PAWS Chicago Dog Training Library
The following training protocols were developed by PAWS Chicago Director of Training and Canine Behavior, Joan Harris. These resources can help you manage your dog's specific behavioral challenges.
What is Clicker Training?
Clicker training is a positive reinforcement training system, based on the principals of classical and operant conditioning, that incorporates the use of a marker signal (the click) to tell a dog precisely what it was doing right at that point in time. This allows us to build behaviors we want the dog to acquire.
What is a Clicker?
A clicker is a small plastic noisemaker that makes the sound of a “click” used to mark desirable behaviors. In itself, it has no meaning to the dog but paired with a reward it becomes a powerful training tool. Clickers are inexpensive and can be purchased at most pet stores and online.
Why can’t I just say “good dog” when my dog does something right?
As an event marker, the clicker becomes uniquely attached to your dog’s successful performance. Since it is used as a training tool, it allows the handler to mark a behavior with greater precision and more consistency than we can do with our voice.
Why is Positive Reinforcement so important?
Positive reinforcement will speed up your training process, while it strengthens the bond between you and your dog. We are able to avoid punishment or negative tools because they are simply unnecessary while we are teaching important life skills; and punishment can cause the dog fear or conflict. Reinforcing a behavior will make that behavior occur with more frequency while keeping the dog happy and engaged. Our results will be a confident and enthusiastic learner.
What do I need to start?
- A buckle or martingale collar
- A 5 to 6 ft. training leash
- A clicker
- Many small treats that your dog really loves
- A pouch or bait bag to hold your treats
- A mat or bed that your dog can lie on
- A chew toy, rawhide, bully stick or stuffed Kong toy (with peanut butter or wet dog food) to work with relaxation on a mat or bed
The premise of clicker training is quite simple; you see the behavior you want to reinforce, you mark it with a click, and you reward the behavior.
Find out what treats your dog really loves. If the dog doesn’t really want the reward, it will not be motivated to learn. Use small, soft treats that the dog can easily chew and swallow instead of hard, large treats that will cause it to lie down and chew. If the dog’s diet allows, small pieces of cut up cheese, chicken, hotdogs or other special food is great. Always train before a meal when your dog is hungry and alert!
Measure about ten treats in your one hand and have the clicker in the other. Simply click and then give your dog a treat. The treat should be delivered in a distinctly separate physical motion from the click (keeping your treat hand behind your back until after you click will help). If the treat hand is in motion, the dog will focus on the food; and the impact of the click will be diluted. The treat must also be delivered immediately (within a second) after the click. This will ensure that the click leaves a strong impact on the dog. Repeat this process over the next couple days (you can do multiple sets of 10, but quit before your dog loses interest) until your dog can predict that the click means that a reward will follow.
Decide what behavior you want to mark. Knowing this ahead of time will help you sharpen your observation skills in order to “capture” the desired behavior. Pick an easy behavior your dog does naturally; such as making eye contact, sitting, or a cute head tilt. Click one time, the moment the behavior occurs, and then reinforce with a treat. Don’t worry if you accidentally click at the beginning, just be sure to deliver the treat. A treat always follows a click to keep the dog’s association between the click and the reward strong.
Once your dog starts to repeat the desired behavior multiple times in anticipation of the click/reward, you are ready to attach a cue, teaching the dog it will be rewarded for a specific behavior. Try to attach the cue a split second before your dog performs the behavior (click and treat) for several repetitions. Then randomly cue the behavior; click and reward when your dog responds.
You have just taught your dog something new by capturing the behavior, marking and reinforcing the behavior, and then putting the behavior on cue. Now you can practice capturing other desirable behaviors and putting them on cue, while increasing the lines of communication between you and your dog. Remember to keep all training sessions short and upbeat. Try to end the session while your dog is still interested and engaged. He’ll remember the fun when you start your next training session.
Some Basic Skills
When you are teaching and reinforcing your dog for sitting, you are teaching a basic skill that can help with proper greetings and manners at mealtimes. A dog with a reliable sit is easier to manage while leashing to go for a walk and passing through doorways. When a dog is consistently reinforced for sitting when greeting people, it forgets it was ever fun to jump up on them in the first place.
With your dog’s favorite treat in your hand, bring the treat to your dog’s nose and raise your hand slowly (without losing contact with the dog’s nose) over its head. This should bring its rear to the floor in a sit position. When the dog is sitting, give it the treat. Repeat several times until your dog easily sits as the treat is raised.
After you have lured your dog into sit multiple times; stand upright in front of your dog with a treat ready behind your back (or in a treat bag) and your clicker in the other hand. When your dog offers a sit on its own, click while the behavior is occurring; and follow immediately with a treat. *If your dog doesn’t sit at this time, go back to the lure for several more repetitions.
Put the behavior on cue by saying “sit” right when your dog begins the action of sitting (always click and reinforce the behavior). After multiple repetitions, give the “sit” cue randomly, then click and reinforce when your dog responds.
At Home Fun:
- Capture, click and reinforce sits your dog does spontaneously (if you don’t have your clicker, you can respond with a verbal marker such as the word “yes” with some praise and a treat).
- Begin to cue a sit in real life situations such as before meals, when clipping the leash on, before petting and when going through the door. Soon you will notice that your dog will automatically sit while waiting in these everyday situations.
