I prefer these super cheap box style clickers

I prefer these super cheap box style clickers

You have entered the world of clickers! Beginning clicker training is a huge step in opening up the communication pathways with your dog.  Anytime we can improve communication in any part of our lives, the results are always positive.  If you have not begun Phase 1, click HERE to to get started. For those who have a solid week of loading the clicker under their belt, lets move on to phase 2.

STATUS CHECK

To be certain your dog has a keen understanding of what the click means, wait until your dog is looking away and click.  If his/her head spins around and they look to your hands for the food, you are good to go!  If not, then you might have some more loading to do.

Your First Behavior

Before we can start with teaching the dog the valuable skills she will need to be a great member of your family, we need to teach you how to use this loaded up tool you have in your hand.  With that theme in mind, the first behavior we will work on is going to be very simple and will not have much of a real world application.  You will teach your dog to step on a bucket lid.

Why on earth would I want my dog to step on a bucket lid?

I can’t think of a single reason why you would want your dog to step on a bucket lid!  Which is exactly why this is going to be the first behavior you teach your dog.  Remember, you are brand new to this and really have no clue what you are doing.

Why do jet pilots fly in simulators first as opposed to sitting down in a $150 million dollar plane?

When you make a mistake, wouldn’t you rather make one while teaching a behavior you won’t ever need in the future?  We will use this rather useless behavior to shape YOUR skills at using the clicker to mark a behavior.

This is the time to screw up and make mistakes.  The good news is that this stuff is so painfully simple to understand.  The challenge is in the consistency and patience. Let’s get down to business.

Time to Train

  1. go to your usual training area and place the bucket lid on the floor near the corner
  2. back up so that there is enough room for your dog to get in front of you
  3. face the corner and look straight ahead
  4. sooner or later your dog will venture in front of you, and the MOMENT one paw hits the lid, you CLICK & treat
  5. step away for a couple seconds then return to the exact same spot and repeat steps 3 & 4
  6. do this for no longer than 2 minutes
  7. REMAIN 100% SILENT THE ENTIRE TIME

The Progression

Remember, the whole point of using a clicker it so make it easier to tell your dog when they have done something you like.  Later on, you will be using this to teach them to sit anywhere anytime, to lay down anywhere anytime, to go to a specific spot in the house anywhere anytime.

This is the perfect exercise for you to learn about the word “approximations”.

The purpose of the bucket is to teach you how to go from your dog simply touching it with one paw, to eventually running over and jumping on it with two front paws every time, no matter where you put it.

In the very beginning of this training exercise you will click if they so much as brush up against it with one paw.  That is the minimum requirement.  Once the dog is doing this every time, you will then up the ante by requiring a little bit more and a little bit more.

By SLOWLY requiring more, the dog will develop the behavior.  You are “reinforcing” what you want and ignoring everything else.  Already your imagination should be starting to swim with regards to the endless potential this has for you and your dog.

For now the ONLY thing you are allowed to change if you think your dog is ready (which probably it isn’t you’re just in rush) is to gradually move away from the corner.  Leave the bucket lid there and simply take one, yes ONE , step back.  That’s it.

Patience Young Jedi

I am not going to explain how to progress any further yet.  Why? Because too many of you will do it too soon! People very frequently move too fast through these phases.  They do so either out of impatience and not understanding that it takes time or they simply overestimate their dogs understanding of the situation.

If you are chomping at the bit, great!  Simply do more repetitions. The only thing you are allowed to change is your standing distance from the lid.

If you can master this exercise, the rest is going to be amazingly easy for you.  Now is the time to develop the timing of your clicks. Never forget this rule:

What you click, is what you get.

This means that if you wait a second to long, and you click as the dog lifts its paw, you reinforced getting OFF the lid, instead of on it.  Be observant, be precise, be decisive.

 

Now go train.

 

 

ok. ok…ok….I made a little video clip to show you how it’s going to look.   The dog I’m currently handling, Catana, has never seen a bucket lid, so she is perfect to show you how to get started.

Read more

Clicker training will change your relationship with your dog forever.

You want to start clicker training, and you want to start today.  My original plan was to explain how to start using a clicker in a much longer and in-depth article.  There I would not only provide clear instructions on getting started, but also explain the important connections of this powerful tool to the foundation of behavioral theory, operant conditioning.  However, my email, website, and Facebook account have been full of messages making it quite clear that you all want to start NOW.

Your wish is my command.

DISCLAIMER

Before I proceed, I must make something perfectly clear.  The key to your  eventual success using this tool is understanding the science behind the tool/technique.  The process I am about to describe takes a minimum of a week, and many times two weeks.  During that period you need to take some time and do a modest amount of reading.   The good news is I will provide you with ALL of that via my blog.  There are already links in this article that will help you build your foundation.

PHASE 1 – Loading the clicker

Yes, eventually we will use the clicker to mark or “capture” moments of desired behavior in your dog that we want to see again.  That’s the whole point.  The clicker is proven to be far more effective than your voice at helping the dog learn exactly what you want it to do.  When using the clicker in that manner we will be utilizing operant conditioning to shape and control the dog’s behavior. But first things first.

I’ve used a clicker before and it doesn’t work, my dog doesn’t know what it means.

I hear this all the time.  If this is you, and you have dabbled in the world of clickerdom’ before, you are correct.  You were not successful because the dog did not know what the clicker meant.  This is why you must first teach the dog what the clicker means, which is what I am about to teach you how to do.

I prefer these super cheap box style clickers

I prefer these super cheap box style clickers

We must “load” the clicker.  This is where we teach the dog that when it hears a click, a reinforcer is going to be immediately on the way.  To do this we will rely upon the work of another scientist, Pavlov, and his work with Classical Conditioning.  By properly teaching the dog what the “click” means, we will be able to then rely on the dog to work for us in an effort to get us to “click” so it can subsequently receive a reward.

Ok, quickstart guide means, short and quick.  You will need the following items; a clicker, a cheap cotton nail apron from Home Depot or Lowes (or any other type of treat bag from a petstore), and dogfood.

