I have just spent a happy weekend enjoying my chosen sport – heelwork to music. Quite a luxury weekend off but no time away from dogs or training.
Most of my business is spent in a wide variety of aspect of behaviour analysis, adjustment, modification and plain repetition – training. This has taken much of my free time since I was 19 years old to secure a good understanding of the underlying science. In them days there was not a lot of accessible science that I could understand, but exposure to trainers in many other fields, such as my colleagues joining me for a quick Caribbean cruise: Ken, Alex and Jesus have broaden my horizons considerably.
Ken Ramirez is from the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago. He trains about 120 staff as trainers of a variety of over 30 different species, including dogs, and enjoys an extensive conference and consulting circuit all over the world. Alex Kurland is a clicker trainer of horses and pioneers the way forward in a environment fairly hostile towards positive training. Jesus is our academic inspiration, Associate Professor of Behaviour Analysis at North Texas University. He takes a great delight in sharing our philosophy and can provide the scientific answers that (most of the time) I can get a grasp on. This understanding, sharing and generalisation of our knowledge and techniques grows our education – and subsequently well being of the animals we love.
We share many of the common problems that arise from training with all species: communication & reinforcement. Neither Ken or Alex use punishment on animals that are somewhere over the other side of the pool or field, or animals that can punish trainers in an impressive way. Their animals are never subjected to the protocols we often take for granted in sports-dog training. You cannot “wind up” a sea-lion to get a “more drivey” performance. Much of their training time is spent developing a relationship of trust and respect that evolves from a truly positive experience for their animals. The type of trust that means you can perform a scan on a pregnant Beluga without capture, box-load a fearful horse without force. They are masters are getting results that inspire through their elegance, understanding, and thoughtfulness.
And, yes, they need to get performance quality behaviours, often several times a day. Ever been to Sea World? Ken has worked with a team of divers and dolphins that performed a 22 minute routine with no food reinforcers. Neither did they require their teeth being wrenched out of their head by tugging.
Dogs are not helicopters
If we look at how they kill their prey it would vary from a quick shake to break the neck in the case of rats and small critters. A sharp side-to-side shake. Natural for terriers. If no more rats are presenting themselves, then the dog would move on to skinning techniques. For larger prey there is the grip to hold whilst the pack drag down the larger animal. For collies in particular they are designed to nip and nag, not maintain a continuous hold or shake. Our gundogs are extremely poor at grip. The jaw that is functional to carry will have a strong neck, but not a strong bite.
Much of the tug training protocols evolved from the bite work training for GSDs and their cousins to build arousal and strengthen the bite action. There is often an accompanying slapping or pinching to the body. This is a reflex designed for increased grip when hoofed prey to use their legs to strike against the body of their predator.
Building tug training with eye rattling aggressive techniques serves very little purpose for a performance dog. The dog is not designed to take this level of structural abuse, neither are your arms, hands, shoulders or neck. Continual wrenching of the dog’s head up and down will cause serious damage to their neck, tear ligaments and certainly not provide a good muscle structure that enables a balanced carriage in a dressage type of performance. Ever noticed your arms ache? Think what may be happening to your dog’s neck, back, jaw muscles, shoulders.
Ever seen your dogs playing together with this type of action? They may make short shakes but they certainly would not bounce their opponent up and down again and again.
Secondly our dogs are not designed to function in this high level of arousal. You may certainly function well with a level of arousal but if this goes too high, your ability to make decisions will be impaired, your ability to remember simple functions will reduce and you will become fatigued very quickly. Sound familiar? Just being around people preparing to enter a competition in a state of arousal and you will hear their voices go up a pitch, getting flustered is common, forgetting the routine seems normal and not remembering where the exit of the ring is seen repeatedly. You can smell the arousal anxiety in the people! Small wonder the dogs cannot recognise our behaviour under these conditions.
If we want to give our dogs an emotional association with the performance venue it needs to be one of security and comfort. Then they will be able to perform as they “do at home”.
Musicians, dancers, acrobats, athletes perform when relaxed, properly conditioned and comfortable. Sure they are motivated, but that is not the same as aroused. It is easy to mistake arousal for “he’s enjoying it”. When the muscles are tight or tense the performance will not flow. It is about conditioning good physical and mental technique.
Arousal does not equate with reinforcement. In fact over-arousal can put the dog in such a state they make more errors, particularly of the vocal type. It can drive levels of anxiety higher, if you saw this in a person you would call it “getting flustered”. Stamping your foot and telling them “for goodness sake calm down”. How does that work for you then?
Arousal does not equate with motivated. Being motivated is not the same as being excited. It is often about really tight focus, clear understanding of what needs to be done to achieve an end goal.
What we are seeking is a reinforcer that we can use in the competition environment where food is not allowed. Anticipation of a strong reinforcer is reinforcing in itself. It needs a long history of practice so that when a particular series of events happen the dog can recognise the forthcoming reinforcer. This is your mental conditioning.
Pool-side at the Shedd Aquarium you will see the trainers using many, many different reinforcers. It is not just fish, fish and more fish. See the Belugas laugh when a bottled water is sprayed over their faces, they think a tongue scratch is worth jumping hoops for. Neither of these events are naturally occurring reinforcers but the trainers spend a lot of time building them to be additional reinforcers. They are paired with reinforcers that are natural over and over again until they become reinforcers in themselves, and importantly the association with the natural reinforcer is regularly refreshed.
We like to touch our dogs. For many of us this is a primary reason for living with dogs. There is a pleasant sensation felt on the palms of our hands when stroking fur. But can we presume this is equally pleasurable for our dogs? Maybe not, we need to learn how to share the enjoyment so that we equally get pleasure from it, not one at the discomfort of the other. Touch comes in many forms and the dog will try to tell you what they like and do not like. Do they seek more when your pause? Do they “shake off” your touch to realign their coat?
The definition of a reinforcer is something that makes the likelihood of the behaviour repeating or getting stronger. Even food can stop being reinforcing when you are full, or feeling sick with anxiety. What is reinforcing is decided by the recipient, not the deliverer. We can never say “oh but he enjoys it”. A dog may “enjoy” wearing an uncomfortable head collar, but if it predicts an opportunity to go out and about they will get excited when they see it – for the outing, not the wearing of the equipment.
In the days before play and food were introduced as our rewards we used our voices to let the dogs know we were happy – which is not necessarily a reinforcer (OK, good for you, you’re happy, I’m not) and physical touch to incentivise the dog to continue the behaviour. Hmm. I don’t remember it being a particularly inspiring protocol. Quite bland often and not clear communication.