- Ask your dog to sit before you greet it after returning home.
- Practice a sit in different rooms and with familiar family members or friends in the room. Put a leash on your dog and practice a sit when a familiar family member or friend enters the room.
- Practice outdoors at street corners and before getting into the car.
- Practice a “sit” cue while approaching a person. Practice greeting people outdoors by asking for a sit before allowing interaction.
Making eye contact and giving attention on cue is unnatural for most dogs, but it makes training so much easier if your dog can give you attention on cue.
Have your clicker and treats ready when moving around the house. Say your dog’s name and click when it turns its head to check in. Try the same thing while on a leash walk outdoors.
Put your dog on leash in a quiet room, and keep it close by stepping on the leash. Have your clicker and treats ready and when your dog looks up at you (even for a split second), capture the eye contact with a click and reward. Repeat until you see that your dog is offering the behavior to get the click and treat.
Put the behavior on cue by saying “watch” as the behavior begins. Repeat multiple times, always clicking as the behavior occurs and following with a treat. Take a short break and then try giving the “watch” cue to see if your dog responds with the correct behavior.
After several days of practicing “watch,” you are ready to teach your dog to respond in the presence of a light distraction. With your dog in front of you, hold the treat off to the side. Your dog’s gaze will follow the hand with the treat. Give your “watch” cue, and wait for you dog to respond by making eye contact, even for a split second. Try to click while the watch behavior is occurring (this will put your observation skills to the test) and follow with the treat. Repeat until your dog can easily move its gaze away from the treat hand and make solid eye contact on cue (this could take a few sessions, so be patient).
At home fun:
- Ask for a brief moment of eye contact, “watch,” before throwing ball or toy, opening the door to go out for a walk or before putting down the food bowl at mealtimes. These “real life” situations can be considered resources to your dog. Soon you should see your dog checking in with you more frequently as it realizes that good behavior is expected and will be followed by something fun or pleasant.
When your dog learns to touch your hand on cue, it is practicing the skill of targeting. This important skill can serve as a foundation to help teach other behaviors or even some fun tricks. Using a target, such as a hand touch, is a good way to get a frightened dog past a scary object or to desensitize a dog to a frightening situation. It can also be used to help us teach a dog to move from point A to point B or to go over an obstacle.
Start in a quiet place with your dog in front of you (put your dog on leash if necessary and then step on the leash to keep it near). Have your clicker in one hand and the other hand behind your back. Quickly take the hand from behind your back and place it about ¼ of an inch from your dog’s nose with an open palm. Your dog should reach forward slightly and touch your hand. Click at the precise time it touches your hand, then reach into your treat pouch and deliver a treat. Repeat several times.
Put the behavior on cue by saying “touch” as your dog is reaching for your hand. Watch your timing to be sure that you are clicking simultaneously to your dog’s touch.
After practicing your “touch” cue for several sessions, start to place your hand a little farther away from your dog’s nose so it has to move a greater distance. Increase the distance in small increments, making sure your dog is having success.
Go back to your beginning point and try moving your hand, again in small increments, to the right, left, up and down. Always be aware that if you go too fast, your dog may become confused.
At home fun:
- After your dog is familiar with the “touch” cue, you can change the cue to “say Hi” for a cute trick. Simply put the new cue “say Hi” in front of the old cue “touch” as you put out your open palm for several repetitions. Gradually fade out the old cue (touch) and your dog will learn to do the behavior on the new cue, “say Hi.”
- Teach your dog to come when called by using a target. Increase the distance from your dog while practicing the “touch” cue. When your dog is fluent and reliable from several feet, change the cue to by putting the new cue “come” in front of the old cue “touch” for several repetitions. Gradually fade out the old cue and your dog will learn to come to your open palm when it hears the cue “come.”
Teaching a dog to lie down and relax is an important skill for living in a home environment.
Start with your dog in a sit (you can kneel next to your dog if it’s easier) and hold a treat to your dog’s nose. Very slowly bring the treat down along your dog’s chest to the floor. Click and drop the treat between your dog’s front feet when it lies down.
Repeat several times giving the “down” cue as your dog is following the treat to the ground. Continue to click and drop the treat between your dog’s feet when it lies down.
Take the treat between your thumb and forefinger. Turn your hand so your dog only sees the top of your hand and not the treat. Give your “down” cue and slowly move your hand (with the treat hidden) to the ground. Click and release the treat when your dog’s elbows hit the ground.
Now you can start alternating having the treat and not having the treat in your hand so that your dog is responding to the hand signal cue instead of the treat. Make sure to click and reinforce your dog as soon as its elbows touch the ground. After a few sessions your goal is to fade the lure completely and reinforce consistently when your dog responds to your cue.
Once you’ve faded out the lure, gradually work on giving your cue from an upright position so your dog doesn’t rely on your bending over to give the cue. Always give you verbal cue, “down,” a second before you start your hand signal, giving your dog a chance to start responding to the verbal cue.
At Home Fun:
- If your dog can respond consistently to the “down” cue, teach your dog to go directly into the down position without going through sit. You can do this by walking next to your dog with a treat in your hand and then bringing the treat directly to the ground between your dog’s front legs as you give the cue “down”. Click and reward as soon as your dog is completely down. Repeat multiple times. Each time you should see that your dog’s response is faster.
