Using Cool Tools and Groovy Gadgets

 
In This Chapter
  • Training your puppy with positive reinforcement
  • Using treat cups and snack packs as training devices
  • Discovering clicker-based training
  • Improving communication with targeting and point training
Believe it or not, you can solve more problems with positive feedback than with discipline. I’ve used every technique in this chapter, often simultaneously, and I guarantee that these fun approaches are more effective. By creating an atmosphere in which cooperation is fun and learning is natural, your puppy’s days will be stress-free and her reactionary mischief almost nonexistent. I’m as eager to share this information as, I’m sure, you are to discover it.

Your puppy’s behavior is determined by what gets your attention, and she doesn’t care whether the attention is negative or positive. Select one or all of the techniques in this chapter (from clicker training to targeting and snack packs) to highlight what your puppy is doing correctly, and those activities will rule your days. Teaching your puppy many skills will dramatically improve her focus and mental well-being — you’re in for a tremendous surprise!

Using Positive Reinforcement to Encourage Happy Cooperation


Imagine being a puppy. You’re small, inexperienced, and often bored, as all young, restless minds are. Day after day, you’re stuck watching this giant group of two-legged dogs (as humans are to them) bustling about. Human talking and chitchat is nothing but noise to your puppy’s ears. Activities, from television to phone chats and cooking are relatively incomprehensible to her. Take a minute to think of your life from your puppy’s perspective: What exactly is she thinking?
Remember
The one highlight that makes a puppy’s day complete is your interaction with her. Dogs like being plugged into group activities. They want to know what’s going on and want to be included in your thought process. Puppies are sharply aware of what behaviors get a reaction, and they quickly adapt their behavior according to your behaviors and routines.
For example, have you noticed your puppy repeating anything that guarantees even a moment’s recognition from you? Think about it: All that whining, stealing, jumping, and nudging is done for your engagement. Staring, drooling, and pawing puppies can be so creative when sifting through behaviors that get your attention. Now what if I told you to use the same logic to encourage good behavior?
Remember
Whatever puppy behaviors you pay attention to, you reinforce. Focus on a good dog, and that’s what you’ll have. Get carried away with the negative, and you’ll have a horror show.
With the smallest effort, you can teach your puppy to share objects rather than steal them, to sit for attention rather than jump, and to bring a ball to entice play rather than bark in your face. You see, the choice is up to you.

I can just imagine what you’re thinking — “Well, I’ve done all the wrong things. Can this confusion now be reversed?” The answer is a resounding “Yes.” Simply remember that your puppy prefers cheerfulness over stress. The following sections guide you down the path to a better-behaved pooch.
Tip
If your puppy has already developed bad habits, use Chapter Dealing with Daily Hassles to reorganize your environment, discourage her interest, and restructure her activities to ensure that all her needs are met.

Emphasizing Good Habits with a Little Indulgence: Treat Cups and Snack Packs


The age-old question is “To treat or not to treat?” My opinion is to treat and to treat often. For the record, though, I started out in the business very antitreat. And anti-treat training can be done, but it’s not much fun. In a life filled with daily responsibilities and stress, you may as well enjoy the process of teaching and learning with your puppy. So, feel free to use treat cups and snack packs galore.

Treat cups


Treat cups are easy to make and fun to use. Find an empty plastic container, cut a small hole in the lid, and fill it half full with small treats or your pup’s food. Shake it and give treats until your puppy associates the sound with getting a reward. Shake, treat, shake, treat, shake, treat . . . soon the sound of the cup will bring her running. Then, you can use this sound to highlight positive moments between you and your puppy and to encourage your puppy’s happy association to important words and people.

Create multiple treat cups and spread them all around — in every room of the house, in your car, and at Grandma’s house. You can never have too many treat cups. However, remember to put them out of your puppy’s reach so that she doesn’t overindulge herself!
Tip
Have children? Make it a family project by decorating your treat cups with construction paper, markers, and stickers.

Using treat cups for problem solving and conditioned learning


Use your treat cup to shape your puppy’s happy and willing cooperation. By creating a calm, understanding environment, your puppy will develop into a calm, easy dog. Trust me, it works. For example, if you want your puppy to sit but she’s jumping up, hold the treat cup out of her reach. When she finally calms down, praise her and give a treat. The same method works with her favorite toy, as you can see in Figure 11-1.
Figure 11-1: If your puppy jumps, lift the toy or treat cup out of reach. Treat for civil sitting.

Making an object exchange with a treat cup


Each time your puppy puts something in her mouth (good or bad, her object or yours), find the treat cup and shake it. Say “Share” as you approach her calmly and exchange a treat for the object in her mouth.

