Sunday, December 2, 2012

Dog Trainer Day

So yesterday was the day we met with the dog trainer / behaviorist that we hired. If anyone reading this is in the Guelph area, we are using the services of Emily Fisher, Scratch and Sniff Canine Services (

The first session was scheduled for 90 minutes and we spent the first 60 minutes discussing Jake's history and prioritizing the issues we wanted to address first. Our top for issues we'll be addressing are as follows:

1. Barking at people/dogs when they walk by the house
2. Helping reduce Jake's arousal/excitement/frustration/fear
3. Jumping on people
4. Counter surfing / stealing things he is not supposed to have

As it turns out 5 made it onto our list because we added pulling on leash as another issue. Only because we can use many of the same methods we will be practicing to resolve the above issues.

Also as part of the conversation and discussion about Jake's one display of "aggression" we came to the conclusion that the incident was more of a result of over excitement/arousal and frustration/fear as opposed to a true aggressive response.

Once we started working with Jake, we met Emily outside a few doors down from our house. She wanted to meet Jake for the first time off our property. That is when she started discussing a classically conditioned attention cue which could be used to direct Jake's attention away from something and towards us. So we chose the cue word "here" to use in this situation. She advised us to wait until Jake's attention was elsewhere, then use the cue word "here" and click/treat. After 10 - 12 repititions Jake started to catch on. Both my husband and I did some repetitions of this exercise. We are to practice this in various situations outside of the house and in the house.

Then we moved to our front yard and she advised us how to use the "here" cue to direct Jake's attention away from people/dogs walking by the house. We started at a distance away from the sidewalk to try and judge Jake's threshold. We had to move backwards to start seeing some success. We were advised to let Jake notice the person/dog walking by the house and become alert. But use the cue word "here" and when Jake looks towards us without barking we click/treat. Again we both practiced this. Since I get home each day when the kids are coming home from school, I am to take Jake out to the front yard for a 5 - 10 minute session every day and attempt to move his threshold closer to the sidewalk.

In our next session which is scheduled for 2 weeks, we will review the cue word "here" and how Jake is doing in front of the house. She also gave us some tips, articles and videos to watch on how we can start addressing Jake's jumping on people. We can have Jake restrained on a leash to prevent the jumping and reward with a click/treat when Jake behaves the way we want him to. Or we can a baby gate so Jake doesn't have the opportunity to jump up and then heavily reinforce with high value treats when he makes the right decision not to jump.

So in trying to digest all of the information, I was armed with a pouch full of Jake's food and the clicker while I was making dinner tonight. I rewarded Jake with a click/treat when he came beside me and sat. He made the good decision not to jump on the counter. While it took me longer to prepare dinner than usual, I would click/treat Jake every 15 seconds to help him understand that he gets rewarded when displaying this behavior as opposed to jumping on the counter. By the time I was half way through preparing dinner, Jake was lying down on the mat beside me in the kitchen and not even bothering with what I was doing. I rewarded this with click/treat at a more frequent rate to reinforce the behavior. By the time dinner was ready, Jake was asleep on his bed in the living room. A few weeks ago, I would have been completely frustrated by the time I finished dinner and Jake would have likely been barcaded out of the kitchen or put in his crate.

I'm definitely seeing the value in positive reinforcement / classically conditioned training / clicker training. We still have a lot of work to do, but I am confident if we keep up with the training we'll be able to resolve the majority of Jake's behavioral issues.

Over the coming days I will share some of the videos and articles I read while doing the reading homework that was assigned by Emily.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Introduction to Clicker Training

So after reading several books and article after article on training dogs, I finally gave in and bought an introductory book on clicker training. I decided to go with a book called Getting Started: Clicker Training for Dogs written by Karen Pryor. It's not a very long book, so after reading for 45 minutes I had a good introduction to clicker training and was ready to start working with Jake.

I started with a clicker and a pocket full of treats. As instructed, I simply started walking around the house and pressing the clicker and then dropping a treat on the floor every time I clicked.

I did 3 short 5-minute sessions within 45 minutes and I noticed that if I clicked Jake would start looking for a treat. Once I knew I had his attention I started asking him sit, down, stay, go on your bed, in your cage, etc and every time he did what I asked I clicked and rewarded with a treat.

That is when my husband come home from work and asked me what I was doing. I did a bit of a demonstration before he decided to give it a try.

I may have made a believer out of my husband. Jake already has the basic commands down, we just need to find a way to reliably get him to listen. At the end of the evening, Jake is now coming in the house when called from the backyard, which he would not do prior to tonight. The only difference is the clicker training tonight. Jake excitedly comes when called and sits in front of my husband which is when he clicks and gives him a treat. We still have a long way to go, but we finally feel like we are making some progress.

I just want to add that the Karen Pryor book is a great introduction to clicker training and goes through in detail how to sit, down, come and walk on leash in detail. I read some negative comments that it didn't go into greater detail for other commands. I don't necessarily see that as a negative. Once you understand the concept of clicker training and your dog is responding, the sky is the limit. You can shape any behaviour you want.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Working on Counter Surfing

We have made many mistakes when it comes to Jake and his counter surfing. But I think I finally understand what needs to be done to correct the problem.

Last night I was in the kitchen making dinner which can be frustrating for me because Jake constantly puts his paws on the counter which resulted in me constantly pushing him off and sometimes timeout in his cage. Other times we would get lazy and not move things like towels and clothes out of the way and Jake would grab those and turn them into a game of chase.

After reading Jean Donaldson's Culture Clash, I have a far better understanding of what we were doing wrong and what we need to do to correct the issue.