- Take your dog’s favorite toy engage your dog with some fast-playful movements without allowing it to have it. When you see it really wants the toy, stop moving and give your “down “cue. As soon as your dog is down, toss the toy for it to retrieve. This should speed up its response even more!
- Alternate give your dog the “sit” and “down” cue, clicking and rewarding the correct response. Teach your dog to move from the down to sit position with a lure and then back down again. Now you have puppy “push-ups!”
Once your dog has mastered a “down,” you can start to teach it to go to a mat or bed and relax. This is an important skill that teaches your dog to settle and is a good way to foster independence. Your goal is that your dog learns to relax on its mat or bed for 20-30 minutes while you watch TV, read a book or cook dinner!
Start by placing a mat or bed in a convenient place on the floor. Be ready with your clicker and treats. Click and reward any interest your dog shows in the mat/bed. This can be a look or movement towards the bed. *To speed up your progress, reinforce your dog after the click by tossing the treat directly onto the mat/bed.
In small increments, reward any movement towards the bed. Raise your criteria slowly to one foot on the mat/bed, 2 feet on the mat/bed, 3 feet on the mat/bed until your dog is putting all 4 feet consistently on the bed. This may take you several sessions to achieve. *This technique is known as “shaping” and is used to build more complex behaviors.
Once your dog is consistently offering to go to the mat/bed, you can start to cue the behavior by saying “Go to place” and then rewarding. Gradually increase the amount of time your dog must stay on the mat/bed before you click and treat.
Now you’re ready to add distance, one step at a time, to the exercise. While you are adding distance, decrease the amount of time (duration) the dog is required to stay on the mat/bed so that you are focusing on one discipline at a time. This will make learning easier for the dog. *If your run into trouble at this point, go back to the last place you had success and increase your criteria more slowly. Don’t rush; this exercise will take several sessions to complete.
Now you’re ready to add a “down” to all of this. Go back to the beginning by standing close to the mat/bed. Give your cue “Go to place.” Instead of clicking when your dog steps on the mat/bed, cue your dog to “down.” *If your dog is not 100% proficient with its down, go ahead and lure the down and then jackpot by dropping multiple treats between its front feet. Before the dog jumps up, try to drop several more treats between its front feet to encourage it to stay longer.
- Once your dog in automatically giving you a “down,” start to increase the amount of time it must stay in this position before the click and treat. Then increase by small increments the distance away from the mat/bed.
- Remember to keep all sessions short, only 20-30 repetitions, and to quit while your dog is engaged and still having fun. Pick up you mat/bed when you are done with the exercise as a signal that training is finished.
Crate training a new dog or puppy can be an effective way to prevent destructive behavior, such as chewing on household items, as well as being a tool for housebreaking. Besides containing the dog until household rules can be taught, a crate takes advantage of a dog’s instinct not to soil its sleeping place. Many dogs like the den-like atmosphere of a crate and will choose to sleep inside when the door is left open. A crate can serve as a safe and comfortable way of transporting a dog in a car and can be a familiar “home away from home” while traveling.
Selecting a crate
There are two popular types of crates, collapsible wire crates and plastic airline or Vari-Kennels. Both styles come in various sizes and are available on-line or at pet supply stores. Wire crates offer more air circulation and some styles come with a divider that expands the size of the crate. This can be a money saver when training a growing puppy. Plastic airline or Vari-Kennels provide more privacy and a den-like feel.
When housebreaking a puppy or adult dog, it is important that the crate is just big enough for the puppy/dog to stand up, turn around and lie down. If the crate is too large, the puppy /dog may choose to eliminate on one side of the crate and sleep on the other. If the dog is housebroken, buy a crate with more space so the dog can spread out and be comfortable.
Introducing the dog to the crate
Be patient; crate training can take several days or even weeks to complete. The goal is to associate the crate with something positive and avoid making the experience unpleasant for the dog. It is advisable to keep the crate in the bedroom overnight to observe the dog’s behavior and to take it out to relieve itself if necessary.
Set up the crate in a convenient spot. If housebreaking a new puppy/dog, the crate can be moved into the bedroom at night if necessary (for puppies/dogs who need overnight crating, complete the first 3 steps before putting the dog in the crate overnight). Line the crate with a towel or blanket to make it comfortable for the dog. Make sure the crate door is securely fastened open, so the dog can walk in and out without the door swinging.
Lure the dog over to the crate with its favorite treats. Place a few treats inside the crate, close to the door, and let the dog eat them. Toss a few of the treats inside the crate and allow the dog to get used to going in and out. Do not force the dog in but allow it to go at its own pace. If the dog has a favorite toy, toss the toy in and allow the dog to retrieve it.
Next, begin feeding the dog its meals inside of the crate. Start by putting the dish all the way in the back of the crate. After a few meals, start closing the crate door while the dog is eating and then letting it out as soon as the meal is finished.
With each successive meal, leave the crate door closed a few minutes longer, working up to 10 minutes. If the dog starts to whine, back it up to the last place of success and then increase the time again. It is imperative that the dog is not whining when it is let out of the crate or it will learn that whining is the way to get the door to open.
To condition the dog for longer periods in the crate, prepare a long-lasting food toy such as a Kong stuffed with peanut butter or a bully stick. Bring the dog over to the crate with a treat. Give the cue “Crate” and toss in the treat. Once the dog enters the crate, give it the Kong or bully stick and close the door. Sit in the room with the dog and wait until it finishes the food toy. Wait a few minutes and let the dog out while it is still quiet.