I’ve heard this argument about 10,000 times: “But doesn’t the treat cup reward bad behavior?” Hear me out. A young puppy will mouth everything. She’ll chew whatever feels nice to her, whether it’s a rawhide, boot, or tissue. Yelling at her will only create tension and stress, leading to — you guessed it — more chewing and destruction. To top that, yelling conveys prize envy and often leads to catch-me-now antics or, worse, aggression.
Remember
Shaking a treat cup and encouraging your puppy to share will teach her only one thing: to bring you what she’s found, undestroyed. Focus positively on her objects, and that’s what she’ll settle for in the end.

Treat cup fun and games

Tip
Use your treat cup to play fun, recreational learning games, such as the following:
- Runaway-Come Game: Shake the cup as you run away from your puppy. Shout her name cheerfully as you run away and say “Come” as you treat her for being near you.
- Treat Cup Name Game: Send your puppy back and forth between two or more people. Use her name as well as each person’s. Soon your puppy will know everyone on a first-name basis, including herself!
- Quick Sit Game: Shake the cup and position your puppy into the sit position. Soon she’ll be conditioned to sit quickly each time she hears the cup being shaken — and no words will be necessary. When your pup has mastered the Quick Sit Game, use it when company arrives.

Snack packs


Not to be confused with the pudding-cup treats for humans by the same name, these snack packs are strictly for dogs. To make a snack pack, simply dig a fanny pack out of the bottom of your closet or buy one, and fill it with goodies and a clicker if you’re using one (see the section “Clicker-Happy Training” later in this chapter). Begin to treat (or click and treat) your puppy when she cooperates. It won’t take long for your puppy to notice where the treats are coming from. Reward her for everything she’s doing right — which is to say everything she’s not doing wrong.
Warning!
Saying “Good dog!” repetitively in a high-pitched tone may create so much excitement that your puppy may abandon her good behavior for something more recreational, such as nipping or jumping. If you’re using a clicker, click before you treat. If you’re not using a clicker, use a sharp, marking word like “Yes” or “Good” to highlight the exact behavior you want your puppy to repeat.

Am I supposed to feel like a Pez dispenser?


Do you feel like a gigantic Pez dispenser when you’re wearing your snack pack? Does your puppy come up to you expecting tidbits all the time? Well, good — now you really have the power to shape her behavior. Ignore the behavior you want to extinguish and continue to treat your pup only when she’s sitting calmly or behaving in a civil manner.
Remember
If your puppy charges you or blocks your path, ignore her. Look away and walk on. If she barks or whines incessantly, don’t cave. Also, don’t use any eye contact or physical interaction. If she paws at you, don’t dole out any snacks or attention. If she’s prancing through the living room with your undergarments, ignore her and leave the room. After enough mischievous behavior she’ll finally sit or collapse in exhaustion. And when she does, reward her! She’ll catch on quickly to what you expect from her.
Tip
No rules say that your puppy can’t work for her meals. I used to walk my puppy with her breakfast in my snack pack to highlight her off-lead cooperation. When time allows, place half or more of your puppy’s meal in your snack pack and run through familiar exercises or directions.

Conditioning your pup to come to you naturally


Most puppies come when they’re young, and few stray far because the world is new and overwhelming. However, just as suddenly as life becomes more predictable, wanderlust takes hold, and off they go. Screaming, yelling, or chasing your pooch all unite to make matters worse — your flamboyance is perceived as interactive, not directional.

Even though enclosures are a must and long lines irreplaceable, you can use your snack pack to condition your puppy to check in and come naturally. Each time your puppy walks by, click your clicker (see the following section for details) or say your word marker (such as “Yes”), and treat her immediately.

If your puppy seems uninterested in your presence, take out some temptations that are sure to get her attention, such as a treat cup or favorite toy. I’ve even kneeled down and played with sticks or pretended to find something delightful on the ground: It works every time!

Clicker-Happy Training


If you’ve never been formally introduced to the clicker, allow me: This small hand-held device makes a sharp cracking sound each time it’s pressed. Pair this sound with a food reward and you’ll discover power that would make Pavlov proud. Your puppy will alert to the sound, and when she connects this noise with a food reward, she’ll be prompted to repeat whatever action makes it snap. Use the clicker properly to condition good behavior in mere seconds. Sounds too good to be true, right? It isn’t, and you can get started with puppies of any age.

