Our approach to working with dogs combines experience, common sense and science. What training is most suitable for an individual dog will depend hugely on what motivates the dog, the dogs history and what one wants to achieve. This is why we tailor our approach to fit with each dog and their particular situation.
Training dogs entails far more than just teaching behaviours. The relationship between the dog and handler influences all interactions and is a crucial aspect to incorporate into the training plan. One area which is mostly overlooked is that of overall management. Management is key to set a dog up for success.
The graphic below shows the aspects of dog training we ideally like to address when working with you and your dog. Each one of these aspects has many nuances that can take a while to master, but will greatly improve results.
Management provides the overall structure, the relationship sets the framework for interactions and attitude, while the various communication channels are used to precisely shape behaviours. The actual “training” part in dog training is all about teaching behaviours by being able to timely communicate what is right and what is wrong. It is important to understand that a taught behaviour is in principal a boundary, as it defines what a dog should be doing. The “Yes” (when a dog displays the desired behaviour) and the “No” (when the dog displays an undesired behaviour) can be communicated via many different communication channels.
In order for a dog to understand what we want, we need to give meaning to each method of communication. Communications that we give to our dog via our body and energy is inherently understood by them (unfortunately not so often by us). Other communication channels like behaviour markers, leash or use of the e-collar need to be conditioned first, before they can be used to give information to a dog.
Behaviour markers form the basis for communication in our system. They are sounds which are used to “mark” a moment in time. We give meaning to sounds so that we can communicate verbally which behaviour is right and which is wrong. Once conditioned, the precise usage of behaviour markers becomes the central guiding system we use for the dogs we work with.
When dealing with self-reinforcing behaviours reward-based training is not suited well to stop those. Consequences are necessary to effectively address self-reinforcing behaviours and disobedience for well-known behaviours.
LEARN MORE ABOUT THE CANINE WAY.
Humans and Dogs have been living side-by-side for ages. In modern society, dogs are an integral part of our day-to-day lives. It is critical we understand them so that we can live together with ease. Learn about 5 key aspects when living with canines.
All-positive training is basically reward-based training with the exclusion of all aversives. It is limited to two of four quadrants of the operant conditioning toolbox. One can achieve a lot with just positive training, but it requires you to be very skilled and to train your dog a lot. Even then you can’t achieve reliability as all-positive training fails to create boundaries and provide consequences.
The reality of nature and in fact all of life is that there are boundaries, and feedback loops, which always include negative feedback. Without clear boundaries and consequences for breaking those boundaries, a dog will simply do whatever he is most motivated by.
Behaviour markers are verbal or visual markers that are being used to communicate when a dog is right and when he is wrong. These markers become conditioned by pairing them with a primary reinforcer. Once conditioned they are reinforcing themselves.
Behaviour Markers form the basis of our communication system. They are a conditioned reinforcer and are also called a ‘bridge’. We use 2 reward markers (“Yes” and “Good”) and 1 punishment marker (“No”). The reward marker (“Yes”) means a release for the dog, the other reward marker (“Good”) means continue for the dog.
BODY & ENERGY
Body language and energy form the basis of canine communication and are inherently understood by dogs. How we use our body & energy in relation to dogs communicates a lot to them, yet we mostly fail to recognize, understand and apply this. This is a big potential pitfall for us since communication via our bodies, energy and emotions happens all the time.
Personal space, claiming space/objects, boundaries, approval, disapproval, invitation, disinterest and much more can all be communicated using our bodies & energy. Hence it is important that we learn exactly how to communicate through our bodies so we can be clear and congruent in the eyes of the canines we interact with.
Boundaries are an essential building block for the relationship with and the guidance provided to a dog. Established boundaries provide safety, clarity and thus support relaxation in a dog. The lack of boundaries can lead to a host of behavioural issues incl. stress, anxiety, fear, aggression, obsessive / compulsive disorders and more.
Boundaries can be energetic (eg. personal space), physical (eg. crate) and conceptual / learned (eg. kitchen is off-limits). Most boundaries (even physical ones like a crate) need to be established and taught as a dog will usually challenge any new boundary as part of exploring and testing his environment. The more a boundary is concrete, the sooner a dog will learn to respect it.
Boundaries and the act of claiming space, objects etc is a primary way for canines to communicate and find out where they stand in relation to the other. Therefore the sanctity of our personal space is of utmost importance. This personal boundary communicates respect and autonomy if in place.
Also known as associative learning or Pavlovian conditioning. Classical Conditioning is used in dog training extensively. A neutral stimuli (eg. sound) is immediately followed by a meaningful stimuli (eg. food). With enough repetitions the previously neutral stimuli will prompt the same response in the dog as the meaningful stimuli does.