Crating the dog when left alone
It is advisable to crate the dog with someone home for short periods to prevent the association with the crate and being left alone. Start by leaving the room for short periods while the dog is busy with its toy or relaxing. Gradually work this time up to about 30 minutes. Getting the dog used to being alone while in the crated is a good first step.
The next step is getting the dog used to being crated with no one home. This is usually best practiced on days off from work and for short periods of time first. Put the dog in the crate with stuffed Kong or bully stick about 15 minutes before leaving. Do not make a big deal of departure; keep it low key. The same follows on the return home. Wait until the dog is settled before opening the crate and keep excitement to a minimum.
Slowly increase the time the dog can be left alone to about 5 or 6 hours (for an adult dog). This is maximum time a dog should be crated. For a full work day schedule, employ a dog walker to come in to allow the dog time out of the crate to relieve itself and take a walk.
- Young puppies have very little bladder control and from 8 to 12 weeks they may need to go out every hour. As they mature, a good rule for duration in the crate is: 3 months old - 3 hours, 4 months old – 4 hours, 5 months old - 5 hours, 6 months and older – 6 hours.
- Never use the crate as a form of punishment. It is possible however, to use the crate for a brief time-out when necessary. Always give the dog something pleasant to do in the crate such as a stuffed Kong or puzzle toy during time-outs.
- Do not allow children to play around the dog’s crate or to handle the dog while in the crate.
- Make sure the dog had a walk and fully eliminated before leaving alone in the crate.
- It is advisable to remove the dog’s collar before leaving alone in the crate. Tags or buckles can get stuck in the wires of the crate.
What is a Head Halter?
Head Halters are designed to direct your dog’s entire body by controlling the head and nose, making them a good choice for some dogs with problems walking on leash. A dog head halter loops over the dog‘s muzzle just below the eyes. You then attach your leash below the chin.
When your dog pulls on the leash, the head halter puts pressure on the top of the muzzle, pulling its chin down or to the side. This reduces the strength the dog has to pull and makes it easier for you to get your dog’s attention when it is distracted.
It is important to remember that dog head halters are just a piece of equipment and will not teach your dog to stop pulling without training. Some dogs find the pressure on their nose uncomfortable enough to stop them from pulling and others will try to power through it. A head halter is a very useful tool for reactive dogs giving you some control over your dog’s gaze.
There are different brands on the market, but the two most popular are the Gentle Leader and the Halti Optifit. Many dogs do not like the feeling of the head halter on their muzzles and it takes some time for them to get used to it. Make sure your dog’s head halter is fit correctly and is not too tight. The equipment is adjustable and comes with fitting instructions; but make sure your dog has enough room to pant, take treats, drink water and even play ball.
As with all new equipment, don’t rush your training. Use short sessions over several days making sure your dog is wearing it happily.
Get yourself familiar with the head halter and prepare some of your dog’s favorite treats. Show your dog the head halter and reward it for sniffing it.
Hold the head halter open with your hands and put a treat in front of the nose opening. Make sure the opening is very large and allow your dog to take the treat when it puts its nose through the opening. Repeat this step several times until your dog is reliably putting its nose through the opening to get the treat.
Clip the neck collar on your dog without having it put its nose through the loop. Reward your dog. Remember that the collar needs to fit up high and directly behind your dog’s ears. This may fit more snuggly than a regular collar and feel different to your dog; so keep the treats coming!
Adjust the loop so it is smaller and repeat Step 2 until your dog is comfortable. While your dog’s nose is through the loop, clip the collar and jackpot your dog with many treats for wearing the head halter. Remove immediately after your celebration.
Repeat Step 4 during your next training session and then over several sessions, increase the time your dog wears the head halter. Take your time during this step and continue to reinforce your dog with its favorite treats.
Always use a treat to condition your dog to put its nose through the loop and after clipping the collar. When your dog can happily wear the head halter for about 30 seconds, attach your leash to the ring under your dog’s chin.
Repeat Step 6 and after your leash is on, teach your dog to move forward walking next to you. If it seems uncomfortable, lure it with a treat; otherwise, praise and reward it periodically for staying close to your side. Practice indoors until your dog is extremely comfortable and then try walking outdoors in a quiet place without distractions. Keep your sessions short and increase the distraction level slowly.
Remember that a head halter is a training aide and does not replace obedience training; they should be used side by side. If your dog has some obedience training foundation, you can start to practice with the head halter on. The following tips can be helpful:
- Never use corrections or jerk on the head halter for any reason. This could be dangerous and injure your dog’s neck. Instead use the collar to guide your dog.
- Do not keep the leash tight while your dog is walking. This will cause discomfort and it may stop enjoying the head halter. Immediately release pressure on the leash when your dog is walking beside you and reward it consistently for good walking behavior.
- Make sure the collar you choose has a safety strap that connects with your regular collar. Without this strap, your dog could get loose. A second leash connected to the dog’s regular collar can be used as a backup if necessary.
Used properly and trained patiently, head halters are a helpful training tool. Walking a dog in the city can be challenging and head halters are a great help for reactive, strong or exuberant dogs.
