Coming When Called – it’s one of the most basic skills that all dog owner’s value. When our dog has a reliable recall, we can use a cue, like “come” or a whistle, and our dog will stop what they are doing and come to us. When our dog doesn’t have a reliable recall, when we use our cue and they don’t come to us, it can be a very frustrating and dangerous experience. What’s the secret to teaching your dog to come to you every time you call them? It’s really pretty simple, make it easy and fun for your dog from the very beginning!
The most common reason dogs don’t come when called is that they are distracted by something much more compelling. A squirrel, another dog, people, cats, smells – there are many things that distract our dogs.
The second most common reason the reliability of the recall goes down is that some dogs learn that coming when called means that the fun is over. For example, we call them, then we leave the dog park, or we call them, then we put them in their crate and leave for work. These events actually serve to punish coming when called. No wonder they don’t come reliably!
How do you address these issues?
- Make it successful for your dog. To do this begin by working with your dog in a safe place (like a fenced yard or even inside the hours) and make sure there are no major distractions to compete with. The setting should be boring so that you will be the star attraction for your dog. Call them from short distances and make it fun.
- ALWAYS provide something positive when your dog comes to you. This may be a super-yummy treat, a game of tug, or chasing the squeaky toy, but it needs to be something that your dog really enjoys. During the Doggy Business play groups, one of the positive rewards that we can provide is allowing the dogs to return to play. Calling a dog away from a rewarding activity, like playing with another dog, and then allowing them to go back to that activity after getting a yummy treat from you, increases the likelihood that they’ll come to you the next time you call.
When you’re practicing recalls, start with short distances. Once your dog is reliably running to you every time you call them at that distance, add a few feet and try again. Failures (your dog not responding) will only result in a weaker recall, so protect that by not calling them if they are not likely to come. Happy Training!
After working on training a solid down in the August play groups, settle is a nice behavior to follow up with. The goal of teaching “settle” is to cue a sequence of behaviors – you say “settle” and your dog goes to their bed, lays down, and relaxes. A relaxed dog, one who isn’t actively soliciting attention or play, is the final goal. When teaching settle, we typically rely on capturing as our primary training technique. Capturing is waiting for our dogs to do something we like and then reinforcing it. Capturing uses the basic rule of dog training – reinforce something you like, and it will happen more often. You can learn more about this technique in our December 2014 blog posting.
To teach “settle” you can start by laying down a mat, bed, or blanket for your dog and then use your most reliable signal to cue them to lay down on it. Treat your dog as soon as they are laying down. Now give your dog a treat after every second they stay in the down position. After working through 10 one-second intervals and giving your dog 10 treats, switch to giving them a treat every 2 seconds. Give your dog a treat every 2 seconds, this time only five times in a row. Then switch to 4 seconds. Again, do this five times in a row. Then switch to 6 seconds. Stay calm and offer some calm praise when your dog stays on the mat or bed. Work in this way all the way up to 30 seconds.
Now, once your dog can lay on their bed for 30 seconds without getting up, watch for any calm, relaxed body language, such as changing their body position to settle back on one hip or on their side. As soon as you see this, capture it by praising them when you see it and following your praise with a food treat. We’re now rewarding examples of relaxed behavior in your dog. Watch their muscles relax and praise them calmly and give a treat. See a furrowed brow relax, praise and treat. Do the same when they rest their head down on the bed.
Depending on your dog’s age, activity level, and training history, the length of the first few training sessions will vary. For younger, active dogs, you may need to end the first few training sessions after 10-30 seconds of calm, relaxed behavior. For older dogs, you might end the training sessions after 1-3 minutes of calm, relaxed behavior. In either case, you want the training session to end with success, in other words you want to end the session before your dog starts to get up. To do this, let your dog know the training session is done when they are still relaxed on their mat by using a release cue (such as “ok” or “free”) or cue a different activity such as “let’s play” or “let’s walk.”
You can also capture a settle without any prompting, by just waiting for your dog to lay down and relax. As soon as they are in a calm, relaxed body position, you can click or say “yes” and give them a treat or pet them (if they like attention as much as a treat). At first, your dog may be surprised by this new game, but it won’t take her long to figure out that she can get you to click and treat or get attention when she is calm and relaxed.
At Doggy Business this month, we’re going to be working on the basic skill of teaching the dogs to lay down on cue. For some of the play group dogs this is a new skill, and for them we’ll teach this just as we would in our Basic Manners or Puppy Kindergarten classes. We start with the dog in a sit or stand position. With a treat in our hand, we lure the dog’s head down to the ground until they put both elbows on the ground, while keeping their butt down as well. Once we get that position with the food lure, we give them the treat. After the dogs can comfortably move from a sit or a stand position to this new down position, we then phase out the use of the food lure while continuing to use the same hand motion. That way the dogs still follow our hands down to the ground, even though there’s no food in our hands anymore. If you have any questions about the specifics of this process, let us know and we can give you the details.
