Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Time outs - how to have a useful and effective consequence

Postby emmabeth » Mon Jan 30, 2012 6:58 pm - Originally published on

A correctly deployed and wisely used time-out is a very very effective consequence for unwanted behaviour. It is a bit of a grey area as to whether this is a positive punishment or a negative reward, I actually don't think it matters, what matters is how you use it, when you use it and why you use it.

What is it

A time out is when you remove the dog from the room, or yourself from the room, for between 5 and 15 seconds, to provide a clear cut consequence for unwanted behaviour. It needs to be done swiftly and without lots of chatter or recriminations or chasing the dog around, so that the dog can link the time out with his own behaviour.


Fido is barking in the face of Fluffy. Fluffy has a toy Fido would like and he is bullying Fluffy by yelling at her, to give it up. Using my body rather than my hands and voice, I push Fido out of the room, shut the door, count to ten and let him back in.
I repeat this every single time Fido attempts to start bullying Fluffy again for the toy.

What happens...

Done correctly, Fido learns that his behaviour, bullying Fluffy for the toy, results in the opposite of what he wanted. He doesn't get the toy, in fact he gets NO attention whatsoever and his behaviour is interrupted and prevented from working. After a few repetitions, Fido realises this tactic will not work.

Is it really that simple?

Yes - and No.

On the one hand, the basic bones of it is really that simple, however this is positive dog training here - if we just give Fido a time out and we do not ask "Why is Fido bullying Fluffy? we are not thinking dog owners, we will just be using a punishment to eradicate a symptom.

A time out is a useful consequence as one element of a behaviour modification program - used alone, without addressing the underlying issues, without demonstrating to Fido appropriate ways of communicating, without considering Fidos actual needs, it will lead, just as other forms of punishment will, to the behaviour or related behaviour popping up elsewhere.

So lets go back to Fido and Fluffy - we need to know more about them!

Fido is a 8 month old terrier pup - Fluffy is a 2 year old Deerhound b itch. This means neither of them are mature adult animals. Fido has a huge amount of testosterone swirling around his body and these hormones are pushing him to test his boundaries and try out behaviours to see where they get him. Fluffy hasn't the confidence or maturity to do anything about him bullying her, an older b itch might make a face at him or air-snap, or just get up and walk away but Fluffy isn't old enough for that sort of wise behaviour yet.

We can't stop Fido being a juvenile male dog, and we can't magically make Fluffy become a wise, sensible lady - they are who they are. So what can we do?


Dog's don't really do sharing all that well, it isn't natural, so ideally (not that any of us live in an ideal world), if we make sure that Fido and Fluffy are kept mentally as well as physically exercised, with lots of training, games, walks of suitable distances for their age. If we make sure there ARE plenty of toys to go around, and that we rotate these toys daily so a different selection is available each day, we occupy their minds by feeding from food dispensing toys and we manage their interactions so there is really no opportunity to compete or vie for the same resources, we can generally prevent such behaviour.

In other examples of unwanted behaviour there are other ways of preventing it - it is up to us to find those ways (and to deal with it when we make a mistake as we inevitably will), and to offer appropriate outlets for necessary behaviour. That means giving the dog who chews furniture and wallpaper access to lots of chewy toys and foods and limited access to furniture and wallpaper, giving the dog who is addicted to your smelly socks and underwear lots of opportunities to track scents on cue and no opportunities to get at our dirty laundry, etc etc!


We can identify when the behaviour is likely to occur - ie, when Fido is bored, when he is antsy, when he is full of energy, when he doesn't have his own toy, and when Fluffy has something that looks interesting. Because we can do that, we can and we should step in first. The time to react is before Fido gets into a full on tantrum, bullying Fluffy. If you can spot him eyeballing Fluffy's toy, getting himself in a tizz, you can offer him another toy and a game with you that should be more rewarding. You could take him to another room and play with him there, you could do some clicker training with him or some impulse control games. There are a multitude of ways you could distract Fido before he starts to bully Fluffy.

