Wild Wednesdays will return! However, I’m putting them on hold for a few weeks. Extra days and longer hours at work are keeping me from getting my weekday posts up, but Weird Weekends will continue.
Thank you for reading, and I promise, there’s more animal training, zoo tales, and garden adventures in the works. By the end of the month I will have plenty of free time for writing, and after my surgery, well, writing is probably all I’ll be good for, at least for a little bit.
Usually on Wednesday I post dog-training articles. Lately though I’ve been including posts on my growing chickens and spring gardening and I’ve been considering including some of my animal training stories from my zoo days.
The dog-training themed Wednesday posts needed some expansion, and thus the inspiration for Wild Wednesday. If it’s about animals, animal training or the environment, I’ll be writing about it.
The chicks are chicks no longer, and the garden is growing along. The fuzzy little balls of fluff now more closely resemble the dinosaurs they’re related to, with a crazy mix of real feathers, old down and bare skin. Scaly, too long legs and protruding eyes make them ugly cute. When I watch them establishing their pecking order, flapping their tiny wings and bobbing and weaving, facing off with their sisters, I can’t help but think of their extinct relatives. It makes me wonder just how old the behavior rituals I’m watching really are.
We’ve separated the meat birds from the egg-layers, and moved them into the outdoor pen. It doesn’t matter how many articles I read about the incredible growth of these Cornish crosses, I am amazed at how big they are. At just a few days over a month old they are more than double the size of the egg-layers hatched the same day. They have blossomed too, being able to scratch in the dirt, eat grass and bugs and in general, act like chickens, has them bobbing and wing-flapping like their smaller sisters.
We’ve been graced here in the Northwest with some glorious spring weather lately, in a much appreciated pattern; beautiful, warm, sunny weekends, with off-and-on showers during the week. In Seattle? I know, right? Shocking! Seems we’re getting the benefit of the climate change train at this point in time.
I added some pretty to the temporary herb garden. Love me some pansies, dahlias, and gerbera daises. I’m loving the location, but I’m not so sure the plants will. I know it’s still early, but they’re not getting sun until about 1:00 p.m. That’ll change I know, just not sure if it’s going to be full enough sun for herbs or flowers.
I am helpless against herbs and veggie starts, and, okay, plants, at a nursery, but I also really enjoy starting seeds. It is so reinforcing to watch those baby plants poke out of the soil. I swear last weekend I watched the things grow; checked them in the morning and they were barely nosing above ground, checked them in the evening and there were two proud leaves spreading toward the light on almost all of my carefully prepped soil. Look at them now, just a week after breaking ground.
I also went through a bunch of old pics, and scanned a few in. Here’s me, with an old friend; Akela helped inspire my first novel. Don’t worry, I’ll be filling you in on that too in the near future.
Are you a seasoned gardener or a newbie? Are you looking for animal training tips? Do you just plain love animals like I do? Do you long for fresh eggs, and the delicious taste of fresh fruit and veggies out of your own yard, but are afraid to take the huge step of keeping your own chickens or starting your own garden? Then come on in! Drop me a note, let me know your thoughts and ideas. I really love hearing from all of you!
Please keep in mind that all pictures are under copyright to me, and except for Akela’s pic were taken by me. I request that you ask before using. Thank you!
Sorry for the lack of posts lately. A cold had me down and away from the computer. Now I have tons of housework to catch up on….ugh. Makes me want to just crawl back into bed again. But, up and at ’em, and still the writing must wait. But, until I can get back to my regularly scheduled programming, please enjoy the following YouTube selections.
Something I will be whole and healthy for; the premier of John Carter. I think I spent more mental time on Barsoom than almost any other literary world, except maybe Pern. I LOVED these books, and always wanted a banth. Please enjoy these clips, I know I did. Now, all I can do is wait for Friday.
More to come soon, on John Carter, on dog training, and of course on the paranormal!
I have been out of the world of dog competition for several years. There was a time when I used to spend a lot of time at dog shows. I would always see clickers for sale, and occasionally discussions would crop up on different training styles. Some were adamant that all dogs should only be trained like dolphins, or marine mammals, others would state that only positive reinforcement should be used “like with animals in zoos” some said you should only train with clickers. But are any of these statements true?
