Lockdown Learning

We might not have been able to go to training or compete in any trials over the last couple of months, but we have been very fortunate that our club has organized some amazing dog trainers to present webinars for our members.

Thank you to Ruth, our club president and to Julia, our head instructor and OIC for organizing these events.

The 3 speakers we have had so far have all been different types of people from different walks of life involving dogs. Peta Clarke is an exotic animal trainer and also trains dogs and other species for television, movies, musicals and commercials. Steve Austin trains dogs for detection work. This can be anything from detecting for conservation purposes, effluent and water pipe leaks, bacteria in bee hives or detecting drugs and explosives. Lauren Langman is an Agility winner at Crufts and has a successful international dog training business. Although all quite different, they all share a passion for dogs, as well as some common threads about dog training.

They all agree that positive reinforcement and negative punishment is the way to train their dogs. When your dog does a behaviour you want you mark and reward. When the dog makes a mistake you just withhold the reward. This way your dog will never be afraid to make a mistake and will always be willing to have a go. If you have found the reward that your dog regards as high value, by withholding it when he makes a mistake will make doing the correct behaviour even more desirable as this will be highly rewarded.

Positive punishment is not used and takes away the drive and enthusiasm of the dog.

Play lots of games and make training and being with you the most fun the dog has in its day. Playing games builds your dog’s confidence and the relationship your dog has for you.

The delivery of the food is important. Make it random and keep the dog guessing. Consider a poker machine concept where the dog continues doing the behaviour knowing it will eventually be rewarded and sometimes may receive a jackpot. And the position where the dog receives the treat is also important. Consider delivering it behind you if your dog forges ahead.

Don’t over train your dogs. End the session with the dog wanting more. Don’t train your dog sport every day, but play games every day.

Keep training sessions short and sharp. Only train for a few minutes or less at a time and do this frequently throughout the day.

Ditch the bowl. All the dog’s daily food allowance should come via you the owner or from enrichment games.

Only reward the dog when it has done a behaviour you want. All rewards have to be earned.

Not all rewards are equal. Some foods or toys may have a higher value to your dog than others. This is up to your individual dog, it is not your choice of what you think has high value.

Your dog is an individual. Train the dog in front of you. Behaviour is the study of one.

Dogs need to be in a calm state to learn. Scatter feeding on the ground and walking in figure of 8’s is a calming exercise for a dog. Scent games where the dog is allowed to sniff and forage for food is also calming.

Aggression in dogs is usually the dog feeling fear which is an emotion. To change the way the dog is feeling, we pair the trigger to their fear with something pleasant such as food. This is not reinforcing the aggression, we are changing the emotion.

Have a good attitude to training, set some goals, break training down into smaller sections and enjoy the dog you have. Be positive and focus on what you want.

We still have a few more webinars to go, so it is well worth registering and finding out what these international and Australian dog trainers have to say.

Some of the information may be knowledge you already know, or you may need to be reminded for it to sink in. Sometimes a different dog trainer may present the information in a way with a different example and that helps you understand how it applies to you. Either way, these are great opportunities not to be missed as we take advantage of these great trainers having time for us in these unusual times where they are not able to carry out their usual job or be out competing or touring.

More information about these speakers as well as the upcoming webinars can be found on our club Facebook page.

Detailed Accounts can be found in this blog, or click on the links above.

Peta Clarke

We started our first set of webinars in mid-April with Peta Clarke. Peta has been an animal trainer at Taronga Zoo and has trained many different species for movies, TV and commercials. She is an extremely knowledgeable and informative lady and an entertaining and down to earth speaker.

Her webinar ‘Learning about Learning’ involved the science of behaviour change.  Her experience training many different species has given her an immense insight into understanding animal behaviour. Understanding why and how an animal does a behaviour involves understanding the science.

There are 4 different sciences that can be looked at as to how to understand an animal’s behaviour. These aspects will affect how and why the animal behaves in that way.

Medical- the age and physical health of an animal will affect how it behaves. Behaviour is a symptom. For example, if the dog has a physical medical problem it may act differently. Therefore it is important to have your dog vet checked if its behaviour has changed.