So when do I use a time out

When you are sure that you are meeting your dogs physical and mental needs, and you are doing your best to pre-empt unwanted behaviour and distract your dog or 'change the subject' with him before he goes down the route of unwanted behaviour, then when you mess up, when you miss that chance to pre-empt, when despite your endeavors to meet your dogs needs, he does the unwanted thing anyway** then you time out.

**Lots of us will have dogs who have developed unwanted behaviours already, either through our own errors or the errors made by previous owners - then we take steps to do all three at the same time and we need to use the time outs.

The point I am making here is, time outs have to be used thoughtfully and carefully and in conjunction with pre-empting behaviours and taking steps to prevent them occurring in the first place. To use them otherwise is little better than waiting for your dog to mess up then pointlessly shouting No at it.

Common errors in using time outs

Asides from the obvious, using time outs without attempting to think about why the dog is behaving that way, how we can pre-empt and prevent that and provide appropriate outlets for the behaviour where relevant, these are the common mistakes:

1/ Putting the dog out of the room for several minutes or even longer.
It is tempting to think that a time out of 5 minutes to 30 minutes or more will be more effective than just 5 to 15 seconds. It really isn't.

When you time a dog out for 5 seconds, you provide a short, sharp, clear consequence that is easily linked by the dog, to the action/behaviour/thing he was doing and thinking about at the time the consequence occurred.
If you leave that dog shut out of the room for much more than this, they forget - they wander off, they start focussing on how they are shut out and alone and sad, they start barking or shredding carpet or they fall asleep. Whatever happens, they forget what happened and why it happened and the message is lost.

2/ Human inconsistency.

This is a biggy - a time out has to happen as soon as the behaviour starts (ie as soon as the dog thinks of doing it!) and it has to happen every time as well.

Humans being what they are, ie, sloppy, inconsistent creatures - we ignore it, we think oh I will get up in a minute, we are watching tv we are eating our meal, we are talking on the phone or having a natter with our partner. Whatever, but the more inconsistent we are, the worse the behaviour will become because once you are inconsistent you are telling the dog sometimes this behaviour can happen. If there is a 'sometimes' then the dog will ALWAYS try it. Just think about the sometimes and the maybes in your life - sometimes you will win at bingo. Sometimes that horse will come in. Sometimes the girl will say yes...

We bet on sometimes, we repeat behaviours that work 'sometimes'.

How often do you repeat a behaviour that works never?

3/ The Extinction Burst

Linked to the 'sometimes' issue - this is where a dog is juuuuuuust about to get the idea that this behaviour works never - just before that happens, they try harder! And very very frequently the human sees this and interprets it wrongly as the method not working, and gives up.

What is actually happening is not freaky or unusual, in fact its something we humans do all the time. If a thing always worked before, well its worth trying a little harder when it stops working.
The tv starts to blip, but it always worked before so in frustration, you hit it - bingo, it works. Now you hit it every time it blips, and one day that doesn't work. Do you give up and buy a new tv immediately?

No - you hit it twice!

Your car always starts, until one day it doesn't - you turn the key a few more times, it starts, so now you have learned to try three times instead of once. When it doesn't work on the third try.. do you immediately head over to the car sales place and buy a new one? Nope. You turn the key four times, five times...

Even really OBVIOUS things, we will try harder.

You come into the house and you flick the lightswitch - it doesn't come on - you flick it again. Now - even when you walk into the house, and there is no electrical noise, all the street lights outside are off, none of your neighbours have their lights on, ie, your entire environment tells you there is a power cut, there is no juice in the whole street.... you STILL flick the light switch don't you.

So, when your dog tries something that has always worked, and now it doesn't - he would be a total dummy to NOT try it again at least once or twice!

4/ Three strikes and you're out

This generally won't work and just makes the whole process longer and less effective. You have to prevent the behaviour working every single time, and because dogs cannot reason quite the same way as kids (and heck, small children don't reason anywhere NEAR as well as adults think they do either!) this is not a helpful strategy.