  1. Discontinue feeding your dog using a food bowl.  You will feed your dog by hand using the following steps (if you are a raw feeder, I have found that baking some chicken breast and pulling it apart works well).  This means you must have a daily amount of premeasured food ready to go. No more “free feeding” in case you were still doing that.
  2. Find a quiet, boring area in your home or apt, free of distractions, where you are the most interesting thing
  3. go with your dog to the designated area wearing your treatbag/apron full of dogfood and your clicker
  4. hold the clicker behind your back
  5. click 1 time
  6. reach into the treat bag with your other hand and give the dog a very small amount of food, the smaller the better
  7. wait until the dog is done chewing and repeat steps 5 & 6
  8. continue for 20 repetitions or 2 minutes whichever is quicker
  9. leave the training area and put the clicker, apron, and food away until the next session
  10. do this as many times a day as necessary to go through the dogs daily food amount

 

Things to Remember

Your dog does not have to do anything during this process.  In fact, if you have a dog who already knows some basic commands from your previous training efforts, try your best to click when he isn’t already sitting or laying down.  At least for now, we just want the dog to be making the following association …..

Every time they click, I get paid!

Be sure to walk around the space you are in.  Do not just stand in the exact same place.  I want you to stand during one of the sessions, then later sit down on the floor for the next one.  Bring a chair in and sit on it, then do one session where you are kneeling.  The point is, mix things up so that the only thing that remains constant is that there is a click, then the dog gets paid.

This is a great activity to do when coming inside from a walk as when you are done it’s time to chill out for a little bit.  Plus, with some of the dog’s energy down it becomes easier for them to actually think about what is going on.  Exercise always equals improved clarity for the dog and we want clarity during this process so that the dog can learn what’s going on.

How do I know it’s working?

After a couple days of multiple sessions of random clicking, you’re dog should be starting to get the idea.  One day when going to train try and wait until the dog simply looks away or becomes curious and investigates anything other than you.  At that moment, I want you to click.  If the dog’s head spins around and he comes over to you looking for his food, then it’s working.  If he doesn’t, then you still have more work to do.

When you think he/she is getting it, you may then start to do this in places other than your designated training area.  I wouldn’t jump straight into the middle of a highway median, but instead start maybe in another room of the house where there might be more distractions.  As we did with our body posture, you can mix up the location slowly as a way to help the dog identify the association.  Never forget, it’s all about associations.

When You’re Not Clicking

You won’t be doing this 24/7 so that means you have plenty of time to do some required reading.  I recently posted an article explaining the foundation to everything we are doing, which is behavior theory known as Operant Conditioning.  Click HERE and take a moment to read it.  We will be going back to the incredibly important information in the article frequently in the future.

Make sure everybody in the family is aware of what you are working on.  While it is best to have one person working with the clicker in the beginning, everybody else must be on the same page to make sure the dog isn’t getting all kinds of treats outside of the work you are doing.  All that will do is create more confusion for the dog, and more frustration for you.

I’m Excited For You!

Once we get past Phase 1 you are in for an amazing experience with your dog like no other.  This tool and the deeper understanding I now have of operant conditioning has provided me a refreshed look at working with dogs.  The added benefit is the smiles and enthusiasm I have witnessed in the people I am privileged to work in person with.

You and your dog are in for one helluva treat!  Literally, and of course, figuratively.

Read more

As I circulate the internet fulfilling my need to be reading about dogs when I am unable to actually have a leash in my hand, I keep running into the same thing over and over. Pet owners are struggling daily with controlling the behaviors of their puppies and dogs.

Instantly I begin to respond and my  suggestions always involve the contributions of B.F. Skinner and the extensive field work of his students, Keller and Marian Breland and Bob Bailey. I am talking about operant conditioning.

So as my fingers start hammering away constructing lengthy paragraphs trying to steer people away from a dangerous dependency on positive punishment and direct them to safer waters, I start to see it. I can see their confused look through the monitor. Everything I typed after “positive punishment” became a blur, a written version of Charlie Brown’s teachers’ voice….

Positive punishment? What the hell is he talking about?

Meanwhile, the subsequent paragraphs go on to taut the virtues and endless benefit of positive reinforcement and the undeniable power of self discovery, only I have neglected to explain to anybody what these words even mean. The only thing I have often succeeded at doing was confusing and even alienating the very people who I sincerely wish to help and empower.

This blog post is long overdue.

Operant conditioning is based in science, but part its beauty is that you do not have to be a scientist to understand it.   While entire books, college courses, and even advanced collegiate degrees are dedicated to it, I will attempt to explain operant conditioning in terms that anybody can understand in as few words as possible.  My goal is for you to immediately have at least a fundamental understanding of this knowledge at the conclusion of reading this post.

Is this the end-all-be-all to understanding and applying this knowledge with your dog?  Absolutely not.  This is the first chunk to get you started.  Once you read it, stop and reflect upon it, then read the parts you are still foggy on again.  By the time you have digested this content, I will absolutely have more ready for you.  One step at a time.

I suppose we could call this “Operant Conditioning – the abridged version”.

HISTORY

Abridged means shortened, so I while I will do my best to be as brief as possible, some background information is necessary.

Once upon a time there was a scientist named Thorndike. Thorndike put cats in boxes and would time them how long it would take them to figure out that by touching a lever inside they could escape and get a piece of fish. He would then put the cat back in the box and again, time how long it took to escape.

The results demonstrated that the cats were in fact learning to use the lever to get out of the box. Thorndike summarized that a behavior that resulted in a positive consequence would be more likely to be repeated. Conversely, behaviors that resulted in negative consequences would be less likely to be repeated. This was called the Law of Effect (1905).

About fifty years later, behaviorist Burrhus Frederic Skinner (that’s why we call him B.F.) took Thorndike’s Law of Effect and ran with it. Skinner elaborated and coined several other terms that we still use today. Skinner’s Behavior Theory, called Operant Conditioning, is the product of Skinner’s work and was fuel for the birth of even more research that would eventually dominate the world of animal training as we know it today.

