FAQs

Q?

At what age should I start training my puppy (or kitten, or rabbit, or….)

A.

With positive reinforcement training, you can and should start training as soon as your new friend comes home. They need to eat so they may as well work for it! Of course the animal must get their proper ration and keep in mind age restrictions in ability both physically and mentally. 

Within the first days and weeks, no matter what the species, they learn the rules to become part of your life. They set about finding out what pays and what doesn’t. If you are indulgent when they are cute and small, and wait until they are big enough to do real damage before you teach them anything, you are no doubt going to have many bad habits to work on.

A good rule of thumb is don’t let your puppy (or kitten, or…) do anything now that you won’t be tolerating them doing as an adult.

Q?

Why use food, shouldn’t the dog be eager to please me?

A.

No living creature is naturally ‘eager to please’ another without some benefit to themselves. So technically speaking, there is no natural way to train obedience. But if one method comes close, it is food based training. Animals don’t naturally do obedience or have good manners, these are human rules. We want our dogs to go to the bathroom outside. We want them to walk nicely on a leash. We want them to leave the food on the dinner table alone. When visiting with people, we want them to sit politely. In a dog’s world, none of these would be considered an issue. Wild dogs don’t consider obedience. dog1

All animals work for food. Squirrels search for nuts. Cats hunt mice. Frogs catch bugs. Dogs scavenge for food. That is their job.

Food based training capitalizes on this drive; animals willingly work for their food.  Of course animals must get their full daily ration of food.  There is no need to deprive an animal to achieve results. 

There are many ways owners can enrich their pet’s day by using food.  Treat balls and busy toys can be filled with a portion of the dog’s daily food.  Kong toys can be filled and smeared with peanut butter or cream cheese to assist in crate training or separation conditioning.

A portion of the dog’s daily diet can also be used for training basic skills in an area free from distractions.

Special treats do have their place in positive reinforcement training.  When working in distracting environments bring out the good stuff.  Food is an excellent motivator.  Make sure the dog is getting something it wants to earn.

When an animal enjoys its job, owners will find that new skills come quickly and easily.

Q?

If I train my dog using food – do I need to use it forever?

A.

milkboneIf used correctly, you should not use food indefinitely. During initial training you should be generous and consistent with food rewards. This helps your dog quickly learn the difference between correct and incorrect responses.

Next, it is important to put these skills into real life situations. Your dog needs to learn how to use obedience in the real world when surrounded by distractions. At this point, you would continue to use food rewards.

However, once your dog has mastered a skill it is in your best interest to wean your dog away from treats. Dogs behave better when they work for a wide variety of rewards. They also obey better when rewards are unpredictable and random. We show owners how to wean away from food rewards as quickly as possible to avoid creating a ‘show me the cookie dog‘.

Q?

What is a clicker?

A.

things-iclickerA clicker is an event marker that indicates to an animal exactly what behaviour is being rewarded.  Just like whale trainers use a whistle, a clicker pinpoints the correct behaviour even when a primary (food) reward cannot be given at that moment.

Q?

Can you say ‘good dog’ instead of using the clicker?

A.

The ‘click’ is a distinct sound that is not duplicated in the enviroment, thus there is no confusion on the dogs part. When owners want to mark good behaviour and a clicker is not available, we recommend using a short word like, “yes”. It offers greater precision than ‘good dog’ which may be confused with praise or affection. We prefer to save ‘good dog’ for general praise and not use it as a marker of correct behaviour.

With new trainers the mechanics of organizing your dog, treats and clicker might be too much to start, thus we train the dog with both the ‘click’ and the ‘yes’ to mark correct behaviours.

Q?

Do I have to use the clicker forever?

A.

No. The clicker is a teaching tool.  It is used to actively teach new behaviours.  Once a dog has mastered a skill, it is no longer needed because the dog has learned the exercise.

Q?

How do I correct mistakes using positive training methods?

A.

I do not believe in using pain or fear to correct dogs. Withholding the reward provides enough feedback for most dogs. It learns what was wrong because a treat was not earned.

Being positive does not mean that owners should be permissive. Structure and boundaries are very important. Dogs are rewarded for doing the right thing, but they are not permitted to run amok.

It’s very much like teaching a child a new skill such as math. Poking, prodding, verbally correcting or spanking are not necessary. In fact those tactics can cause harm. Instead the child should be kept at an appropriate level with the structure and boundaries that support learning.

Similarly, dogs do not need physical corrections, verbal reprimands or poking and prodding. They need an owner that keeps them at an appropriate level and teaches the basics really well. Corrections should always be positive and constructive.

 

Q?

Should I take classes or private sessions?

A.

This is an individual choice. Classes are a great way to practice basic training with your dog around distractions and allow you to meet other dog owners in your community. Private training is more costly but tends to deliver faster and more individual results. If your dog suffers from specific behaviour issues (aggression, territorial, fear, etc.) sometimes private sessions are your only option. Please feel free to contact me and discuss your training options.

Q?

Do you guarantee training?

A.

No and I would be very wary of trainers who do. Behaviour is dependant on many different factors, with the most important being the trainer’s commitment to the task at hand. The success of any training plan depends on too many variables, some of which are beyond my control. I do guarantee to be committed to the latest methods offered by the scientific community as well as continuing to keep myself up to date in education. I am certified by the Certification Council for Pet Dog Trainers and Karen Pryor Acadamy and have pledged my dedication to a better approach to training.