Blog posts from January, 2010

Clicker Expo, Clicker Training & A Cat Named Ted

By Lisa-Anne Manolius | January 27, 2010 ~ 2 Comments

Clicker Expo, Clicker Training & A Cat Named Ted

January is almost over but for me, a couple of exciting things are about to start. First, I’m about to begin teaching a second round of Teaching Love and Compassion (TLC), a wonderful humane education program offered by the East Bay SPCA. My class will be made up of fourteen seventh grade students from a public school in Oakland, and seven East Bay SPCA shelter dogs. I’m very much looking forward to getting to know this group of young people, and teaching them how to clicker train their assigned shelter dogs. The last TLC class amazed me with their appetites for training and in our six weeks together, the kids taught the dogs far more than I ever thought they would or could. As I’ve written in an earlier post, the dogs helped the kids learn about compassion, kindness, empathy, and non-violence towards all living creatures.

The second thing that’s about to start is Clicker Expo in Portland, Oregon. Yes, it’s an entire conference devoted to clicker training!

I love training dogs and I especially love clicker training. My introduction to clicker training was – yikes! – twelve years ago when I adopted my kitten Ted from the City shelter. Continue Reading

“Instead Of Thinking” – Dealing With Unwanted Behavior

By Lisa-Anne Manolius | January 19, 2010 ~ 3 Comments

“Instead Of Thinking” – Dealing With Unwanted Behavior

One of the most frequent concerns among dog guardians is how to stop unwanted behavior. As Jean Donaldson explains in her phenomenal book, The Culture Clash, much of natural dog behavior is at odds with what humans find acceptable.

Dogs however, need appropriate outlets for their energies, which are usually significantly higher than ours. Without legal channels for behavior and energy, dogs become frustrated, bored, and stressed. In that unfortunate condition, it’s just a matter of time before dogs find other ways to vent. Behavior borne of frustration and boredom is often even worse and less acceptable to humans than the original unwanted behavior. Excessive barking, destructive chewing, fence fighting, and digging are just some of the behaviors in which frustrated and bored will engage. Besides all that, it’s not fair or humane to consign any animal to a life of chronic boredom, frustration or stress.

Enter, “Instead Of Thinking.” It’s not enough to find ways to shut down undesirable behavior. A far more effective strategy is to train your dog to do alternative behaviors that are acceptable and incompatible with the undesired behavior.

Let’s use jumping up as an example. Jumping up is a natural normal dog behavior. Dogs do it to greet us by getting closer to our faces. But most people don’t like it when Rover jumps on them. This is a classic instance of the clash between behavior that humans deem acceptable and that which is acceptable and common among dogs.

Well hello!

Well hello!

Typically humans think in terms of, How can I get Rover to stop jumping up? “Instead Of Thinking” asks a different question: What would I like Rover to do instead of jumping up?

Instead Of Thinking solves two problems at once: it stops the unwanted behavior while providing Rover with an acceptable alternative.

Sitting to greet people is an alternative behavior that’s acceptable and incompatible with jumping up. If Rover is sitting to say hello to people, he isn’t jumping on them. The training plan would be two-fold. You’d stop rewarding Rover altogether for jumping up, teach him to sit to say hello, and reward him with attention and lovies when he sits.

With consistent positive training, voila! Rover will learn that jumping up never works to get human attention but sitting does. If everyone who meets Rover follows the same plan, his jumping should decrease substantially and eventually stop. Instead of jumping on folks he’ll do lovely sits to say hello, and he gets a legal outlet for his exuberant greeting energy. Doing a short down stay or hand-targeting are two other examples of alternative behaviors that are incompatible with jumping up.

Rover won’t learn these things overnight, especially if he has a long history of jumping up and being rewarded with some kind of attention when he does that. Patient consistent practice will pay off so hang in there with your training plan.

The next time you find yourself wondering how to stop Rover from doing X, put on your Instead Of Thinking cap. Ask yourself, What would I like Rover to do instead of X? Then start training Rover to do the alternative behavior, reward him handsomely when he does it and stop rewarding him for doing X.