It is entirely possible to achieve results using the above-mentioned methods, but I disagree with the use of the absolute. It has been my experience that the typical dog owner, you and me, does not need to go to the effort of using those types of training systems effectively. A combination of positive and negative reinforcement can be highly effective at shaping the behaviors you want, and raising a happy, well behaved companion. Are you all shuddering now because I used the word ‘negative’? Read on and find out how it’s not as bad as you think. You won’t need a clicker or a whistle.
Being in the worlds of exotic animal as well as dog training I spent a serious amount of time studying and using operant conditioning. I worked at Sea World, I worked at the San Diego Zoo, and I was intimately familiar with training systems used in world-class zoological facilities. I was also teaching dog obedience at the same time, both private and group classes, and I considered several different ways to incorporate clicker training into my classes. I talked about it with my students and got an overwhelming lack of interest in response. It wasn’t hard to figure out why; most people didn’t want to work that hard.
Animal training utilizes the operant conditioning techniques developed by B.F Skinner, and places like this and this will tell you about the man and how his work applies to animal training. It’s a fascinating subject, and far more complex than I’m going to tackle here and now. But I do want to introduce some important concepts.
Animal Training Glossary
Positive Reinforcement. We’ve all heard the term, but what does it mean? How is it useful to animal trainers? The word ‘positive’ is used here in the additive sense. You are adding, or giving something the animals likes, or finds pleasurable, and this stimulus increases the likelihood a behavior will be repeated. When you give a dog a treat, or a sea lion a fish immediately after it does a desired behavior you have positively reinforced that behavior, and the animal is more likely to do it again under the same circumstances. Part of the job of the professional animal trainer working with exotics is figuring out what is positively reinforcing to the animal she’s trying to train. It might not always be food, although that is the most common positive reinforcer. But, what reinforces a dog is not likely to reinforce a porcupine.
Negative Reinforcement. Don’t cringe! This is often confused with punishment, but it is not. The word ‘negative’ is subtractive; something is removed, stopped or avoided. It is the absence of this stimulus that produces the desired behavior. How many of you use a leash and collar, and your dog walks calmly at the end of it? The collar and the pressure it exerts when the dog pulls at the end of the leash is an example of negative reinforcement. The dog is negatively reinforced when he stops pulling and the pressure is relieved. When the dog walks without pulling he avoids that pressure, and he is more likely to walk without pulling your arm off nicely at your side, giving you the desired behavior. It is impossible to put a leash and collar on a sea lion or a dolphin, but a cheetah or a wolf responds well to gentle pressure on a collar.
How is training an exotic animal, a dolphin, a sea lion or a wolf like training your dog? Key principles apply: you need to be consistent, you need an effective communication system, you need precise timing, and you need a lot of patience no matter what you are training. In this sense, training a dog is like training a sea lion is like training a porcupine.
How is training a sea lion not like training your dog? You will never share your home with a sea lion. I loved Disney’s ‘Sammy the Way Out Seal’ when I was kid, but believe me, you do not want one of these in your house.
If a sea lion quit on me during a show, you know what happened? Nothing. The sea lion swam in the moat until he was ready to pay attention again. I did my best to tap dance and the crowd enjoyed a good laugh. Hey, it happens. You review what caused the animal to quit, adapt and move on. Sometimes it was just because it was summer, the sea lion wasn’t hungry and he’d rather be on a beach with the ladies. It’s his biology and DNA telling him what to do, and my fish just wasn’t as reinforcing as the nice cool pool.
What happens if your dog eliminates in the house and you ignore it? Do you laugh? Exactly. We expect certain behaviors from our domestic animals that share our homes that are never taught to animals in zoos. And remember this, they’re domestic! They’re genetically programmed by centuries of breeding to be handled and trained by humans. Domestic animals are very malleable and adaptable to the application of behavior modification techniques, positive and negative reinforcement. The same cannot always be said of exotics.
Can you use a clicker to train your dog? Of course you can, or a whistle, or your iPod if you want to get really creative. Do I recommend it? Nope. The typical dog owner wants a pet that is well mannered, housebroken and knows a few commands. If the dog sits, lies down and comes on command the average dog owner is happy. These are very easy things to accomplish, no clickers necessary.