Keller and Marian Breland along with Bob Bailey picked up where Skinner left off. Graduate students who dedicated their careers and lives to applying Skinner’s behavioral research to the training of animals of all species, these are the key people who are behind what is the most effective practice for teaching and shaping behavior.

Operant Conditioning

Well, here it is.  The nuts and bolts in as plain a manner as I can think of.  Let’s learn what operant conditioning is really all about.  For starters, we must get an idea of the term operant conditioning itself.

Skinner discovered that behaviors are molded and shaped by consequences from the environment.  In the context of training our dogs, the human is a huge part of that environment.  Our dog’s behavior is significantly influenced by the consequences we apply, whether we are aware or not.  I will tell you this, most of the time the human is totally unaware that training is happening all the time.

Whether intentional or not, your dog is learning via operant conditioning 24/7.  That’s why there isn’t any debate about the validity of information.  Your dog, along with you, learn from the consequences of your behavior.  This is why it makes sense to at least be informed on this subject.  If it is happening already without your realizing it, why not take control of it and use it to your benefit!

Whenever you are with your dog, they are learning from you.  Never forget that.

This is why when people come to me with issues like jumping and play biting the very first thing I do is ask them what is their reaction when this behavior occurs.  The reality is they usually have been unknowingly teaching the dog to do the very behavior they want it to stop!  Many people find themselves consoling in comforting voices and touches the dog who acts skiddish and hesitant.  If only they knew that those pleasant sounds and pleasurable touches were actually teaching the dog that its skiddish and hesitant behavior is a great way to get loved on and touched!  Yes, that’s how it works.  It’s ok, we’ve all done it at some point.  There is good news though.

Things are about to change for you and your dog.

Definitions

Every good lesson begins with some vocabulary.  Let’s begin.

reinforcer:  A response from the environment that makes the behavior more likely to occur again..think of a “reward”

punisher:  A response from the environment that decreases the chances of a behavior happening again.  This is also called an “aversive”.

positive:  The word positive in operant conditioning does NOT mean “good” but rather refers to the addition of something.  Positive means that something has been added or given to the subject (the dog)

negative: As with positive, do not think about the emotion or subjective context of the word but rather in this case, subtraction.  Negative means that something has been taken away from the subject (the dog)

Now that we have that out the way it’s time to put some of the first pieces together.  Remember, we are talking about behaviors.  Skinner’s behavior theory, or operant conditioning as we know it, states that the (dog) will continue to display behaviors that are reinforced and will discontinue to display behaviors that are punished or ignored.  Yes, it’s that simple.  Right now you are thinking, “wait, that’s common sense!”.   I’ve said it before and I’ll say it countless times in the future…

Dog training’s difficulty, is embracing its simplicity.

Positive Reinforcement

This is the most common term thrown around on the internet these days in dog training,  with good reason I might add.  Behaviors that we want to be repeated by the dog, we reinforce.  The single most effective way to teach a dog to do a desired behavior is to use positive reinforcement.   This really isn’t even up for debate in a world where EVERYTHING is up for debate!  In fact, allow me to remind you that even though we are talking about dogs, this applies to humans along with the rest of the thinking world of organisms.

To break it down using our new vocabulary, when we positively reinforce a behavior that means that we are adding something positive as a consequence for a behavior we want to see again.  When the dog sits, we give him a treat or a pat on the head.  If you do this repeatedly the dog starts to realize it will get something good when it sits.  Vioila, you’re dog is learning to sit.

I like to use human examples as well, so lets say positive reinforcement is also when a wife gives her husband an ice cold beer from the fridge after he takes out the trash.  If she continues to do this she will see an increase in her husband’s willingness to take the trash out.

This is also where the terms clicker and marker training have come from.  Trainers use clickers to “mark” a behavior that they want to happen again which tells the dog it did something good and then receives a treat.  The details of clicker/marker training are an entirely different subject all together and one which I will absolutely go into great depths in future articles.

Negative Reinforcement

We can also use negative reinforcement.  With dogs this is not something we do as much, although it absolutely does have its purpose and role in certain situations.  When we negatively reinforce a behavior we are going to remove something unpleasant from a situation that we created the moment the subject does what we want.

The very common misuse of this was the old fashioned way of teaching a dog to down by stomping on the leash putting unpleasant pressure on the dog’s neck in the direction of the ground.   The moment the dog began to lay down the pressure was removed.  This is a horrible way to teach a dog.

We see this in our personal lives as well.  Think of the same wife taking a different approach to getting her husband to take out the trash.  Let’s say she nagged and nagged and complained and gave him a really hard time about the trash.  Then the moment he took out the trash, she became silent.  The husband learns the quicker he does the desired behavior the quicker his wife will stop nagging him.

While you can see that negative reinforcement can definitely work, hopefully you can also see the difference in the mood and attitude that could be associated with each.

Negative Punishment

When we want to eliminate a behavior, meaning the dog has something we don’t want it to do again we would use punishment.  As explained earlier, punishment is used to decrease the frequency of a behavior or discourage it from happening again.

Negative punishment is when we take away something good after the undesired behavior happens.  An example of how this would work with your dog is when teaching them to walk on a leash.  The moment the dog pulls you stop moving.  In this case, moving is something the dog wants so when they pull and you stop, you are taking away something good.

Let’s visit our loving couple again.  Perhaps it is time for bed and the frisky couple is thinking about getting…..amorous….then the husband lets out the mother of all belches.  Instantly the wife rolls over.  Nope, none for him tonight.  You get the idea.

Another very common example is with children.  Negative punishment is very frequently used in the context of “grounding”.  Upon misbehaving the child has his/her video games or cell phone taken away.

