Why does my pet listen to my partner and not me?

We like when our pets are predictable. Heck, we like when everything in our world is predictable! I think that’s why aside from the overarching “why does my pet do that?” question, I get asked, “why does my pet do that in relation to X scenario?” question most frequently.

Here’s what I mean:

Why does my dog listen to my husband and not me?

Why does my dog only sit for me?

Why will my cat only play with me? 

Why does my dog bite only one person in the family?

Why does my bird only bite me?

While there are many more factors that can change behavior than just the humans involved, let’s focus there for today, starting with why our pets might behave differently in different scenarios in the first place. 

 

Why animals behave differently in different situations

There are a lot of factors that set the stage for a particular behavior to occur, including age, genetics, learning history, environment, and more. If you change one factor then you’ve set up the stage differently, meaning that the behavior might be different than in another situation. Here’s a human example just in time for Halloween:

I have never barricaded myself in my house and nailed boards to my windows. 

If we change one factor- in this case, the environment is now a zombie apocalypse- there’s a very good chance that my barricading behavior will change and that I will indeed nail boards to my windows. A change in environment, whether it’s the external environment around us or an animal’s internal environment (e.g. stress, pain, etc.), is very often a cause for a change in behavior. 

Okay, that might be kind of a silly example though the premise is solid. Let’s look at one that is a little more realistic: resource guarding a credit card. While humans call it “being careful” or “protecting yourself”, we can just as easily call our behavior surrounding keeping our credit card numbers private resource guarding. Here are four different scenarios in which my behavior would change:

If my husband asked me for my credit card, I would say, “Sure, it’s in the usual place. Use the green one.” I wouldn’t check to make sure that he used the correct one and I likely wouldn’t check to make sure he put it back until I went to use it myself. 

If a store clerk asked me for my credit card during checkout, I would hand it to them, watch them perform the transaction, and expect to get my card back immediately after. I would likely even double-check that my card is in my wallet after they’ve handed it back. While I would willingly hand my card over in this situation, it’s definitely with a more watchful eye than in the previous scenario. 

If a stranger stopped me on the street and asked for my credit card, the answer would be no and I would walk away. 

If a store clerk asked me for my credit card as soon as I entered the store when I was not checking out, the answer would also be no and I would likely leave the store. 

The relationship that I have with the person matters, as does the context in which the behavior is occurring. 

While it’s nicer to think about relationships in the emotional sense, in this case, they’re a part of that “learning history” component. I have a learning history that says that my husband won’t steal from me. I have a learning history that a store clerk will ask me for my card during checkout and they will return it after the transaction is completed. My past experiences are influencing my behavior in all of these situations. 

Now that we know some of the reasons why a pet may behave differently in different situations, let’s take a look at that first scenario listed all the way at the beginning of this post: why does a pet listen to one person and not another?

 

Why does my dog listen to my husband and not me?

Whether you have a dog, cat, bird, chinchilla, or something else at home, chances are that your pet responds to one person more than another in your household. When this happens, typically it’s due to a difference in learning histories with those individuals. 

Here’s an example using the behavior of getting off of the couch when asked. 

Scenario A: Jordan asks Rover to get off of the couch, and when he does, they give him a treat. Stevie asks Rover to get off of the couch, and when he does, they say “good boy” and move on. After several months, Stevie notices that Rover gets off the couch when Jordan asks but not when they ask. 

What’s going on? It pays better to get off the couch for Jordan than it does for Stevie. 

Scenario B: Jordan asks Rover to get off of the couch. If Rover doesn’t get off the couch, Jordan asks again in the same way or tries to distract him to get off the couch. Stevie asks Rover to get off the couch. If Rover doesn’t get off the couch, Stevie will yell and drag Rover off the couch by the collar. After a few weeks, Jordan notices that Rover gets off the couch when Stevie asks but not when they ask. 

What’s going on? It’s scary not to listen to Stevie but it’s neither scary nor beneficial to listen to Jordan. 

Scenario C: Jordan asks Rover to get off the couch.  If Rover doesn’t get off the couch, Jordan asks again in the same way or tries to distract him to get off the couch. Stevie asks Rover to get off the couch. If Rover doesn’t get off the couch, Stevie will yell and drag Rover off the couch by the collar. After a few weeks, Stevie notices that Rover is growling at them whenever they approach the couch but Rover doesn’t growl at Jordan. 

What’s going on? It’s scary when Stevie is near the couch so Rover is telling them to go away, but it’s not scary for Jordan to be near the couch. 

Learning history plays a big part in how your pet responds to you in general, but it can also be a big reason why they respond differently to different people in the household. My dog, Oso, can do all of his tricks for me, but can’t do all of them for my husband. There’s no secret as to why: I taught him all of those behaviors and regularly practice and reinforce them whereas my husband doesn’t. If he were to start training Oso as much as I do Oso would respond in the same way to him as he does to me. 

That’s the great thing about learning histories; they can be changed. You don’t have to be resigned that your pet listens to your partner more than you. We can change what we’re doing to change the results! 

 

How can I use this to better train my pet?

There are a few things that I recommend when I see this phenomenon happening with my clients:

  1. Identify the difference in how you and the other person have reacted in the past, how you currently react, and anything else that’s different. Sometimes we see really big differences like one person will physically remove the dog from the couch whereas the other takes a hands-off approach. Sometimes we see quite small differences that have a big impact, like using different treats. 
  2. If it’s difficult to identify the differences, get an outsider’s perspective. Sometimes that means calling in a professional like our team, but sometimes folks can easily step into that perspective by watching videos of themselves and their household members interacting with the pet. I recommend this step even if you already have identified some differences because there may be more that you haven’t noticed before!
  3. If one person is getting better results with a pet, figure out what they specifically are doing and why it’s working. 
  4. If you’re okay with why those techniques are working, everyone can start emulating them! If you’re not okay with why those techniques are working (for example, if one person is relying on fear, frustration, or intimidation without knowing it), then develop a plan of action for what could be more effective moving forward. 

 

Now what?

  • Get cracking! Figure out a behavior that you want to work on. These are often the things you make the other person do because “they do it better” or “it works better when you do it.” 
  • Use the above steps to develop your game plan. 
  • Start working on your plan of action! Remember, behavior change takes time. And my timeline is often in months, not days. If you’re trending in the right direction then you’re doing something right. 

Happy training!

Allie

 

November 2022 Training Challenge: Teach a New Behavior Through Shaping

I don’t know about you, but October seemed to just fly by! Let’s hop into this month’s training challenge, which is the next installment in the “ways to teach behavior” series! 

As a reminder, in September we talked about how to teach your pet something new through capturing. Capturing is waiting for your pet to do the desired action naturally and then rewarding them for doing so. 

Last month, in October, we talked about how to teach your pet something new through luring, which is utilizing a piece of food or a toy in your hand to guide your pet through the motions. 

And that means, this month, we challenge you to teach your pet something new through shaping!