The usual protocol was to scold what you don’t like and praise what you do. But this made a enormous error is assuming that the dog knew what we did not like, was motivated to avoid it and perform what we did like. Hah! That gap in understanding is wide enough for four London double deck buses
That protocol may work for some motorists – punishment for speeding, but does it incentivise careful driving?
We can use many, many different types of games with our dogs that are based on a positive, interesting, stimulating and reinforcing experience. This neither needs food or jaw wrenching. Watch the disc dogs – for them it’s about chase, watch the gundogs – for them it is about carry, watch the collies – for them it is about control of movement. By using their natural reinforcers we open up a whole Games R Us store of fun and reinforcement. Watch your dogs play with each other – what do they like to do? What do they repeat again and again? Sharing a toy and running side by side? Flirting and teasing with a toy?
Play with your dog, enjoy your dog, make sure it is safe for your dog and they are comfortable. Build your performer both physically and mentally. This is a sport for our ego and enjoyment, we need to ensure it is not at a cost to our dogs. A “fried” or confused dog is not a happy dog.
As for wrapping a yucky tug around your neck … doesn’t it stink?
How do you ensure walking with you is not poisonous?
Every piece of equipment you put on your dog is punishing to some degree. All dogs will try to remove the least obnoxious collar when first introduced. Some equipment worn around the face will, for some dogs, invoke a lifelong need to remove it. Equipment is designed to make management of dogs easier for the benefit of people. Just because your dog gets excited when they see the equipment, it does not mean they “like it”. The production of the equipment is a pre-cursor to leaving the prison, just as your walking boots and coat.
Many of my clients are able to recognise that their dogs’ behaviours on-lead are different to off-lead. The differences between these behaviours evolve from thoughtless associations.
I always remember Ian Dunbar’s remark on punishing a puppy for peeing in the house. Jump up, scold puppy, remove it from warm, sitting room carpet and evict onto cold, wet grass. Shut door. Either the pup will learn to pee outside, or learn to avoid you and pee where you cannot see it. You will discover it sometime later, either because of the increasing smell or because you need to move the sofa. This is the problem with punishment – we cannot control the fallout.
How does equipment punish?
Just because the collar is pretty and of lovely soft fabric it does not make it pleasant to wear. At the least it will irritate. I have a lovely necklace on a very fine chain, that I would enjoy wearing more often if the chain didn’t seem to catch those very fine hairs on the back of my neck. And having experienced a hair cut yesterday I lived the rest of the day with one rogue hair between my bra and skin. And ladies – you know what that feels like. That need for ”adjustment” that should not be seen in public, and the only solution is a full removal, isolation and dismissal of offending 1mm of hair. Goodness knows what a collar all around the neck can do – particularly if the collar wears away the guard fur to a bristly length.
Then we also have the jingling, for some dogs every movement is a jingle. They wear their collar 24 hours a day, with some serious metal work clanking under their chin. At least let them sleep in peace.
Dogs can wear a collar and enjoy both the pleasant and unpleasant aspects of life – a poottle around the garden first thing in the morning checking out the overnight wildlife, through to a grab and yank to be stopped from snatching the custard tart dropped on the floor. Often the collar itself does not represent punishment or pleasure since both emotions are experienced when wearing a collar. But once we attached the collar to a lead it changes context and we begin a catalogue on unpleasant associations.
1. Frustration. Prevention from going to explore, investigate, chase and play; the main pleasures of being out and about, Going for a walk is to go shopping for sniffs – reading the myriad of scents and stories left by other animals. Frustration can begin with very young, inquisitive puppies, designed to learn from the experience of smell – taste – touch. Just the time when they are introduced to the collar being attached.
2. Being pulled around. The lead-collar is used to pull the dog where the person wants to go, at the speed the person wants, which removes choice for the dog. The direction may give every signal of “avoid” to the dog, but they have no choice and are dragged along.
3. Trapped. Being fondled by Stranger. This also goes under the euphemism of “socialisation”.
I was also exposed to “socialisation” as a child. I do not fondly remember Uncle Bert that stank of booze grabbing me, nor Aunt Ada who insisted on rubbing her whiskery cheek on mine. As a young child I put up with it, but at 15 years old I had learned avoidance.
The same with puppies, they will tolerate invasive greeting when they are young, but learn that this is not good manners as they grow older and try every form of communication to say “no thanks”, but because these socialisation experiences are happening when on-lead and next to the owner, they cannot avoid with grace, they may need to resort to avoid by threat.
4. Forced rudeness. Dogs are extremely skilled social creatures, and when their skills are developed in the right environment, they can move around mutual territories without causing offence or extreme reactions. They would stand-off on initial awareness, probably a good 15 metres (40ft) away and do some air sniffing, perhaps stand still with a pleasant tail wag (Hey, we OK?) and wait for a response before proceeding any closer. They may then move to the nearest scent point and leave more liquid information, or if the other dog has already done so, move over to read their information. It is gradual, respectful, and allows an escape if things don’t pan out.
Now you are walking along the street with your dog trotting at your side and you see another dog coming towards you. The progress you make towards each other is double the speed you are walking (remember the trains heading towards each other in Maths class?). Your dog will see a strange dog heading directly at them, with a speed indicating serious intent, a hostile approach. The width of our pavements prevents the space that represents respect and good manners. Before you know it the dogs are far too close, uncomfortable and forced to react. On-lead, next to you.
5. Walking out of balance. Dogs have four gaits: walk, trot, canter, gallop. When moving with their walking human pack, we usually see walk and trot. For dogs larger than a Cocker Spaniel, and a person less than 2m/6ft their trot is slightly faster than the human-walk, and the dog’s walk speed is too slow. (You can see the video of this: Movement Video on YouTube). At the other end of the scale the very large breeds can walk with our walk.
The restriction of the lead, in conjunction with punishment based head halters and harnesses, prevents the dog from either of their natural movements, walk or trot, and they are forced to pace. This is the same as if you were using your left arm going forward with your left leg, and right with right leg. After 20 paces, your back will begin to tighten up, and probably your fists clench in frustration. Now imagine a group of people walking towards you, very fast, with that peculiar pacing action – be suspicious huh? If you have a dog unable to pace, the outcome is yo-yo walking. Dog goes to end of lead, stops, waits for you, or is pulled back to your side, over the next 10 steps the dog is back at the end of the lead again. On-lead, next to you – uncomfortable.
6. Training. Not what I would call training, but often deliberate punishment through the equipment for human-perceived transgressions. On lead, next to you. Training class, chaos, shouting, barking, being bum-sniffed without warning, too close to other dogs. Yeah, love being on-lead.
7. Visiting the torture clinic. Aka The Vets. Which has every indication of being a Very Bad Place from the fear-scent of previous visitors. Drag, pull, collar tight, finger up bum. On lead, next to you.