Positive Punishment

….and the winner for most confusing name goes too…….POSITIVE PUNISHMENT!!!   *crowd boooos*

Why is the crowd booing?  More than likely because our crowd is educated to the fact that positive punishment is very easy to misuse and can damage the relationship between the trainer and the subject very quickly.  Wait, you’re still confused at what positive punishment even is.  I understand, believe me I do.

How can punishment be positive?  Remember, in our breakdown we learned that when talking about operant conditioning and behavior theory the words positive and negative simply refer to the addition and subtraction of a stimulus.

In positive punishment we are adding something  as a consequence to a behavior we do not want the subject to do again.  What is added as a punisher depends on the dog.  Each subject is different whether human or dog.  Knowing the dog you are working with is essential to be able to determine what the appropriate consequence is in order for it to actually function as a punisher.

I will say this and have no issue being quoted on it.  Positive punishment does have its place in dog training.  The catch is, that place is very small.  Teeny tiny small, in fact.  I also do not recommend it for the majority of pet owners as they simply do not have the skill and timing required to use it effectively.  More often than not, they will do more harm than good.

operant conditioning meme

 

Parting Words

Skinner’s behavior theory known as operant conditioning is the foundation of controlling any organism’s behavior from dogs, to whales, and yes, even your spouse.

Positive punishment should be the absolute last resort when dealing with a behavioral issue and should only be used after consulting a trained professional.  In my experience working with pet dogs I have found more often than not, a better understanding of these four elements of behavior could have resulted in the avoidance of having to use any positive punishment at all.

When it comes to modifying most behaviors, and especially teaching new ones, the carrot is mightier than the stick.

There is much, much more to operant conditioning when we begin to look at how to actually apply it with our dogs.  More vocabulary is required along with looking at the various real life situations in which you can begin to apply your new knowledge.  While the fundamental concepts are very simple, in execution it can get tricky and sometimes a little confusing.

Be sure to follow the blog so you don’t miss out when that information hits the press!

I will absolutely be talking about this much more in the future so be sure to stick around!

 

 

Read more

LEASH LAWS EXIST FOR A REASON

I enjoy seeing a dog run free, without a leash as much as anybody else.  The enjoyment they have while sprinting across a field of soft grass can almost be vicariously experienced simply by watching them.  It feels good, to see your dog feel good.  That makes you a caring and good dog owner.  However, leash laws exist for a reason.

 Community and Social Contract

Most laws we have originate from a problem.  That problem was evaluated, reflected upon,  and subsequently a law was created to hopefully decrease the chances of it happening again.  When you live in a community with other people, understanding that everyone’s actions effect everyone else is essential.  From Socrates to Plato, (two very old and very dead guys who thought a lot about stuff once upon a time ) the idea of people having to give up certain freedoms for the benefit of the group was the birth of social contract theory in philosophy.  Leash laws absolutely are examples of such sacrifice.

When your freedom to do something encroaches on somebody else’s freedom, conflict arises.  Many laws exist for the sole purpose of preventing far worse conflict that could arise from the participating individuals would seeking justice on their own. Terms like chaos and anarchy come to mind, as well as movies like The Purge. Within a society or on a smaller scale, a community, there needs to be some element of order to prevent that type chaos.  Part of living in a community is acknowledging that there are others whom you must share a space with, whether it is a sidewalk or a park, and that comes with some sacrifice.  If you do not wish to make lifestyle sacrifices then by all means, chose not to live in such a community.

A community with no leash laws is a community where dogs run amuck with owners tagging along behind.  On any given day you might find two men engaged in a fight with each other as a result of a fight that their dogs got into first.  Imagine the amount of potential conflict between humans that could result from such a situation.  That doesn’t even address the potential problems and damage the dogs directly pose themselves.

Fair is Fair

I live in a community with plentiful sidewalks, a community access pool, and a park that is managed by the county within which it all can be found.  The park has a small fenced in area that contains  a nice playground area for children that has large prominent sign that says no dogs allowed.

catana park, leash, line

In the park, WITH a longline.

One doesn’t need to be a rocket scientist to know why that sign is there.  A sandy fenced in area is mighty appealing for folks to turn it into an impromptu dog park.  It wouldn’t take long for the area to be riddled with the stinkiest of non-lethal landmines upon which many an exuberant 4 year old might happen upon.  Also, it prevents the possibility of children having to deal with a potentially non child friendly dog when they should be able to run and play in a safe and carefree environment.  Yet every day I still see people walk directly passed the sign, with their dog, and unclip the leash and watch them go to the bathroom in there.

The same park also has a lovely maintained field that sits several feet below the adjacent road and sidewalk.  It is PERFECT for a dog to run and play.  There are very visible signs that cite the local municipal laws that prohibit dogs from being outside of the direct control of their owners via a leash or line.  I use that area every day and many of the pictures you see posted on my Instagram and Facebook are taken there.  You will see in each and every one of those pictures a line attached to the dog.  While it may sound arrogant, the fact remains that of all the folks who use that park with their dog, I am the only one who actually has control of their animal and I’m not referring to the leash.  If the dog was loose with not even a collar on she would behave the same way.  The dog still wears a leash/line.  Why?

 The Lost Art of Consideration

It’s not actually an art, it’s a simple act of thinking of others in the actions you chose to make.  As much as I use a leash because it is a law and I do not wish to suffer the consequences of noncompliance, I also understand the numerous reasons for which that law exists.  The dog wearing a leash provides  peace of mind for those folks I share that space with who might very well be terrified of dogs.  I respect their fears immensely as I once shared them.  Seeing a dog off leash now even gets me a bit uncomfortable as I am concerned with the ramifications of it making the very bad choice of being aggressive with me or heaven forbid, any dog that might be at the end of my own leash.  I’m thinking of that poor dog who has no idea the sh*t-storm its about to find itself in and the owner who will subsequently find themselves under the same cloud.  For others, the fear is of the harm they might be subject to at the teeth of an ill-mannered dog running loose.