5/ Chasing the dog around, grabbing the dog, shouting at the dog

This again muddies up the message you are giving to your dog. Don't argue, wheres the point arguing with a dog. Don't yell or grab or hit, that just sends the message that YOU are scarypants and need to be avoided and it takes the dogs focus from whatever he was doing, to YOU and your behaviour.

Set yourself up so that either you remove the dog, or you remove yourselves, depending on what the problem is, with the least amount of fuss possible. This may mean instructing a visitor to step outside the room adn close the door over and over again, this may mean putting a harness and trailing house line on the dog. Whatever it takes, you have a huge human brain and you can think of ways around this problem!

6/ Giving up too soon!

Some dogs, for some behaviours will take five, ten, twenty five repetitions of the time out - you must be prepared to jump up and time out the dog every time, over and over and over and over. For long standing, ingrained behaviours it is hard work and you must be on the ball and you must not quit. Also be ready to reward heavily the first signs that your dog is getting it and actively choosing NOT to repeat that behaviour, you may only get a split second opportunity with some dogs!

The first time you start doing this it can be very hard work and very frustrating. If you have a dog with a really irritating and long standing issue, for example, barking AT you for long periods, you may find it better to actively set up a day to get started, a day where your meals will be portable, stand up type food, where no visitors will come, where the phone is off the hook. Do be reassured that after the first session it is rarely ever as bad again!

The other trick to use if you think your dog REALLY isn't getting it, is to 'change the subject' - ie, if you have done a million repetitions of the time out, and Doggo is still persisting and you don't know why and you fear you might lose your rag - instead of letting Doggo back into the room, YOU go out and you take him for a walk or you go in the yard and play, anything other than what was happening before. Go and chill out doing something else, something easy, and think the problem through and see if you cannot employ pre-empting or prevention to better effect in future.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

"I don't want to think I've been doing it wrong...."

"... because that makes me feel bad. So I won't listen, but I will carry on doing things the way I have been doing them."

Yes. Even if they are wrong!

To get back to context - I'm talking about breaking the news to someone that the methods they are using to train their dogs are wrong, for a number of reasons.

  • Involve pain or fear or startling their dog
  • Carry the risk of 'fall out', i.e. unwanted and unpleasant side effects
  • Don't address the root cause of the unwanted behaviour
  • Are confrontational and risk personal injury to the handler
  • Suppress unwanted behaviour rather than actually fix the problem

When I have to address someone's dog training or dog behaviour problem, the urge is to tell them all of the above, because they NEED to know all this, right?

Well... yeeeeeeeeees... but...

Most people will be put on the defensive if you tell them they have been doing it all wrong, they may well (they almost certainly DO) love their dogs very dearly, but you make them feel bad, and they will go into denial, and that means they will keep ON using those methods, because to change, means admitting they are wrong!

Yep, they fear they are wrong, which does mean that your words have in some way hit home, they can determine a grain of truth in there as unpleasant as it is to recognise, and they don't want to hear it.

But they need to know it's wrong.... !!

Eventually, yes, but they don't need to HEAR this from you - come on, you are at least a fan, if not a professional user of positive reinforcement training. When you make someone feel bad about what they have done, what they are doing, do you know what happens?

You become the aversive. 

They want to avoid you, you are the aversive here, you make them uncomfortable, they are experiencing positive punishment but the behaviour that will reduce is not what you want, their behaviour toward their dog! Nope, the behaviour that will reduce is 'listening to and being around YOU'...

Sometimes just as some dogs will redirect and use aggressive behaviour toward someone doing something unpleasant to them, people will do the same - you are the messenger... BANG!

Bu... wha... how... Ok, what do I do then?

First of all, avoid wherever possible, giving advice to people who did not ask for it! Those people are the LEAST likely to listen to you.

If you absolutely  must, because you fear their dog is suffering right now then tread carefully my friend, tread very carefully indeed.

