Puppies are exciting, confusing and exhausting, all at the same time! I understand how many questions new puppy owners have, please click here for some more "Puppy Specific" topics!
Why Is Using A Crate So Important?
Please do not be fooled into thinking that a crate is a cage or a jail. When used properly dogs love their crates as their personal space. It is like a child's bedroom. It should be a safe place the dog can retreat to if stressed, and be placed there for a much needed rest. Dogs who know how to be crated are generally less stressed at the veterinary hospital and boarding kennel in a crate, they may be welcomed to some hotels if they are crated, and they will be safer travelling in a car if they are crated. It is also nice to have a safe place to put your puppy when you can not watch him. Giving him a peanut butter stuffed Kong can make the experience fun, too! You and your dog will be much happier having crate training in your lives.Why Is Using A Crate So Important? Please do not be fooled into thinking that a crate is a cage or a jail. When used properly dogs love their crates as their personal space. It is like a child's bedroom. It should be a safe place the dog can retreat to if stressed, and be placed there for a much needed rest. Dogs who know how to be crated are generally less stressed at the veterinary hospital and boarding kennel in a crate, they may be welcomed to some hotels if they are crated, and they will be safer travelling in a car if they are crated. It is also nice to have a safe place to put your puppy when you can not watch him. Giving him a peanut butter stuffed Kong can make the experience fun, too! You and your dog will be much happier having crate training in your lives.
Why Do I Teach This Way?
Dogs do not speak human, humans do not speak dog. By using a clicker we create a language to communicate with each other. In addition to not speaking our language, dogs have the mental equivalence to human toddlers. I would never suggest anyone hit a child for repeating the alphabet incorrectly, and I will never suggest anyone hit a dog for an incorrect answer either. I try to put myself in the dogs shoes. If I were trying to learn a new task and someone repeatedly punished me for making a mistake, I would certainly be nervous. When I am nervous I do not think clearly. If I am not thinking clearly I am liable to make more mistakes, and I certainly will not learn as quickly or remember the tasks the next time. Besides, you can not punish behavior in! The options used to be force in training or an untrained dog. There is an alternative to force for training your dog and it does work! To some extent, it is a personal methodology preference. What is known as "Traditional Training" is a method that punishes wrong answers. Clicker training rewards right answers and ignores incorrect responses or prevents them from happening in the first place. I find that my dogs are more eager to work when I am rewarding. I also have found that I used to lose my temper a lot when I trained using traditional methods. The general feeling was that if the dog did it wrong you should get tougher on him. My current philosophy is that if an error was made then something has gone wrong, either I made a mistake, my dog did not understand, or there was some distraction that was overpowering to my dog. When I look for something to punish, I see more of it. When I look for something to reward, I see more of it. I love my dogs. I want to enjoy being around them, not punishing them.
Do I have to use the clicker forever?
No. The clicker is a training tool. It marks the precise moment the dog has done the correct thing to assist them in learning faster. We call it the marker signal. In the beginning we try to click every correct response, as time goes on we only click the fastest, or straightest, or most correct responses. As the dog becomes more fluent in the behavior we make ourselves into a bit of a slot machine. The dog's behavior becomes stronger because he never knows when it will pay off! We fade out the clicker and treats as the dog becomes proficient in the behavior.
How Long Does Training Take?
You can learn how to perform most exercises in a single lesson, HOWEVER the amount of practice put into the exercises at home working to incorporate those exercises into daily life will be the determining factor as to how fast the lessons become habit. Some more challenging behaviors, such as fear or reactivity, do take some time to help the dog make positive associations. Patience is a must for good training as well as a commitment to practice.
Can't I just use a word instead of a clicker?
Technically, yes, you can. My experience, however, shows that a marker word is a bit more likely to get lost in the background to our dog. The best way that I can explain this is that words to our dogs are a bit like me watching the Spanish channel on television. I know a few words of Spanish vocabulary, but if the channel is on t.v., it all just runs together and I can not understand any of it. For our dogs, they do not speak our language. They hear us talk, they hear our t.v.s, radios, answering machines, etc. And most people are talking the entire time they are working their dogs. The dog has no chance to pick out the correct word that is aimed at them. The clicker is such a unique sound, it cuts right through the noise and makes sense to the dog.
My dog leaps up when he hears the click. Is that okay?
Yes. The click ends the behavior. It tells the dog that he has met the criteria and he has now earned a treat.
My dog does not like food, or is on a limited/special diet. Can we still use the clicker?
Yes! The "treat" can be anything your dog loves and is motivated by. For some dogs the click can mean that you are going to throw their ball. For others it may mean that you are going to scratch their ears. Whatever your dog loves enough to work for, use it as a reinforcer!