The usual profile of a jumpy/mouthy dog is an adolescent or young adult dog with a friendly, confident and playful personality. Generally, these dogs lack training and never learned behavioral inhibition. They jump up on people, grab clothing or leashes, and become very mouthy during play or when aroused.
Because jumpy/mouthy dogs are very high energy and impulsive, they become very frustrated in situations without adequate exercise and enrichment. Mouthy behavior can range from painless or annoying to very uncomfortable, sometimes breaking skin or tearing clothes.
Fear issues from lack of socialization can sometimes be noted in jumpy/mouthy dogs. Therefore, it is important to avoid punishment based training solutions. Punitive or aversive methods may be misinterpreted by the dog resulting in increased anxiety, fear and frustration. If fear issues prevent training from being successful, consult a veterinarian behaviorist for a treatment plan.
All training plans require management to keep the behavior from reoccurring; but exercise, enrichment, and training are also necessary to achieve results.
Exercise and enrichment
- Increase the dog’s exercise routine to at least 2 long walks a day (besides regular breaks to relieve himself). These walks should be a minimum of 30 minutes each and incorporate different routes for enrichment purposes.
- Jogging or running next to a bicycle can also help to tire out a dog with excessive energy. Some owners invest in dog treadmills if they don’t like walking or running.
- Teach the dog retrieve a ball in the yard.
- For social dogs, set up play times with other dogs.
- Teach the dog some basic cue’s to be used for response substitution. A dog cannot jump up and sit at the same time. *See Clicker Training Protocol
- During training, deliver treats from a low position or toss them on the floor to discourage jumping up.
- Teach your dog to relax on a mat or bed *See Relaxation Protocol
- Use the dog’s daily walks to practice training and impulse control. *See Dog Walking Protocol
- Enroll in a clicker training class to help the dog maintain obedience for longer durations and in distracting situations.
- Discourage all jumpy/mouthy behavior from the dog. Consistency is imperative for results. Withdraw all attention and turn away from the dog when jumping or mouthing occurs. Leave the room if this does not help.
- Leash the dog and step on the leash if the jumping persists.
- Use a crate for a time-out during times when management is impossible. *See Crate Training Protocol
- Teach the dog that good things happen for responding to the “sit” cue. *See Managing A Dog’s Behavior Protocol
- Have the dog learn to sit before and during greetings with other people.
The most common reason a dog may react aggressively towards other dogs, people or fast-moving bikes and cars is fear. The dog’s aggressive response works to keep the scary dog, person or vehicle away or at a distance. Lack of socialization, frustration or a previous bad experience are usually the root cause of this fear and helping the dog with specific strategies that will build confidence and improve the dog’s emotional response is the goal.
If it is a new dog or training plan, it is helpful to identify the distance away from the trigger where the dog will begin to react. Try to keep the dog under the reaction threshold by avoiding the trigger (other dogs, people or object) until the dog has mastered the obedience cues below. The goal is to get the dog to stop practicing the reactive behavior by creating distance; crossing the street, changing direction or hiding behind a parked car are possible strategies. Walking on quiet streets during low traffic times makes this easier to achieve. In cases or when it is impossible to avoid close encounters, it is advisable to keep the dog in the back yard at first.
Always fill pockets or treat bags with small, high value treats before every walk for luring the dog’s attention away from the trigger. Remember, if the dog is allowed to practice the reactive behavior, reactivity will become more frequent and intense. The strategy is to keep the dog under threshold, so it has no reason to feel unsafe.
The right equipment is very important for safety and success. Make sure the leash is in good condition and is no longer than 5-6 feet. Front clip harnesses can work well for some dogs such as the Easy Walk Harness or the Freedom Harness (both can be found online and in pet supply stores. Head halters such as the Opti Head Halter or the Gentle Leader are also appropriate as they give good control in a non- punitive manner. *See handout for Training with a Head Halter. When in doubt about the best choice of equipment for the dog, consult a dog trainer.
Start by teaching the dog some basic obedience cues that will be the foundation tools providing the dog with clear directions. If a private trainer is necessary to assist with the training, consult one who uses positive reinforcement and avoids the use of punishment. The following handouts are also recommended: Clicker Training, Relaxation Protocol, Managing your Dog’s Behavior, Dog Walking 101, Leave it and Drop it. Important skills the dog need to master before starting out are: Sit, Watch, Let’s go, and Leave it.
Counter Conditioning and Desensitization
If we remember that the dog’s reactivity is rooted in fear, we can work to change the dog’s emotional response to the scary dog, person, or thing. One way to do this is to condition the dog that good things happen in the presence of what the dog considers to be scary.
Determine what treats the dog really likes and keep them in a bait bag or pocket for easy access. Don’t hold back; these treats should be something it gets in no other circumstance. You can even use people food like roast chicken, steak or cheese. Whatever sends the dog over the moon!
Stand at a distance where the dog can see the trigger without reacting. Remember the goal of keeping the dog under threshold.
When the trigger appears, wait a split second for the dog to see it and then start to give the dog the treats and continue to deliver the treats until the trigger is out of sight. Our goal is to change the dog’s association with the scary thing from “stay away” to “that scary thing makes good things happen.”
Once the dog is having success from this distance, you can start to move a little closer. This could mean only 3-5 feet closer. Go slow; be patient. Remember when you allow the dog to go over threshold, thinking stops and the dog starts rehearsing the unwanted behavior.