Many of the dogs in the Doggy Business play groups already have a good down with a verbal cue. In other words, when we say the word “down” they lay down in front of us most of the time, without us needing to repeat the word, use a hand signal, or lure the behavior. For these dogs, our goal this month will be to teach them that “down” means to lay down no matter where they are or what’s going on around them. This is an emergency down, and it’s an impressive and useful skill to have so that your dog can be safe no matter where they are, on or off-leash.
On the face of it, teaching a dog to lay down wherever they are when we say “down” may sound easy, but for many dogs the cue “down” means to come lay down directly in front of their owner. We want the dogs to learn that “down” means to lay down where they are, no matter how far away they are from us or how much fun their having with their buddies.
There are a lot of ways to teach an emergency down, and here’s the technique we’ll use in play group.
Call the dog to us from several feet away.
As they move towards us, we’ll say the word “down” while giving an exaggerated hand signal that’s a sweeping downward movement of our arm with the palm facing down towards the floor.
When the dog lays down (ideally 1-2 feet away from us), we quickly go to the dog and give them a treat.
Once the dog will reliably lay down 2-3 feet away from us we can introduce more distance by calling them when they are farther away from us, and repeating the process.
Once you teach an emergency down, it’s important to practice it regularly and always reinforce it with whatever your dog likes best, whether it’s a piece of yummy hot dog, a rousing game of tug, or return to play with other dogs.
Many dogs and puppies really like to chew on and unpack puzzle toys, and providing them with a “legal” outlet for such activities – like Kongs, treat balls, and enrichment toys and games – can be a great way to satisfy that need. Sure, having objects that are okay to chew on can save you from having to buy replacement shoes and furniture, but it can also help to reinforce calm and settled in your dog. Once your dog enjoys chewing on their chew toys, you can put that to good use to help them become more comfortable home alone.
To teach your dogs to love their chew toys, here a few easy steps to follow:
1. Play with the toy with your dog to make it fun and interesting.
2. Show your dog what the toy can do by loosely putting a few yummy treats in the toy so your dog can get the food out easily.
3. After your dog learns to get the food out easily, use some peanut butter, cream cheese, or pumpkin to help keep the kibble in the toy longer.
4. Over time, your dog will learn to get the food out more quickly. You can make it more challenging and enriching by mixing wet and dry ingredients, including all or part of their daily meals. Try freezing the toy for short periods to make the food more challenging to get out.
The trick is to create a toy that your dog loves and will spend some good time unpacking. We’ve found that once a healthy food toy habit is created it can then be used to help dogs tolerate being alone for longer periods and can even help when you have to leave your dog with a friend or with your neighborhood boarding facility.
Here at Doggy Business, we give our lodgers Kongs stuffed with peanut butter and their own kibble as a bed time snack. This gives them something fun to do
when they are in their rooms and helps to create positive associations with their surroundings. We also use Wobble Kongs and other treat balls for the same purpose. These “games” are enriching for dogs and can help to satisfy a species-specific need to scavenge and “dissect” food items. Dogs who enjoy these activities become more tolerant to the absence of other forms of reinforcement, like when they are home alone or in a room at a boarding facility.
Give it a try and see if it helps with your dog!
We’ve worked on hand and object targeting in our Doggy Business LLC play groups a few times over the years, and thought this would be a fun skill to revisit. It’s an easy one to teach and once your dog has a solid hand target, you can use it to help them learn more complex skills, such as coming when called, loose leash walking, and tricks.
To teach the basic hand targeting behavior:
1- Start in a quiet place with no distractions with your dog in front of you.
2- Have your treats ready in one hand, and keep your other hand empty.
3- Ask your dog to sit and then give them one of the treats.
4- Now, bring your empty hand to the side of your dog’s muzzle about two inches from your dog’s nose.
5- Your dog will probably turn their head towards your hand to check your hand for food. As soon as their nose touches your hand, say “yes” to mark the behavior (the nose touch) and give your dog a treat from your opposite hand
6- Move your hands back to your side or up to your waist and then repeat steps 4 and 5. Repeat often.
If your dog doesn’t touch your hand on the first try, pull your hand back by your side and then put it by their muzzle again. If that doesn’t work, try putting a few treats in your hand, make a fist, and put your closed fist by your dog’s muzzle. Once you have your dog touching your hand regularly you can add your verbal cue by saying your verbal cue (we use the word “touch”) before you put your hand out.
Over the last few years we’ve worked on a variety of skills and behaviors in the Doggy Business LLC play groups. This month, we thought we’d let the trainers in each play group choose what they want to work on with each of the dogs.