“Photographing” the moment


A clicker is best used to reinforce good reactions the moment they happen: from sitting or lying calmly and coming when you call to peeing in the right spot. Think of it as “photographing” a moment you want to see again. Your puppy sits: Click and treat. She potties in the right place: Click and treat. She returns with a toy in her mouth (or returns to you with anything): Photograph her behavior by clicking and treating.
Tip
To get the most out of the click-treat combination, work on your timing. Click the very instant your puppy accomplishes a task (such as “Sit” or “Down”) or during a time when she’s behaving well.
You’ll soon find out that click timing is a lot like photographing a child’s smile: Delay even a nanosecond, and the moment’s gone. Also, limit your excitement and praise until after you dole out the treat.
Remember
The click-treat formula is one click, one treat. Any other formula would be inconsistent, and inconsistency is too confusing for your puppy. If she makes a gigantic breakthrough, you can give her a handful of treats, a so-called jackpot, but use only one click to highlight her cooperation.

Click and treat: Married for life


Note that each time I tell you to click, I follow it with the word “treat.” I use these words together because they’re married for life. No prenup necessary: The two shall never part. Your puppy will count on this association: Empty clicks will snuff her enthusiasm. The lone click becomes the number-one canine disappointment.

You don’t want to become clicker dependent, so later in this section, I detail how to phase out the clicker’s use. You need to phase out both the click and the treat as one unit.

Clicker specifics


Are you ready to start using this wonderful tool? You can use it around the clock to condition good behavior or at specific “lesson” times to target your goal. Even though I would rather use the clicker around the clock, I find that using it to highlight specific actions (such as housetraining) and during lesson times is more realistic for me. (Besides, I’ve got a 2-year-old who loves to copy, and a clicker in her hands would leave us all a little stressed out. . . .)

Around-the-clock reinforcement

Tip
If you want to use the clicker throughout the day, attach it to a bracelet key chain or a lanyard around your neck. Stuff your pockets or your snack pack with goodies so that you’re never without them, and click and treat away.

Clicker-happy lessons


Another option is to limit the use of the clicker to set times or organized lessons. You’re less likely to become clicker dependent when using this approach, but you also run the risk of having a puppy who only listens when you have a clicker in hand. To avert this pitfall, use directional words and hand signals at all times; if your puppy ignores you, simply position her using pressure points discussed in Chapter Training through Your Pup’s Growth Stages.
Remember
If you decide to use this approach, set aside time to do between one and four ten-minute clicker lessons per day. Focus on one or two skills, and click and treat any cooperation.

Top ten clicker-happy associations


Here are the top ten behaviors and directions that benefit from the use of a clicker-happy association:
- Name: Call out your puppy’s name. If she looks to you, click and treat. If not, ignore it and move on.
- Sit: Each time you expect civility, encourage your puppy to “Sit.” Some preferred times of civility include before you give her a treat or toy, before you toss a stick, and when entering and exiting the home. Click and treat the instant her bottom hits the floor.
- Housetraining: Click and treat the moment your puppy eliminates in the right spot.
- Down: Using the techniques described in Chapters Training through Your Pup’s Growth Stages and Graduating to Off-Lead Control, guide your puppy to lie down. Click and treat the moment her elbows hit the floor, and say “Down” as she lowers herself into position.
- Greeting: When greeting your puppy, ignore her until she’s sitting at your side or until she fetches a toy. Reward both behaviors with an instant click and treat.
- Give or Drop: To help your puppy learn to spit out toys or other objects on cue, hold out a treat when she has something in her mouth. Say “Give” and click and treat the instant she spits it out. If she debates the issue, use a more tantalizing tidbit.
- Come: If you want your puppy to return to you reliably, click and treat whenever she’s nearby. With this click and treat combo, she won’t stray far.
Warning!
Rewarding a puppy for being nearby is different from trying to lure your puppy to come to you. Though many have tried to use the clicker to entice their puppy to come, the cooperation is short lived — especially when the temptation to stray is stronger than the temptation to snack.
- Extinguishing impulse chasing: To discourage your puppy from chasing your children, cats, or other temptations, use the leash corrections found in Chapter Kids and Puppies, and then use the click and treat association to refocus her attention on you.
- Contained barking: No one minds when a puppy barks a little, but when it turns bratty or incessant, well, that’s another story. Use the click and treat method to reinforce your puppy’s alert barking and arrest any ongoing chatter with a quick tug of the leash (Chapter When Anxiety Strikes goes into more detail about how to handle an overly talkative puppy).
Tip
Pay close attention to your timing when encouraging your puppy to quiet down. If you click when she’s merely taking a deep breath or a long pause, your click and treat combo will only inspire more ruckus. Wait until your puppy has fully quieted down and is focused on you to reward her cooperation.
- Settled down and chewing a bone or toy: Ah, finally a moment’s peace: Your puppy is settled down and is quietly chewing a bone. Now is the time to lavish her with attention and praise. For Pete’s sake — this is a moment to highlight.