Another method of training that can help a reactive dog is the use of response substitution. This method works by replacing the unwanted behavior with an alternate, more appropriate one. For example, a dog cannot lunge aggressively at the end of a leash if it is focusing on the handler or responding to obedience cues. Once the dog can respond reliably to the cues suggested above without distraction, begin to use response substitution on walks. The goal is to keep the dog’s attention by giving cues that are generously rewarded rather than giving the dog the opportunity to react to the trigger.
Start by training at a time when there is a low amount of traffic and it is possible to have a distance between the dog and the trigger. It is generally best to start with the trigger on the other side of the street. Have the dog’s favorite treats easily available in a pocket or bait bag.
As soon as the trigger is in sight and before the dog starts to react, immediately start some fast-paced obedience with the dog until the trigger is out of sight. The cues need to be very familiar to the dog and there needs to be a high level of reinforcement with the treats. Easy cues to start with are: “Let’s go” walking forward or backing up and then adding some quick sits, “Watch” rewarding the dog for checking in, and “Leave it” followed by fast movement while changing direction.
With time it should be possible to move progressively closer to the trigger. Remember to move slowly and be patient, always keeping the dog under threshold by using high value treats, fast movements and an appropriate distance from the trigger. Keep sessions short and try to end with success. Keeping training notes can be helpful for planning the next session.
It is correct to assume that you are in charge of all your dog’s resources. In other words, everything your dog needs for survival and everything it finds pleasant or rewarding, is controlled by you. This can be used to your advantage when it comes to finding a non-confrontational way to manage your dog’s behavior. The concept is not new; it involves teaching your dog that in order to get what it wants; it needs to give you what you want. This is the basic principle of the "Nothing in Life is Free” program and the “Say Please Program.”
By asking for a specific, desired behavior before giving access to the things it likes, you may teach your dog good manners in a non-confrontational way. Clear rules with enjoyable outcomes can help build your dog’s confidence and reign in pushy, rude behavior. For fearful dogs or those with separation anxiety, this plan can make life more predictable and may lower anxiety levels.
First you’ll need to teach your dog a few simple cued behaviors such as sit, touch, watch or down. *See Clicker Training Basics. Make sure your dog knows these cues and can do them for a treat before proceeding.
Make a list of things your dog finds enjoyable. This can be food, treats, walks outdoors, playtime; meeting new dogs or people; receiving a belly rub; being invited up on the couch or bed; or going for a ride in the car.
Before giving your dog access to any of the things on your list, give your cue one time only. If your dog does what you ask, it gets what it wants; if the dog ignores you, turn and walk away. Scolding, saying, “no!” or even looking at it constitutes attention; so turn and ignore your dog. Return when your dog is calm and ask for the behavior again. But ask only once. Ignore any pushy attempts for attention such as barking, jumping up, pawing, mouthing or nudging.
Be consistent! This is the hardest part. It is important that all members of the family partake in this program for best results. Be patient with your dog at first. It may take a while before it understands that it needs to work for the things it wants and that good manners are always expected.
- Start with easy cues that your dog knows such as “sit” before a treat, its meals, or putting on its leash to go outdoors. It may take 10 attempts the first time you try, but turn and ignore until you get what you want. Hang in there, it will get easier every time!
- If your dog is crazy about its food or you are worried about weight gain, save some of your dog’s food for reinforcing behavior. This way you can teach it to work for its dinner.
- Pick cues that may be incompatible with behaviors you want to change. For example, if your dog jumps up and is excited to greet you or new people, ask for “sit” before it is allowed to do so. Your dog can’t sit and jump up at the same time.
- Initiate all interactions with your dog. If your dog paws, barks or nudges for attention, ignore it completely. Call your dog over when you are ready to interact and ask for a behavior first before engaging.
These simple rules can help you live in harmony with your dog. Having clear rules with predictable outcomes creates clear communication. An added bonus is having a dog with good manners; and who doesn’t enjoy that?
When to Use a Muzzle
Dog muzzles may be a controversial topic but there may be some very appropriate reasons to teach you dog to wear one. Certain situations exist where a dog may be likely to bite a human or another dog due to fear or perceived threat. Dogs who have displayed aggressive behavior in the past should consult with a veterinarian, behaviorist or trainer and most canine professionals agree that it is a safe and humane method to manage aggression.
Muzzles are not an appropriate way to control barking or chewing and are meant to be used for short periods of time. Some basket muzzles are designed to allow dogs to pant, drink water and even receive treats; while soft muzzles (made from fabric) are less comfortable and don’t allow a dog to open its mouth
Basket muzzles are the best choice to use if a dog is going for a walk or run. A basket muzzle is more comfortable and can be worn for a longer period of time. Soft muzzles are usually used at the groomer or veterinarian office where a dog is being handled at close quarters for a short period of time.
Proper fit is important and you may need to measure your dog’s muzzle, especially when ordering online. Teaching your dog to wear a muzzle comfortably will take time, sometimes up to a week, to make sure it is comfortable with each step.
The following instructions are for a basket muzzle.
Show your dog the muzzle and let him sniff it. Immediately reward with its favorite treat for exploring the muzzle. Repeat several times and reward immediately if it touches its nose to the muzzle.