Ask yourself this: Do you really want to be sure you always have a clicker on you? Can you keep a pocket of treats always full? Remember, consistency is the key to good results in training, if you do not use that clicker accurately, you will confuse your dog. Clicker training is dependent on food reinforcement particularly in the early stages. You would have to adjust your dog’s feeding and limit treats or you could easily train your pet into obesity.
Where is clicker training helpful? Do you want to train your dog to this:
Isn’t that amazing? I don’t know what methods she used, but clicker training is a great way to get such precise, complex behaviors. How many hours every day would you willing to put in to get your dog to do what Rookie does? Most people are happy with a dog that walks at their side as they stroll through the neighborhood, naps quietly while they watch tv and doesn’t freak out when people come to visit. They’re not looking for a dance partner, they’re not looking to compete at dog sports. That is a whole other subject and realm of training. It can be a lot of fun, it builds a tremendously close bond between you and your dog, but it is also a huge time (not to mention money) commitment.
Dogs will respond beautifully if you give them love, and training, but that entails applying positive and negative reinforcement. The animals that live with us need to learn and respect the behavioral boundaries we establish. They need to follow these ‘rules’ all the time, which is the expectation most pet owners have. You want your dog to eliminate outside all the time, right?
But how do you know which reinforcement to apply and at what time? Stay tuned!
I’ve been working on a new information flyer. What do you think? Does this make you want to hire me?
I WILL NOT TRAIN YOUR DOG
BUT I WILL TEACH YOU
HOW TO HAVE THE
DOG THAT YOU WANT
Do you have a new puppy and no idea what to do with her?
Did you adopt a dog, and you’re having difficulty getting him to listen to you?
Did your dog do great in obedience school, but now isn’t quite as obedient as she used to be?
I won’t train your dog, but I will train YOU! You see, it doesn’t matter if I train your dog; you are the one who has to live with her. A trained dog is not stagnant, like a program on your computer, that once installed works the same always. Unless you reinforce the training daily, it will break down. This is why I hear so many people say, ‘he did fine in obedience class, but now…’ What I will do is help you develop the training skills to comfortably live with your pet.
¨ Gain insight into your dog’s behavior
¨ Learn how your body language influences your dog’s actions
¨ Develop a great relationship with your dog
I will teach you the key components to successful dog training so that you will understand how to teach your dog after I’ve gone home.
I offer consultation on an hourly basis. This is not a one-size fits all dog training course. This is a one-on-one assessment of your needs, and the direction to help you get the dog behavior you want. You decide how many consults you need.
I have over 10 years professional experience training animals in zoos for shows and educational purposes, and teaching obedience classes. Plus training my own dogs for obedience, conformation, agility and herding.
Before I get to the alpha dog post, I’d like to invite you to the Beauty of a Woman Blogfest. On February 10th, August McLaughlin will host this unique collection of blogs posting on the subject of Beauty, the first ever in what will hopefully become an annual event. My post goes up tomorrow, then on Friday, February 10th you will want to visit August’s blog to read all the contributions from this terrific assortment of writers. Plus, there’s a bunch of prizes up for grabs, including a Kindle, body image coaching and email dog training advice from yours truly. You won’t want to miss it!
Last week I talked about the importance of being alpha, but the big question is of course, how? If you have a puppy, it’s easy. They’re young, they’re impressionable, and any creature older than them is going to be the boss. This is the time to establish your benevolent dictatorship. Yes, that’s what it is. Dog ownership is not a democracy, Jake doesn’t say if he sleeps on the bed with you. You do!
You make the rules, and you enforce them. But that doesn’t mean you have to be harsh or forceful. A good alpha establishes the rules from the start, makes them clear and sticks to them consistently. This will make it easier on you, easier on your dog, and you’ll find your dog will naturally follow your lead.
Your dog has no choice in whether or not she’s going to act like a pack animal, it’s hard-wired into her DNA. Much as we love our dogs, much as we love to dress them up like Princess Leia spoil them, they are not humans in fur coats. Dogs will be dogs…but we can shape their behavior and teach them to curb or alter their natural instincts to suit us. Use body language, tone of voice, and mimic dog postures to establish your pack leadership, and your meaning will immediately be clear to your dog.