This is used in marker training where we give meaning to behaviour markers. In order for this to work, the sound (neutral stimuli) needs to precede the food (meaningful stimuli) or the dog won’t make the desired association. It is also important to understand that once a stimuli has been classically conditioned the dogs response to that stimuli is involuntary or automatic.
Timing, consistency and motivation is paramount for effective communication with dogs. Precise communication of whether a dog is performing a desired or undesired behaviour enables us to shape behaviours. Many subtleties are at play and need to be understood in order to proof a dogs behaviours and responses for real world scenarios.
Mastering the various communication channels (Body & Energy, Behaviour Markers, Leash, E-Collar) is necessary for clear communication. While the use of an e-collar is optional, using our body, behaviours markers and the leash is not – these communication channels are in play whether we know what we are doing or not.
Besides the particular channels, it is also crucial to understand how canine communication works in general. This includes how dogs learn, their stages of learning and how reinforcement schedules work. These aspects are all about the mechanics of how and when and why with regards to teaching behaviours.
Another important area that supports effective communication is a dogs work attitude. This is where building motivation and engagement is key to shape a dog that is keen to work and learn, rather than a dog who is just going through the motions.
Neutral stimuli (often a sound or visual prompt) that has been given meaning through a meaningful / intrinsic stimuli. The previously neutral stimuli has now been conditioned, hence the term conditioned reinforcer. Typical examples for this are behaviour markers or the sound of a clicker.
The crate is our primary management tool and it needs to be properly conditioned. Our aim is for the crate to be your dogs safe place, where they are comfortable, relaxed and secure. Crates can be used for inclusion and exclusion purposes based on their setup and placement.
The e-collar (short for electronic collar) is one of the most misunderstood tools in dog training. We use low-level, communication-style e-collar training, which looks nothing like the e-Collar training of the past.
Skilfully used, we consider the e-collar to be the most effective, reliable, humane and transformational tool available in dog training today.
A dog gets conditioned to the lowest level stimulation of the e-collar he can feel. Once the so called working level is identified the e-collar stimulation gets overlaid on existing behaviours. During this conditioning phase, food rewards and the leash are used to assure success each time the dogs is requested to perform a behaviour. As soon as the dog performs the requested behaviour, the e-collar stimulation stops (negative reinforcement) and the dog is rewarded (positive reinforcement). This speeds up learning tremendously.
After the conditioning phase dogs have learned that complying with the command turns off the stimulation. The input from the collar is now simply a prompt for the dog to perform the requested behaviour, and acts like an emphasis of the given command.
Particularly when working with off lead situations, the use of an e-collar becomes almost essential if you want to achieve reliable behaviours. When a dog is distracted by something in the environment it is often necessary to gets the dogs attention and then add an emphasis (by the way of e-collar stimulation) to the behaviour request being made.
Use of the c-collar is a little like tapping a dog on the shoulder which then increases the dogs motivation to respond. The seamless way of increasing the stimulation level in modern collars enables us to use just as much sensation as necessary to overwrite the dogs focus on the environment.
A dog is engaged when he is giving us attention, is maintaining focus and is motivated. We teach dogs that paying attention to us is rewarding and we aim to increase their focus and motivation. A dog is not engaged when he is only partially attentive and is constantly checking out what is going on around. We utilize a range of engagement games and play to build more engagement. If your dog is engaged, everything is easy.
The Escape part in Escape-Avoidance Training is Negative Reinforcement (eg. dog “escapes” / turns off a leash pull by sitting). When using Negative Reinforcement, it is important that the dog knows what we want from him and knows how to turn off the pressure. We use communication style leash and e-collar work to overlay it on existing and known behaviours for more accuracy and added motivation. Using Negative Reinforcement is often necessary for dogs who are less / only partly motivated for things we can control (food, toys, affection, etc) or when dealing with disobedience for well known behaviours.
The Avoidance component in Escape-Avoidance Training is Positive Punishment (eg. kneeing your dog in the chest for jumping up). When using a correction, like a firm leash tug, it teaches the dog to avoid the behaviour that lead to the tug. It is crucial that the dog understands exactly which behaviour he is being corrected for. A firm punishment is one of the quickest ways to stop a behaviour from reoccurring. A firm punishment can be very effective in stopping undesired behaviours, but it can also have undesired side effects such as superstitious associations, increased fear, decreased motivation or retaliation. We use Positive Punishment primarily for self-reinforcing behaviours.
The leash is a basic communication channel that most people do not know how to use well. There are two ways to use the leash – active and passive. Both have the same aim: to guide the dogs position in relation to you. In both active and passive leash handling, the goal is to keep the lead slack (meaning no tension).
