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
Instagram: @cambridgepuppytraining

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Bonfire night: fireworks and puppies! – Cambridge Puppy Training

fireworks cambridge puppy training

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you need more information or advice just get in touch!
Email: info@cambridgepuppytraining.com
Facebook: facebook.com/cambridgepuppytraining
Instagram: @cambridgepuppytraining

Crate training your puppy – Cambridge Puppy Training

crate training puppies

Crates! Most of us invest in a crate when we are planning to bring our puppy home. We hear good things about them, possibly know someone who has advised us to get one, we know it’s a wise idea to have a ‘safe space’ for us to put our pups. However, when our pups come home they are largely unsure, confused, and somewhat aghast at being put into this confined space, what can we do??

Habituating a puppy to a crate is essential. If you are lucky, your breeder will have already started the process and you will hopefully have a pup who is quite happy to be shut/confined in a crate. However, this is not always the case, far from it. I have had many puppy owners asking me how to make sure their puppy is happy and content, in a crate. Maybe, somewhat naively, we believe a puppy will simply ‘accept’ the crate, this is definitely not true as you may well find out! Vocalising, destructive behaviours, agitating at the crate door, all of these are sure signs that your puppy has not been habituated to the crate up until this point.

So, what can we do?? Here’s some top tips to acclimatise your little pup to not only the environment of a crate and being confined, but also to enjoy the process, too.

1. Size – make sure you have the right size crate for your puppy. If you have a breed which is likely to grow at a fast rate, and to a big size, consider long term what size crate the puppy will need. You can buy dividers, and as your puppy grows gradually increase the space in the crate. Alternatively, you can just buy a second bigger crate as your pup grows! Ideally, you need your puppy to be able to stand, turn, lay down and stretch out, with ease.

2. Bedding – consider soft, warm and comfortable. Soft blankets or throws are a great idea, easily washable. Ensure you cover the base of the crate with either puppy pads, or something easily washable just in case of accidents!

3. Calming aids – I have said before there is no scientific evidence to prove the efficacy of such products, however we all know someone who has had success with these! An Adaptil Plug-In Diffuser, for example.

4. Heat – there are various products on the market, for example self-heating pet pads.
5. Covers – dependent on your pup, consider putting a throw/blanket over the crate to block the view from the sides/back, this may help a puppy to settle.

6. Toys/chews – be prepared with all manner of interactive feeders such as kongs, chews and games. All of these will help to acclimatise your puppy to their crate.

7. Know your puppy! – the first day or two with your pup will be very much a case of getting to know each other, know your pup and his needs/temperament and work with that.

Try and remember you will need to start habituating your puppy to the crate immediately. For your puppy to get into the routine and build up positive associations with the crate, it must be a priority initially. If you feel your puppy doesn’t like the crate in those early days, put in huge amounts of work to show your puppy the positives of the crate, don’t be tempted to keep your puppy out and ‘hope for the best’, work through it. It will be much harder further down the line to try and introduce a crate if your puppy has not been using one, so start early! Puppies are not stupid, if they know they will get let out when they bark, they will bark. If this happens once, do not let it happen again. Never push your puppy to the point of vocalisation, set yourself a training plan and get to work on building value to that crate so your puppy sees no need or desire to firstly be let out, or secondly vocalise. If night-times are difficult, keep the crate next to your bed for the first couple of nights, you can put your fingers through the bars to soothe a worried puppy and your presence/voice will help to settle him.

It can help to have a ‘settle mat’, which is used primarily for any settling behaviours in varying environments. This can be used initially outside the crate, and be gradually moved closer to the crate and inside. If you have a puppy who is particularly struggling with the crate, this may be an option for you.

Crate training will help hugely with toilet training and will provide your puppy with a safe space, this in turn will help with minimising those undesirable behaviours and help you to reinforce the behaviours you like! It’s not difficult to reliably have your puppy going into the crate, but it is essential you spend time building value to the crate very early on. Start immediately, make it positive and fun, and be consistent.

If you need help with showing your puppy how great the crate is, get in touch about the 1-2-1’s I offer. Remember, immediate → positive → consistent.

For more information just get in touch!
Email: puppies@cceg.co.uk  OR  info@cambridgepuppytraining.com
Web: cambridgepuppytraining.com
Facebook: facebook.com/cambridgepuppytraining
Instagram: @cambridgepuppytraining

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