If me and my extremely well-trained and obedient dog can respect the law and have a leash/line on, why can’t others? Why are they special and not subject to the laws and standards of the community? The arrogance of somebody to think that they are above showing consideration to others sharing a public space is rather disturbing.  I fear it also follows a much larger trend in our country as a whole where people simply don’t feel compelled to be considerate of others.  That reminds me of a quote by Robert E. Howard who was most known for his tales of the legendary Conan,

“Civilized men are more discourteous than savages because they know they can be impolite without having their skulls split, as a general thing.”

 

The Leash

Use a leash or a line when not on your property and in the presence of others.  It is not that difficult.  While in most places it is the law, it is also about preventing the numerous problems that can arise from not using it.

You don’t have to spend a fortune acquiring one of these rather simple tools.  For many years I have been making my own leashes/lines rather than spending excess $$$ for activities as simple as walking or out playing in a field.  Considering that in a potentially dangerous situation this line is all that you have to avoid disaster, don’t go to Amazon and buy the cheapest thing you can find.  Many leashes use inferior material for the clasps or the part that attached to the dog’s collar.  I have seen these clasps break under unbelievably low stress/pressure.

Generally speaking, if it is good enough for a horse, its good enough for a dog.  This is why the local tack shop is a great place to get the appropriate clasps and other hardware if you happen to have a particularly strong or powerful dog.  Either way, homemade is always an option.

 

 

Like everything else in dog training, it is not complicated.  Leash laws exist for a reason.  If you make a choice to be non-compliant, be sure to accept the consequences with equal enthusiasm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read more

goalsDid you make your goal list yet? No, not your “new year’s resolution list”, but GOALS people. There is a difference. There is a BIG difference. By the end of reading this you should already be well on your way to a fantastic year and all you have to do first is set your goals!

Let’s face it, that whole resolution crap is just that, crap. You know it and I know it, so lets just move past it and act like adults. What we should be doing instead is thinking about and planning out our goals.

 

THE WHAT

Goals are things we plan on achieving. They are worded differently than “dreams”, they have power behind them, and writing them down is proven to increase the probability that you will achieve them. Not typing them in an online planner or writing something down in your Google Docs, I’m talking about taking out a sheet of paper and a pen and writing them down.

This is not just folly or conjecture.  There has been research behind this with demonstrated success and results.  I am a big fan of a man named Jordan Peterson.  Google him and try and listen to some of his lectures.  A professor at Toronto University, Peterson has done extensive work with the practice of writing down your thoughts and ambitions. A summary of his work in this field is explained in greater deal HERE.  The point is, somebody on the internet didn’t invent this concept last week.

Once upon a time when I was going through a really rough spot I had determined that rather than focus outward on what perceived evils the horrible mean world had perpetrated against me, I would focus on myself and what changes I needed to make.   I realized that the only person on the planet I had the absolute power to control and manipulate was none other than ME. In this instance, I had never heard a single word of Anthony Robbins or Jordan Peterson, or any others who are big on the list making thing, I just thought it would be a good idea. I took a red dry erase marker and went into the bathroom and wrote down a list of goals I had.

It wasn’t January 1st and they weren’t resolutions. Every day I would have to confront my own goals and be accountable for them as I brushed my teeth morning and night. I woke up looking at them and I went to bed with them fresh in my mind. That was my first experience with goal setting and I totally winged it.  The whole process just made sense to me regardless of how rudimentary my approach to it was.

 

THE WHY

Fast forward a couple years and I came across the same concept from a dear friend and somebody I have an immense amount of personal respect for. He was speaking on the value of preparing annual goals, writing them down, sharing them with those who you trust to hold you accountable, then executing them. ( His name is Matt Arroyo and you should pause for a moment to make sure you have his blog bookmarked and you are following him on facebook ) . Since starting this with much more focus and deliberation I am proud to say I have achieved far more in my life than ever before.

Goals don’t have to be these fantastical feats of great achievement. If you have never climbed a mountain then perhaps setting a goal of climbing Mt Everest by the conclusion of 2017 might be a bit steep (pun intended).  I remember last year I set a goal of reading 5 books for the year (previously I had read NONE). I am happy to say I read six books all of which contributed to expanding my knowledge (no fiction!!) and helping me improve upon a variety of aspects of my life.

If I had not thought about what I wanted to accomplish, then taken the time to write them down on paper, and then share them with a few select individuals to assist me in being accountable for them, who knows if I would have even read one book!

THE HOW

More than just knowing your goals, it helps dramatically if you know how you plan to achieve them. When I said I was going to read five books in 2017 I accompanied that goal with a smaller goal that I knew would help me achieve the reading. For me, getting up 30 minutes earlier every day to make sure I read each and every morning while having my coffee, was a smaller goal that helped me exceed my bigger goal of reading five books. If you don’t have a clue how you will get to a destination then how can you reasonably expect to get there? Think about what you want to achieve and once you determine the steps to get there you have just identified a number of smaller goals to add to your list.

Just as important as writing down these goals is sharing them with somebody.  There must be purpose to this part as well.  This is where accountability comes into play.  The process of writing down your goals then sharing them with the person mentally absent character sitting next to you on the subway would be considered less than ideal.  Your accountability partner is just that, a partner who respects you and your desire for improvement and will absolutely hold you accountable.

THE WHEN

Now. Yes, I mean it. As soon as you finish reading this article, and subsequently sharing it on your facebook page of course so all your friends can benefit as well, you should grab a pen and paper and start goal setting. If you wait, you won’t do it, and that would suck.

What can it hurt?

Read more

Yup, this one is surely going to get some feathers ruffled but it’s a must.  Yet again I heard a story from a fellow dog professional who was called in to evaluate a dog for placement in a new home.  Why? Because the humans are idiots.  I hear this all the time and the vast number of people who own dogs, and shouldn’t, is having an increasingly negative effect on responsible dog owners everywhere.  My suggestion? A new form of dog license.   Just like you have to pass a test to drive a car you should have to pass some type of test or evaluation to own a dog.