I started dinner around 4:30pm yesterday at a time that Jake was likely very hungry. I put his food in his bowl but instead of giving it to him I put it on the counter. Every time that Jake jumped up on the counter I stood there and did my best to ignore him. Then when he sat down beside me he got a morsel of his food. After doing this for 30 minutes Jake was putting his paws up less and less and getting rewarded more often. The exercise ended there because my husband came home and I didn't have Jake's attention anymore.

We are also working very hard to keep everything out of reach on the counter so he doesn't get that inadvertant reward.

This will take more time, but I have some more cooking to do tonight, so I'll repeat the same exercise again tonight. I at least feel like we are going in the right direction now as opposed to allowing the same behavior all the time which just resulted in frustration.

Jake has just as much to learn as we do.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A little setback

So it has been a week or so since my last post. We had an incident occur late last week in where Jake jumped up on our dog walker and bit her. Her and her husband have been coming into our home since Jake was 9 weeks old to take him out for a short walk and feed him lunch. After a discussion with the dog walker we didn’t get a lot of good details to help us understand what the trigger was, so I’m not sure we’ll ever know what happened.

This was of course very upsetting. I felt like we had failed as dog owners and went through a whole gamut of emotions for a few days following the incident.

I can tell you that it was an eye opener! It quickly made me realize that maybe we couldn’t do this on our own and needed some help. With all the issues Jake has – stealing objects off the counter, barking at neighbors walking by the house, digging in the yard, incessant whining, pulling on leash, jumping on people, etc. – we had no real idea on how to resolve them.

So I have spent the last few days finding a dog behaviorist. We have an initial assessment session scheduled for early December.

I have also been spending time reading a book that was recommended to me. It is called Culture Clash by Jean Donaldson. I am only half way through the book, but I have had several ‘Ah Ha’ moments where it has helped me understand why Jake is behaving the way that he is. It also makes me think that maybe they aren’t behavioral issues at all. It is a simple case of us not telling Jake what we expect from him. For example, we’ve never taught him what we expect him to do as opposed to jumping on us when we come home. We’ve never taught him how to walk properly on leash … and this was made worse by the fact that he went on so many leash free walks and runs when he was a younger puppy. If you own a dog and you are experiencing any ‘behavioral’ issues like I mentioned above (but not limited to those), I highly recommend reading Culture Clash. It has opened my eyes and I now understand why what we’ve been doing for the last 8 months has not been working.

We are still going to meet with the behaviorist, but the situation doesn’t feel as helpless anymore. We have seen marked improvement in some of Jake’s behavior since working on the sit, down, stay and touch commands. I can now easily distract Jake from being curious about the birds by asking him to come touch, which he readily does for a treat now. We are starting to see an improvement in his recall when coming in from the back yard.

Stay tuned!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Day 4 - Jake

Nothing new to share on the training front today, but I wanted to post a picture of the handsome fella.

Day 3 - Training Jake and my Husband

So, I had started this whole training adventure with Jake all on my own without any support from my husband. He had 3 Shepherd's earlier in his life and he says it was so easy to train them. They just listened without very much training needed. So I think he's a little frustrated that Jake isn't the same way.

So I explained to my husband that the problem wasn't at Jake's end of the leash, but at our end and he didn't like that too much. But I forged ahead and without saying anything else, I planned to simply show him the difference the training was making with Jake.

I didn't expect it only to take 3 days to get my husband on board. One of the common problems we have is Jake gets overly excited when my husband gets home from work and jumps on him. So when my husband got home I put some small training treats in his hand and told him to ask Jake to sit. Jake didn't sit for very long each time, but it stopped him from jumping as much as he usually does.

So we did a small training session together and worked on touch, sit, down and stay. After the short training session, Jake was destracted from his excitement and lay down to chew his bone. I think I got my husband's attention.

As the evening went on, my husband admitted I might have been right. He told me that when Jake was digging in the front yard, he called his name and he came right away sitting and waiting for his treat. Due to the fact that Jake was listening better and coming when he was called, he got to spend more time outside with Daddy!

So, we may not have worked on anything new yesterday, but getting my husband on board was a big step forward! With us both being consistent with Jake, it will make everyone's life easier.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Day Two - Target, Sit and Come

Admittedly, I did not have a lot of time to work with Jake today, but I am starting to realize how smart he is!

Throughout the day, Jake did several things that we are trying to improve upon.

  • Counter surfing - stealing things off the kitchen counter or just stealing inappropriate things in general.
  • Harassing our 3 parrots
I have not stopped Jake from jumping on the counter or taking things he shouldn't have, but the process of getting them back has improved. A few days ago I would wind up chasing Jake around the house trying to get something back. The joke was on me I think ... It turned into a big game for him. Today I would get Jake's attention and ask him to sit and lie down. Once he did that I asked him to drop it. Voila ... Jake listened, I didn't look like a fool running around the house and he got rewarded! I will take that as a small win!

The second problem that causes me much stress is when Jake gets curious about our parrots. It doesn't help that two of the birds taunt him and come down to his level. While I'm not too concerned about him getting a small nip in the nose, I do worry about a 70 pound dog hurting a 150g parrot. In the past, I would yell at Jake and put him in his cage for time out if he didn't leave them alone. Again,  don't I look like a fool? My biggest mistake is not telling Jake what I want him to do instead. Today, much like with him stealing things I don't want him to have, when Jake got too close to one of the birds I would get his attention, have him come and sit for me. This worked to distract him and I'm less stressed! Another small win!

I have learned in a very short time how smart Jake is and how eager he is to please. Who knew? We still have a long way to go, but I'll take the small wins we've had this weekend and it gives me the motivation to continue.