Don't wade in there telling them they are doing wrong, the chances are the situation is already fraught, they already feel bad in some way to be doing what they are doing - if you go in hurling abuse or telling them, no matter how politely, how wrong they are, they are likely to at best, ignore you and at worst, punch you.

Instead, be sympathetic, avoid blame, offer a workable solution.

You see someone yanking their dog on a lead because it won't walk nicely, they are getting dragged about, the dog is getting a sore neck.

If you wade in and tell them all about collapsed tracheas, and how barbaric choke collars are (or prongs or whatever they are using)... you are not helping, you are not part of the solution.

If you could go over and say 'hey that looks like real hard work, you have my sympathy, I've been there and has anyone shown you this' and then go on to demonstrate luring a loose leash walk with food or suggesting a make of harness that is secure along with a training class... you MIGHT.. just MIGHT help that dog out in future.

There is still a high chance you'll be told to get to fuck and mind your own business - but it's a better chance than just wading in all guns blazing!

Ok.. so what about people who DO ask for advice, they definitely want help yes?

Erm well.. not always!

Some people will want you to wave a magic wand -  hey presto, problem solved.
Some people will actually want advice and solutions they can work on themselves.
Some people want advice but won't put in any work, but hey at least they can say they tried....!
Some people want you to tell them that they are justified in what they are doing, or it's not their fault they can't fix the problem.

So it's not a case of being able to crash in telling folk what's wrong and what needs to change, even if they DID express a desire for advice!

Again, you need to be sympathetic, empathetic, listen to them, give them as much positive reinforcement as you can, manage them, redirect them into the behaviours or attitudes or conclusions you want them to reach...

Yep just the same as training dogs!

Let's meet Mrs Thing. She's completely fictitious yet very very real at the same time.

She has a dog called Rover, he wears a prong collar because he's huge and she's tiny, he wears a shock collar so he can go out in the yard for some freedom as there is no physical fence up. Mrs Thing ADORES  Rover, she kicked her last boyfriend out for teasing him, she lives alone apart from the dog, but she was raised to train dogs by using punishment.

Rover pulls on the lead, he's pulled her over, he likes to rant and rave at people passing by and at other dogs and if he is in the yard when the postman comes he goes absolutely nuts, he has bitten two delivery people already and UPS won't deliver to Mrs Thing's address any more.

You cannot present Mrs Thing with the concept that she has been treating her dog cruelly for the last 5 years, even though that is in certain contexts, completely true. Mrs Thing has also adored this dog, fed him, taken him to the vet, cuddled him, allowed him up on her bed, spent thousands on him... the things she has done to train him she felt were necessary, deep down she didn't like doing them, but in her mind there WAS no alternative, she's done this for his own good...

Rover needs you to be Mrs Thing's friend and advisor and for that, Mrs Thing needs to trust you and listen to you - if she feels you've put your judgey-pants on and are telling her she's cruel, she is not going to trust and listen to you!

So, find something to reward - everyone likes to hear how awesome their dog is, so tell her, Rover is an amazing, stunning, fabulous, squishable dog, he's gorgeous, you'd LOVE a dog like him.

Find out the things Rover is good at, if possible find out in a 'show and tell' kinda way, if he is good at tricks or solving puzzles, see that happen - I take puzzle toys to all consults with me because aside from being an invaluable tool for assessing a dogs brain and how they solve a puzzle, it's also AWESOME for an owner to see, in front of a witness, how smart their dog is!

Somedays you have to work hard to find something to praise but believe me, there will be something, find it, use it.

Now Mrs Thing is listening to you, now you and she share something, you both recognise how amazing Rover is, that's money in the 'trust' bank between you and her.

To address the problems, ask Mrs Thing not what she wants to STOP happening, but what she would like to SEE happening INSTEAD.

So we aren't worrying about Rover pulling on the lead and lunging at other dogs - why not, because we are here to teach Rover to walk on a nice loose lead and focus on his person!