THE PROBLEM

According to the ASPCA there are almost 80 million dogs owned in the United States.  Re-read that last sentence.  Can you picture that?  Can any of us really comprehend what that looks like and what that means?  Also realize that number does not include strays nor does include those who simply haven’t been accounted for.

Why is that statistic directly under what I labeled as “THE PROBLEM”?  It’s a problem because common sense simply says that we don’t have that many
responsible dog owners!  Those of us dog people who read and watch the news are constantly hearing about some negative dog related incident in the media.  From babies getting bitten, loose dogs roaming neighborhoods, and even the horrid crimes of animal abuse all plague our dog heavy population.  If you are a dog owner and have ever tried to acquire a rental you are very familiar with the scrutiny and crap you have to deal with to convince the potential landlord you are not one of “those” dog owners who will allow dog excrement to destroy their unit.

When I have a dog with me for training I have to be very careful what time of day I take them for walks.  I have designated windows I try and stay within; before 6am, 11am-2pm, and after 9pm.  Can you guess where I came up with those times?  Those are when I am least likely to encounter another dog owner in my neighborhood!  It still blows m
y mind that people open their front doors and garages and let their dogs “hang out” to go to the bathroom.  I’m a dog trainer who even when I have complete control over a dog, I simply don’t take that chance because I am conscious about the consequences.

Almost every situation I have ever come across or heard of regarding a child that was bitten by a dog, the entire situation could have been prevented by the dog owner.  Stupid, idiotic, ignorant people who allow dogs and children to interact unsupervised, or even worse, who allow children to abuse their dogs because they think “its cute”, are more common than any of us want to accept.

I have a solution that would move the negative trend of idiot ownership of dogs in the right direction.

THE SOLUTION

If you want to drive a car you have to take a test and pass an evaluation.  Why? So that we as a society can make some attempt to curtail utter and complete morons from getting behind the wheel.  If people without the license get caught behind the wheel there are consequences.  Does that solve the problem of people who shouldn’t be behind the wheel being there anyway? Not 100% no.  To expect 100% success though is just as retarded as expecting that every person who has a dog knows how to care for it, train it, control it, and protect society from it.  It is a step in the right direction though.

I have met more people with dogs who should NEVER own a dog in their life than I have met who should.  Remember the above figure, 80 million dogs. If we could weed out th
e most incompetent of those dog owners society would be better off for it along with the responsible dog owners.

There should be a basic written test that would require somebody research and learn the most fundamental aspects of dog ownership.  This test to acquire a dog license would cost money to take and when you pass it, just like a driver’s license, there are regular renewal fees.  Yes, I am suggesting that you pay fees to acquire a license to own a dog.  You have a problem with that? Really? Think about it.  If you cant afford 50-60 dollars every 2 years then you DEFINITELY can’t responsibly afford to take care of a dog.  End of conversation on that point of contention.  The money could go towards maintaining the entire process with a portion going towards maintaining and supporting animal shelters.

Less idiot dog owners means less dogs in shelters.  Money being put into the system through fees and testing costs would be put back into the system to assist existing shelters.  Plus, those found in violation would have monetary penalties that would create additional revenue to help the various programs to assist dogs in the community.

The list of potential upsides to this is endless.  The biggest problems with dogs is humans.  Here is a way to cut down on the number of people who own dogs yet have no business owning them in the first place.  For the pit bull community this would have a DRAMATIC effect helping this breed avoid some of the negativity it currently is experiencing due to human related issues.

 

 

What do you think?

Should Municipalities/Cities require potential dog owners to pass a minimum basic skills assessment and obtain a paid license to own a dog?

Read more

Everybody who has a dog and yes, even those without all know what fetch is.  The trademark game to play with your dog has been around since the beginning of dogs interacting with humans.  Yet for many who own a dog, a mental image of playing the game is about as close as they get to actually enjoying it.

fetch

THE PROBLEM

It’s simple.  You throw the ball and your dog blasts off after it in a cloud of dust and grass clippings.  Once in his mouth, the ball will go on a looooong journey before it ever finds itself in your grasp again.  Your dog loves to chase the ball, get the ball, hold on to the ball, and enjoy the ball all by himself at that point.  Your attempts at the game of fetch consist of one throw and zero retrieves.

THE HACK

It’s even more simple than the problem itself.  Instead of playing “fetch”, play a different game altogether.  We will call this game “2 Ball”.  No tricks here, you will simply use TWO balls instead of one.  You throw one ball and as your dog gets it and perhaps begins to move in your direction you take out the second ball and let him know you have it.

The key is that at this point you have to do some salesmanship.  Your job is to make your dog think that the ball you have in your hand is more awesome than the one in his mouth.  As he runs up to you prepare to throw the 2nd ball.

Timing is essential here.  The moment the dog drops the first ball is when you throw the 2nd.  What you are teaching him is that he only gets the “cooler” ball when he spits out the 1st ball.

BOOM!  NOW YOU’RE PLAYING FETCH

The next step is to get the dog to let go of the ball on command.  I’ll cover that in another Training Hack coming soon.

 

Enjoy!

Read more

I’ve always been a big Robert Redford fan as well as Brad Pitt. There is a scene in a movie they both were in, Spy Game, that came up in a dog related situation the other day that I think is super important to share.

If you haven’t seen the movie you should, it’s great. There is a scene in particular where the seasoned CIA “spy handler” played by Redford is teaching an aspiring spy played by Pitt how to be observant.   The two sit in a restaurant and Redford demonstrates how without appearing to do so, he has cataloged everybody in the room into his memory and determined whether there are any potential threats.  While very impressive, I wouldn’t try this trick on a first date as the creep factor might be a bit too much to deal with.

 

WHAT’S THIS HAVE TO DO WITH DOGS?

When at the park with a friend the other day with a very high drive and reactive dog I am working with, my friend asked to participate in the game of fetch I was playing with the dog. I quickly obliged and explained where I wanted him to throw the ball. When asked why I wanted the ball to be thrown in a specific direction, I explained to my friend that there is a Great Pyrenees dragging a 90lb woman around the parking lot to our 6 o clock, a small Havanees/mix off leash with a senior citizen struggling to use a cellphone at our 8 o clock, and a cat stalking something along the fence line about 100 yards to our 9 o clock. Hence why I said throw to our 12!