Tip the basket muzzle and place your hand over the bottom part so the treats don’t run out. Place several of its favorite treats inside and let your dog put its head into the muzzle to eat them. It may stick its head back in several times to get the treats or keep it inside to eat them all at once. Alternately, you can place a scoop of peanut butter or cream cheese in the bottom of the muzzle for it to lick out. Repeat this for a few days until your dog willingly puts its head in the muzzle anticipating something good inside.
Repeat Step 2 and while your dog is eating the treats or peanut butter, calmly fasten the buckle. Remove it immediately when your dog finishes the treats. Repeat several times.
Next, repeat Step 3 but count to five before removing the muzzle.
Over the next few days, gradually increase the time your dog wears the muzzle. You can stick treats through the holes in the muzzle while wearing it to help increase your dog’s comfort.
Make sure your dog is very comfortable before stepping outdoors in the muzzle. Put on your dog’s leash and walk it around the house using a lot of praise and treats. Try the same thing out doors in a quiet place such as a back yard before going on your regular walking route.
You may only need to use the muzzle for specific occasions or it may be something you need to walk your dog in a public place. Either way, make sure your dog has had plenty of time and training before wearing it in distracting situations. Remember to reward your dog every time you put the muzzle on it to make sure it is a pleasurable experience.
Taking your dog for a walk should be an enjoyable experience for both you and your dog, but walking a dog that pulls you all over the place can be both frustrating and unpleasant. Many people assume that an adult or adolescent dog should innately know proper leash behavior but in fact, it requires some training and a lot of consistency. Many challenges exist outdoors such as new sounds, sights and smells, as well as unfamiliar people, dogs and traffic. If your dog has not been exposed to this environment, it can be overwhelming and overstimulating. Proper leash etiquette can set the tone of your relationship with your dog and does not require extensive obedience training.
First, introduce your dog to its new walking equipment. It may be sufficient to start with your regular martingale or buckle collar, but you may find that you will have better control with a front-clip harness or a head halter such as a Gentle Leader or Head Halti. *See protocol, “How to fit a Gentle Leader or Head Halti,” and note that it may take some time for your dog to be comfortable enough to walk outside with this equipment. You will also need your dog’s favorite treats. These treats must be its absolute favorite ones to start with. You can even use small pieces of cheese, chicken or hot dogs if necessary. You will also need a place to put them such as a pouch, bait bag or large pocket and a 5-foot or 6- foot leash.
You only need to teach 3 easy cues to start with: “Let’s go,” “Free,” and “Wait.” Your goal is to teach your dog that by responding to your cues, you will allow it to move forward with you or have a loose leash to sniff and explore. You only want to allow these privileges when your dog defers to you by responding when you give a cue. Be consistent, it will pay off in the end.
Start in a quiet place indoors where you can practice without distraction. Pick a side, right or left, for your dog to walk on that is most comfortable for you. If you want your dog to learn to walk on your left side, put your leash in your right hand and bunch up the extra slack like an accordion. Your left hand, the side closest to your dog, will control the tension so that the leash is across your body. You want to make sure there’s no pressure on the dog’s collar but no extra leash. Reverse this if you want your dog to walk on your right side. Once you’re comfortable with this position, you can move on to the following cues. Practice indoors first, then in quiet places outdoors before trying a walk with any distractions.
“Let’s go” will be used any time you want your dog to walk on your side and move with you. It’s best to pick one side that your dog can be trained on.
Working indoors or in a quiet place outdoors, allow your dog a loose leash to do as it pleases. Have a treat in your left hand bringing it close enough to your dog’s nose to get its attention. Once you have your dog’s attention, turn to your right as you say “Let’s go.” Start walking forward with your treat hand behind you to serve as a target for your dog to follow. When it gets to your hand say “Yes,” praise your dog and giveit the treat for following you. Try not to look back or wait for your dog, but move forward with purpose. Practice several repetitions of this to make sure your dog understands to come to you on the “Let’s go” cue.
Still working in a quiet place, fill your pocket or pouch with treats. Decide which side you’d like your dog to walk on and hold a few treats in your hand on that side of your body. Hold your leash in the opposite hand. Say “Let’s go” and take a few steps forward with your treat hand in front of your dog’s nose. When your dog gets to your hand, stop and reward. Repeat, just a few steps at a time, rewarding your dog along the seam of your pants. During your first session, make a big circle with your dog on the outside of the circle. If the dog moves ahead of you, stop moving and use your treats to lure it back to your side.
Practice several days until you see your dog is walking well on a loose lead for several steps before rewarding. Remember to stop if it moves ahead of you and lureit back to your side. Work on taking the treats out of your hand and placing your hand on the leash. Continue to reward occasionally for loose leash walking or “checking in” with you for treats.
The “Free” cue is used when you want to allow your dog freedom to sniff and explore. The only rule is that the dog cannot pull you forward or in other directions.
Still working indoors or in a quiet place, go back and practice Step 3 of the “Let’s go” cue. This time, at the end of the exercise say “Free” to your dog and let it move to the end of the leash. It can now roam as it pleases. Repeat this sequence several times until your dog gets the hang of it.
Start again in an area with no distraction such as a back yard or quiet sidewalk. Give your dog the “Let’s go” cue and practice your leash walking. At the end release your dog with the “Free” cue. Practice calling your dog back to your side by turning and giving the “Let’s go” cue. Repeat this sequence until your dog is fluent. Anytime your dog starts pulling during the “Free” time, stop moving and bring it back to your side with the “Let’s go” and take a few steps with your dog next to you before rewarding. It may be necessary to back up a few steps or change direction to bring your dog to your side.