I'm so clumsy, this sounds like a lot to juggle.
When you practice at home you will only be handling your clicker and treats. When you take your puppy outside you can tie your leash to your waist if you need to, this will keep your hands free. I suggest keeping your treats in a "bait bag" or a fanny pack, that way you can access them quickly and easily. Like any new skill, it will take some time to get used to, but most people take to this fairly smoothly.
I tried clicker training once, but the dog just stared at me. Does it really work?
It most definitely works. The first time I tried clicker training I did not bother to read the directions, I just started playing around. My Lab saw cookies and just sat there and drooled. When starting an adult dog with the clicker, you need to be patient. They are learning a whole new skill, too. It is sort of like a child learning a foreign language in a day, but adults learning the same language take months (Same goes for computers and video games!). Adult dogs may be hesitant to try new behaviors, especially if their previous training involved punishment, whereas puppies will try anything.
Is it safe to bring a puppy to a group class?
I completely understand concerns regarding your pup's safety. I require that all puppies attending class are following their veterinarian's guidelines and care. No puppy showing any symptom of illness is allowed to class. I have sent puppies home if I feel there is any chance that they are ill. I have, on a rare occasion, canceled class if I felt that a communicably ill dog was in the hospital and I did not feel comfortable with simply sanitizing the area. The safety of the puppies is my primary concern.
I have been teaching at the hospital for two and a half years (they've been held at the hospital for more than 10 years), I've had nearly 200 puppies in class. Knock on wood, not a single one has become ill. In my opinion, a puppy has a much greater chance of dying from a lack of early socialization (due to behavior problems) than from a dying of a contagious disease contracted in puppy class. Could it happen? Yes. Have I ever seen it? No.
Personally, I feel much more comfortable with classes held in private settings as opposed to classes held in stores, for the simple fact that the dogs in class may be vaccinated, but *many* dogs who pass through the store (while you are there) may not be. You can be very vigilant about carrying your puppy to and from class and not sniffing noses with other dogs in the store, but you will have no way of knowing if a sick dog had been in the store that day.
The first week of class is held without puppies, so there may actually be time for your puppy to have had two sets of shots by the time the puppies arrive to class. Your vet can be the best one to determine that based on the paperwork from your breeder.
I've had dogs before, why do I need a class?
Each puppy has a "socialization window" where they are at optimum acceptance of new things, places and people. Socialization is sort of like insurance that your dog will be more comfortable around new people later in life. Dogs who are sheltered in their homes during this time often grow up to be very nervous or aggressive with strangers. Also, it is human nature to let things slide if we do not have a dead line. When you are going to class every week it keeps you motivated to keep practicing with your puppy.
Hmm, does this work on people, too?
I hear this one all of the time. In fact, positive training works great on people, only we don't use a clicker. Positive training is a bit of a way of life. Simple things like saying thank you or pointing out the good job someone has done go a long way. The old adage "You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar" is so true. One of my favorite movies showing this is "Pay it Forward". Quite a tear jerker, but imagine the world we would live in if everyone did a nice thing for someone as a way of continuing something nice having been done for them. I would love to live in that world where the possibilities would be endless.
Do you have a question that is not answered here? Email it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org, maybe it will end up here!
The Dominance Myth
Everyone loves to speak about dogs in terms of dominance. I am here to tell you to let it go. Dogs do not lie awake at night plotting on how to take over the world. Dogs do not care who the leader is, as long as someone is consistently. If no one steps up to the job then a dog will feel the need to do so. This is survival, someone leads or everyone dies. Usually if there is a relationship problem it is not that the dog needs to be lowered, but rather that the human needs to raise themselves up.
People like to compare dogs to wolves. I do not think that we can accurately make direct parallels, but if we want to compare, we need to see what is really happening in a pack situation. The "dominant" animal is confident and rarely has to assert itself, it is simply their presence that is respected. The mid ranking "wanna be" will be the one doing the scrapping. If we resort to arguing with our dogs, we are showing insecurity and thereby lowering ourselves to a "wanna be" level. Not only that, but eventually you will lose if you fight. What message does that send? Growing up working with horses I was always told that if you get in a fight you must win, but if you prevent a fight from starting then you've already won. When dealing with an animal that outweighs me ten to one, I really like to avoid fights! This applies to dogs, as well.
So what should you do? Be confident, be calm, have a plan and stick to it. Train your dog using positive methods. Be a leader worth following. You own everything and decide when it is given and when it is taken away. This applies a "Non-confrontational Deference Program" also known as "Nothing In Life Is Free (NILIF)".
This is also why I like Clicker Training so much. We are working in a series of games putting the dog in a position where they want to work with us instead of being forced to work for us. Win win for everyone!