At some point Mrs Thing will eventually ask if what she's been doing is wrong - at this point you may be forced to agree BUT... do so tactfully and sensitively.

Explain that in whatever situation applies, MOST people feel the need to do the thing she's been doing, it's NORMAL, reassure her that it is perfectly understandable, she wasn't to know and crucially, move on quickly because the past is the past, it doesn't matter now because NOW she's going to be doing this cool stuff.

If you've handled this really carefully, instead of YOU having to tell someone something nasty, they realise that for themselves, and then there is no messenger to shoot!

You are the person who is providing the solution, you are giving them the feel-goods, you say nice things about them and their dog, so they will continue to listen to you!

It's also worth remembering, there's no point having someone come to a point where they realise even for themselves that what they were doing was wrong, if they have not been set up to understand the solution and the way to redress that issue.

Anyone who is mentally down on themselves, who does not HAVE the answer presented to them in an appealing and easy way to achieve it, is not GOING to achieve it, they WILL fall back on what they did before because they have no other option.

So, if you are going to offer advice to someone who wants to hear it, you must be prepared to give them the tools to cope, set them up to succeed, and if you can't do that... it's probably best you say nothing at all.

"I Know It Sounds Awful But...." ... Evaluating Advice!

I heard that statement last week, well I read it, on Facebook obviously, thats where we all read things these days, apart from those of us who still read books, who ARE you people... erm, I digress (and actually I read books too)...

To give you the context, someone was asking advice on their resource guarding spaniel, he was growling over his food or a bone or something yummy when the owner tried to touch him, they wanted to know what to do to resolve this problem.

"I know it sounds awful but..."

And yep, the following advice WAS awful, the poster advised that each time the dog growled, they should grab the dogs head and force it to the floor and hold it there, saying NO whilst they did so. Apparently they did this with their own dog and it worked, therefore they felt qualified to advise this course of action to others.

Heres the thing - if YOU think a piece of advice involves something that sounds awful - IT PROBABLY IS!That little voice saying 'hey, wait.. that doesn't sound so nice', you want to listen to that, thats there for a reason!

But lets back-track a bit here, this person was advised to do this by someone she thought was a trustworthy authority on the subject - namely a spaniel rescue organisation.

It is not unreasonable to think that someone from an organisation specialising in rescuing your breed, would know how to address training and behavioural problems. The thing is, often they don't know!

Just as it may surprise you to realise many many vets do not know much about dog behaviour and training, nor do many rescues, or dog walkers, and hell... there are even people advertising their training services who don't know their ass from their elbow!

But she said it worked! So thats surely ok yeah?

Well... no. Because when it comes to training or resolving behaviour problems, 'it worked' is just not good enough.

We need to know WHY it worked - otherwise I could advertise myself as a trainer who can cure all problems, then go around curing them by shooting the dogs dead. Extreme, yes, but hell I'd be honestly offering a 100% guarantee that your dog would NEVER: get on the couch, bark at strangers, chase stock, wee indoors, steal food, run away, bite the postman....

So it would work but you wouldn't want that method to be used would you - so you have to agree then, that 'the method works' is actually not good enough for you, because of 'why' - it works because the dog is dead. Dead dogs can't misbehave!

But that's stupid, no one's suggesting shooting the dog.


No, that's called hyperbole, an extreme example that is in fact pretty ridiculous, to prove a point. Do you think it's acceptable if the method works because the dog is scared of you? If the dog fears being hit or grabbed? If the dog is so scared of you he dare not do ANYTHING at all that might get you mad at him?

I think most of us would agree, we do not want our dogs to be scared of us, or to fear our actions. But a few might disagree...

I don't mind if he is a bit scared of me, because THIS behaviour is dangerous and has to stop.

Ok, no one is disagreeing that things like aggression around food need to stop, but the seriousness of a behavioural problem does not increase justification for using methods that work by causing fear or pain.