Alpha wolves control their pack’s behavior. If the alpha says move, a wolf moves, and you can apply this in the home. Want to walk past your dog but he’s in the doorway? Walk right into him and with a gentle nudge have him clear your path. Is he napping in the hall? Don’t step over him, get his attention, get him up and make him move. Lower ranked pack members clear the path for the alpha. This might seem subtle to you, but to your dog it is a clear signal that you are in charge.
If your dog is not allowed on the couch, then there’s no in between. If Jake jumps up on the couch, you are going to immediately tell him ‘no’ and have him jump off every time. But you will also make it clear to Jake, what the desired behavior is, to lay on the floor, or on his bed. So, once Jake is off the couch, you will take Jake to his bed, get him to lie down on it and praise Jake for being a good dog.
A good alpha will make it clear this behavior is wrong, but this behavior is right. Anticipate that when Jake comes into the room, he’s going to try and jump on the couch, so take him to his bed, have him lie down on it, and praise him! Give him a favorite toy to play with when he’s lying on it. Pack leaders make the rules and enforce them, but they also let pack members know what the right behaviors are and reward them.
Pack leaders also control the food. I can leave my dinner plate, a burger, a steak, anything, sitting on a low table and walk away, fully confident my dogs would never dream of so much as drooling on it. When it’s time for their dinner, they sit and stay, waiting politely until the food is prepared, on the floor, and I release them from their stay to start eating. The alpha says when it’s mealtime, there is no shoving or lunging past an alpha to get to food. Having your dog sit or down and stay, waiting to go to his food bowl will help prevent pushy behaviors like begging or food stealing.
Believe me, your dog wants to know the rules and follow them! Most dogs are not alphas; most of them do not want to be pack leader. They will step into the position if they feel they have to, because they perceive a lack, and this can cause your dog a lot of mental stress. Being clear, firm and direct when establishing and enforcing your house rules will help your dog be calmer, and more inclined to pay attention to you.
This does not mean you have to be a stiff, angry disciplinarian. Dogs can be taught to recognize words, but they respond instinctively to our tone of voice and body posture. You can use this deliberately, consciously, when you interact with your dog by altering your stance, changing the pitch of your voice, and making or breaking eye contact.
When you’ve caught Jake on the couch, stand tall, give him a hard stare, speak firmly and in a lower tone when you tell him ‘no.’ When he crawls off, with head and tail low, you can tell him ‘good’ or similar words in a calm, neutral tone while your expression becomes more neutral. He’s responding to your body language as much as your word. You need to alter your own tone and posture to acknowledge that he’s responding appropriately. Take your tone of voice up and lighten it when you take him to his bed and have him lie down. Praise him for lying down in an upbeat happy tone, and give him a good, comforting scratch on the chin or behind the ears for being a good dog.
What does your body language tell your dog? Are you confident? Harsh? Playful? Do you try and alter your posture or voice to influence your dog?
Dogs are pack animal, and you need to be the leader of your own family pack. Motorcycle, leathers and girly vocals are optional.
Dogs, like humans, are social creatures. Wild canids such as wolves, coyotes, hyenas, live in family groupings with a distinct hierarchy of leaders and subordinates. Dogs, descended from wild ancestors have retained this social programming. It’s part of what helps them fit so well into our own society.
Dogs are individuals; he will be shy or outgoing, a leader or a follower depending on his own personality. My first Belgian sheepdog loved 5 people on this planet, and the rest of the population wasn’t worth his time. He would be polite, but really didn’t care if strangers wanted to pet him or ignore him; he was aloof, indifferent to most everyone. My second Belgian, on the other hand, loved to meet people and everyone was his friend. He’d greet them with a big toothy smile and wagging tail. Both though, were very guarded and protective if a stranger came into the home.
Your dog will naturally look upon you and your spouse and kids as his pack, his own family group. A pack has a leader, who is at the top of the family hierarchy. The leader, or alpha, in wolves decides when the pack hunts, or moves, or sleeps or plays. The alpha makes the rules and calls the shots, and every other wolf defers to the alpha. If your dog does not perceive that you are alpha, he’ll assume the job himself. Does this sound like anyone’s dog?
The dog that growls and snaps when you try to shoo her off the couch, or take away her toy.
The dog that yanks and drags his owner at the end of the leash, lunging at every passerby, dog or human.