Some of the many behaviors and skill sets they have to choose from include:
- The basic game works towards name recognition and attention skills.
- In the advanced game, the trainers teach the dogs to turn and move several steps towards them when they say their name.
- Basic coming when called skills. This is a fun one to work on because we have so many distractions to work with!
- Rolling Recall – this is a fun game where we call the dogs 3 times in a row and ask for a more complex set of behaviors each time.
- 4-Corner Recall – the game incorporates a stay with the coming when called exercise.
- Duration Stay – this is the most basic skill, where dogs learn to stay for a second or two and the trainer does not move.
- Bungee Stay – in a sit or down, the dog stays while the trainer takes several steps back and then returns to the dog.
- Circle Stay – in a sit or down, the dog stays while the trainer walks around the dog.
- Stay at the Gate – this is one of the most advanced stay skills. The dogs stay in a sit while the trainer or another dog moves through an open gate or door beside them.
- Hand targeting – the dogs learn to touch a trainers hand with their nose.
- Object targeting – the dogs learn to touch an object like a target stick, pole, or specific spot on the wall with their nose.
- Targeting a space – the dogs learn to run to a specific area, in this case the landing at the top of the stairs in the play room, and sit.
Sit, Down, Stand
- The dogs learn these basic skills in response to a variety of prompts including hand signals and verbal cues.
As you can see, there are a lot of fun behaviors to choose and work on, so we’ll let the trainers make the choice this month!
We thought we’d continue the fun this Spring and focus on tricks again this month. Canine sports often include behaviors that are fun tricks, such as teaching a dog to push a ball with it’s nose (Treibball), jump over a bar or through a hoop (Agility), or turn in a circle on cue (Canine Freestyle). This month we’ll focus on teaching our Play Group dogs to jump over an agility jump or through a hula hoop.
Here’s how we’ll do it:
- 1. Set up a jump that’s low enough for your dog to comfortably step over the jump with no effort.
- 2. Use a piece of food in your hand or a toy to lure your dog over the jump. To do this with food, put the piece of food directly in front of your dog’s nose on one side of the jump and slowly move your hand forward. Ideally, your dog will move forward to follow your hand, as if your hand were a magnet that could pull them forward. Use the food lure to move your dog all the way over the jump and give her the food as a treat once she’s over. If your dog is uncomfortable with this, you can start with the jump bar on the ground.
- 3. Once your dog has comfortably gone over the jump several times, you can work towards teaching a hand signal instead of using a food lure. Take the food out of the hand you were using to lure the dog, and exactly replicate what you were doing in step 2, but without food in your hand. As soon as your dog moves all the way over the jump, give her a treat from your other hand, pocket, or treat pouch.
- 4. Once your dog is consistently going over the bar with a hand signal (in other words, can go over the bar successfully when prompted by your hand signal 5 out of 5 times) you can slowly raise the jump one notch at a time.
As with people, when dogs are trying new sports or physical activities, there’s a higher risk of injury. The American Kennel Club sets specific jump heights for agility runs based on dog sizes and you can learn more about their regulations on their web site at, www.akc.org/events/agility/resources.
Remember the most important part of teaching tricks – have fun and keep training!
This month we’re getting back to some fun stuff – Tricks! Dog tricks are fun to teach, fun to learn, and you can sneak in some great foundation skills training while you’re at it. During the play groups in March we’ll be working on a variety of dog tricks, focusing on teaching the dogs to “peek” (to put their head between your legs and look up) and “back up”. To teach both of these dog tricks we start with the same basic sequence:
- 1. Use food to lure the behavior.
- 2. Transition to a hand signal with an empty hand (no food lure).
- 3. Once the dog has a reliable hand signal cue, add the verbal cue.
To start training “Peek”:
- 1. Stand a few feet away from your dog, with your back to them and your legs a couple feet apart. Drop your hand between your legs at your dog’s nose level. At this point, use a piece of food to lure your dog’s head through your legs.
- 2. Once your dog’s head is through, click and treat. Try to deliver the treat where you’d like them to stop and stand between your legs. Pull your hand up to encourage them to raise their head and make eye contact, and when they look up click and give them a second treat.
To start training your dog to “Back up”:
- 1. Start by facing your dog, if they’re sitting, cue them to stand or take a step back and use a piece of food to lure them into a standing position.
- 2. Once they’re standing, put a piece of kibble in your hand, close it into a fist, and put your fist slightly below your dog’s nose.
- 3. Lean into your dog slightly and watch their feet. As soon as they move a paw back, click and give them a treat. Try not to physically push them back with your hand, we want them to make the choice to move back on their own, if possible.
- 4. If your dog sits when you try this instead of backing up, move your hand down lower – towards their chest – so that their head bows down a little, and try again.