8. Street walking. Breathing pollution. Sneeze, yuck. Bad smells, squealing brakes. On lead, next to you.
Off lead is heaven
Explore, run, walk trot, stop, start. No pacing. Follow, search, aaaah, read a good article, add perfumes to your neck and shoulder. Pleasure. Chase a pigeon, nibble some sheep poo, move away from weird oncoming dog.
Free choice, to be touched or not, free choice to be sniffed or not. Unlimited credit card in favourite shop.
Without thinking we exaggerate the pleasure of being off-lead in comparison to on-lead. All the bad things happen on-lead and all the true pleasures are off-lead. Any wonder that the dog’s behaviour is quite different? Not only is the association with the equipment but also next to you. This is worrying, if your dog spends most of the time trying to move away from you shouldn’t we take notice? Additionally there are often specific occasions and environments when this association is predictable – walking down the street, training classes, meeting people and dogs.
1. Never take your dog out on a lead.
In some environments totally impractical. But you may be able to go to the woods, park your car, let the dog out directly to free running? It is a rare dog that grows up in a safe environment where restriction is unnecessary.
2. Never let your dog experience free running.
All pleasant and unpleasant experiences are in association with the same environmental cues. You can cue close walk with me with a certain lead, or collar, and free running with a long line, or self-retracting lead and harness. Or you can free-run with your dog on a lead?
3. Give more pleasant experiences, and block or avoid unpleasant experiences on-lead.
- Give your dog time to make choices, when you want to change direction. Invite, don’t pull.
- Walk slower so that your dog can move at a natural gait, or jog at their trot.
- Respect that they go out for the pleasure of sniffing, give them time to sniff.
- Cross the road, move away when you see fast on-coming, hostile, dog-person traffic.
- Don’t force intimate contact from either strange dogs or people unless that is the dog’s choice.
- Teach your dog structured scent games: tracking, substance searches etc, enjoy their activity with your dog whilst on-lead.
- Play, games of tugging, sausages games within the length of the lead. Ensure pleasures and play around you, not always throw and chuck and dog runs off.
In reality we need to use equipment to keep the dogs safe from threats they cannot understand or have the skills to avoid. Make sure you do not unbalance the association with this equipment with most of the unpleasant events in outdoor life happening on-lead, and all the most pleasant events off-lead.
Since the dawn of dog training the old joke reminds us that the only thing dog trainers can agree on is that their training method in the best one. The fact that this joke exists should send red warning flags to the innocents walking in our woods. It becomes increasingly difficult to know which method is “right”, and whether it will suit the dog, the situation and trainer’s skills.
My decade of travelling to many different training facilities have given me a expansive view of the outcomes lots and lots of different methods and their variations. Personally I would not wish to begin to try to research through the forest of books all claiming astonishing result if you follow Their Way. There is an overwhelming choice.
To begin your first step is to find a training adviser with whom you share the same ethical platform. You may need to review several of their protocols to establish the location of that platform since their location may not be obvious, and in some cases it can “wander” about. This often occurs when they lack a solution for a particular exercise and have regurgitated traditional thinking. This should ring warning bells, an ethical platform should go across the whole of their advice. If anything you read makes you uncomfortable, then put the book back to resell. If you are going to invest your dog’s training or your training career in a particular methodology make sure that the adviser (read: Author, Expert, Guru here, with tongue in cheek), has an extensive background in using that method personally and has also taught it to many other person/dog partnerships. The “theory of how this should work” is simply not good enough. You want a solution that has an excellent road history, not only by the adviser but many other people with different skills and different dogs. You want a method that has been tried and tested, generalised and put through the idiot filter and still survived. Some methods are very specific to the trainer’s skills and extremely difficult to replicate if you do not have those skills. These are often the instinctive trainers, very talented, great results but will often teach “this is how I do it” rather than through knowledge and understanding.
My reliable analogy for dog training is the world of cooking. At one end we have the professionals making a successful living, running a business, training apprentices, publishing books, and at the other end the part time enthusiasts who need some quick solutions. We also have the neglectful participants who regard food as a necessity and their microwave more essential than the stove (Me). Equally the dog world has those same professionals and neglectful owners who wish they could engage with their dog in the same fashion as the stand-by microwave. Until the last couple of decades much of the non-professional access to cooking was by recipe books, the science behind the process was explored and researched by the specialists, and we relied on their sharing skills through the recipes. As much as a loaf of bread comes in many different forms, so does the dog training solution.
Following recipes, for training or for cakes, will stifle creativity and independent thinking. If I wish to cook a pie I still read the packet’s instructions for the oven temperature and duration. After 30 years of shop bought pie cooking, I still have not learned why some pies need longer cooking than others. I do not understand enough of the science to be a creative or independent cook. Each solution or recipe will suit different needs, or different “palettes”. It now becomes our job to have sufficient knowledge to sift through these recipes and find the solution to suit our dog.
The growth of comparison websites has filled a need for an expert, or person with knowledge and understanding, to voice their opinion on what is available be it in digital cameras or web hosting. Recently I have used a webinar comparison website, since I did not know enough about what makes the strong points and the weaknesses of the functionality of these services. Extremely useful. Maybe one day someone will have the energy and expertise to build a dog training methods comparison website (hint hint). I have listed here some examples of training protocols with their strengths and weaknesses, and then a list of simple questions that you can use as a check list before you jump in.
1. Treat in hand drawn away from the body. Click for looking at your face.
This was an early strategy when clicker training was in its first growth stage. Teaching the dog to not mug your hand holding the treats, and also establish an understanding that going away from the treat gets the treat. The “zen” of operant conditioning. The early days of clicker training were working hard to move people away from the lure-cue, “sit, Good sit” type of protocols and this exercise did a pivotal job demonstrating that it was the click that the dog tried to trigger, not the begging for food that the lure protocols stimulated.
The principle is sound but this particular application will leave you with a dog that will avoid looking at this hand movement. If taught well, this means the dog can become blind to hand signals, always staring at the face. This will restrict you to verbal cues only. This may be a disadvantage if you want to cue your dog with “choreographic gestures”. Our faces are notoriously shut down in expression, and you will often see a dog move backwards to be able to see the whole of us to understand what we are asking. They look at our posture, the placement of our shoulders relative to our hips, our intent, our energy, speed of gestures, angle of the head etc. Restriction for face only communication can leave a dog “blind” to reading our signals. Seeking the same learning outcome you can teach the dog to choose between food in the hand or touch a target in the other hand.
In conclusion a sound protocol but some limitations for the future use of hand gestures.