Like with the last two months, I am going to use the behavior of “go to spot” or “go to bed” for demonstration, but there will be a list of additional tricks you can teach your pet through shaping at the end! 

 

And of course, let’s talk about what shaping is first!

When we are talking about shaping, we are talking about a way to teach a new behavior by reinforcing gradual or successive approximations toward the end goal. The idea is kind of like playing “hotter – colder” where you lead someone around in space by saying things like “warm, warmer, hot, hotter…” as they get closer to a spot, or “colder, ice cold…” as they get further.

It is very common to hear the term “splitting” come up when we talk about shaping. So let’s also define that as well. When we talk about splitting, we are talking about how we are going to be breaking down the steps for our goal behavior to find those gradual or successive approximations. 

If you ever had to do the exercise where you wrote instructions for an alien from outer space to make a PB&J, it’s kinda like that!

 

Teaching something through shaping can look something like this… 

And don’t worry! We are going to break all this down even more in just a bit. 

 

But first, let’s talk about why we may or may not choose to shape a behavior.

There are a lot of reasons we might suggest taking a shaping approach to teaching a new behavior. 

  1. When you start from that very first approximation and work your way up, you always have a foundation to return to. If I have 10 steps that I can use to teach my dog to do something, I have 10 ways to help my dog remember the thing we were working on! 
  2. When done well, it reduces frustration for both the teacher and the learner by increasing the rate that the pet “wins” or “gets it right”. You can get many repetitions really quickly, and hey, who doesn’t like to “win”!? 
  3. It really builds communication between you and your pet. It’s a conversation as you’re teaching. 
  4. You can teach some incredible things that would never be possible with capturing and luring. 
  5. You are always starting from a place of success and focusing on what you do want rather than what you don’t! 

All that sounds great! Why might you not choose to shape? 

  1. It does require some foundational skills, and you may need to work on those first. The teacher needs to have clear communication through their mechanics, keen observation skills, and clear consistent timing to help the learner figure things out. 
  2. While you’re gaining those skills, might you get a little frustrated, and so might your learner, and nobody enjoys frustration.
  3. It takes planning. Before you go to teach your pet something new, you need to consider what the steps of your plan might look like. 

Now, to be fair, those are all true of any time we are teaching a new behavior, and none of that is to scare you away! Shaping can be incredibly fun once you and your pet get the rhythm down! 

All right, now that that is out of the way, let’s take a look at how you might prepare to shape your pet going to spot or bed. 

 

Determining your plan

First, clearly define your goal. It could be something like, I want my pet to place all 4 feet on the blue towel.

Once you have that, I find it easiest to work backward.

So, then ask yourself, in order for my pet to place all 4 feet on the blue towel, what does my pet need to do? 

In order for my pet to lie down on the towel, they need to put 3 feet on the towel. 

In order for my pet to put 3 feet on the towel, they need to put 2 feet on the towel. 

In order for my pet to put 2 feet on the towel, they need to put 1 foot on the towel. 

In order for my pet to put 1 foot on the towel, they need to move toward the towel. 

In order for my pet to move toward the towel, they need to orient toward the towel. 

In order for my pet to orient toward the towel, they need to look at the towel. 

If we were to then reverse the order it might look like this: 

Step 1: Look at the towel 

Step 2: Orient toward the towel 

Step 3: Move toward the towel 

Step 4: Put 1 foot on the towel 

Step 5: Put 2 feet on the towel

Step 6: Put 3 feet on the towel 

Step 7: Put 4 feet on the towel

Now, keep in mind, your pet might offer something that is not on your list, and that’s okay, they aren’t robots! Anything that is “hotter” toward your goal gets marked and treated! See the example below! 😀

 

Sweet! We’ve got the plan. What next?

Get ready for your session! Grab your treats, and your clicker or marker, your towel, and call your dog over! 

Put the spot or bed down, and be ready! Most dogs will immediately look at the thing, and that’s your chance to get that first approximation and get the ball rolling! 

As soon as you see anything that is “hotter” toward your goal, mark and then delivery a treat to your pet. Even if it wasn’t something you expected, like Griffey touching the basket with his nose, and raising his paw up to the rim of the basket. You can see me working through the process with Griffey here: 

 

 

Now, I couldn’t come up with anything “new” for Griffey to practice with. We’ve done this a lot. Like a lot, a lot, so there are a couple of things to keep in mind. 

Griffey is a champion of this behavior. We’ve practiced it with a ton of things, in a ton of locations, and it has paid VERY well for him in the past. Don’t expect your pet to “get it” within a minute unless they are also super well-practiced! 

If you and your pet are new to shaping, keep it short, keep it sweet, and keep your rate of reinforcement high! 

 

And as always, some tips to help your training

  1. Minimize distractions. Shaping can really work that noggin, so try to practice in low-distraction environments. 
  2. You want to mark and treat for movement, not for stillness. If your pet stands there staring at you to do something, then toss a treat, and the second they are done, start marking and treating them for movement. Their eyes move? Mark and treat. Their weight shifts? Mark and treat. They turn around? Mark and treat. Some pets, especially those new to shaping need to be taught that trying things is what pays, not waiting for us to lead the way. 
  3. Be prepared before you engage with your pet. It can be really frustrating for our pet to be waiting for us to be ready, so be prepared before you get your pet out of their comfy spot. Plus, you don’t want to miss the opportunity to mark and treat! 
  4. You may need to split more finely than I did above, and that’s okay! The more steps you fall back on, the better! 
  5. Where and how you deliver the treat will make a difference. If you get stuck, ask yourself, can I deliver my treat in a way that will make the next approximation more likely?

 

Additional tricks or skills to teach through shaping:

  1. Crawl under something
  2. Switch the light switch
  3. Back up
  4. Peek-a-boo
  5. Reach for the sky!
  6. Close the door

 

Now what? 

  1. Decide what you’re going to teach your pet through shaping! There are so many options beyond what we listed here, and Kikopup has fantastic tutorials for so many things! 
  2. Start teaching the thing! Remember, if both you and your pet are new to shaping, it won’t look exactly like what you see in the videos, and that’s okay! It’s a learning journey for you both!
  3. Let us know on Facebook or Instagram what you’re working on! We’d love to see your progress! 

How Leash Reactivity Taught my Dog Flight

As a dog professional, I want to share a little secret with you. My dog is not perfect. Nor do I expect him to be, because, spoiler alert, neither am I. My dog has some traits that are less than desirable. He is sometimes more vocal than I would like. He is not shy about asking for yummies to be handed to him from the dinner table (thanks, husband for teaching him that neat trick.) He is, shall we say, an enthusiastic greeter when folks walk in the door. All of these “habits” work for him. He has been rehearsing some of the behaviors for years and years. Hello, enthusiastic greetings. He has been rehearsing others for less time. Hello, begging at the dinner table. The common thread that maintains all of these behaviors is his learning history that when he performs x, y, or z behavior, a consequence will very reliably follow. Sometimes it’s someone’s attention, sometimes it’s a tasty dinner morsel. There is really no mystery or magic to it. 