In active leash work, the handler takes the active role. Here we give the dog feedback via short tugs, with the goal to remove leash tension. This can be done either once the dog creates the tension, but more often is used pre-emptively to keep the dog in position or prevent him from pulling/resisting in the first place.
Passive leash work is often called ‘leash pressure work’. This is where the handler is passive and the dog plays a more active role. Here the dog is being taught to move with the leash, not against it. This is initially taught in a distraction-free environment and independent of any obedience commands. The focus is on the leash pressure and the aim is for the dog to learn to yield to the pressure. Once it is learned it becomes a tool to give information to the dog as the dog learns to ‘give to’ or follow the leash.
Management encompasses the overall structure we use to create success in dog training. A vital part of good management lies in the way we control a dogs access to animals, people, things and places. This way a dog is prevented from rehearsing undesired and/or self-reinforcing behaviours. The main tools used for this are the crate and an ex-pen / playpen.
Another aspect of good management is creating and utilising a training and socialisation plan, one which takes into account the needs of both you and your dog. A dogs stimulation thresholds, their energy levels as well as where and how you want to spend time with your dog should be considered.
Redirecting a dog before he can execute an undesired and/or self-reinforcing behaviour also plays a crucial role in good management. The more we proactively manage which activities a dog engages in, the more we can reward and the less we have to correct. For redirection to work well, it is important to
a) be ready (eg. having something to redirect the dog towards like food or a toy) and
b) be in control (eg. having the dog on a leash). Building engagement and motivation in your dog is essential for effective redirection.
Motivation is a dogs desire for an activity or item. The higher the desire, the more the dog will do to get it which is why motivation plays a pivotal role in training. This means that whatever a dog is most motivated by is what he will do in any given moment. As motivation is such a key factor in dog training, we seek to utilise it as much as possible so that we can:
a) increase a dogs motivation for things we can control (food, toys, play, affection, attention, access, freedom)
b) carefully manage the things a dog wants so that we can use them to teach behaviours effectively
c) build motivating & rewarding associations with behaviours we teach
d) add motivation to overwrite an external/environmental motivation
The level of a dogs motivation for things we can control largely determines which training approach is best suited. Generally speaking, the more motivation we can generate, the more we can encourage. The less motivation we have available, the more we will need to discourage.
One of the quadrants of Operant Conditioning. Negative Punishment means that something pleasant is removed to make a behaviour occur less, as in removing a toy or food for unwanted behaviour. For example your dog jumps up to get the food in your hand and you pull your hand with the food away. We use this in form of our negative Behaviour Marker (“no”).
One of the quadrants of Operant Conditioning. Negative Reinforcement means something unpleasant is removed to make a behaviour happen more, as in a dog learns to stop something unpleasant with its behaviour. For example a dog learns to sit in order to stop you pulling up on the leash. We use Negative Reinforcement in the form of low level e-collar work and passive leash work.
Operant Conditioning covers the cause and effect in dog training; it is also called instrumental learning. Dogs learn that certain behaviours have certain outcomes. The terms used in operant conditioning do not contain any judgement. They translate as:
positive = add, negative = remove, reinforcement = more likely to repeat, punishment = less likely to repeat
PLAYPEN / EX-PEN
The Ex-pen or playpen is another management tools that needs to be well conditioned. Playpens fulfill a similar purpose as the crate, the main difference being that they offer more space, freedom and give a stronger sense of inclusion into the surrounding environment. Introducing a puppy / dog to a playpen successfully will take some time / work and needs to be closely supervised.
One of the quadrants of Operant Conditioning. Positive Reinforcement means something pleasant is added to make a behaviour happen more. This is your classical food reward for a correct behaviour. For example giving your dog a treat when they sit.
We use this extensively with our positive Behaviour Markers (“good” / “yes”).
One of the quadrants of Operant Conditioning. Positive Punishment means something unpleasant is added to make a behaviour happen less. This is your classical correction for unwanted behaviour. For example a firm leash tug when a dog jumps up on someone.
When necessary we use Positive Punishment to stop self-reinforcing behaviours and to correct disobedience for well-known behaviours.
Food or toy that has intrinsic value to the dog. Can also be an activity like chasing, running, barking etc that has intrinsic value / is self-reinforcing.
Dogs form relationships with each person and animal they meet. Based on the interaction, they then form a perception of and attitude towards the other. This perception and attitude then colours each subsequent interaction. It is for these reasons that it’s so important that the relationship with the handler / owner is one of respect, clarity, attentiveness and understanding. In order to build such a relationship we need to consider issues around personal space and boundaries, as well as the timing, type of and initiation of interactions. This is something we often focus on in our 1-on-1 training sessions.