Ethology – is a study of an animal at a species level. It involves the evolution of behaviour in the species as a group with specific behavioural traits that are true and common to that species. I.e. innate behaviour. This behaviour is set at birth and is not learnt.

Neurobiology –this science is still evolving and changes with new technology. It involves the structure and function of the brain. Neurotransmitters are modified by the environment and by what the animal experiences.

Behaviourism – this science looks how a behaviour is influenced by the environment. Each individual within a species has to be approached a little differently. Behaviour is the study of one. Therefore the individual animal modifies its behaviour depending on how that individual has experienced the environment.

Applying the science to Dog Training

Traditional dog training (punishment and dominance) was based on Ethology, i.e. that the dog evolved from the wolf and the dog obeys out of respect to a leader. Those methods are now outdated.

Modern dog training now uses Behaviourism. Its stems from the works of scientist BF Skinner and his methods of behaviour analysis.

Now we can mark and reward dogs for a behaviour we want using positive reinforcement. The animal are not obeying us out of respect for us, they are obeying the laws of learning. The animal is behaving based on its past consequences in the setting that it finds itself. Emphasis is placed on the trainer, not the dog and every dog is an individual.

We must remember Behaviour is the Study of One.

We can get general information and foundation about what is typical species behaviour but we must look at the individual animal we are going to train. The individual animal tells us what they like and don’t like by their individual behaviour. E.g. does your dog like or not like to be patted, does it like chicken or does it prefer pork?

Where to start when Training your Dog

There is always more to learn.

Trust the science. The applied behaviour analysis has the answer. So if you have a problem, the answer will be in the science and to learn how to apply it to the real world and becoming better at understanding it involves practicing it.

Practice seeing Antecedents and consequences.  We can’t always look at just behaviour. To influence a behaviour you can change the consequences and change the antecedents, i.e. the environment. Antecedents are the smallest unit of behaviour, eg a cue, it is a stimulus that cues an animal to perform a behaviour.

Find people to learn from. If someone is doing training that you find is fantastic, then learn from them.

Train other species. – this will help you understand how animals learn and will help you understand your dog’s behaviour.

Remember that our dogs won’t always obey us, and this is not what we want, but they will always obey the laws of learning.

Q & A

Antecedents–

Are the stimuli that the animal can perceive. It has meaning to the animal. It refers to the environment or preceding events of the behaviour of interest being analysed. Eg. Cues.

When owners want a quick fix.

Treat the owner as an animal also, in that advice should be dictated to the type of person the owner is. When they are in an emotional state, then they are not going to learn while in that state or develop a meaningful relationship with you. I.e. Unlike our dogs, some exotic animals don’t come with an in built level of appreciation of humans.  Therefore we have to build a level of rapport when the animal/human is feeling threatened or vulnerable.

The instructor can interact with their dog rather than just telling the owner what to do.

Walking multiple dogs.

We need as much information as possible when giving advice, so ask more questions. Walking multiple dogs at once is the same as training 4 dogs at once. Therefore the handler needs experience and success at walking 2 or 3 dogs first and then success with different combinations of the dogs.

Apply the method of giving the dog a treat while walking a dog at your side. So look at where and how the handler delivers the reward. I.e. try delivering it behind you if dog is pulling forward. Be consistent, same rules apply if there is one dog or 4.

Before aiming to walk 4 dogs at once, which is a high level activity, they need to start training 4 dogs at once at home at a lower level.

Fear in dogs

The dog needs to have a safe place in its home where no one can impinge on its space.

Understand that the stress chemicals in the brain have a longer shelf life than the happy chemicals. This is because fear is required for survival. It takes at least 72 hours after a traumatic event for the high levels of stress chemicals/glucocorticoids to reduce back to normal levels.

So if you have a stressed/fearful animal, then leave the dog alone for at least a week. Be aware of your body language.ie don’t lean over or hug them which will perceived as threatening.

Introduce scatter feeding, allow sniffing in boxes. Sniffing and foraging for food allows the dog to release dopamine and start to feel good. I.e., don’t feed from a bowl.