As his guardian, I have to decide which behaviors are tolerable to me and which ones aren’t. If I decide that a behavior is tolerable, well that’s pretty easy. Life marches on. However, if a behavior is intolerable, then I need to get to work and decide on a course of action that is going to help both of us. Again, no mystery or magic. Just good old-fashioned strategizing, implementation, monitoring, adjusting, and then, (and here is sometimes the hardest part of all), reliably maintaining the new replacement or alternate behavior. Because I’m human and sometimes I get sloppy. Or I am feeling lazy. And sometimes, I just don’t want to have to think about it. I just want…………a break. 

 

Can you please just stop yelling? 

So, here is the most undesirable behavior my dog used to exhibit that I found intolerable: he used to yell at all of the dogs he saw on our walks. All………of………them. Loudly and with gusto. This inability to see other dogs while on leash (for some dogs it’s people or cars, or bikes, etc.) without telling them off is commonly referred to as leash reactivity. Typically, telling other dogs off looks like lunging at the end of the leash, barking, growling, snapping, and I would assume in my dog’s case, landing a bite if we were close enough (which I made sure of never being.) 

This behavior was intolerable to me because it was not safe, it was not peaceful, and quite honestly, it was embarrassing. I mean to tell you, I got some looks. Actually, I got a lot of looks. It wasn’t my dog’s fault. He had been aggressed by an off-leash dog and so he thought he wasn’t safe. And just like his begging at the dinner table works, the dogs that he barked at always moved away from him because, rightfully so, people would always turn away from the snarling and snapping dog at the end of my leash. My dog’s behavior was being reinforced because it afforded him the distance he needed (other dog moving away) to feel safe. And even though the behavior felt intolerable to me, it served an important function for my dog. I knew I needed to help him find a more appropriate and peaceful way to keep the function of the behavior (increase in distance) that would also help maintain my sanity while I was helping him learn that other dogs on leash were nothing to be worried about. So, I did the only thing any reasonable dog parent would do. I taught him how to take flight. 

 

Fly Dog, Fly

Ok, I didn’t really teach my dog to fly in the traditional sense of what it means to aerodynamically launch into the atmosphere and soar amongst the clouds. But I did teach him a new skill set that included choosing flight as an option as opposed to “fight”  when he saw another dog on our walks. The flight that he was taught meant that he didn’t need to yell at dogs to get them to move away because he could choose to move away himself. He would have the agency to gain the distance away from other dogs that he desired in a more socially acceptable way. That was a Big Win for both of us! Because instead of dreading our walks I could now focus on teaching my dog that the sight of other dogs was actually a predictor of something great instead of the predictor of something awful. 

This training took place a few years ago and I am happy to report that my dog has exponentially improved on our walks. He rarely ever needs to yell anymore. He mostly ignores other dogs on our walks. Every once in a while he will still have an explosion but there are almost always very valid reasons. Usually, it is when the other dog is being a little too intense with their body language or the dog appears around a blind corner and startles us both. There are not a lot of things I can do to control either one of those unfortunate situations but what I can do is give my dog his flight cue and away we walk in a different direction with fluidity and confidence. He gains the distance he desires and I have the peace I desire. Another win! 

Flight training isn’t anything new under the sun (very little is when it comes to how learning and behavior works.) But it is a fairly simple thing to teach and more importantly to maintain. Because if you go back to my first paragraph, you will remember that I said a learned alternative or replacement behavior requires maintenance or it can be extinguished from our pets’ behavioral repertoire. And we can see a resurgence of the old, undesired behavior. I also admitted that I can sometimes be sloppy, lazy, or just want a break as a trainer. The good news is that my dog’s flight cue is so firmly ingrained in both my dog’s and my muscle memory, that I don’t really have to think about a thing and neither does he. Think of how you’ve reliably trained your dog to sit in a variety of situations. It’s kind of like that, only the desired outcome has bigger stakes. If my dog can continue to move away from his stressors without a scene, then our walks are more frequent and more enjoyable for us both. And that, my friends, is what it is all about. Enjoying time together and building a stronger relationship that benefits us both. 

 

Now What? 

  • If you’d like to learn more about Flight Training in general, check out Episode 16 – Flight Training Mini-Sode of the Enrichment for the Real World podcast
  • If you have a dog with leash reactivity one of the skills to focus on is learning canine body language. I know we might sound like a broken record at Pet Harmony because we state the importance of this so often, but really all successful behavior modification starts and ends with being fluid in “reading dog.” I often tell my clients that the greatest skill set I can teach them has nothing to do with mechanics, timing, or the delivery of reinforcement. It is sharpening their observation skills and learning how their dog (and the species as a whole) communicates. 
  • Be patient with your dog and kind to yourself. Even though you might be on the receiving end of some judgemental and disdainful looks from other folks, I assure you that leash reactivity most often comes from a place of fear on your dog’s part. Teaching your dog that they are safe is paramount to improvement. 
  • If walks are too hard for you and your dog right now, Canine Enrichment for the Real World has a whole lot of information on ways to help your dog be the best they can be. You can also join our enrichment-focused Facebook group:  Enrichment for the Real World  
  • Hiring a behavior professional to help you and your dog learn to “take flight” and feel safe can be a really great way to help you and your dog navigate walks in a more relaxing and enjoyable way for you both. Reach out to Pet Harmony if you need help with leash reactivity or any other troubling behavior. We are here to help in any way we can! 

Happy training,

MaryKaye

October 2022 Training Challenge: Teach Your Pet Something New Through Luring

I hope y’all are having a smooth transition into fall! With the start of October comes the next in our series of training challenges about ways to teach a behavior to our pets. This month, we’re going to talk about luring! 

This month, we challenge you to practice your training skills by teaching your pet a new behavior through luring!

Last month, we talked about capturing as another way to teach a behavior to our pet. In case you missed it, make sure to check out how to Teach Your Pet Something New Through Capturing, too! 

Just as I did in the capturing blog last month, for sake of demonstration, I’m going to keep the behavior the same (go to a spot or bed), but stick around until the end of this blog post for suggestions of other behaviors that you can teach commonly through luring!

Let’s get into it! 

 

First, let’s talk about what luring is. 

Luring means having a treat (or toy, etc.) in your hand and moving that hand in a way that when your pet follows they perform the desired action. For example, to get a pet to sit via luring you’d move the lure hand up over their head and as the head goes up the butt goes down. Or, as you can see in this video, Allie is luring Oso from a sit to a down:

 

Luring is an easy way to start teaching a lot of things as most pets and their people do well with it. But, like with all things, there can be some downsides! 

One of the complaints we get most often from families that have taught things through luring is that their pet will only do it when they have a treat in their hand. And this is an extremely common challenge! While luring may look very simple in execution, to do it well, and to fade the lure (remove the lure from the picture), can take some finesse and skill! In order to make sure that the lure isn’t solidified as part of the picture, we often recommend practicing 2-5 times, then removing the lure from your hand. 