He laughed and jokingly asked if I used to work for the CIA, brought up the scene from that movie and then I explained to him one of the most important aspects of dog ownership.

 

AWARENESS

Whether you have a dog that you know has challenges with certain elements of the environment or you have a super stable well balanced dog who could care less about anything, your head should be on a swivel when out in the world with your dog. As far as I am concerned it comes with the package of responsibility that is owning a dog.

If I know my dog has issues with cats and there is a strong chance I will lose control of her if she gets within proximity of one, then I’m always looking to make sure I see the cat before she does. This gives me the ability to control the situation and perhaps turn it into a training moment.

Where some people get confused is when I say that even the stable dog owner should be as diligently observant. While your dog might be fine, what bout the other less observant  owner of the dog that is NOT stable? My job is to protect not just others from my dog but, even more importantly to protect my dog from others!

 

RADAR

If there is a threat in the environment I need to be the first one to know. Yes, I realize one of the perks about having dog is that they provide an element of security and protection for us and yes sometimes it is the acute senses of smell and hearing of the dog that let me know when something is up. However, that doesn’t let me off the hook for doing whatever I can to protect my beloved canine from its own desires and drives or the desires and drives of another. Once I enter the outside world with my dog my radar is ON.

 

It is our job to protect them first.  Accept the responsibility or get a goldfish.

 

Read more

Thinking of buying a dog?  You need to read this first, there is a very real chance you’re not ready.  Already have a dog?  No worries, this might help you tighten up your game a bit.
buying a dog is not a light decision

So you are thinking about buying a dog (or adopting/rescuing).  This is the perfect opportunity for you to double, triple, or even quadruple check your decision to become a dog owner. You’re not buying a new TV, motorcycle, or even a car. A dog has 24/7 needs and is a living, breathing, thinking, feeling, loving, hurting, being.   That’s heavy, I know.

Here are 10 big things to think about before beginning to even think about selecting a do (dog selection is a completely separate and substantial topic to be covered later).

DURATION

Depending on the breed you are considering, dogs have lifespans that range from 8-10 years on the low range to upwards of 15+ on the high side. For a lot of people, rescuing is the best option and mixed breeds are known for their health and longevity. Plan on spending the next 10-15 years being focused on the things on the rest of this list.

Are you ready for a commitment that long?

COST

Allow me to tell you the simple fact that dogs ain’t cheap. Far from it. People have no clue what they are getting into, hence why I am making a point to let them know right now.

I have owned dogs of various sizes and breeds for over 20 years. With all that experience it is safe to say I know how and when to cut costs, and when to bite the bullet. The average owner or even the new owner for that matter does not have that experience or knowledge, which means they pay the most.

It is very safe to say that you can expect to spend $2000 a year on the VERY low end of a medium sized dog, and upwards of $3,000 a year for that same medium sized dog. That is a VERY rough estimate. Obviously that does not account for emergencies, which cost a LOT of money.

Food and regular veterinary care are the most expensive and regular costs. I am 100% against feeding your dog any type of dog food that you buy in the dog food isle of the grocery store. If you are feeding raw food, then fine, a human store is acceptable. Generally speaking though, all the quality dog food is either going to be at a feed store (if you live in a rural area) or a specialty dog store (urban folks). The good dog food is not cheap, but it is worth every penny.

Bottom line, dogs cost money and you need to be prepared for that. You should anticipate setting a minimum of $100 a month aside for your dog’s care and anything leftover gets rolled over to save for that unforeseen trip to the vet because your dog thought those new Victoria Secret panties were for dinner.

Are you ready for 15 years of that?

WORK

Does your job even provide you with the time to be a good dog owner? What time do you have to be to work? You will need to get up even earlier to take Fido for a walk. What time do you get home from work? Don’t forget, he’s been holding his pee ALL day. Do you work alternating shifts? Dog’s thrive on consistency and need to know what to expect on a daily basis when it comes to their food and bathroom breaks.

Are you ready to look for a new job if you have to?

VACATIONS

I can tell you from personal experience that dogs and vacations can be quite the combination. For me, it meant no vacations for many years. My situation was slightly different because I owned very aggressive dogs who required very specialized care. That does not apply to 99% of people who might be reading this, however instead of missing vacations like I did, they will simply have to spend more money.

You will need to either find a very trustworthy friend, a quality boarding facility, or plan on finding a pet friendly destination. All of these cost extra money which can get added to the costs of ownership. It’s not cheap as in this case you definitely get what you pay for.  If the price is surprisingly low it is for a reason.  Invest time in deciding who will care for your dog in your absence.  

Are you ready for 15 years of that?

FRIDAY NIGHTS

When you have had the work week from hell nothing seems as sweet as a Friday afternoon.   Just as you get to the parking lot and prepare to embark upon a Happy Hour marathon, it hits you. Responsibility comes creeping into your agenda and suddenly Happy Hour is a fantasy not soon to be experienced.

We will make an assumption on your behalf and give you credit for making the only correct choice in such a situation. Going home to take care of your best friend who has been unable to go to the bathroom for at least 8 hours is the only choice. Hence why Happy Hour isn’t going to happen.

Most people can’t fathom holding their bladders for a 3 hour plane flight.  How about your dog who has been holding it all day while you are at work?   Whether in crate or on a couch, there is no difference. Owning a dog means coming home when you need to come home, no excuses. If you want to go out, then you are going back out after providing  not only a bathroom break, but a nice long walk for your dog to drain the days built up energy along with the bladder.

Are you ready for 15 years of that?

SATURDAY MORNINGS

If by some chance you do find yourself either going out, or simply consuming a good time at home, it matters not. You will be getting up at the butt crack of dawn by way of a tongue bath on your face or the worlds loudest tap dancing tournament coming from your dog’s crate.