Rewarding Rover for desirable alternative behavior is a powerful tool in your training kit, and means he’ll do more of that behavior in the future.

Happy Training!

How to Teach Your Dog Words

By Lisa-Anne Manolius | January 11, 2010 ~ 3 Comments

Scruffy, sit, sit, sit, SIT! . . . Sound familiar?

Training words is often cause for much human frustration. Dogs attend to and learn our physical gestures and body language easily. Dogs notice facial expressions, small gestures and tones of voice that often we aren’t even aware of. Learning words is another matter. Unlike humans, dogs aren’t verbal. They communicate with one another and us using a wide range of physical gestures and vocalizations, not words.

If we want dogs to respond to words, it’s up to us to take the time to teach dogs what certain words mean. Keep in mind that it’s much easier for dogs to learn physical cues for a behavior — such as a hand signal that means “sit,” — than it is for dogs to learn what specific words mean.

Fortunately, with lots of consistent practice you can teach your dog words or “verbal cues” by following this simple three-step mantra:

    SAY IT. SHOW IT. PAY IT.

Let’s break it down using “sit” as an example. You’ve taught Scruffy to sit using a food lure, and you’ve been training Scruffy to sit in response to a specific empty hand signal. By “empty,” I mean you are no longer holding food in your hand to lure Scruffy into position.

When Scruffy sits eight out of ten times in response to your empty hand signal, it’s time to start teaching her that the word “sit” means the same thing as the hand signal. Here’s how:

    SAY IT: First say, “Scruffy sit.” Say the word one time only in an upbeat tone. Articulate clearly. Repeating the word doesn’t make Scruffy learn faster. In fact, repeating the word will most likely land it squarely in the meaningless blah-blah-blah category from Scruffy’s standpoint, or she might learn to sit only after you’ve said the word several times in a row.
    SHOW IT: After you’ve asked Scruffy to sit once, show her the empty hand signal for sit. Don’t say the word and do the hand signal at the same time. If you do that, Scruffy will pay attention to the hand signal and ignore the word. If you tend to say the word and do the hand signal simultaneously, it helps to say the word, take a breath, then do the hand signal.

    Saying the word once, then doing the hand signal teaches Scruffy that the word means the same thing as the gesture.

    PAY IT: After Scruffy sits, click and reward her with a treat and tell her what an awesome dog she is.

Stick to the mantra, practice regularly, and one day Scruffy will surprise you. You’ll know she’s started to connect the dots when she sits after you’ve said the word, but before you’ve shown the hand signal.

To take word training to the next level, wait until Scruffy’s sitting in response to the verbal cue at least 8 out of 10 times. When she’s at that point, modify the reward scheme. Reward her with a yummy treat for sitting in response to the word. If she doesn’t sit in response to the verbal cue, show her the hand signal, and reward her with praise for sitting. This teaches her that sitting in response to the word alone earns a better reward than sitting in response to the word plus hand signal, and should motivate her to sit more reliably when you say the word.

Keep training sessions brief (3-5 minutes at a time) and expectations realistic. It takes most dogs many many repetitions of SAY IT, SHOW IT, PAY IT to learn words. Try to put yourself in their paws. They’re learning a completely foreign language, a task that must be as challenging for them as it would be for us to learn to “speak dog.”

Patient positive practice pays off. Happy training!

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The FUN-tastic Training Game

By Lisa-Anne Manolius | January 06, 2010 ~ 1 Comment

Training and fun may not seem like obvious bedfellows. I suspect many folks think of training as a bore, drudgery. But not only can training be fun, training and fun should go hand-in-hand. Training with old-school methods – yelling, leash jerks, physical force, shock collars, pain and punishment – is no fun for the dog. Punishment-based training often makes the dog fear its guardian/trainer. Because punishment is hard to do correctly, the dog often has no clear understanding of what behavior is “wrong.” While punishment may teach a dog what not to do, it doesn’t teach the dog what behavior is acceptable. Punishment-based training also undermines confidence and causes fearful and aggressive behavior to worsen.