The thing to remember with luring is to fade the lure quickly so you’re not stuck having to have a treat in your hand forever. So, what might that look like? Check out the video below to see a demonstration of how we might teach a dog to go to a spot, or bed, with a lure! 

*Welcome to a behind-the-scenes look at the chaos that is my office :D*

 

 

I always recommend starting by testing your lure without any agenda. Does your dog follow the lure? Are you able to move while holding the lure (this isn’t just a dog skill!)? 

Lure your pet once, and when they *do the thing* give them the treat. 

Lure your pet a second time, and when they *do the thing* give them the treat. 

Repeat with nothing in your hand, but with your hand in the same position, and if your dog *does the thing* mark and give them a treat! 

If your dog doesn’t *do the thing*, then lure one or two more times and then try again with an empty hand. 

 

Tips to Help Your Training 

  1. Start simple! This may be a new skill for you and your pet, and if that’s the case, don’t try to lure them over some complicated obstacle course, start small, like taking 1 or 2 steps, or going to bed. 
  2. If your pet turns away from the lure in your hand, it isn’t going to be very effective. This can happen for a number of reasons ranging from your lure not being of appropriate value, or even pets learning that lures predict unfortunate things for them (Kathy and Emily talk in depth about this in Episode 19 – Kathy Sdao: Food Motivation Myths around the 37-minute mark!) You may need to start teaching there rather than with a trick! 
  3. Avoid luring your pet into a situation where they will be uncomfortable (also discussed in Episode 19 – Kathy Sdao: Food Motivation Myths!) If you aren’t sure if your pet is uncomfortable or not, brush up on your pet’s body language. Some of our favorite dog and cat body language resources are here, and this is one of our go-to resources for parrot body language.
  4. Whenever teaching something to your pet, start in a low-distraction environment. It will make things easier for you and them.
  5. Be prepared before you engage with your pet. It can be really frustrating for our pet to be waiting for us to be ready, so be prepared before you get your pet out of their comfy spot. 

 

Additional tricks or skills to teach with a lure: 

  1. Treat magnet – this is a staple in the Yoakum household and Hannah does a great job of walking you through the process in this blog! 
  2. Spin 
  3. Dig 
  4. Peek-A-Boo! 
  5. “Reach for the sky!” 
  6. Army crawl
  7. Figure 8 between legs
  8. Walk over something 
  9. Two or four paws up on something 
  10. Nod your head

 

Now What? 

  1. Decide what you’re going to teach your pet through luring! There are so many options beyond what we listed here, and Kikopup has fantastic tutorials for so many things
  2. Practice with your pet following the lure before you try to use it as a tool. Some pets will have a harder time with that initial step, for any number of reasons, so practice that first. 
  3. Don’t forget to have fun! If you find yourself getting frustrated or overwhelmed, take a break and do something that both you and your pet find enjoyable. 
  4. Tag us on our Facebook or Instagram to let us know what you’re up to!  

What About Agency in Training?

Earlier this month, we had a really great question enter our inbox:

I have a 1-yr-old Chow-Pitbull-Cattle Dog-Mastiff mix (Embark). We train nearly daily, with multiple short sessions, 2-4 minutes each. Sometimes he’s really into it, sometimes (and I’m sure partially due to a lack of clarity on my part–working on it) he’d rather flop over and do some maintenance and cleaning of the old undercarriage. I’d really love to teach him an “It’s your Choice” cue–tell him we can use this training session to work on whatever he wants. I honestly don’t care if he chooses to work on positions or heeling, or if he just wants to play a game of tug. He’s the most joyful dog I’ve ever met, he makes your typical lab look grumpy! I’d love to be an agent of even more joy for him and I’m also hoping to increase his engagement in training. So far everything I’ve done with this goal in mind has resulted in a session where he’s just trying to guess at what I want. I’d love to see him express what he wants. 

And really, there are two questions here that we get asked pretty frequently: 

  1. How can you increase agency in training sessions? 
  2. How can I help my dog communicate what they want or need?

These are both fantastic questions, and each deserves its own attention, so today, we’re going to be chatting about introducing agency into training, and stay tuned next month for the conversation of building a way for your pet to communicate their needs!

 

So, let’s start with what agency is. 

The concept of agency is a pretty big one, heck, there is a whole chapter dedicated to it in Canine Enrichment for the Real World. But in order to answer “how can I introduce agency in my training sessions?” we first need to know what agency is. Allie did a great job of diving into the topic in a past blog, Agency: What It Is & Why Your Pet Needs It and I highly recommend you check that full post before continuing here.

The short answer is agency is the ability to have some level of control in our environment and be able to make choices that will result in a desirable outcome. Agency requires at least two desirable choices. Our favorite demonstration of this is Eddie Izzard’s “Cake or Death” skit. 

Cake or death does not meet the 2+ desirable choices and outcome criterion for agency, it’s a “yay or nay” situation, and what we want is “yay or yay”. 

 

The difference between “yay” and “nay”

If we are looking to provide our pet with 2 or more choices that result in desirable outcomes, that means, we need to know the difference between our pets saying “yay!” and our pets saying “nay!” 

Knowing the body language of the species of our pet can help us identify when we are getting that “yay” from them rather than the “nay!” We covered how to start identifying those in your pet in our November 2021 Training Challenge: “Yes, please!” vs. “No, thank you!”. Whether you are just starting to observe and communicate with your pet, or you are looking to hone your skills, it can be a great starting point.

Keep in mind, what is desirable is fluid, it can change with a number of factors. What is desirable one time, may not be desirable another!  Being able to observe your pet in real-time, and notice those “yays!” and “nays!” will help you assess whether your pet has agency during an activity. 

For example, Griffey LOVES playing with his flirt pole. He gets wiggly and does his joyful “woowoo!” when it comes out (yay!), but if I brought that out at 4:30 in the morning, he’d dive into his cave bed and grumble (nay!). 

Or for Laika, she gets so excited to go adventuring in the yard (yay!), unless it is raining, and then she’d really rather not (nay!). 

This is really a foundation for introducing agency into the equation.

 

Okay, so what next?

So, you have a solid idea of what agency is: 

Agency is the ability to have some level of control in our environment and be able to make choices that will result in a desirable outcome.

You can fill in the blanks: 

My pet’s “yay!” looks like:

My pet’s “nay!” looks like: 

Excellent! We can start looking at introducing agency into your training scenarios! 

 

Provide multiple ways to get the desirable thing.

If you are using chicken in your training because your dog loves chicken, well done! You’re using something of value to your dog. Now, consider the number of ways that your dog can get the chicken. Remember: agency is having the ability to make 2+ choices for a desirable outcome. The outcome can be the same thing, it doesn’t have to be a separate option, as long as it is desirable. 

This could look like this: 

Training with me gets chicken 

Using this puzzle feeder set to the side gets chicken 

Going to your mat gets chicken 

If our dog only gets chicken if they do what we ask, then they don’t have agency. It can really challenge our skills as a teacher if we open the number of opportunities up to our pet!