Aggression in dogs

The dog is in an emotional state. Understand it could be an environmental aspect also. To change the behaviour, need to change the emotional state of the dog.

An example is the story of clouded leopard who was uncomfortable with the keeper passing her enclosure. To solve the problem, the keeper fed the leopard, regardless of what behaviour it was doing. This is not reinforcing the aggression. It took 2 weeks and the leopard would be calm when it saw the keeper approach. The lesson it learnt was ‘when I am in your presence, you will receive food.’

Therefore, don’t add negative emotion by yelling when a dog is aggressive as they perceive you to be angry only when the other dog is there.

Engage a dog in Toys.

The aim is to get the dog to understand that Toys are associated with the food. Aim to train the only way the dog can get food is to play with the toy.

We are linking one stimulus with a consequence. Gather information about whether the dog prefers soft or hard things to mouth. 

Break the training into smaller bits, successive approximations. Introduce the toy as just holding it, then treat the toy as prey like.

The dog has to engage and work at getting the food. I.e. have the food in a pillow case or cardboard boxes where the dog has to engage with the object, by ripping and tearing at it to get the food out.

Handler’s emotions/mood

Some dogs are more socially sensitive than others. The science suggests that the dog picks up on the handler’s behavioural change. Dogs have learnt the value of being aware of our body language.

Calming Exercises

When working on an unwanted behaviour, focus on changing the antecedents/the environment rather than the consequences.

Example for a dog that barks is to wait until the dog stops barking then reinforce being quiet. This is difficult to achieve and rarely works.

When the dog is a demand barker, the dog learns to bark as it knows good things comes from you. It is releasing frustration.

Start to give the dog food, even if barking. Think of the example of the clouded leopard. Scatter feed on the ground. Handler is to talk to another person. Dog then expects that when it sees its owner talking to someone else, it will get food.

Train another behaviour to do when the dog is doing the behaviour you don’t want. It is difficult to train the dog to do nothing. E.g. when the car goes past, call the dog to another room and scatter feed on a mat.

Steve Austin

Our second webinar in early May was with Steve Austin. He is another fantastic Australian dog trainer who works training detector dogs for all sorts of things such as conservation work, detection of leaking water pipes, effluent leaks, diseases in bee hives, drugs and explosives detection in Australia as well as overseas.

His presentations are highly entertaining and he comes across as down to earth with an Aussie sense of humour. He has a huge list of qualifications but as he says, he lets his dogs do the talking.

He is continually amazed at how well his dog’s nose works. His dogs are able to easily find their target odours deep underground as well as the fact that it is possible to add more odours to the dog’s repertoire. It was thought a dog could be trained to find 5 or so odours, but now he has found dogs can be trained to find up to 15-20 different odours.

The art form and the theory of training the dog for detection is the same as any dog training involving operant conditioning, involving positive reinforcement and negative punishment.

Dogs working in the field may involve encounters with dangers or with other wild animals.

Therefore training must take into account what they will be working with in the field, in real life. So don’t just train in the one place or in your own yard. Get your dog used to the sounds, smells, sights of things they will encounter when working or competing.

Steve has a lot of work involving the protection of wild animals. He suggested that we as dog owners should Introduce other species to their dog early in their life.

When training, if your dog makes a mistake, just withhold the reward (i.e. use negative punishment). This way your dog will never be afraid to make a mistake, and will be willing to have a go. Your dog will then see correct behaviour as even more valuable as it will be highly rewarded. Mistakes are ignored and correct behaviour is highly rewarded.

Use mistakes as a benefit to your dog. If you use negative punishment, your dog won’t get his reward, and if you select the right reward for your dog, it makes the negative punishment even more effective.

Positive punishment is not used as it takes the drive and the enthusiasm away from the dog.

To entrench a behaviour clearly in a dogs mind, the finds/rewards need to be random. It could be after a few seconds, then after an hour, or after 5 minutes. The dog never knows when the reward is coming and this makes the dog push harder to make the find. The dog is in the jackpot/ poker machine mentality.