2. Treat in hand, back off treat when hand held open, click, treat given to mouth.
You can begin to see the same principle repeating in this protocol, location of the treats should not be the focal point. Direct treat begging is to be avoided. (Luring is not a sin, but that is a Webinar for a later day, Intelligent Luring – Feb 5th 2012). This protocol is often used as the default, in that all treats whether in an open hand, placed on the ground or offered are the cue to back away and hold position until released. If you need all reinforcers to cue this response then this is an excellent nursery exercise. I have seen it taught to a high degree where a dog averted their head to a box of treat dropped to the floor.
This protocol can restrict training where deliberate placement of the reinforcer is part of the behaviour cycle, where the dog is free to collect the treat after the click. For example: cueing a sit, click in the sit, the dog steps forward to a standing position to collect the treat from the hand. The dog is then at the opening point to begin another cycle of sit-from-stand practice. If your dog will not take food from the open hand and food is always fed direct to the dog’s mouth, then the dog will remain in the sit after the click waiting for the food, a cue would be needed to release the dog to step forward. Additionally if the dog is conditioned to wait for food delivery, the sit becomes a well anchored, relaxed posture. Perfect in some conditions, but not desired when the sit is preceding an a activity, for instance setting off in heelwork.
One of the advantages and blessings of using a clicker is the option to separate the behaviour from the reinforcer delivery.
If this protocol is taught so that the scent of food, placement of food or food in the hand becomes the cue for stillness (self control), then the dog may become confused when you wish to free-shape new behaviours. You will need to plan to have a cue for free shaping to release the stillness, especially if the dog sits or lies down when free shaping. These can become “terminal” behaviours that the dog will not self-release from.
You can teach a particular signal cue when holding the treat as “follow” (Intelligent Luring) and the open hand as come and get the treat. This open hand will trigger the dog to walk towards it, even when there is not treat on offer, a useful every day, instinctive behaviour for people to ask for a dog to come close (and catch the collar).
In conclusion a useful protocol where the reinforcers cues non-action and self control, but can limit other forms of learning with blanket associated environmental cues.
3. Click is a cue for …..
This may be one of your first questions. Yes, the click marks the behaviour, and reinforcement is to follow, but the click is also a cue. Your choices are:
- a) Remain in position/behaviour, the reinforcer will be delivered to you. This is appropriate if you want a static understanding of training, click will cue stillness.
- b) Release from position/behaviour and come collect your reinforcer. This is appropriate if you want animated training, but when you are toy training the danger with the click as a release can result in the dog lunging for the toy on the click.
- c) Orientate to the reinforcer and respond to the delivery cue. This is a combination of both a) and b). The dog can be in a settled, lying down position, the click signifies, in this context, you will walk towards the dog and deliver the treat in situ. The dog can be free shaping going round an object and on click will turn to look at you on the click to see where the reinforcer is to be delivered, placed or thrown.
You can make the click as a cue contextual to the behaviour, but this takes serious planning and good discipline to use effectively.
4. What is your default behaviour?
Your default behaviour needs much thought and consideration. This is the behaviour the dog will adopt in preparation for training, in anticipation of a cue, and when in doubt – they do not understand what is required. Your default can be a position, or a movement, or a lack of movement.
- Choice A: Stillness default. This default will require a release cue from the behaviour to collect the reinforcer. Suggested cues are “free”, “re-lease”, “OK”. For example: The dog will lie down on cue, toy thrown forward, dog clicked, released to “get it”. The dog can touch the target, be clicked, and then cued “OK” to move away from the target to collect the treat, or wait at the target for the treat to be delivered, then cued “OK” and be free to move for another set up. This accompanies 3a), Click, remain in position until cued to release. This may be an ideal protocol for a contact point in agility, or an open door etc.
- Choice B: Move to location on default. This default means that the dog will place themselves in a particular place, making the decision to move to that place, the opposite of stillness. This default interpretation can be used for: the heel position, the dog moves and remains at your side when not cued, or waiting for a cue, the facing in front in the stand, the dog may be cued to spin, and will return to this position until cued, or waiting for the next cue. This can be used with 3b) where the dog will self release from the behaviour and move to collect the reinforcer.
You will need to decide which default is in the majority for your training expectations. If you wish to teach a dog movement to position as the default, then you may find you cue “re-lease” 70 times a session in training. On the other hand if your dog moves as a default, then you may need to cue “wait” 70 times a session in agility training.
Choose the least number of requirements to counter as your default, in other words the least amount of times you have to open your mouth. You can teach both defaults in different environmental situations. When around agility equipment, agility training, other dogs doing agility your default would be stillness, when at home doing free shaping, sitting in a chair in the kitchen your default will be movement. And of course the opposite.
If you are teaching different defaults to environmental cues be rigorous and concentrate when you are training. If you know you may be sloppy, or forgetful when you are nervous then do not begin a protocol that requires skills you do not have. No dog needs the additional confusion that comes from you not paying attention.
5. Noise. With meaning.
The first sound a pup will hear as their ears begin to open, even before they are physically “open” is the sound of their sibling sucking the teat. I have no personal memory or experience of breast feeding, but I suspect the human inclination to make the same sound to babies comes from a similar root. This noise is extremely effective with a litter of pups and works up to a period just past final weaning. The response will begin to naturally fade at around 12 weeks if not continually paired with a reinforcer. In simple words, you make a noise like you are nipple sucking, the pup runs towards a hopeful sucking session and you feed. After 12 weeks their innate response to run towards something shifts to the sound of regurgitation, or squeal of dying rabbit. Up-chucking has yet to become a popular recall cue but we steadfastly adhere to nipple sucking as a cue for attention for the dog.
Mature your noise maker. Nipple sucking after 12 weeks is Just A Sound. Having seen a client struggle to attempt to make more and more strenuous nipple sucking sounds at her dog, deaf to everything but the possibility of birds, this is not a recommended protocol with a future unless you are exercising your pouting muscles. If you want to keep the sound-response link then you must regularly condition it. Kissy-kissy-treat, practice.
You can replace this with a short whistle, or even as a more practical, useful sound, the dog’s name. Pups can be whistled, or “bugle-called” from 4 weeks in pre-feeding conditioned practice sessions. Forget the teat recall, move onto the food bowl recall.
Clicker training is a plethora of “assumed rules”. As you go deeper into the woods you will begin to see many different types of trees all flourishing with very productive results. Now you have to choose which tree to hang your hat on, a bit of htis tree and a bit of that can get you into major trouble unless you are skilled to fully understand how the protocols work and where it may lead you in the future.
There is rarely a right or wrong method, choice is more reliant on “it depends ……” on what you want the dog to learn, how good your skills are, how much time you have, where you are going etc.