 

Provide multiple desirable options. 

You can let your pet pick the treats at the beginning of the session. Offer chicken (or a treat of your pet’s choosing) and cheese (another treat of your pet’s choosing) and see which one they opt for. (This post talks about doing a treat preference test with your pet!) Utilize that in your session for the day. You can even let them choose the exercise you work on with a little bit more intentionality! But that requires quite a bit more intentionality!

 

Listening to the “nay”. 

There are going to be times your pet is going to give you the “no, thank you”. I thank my dog for each and every “nay” as it gives me more information. Recognizing the “nay” and still providing a desirable outcome is a fantastic way to turn the table from “do the thing I asked or else no chicken” to “do the thing I ask, or communicate your needs and get chicken.” 

If this is a topic you’d like to learn more about, I highly recommend Enrichment for the Real World Episode 21 –  Ken Ramirez: Comprehensive Care. Around the 30-minute mark, Emily and Ken talk about what listening to a pet’s “no” can do for our relationships and our training. 

 

Now What? 

  • If you’d like a more in-depth look at agency, check out Allie’s blog fully dedicated to agency. 
  • If you’re ready to start identifying what your pet’s “yay” or “nay” looks like, then I recommend starting here. 
  • If you are ready to start introducing more agency into your training sessions, then look at the list above and identify areas for improvement! Make one change at a time so you don’t overwhelm yourself! 
  • Make sure to join our mailing list so that you get notified when our blog for building communication with our pets comes out next month! 

Happy training,

Ellen

Why I Never Give My Dog People Food

Let me get right to the point.  I never give my dog people food. Why?  Because people food doesn’t actually exist.  There are consumables and poisons (and some fast foods in between).  If you’re asking if I give Opie some of the same food that my family also eats, then my answer is ABSOLUTELY! *Disclaimer- This blog is not intended to replace veterinary advice. Some of the foods that we eat can cause harm to our pups like chocolate, grapes, garlic, onions, pits of fruit, cooked bones etc. AND some dogs may have allergies just like us.*

 

So why am I making a point to tell you all of this?

Whenever I am working with a family I like to get a list going of the dog’s food preferences so that we can have a good idea of how to pair the value of the treat with the difficulty of the task.  Most families report that their dogs enjoy the crunch of a common dog treat but will come bounding for a bite of freeze-dried liver.  Sometimes when I’m giving suggestions for other foods to try like broccoli, carrots, cheese, ham, eggs, etc, I am confronted with a common answer:

“We don’t like to give our dog people food because we don’t want to encourage begging.”

This is a valid concern. Honestly, I don’t care if your dog begs or not, you get to decide your threshold on that; however, I can definitely empathize with the frustration of a dog staring/barking/pawing when you would like to eat in peace and isolation.   I don’t want my dog barking at me when I sit down at the table for dinner.  I don’t want my pup putting his paw up on my leg when I eat my ice cream on the couch.

But the food itself is not the problem. Dogs want to eat.  Dogs know that you’re eating food that they would also like to eat. You giving them that food doesn’t inherently create a desire for that food– their big beautiful noses already know that your steak is going to taste good–but the pattern of how they earn that food definitely reinforces whatever they did to get it. 

Dogs learn consequences through understanding sequences.  If you feed your dog consistently from the table, he’s going to learn that he gets fed when you sit down at the table.  If you give your pup finger licks of ice cream when you’re chilling on the couch, she’ll probably follow you to the couch and sit in front of you with those big puppy-dowg eyes every time you make a bowl.  In the same respect, if your dog chooses to lay down on his bed while you chop veggies and THEN you then toss a piece of that veggie in his bed, he is more likely to go to his bed when he sees you chopping veggies.

Behavior is shaped through reinforcement.  The value of reinforcement, the consistency of reinforcement, and the location/sequence prior to reinforcement all contribute to the likelihood and intensity of that behavior.  If your pup is begging for your food, it may not be solely because of that food but possibly because of their learning history.

 

Corinne’s Favorite Ways of Using “People” Food:

  • Instead of discarding broccoli stalks, freeze them (or keep raw) and give your pup a “broccoli bone” to gnaw on while you make dinner.  You could also use a whole carrot!
  • Set up a bed near the kitchen table and only toss scraps when they are laying down on it
  • Layer a Kong with plain yogurt, pumpkin, green beans, and peanut butter, and freeze it for a long-term dog project while you watch a movie.
  • Save the cut ends of green beans as tiny, crunchy training treats.

 

Now what?

  • Think about times when your dog begs. Consider what has happened in the past and ask yourself what you would rather they do instead.
  • Reflect on your own reasons for why you feed your dog what you feed them.  If they’re healthy and you’re both happy with how things are going, great, no need to change a thing!
  • If you’re interested in incorporating foods that you eat into your pup’s diet, talk with your vet for more information on how to keep your pup safe.

You’re doing great!

Corinne

September 2022 Training Challenge: Teach Your Pet Something New Through Capturing

It’s September, y’all! That means it is time for our monthly training challenge! There are many ways that we can teach a behavior, but for this training challenge, we are going to focus on capturing! 

This month, we challenge you to practice your training skills by teaching your pet a new behavior through capturing!

This is the first segment in our series looking at different ways to teach our pets new behaviors, and for the sake of demonstration, I’m going to keep the behavior the same (go to a spot or bed), but stick around until the end of this blog post for suggestions of other behaviors that you can teach commonly through capturing!



First thing first, what is capturing? 

Capturing is waiting for your pet to do the desired action naturally and then rewarding them for doing so. Often, we find that a marker is helpful for capturing. 

In this video, Allie shows what capturing might look like if you were looking to teach your pet to put their head in a box: 

 

If our desired behavior is for our pet to put their head in the box, we might put the box down, and wait for our pet to investigate the bottom of the box.

For our example of going to a spot, like a bed, a perch, or a stool, then we would put the object down, wait until our pet moved to that spot, then use our marker, and then deliver something wonderful like a treat. 

Now, you may be thinking, isn’t that going to take all day!? And the answer is, yeah, sometimes it can. Both of my dogs have a long history of going to “that thing that is a different texture than the thing that you’re on” and snoozing in their beds behind me while I work, and still, without some additional consideration, it maybe awhile before they go to their beds.

I started a zoom recording to demonstrate what capturing might look like if you were waiting throughout the day for your pet to go to their spot. I sped this video up because, let’s be real, no one needs to see me typing for this long, but this took about 5-6 minutes for Laika to walk over to the bed and lie down.

 

One of the large complaints that we see with capturing is that it can be a little slow. But, if you’re more like me and patience is something you’re working on, there are some things that you can do to speed up the process. 

 

Observe your pet to know when the thing is more likely to happen

Once you know what you want to capture, consider the different factors that set the stage for that thing to happen. 