It has been all night and yes, its bathroom time again. Forget your self induced pain and nausea, that poor dog of yours it seeing yellow for Christ’s sake!

Are you ready for 15 years of that?

SOCIAL LIFE

If it doesn’t include your dog, it certainly isn’t going to be too active.  Here’s a tip, just find other people with similar dog interests as you.  It’s just easier that way, don’t fight it, let it happen.

Are you ready for 15 years of that?

CONSISTENCY

For many of us, consistency is something that is struggled with on a daily basis and often in a non-dog context. The discipline required to manage one’s life in an organized and efficient level can seem challenging and difficult to maintain. We manage, sometimes enjoying moments of organized thought, only to return to our own self created chaos. The best part is we apply labels to those who do have the discipline and ability to be consistent in their lives. What used to apply to a specific diagnosis of unpractical routine and sickness, think Jack Nicholson in As Good As It Gets, is now a jab we throw at those who simply are better than us at this seemingly daunting task. They are no more OCD than we are ICD, IN – consistency disorder!

When we move the conversation to dogs the only thing that changes is the very real consequences of our inconsistencies. Dogs that are not on a routine are not only prone to housebreaking issues but also more  behaviorally challenging.

Animals need regular and predictable schedules. Especially the house dog who is notoriously under-stimulated as it is. Predictability is paramount in the dogs psyche and the more she can count on things like regular bathroom opportunities and scheduled long walks, the less anxiety and hyperactive behavior you will have to deal with from the her.

If you want to be a good dog owner, which you should for your dog’s sake, then you must create a schedule and stick to it. While this really isn’t an article on canine behavior, it does need to be mentioned that consistency also applies to how you communicate with your dog and the rules and boundaries you establish and maintain.

Are you ready for 15 years of that?

TIME

This is a huge one and the most often overlooked. The time commitment required is huge. As I mentioned earlier, you are not buying a toy or inanimate object. You are thinking about acquiring another living and feeling being on this earth. This is some serious shit. Really, it is.

You got a hint by reading all the previous sections that there is a lot involved. Now add to it the necessary mental and physical stimulation to keep your dog happy. An unhappy dog is a dog with a shitty owner. Some people think that hugs when convenient for them makes their dog happy. This is not so. Actually, there are going to be plenty of times over the course of your dog’s life when what they need will be anything but convenient for you.

Every single day, that dog needs to be engaged, mentally challenged, and exercised. Luckily if you are getting a dog for just that, the interaction, then it will be an incredibly fulfilling experience. Otherwise, you might be in for a rough trip. Allow me to inform you now in case you didn’t know…..A 5 minute potty break does not count as a walk. A walk is 30-45 minutes of stimulating, brisk, mental and physical stimulation. When you don’t provide that for your dog bad things start happening. Under stimulated dogs who do not get enough quality time from their owners get destructive, anxious, obnoxious, and in some cases, dangerously aggressive. If you aren’t’ ready for 2-3 hours a day then don’t get a dog. I mean it. Get a cat or a fish.

Are you ready for 15 years of that?

And the number 1…..

 SACRIFICE

You will indeed have to sacrifice a great many things to be a good dog owner. While some of the majors have been covered in this article, it is impossible to list everything as much will depend on your own individual situation.

The point is, are you ready for what could be well over the next 10 years of your life, to sacrifice whatever is necessary to be a worthy dog owner? I say worthy because it truly is us who are on the receiving end of a gift when it comes to owning a dog.

Ask yourself…..should I be buying a dog?  Is it that time or perhaps not just yet?

Read more

Picturephoto credit: Cato on the driveway via photopin (license)

This tip comes from a visit I had the other day with a friend of mine and the dog was hanging out with us.  The topic of dog names is not uncommon or often overlooked.  What is overlooked is how to make best usage of them and how to avoid the common mistakes.  An easy solution is a quick fun dog name game.

MARSHA MARSH MARSHAAAAA

I kept hearing that Brady Bunch line in my head as my friend was repeatedly saying their dog’s name over and over again trying to get their attention (yes, I just dated myself with that TV reference).  I won’t say the dog’s name here to protect the canine’s identity (not the human’s) but over and over and over again the human was saying the very distracted dog’s name.  The dog obviously wasn’t interested in what the owner wanted, along with the strong possibility the dog didn’t even understand what their name means and how they should respond when they hear it.

I looked at my friend with that look he is very familiar with.

“OK, what am I doing wrong” he said in a not so excited tone and sighed.

I sighed as well and broke it down for him.

DOG NAME GAME

​In my article that you can read HERE, I go into far more detail on a dog’s name and what it really means and how you can use it.  For now though here is a quick tip that can improve your dog’s response to their name.

Go back to the basics, cut up some hotdogs or vienna sausages into teeny pieces to start and throw them in a tupperware or similar container.  Usually once you reach for that stuff the dog is at your heels in anticipation of receiving some of those goodies so put the container on the counter and forget about it for awhile.

When you get a moment, swing by the container and pick up a few morsels.  If your dog is following you again, wait a few moments until they get distracted then you can begin.

As soon as your dog turns their head or looks away, say their name ONE time.  As soon as the dog looks at you extend your hand with a treat.  THAT’S IT.  Nothing more nothing less.  At this point no verbal praise is necessary.

Repeat this for up to 10 times then take a break.

Repeat this process as often as you like following the same incredibly simple formula.

STOP
Another helpful tip is to stop overusing your dog’s name.  When the dog hears their name something good should be immediately following it.  NEVER NEVER NEVER EVER use their name prior to giving them a correction.  That’s a rule. Don’t break it.

That’s it, just a super quick tip for those who notice their dog is resembling a defiant pubescent 14 year old teenager.

Is there MUCH more to a name? ABSOLUTELY, that’s why I wrote a full article on it and included a link above.

P.S.

A clicker makes this game waaaaay more effective!!

Any tips or experiences you’d like to share?!?!  Please do!


Read more