Essential questions for adopting a protocol:
- What does this protocol teach the dog?
- Do I need the dog to learn this?
- Have I the skills to teach this?
- What are the contigencies ”it depends …. “?
- Do I have the self discipline and skills to use this with diligence for the rest of the dog’s life?
- Will the other people involved with the dog be able to apply this protocol?
- Are there associated cues that could hit me on the head further down the road?
- Are there other options to achieve the same results?
- Is this protocol compatible with my future ambitions for this dog?
- And probably most importantly: Do I fully understand this “recipe”?
In my fortunate travels I see more failure that occurs not from the method chosen but the sloppy application or lack of understanding. Then of course it is the protocol or method that must be at fault. When we are standing at this point there are important questions to ask:
- 1. Did I follow the process carefully and diligently? This is the most common reason for poor skills, a key part of the process has been missed out, mis-read or the terminology not understood.
- 2. The process, or you, have made assumptions. Often the process is based on an assumption of previous learning, background or reinforcement history. If these are not assessed, or not appropriate then the process may be accurate but the required components are not present.
- 3. Is the process at fault? Often the process has originated in laboratory conditions, with non-dog species, rats or pigeons, and not exhaustively tested across the board (the process has not be sufficiently generalised). Additionally the process is often devised by other than animal trainers. These factors can make the application to dogs seemed sporadic, it will work with some dogs but not others.
If we are going to build a Training Methods Comparison Website send me your reviews of the published protocols. Clear explanations, advantages and disadvantages, risks and benefits, cost analysis etc. Innocent trainers need that information without prejudiced and a hefty dose of luck!
These are signs and symptoms, not to be ignored.
Jumping up is nearly always viewed, by both positive and
negative trainers as A Major Sin. It certainly rates near the top of the list
of most dog owners as an undesirable behaviour. The behaviour can vary from a flying,
direct midriff punch, scratching your legs, or eye level shoulder blasts. But
if we could empty our minds of the traditional view that This Is a Bad Thing,
we may begin to see the behaviour as a sign or symptom of an underlying need
that is being dismissed.
Often jumping up is viewed as “attention seeking”,
which expert advice tell us needs suppression as opposed to attention. Our dogs
are not there to be “seen but not heard”, why are we suppressing a
desire for interaction? A common protocol for reinforcement trainers: “cue
sit, good sit, feed sit”, or punishment trainers: “ignore the dog for
demanding attention as any attention may be viewed as reinforcing”. Can
you imagine turning up at a much anticipated event and everyone turns their
back on you? Being ignored will either deeply upset you, and at the very least
may drive a more demanding need to be noticed.
Jumping up is purely a side effect of the physical
difference in our height. Pups greet the faces of their seniors, often with
paws, but they don’t greet their butt or tail – always the face. Because our
face is waaay up the in the sky, and often facing away from the dog, the pup is
driven to place feet on us to bring that delicious and important face
Let’s look at each individual situation where jumping up may
occur. Firstly, when we greet the dog after an absence, our reunion. The dog
will want to re-connect, to know our relationship is on a good basis. This is
super-important to them, their lives often revolve around that relationship,
otherwise why live with people? They will ask what sort of day we have had and
want to tell us about their day – why would you want to ignore that? Imagine
the child coming home from school bursting with news about their day and you
turn away and ignore them? Stuffing their mouth with cake because you are too
busy is not going to satisfy their need for You, no one else, to give them some
focus and listen to them. Cake is not a solution, it is a cheap, avoidance ploy,
it is you they want. They want to feel that you value them, which hardly
takes more than a minute, 60 seconds. Are dogs any different?
We then have The Visitors jump-on. If any half intelligent
puppy watches our behave it certainly appear that we jump on people in a big
way – lots of hugs, kisses, raised voices and excitement. Are they supposed to
ignore this or attempt to mimic our emotional responses? Greeting by sniffing
genitals is appropriate for loose dogs on their own agenda, but I would add the
rule “only when offered”. If I do not offer my genitals for sniffing
then good manners dictate you Do Not sniff!
If your dog is turning to Strangers for reinforcement then
this needs to be addressed with the earliest possible intervention. Strangers
should not be greeted – I cannot see a future where you would wish your dog to
go to strangers for reinforcement or interaction. The future is a dog that runs
up to everyone and anyone uninvited. Often the behaviour begins in the
attractively packaged “I have a puppy” invitation, and the stranger
obliges our need for attention and interaction by greeting the puppy. Where is
this going? Do you want your class time to be a struggle to secure your dog’s
focus to you? Because this time last year when they were cute and cuddly
everyone interacted with your puppy and proudly you opened up to this. Do you
want to lose your dog in the park when they see strangers? I would suggest that
many of the adult dogs I see for rehabilitation that have anxieties about
strangers touching them have a history of being fondled as puppies and had no
option to move away or say “no thanks”.
There is also a genetic component, we have selectively
drifted towards “friendly” dogs, and I speak from experience that
this is not a blessing. Having a dog that regards the whole world as their pack
can be a long term nuisance. Ideally we need to breed, develop and reinforce a
dog who is indifferent to strangers, friendly with friends that you
invite for interaction.
We can follow this with “you need to listen to me”
jump up. This you will remember as a child – the adults are talking and you
NEED the bathroom. Usually this does not suddenly occur so good manners can be
employed to request attention when there is a natural break in the
conversation. This reminds me of the waitress/server in a restaurant, it is
good manners to wait for the eaters to give you eye contact, not to interrupt
their conversation to ask “can I get you anything”. Now that IS negative
Looking at each situation there are clearly different
Greeting, or re-uniting after being apart, should be
indulgent, sincere and full of affection, but not crazy arousal and high pitch
celebration. This is setting the dog up for exuberant jumping and barking. Their
arousal is understandable if they have been alone for several hours, the
solitary situation has ended which is a reason to jump for joy. Make sure both
your hands are free of shopping or coats or keys, take hold of the dog by the
collar to prevent getting a black eye, and bend over to calmly offer proximity
to your face for some “air-licking”. For health reasons I don’t like
dog-gob all over my face (read: nasty red weals erupting), so the proximity
licking will satisfy the dog’s need for social approval without the need to
make you regurgitate. If your dog is used to parking, this collar restriction
will not bother them. Perhaps add some very slow hand stroking as well to
induce some calmness. The face proximity is only suitable for safe dogs, it is
not appropriate to ask strangers to perform this, or children. Face proximity
is what causes the jumping – the need for social approval from your face. If
bending down for this is not practical, set up a platform where the small dog
can jump onto for that precious moment of reunion.