In order to successfully capture behavior, you really need to know when it is likely going to happen. Some things happen based on the time of day, during different activities, with different people, or in different situations. 

You may find that your dog is more likely to bow after they get up from a nap. Or they are more likely to get a toy when you first get home from work. Or they are more likely to smack their lips right after they eat. 

For my dogs, if I want to capture them going to their spot, I know it’s more likely when:

  1. I’m settled and resting. It is going to be a big ask for my dogs to go lie on their bed if I’m moving around the house doing things. We’ll work on that later! 
  2. They have a place that they gravitate toward. Laika would rather stand than lie on the tile. This would go MUCH slower without something cozy for her to lie on. 
  3. I’m working with their natural activity rhythm. Super early morning, mid-day, or after dark are times when they are more often going to their bed on their own accord. 
  4. There is a beautiful sun spot on the floor. 
  5. They’re tired.

 

Stack the deck in your favor

How you do this is going to be dependent on what factors you already identified and what you’re looking to capture! 

If your dog loves lying on hardwood and you get them the cushiest, most plush bed in the world, that’s not exactly stacking the deck in your favor. But, if your pet loves lying and sitting in the sun, then opening the blinds and putting their spot there can help you be prepared to mark and deliver your treat quickly and efficiently. 

When teaching various species to go to a spot, here are some things that might make it a little easier: 

  1. The spot needs to be somewhere you can see it. If you want to capture them doing it, you need to know they are doing it! 
  2. Make sure the spot is of reasonable size. If it’s too small, it can be easy to miss. You can always make it smaller later! 
  3. Make the spot easy to get to when you’re starting, putting it in the middle of the floor, or between you and the entry to the room you’re in can be helpful compared to a corner far away from you.

 

And some final tips for capturing: 

  1. Remember, when we are capturing, we are looking for something that we already see our pet doing. If it isn’t happening already, you can’t capture it! 
  2. Make sure treats are readily available where you will be doing the capturing. This is most effective when the time between your pet doing the thing and the reinforcer is 2-3 seconds. 
  3. You may find a marker helps the process, so if you don’t have a marker signal or cue already, check out this video
  4. Think about the things that your pet already does that you’d like to see more of. Those are excellent options for capturing. 

 

Additional tricks or skills to capture

If your dog already has going to their spot down, then here are some other commonly captured behaviors for you to try this month: 

  1. Sit and Down 
  2. Your dog licking their lips
  3. Putting their head down 
  4. Deep breaths 
  5. Sneezing 
  6. Yawns 
  7. Head turns 
  8. Bows 
  9. Looking at you 
  10. Picking up a toy 
  11. Ear twitches
  12. Sniffing 
  13. Vocalizations 
  14. 4 on the Floor 
  15. Calmness 
  16. Put your head in a box 
  17. Lying on their side 

 

Now What?

  1. Decide what you’re going to teach your dog through capturing! There are so many options when it comes to this, so you can be creative. Just make sure it’s something that your pet already does. 
  2. Consider whether or not there is something you can do to make the thing you are capturing more likely. More repetitions can make the learning process faster.
  3. Have fun with it! Once you get the hang of knowing what you’re looking for, observing your pet doing it, and delivering a reinforcer, you can do so much with your pet! 
  4. Let us know on Facebook or Instagram what you’re working on! We’d love to see your progress! 

 

The Common Mistake That Will Cost You

How many times have you made this mistake: you learn something new and go straight to the fun part. The harder part. How can you push this new skill? What else can you do with it? Aaaaand you conveniently skip right over mastering foundation skills before doing all that. 

Sound familiar? Yeah, for me too. I’ve learned many skills that I’ve had to go back and re-learn and master those foundations after the fact. Usually, I would do that after I get myself into trouble or a sticky situation by trying to perform a more advanced skill without having a solid foundation first. And it’s always been harder for me to re-learn and undo those bad habits than it would to have learned the foundation in the first place. 

For some aspects of my life, I’ve learned that lesson (it only takes a few times of trying to crochet without a pattern and undoing 3 hours of work before taking the hint); when I want to try something new I watch foundation videos to make sure I start off on the right foot. I ask the experts what skills I need to perfect before I can get to the fun part. I practice until those skills are comfortable before trying to push the boundaries. For other aspects of my life, I’m still in that stage of recognizing I should do that but thinking this time it will be different. (It never is.)

This seems to be a pretty common trait of human learning: pushing boundaries before we’re ready. I see it a lot with my clients, too, where they gloss over critical foundation skills to get to the fun part. Or, gloss over critical foundation skills to get to the part that they think they need. But, here’s the thing. There’s a whole lot more that goes into what you actually need to develop a skill than the skill itself. 

 

A Low-Stakes Example

A few Christmases ago, I wanted to crochet bookmarks for a few friends. I had seen a cute pattern on Pinterest for an animal with a long, flat body and a little 3D head that would pop up out of the top of the book. But, of course, I wanted to make everyone’s favorite animals for their bookmarks instead and there were no bookmark patterns for those. 

I had crocheted amigurumi (that’s the fancy term for 3D crochet projects) twice before and kind of knew what made it work. I decided to give it a go and make my own patterns. I already hinted at the result above: I crocheted for hours and unraveled my work several times. I knew how to make a sphere because I had a pattern for that, but what about an animal with a more pyramid-shaped head? What about an oval? I had completely overestimated my abilities because I didn’t actually have the foundation skills; I didn’t know truly why it worked the way it did and I didn’t know enough to be able to break the rules of the patterns I could find. 

It took me a lot longer and many more headaches to try to do something I “kind of knew” instead of learning the foundation skills first and then getting to the fun part. I did eventually figure it out, and now I’m kicking myself that I didn’t write down the pattern for some of these! It will take me a long time once again to figure it out because it was pure trial and error instead of tweaking known rules. 

 

 

What does this look like in relation to animal behavior?

There are two ways that I see this often come out in relation to pets that we work with:

  1. Humans trying to speed through their foundation skills, or skip them altogether
  2. Ignoring the foundation skills the animal needs

Let’s take a look at each of these.

 

Skipping the human skills

The first often looks similar to my crochet example. The human knows a bit about some of the foundation skills and is itching to get to the fun part, or the part that they think is relevant to their goals. They don’t realize how much more laborious (and in the case of aggressive animals, unsafe) they’re making it by trying to speed through their foundation skills. It’s like a tortoise and hare situation. 

Here are some of the foundation skills that humans need to work with their pet who has behavior issues:

  • Observation skills
  • Understanding of body language for that particular species
  • Ability to watch the environment and their pet at the same time
  • Ability to react to the pet’s body language within seconds
  • Timing for training exercises
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Ability to respond appropriately to behavior throughout the day, outside of only within a training session

The results are often very different if one of these skills is lacking. When I did in-person sessions my clients would joke about how well-behaved their pets were for me, like their pet was in the principal’s office on their best behavior. The truth was that I had mastered the above foundation skills, which made my results different. Once my clients were proficient in those skills they saw the same results. 