Sometimes it is important for your dog to stop moving and wait during a walk. This can happen at doorways, street corners or when you need to tie your shoe.
Set up a barrier in a quiet place indoors. This can simply be a broom across a doorway between rooms in your home. Walk your dog up to the barrier from a close distance using your “Let’s go” cue. As you approach the barrier give your dog the cue “Wait” and then stop moving in front of the barrier. It is important that you don’t allow your dog to cross the barrier even if you need to use the leash to do this. When your dog stops moving and the leash is loose, reward with a treat and then say “Let’s go” and move through the barrier. Your dog can pick any position it likes (sit, lie down or stand) as long as it waits with a loose leash.
Repeat this exercise several times until you see your dog stop immediately on the cue and look up at you for the treat.
Now you’re ready to go! To prepare for your walk, make sure you have several treats in your pocket and your dog has an understanding of the cues above. Set the tone for your walk at the doorway going out. Give your dog the “Wait” cue as you open the door. Keep your leash short so your dog cannot bolt out and wait until it stops moving and your leash is loose. Proceed with your “Let’s go” cue and reinforce your dog for a loose leash and “checking in” with you.
- On your walk, release your dog with “Free” to sniff or to go relieve himself.
- Use your “Wait” cue when picking up after your dog an at all street corners and alleys.
- Continue to use your treats to occasionally reinforce good behavior and to keep your dog engaged.
- Do not let your dog fixate on another dog, person or animal.
- It is very important in that you are proactive and aware of what your dog is doing. If you see your dog is starting to pull towards or fixate on something, immediately call it to you with “Let’s go” and change directions before you lose control.
- Use your “Let’s go” cue and keep your dog at your side when passing people or other dogs on a walk. If you need to, pull out a treat to bring back focus.
- Do not let your dog pull you or rush ahead into new spaces or buildings or up to people or other dogs to greet them. Your dog needs to “Wait” for your permission and approach calmly.
Remember that being consistent will pay off in the end. For more exercises, enroll in a clicker training class *See protocol for Clicker Training or another class that incorporates positive reinforcement training methods. Also, contact a trainer if your dog is lunging at people, other dogs or animals and is not responding to the instructions above *See protocol for On Leash Reactivity.
Teaching your dog to relax on a mat is a great way to build independence and impulse control. You can also take the mat with you when you visit family or friends or go to a more stressful place like the veterinarian office. Mat training should be part of every obedience plan and can be very useful for helping jumpy/mouthy dogs to relax and dogs with separation anxiety to gain more confidence.
Start out in a quiet room with no distractions. You will need a mat such as kitchen rug, yoga mat or crate pad and some small treats that your dog loves (small pieces of cut up cheese, chicken or hot dogs work well). It is also helpful to have a pouch or large pocket to keep the treats in for easy access. Set up a chair next to the mat for you to sit in while you train (you’ll need to relax, too). Keep your first few sessions short, no longer than 3- 5 minutes.
Scatter a few treats on the mat and then bring your dog over to sniff. Ignore your dog while it is eating the treats and sit down on the chair.
As soon as your dog finishes the treats and before it leaves the mat, drop a few more treats on the mat between your dog’s front feet.
Do not pet or talk to your dog and do not allow it to leave the mat. Watch for any signs of relaxation such as sitting, lying down or yawning and immediately drop another few treats between your dog’s front legs. If your dog does not lie down, you can lure it into the down position and reinforce by dropping your treats between its front legs.
If your dog continues to relax by either sitting or lying down, lessen the number of treats and deliver them at 10 second intervals. If your dog gets up, stop your treat delivery until your dog resumes the relaxation position of either sit or down. End your session while your dog is still engaged and having fun. Pick up your mat to signal the end of the session.
Start your next session in the same manner. Ideally, your dog will want to lay down and you can start to increase the time your dog relaxes on the mat while you extend the interval time of your treat deliveries to every 20 seconds and then, every 30 seconds. At this point, you can also give your dog a long lasting treat such as a Kong stuffed with peanut butter or a bully stick.
Your goal is for your dog to master the steps above and increase the relaxation time to 20-30 minutes. At this point you are ready to add distance between you and your dog, increasing your dog’s independence. Follow the steps below:
- Tether a food stuffed Kong toy to a sturdy piece of furniture and place your dog’s mat next to the toy.
- Place your chair a few feet from the mat and sit down.
- Allow your dog to go to the toy and enjoy it while lying on the mat.
- With each training session, gradually increase your distance away from the mat until you are able to get up and leave the room for a few seconds while your dog stays relaxed on the mat.
You can now try to generalize the mat training by taking the mat to another quiet room. It may be necessary to repeat some of the first steps but soon your dog will be able to relax in a different spot.
Next, you can try to add some light distraction such as dropping an object, standing up and sitting back down, moving around the room, or having a familiar person enter the space.
Additionally, you can teach your dog to go to the mat using a clicker. *See Clicker Training Protocol for instructions. This will teach you how to put the behavior on cue and also how to send your dog to the mat from a distance. Once accomplished, these exercises will help you enjoy the calm side of your dog while you both chill out!