There is a common idea that serious problems, particularly problems involving aggressive behaviours, require harsh methods to fix them.

This could not be further from the truth, really!

All unwanted behaviour requires you to work out why it is happening, and address the root cause of the problem, very often it is fear. Problems involving aggressive behaviour almost always mean fear is the root cause. Do you think treating fear by causing MORE fear is a good idea? Really?

But that lady said she used it with her dog and her dog is fine now and isn't scared of her...

She might well have said that, and it might even be true - but dogs are really context specific about their learning. That means that, to use a human example, if a human learned like a dog learns, say to change their car tyre, and they learned this on their driveway as most people do.

They would NOT know how to change their car tyre in the garage, or on the road side, or on the hard shoulder, or when Uncle Bob was there, or in Tesco's carpark with the kids yelling and bawling...

Because all of those are different contexts, and dogs have to experience something in LOTS of different contexts before it is learned.

So how does that apply to Fluffy the Spaniel who 'learned' not to growl when her owner touched her when she was eating?

What the owner did was to pin Fluffy down by her head and say NO in a firm voice and hold her down whenever she growled over food. This always happened in the owner's kitchen, it always happened at meal times and it always happened when just the owner was present.

Thats a very specific context - what do you think might happen if Fluffy had a bone that she found, in the park, and a toddler wandered over to stroke her?

Has Fluffy REALLY learned that she must not growl at people near her food, or has she learned that it does not end well if she growls at her owner in the kitchen in her own home over her own food bowl.

There is an exception to the rule though - dogs CAN learn certain lessons, and generalise them to apply to all situations very very quickly.
That time is when fear is involved, when they feel as if their own safety is threatened - that's not some sort of weird magic, it's the way we all learn about danger, to stay alive!

SO the reality is that Fluffy MAY have learned not to growl at her owner in the context of a meal in her own kitchen, because in her mind the danger is her owner will do something horrid.

Fluffy might ALSO have learned that now it isn't just food in her own kitchen she must be careful around, now she's learned that whenever she has ANYTHING tasty or valuable to her, ANYONE approaching her ANYWHERE is a threat.

So, do we think there is now a high risk of Fluffy turning around in the park, with her bone, and biting that toddler?

You bet your life there is!

So even if you believe that we don't always have to be nice to our dogs, that sometimes it's justified to be nasty - ask yourself, do you believe it's sensible to use a method that creates a higher risk or an even worse problem than the original?

I suppose IF the only way of teaching a dog something were to use the nasty method, maybe it would be justified...

I bet you are going to say it isn't the only way...

You are spot on - there are MUCH more effective, safe and kind methods you can use, for even the most scary sounding situations.

Let's look at Fluffy again, she's growling when her owner tries to touch her as she is eating food. Why? Because she is eating her food, who wants to be messed with then! Also because food is highly valuable to dogs (it's highly valuable to us too, just go try stealing something from even a loved ones plate and you'll see!), they naturally want to protect it, and themselves whilst eating it.

Aggressive behaviour whilst eating is actually NOT an abnormal behaviour, it is a perfectly normal one - when you understand that a growl (or the preceeding body language, freezing, staring, lip curling, making a toothy-face) IS just a communication "hey, back off buddy this is my food here, I don't like you being so close! " and NOT some sort of personal insult, you'll realise that growling over food is not nearly such a big deal as long as everyone around the dog can respect their space and leave them alone.

Of course it is also a sign that your dog is anxious about you being near his food, and if you don't at the very least manage it so that he never has to eat around people, it could become a bigger problem.

This is NOT because the dog is 'bad' or 'aggressive', it's because he already has this fear of losing his food in his mind, he could easily misinterpret totally innocent actions by people, particularly by children, which would make his fear worse.

So, now we understand why - first of all manage it so it can't get worse - feed him in a room on his own, pop the bowl down, call him in, walk away. Simple.

Now we have to change his ideas about what it means when someone is near him, and he eats. Currently, he is worried, we need to make him happy!