Sometimes we see folks skipping the foundation skills because they’re not as exciting (like I did in the above example). Sometimes, though, we see this happening because they don’t quite understand how those skills are relevant to their pet’s behavior modification plan. I get that too; it can be hard to conceptualize some of these concepts without seeing a real-time application. 

I see that a lot with learning body language. For those people who understand in theory why it’s important but have a hard time truly visualizing it, I often see a light bulb go off when I start to point out their pet’s body language signals in real-time and then predict what they’re about to do and what the human should do in response. It’s much easier to conceptualize when you see it being put to such a helpful use! If that describes your situation, be sure to ask your consultant to explain what a particular skill is used for and to demonstrate it. 

 

Skipping the pet skills

In this week’s podcast episode, Kathy Sdao talked about the importance of eating as the first behavior. It’s hard to train using food if we have a pet who doesn’t reliably eat treats! Often when I see folks skipping pet skills, it’s the skills like this that we don’t even think about teaching. The behaviors that we often take for granted, like eating, sleeping, relaxing, sniffing, and mobility. We’re focused too much on the end goal behavior and forget that there’s a whole host of mechanics- aka other behaviors- that make up that end goal. 

This is why here at Pet Harmony we focus on enrichment first when we meet with a new client. Enrichment means meeting all of an animal’s needs and those needs provide the foundation on which the rest of the plan is built. For example, if we have a pet who has trouble sleeping they’re not going to learn and retain information very well. We’re going to work much harder to teach basic skills to that animal than to one who is well-rested. The same goes for a pet who has an upset stomach, or is wired with too much energy, or who doesn’t feel safe in the training environment. Meeting needs is the ultimate foundation. 

 

How do I make sure I don’t miss those foundation skills?

One of the best answers is to ask an expert. They should know what skills go into a particular exercise, from training mechanics to beyond. But if that’s not currently in your cards, think about the mechanics that go into a particular exercise or behavior with the determination of a toddler. 

 

For example:

Goal: I want my dog to calmly look at another dog and look back at me for a treat on a walk instead of barking.

To take a treat, they have to reliably eat in that environment. 

To reliably eat in that environment, they have to reliably eat that treat period. 

To reliably eat in that environment, they have to feel comfortable enough to be able to eat. 

To feel comfortable in that environment, they should have an escape route. 

To have an escape route that works, they need to have practiced the escape route ahead of time in an environment where they’re comfortable enough to learn a new skill. 

To practice the escape route, we need to identify an environment that they are comfortable in.

To identify an environment they are comfortable in, we need to be able to see signs of stress and signs of comfort. 

To see signs of stress, the dog needs to be comfortable at some point in time so we can see a difference between stress and comfortable. 

For the dog to be comfortable at some point, they need to be able to relax. 

 

See how many other behaviors go into that one end goal? And that’s just looking at one piece of that goal! We could do the same thing with the other behaviors included in that sentence: calmly looking at another dog, looking back at the handler, and the handler being able to dispense the treat. 

This is why asking an expert is easier; we’re more proficient at doing all of this. 

 

Now what?

  • Take a close look at a behavior or skill you’re trying to teach your pet. 
  • If you’re getting stuck, identify where you’re getting stuck. Then, consider all of the foundation skills and behaviors that make up your goal behavior. Is there one that could use some sprucing up?
  • Dive into that foundation skill and focus on applying it in easier situations. When that feels comfortable, then try applying it to the situation you’re stuck on. 
  • Is that situation getting less sticky? If so, great! Continue on that vein. If not, go back to the drawing board. 
  • If that all sounds like a heck of a lot of work, work with a professional. We work with clients all over the world. Check out our services here. 

Happy training!

Allie

 

What To Do When the Best Defense Is a Good Offense

Much of aggressive behavior, including bites, is based in fear. And the goal of those behaviors is typically to increase the distance between the individual and whatever they perceive as a threat. Oftentimes, when I explain all of this to my clients, the next question I hear is:

“If they’re afraid, why do they approach someone and then bite them?”

That’s a valid question. If the goal is to increase distance, why would the animal then purposefully move closer? My answer? Sometimes the best defense is a good offense. 

 

The Best Defense is a Good Offense Mentality

There are plenty of people who have this mentality. A large part of the Rom-Com genre is based on it: “I’m going to break things off before I get hurt.” Often when we experience other people with this mentality, we can recognize that it’s coming from a place of past, negative experiences and hurt. But sometimes it’s harder to see how an animal got to that place. 

I’ve talked in previous posts that animals, including humans, have a few different ways to react when they’re stressed: fight, flight, freeze (we’re ignoring the other options). Most of our pets start off choosing flight or freeze when they’re very young. And if those behaviors work for them- i.e. they are able to reduce the threat- they typically continue choosing flight or freeze. Individuals do what works for them. 

The problem comes in when flight and freeze stop working; when they’re either not possible to perform or they don’t work to reduce the threat. When that happens, pets often resort to fight-type behaviors (i.e. aggression), which usually works pretty darn well to get threats to go away. And what they’re learning is that the best defense against threats is a good offense. It’s the only thing that works. 

 

Continuing the Cliched Sayings: The Road to Hell is Paved in Good Intentions

Sometimes this scenario happens because people don’t know what subtle stress signals to look for to know if their pet is uncomfortable or not in a particular situation. That often means that they’re not seeing flight and freeze behaviors for what they are and making sure their pet has an escape route or helping to remove a threat if an escape route isn’t possible.

For example, here’s a picture where a dog is displaying subtle stress signals, but I’m guessing the photographer doesn’t know what to look for when it comes to signs of discomfort. This is a scenario that could turn south very quickly, especially because one of the dog’s escape routes isn’t possible due to the wall (or furniture? It’s hard to tell what that is.)

I would say that perhaps just as frequently, though, teaching a “best defense is a good offense” mentality happens due to very well-intentioned people who are just trying to help their pet be more comfortable. They know that their pet is afraid but don’t necessarily know how to help their pet work through that. Common mistakes that I see here include:

  • Holding a small dog or cat to be pet by a person who makes them uncomfortable
  • Asking a pet to move closer to a person or animal who makes them uncomfortable using food or treats
  • Asking a dog who is uncomfortable with other dogs on a walk to sit and watch other dogs pass by closely without other forms of behavior modification
  • Continuing to try to harness a dog who is moving away from the harness
  • Continuing to pursue a pet who has stolen something and is running away with it whenever you approach (this can sometimes be a play behavior, and it can sometimes not be a play behavior)

See how easy it is to accidentally teach an animal that flight or freeze aren’t effective? The road to hell really is paved with good intentions. I’ve seen so many well-intentioned, loving, lovely people who have accidentally taught their pet that the best defense is a good offense because they were trying to help their pet. And, if this is you, I’ll tell you what I tell my clients: hindsight is 20/20. It’s really easy to beat ourselves up for making mistakes, but you didn’t know and you can’t beat yourself up for not knowing. Now that you know better, you can do better. All isn’t lost. 

