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

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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

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
Facebook: facebook.com/cambridgepuppytraining
Instagram: @cambridgepuppytraining

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
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