Positive reinforcement training however, is reward-based; it rewards dogs for behaviors that humans like and want to see more of. By definition, rewards are enjoyable; the dog getting the reward feels good. Given that, positive training done the right way can’t help but be fun. The trainer rewards the dog for desirable behavior with stuff the particular dog finds rewarding. Depending on the dog, the behavior being trained and the environment, rewards range from a variety of yummy food treats, to playtime or socializing with dogs, to a walk in the park, to fun and games with humans. The trainer works at the stage that’s right for the individual dog, a strategy that minimizes dog and human stress and frustration. Instead of shutting behavior down, positive training teaches dogs to do alternative acceptable behaviors that are incompatible with the undesirable behavior.

Dogs trained using positive methods develop a strong positive association to and eagerly anticipate training. Because training activities predict rewards for the dog, he’s happy to train. Training’s not work, it’s the “FUN-tastic Training Game!”

Whether you’re teaching your dog to take a bow or stay on a mat while you cook dinner, positive training done correctly should feel less like work and a lot more like play. If you’re not having fun training your dog probably isn’t either. Common causes of frustration around training include:

The training exercise is too hard for the dog. If the exercise is too difficult, dogs get frustrated and lose interest in training. Backpedal and make the exercise a little easier. Make the exercise harder only when the dog’s getting the behavior right at the current level at least 8/10 times.

The rewards aren’t rewarding to the dog. Dogs are individuals with unique personalities and tastes. Just because Rover likes sweet potato doesn’t mean Fido does too. Find and train with rewards that your dog really likes.

Rewards aren’t sufficiently rewarding to the dog. Vinnie really likes small hard biscuits and will do many tricks in a row at home for one. But when out romping off-leash around lovely distractions like gopher holes and other dogs, if I want him to leave all that alone and come to me, I reward him with something he loves to make it worth his while. Using rewards your dog really loves in more distracting contexts keeps him interested in the Training Game.

It’s time for a break. You and your dog may have been at it too long. Dogs have short attention spans. A few 3-5 minute training sessions scattered throughout your day are far more effective than one long marathon session. If you’re prepared with your training game plan, treats and training setups you need, you’ll get a lot of mileage out of a brief session.

If you and your dog are in the doldrums about training, take an informed break. Check out the resources at www.trainyourdogmonth.com. You’re sure to come away inspired and with practical easy-to-apply information for a new Training Game plan.

If you’ve never trained your dog, there’s no time like the present. If it’s been some time since you trained your dog, brush up on his manners, teach him a new trick, or sign up for a positive training class. Here are a couple of websites dedicated to positive dog training and with loads of free information to get you started:

• The Bay Area’s own www.dogstardaily.com
• Karen Pryor’s Clicker Training site at www.clickertraining.com

Have fun training!

Pet Portrait Art By Laura K. Johnston

By Lisa-Anne Manolius | January 05, 2010 ~ 1 Comment

Pet Portrait Art By Laura K. Johnston

This post isn’t about behavior or training but it does celebrate pets and our relationships with them. I couldn’t resist writing about a fabulous pet-related gift I gave my husband for Christmas.

Laura K. Johnston who lives here in San Francisco, is a fabulous artist who paints original watercolor portraits of pets. I asked Laura to paint a portrait of Vinnie as a Christmas gift for my husband, or “He-Who-Is-Notoriously-Hard-To-Shop-For.”

The painting is spectacular. My husband is thrilled and so am I. Not only did Laura create a stunningly life-like portrait of Vinnie, she brilliantly captured his real essence, his very “Vinnie-ness.” The bright spark in his eyes, his curiosity, zest for life, playfulness, sweetness and yes, the light of mischief that lurks just beneath his surface…all these qualities shine from her painting.

Here’s a photo of the painting, though I must add that it doesn’t begin to do justice to the actual painting:

Vin Painting

Laura’s love of animals is clear in her art. She’s easy to work with, professional, works quickly and for an extremely reasonable price. If you’ve ever considered having your pet’s portrait painted, I recommend Laura highly and heartily. A pet portrait by Laura is a one-of-a-kind extraordinary gift for a pet lover – a gorgeous lasting portrait of a pet in all his/her glory.

You can see more of Laura’s art and contact her about painting your pet at www.laurajohnston.net.