Phasing out the clicker


No, you won’t be dependent on the clicker for life. You’re only temporarily using it to positively condition word/behavior memory. However, orchestrating the clicker’s disappearance will take some ingenuity, lest your puppy forget what she’s learned. The key phrase to remember is unscheduled reinforcement, which means phasing out the clicker gradually so that your puppy is unable to track its predictability. This system peaks her motivation and interest until each new direction gets encoded into her behavioral memory — click or no click!

Following is a set of steps you can use to phase in and out your use of the clicker. I use the direction “Sit” throughout the example.
1. When introducing the first direction, “Sit,” use continual reinforcement for a week — click and treat each time you say this direction.
You may use your treat to lure your puppy into position, but you’ll begin to witness your puppy’s quick association. In fact, soon all you’ll have to do is show her the clicker or the treat and she’ll sit automatically. That said, you may also notice that your puppy is less focused if the clicker and treats are absent.
2. After a week of reinforcing the “Sit” direction, introduce another direction, such as “Down,” with continual reinforcement. At the same time, you should begin to phase out using the clicker with the “Sit” direction by replacing the click and treat with verbal praise.
Don’t stop using the clicker with “Sit” cold turkey. Instead, vary the clickand-treat reinforcement with praise. For instance, click and treat two responses, and then go two or three with praise only. Click and treat three in a row, and then praise the next one. Over a week’s time, tip the scale: Click and treat one, praise three. Within two weeks, your verbal appreciation will be incentive enough for your pup to continue the good behavior.
Tip
As you phase out the continual reinforcement phase of a specific direction, introduce continual reinforcement at other times throughout the day, such as before you feed your puppy, toss toys, or give her a bone. Light bulbs will start blinking, and your puppy will associate this direction with praise and rewards.
Remember
As you phase out the clicker, don’t forget to praise your puppy. Eventually, when all the lessons are understood, you’ll shelve the clicker, and the only thing motivating your puppy’s good behavior will be the sound of your voice.

Targeting


You can choose from three targeting skills, which can be used individually or in unison, to improve your level of communication and your puppy’s enthusiasm for learning. See Table 11-1 for details on these targeting choices.

Table 11-1
Targeting Skills
Type of Training
Skill Puppy Must Use
Tool
Lessons
Point training
Focusing
Your finger
All obedience directions and “Go to” (a person or object)
Target training with
a wand
Following
Targeting wand
All obedience direc tions and “Go to” (a
person or object)
Target training with a stationary disc
Standing; staying
Targeting disc
Stationary directions such as “Stay,” “Wait,” “Go to” (bed or crate), and “Go out”
Remember
The concept behind targeting is simple: Using verbal and food reinforcements, you teach your puppy to move toward the point of your finger, a handheld wand, or a stationary target (which can be anything from a lid to an index card or a book of matches). Used separately or in unison, these tools encourage your puppy’s interaction and help you highlight her cooperation the moment it happens. With these simple skills, the sky is the limit.

Point training


As a whole, the human species is more focused on verbal directions. Your puppy, however, pays closer attention to visual cues. Point training, which involves directing your pup with the point of your finger, enables you to be in constant communication with your puppy. Hand signals also quickly increase your puppy’s visual awareness and dependency on you.

Have you noticed how much your puppy looks to you for guidance? Young puppies check in throughout the day for some simple directional cues. If you ignore this opportunity to give her direction, your puppy may grow up thinking that you need help with everyday decisions. But point training your puppy will make the difference between raising a puppy who feels included in day-today activities and one who feels ignored. Pointing quickly enhances a puppy’s understanding of all directions, from “Sit” to “Come” to “Go say hello.” It even helps shy puppies overcome inhibition and aggressive puppies get in check.
Remember
To teach your puppy point training, you have to follow three phases (shown in Figure 11-2a–c) in order to achieve your end result (shown in Figure 11-2d). The first two phases use food as an incentive, and the third works to wean the pup off treat dependence. The whole process takes ten days to two weeks.
Figure 11-2: This simple signal helps your puppy feel included rather than ignored.