What should I do if this is my pet?

If you have a pet who thinks that the best defense is a good offense, the first thing I always recommend is working with a behavior professional. As illustrated above, very common internet recommendations can make things a whole lot worse. A professional knows how to navigate these situations to keep everyone safe and to make sure that we’re truly helping the pet work through their fear. 

But, in the meantime, while you’re waiting to work with a professional, I have two recommendations:

  • Management
  • If your pet is asking to move away (i.e. flight), you let them move away

Management

Management is definitely not a new topic to this blog. It means setting up the environment and/or situations to prevent the unwanted behavior from being able to happen. If your pet tries to bite people who come in the front door, put your pet in a bedroom or crate with the door safely secured before the doorbell rings. If your dog is sometimes uncomfortable with other dogs on leash, don’t introduce them to everyone on a walk. Management prevents our pets from practicing these fight-type behaviors and continuing to learn that they do in fact work. 

Flight

I mentioned at the very beginning of this post that the goal of aggressive behavior is often to increase the distance between the individual and the perceived threat. That’s also the goal behind flight; it just looks very different. 

If fight-type behaviors often happen as a result of learning that flight isn’t possible or doesn’t work, what if we taught them that it does work? That we will let them move away if they’re uncomfortable? That we will actively give them the ability to make a different choice? When done properly, most pets start to make that choice when they’re stressed instead. Stay tuned next week for why I think everyone should teach flight training to their pets. 

 

But shouldn’t I teach my pet that fight behaviors don’t work?

I get this question every now and then. And I get it. We don’t like those particular behaviors, so why should we keep telling our pets that those behaviors work? Here’s the problem with teaching that fight behaviors don’t work: there’s a really big chance of this backfiring. So much so that there’s actually a term for it: behavioral fallout. 

When we try to “stand our ground” when a dog growls, they often end up biting. When we “stand our ground” when they bite, they often end up biting harder. One of you is eventually going to back down, and it’s not going to be pretty for anyone involved. 

It is possible to suppress these behaviors through pain, fear, force, or intimidation, but trust me when I say that that doesn’t usually work in the long run. A lot of our clients come to us after having suppressed these behaviors for years (again, with the absolute best of intentions and often at the request of professionals using outdated training models) all for it to turn into a giant outburst, usually more severe than the previous behavior. 

We have more long-term success with a much lower chance of behavioral fallout if we teach our pets that, yes, those behaviors do work. Threats will go away if you ask them to. And also, you don’t need to ask them to because you can go away yourself or your human will intervene or they’re not that scary after all. 

I know this can be a hard concept to wrap your head around, so I have a whole separate blog post about why I like growling. Check it out here

 

Now what?

  • This one should come as no surprise to long-time readers: learn your pet’s body language and subtle stress signals regardless of whether they are a “best defense is a good offense” kiddo or not. Check out this blog post for some of our favorite dog and cat body language resources.
  • If this article is hitting close to home with your pet, make sure that your management strategy is up to snuff. Identify things that make your pet uncomfortable and come up with a game plan for how to avoid those stressors. Make sure to communicate your pet’s management strategy with everyone who is involved in their day-to-day care. 
  • Listen to what your pet is asking for and respond accordingly. Is your pet leaning away when someone tries to pet them? They’re asking to not be petted in that moment. Is your dog reacting at another dog on leash? Even though it doesn’t look like it, they’re still asking for space. If you don’t know for sure what your pet is asking, make sure you rope in a professional to help. Behaviors are not always as they seem at first glance!
  • And, if there’s a safety concern, I always recommend working with a behavior professional. Our team has clients all over the world and is ready to help you! Email us at [email protected] to get started.

Happy training!

Allie

Why I Stopped Asking My Dog to “Come”

If you prefer to listen to this blog post, click here.

 

We say we want to provide our dogs agency.  We say we want to give them options.  We say we want them to feel like they have a choice in the life they live.  So why do all the dog trainers and all the dog owners keep drilling away at recalls???  Why do we keep asking our dogs to come!??!?!?!

Because of safety (and probably many other very appropriate reasons as well).  

We can help manage situations, circumvent issues, and protect our pup if we can get that ever-so-sought-after “Rock Solid Recall.”  There are too many scenarios that may occur where it is in the best interest of our dogs, and of those around them, for the pups to run excitedly to our side when we say “come.”

How do we do it?  The age-old checklist

  • Prepare the environment for success
  • Reinforce/reward desired behaviors
  • Incrementally increase distractions, duration, distance, etc.

About a month ago I was filming some training sessions of myself with Opie and I noticed that he was not consistently coming to me when cued with “Opie, come!”.  Either something else in the environment was more rewarding (continuing to lay on the comfy couch, catching spare shreds of cheese dropping from my son’s hands, etc.), or I was making it too difficult for him (too far away, in a new environment, etc.).  Feeling the pressures of embarrassment from experiencing a failed recall while filming AND re-living it while watching my video, I reflected on this and I sadly realized that I don’t have a Rock Solid Recall.

 

Until I accidentally found out that I did.

Every time I said “Opie, Come!”, I wanted him to excitedly come by me; however, I wasn’t making it worth his while.  Some of the time, I did not reward him in proportion to the level of difficulty of actually coming.  Most of the time, I asked him to come when I really didn’t care if he did or didn’t come, I just wanted to give some lovin’–if he didn’t feel like it, I let it go because it wasn’t necessary and I don’t need to pet him if he doesn’t want the petting.

I wasn’t consistent with my expectations for his behavior after the cue, and I wasn’t consistent with my reinforcement of the cue “Opie, Come!”

But then, a glimmer of hope shone through my recall woes when I was assembling dinner.  I had a spare piece of fat that Opie just NEEDED to consume, so I said “Opie, do you want this?!” I heard his jingle jangle of tags tear down the hallway and he slid expectantly into home base.  Opie has a recall, it’s just not what I purposely trained.

I took a second to reflect on how I accidentally trained this.  To get the food, Opie needs to be next to me.  I consistently reinforce this by giving him what I have, why else would I say “do you want this?”  The value of the treat changes depending on what is on the chopping block, so I keep his interest piqued.  It’s the perfect combo to keep him excited and interested in moving his body close to mine.  I’ve started to proof this behavior so that I’m not only cuing it from the kitchen, and soon, I’ll be able to use it in the event I really need him to be by my side.

 

And as for “Come?” 

I still use it, it just makes too much sense in my human brain, but it’s not my recall word.  I now think of it more as an invitation for Opie to join me rather than a cue I can use for safety if I need it.

 

Now what?

  • Ask yourself, “Do I have a Rock Solid Recall?  Why is this important to me? Why would this be important to my dog?”  The answers will kick start your training plan.
  • Consider resetting your recall cue.  Start back with the basics to get a good reinforcement history going.  If you’re stuck, no worries, your friendly Pet Harmony Team is here to help.

Happy training,

Corinne