The other question that hugely influences a dogs responsiveness in particular is whether or not you have an active or a passive relationship; referring to the depth or degree of your interactions, of doing things together. Generally speaking, the more active your relationship, the more your dog will be interested and engaged with you. If your relationship is active, then interacting with you is fun and rewarding for your dog. The more passive your relationship, the more your dog will self-entertain and do his own thing. In the passive scenario the dog is mostly disengaged from the handler/owner as it is more rewarding to pay attention to something else. The more you expect from your dog, the more active your relationship will need to be.
Reward-based training basically encompasses Positive Reinforcement (eg. rewarding desired behaviours with food) and Negative Punishment (eg. withholding of food for undesired behaviours). The commonly used tool of ignoring a dog is nothing else than the withholding of your attention for undesired behaviour and works particularly well for attention seeking behaviour at home.
Rewards-based training works best for teaching neutral behaviours (eg. most commands and tricks) and is most suited for highly motivated dogs. You can achieve a lot without aversives if you are great at reward-based training and are managing your dog well. The more you manage your dog, the more you can reward and the less you need to correct. When we say “manage” we mean how you control your dogs access and exposure to the environment.
In our system, reward-based training forms the foundation for teaching behaviours and behaviour markers are at the core of our communication channels. We aim to build motivation in a dog for the things he wants, so that rewards become more valuable and the learning more potent.
These are behaviours that have intrinsic value to the dog. Each time a dog rehearses such behaviours, they are more likely to repeat them in the future. Behaviours like chasing, chewing, digging, stealing food, running away feel good to the dog as chemicals like adrenalin and endorphins are released in the dogs body. Pulling on the leash, jumping up and barking can also be of a self-reinforcing nature.
As such behaviours are rewarding in and of themselves, reward-based training does not work well to stop self-reinforcing behaviours. To effectively address self-reinforcing behaviours Positive Punishment is often necessary.
A term used to describe how easily a dog gets stimulated. A low threshold means the dog is easy to stimulate while a high threshold means the dogs is difficult to stimulate. It is important to understand that a threshold doesn’t say anything about the intensity in behaviour, just about how easy or difficult it is to trigger a dog.
Environmental stressors (ie. sounds, movement, smells, surfaces, environments) as well as tendencies for chasing and territorial behaviours are important thresholds to ideally establish as a baseline in a puppy. For puppies, low thresholds can be modified to high thresholds through using appropriate socialisation. For dogs, behaviour modification is often needed (on top of appropriate socialisation) in order to change threshold levels.
All-positive training is basically reward based training at the exclusion of any aversives. It is limited to two of four quadrants of the operant conditioning toolbox. One can achieve a lot with just positive training, but it requires you to be very skilled and to train your dog a lot. Even then you can’t achieve reliability as all-positive training fails to create boundaries and provide consequences. Nature and life do not work without boundaries and a complete feedback loop, including negative feedback. Without clear boundaries and consequences for breaking those boundaries a dog will simply do whatever he is most motivated by.
REWARD BASED TRAINING
Reward based training basically encompasses Positive reinforcement (eg. rewarding right behaviour with food) and Negative Punishment (eg. withholding of food for wrong behaviour). The often used tool of ignoring a dog is nothing else than the withholding of your attention for undesired behaviour and works particularly well for attention seeking behaviour at home.
Reward based training works best for teaching neutral behaviours (eg. most commands and tricks) and is most suited for highly motivated dogs. You can achieve a lot without compulsion if you are great at reward based training and are managing your dog well. The more you manage your dog, the more you can say “yes” and the less you need to say “no”. When we say “manage” we mean how you control your dogs access and exposure to the environment.
In our system reward based training forms the foundation for working with dogs and behaviour markers are at the core of our communication channels. We aim to build the motivation in your dog for the things he wants, so that rewards become more valuable and the learning impact is more potent.
Compulsion-based training is also called Escape-Avoidance Training. The Escape part in Escape-Avoidance Training is Negative Reinforcement (eg. dog “escapes” / turns off a leash pull by sitting). When using negative reinforcement it is important that the dog knows what we want from him and knows how to turn off the pressure. We use communication style leash and e-collar work to overlay it on existing and known behaviours for more accuracy and added motivation.
The Avoidance Part in Escape-Avoidance Training is Positive Punishment (eg. keening your dog in the chest for jumping up). When using a correction, like a firm leash tug for example, it teaches the dog to avoid the behaviour that lead to the tug. It is crucial that the dog understands what behaviour he is being corrected for. A firm punishment is one the quickest ways to stop a behaviour from reocurring. A firm punishment can be very effective in stoping undesired behaviours, but it can also have undesired side effects such as superstitious associations, increased fear or decreased motivation.
We use Escape-Avoidance training for self-reinforcing behaviours, disobedience for well known behaviours and dogs which are less / only partly motivated for things we can control (food, toys, affection, etc)