The dog that barks and snaps at you when you kiss your spouse.
If your dog thinks he’s alpha, then in his mind, he’s being a good leader for putting you in your place. Obviously, you’re an uppity pup telling him to give up his comfy nap spot, or take his toy, and so he gets to snap and tell you to back off. It’s his job to protect the pack, so he has to scare off every stranger by being big and fierce, and why are you yelling at him? He’s just doing his job! And get away from his ‘special’ human!
You need to establish that you hold the job of pack leader, and you are so good at it, that your dog never has to worry about trying to step in and fill your shoes. Body language, eye contact and tone of voice will all convey your confidence to your dog, and he will respond to it.
Are you the leader of your pack? Or does your dog run your house?
Your dog is going to have to learn English, or Spanish, or German, or…you get the idea. Training your dog involves teaching her a wide spectrum of behaviors. There will be some behaviors you’ll expect her to do all the time, without being told; for example, not eliminating in the house. For others, you will give a specific command; like ‘sit’.
We already know about communicating with our dog, and how important timing and accuracy are to successful training. The third leg of a successful training plan is establishing some sort of dialog between the animal and the trainer. Yes, really. So we’re not talking about the weather or the nature of the soul, but there has to be a two-way communication system or we will never have a trained animal. With this system in place, there’s no limit to what you can teach your pet. But just like learning a new language it takes a little time, and patience for you both to understand it.
Since you are the trainer, the burden falls upon you to be absolutely clear and precise in defining and applying the ‘words’ that you use. You are going to teach your dog useful commands, and you are going to carefully observe her reactions and body language to understand what she is telling you.
A command by any other name
Animal Training Glossary: Command. Tells the animal to perform a specific behavior. Also known as a cue, or signal.
Animal Training Glossary: Trained behavior. A behavior the animal performs on command, as opposed to doing it whenever she feels like it. The training process is the means whereby the trainer pairs the command with the desired behavior. An animal is trained when she reliably performs the behavior on the command.
If you say the word ‘down’ randomly in a sentence, and your dog coincidentally lies down, you have not ‘trained’ her.
Consistency – it’s not about texture
Ah consistency in animal training! It is one of the easiest mistakes for a trainer (yes, you!) to make. If you are inconsistent in your training, you will not be successful in your training. Let me give you a few examples:
Owner: “Sit, Jesse. Sit. Jesse, come on, sit, now! JESSE, SIT!”
Dog: “Which one of those did you mean? Do you want me to sit on the first command or the third? Does that fourth one count then? And why are you yelling at me?”
Poor Jesse has no idea what he’s supposed to do. Repeating a command only confuses the dog.
Dog jumps on couch.
Owner: “Jesse, Down!”
Dog jumps up on visitors.
Owner: “Jesse, Down!”
Dog is just standing there.
Owner: “Jesse, Down!”
Dog: “Does that word mean get off the couch, don’t put my paws on people, or lie down?”
One command = One behavior. Jesse has no clue what his owner wants when he says ‘down.’ To Jesse, it’s a nonsense word, just like most of the blah-blah that comes out of his owner’s mouth.
Dog jumps up on couch.
Owner: “Come on over here and cuddle!”
Dog: “Cool, comfy couch time!”
Owner sitting on couch watching the big game.
Dog: “Cuddle time!” And jumps up.
Owner: “Jesse, Down!” And pushes Jesse away.
Poor Jesse’s not having an easy time understanding his Owner. He knows ‘sit’ means to plant his butt, but his Owner says it so fast and so many times, he’s not sure when he’s supposed to ‘sit’ or if his Owner really means it or not. He has no idea what ‘down’ means, but his owner is usually angry and yells it. Jesse’s not sure if it’s something he’s doing, or if his Owner is just upset because the cat walked by. What really confuses Jesse is the couch, sometimes he can lie on it, but other times, it makes his owner really mad when he jumps up.
Is anyone out there Jesse’s Owner? Consistency is hard! I know, believe me. I’ve done this professionally for years, and I still catch myself saying ‘sit’ a couple times in row. Then I kick myself, and start over. I’ve been Jesse’s Owner! The trick is to catch yourself at it, and practice. You’ll get there!