Q & A

  1. Operant conditioning Quadrants definitions

Reinforcement – you want the behaviour to reoccur – increases behaviour

Punishment – you don’t want the behaviour to occur- decreases the behaviour

Positive – adding

Negative – subtracting

*Positive Reinforcement. Example: ask the dog to sit, it does and you give the dog a reward. The reward has to be what the dog wants, not what you want. Some rewards will have a higher value to your dog than other rewards. e.g. cheese over kibble or the ball over a tug toy.

Negative Reinforcement – Example: put pressure on the dog to make it sit. When it does, you reward the dog by taking away the pressure.

Positive Punishment – Example: The dog jumps up at you and you give it something to stop it, eg yell at it, reprimand it. This is old school method and not used now.

*Negative punishment – Example: The dog jumps on you and you remove yourself or something the dog wants from the dog.

*Positive reinforcement and Negative punishment for the majority of the training.

  • Qualities in a working dog.

Look for a dog that wants to engage with you or what you can give it, a dog with a high reward value from you, it prefers you to other dogs.

Working line dogs compared to show lines. Look for dogs that have courage and drive and bred for physicality.

  • Food rewards

The delivery of the reward is important, but the dog always gets its reward. Deliver the reward randomly. The how and when to give rewards determines how motivated the dog will be. The reward itself is not the only answer, it’s how to keep the dog focused and get the dog to work for it.

The dog has to keep guessing when the reward is coming and can gradually increase the time the reward is given. To increase the duration, start giving the reward 1in 2 behavious, then 1 in 3 etc. increasing intervals, but the dog doesn’t know when he is going to receive it. When in intervals of 1 in 5 the dog may get it after 1 behaviour or after 4 behaviours, the dog has to keep guessing. The dog has to know if he keeps doing that behaviour he will eventually get the reward.

  • Detection Training

Older or rescue dogs can be trained. Treat them as you would an 8 week old puppy. Ie give them all the forgiveness you would a puppy.

  •  How long to work a dog

If the dog is happy and willing to work, then keep it working. It doesn’t depend on its age. The dog will tell you when it’s time to retire. Working line dogs can work for 10 years or more, although they might slow down a bit with age.

  •  Time to train a dog ready to work

If you have a dog with high reward drive, have a step by step training plan and use positive reinforcement and negative punishment, Steve can train a dog to work in the field within 13 weeks. It takes longer to select the right dog. Make the rewards fun and only train for about 60-90 seconds at a time at a time and if possible for 4-5 sessions throughout the day. Training has to be the best thing in their life, it has to be fun.

Have a good attitude to training, set your goals, and enjoy your dog. The only disability in life is a bad attitude.

  • A dog that decides it doesn’t want to work anymore.

Put the dog on holidays and let it chill for a few weeks. Keep the attention toward the dog to a minimum. Only do groom, feed and minimum exercise. Set a plan. Reassess the rewards.

First time you take the dog out, only play with it, don’t train it. Stop training before you reach the dog’s peak of the training session, before they are over trained. Stop with the dog wanting more. Ensure you don’t give too much praise for nothing. The dog learns that rewards are only for when they work.

Preference for which sex of dogs.

Steve now prefers females. Female dogs are softer & may take a little bit extra work to train but in the long run he feels females are better. De sex the females after the first season. De sex the male around 18-24 months to allow for bone, muscle and brain growth. He emphasizes it is entirely your own preference & worth you doing your own research. Follow the science and make your decision based on what will benefit your dog.

  • Dominant dogs

Most likely not to be a dominant dog, the dog is more likely to be fearful.

Use classical conditioning. If a dog shows aggression towards another dog. A dominant dog won’t scare the other dog away, it wants the other dog to come closer so it can fight it. A fearful dog wants to scare the other dog away.

Find the threshold of the dog before it reacts. Pair the reward with the experience. If a dog is fearful of something, then find the distance the dog is under its threshold, and reward it. Use classical conditioning (Pavlov training). You can use all his daily food allowance for this exercise, work on changing his emotions. Don’t correct him. This may take 20-30 repetitions. When he receives all his food on this exercise, his attitude can change.

  • Fearful dogs

Sometimes it is difficult to determine what the dog is fearful of. The object may trigger the fear. It could be the sight, the scent, or have been hurt by it.