For the strangers passing by, put your dog into park, and
have the wherewithal to ask them to pass on by, after verbally admiring your
canine friend at a reasonable distance. A friend of mine has red hair and can
remember her child hood in the 60′s when touching red hair was obviously
“good luck”. Yuck. This would not be allowed now and considered
extremely invasive. I think we need to progress in that direction with our
dogs. Strangers should not presume to touch your dog.
For the Visitors and Friends, again ask them to give you a
few seconds to park your dog, and explain to them the air licking
possibilities, or preferably a gentle offering of the palm of hand to the side
of the face. This can long term develop into hand greeting rather than face
greeting which is my preferred behaviour when several need to be valued and
reconnected at the same time. If your dog is physically very pushy with the
greeting the parking will help reduce the demanding nature and teach them that
their need for approval will be met, and does not need to be demanded. Good
manners will be rewarded.
The question is whether feeding a dog for sitting meets
their need to social approval or actually gets in the way causing a barrier?
Maybe you want a hug from a friend, not another slice of cake?
Completely separately you can teach your dog to allow
husbandry from strangers, there are plenty of training cues when you handle
them to position, or place on grooming tables. This is learning tolerance of
handling, not greeting.
Other attention seeking behaviour that needs our attention
is the interruptions when you are working on the computer/gardening/watching TV
etc. I regard the canine comfort level as: “be nearby and visit often.”
Speck will settle in the lounge behind the sofa, his preferred spot. Every
20-25 minutes he comes around for a “we OK?” moment. Reliably, not
cued by the adverts, but always within the half hour. It takes me 5 seconds to
convey: “sure, we’re OK”. He returns to his spot contend to settle
down again. But I have lived with enough collies to ban all toys from the room
where settling down is the desired behaviour. Demanding attention for the soul
is NOT the same as demanding play or food from your plate.
go out. I would leave the computer, usually still focussed on the work, let her
out, return and sit down, 5 seconds later she would tap to come back in. It
took me a year to realise she didn’t want to go out, she just needed attention.
After recovering from that smack between the eyes, on the door-tap cue I would
invite her over to the side of my chair, we exchanged some breath, (Mabel never
licked faces) and after 10 seconds of deep discussion about the slow progress
of rainy Tuesday mornings she would go back and settle down, never needed to go
out. How much does 10 seconds cost?
I assure you the dog is not the only benefit of that golden
interaction. It is good to be reminded we are valued and we valued them as
well. How can you be too busy for that?
- Ignoring or suppressing the need for approval can make the
behaviour more frenetic, even with reinforcement for self control in the sit
you may not be satisfying their need. Take an extra minute for each re-union
opportunity to value your dog, without excitement and notice how the need to
jump and be noticed reduces.
- Look to the future of a behaviour, see where that delightful
puppy behaviour is heading and question whether this is an appropriate
behaviour for the adult dog. Stranger friendly puppies are attractive, stranger
friendly adults may not be.
- Maintain your contract with your dog before social pressure
from visitors. You can explain the protocol to people, they can wait. Your
priority is to employ the protocol, parked greeting, for the dog first.
Our training histories and the type of dog we live with affect our choices. I find and applaud some sympathetically sensitive methods of teaching dogs and then go around the corner and trip over the methods that seem to regard the dog as an enemy to do battle with. Possibly the originators of those methods lived with type the dogs that encouraged those beliefs, which when applied, were successful and reinforced the employer in application. Some dogs are extremely gentle and sensitive methods of teaching are very effective, but at the other end of the scale some are extremely insensitive, compulsive, energetic and walk over the sensitive approach, often viewing everything that stands between them and their goals as an irritant. Some dogs can be both, in different environmental situations. On the hillside with the sheep my collies would continue to work with a broken leg, horizontally driving rain and freezing conditions. But in the kitchen following my wasp killings dramas they will be under the table shaking with anxiety. Physically insensitive, when in adrenaline driven work mode, and mentally sensitive when not working, taking on the guilt of nature for devising such an abomination known as The Wasp. (Read here: a history here of trauma-by-multi-wasps).
Back in my early training history my passion, hobby and social life was dependant on dog sports. Success also stimulated my need for intellectual exercise and I kept copious records of training solutions shared by the various masters of the day. The seventeen different ways to stop a dog pouncing on the retrieve object, five solutions for a tight about turn. These were collections of different strategies, protocols and mechanical solutions that left me with an extensive range of options. I made a living dosing out options!
Fate, or a dog named Abacab, pushed me into a need to discover more about why certain solutions worked, and when and why they didn’t. How was one dog able to learn from method A, but the next dog seemed to founder? Was it the teacher? Or was it the right method for the wrong reason? We learn to swim through many different methods, some more gentle than others. I was hauled along the side of a Victorian swimming baths with a canvas strap under my armpits. Hmm, it worked for me but not for my brother. It didn’t make the method right and my brother a failure, it just did not take into account our individuality, ambitions or fears.
In dog training the methods seem to rule, making all round-hole dogs successful and square-peg dogs failures. By exploring the science underneath this apparent failure, we can begin to understand how the method is failing the learner, not the other way around. A technique that works for a Gordon Setter may not work for a Border Collie.
The science underlying the method is true, the desired behaviour is cued and reinforced, the undesired is ignored. But the underlying nature of the different dogs is affecting the outcome. My collies will run around with joy when I get home, my Gordons need to physically reconnect, usually at face height.
- Protocol for greeting Collies: let them into the garden to zoom around with many toys
- Protocol for greeting Gordons: hold onto their collar, let them nuzzle your face and talk silly nonsense for sixty seconds.
If I took the approach using the same method for all dogs the Gordons would be deeply distraught: door punching, barking distress, at being put into the garden, and the Collies would be deeply embarrassed and frustrated of having to stay still, proximity to my face and listening to silly nonsense. Neither would be happy with a “sit for greeting and ignore all other behaviours” protocol, or the “cross your arms and turn your back” protocol. We need to do better and try to avoid the “one shoe fits all” philosophies, our dogs deserve a much better understanding.
This is my view of the decision-making process:
Back in my sports obsessed days I was stuck in the top of the pyramid only seeing the different methods. But by living with dogs on a closer basis and viewing them as part of nature I began my journey through the bottom layer. I went back to school to learn about the science. This bottom layer is fixed in fact, we don’t get dogs to behave like camels, you don’t get to unlearn anything and my brother would never choose a scuba diving holiday.
Our decisions are made in the middle layer and shaped by our ethics and beliefs. This is plastic, this can change and grow and dictate which mechanics and protocols we select. In this middle layer I choose to block some of the harsh realities of science and nature from my selection, I choose not to use physically harmful techniques that do exist and do work, but ethically I find uncomfortable. I do not believe that dogs are seeking to take over the world and make us slaves. I believe they make great partners and good friends and should be treated with that respect.