Consistency affects multiple aspects of training
You must be consistent is all facets of your training, and not just you, but every member of your family must train the same way.
Decide what behaviors you want to train. I suggest a minimum of Sit, Down, Come and Stay.
Decide what word you’re going to use as the command and stick to it. Try to avoid using the word when your dog is paying attention to you if you are not actively trying to get him to do the behavior.
Decide ahead of time what behaviors you’ll allow, and what you won’t. If you’re okay with your bull mastiff jumping up and putting her paws on your shoulders to give you big, slobbery kisses, then cool! But don’t yell at her when she does it to you when you’re wearing a silk suit. She can’t tell the difference between raw silk and cotton from Target. Same thing for furniture; it’s either okay, or it’s not.
Are you consistent in your training? Who else out there is Jesse’s Owner?
Animal training is animal communication. I have known gifted psychic animal communicators; I’ve even experienced it myself. If that is one of your skills and you use it with your animals, rock on! But, even if being psychic just isn’t for you, if you want to train your dog, wrap your head around this concept: Animal training is animal communication; you communicate what you want your animal to do. And, your animal will talk back.
How can I talk to my dog?
Dogs do communicate, subtly through body posture and facial expressions, and vocalizations. Some of a dog’s repertoire is obvious; we all know a growl or snarl is a threat, but a dog’s bark can be warning or welcoming. If you have spent any time with animals at all, you know that they have emotional states as well as behavioral awareness, which they communicate with each other and, you! You need to understand what your dog is telling you. Your dog is supremely sensitive to your moods, postures and actions; whether you notice it or not, your dog watches you and knows your every action. Time now for you to learn your dog!
Spend some time just observing your dog, or a pack. Try to do it without them being aware of your attention. Watch heads, ears, and tails; are they perked high or held low? Where are her eyes focused, is her expression strong, confident, or wary and tense? Is there a ridge of fur standing up along his spine, or is his coat slick, and flat with skin tight and twitching? What do you think it means? Next, watch your dog when you’re interacting with her, her facial expressions and postures. Learn to recognize when your dog is paying attention to you, or focused on other things.
Did you know dogs yawn and lick their lips to relieve stress? These behaviors are both an indicator the dog is experiencing stress, and a method of relieving that stress. Dogs will also yawn and lick to help other dogs relax. Seriously. Don’t believe me? Try it. Watch next time your dog is yawning, (and she’s not about to drift off to sleep) you may notice she’s also exhibiting signs of stress, such as: tight, worried expression, wrinkled brow, holds herself tensely, glancing side-to-side to avoid direct eye contact. Try yawning back and licking your lips, casually glance at your dog, look away and continue to yawn and lick. I’ll bet your dog relaxes. See if you can spot this behavior at a dog park or in your own pack.
What’s that got to do with training?
“I just want my dog to do what I say.” Sure, heard that one a time or two. How are you going to tell your dog what you want? You are the one who has to establish the vocabulary, and make sure your dog understands it.
Imagine you’ve just started a new job, one with a lot of tasks, from simple to complex, that you’ve never heard of before. You are a complete newbie at this. You have a hard time understanding your new boss, who’s teaching you the job, because he uses lots of new terms, he hasn’t really defined these terms and he doesn’t apply them consistently. Plus, he seems to change his mind daily on just how he wants you to do your new job. One day, it’s okay if you’re a few minutes late, the next he chews your ass off. Who’s had that boss?
To train your dog, he has to understand what you are asking of him. As the trainer, you need to be the one to establish clearly how you are going to communicate. You will need to be able to read and interpret your dog’s behavior, so that you can shape your dog’s behavior. If you do not clearly communicate your wishes to your dog, or have a grasp on your dog’s natural behaviors you will be like the boss in my example above. You don’t want to be that guy.
Training an animal means you are modifying its behavior, sometimes contrary to the animal’s natural behavior or instincts; for the animal to do this on your command requires a level of trust from that animal. You build that trust by establishing a system of communication that is clear and consistently applied. Once you gain that trust, you know it. Everyone who’s trained a dog, a horse, a bird, a goat, or any creature has felt that bond, that gestalt, of being in sync with your animal and perfectly understanding each other. It’s really spectacular. But it takes time and patience to build.