Check out a video of dogs learning these skills in our Doggy Business LLC play groups on our web page, www.doggybusiness.net. Remember the most important part of teaching dog tricks – have fun and keep training!
Time Outs are one of the techniques we use at Doggy Business to change unwanted and problematic behaviors that happen while the dogs are playing. For us, “problematic” means a behavior used by a dog that causes conflict between him or herself and another dog. A Time Out is essentially a “Bummer” for the dog. Time Outs work well to help teach dogs that there are limits to how much and how often they can engage in certain behaviors. We do not like to use Time Outs to stop or change behaviors that might be motivated by fear or discomfort, as we don’t want to make that discomfort any worse. So, determining why a dog is doing what they are doing before using any technique is very important.
An example of a problematic behavior that we see during play group is one dog barking at a second dog to prompt the second dog to play. Sometimes the barking can be problematic if the second dog doesn’t want to play, or if he is a little overwhelmed by the barking. In these instances, a Time Out can help the barking dog learn that they need to find another strategy to solicit play from their buddy.
Time Outs are most effective when the Time-Out Area is a small, enclosed low-enrichment space, like the bathroom or a crate. The space should not be aversive or uncomfortable, but it should not be a “fun” space to hang out in either. The Time Out area shouldn’t have any play toys or chews inside, for example. Time Outs result in “taking the fun away” for the dog, so no real enrichment for him or her during the Time Out.
Here’s how we teach dogs how to avoid Time Outs:
• We use a warning cue, like “that’s enough”. By using a warning cue, with practice the dog will learn that he has a choice. He can either stop barking or continue barking.
• When dogs are learning what Time Outs are, they usually continue barking.
• When they continue barking after the warning cue is used, we cue the Time Out by saying “Too bad” or something similar to let the dog know that the Time Out is going to happen.
• We use a slip lead, making sure not to pull or cause any unnecessary discomfort, to escort the dog to the Time-Out Area. The “bummer” is the end of fun, not any discomfort during the Time Out itself. This is very important to us. We’re trying not to cause any unnecessary discomfort here.
• We close the door during the Time Out and wait 30 seconds.
• After 30 seconds, we just open the door and let them out. No party, but back to fun.
• If a dog is barking at the end of the 30 seconds, we add an additional 5 seconds to the Time Out before letting the dog out. We do this so that the dogs don’t accidentally learn that barking causes the door to open (yes, they can learn this!).
• The dogs learn to avoid the Time Out all together by paying attention to the warning cue. They essentially learn that they can choose to stop barking and avoid the Time Out. They get to remain with their buddies and continue playing!
Time Outs help us avoid using what’s called Positive Punishment. Though Time Outs are a form of punishment, they involve removing something the dog likes instead of adding something the dog does not like. This is a very important difference to us. We are working hard to avoid using negative stimulation with the dogs in our play groups, so performing Time Outs effectively allows us to change problematic behavior without adding aversives into the mix. When working with a group of dogs, adding aversives to stop or change a behavior with one dog often causes unwanted fearful behavior in that dog AND in the other dogs present at the time! We don’t want to cause that response in any of the dogs, so Time Outs count as a humane way to punish a dog and change their behavior, by taking something they like away!
Capturing is waiting for our dogs to do something we like and then reinforcing it. When you are with your dog, pay attention to what she is doing. Whenever she does something you like, capture it by clicking as soon as she does it and immediately give a reward. It’s as simple as that! CAPTURING is easy, fun and effective, and uses the basic rule of dog training – reward something you like, and it will happen more often.
Using your clicker or a marker word like “yes” will make it easy for your dog to understand what behavior is being rewarded. Remember the rules to proper clicker use. Whenever you CLICK you must always give a REWARD (the reward may be a treat, a quick game of tug, a walk, or attention – whatever your dog likes!). Also, try to click while your dog is still doing the behavior, not after she has finished.
At first, your dog will be surprised by this new game, but it won’t take her long to figure out that she can get you to click and treat by doing certain things you like. You don’t have to ask your dog to do anything, capturing is all about catching your dog doing something you like. This may include sitting, being quiet, or raising a paw. Capturing is often used to start new tricks. If your dog likes to paw then you can capture that behavior and turn it into a shake or high five.
Here are some behaviors that we try to capture during the Doggy Business LLC play groups:
• Lying down
• Playing politely
• Being calm and quiet
• Paying attention to us (giving us eye contact or turning towards us).
It’s easy to make a list of other behaviors that you’d like to capture at home and then follow up with some quick counts. How often did you capture the behaviors? Are you seeing more of this good behavior? As you and your dog get more comfortable with the technique, it can turn into a fun game that is engaging for you and your dog and also results in better behaviors. Have fun and keep up the good work!