Phase 1: Instant gratification


This step introduces the hand signal and concept behind pointing. Though your long-term goal is for your puppy to follow your signals without needing food rewards, this first step rewards her instantly every step of the way. Follow these steps:
1. Place or line up ten treats on a high table. Use either a clicker or marker word (such as “Yes”) to highlight the moment your puppy alerts to the point of your finger.
2. Point your index finger straight to the floor, and curl your other fingers into your hand.
3. Tuck one treat into the palm of your hand.
4. Hold your pointed index finger 3 inches from your puppy’s nose.
5. When she reaches out to touch your finger, say “Yes”, and then click and treat by flipping your hand around to reveal the snack.
6. Repeat this simple exercise until all the treats are gone.
After you get through the first ten treats, vary the format just slightly. Hold your hand farther away from your puppy’s nose, and have her touch your finger twice before relinquishing the treat. Signal your puppy into a “Sit” or “Down” position, treating her the moment she moves into position.
Tip
Keep the lessons short and snappy, practicing one to four times each day for five to ten minutes.

Phase 2: Delayed gratification


Follow the steps as in Phase 1, but instead of holding the treats in your hand, place them in your pocket. Your puppy will experience an obvious delay in the time it takes you to reach the treat, which in turn will peak her curiosity and awareness of your presence. Vary this pause to increase her focus. The big lesson for your pup here is patience.

Begin the same way as in the first step of Phase 1 above. Then, hold a treat in front of you and vary the position, increasing to multiple points. Use your pointer finger to direct your puppy’s position.

Phase 3: Gradually phasing out treats


Indiscriminately phase out rewarding each point, and integrate pointing into your daily direction. Going upstairs? Point the way. Releasing your puppy to greet someone? Pointing a “Go say hello” at your puppy’s eye level will further discourage jumping. Sending your puppy to her crate or bed? Keep on pointing. Each time your puppy cooperates, praise her cheerfully. Life is so much fun when you can communicate with each other!

Targeting wands

Remember
Think of a targeting wand as an extension of a point. You can use a kitchen utensil, metal office pointer, or tent pole. Pick your tool, and teach your puppy to mark the end by rewarding her interest. Follow these similar steps as discussed in the point training section:
1. Point the end of the wand to the floor and hold it inches from your puppy’s nose.
2. The second your puppy reaches out to sniff it, say “Yes” and then click and treat.
3. Continue simple touches until your puppy’s reaction is familiar and reliable. Then vary the distances and the angle of the wand.
4. Increase the number of touches between rewards and increase the directional cues to include the following:
  • “Let’s go”: Hold the wand next to your side and give this direction as you walk along.
  • “Go to”: With a partner, direct your puppy back and forth between the two of you using the “Go to” direction. Two target wands may be used.
  • “Down”: Signal “Down” as though your target stick were an extension of your finger. In this case, the targeting wand allows you to increase the distance between you and your puppy.
  • “Follow”: Use this direction when teaching your puppy to move away from your side. This cue is ideal for confidence-building exercises and off-lead adventures, such as agility, pet therapy, and competition obedience.
  • “Come”: A targeting wand is an ideal attention-getting and directing tool for off-leash, distant comes.

Targeting discs


Targeting discs can be useful for helping your puppy better understand and cooperate with your vision. Make a disc out of a heavyweight paper, or use the top of a plastic container. This technique requires some ingenuity and patience. Follow these steps:
1. Place a disc on the floor.
2. The moment your puppy shows interest in the disc — even so much as a sniff — say “Yes” and click and treat.
Continue this association until her interested is piqued when she sees the disc.
3. Then wait until she touches the disc with her paw (see Figure 11-3) to reward her interest.
Remember
It may take some time initially, but you need to wait for her to figure it out. Positioning her foot doesn’t lead to understanding and may have the reverse effect. The moment she steps on the disc, say “Yes” and click and treat. Gradually increase her understanding until she steps on it with her entire paw.
4. When your puppy comprehends the task, repeat it often to cement her understanding. Begin to associate the word “Disc” with this behavior.
5. Now begin to move the disc between sequences.
Practice three moves per lesson.
6. The moment your puppy steps on the disc, instruct her to “Wait.” As she cooperates, use a lightweight leash or short leash to steady her as you introduce familiar directional cues.
Start with stationary directions like “Sit” and “Down.” If your puppy is familiar with “Stay” use it, too. Gradually increase the time you expect your puppy to be still.
7. Position the disc increasingly farther from your side.
When your puppy’s showing a real connection to the disc, place it on her bedding, and send her there by saying “Go to your disc.”
Figure 11-3: Target disc in action! Teach your puppy to stand on the disc wherever it’s placed.

Sarah Hodgson

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