This middle layer is developed through consideration, exploration and understanding. It should be continually evolving, and if your choices are made at this level you will be comfortable with the protocols and solutions that you use. I study many different mechanical solutions, choose the ones that sit in conjunction with my ethical layer and employ them with an understanding of the science and nature behind them.
Back in the dark history of dog training there was a standard technique of getting the dog to lie down by stepping on the short lead forcing pressure on the back on the dog’s next, lowering the head to the floor. This was accompanied by pressure on the shoulders to cause the dog to collapse down to the floor – see how successful we were? Youch. Ethically this is, and always was, way beyond my consideration of how to get my much-loved friend to lie down. But there is a nubbin of an idea there that I still use and recommend today – “parking”.
Parking is one of your best management tools. With the dog standing at your left side, place your left hand on their collar to maintain them in position, hold your lead by the handle with your right hand and drop the slack to the floor as if you were intending to start skipping, you will need at least 5 foot lead. Place the ball of both feet on the lead, release the collar, hold the handle securely. Breathe. Talk to friends, drink coffee, text the family, listen to the teacher. Dog is safe and “parked”, you can divert your attention to other demands. Dog can take a break, watch the pretty girls. The lead is slack enough for them to move around a small amount, they can choose to sit, lie down, indulge in some mutual grooming. What they can’t do is jump at you, your companions, visitors or knock the coffee flying. Do not worry about giving them treats or praise in this position, it is about taking a break. The only interaction is for health or safety reasons. When you are ready to move off, step off the lead, raise it to your hands, by which time the dog will be alert to the next activity. No release cue, just resuming togetherness.
So the mechanics of stomping on the lead to get the dog down works, ethically it gives off a very bad smell and would seriously taint my relationship with my dog. By adapting it scientifically (a longer lead), it opens up a management protocol that is safe and comfortable for both parties, neither paying any cost.
Even the distasteful techniques that can be successful deserve examination to understand how they work, measuring against your ethics and beliefs, and perhaps adapting for your personal choice. Which ever choice you make you should always be comfortable with, if you feel slightly uneasy, stop, rethink, explore, learn and adjust or set off back to the shops for more choices … we always have more choices.
I expect every field of interest that is based on a lack of understanding will be littered with the “apparentlys”, myths and legends. These are the things we have heard that are not based on evidence but we half believe. By prefixing our statements with “apparently” we indicate our skeptical view, or lack of true source to attribute the information to. It excuses us from doing some research, checking it out or verifying the truth behind it.
Dogs and training are littered with Apparentlys and it takes a mammoth amount of work to undo an apparently. We shall begin here.
Apparently if you feed a dog raw meat, chicken or lamb etc, it will run amok killing chickens and lambs.
I can understand why this may have evolved, it is a bent sort of common sense. There is no evidence that a dog fed on kibble or cooked food will not kill hens or sheep. That behaviour is inherent to some degree in every dog. We have bred dogs to hunt and secure provision for our table for thousands of years and that doesn’t go away in a generation of prepared feeding. Prey and predators should always be safely managed with good fencing. Prey will act like prey, run around in panic and alarm, and predators will always respond to this behaviour with desires to kill, maybe not with the skills to be very successful, but certainly strong ambition. What they were fed for breakfast has no direct impact on this behaviour. In fact my wicked common sense hints that a dog fed on pulp and kibble has all the MORE reason to want to kill and taste real flesh.
Apparently if you always walk a dog on a head collar it will eventually learn not to pull.
This sound like a people-are-dumb marketing strategy. “If we tell them this often enough they will come to believe it”. The source of many a good apparently, just as when we were children: “A Mars a day helps us Work, Rest and Play” – more truthfully: rots your teeth and builds a dependence on sugar. But profit must be made at any cost.
A head collar, of any variety, makes pulling uncomfortable for the dog, it makes walking the dog more comfortable for you. But, there is always that But, and that is usually at a cost to the dog. By ignoring the underlying reasons for pulling the head collar, or any other piece of equipment, can never teach a dog not to pull as the reasons for pulling are still present. Often suppression of those behavioural roots triggers more resistance. The dog may be pulling out of frustration, not getting to where they want to go, or because your walking speed is uncomfortable for them, they just need to go a fraction faster to be able to trot comfortably. Pulling is taught to dogs by people, that follow-the-pup-everywhere early mistake, the sense of disconnection by a permanent view of the back of the dog’s head, an image of “walking the dog” where the dog is striding out smartly in front of you.
Keeping the dog on a head collar will become a lifelong arrangement, and a yearly purchase of the new model of head collar. The non-pulling will only occur when the head collar is present. Money better invested with a good dose of your time and intellect on wondering why the dog is so at odds with you when walking together?
Apparently dogs need a good walk every day
Not really. Perhaps this evolved from the days that dogs were kept confined in kennels – an excellent convention that made dogs easier for people to manage them but were never designed with what dogs would want or need. Certainly dogs need physical exercise to keep fit, certainly many dogs enjoy the stimulus of new environments, but what dogs most enjoy is quality time spent with you. On Winter’s evening this could be an exciting 30 minutes of nosework training around the house, on a Summer’s morning playing with toys, chase and catch, in your garden. A happy chunk of free shaping to stretch the mind. A rich variety of activities, maybe a weekend hike or swim, an hour’s party time with a friend, an afternoon training, a picnic in the garden, some physical, some mental, and building social skills and connection.
If your “going for a walk” is stressful: because your dog is a traffic chaser, because your dog gets stressed passing other dogs on the pavement, because your local park is overrun by inappropriately “friendly” dogs please do not keep practising this stress. This dog does not need to walk every day, you can provide what they need in many other, more stimulating and mutually enjoyable ways.
Apparently dogs should never be fed bones
Sorry, it may have been right some years ago, but now we distinguish between cooked and raw bones. A dog’s stomach does a great job of breaking down raw bone, securing all that wonderful marrow and good material from the bone for their bodies. Cooked bone is a completed different beast and cannot be stomach rendered successfully. So it begins to move on down through the gut and can cause fatal damage in the process. Never cooked bones: absolutely right. Raw bones: absolutely yes, and you will never need to invest in a toothbrush for your dog. Again use common sense, their stomach is not going to cope with bone by the shovel full, a bovine femur is too much for any dog. Quantity is your guide line, no larger that the dog’s head, small amounts on a regular daily basis.