How have you established communication with your pet? Does your dog understand you? Do you understand your dog? What does she tell you? What has he taught you?
To train an animal requires fine timing, a clear communication system and, consistency. We’ll talk about being consistent in your training next time.
My husband, the bass player and professional musician, tells me I have no rhythm and can’t sing. It’s true. Until I met him I had no idea what a ‘count’ was for in music, and frankly it still kinda baffles me. And, sadly, I really love karaoke! Those cheesy 70’s and 80’s songs, I love getting out there and singing with all my heart. No alcohol necessary. But I’m usually flat, and can’t always find the right key. Hub has stopped suggesting we go do karaoke, and he gets plenty of stage time on his own…sigh.
One day, we were driving down the road and I was trying, in vain, to tap my hand to the beat of the music on the radio. Hub just shook his head. “You’re early,” he said. “You’re always early.” And then, it hit me like an epiphany; why I couldn’t find the beat. The heavens opened, choirs sang, bells rang, and everything became clear. I was anticipating it. I am too much an animal trainer to be a musician. Now, I feel a certain vindication about having no rhythm, but have no excuse for still wanting to inflict karaoke on my loving, musically talented, husband.
That has what to do with animal training, you ask? It’s all about the timing. There are two key ingredients to animal training that apply whether you’re trying to train a dog, a cat, a wolf, a cheetah, a dolphin, a sea lion, or a hawk. Timing and consistency.
Timing and consistency
We’ll get to consistency; for now, it’s all about the timing. You will get faster results when training if you are accurate in your timing when you bridge your animal. To be accurate, you must be able to anticipate your animal’s behavior.
Okay, in English: be sure when you tell your dog ‘good dog’ that what he’s doing at that exact moment is ‘good.’ In other words, he is doing what you are asking him to do. Accuracy in your timing comes from anticipating the moment your dog does the behavior you’ve asked for so you can time your ‘bridge’ appropriately.
Animal Training Glossary: Bridge. A bridge is a signal that tells the animal ‘yes’. It communicates that the behavior the animal is doing at that moment is correct, i.e. what the trainer desires. Usually a sound, like a click, or ‘good!’ Can also be visual or tactile. So called because it bridges the time between the animal completing the behavior and the delivery of reinforcement.
Unlike my lack of rhythm, you can refine your timing
What does this mean? Tell a dog to sit and praise him, right? But when am I giving that praise? If I tell Jake to ‘sit’ and he plants his butt, then stands up and takes two steps before I tell him ‘good dog’ then what have I communicated to Jake? That I want him to stand up and walk toward me when he hears me say ‘sit’. My timing is waaaay off; I am late with my bridge, so Jake does not understand what I am asking of him.
Have you ever seen the dog that sits halfway? The owner says ‘sit’ and the dog’s legs start to fold, and then the owner tells the dog ‘good girl!’ The dog instantly hesitates; maybe she slowly completes the sit, or maybe slowly stands back up, or just stops and does the hover. The slowing down or stopping indicates the dog’s confusion, because you were too early with your bridge.
You do not want to confuse your dog; it will frustrate her and could lead to behavior problems. Be watchful, and know your dog’s behavior, so you can be accurate in your timing. It takes practice, you will make mistakes, and this is okay. Dogs are very forgiving. Practice, and practice more; your dog will love you for it! You can help her understand if you know exactly what behavior you are looking for, so you can anticipate your dog doing it correctly.
How do I do all that?
When I tell Jake to sit, I expect he’s going to fold his hind legs and plant his fanny on the floor. I have a very clear picture in my head of what that behavior looks like, I know exactly what I want Jake to do when I say ‘sit!’ As soon as I see his back end start to drop, I get ready to tell him ‘good dog’ so that I can say it as soon as his haunches touch the carpet. I anticipate the moment he completes the sit, so that I can bridge him at the exact moment he does what I’ve said.
Simple, right? Think about your own dog, and when and what you praise him for. Every time you tell your dog ‘good’ you are telling him the behavior he’s doing right then is correct. Now consider, is that something you really want him to do?
Practice refining your timing so that you deliver your bridge accurately. Have you been trying to train your dog? Does he complete the behavior you ask? Stop halfway? Have you been timing your praise accurately? Where do you think you are early or late?
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