For dogs, actions speak far louder than words - keep this in mind. If you go and try to take his food bowl even if you want to put something else in it  he is going to ONLY see that you are taking his bowl, this is a bloody brilliant way to get yourself bitten, and make a food aggression problem worse!

So, what can we do? We can't put more food in whilst he is eating, because dogs can't count, he won't realise that there is more in there.

We have to wait until he is done - so give him most of his dinner, walk away, when you think he's on his last mouthful, come back, SLOWLY and when you are five feet away or so (further if he is uncomfortable at this distance) you THROW the remaining pieces of kibble at his bowl (if you feed meat then use a few biscuits or bits of cheese). Ideally they land in his bowl but it's not the end of the world if you can't throw for shit, the point is you came near, but not TOO near, and he got MORE FOOD (he might not be able to count, but he sure as heck knows the difference between 'food all gone' and 'woo, more food').

DO this every few days, don't do it every day, you want him to WANT this to happen, doing it every day could cause more stress than anything else.

You need to be looking for his body language to change as you approach, you want a soft, wiggly happy looking dog who is looking at you like 'hey, is there more food?'.

Keep tossing those bits into the bowl, go slowly and don't rush in, you are building up trust here and you can't force anyone to trust you, you have to earn it!

IF you take this slowly, at his pace, and you use a decent treat or yummy food you will see that over the course of a week or two, he starts to relax and begins to WANT you to approach to put the food in his bowl.

That's what we wanted, from there you can build it up to ask him to back off his food bowl whilst you put more in, or touch him if you need to - but do keep in mind, these things are NOT necessary to do whilst he is eating, so don't take the piss and mess him around. Even if you bring more food, no one likes to be messed about with whilst eating.

The same methods apply if your dog has a juicy bone or other chewy treat - approach at a distance that is safe, throw MORE FOOD to him. It will take longer with a really high value thing like a bone because unless you throw more bones, what he has is worth more than what you are offering - but the same principle applies, your approach does NOT result in anything horrid, only NICE things.

Now, this version of Fluffy expects people to give more food when he has food - what do we think THIS Fluffy will do when he finds a bone in the park and a toddler wobbles up to him?

Even though it is out of context, he has no reason to fear that he will lose his bone, if his owners have done a good job in getting other people to reward him around food, and have practiced rewarding him when he has bones too, there's a really good chance that Fluffy will expect food, then see that the toddler has no food and ignore them, because they are irrelevant!

Most likely, if Fluffy isn't too keen around kids, the chances are he's going to pick up that bone and move away!

Doesn't that seem a better than the risk that Fluffy would bite the child? I think so!

So - when you are asking advice from people, evaluate it carefully! If it starts with 'this sounds awful but' then the chances are it IS awful. If it sounds as if it involves doing something unpleasant to the dog, the chances are it's likely to create a worse problem, or involve risk - after all, what do we think Fluffy's owners would have done if instead of accepting being pinned down and shouted at, she'd snapped and bitten the owners hand? How would that improve the situation for anyone?

For any advice you read or hear, ask yourself 'is this the most effective, SAFE and KIND way to deal with the problem, or does this method carry a hidden cost I won't want to pay, such as my dog biting me, my dog being scared of me, my dog developing a more serious problem'.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Crate Training... no you don't just lock the dog in and wait for him to shut up!

So I have to admit, I have returned from the National Bite Prevention Conference at RAF Odiham, more than a little bit inspired!

In  a bid to get this written down rather than randomly blart information at people like a nutter, here's a guide on crate training the right way - and when I say the right way, I mean the effective, KIND, way so that neither you nor your pup/dog suffer any undue stress!

There is as you may have guessed (though many people don't!), quite a bit more to it than just shoving the dog in, shutting the door and ignoring them until they shut up. In fact, crate training should not involve ANY shoving, shutting the dog in, or ignoring, AT ALL!

Ok so, what do I do then?

