYS the case with puppies, anxiety may well play a part, but certainly in my experience it is most common. Puppy play is not always pretty and may include barging, jumping and indeed mounting, so all of these can be motivated by play and social interactions in those early days, exploring via various displays of different behaviours.

I have talked about arousal levels before and the behaviours high arousal levels can elicit, well mounting is one such behaviour. If a puppy is super excited, because for example you have a guest over, this excitement is going to be released and directed into a behaviour be it biting, running, jumping, or indeed mounting. It must also be remembered that mounting can also, in itself, quite simply be enjoyable! A puppy can, believe it or not, find it fun and it’s as simple as that! However, I would hazard a guess that largely a puppy mounting is either play, or arousal.

Additionally it is important to remember that your reaction to a puppy mounting, can increase the likelihood it will be repeated. As with all behaviours your pup displays, if you reinforce it, it becomes a great behaviour to perform and will be seen again at any opportunity!

If you look up puppy mounting and humping you may well find many an article suggesting puppy mounting is a display of dominance over another dog, person or animal. An attempt to gain a higher status level. This is not true, research has vastly shown this to be inaccurate, for example Peter Borchelt PhD found “mounting could be part of a suite of behaviours associated with aggression, such as high posture, resource guarding, direct stares, and standing over. But mounting, in and of itself, doesn’t indicate a status issue”. Furthermore Marc Bekoff Phd found in his research of social behaviour in young dogs, coyotes and wolves, that mounting, clasping and humping were not directly related to dominance.

Really, more research is needed as to why dogs (and puppies) display mounting or humping behaviour, not enough has been done to reliably determine a common cause. Some have other ideas as to the reason a dog may mount or hump, for example as a calming gesture, to calm another over-exuberant dog down for example.

However, what can we do about it? What if we have a puppy who is a humper?

  • Determine the cause – why is your dog/pup doing it? Is it play? Over excitement? Or a mix of the two? Anxiety? Look at why the behaviour occurs in the first place.
  • Is it a problem? – if the humping is occurring very briefly, very infrequently, do we really need to do anything about it?
  • Antecedents – what is happening just prior to the humping or mounting? If we can determine the cause or activity which elicits the behaviour, we can alter/modify to elicit a different response.
  • Teach a ‘settle’ – more practically speaking, keep excitement levels as low as possible and encourage a ‘settle’ behaviour. There are other training based techniques you can use, get in touch for more information on these.

To be honest, whilst WE may find mounting and humping hugely unpleasant, it’s NOT an abnormal canine behaviour, so do not fret. Dog are, at the end of the day, dogs, and they will perform behaviours which sometimes don’t necessarily cause any harm, but we just do not like. Pick your battles, is it hugely disrupting your life or anybody else’s? Is it becoming excessive? Is it something that is causing a problem to you, or others around you? If so, work through the above. If not, let them be dogs.

For more information about any of the services I offer just get in touch!
Email: puppies@cceg.co.uk
Web: 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.

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