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Old 04-12-2005, 11:19 PM
CreatureTeacher's Avatar
CreatureTeacher CreatureTeacher is offline
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Join Date: Jan 2005
Location: Denver, CO
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Default BigDog's training tips...

I PMed this to you, BigDog, but I wanted to make sure you got it all. It also occured to me that maybe other folks would benefit from it too! Enjoy, if you can stay awake!

Hey DogDad!

Sorry it took me so long to get back with you. I agree that it's very important for you to teach Rocky anything and everything you can to gain his respect and strengthen your bond. I also think you may want to review the resource control thing and make sure you follow it strictly. I think your problem is that Rocky is too smart for his own good! He's going to be a blast when he grows up, but until then you have to play "tough love" daddy for a while.

You can teach a dog anything that he's physically capable of doing. There are three behavioral principles that dictate the way any animal reacts to a given stimulus. First, behavior that is reinforced is likely to increase. You can reinforce particular behaviors on purpose (like when you're training) and others by accident (like when Rocky won't stop biting you). Reinforcers (or rewards) include anything Rocky wants: talking, treats, petting, play, and toys. Remember that things you and I think are negative can also be rewards, like yelling. To almost all dogs, any attention is good attention. The second principle is that behaviors that are ignored are likely to extinguish. The absolute best thing you can do to stop almost any undesirable behavior (like nipping or barking) is to ignore it. Remove yourself or Rocky from the situation by leaving the room or even standing on a chair where he can't reach you and looking at the ceiling. When he's being a pill, pretend there's no dog there at all, even if it's hard to do. The third principle is that if you use different reinforcers in a random way, Rocky will learn faster. Here's an example: Say that every time Rocky sits when you ask him to, you give him a dog cookie. Sit, cookie, sit, cookie. After a while, Rocky will get bored with sitting for the same old cookie over and over. He'll probably sit less and less often when you ask him to. On the other hand, say he sits and this time he gets a cookie. Next time he gets a pat on the head. The time after that he gets a game of fetch. Then a little bit of hot dog. Then a game of chase. No matter which of these reinforcers is his favorite, he will get it sooner or later. He'll keep sitting when you ask him to because each reward is a surprise, and one of them just might be that hot dog or game of tug that he really enjoys. Think of people playing slot machines; they'll pump $50 in, one quarter at a time, because the next time they pull that lever might be the big payoff. Rocky will keep doing the behavior you want if you vary your reinforcement, because he's waiting for the big payoff! Those are the three most basic rules of learning, and you can use them to teach pretty much any mammal anything you want it to learn. You just have to find his reinforcers and work with them.

Dogs in particular work on pretty simple rules. First, assume that if Rocky knows what you want, he'll do it. That means that if something isn't working, don't blame Rocky. Instead, reexamine your teaching methods. He probably doesn't understand what you want, so you'll need to show him in a different way. Second, don't ever manhandle him to get him to do what you want. Use treats, toys, or any other interesting reward to lure him into doing your "trick", then praise him and let him have the reward. People who push on their dog's butts to teach them to sit have a much harder time than those who use the method I told you about. Dogs don't like being pushed around, and I haven't yet encountered something I couldn't teach without touching the dog at all. Touch should always be a reward, never a punishment. Third, be consistent! I can't stress that enough. If it's not okay for Rocky to nip your toes while you're asleep, then it's not okay for him to nip your toes ever. If it's not okay for him to bark at you, then it's not okay for him to bark at any member of your family. If he can't jump on you when you're wearing your nice slacks, he can't jump on you when you're wearing jeans. This means you need to ignore him every time he nips or barks or does something else nasty. It also means you use consistent cues for all your commands. If "down" means "ankles and elbows on the floor", then that's the only word you use to get that result. (You can't teach him "down" and then expect him to know what "lie down" means.) Sometimes it helps to sit down with your family and actually write the 'dog rules' out. We have ours hanging on our fridge so no one forgets what the dogs can and can't do. Fourth, stay calm!! No matter what awful, insane thing Rocky does, getting upset will only make the situation worse. Remember the rules and use it as a learning opportunity. Last, nothing will encourage good behavior from Rocky like when you recognize him for it. If he's lying down instead of actively irritating you, go reward him! Don't call him to you, or he won't understand what he's being rewarded for. If he's playing with you quietly, reward him! If he's avoiding putting those sharp freaking puppy teeth on your feet, reward him! Recognize the good behavior as well as the bad. Make sure he knows you'll notice when he does something right.

Those are the big behavioral secrets. Now you know!

So, I'll give you ideas how to teach a few tricks, then you can try out your own creative training genius!

Make sure you have a solid "sit", because "down" is pretty tough. We define "down" as ankles and elbows on the floor, no less. Lots of dogs try to cheat on their downs, so don't give in to a half-crouch. With Rocky in a sit, hold a treat in your hand. Pretend there's a wire hooking your hand to Rocky's nose, and pull his face down toward the floor. When he follows your hand, give him the treat. When he's doing it every time, move a step further: pull his head to the floor, then move your hand away from him just a little. When you see his elbows bend as he reaches for your hand, give him the treat. Again, practice this a few times. Then move on to getting those elbows bent a little more, then a little more, until they actually hit the floor. The exact moment they do, say "down" clearly, give Rocky the treat, and throw a party! Act like no dog in the world has ever done anything so smart. Then go back to the beginning. Repeat a million times. If you do this six or seven times a day for about two weeks, you should be able to tell him "down" and have him actually do it. Be sure to carefully couple the word "down" with the action just as it happens, not before or after. You'll slow him down a lot if you tell him "down. down. Rocky, down." over and over and over again. The word will lose meaning if he's not associating it with the movement of his body. (This same idea applies to teaching any command.)

Roll over: Some dogs aren't comfortable with this command. If you can tell Rocky's uncomfortable, don't force him into it. This is definitely one where you aren't allowed to touch the dog while teaching the command, because anything you do to physically help him along will make it harder to teach. With Rocky in a down, move your hand with a treat around the side of his head to his shoulder. Let his nose follow the treat. When his nose gets to his shoulder, give him the treat. Next, either move the treat a little above and further over the shoulder or just hold it there. When Rocky either shifts his weight over or actually falls onto his side, give him the treat. Then take it a little further each time until he's actually on his side. Then keep tempting him over until he rolls. As he's rolling, just a little after the halfway point of the roll, give the command "roll over". Then give him the treat. If he seems uncomfortable or off balance and doesn't want to go all the way around, leave it for a day and then try again. If he's still not happy with it, he may not be old enough for the coordination required. But it's still a fun trick if you can get him into it!

I sure hope all that helps. I know it's a lot of information, but if you print it out and read it with your dad I think you'll both do better by Rocky. And be sure you're doing the resource control thing. Rocky's a handful, but he's not the nuttiest dog I've known by far! You're doing really well. Just be sure to stay calm and teach Rocky by example.

As always, let me know if you have any questions at all. Take care!

Emma (CreatureTeacher)
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