First of all, consider how you want your pup to feel about being in his crate. You may want pup to sleep in there (in your room please!) or to travel in there or to be happy to rest in there whilst you are busy, or all of these things.

Crates used properly can help with toilet training and provide a safe space for a pup to go to when they want some peace and quiet - it can also be very useful if you need to take your pup away with you on holiday or if they have to stay in the vets for any length of time.

We want a pup to feel relaxed and happy about being crated, we want the crate to become a place they associate with chilling out, chewing on a toy or sleeping, in other words, it is a NICE and CALM place!

So we won't achieve any of that by locking him in and ignoring his screams of frustration and fear!

Ok ok, I got that... so now what?

So, arm yourself with a crate the right size for your pup (big enough to turn around, stand up, lie down and stretch), line it with a comfy bed, some vet bed, a fleece blanket or two - stuff that is easily washed and dried and provides a good level of comfort!

You also need some very high value rewards - chopped up hot dog sausage, bits of cheese, chopped up cocktail sausages, roast chicken pieces etc etc - as I very frequently state, shop bought dog treats are NOT high value, Bonios and Gravy bones SUCK!
As a guideline of treat size,  from one cocktail sausage you should be able to get 20 or even 40 tiny treat sized morsels, we are NOT feeding whole sausages here, tiny tasty bits please!

For the later stages,  have a couple of toys you can stuff with food such as Kongs, Linkables etc.

If you have conditioned your pup to a clicker or marker word such as YES! then you can use this but its not crucial.

Sit on the floor by the crate with your puppy, show him the treats and toss a handful into the crate, he should follow and eat them.

Here's the huge secret that most of us wouldn't figure out...

Do not close the door on the puppy. Allow him to come out the second he wants to, but he gets no treats for coming out!
The crate is where these treats happen, get him to go back in for more treats, this time see if you can encourage him to stay in by adding more treats through the side bars of your crate. If he stays in a few seconds this is where you can click or use your marker word, if he settles down, huge praise and more treats!

When you get to the point where your pup is dashing into the crate because he has figured out it makes you give him treats, then you can think about pushing the door closed.

If at ANY time he wants to come out, let him out. Do not hesitate, do not linger, do not think 'I'll just make him wait one second' - the SPLIT second your pup wants out, he can get out. This is honestly and truly the way to teach a pup that a crate is a SAFE place to be, even if it feels counter intuitive right now.

Letting your pup come out of the crate the second he wants to is a huge part of increasing his confidence in being in the crate.

Animals are VERY highly aware of when they are trapped, and feeling trapped means a huge increase in stress, anxiety and fear - we feel it too, hence the number of people who are claustrophobic, who get stressed in lifts or other tight spaces!

By teaching your pup he can come out whenever he likes, you increase his confidence, and when he is completely relaxed and confident about the crate, he will WANT to stay in it and you can teach him to stay in it for longer and longer periods.

You should be doing this training in very short sessions several times a day, and end each session on a high note, even if it means the session turned out a little shorter than you had planned. Never ever push a dog too far for 'just one more go'!

Once pup can stay in the crate for a few minutes with the door pushed closed, you can attempt to lock the door, for just a second. Try not to build this too fast and mix things up a bit, don't go from door pushed shut to door locked to door locked and you walking away, because he will soon realise that EVERY time he goes in the crate he is locked in and you leave him!

Instead mix it up, if he can stay in the crate with the door pushed to for a few minutes, then add in you stepping away for a second or two then. If he is good in the crate for five minutes with the door shut, add in some sessions where you don't even shut the door.

Once your puppy can lie in the crate for more than a couple of minutes, it's time to introduce a toy filled with something tasty, such as a Kong, or his meal in a bowl (or his meal stuffed into a kong!)

If you put in the work, it is possible to crate train a puppy to be happy shut in his crate for half an hour within a couple of weeks - but ONLY if you take it at his pace. If you start rushing, you will teach him that being locked in is nasty and he should avoid it at all cost!