To overcome the fear, desensitize the dog against the trigger using classic conditioning. Have him at a distance where he is under the threshold. Need to fix his emotions first. Step back allow to calm down first. Also check the dog is physically and mentally healthy.

11           Resource guarding

Put 2 bowls out. Have the dog on lead. Drop a bit of food into its bowl, then take the dog to the other bowl, and drop food in. You become the instigator of giving food, not taking things away. Don’t correct as this behaviour is an emotional problem. The dog needs more confidence.

Train tricks, or any type of sport to give the dog more confidence. The more robust mentally and physically your dog is, the happier the dog is. Allow them to have small steps of success to grow their confidence.

12           Become a detection dog handler

Have an obedience title like UDX- show you have the ability to train your own dog.

A course such as Austin Education specializing in Canine Training and Behaviour

Lauren Langman

On Saturday night 16th May we had Lauren Langman speak on Preparing your dog for Competition. She was an energetic and enthusiastic presenter. Her webinar was very interactive and she answered people’s questions during her presentation.

Some of the things she addressed were to not just focus on the problems, as where your focus goes, so does the energy.

She had 3 rituals she follows for competition.

1. Don’t walk your dog before a trial, walk them afterward. The same applies to training. Have a down day before and/or after the day of competition as it can be a long stressful day for your dog and for you.

2. Ditch the bowl, your dog earns all their food. This applies to every day as well as at the trial. All their daily food allowance should come from playing games, training, Kongs, snuffle mats and scatter feeding. You can play games to get your dog warmed up ready to go. Use games that apply to your individual dog. Ie if you need to rev them up then do games with a lot of movement, eg spins. If you need to calm them down then do static games or tricks. Eg sit pretty

3. Your dog should be crated or stay on his boundary bed while at a trial and only bring him out to toilet and for the event he is entered. Don’t give them any freedom at a trial or wander around meeting people with your dog. You want your dog calm and chilled when waiting for your event and then spring to life and become animated on cue. So you need to have trained a high value for their bed/crate and have played Boundary games.

Boundary Games

Don’t constantly feed while on their bed/crate/boundary. Treat only when calm and vary when you give the reinforcement.

Can cage the food while on the bed so it is delivered slowly.

Warm up before your event.

Have a dynamic warm up.

Do some figure of 8 walking if your dog needs some calming.

Massage your dog

Don’t line up or queue near the ring

Training

This applies to all sports. Don’t do the obedience/agility or your sport every day. Only do it say 3-4 days per week, but play games every day. These should only be done for about 3 minutes at time.

Choose games that apply to your dog. For example play Magic Hand if you want to teach your dog to heel with his head up watching your hand.

If you have a sniffy dog, then don’t scatter feed.

Sniffy dogs can be taught not to sniff by allowing them to sniff as long as they want, but only in a small designated area. As soon as they stop, mark and reward and allow them to sniff again. Eventually they don’t want to sniff that area anymore. Mark and reward. Lauren called it ‘fill your boots.”

If you have an Agility dog, don’t jump him for the sake of jumping. Every dog only has a certain amount of jumps he can do in his life so only jump when it necessary.

If your dog has a behaviour problem, don’t let them rehearse that behaviour. Give them a break from trialing and come up with a plan.

Distractions

Teach your dog to disengage from the environment by using DMT. Distract, mark, treat.

Play lots of games with your dog so the dog has lots of value for you. See Sexier than a Squirrel challenge.

Drive and Desire

We want our dogs to have lots of desire. This can be achieved by playing games like the Whip game, doing spins and playing lots of games.

We want a dog that is eager and ready to go and is twitching in anticipation to go.

When getting your dog ready to enter the ring, play a game to support the behaviour. Eg sit/drop/stand

Build a great relationship with your dog.

Play Games that grow confidence.

Fitness – your dog has to be mentally and physically fit. Triple F program.

Skills – break them down into small bits.

Human Mindset.

It is vital to get yourself/the handler in the right state of mind. Do things to that make you feel great. Examples might be listen to music, play with your dog, or get moving/air sprint. How you as the handler is feeling impacts on your dog.

Focus on what you want