Apparently dogs should always sniff each other’s butts when greeting
One of those nearly right Apparentlys but with the rest of the sentence lopped off in re-telling. Add “… when offered.” If the butt ain’t offered for sniffing then the other dog should politely move away. A young puppy is often subjected to an intimate inspection by an unknown (usually male) dog. The canine equivalent of a paedophile. Young puppies often do not understand this protocol, and have yet to learn to take an interest in butt-conversations. That invasive behaviour can often be frightening and it is not a “socialisation” process, in fact it may be the historical conditions that have led to your dog having extreme anxiety when approached by a strange dog.
Our urbanised dogs, on leads and forced into unnatural proximity with other dogs are not in a position to step through the proper canine social introductions. Regard strange dogs as you would strange people, perhaps you will walk on by in a busy high street or railway station, or perhaps you will pass with a nod and “good morning” in the village, but you are not going to stop for butt-greeting until you know each other a little better. At the other end of the make-new-friends process, let the dogs get to know each other on mutual territory, where they can share an activity, a good walk through the woods, and step by step get better acquainted. Once they are familiar and feel secure they will begin to offer butt-conversations. These relationships and dinner before sex arrangements need to be reserved for those dog you wish your dog to have a long-term relationship with - your friend’s dog, your mother-in-law’s Schnauzer etc, not the passing street strangers or park gangs.
Certainly your dog should not be allowed to be a butt-sniffing bully, that is not “being friendly”. If the butt is offered then it may be sniffed, but if it is parked on the tarmac, then it should remain private.
These are just a few of my Apparentlys that I want to dissolve, please let me know of Apparently’s that make you grumpy, confused or are just plain ridiculous. Our own inherited ignorance is usually entertaining! Let’s begin dropping Apparentlys like flies as our knowledge increases and those old wives die from talking too much.
Dogs, apparently, are very good at behaving like dogs.
Dogs do not demand we learn more about them, but they applaud our efforts and produce results that never fail to impress. Impress us about their learning skills and their talent for reinforcing us for moving forward.
When we get it right, the results will be evident almost immediately. The change may be minimal depending on the distance of the journey, but when there is no noticeable change you can be pretty sure we are not on the right track. Stop and re-think. I am a fan of re-thinking rather than the continuation of something that shows no evidence or progress. The “right track” is a combination of understanding the behaviour, the instincts driving the behaviour, and strategies to employ the appropriate reinforcer at the right time. The usual format skips the first 2 elements and jumps straight to the human-choice strategy which becomes the standard format for teaching that behaviour. Making those not so round pegs feel even more confused.
I have been studying the dogs’ settling down behaviour, stimulated by nothing more than me being at rest. I am looking for the contingencies and the individual patterns of their behaviours. The traditional teaching protocol for a settled position is a step by step progression from a down to perhaps a hip-roll or even a lie on the side. This would equate to getting a person to sleep by shaping them to lie flat on their back with their eyes shut, and being watched! It may work for someone near exhaustion, but I always begin my sleep pattern on my left side, pillow crunched, Kindle in hand, a peaceful house and no spectators. There may be moments during the night when I lie flat on my back, but if I try to sleep like that it just doesn’t happen. Being settled and subsequently able to sleep is a combination of emotional states such as security, contentment and calmness. Trying to train the settle down if these emotions are not in place will result in the mechanical elements of the behaviour, but as successful in inducing calmness as you lying on your back, eyes wide shut.
If I am sitting in the garden, coffee and Kindle to hand, the dogs settle down within a couple of minutes. The familiar routine triggers their settling patters. Firstly they move around quite slowly, choosing where to lie down. Some prefer to keep an outward view of their territory, usually with their back to me and all usually facing the same way. If the weather demands coffee and Kindle is housebound, we settle with different priorities. No need for keeping an eye on the external boundaries of their territory, each have their own chosen spot, some like to keep a view of me, some put comfort as a top priority, (Gordons only). Often if they have a bed there is a digging pattern, followed by a few revolutions around the block and then a flop directly to one hip, legs tucked under and a tail wrap for warmth. Maybe an hour later they are akimbo with all appendages facing upwards, but they never begin like that. The pre-settle patterns will change depending on my pattern, the morning coffee time, or the evening TV time, and there are slight variations to their responses.
Puppies do not begin this sort of sleep preparation patterns until they begin to mature. Usually sleep hits them like a truck and they collapse on the meaty bone with a sibling for a pillow. Some variety of experiments later and I have found that if I use the correct protocol for that environment, for that dog, and step them through their particular pattern, they settle quickly. Not only a physically settled position but a restful one as well. This is evident in their relaxed joints head to the floor with ease and some deep sighing. When I am trying to sleep on a long flight, I like to run through my emotional relaxation pattern: pillow crunch (the only reason for roll-on luggage is to take my own pillow), left side, 10 minutes of Kindling and a darkened cabin. Even the rocking action of mild turbulence has a part to play.
For this behaviour I would not use a clicker, for my dogs this is a cue for high levels of mental and physical activities, not emotionally compatible with calmness. A word will take the place, “cool”. I begin with a circling action, the food is held below the dog’s head height, for the collies just below my knee level, they are at my side facing forward and I lure them around in a small circle whilst turning on the spot myself. As they lower into the down position their body is already curved away from me and they arrive straight onto the open hip position. To recognise the open hip, relaxed legs, look at the difference between a dog lying down but ready for action, and the hip roll that really pushed the legs away from the body. Place your reinforcers on the floor between the front and back legs, this maintains that relaxed posture and curved spine. If food contradicts the relaxation, just take a finger and tickle their flank, or inside of their uppermost back leg. If you have studied their own routines to relaxed settle down, and can incorporate a touch at that moment, the same touch when you ask them to step through their routine will go a long way to triggered the emotional state that you want.
Begin your training by observation, analysis and note taking, or video if you can. Watch your dog’s patterns. Is there a different pattern for different places? Do they face the same way to settle down in the car or dog bed? I like to sit on the left end of the sofa, left leg tucked under. I pursued the right end for a few weeks to “find some balance” but it always felt wrong and uncomfortable. Do they have the same pattern wherever they are or does it change in different environments, and different times of the day, or depending on your activity? None of mine go straight from activity to settled. Even when coming in from exercise there is always some mooching and spot-browsing, a sort of cooling down preparation. As soon as one begins to settle the others follow very quickly, usually I have to be the first to settle.
Give yourselves a head start by asking for the settle when it is most likely to happen, when you have seen the first 5 steps of their 6 step pattern, introduce the “settle down” cue. After several repetitions, give the cue earlier in their pattern, and then at the beginning. Do not expect them to jump from step 1 to step 6, the cue will mean “begin your settling pattern”.
When we are on the right track the dogs will come through for us. The right track is usually the one closest to their natural behaviours.