Archive for Learning Theory

Becoming a Positive Reinforcement Dog Trainer

Have you ever watched a video (or even a live presentation) of a “new” method and felt your world rock? There are lots of gurus in the dog training world; people who have a new training system that will make your life easier, and your animal training a breeze. That’s one of the key goals in becoming a positive reinforcement dog trainer.

The truth is, there is no new method out there. Every method that’s out there can be explained through basic learning theory. When you hear a trainer talk about a revolutionary new method of training, be wary! You can get that same information for a lot less money, and probably a lot less wear and tear on your animal, by just understanding basic learning theory.

Positive reinforcement dog training (clicker training)

Here are a few examples:

  • Watch Me – positive reinforcement
  • BAT – negative reinforcement
  • Clicker Training (as a philosophy) – positive reinforcement
  • LAT (Look at That) – positive reinforcement
  • The Horse Whisperer – negative punishment, some negative reinforcement
  • Natural Dog Training – positive reinforcement
  • Parelli – negative reinforcement
  • Syn Alia – hard to tell, probably negative reinforcement

You’ll notice that almost all of these (with one exception) are either negative or positive reinforcement. That makes sense, because the goal is to increase behavior, rather than reduce it.

Often, there is really good information to be had by watching and listening to these experienced trainers; so, we don’t want to dismiss them out of hand. For instance, in “Watch Me,” Patricia McConnell introduces the idea of an autowatch. Again, there’s nothing new about this – it’s simply a conditioned stimulus for a particular behavior – but, it’s a very useful concept in dog training. However, the method and how the animal is learning is not new.

In the process of becoming a positive reinforcement dog trainer, it’s very important to understand what is going on when watching another trainer. BAT is a great example of this. It seems very gentle, and there’s a lot of discussion about letting the animal decide. This all sounds really great; however, it’s still negative reinforcement, which is an aversive. I want to clarify that I have no problem with BAT, and I think trainers should have this tool in their toolbox. But it should not be the first option – Watch Me is very similar and is positive reinforcement, so should be the first choice. If, for some reason, Watch Me doesn’t work, then pull BAT out of your toolbox.

I recommend watching dog training videos with the sound off. That allows you to ignore what the instructor is saying, and actually watch what is happening. Of course, you must first have a good grounding in learning theory, or you won’t have the knowledge you need to identify specific techniques.

If you find this information intriguing, I will be presenting a webinar on this topic. We’ll view videos of various “systems” and analyze them. You’ll be surprised at what you learn! For more information on this webinar, go to Method Comparison – a Critical Look at 7 Different Methods for Fear-Based Aggression

Susan Smith, CPDT-KA, CDBC is the owner of Raising Canine, LLC, which provides remote education for professional dog trainers and dog behavior consultants, as well as business and marketing educations and consulting to help their businesses, including an intensive course for those wanting to become professional dog trainers. Sue is also the co-author of the book “Positive Gun Dogs: Clicker Training for Sporting Breeds.” Sue is certified through CCPDT and IAABC. She is an ex-Board member for the CCPDT, an active, professional member of CCPDT, APDT, and IAABC, and was named APDT Member of the Year. Sue also owns East Valley Dog Training in the San Tan Valley of Arizona.

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Professional Dog Trainers: Learning Theory

Understanding how animals learn is a helpful tool for professional dog trainers

Let me count the ways. No matter what field you’re in, the more you know, the better you are. Knowledge is a powerful tool and gives its possessor a leg up on the competition. If you want to increase your dog trainer salary, you should be studying dog behavior and how animals learn. There are many ways to do this – conferences, weekend seminars, on-line dog trainer courses, webinars, books, magazines . . .

Understanding learning theory also helps understand behavior

Learning theory is our scientific understanding of how animals learn. This includes overriding concepts such as Thorndike’s Law of Effect (a response that produces a desirable effect is more likely to occur again in that situation, and a response that produce an undesirable effect is less likely to occur again in that situation), and deeper-dive concepts such as how to shape behavior and the advantages and possible pitfalls of doing so (resurgence, small criteria increases, contiguity of reinforcement, high ROR, etc.).

However, for professional animal trainers, just the simple act of studying learning theory also requires us to study behavior, because the two intersect. For instance, learning theory teaches us that behavior must be reinforced if it is going to be maintained. That leads us to look at a behavior problem and wonder what is maintaining that behavior – what’s the motivation/reinforcement? Learning theory allows us to be more systematic in our study of behavior and rely less on traditional lore and supposition, and actually identify the root causes of the behavior.

When you don’t know why the animal you’re training isn’t responding to your protocol, you can go back to the basics (because you know the basics!)

Learning theory also teaches us why behavior happens and what must be present for behavior to happen. So, when we’re stuck, we can go back to the basics: timing, motivation, criteria, rate of reinforcement. These are the basics, and if behavior isn’t changing when a protocol has been implemented, it’s going to be one or more of these factors. Of course, we can dig much deeper into each of these categories, as well – for instance, professional dog trainers might discuss generalization, but that’s really a function of criteria. Regardless, knowing these rules and principles can only help us.

I need a dog trainer! My dog eats my stuff.

When a client asks you a “Why does my dog . . .?) question, you’ll be able to speak with authority – even if you don’t know why

When you can speak knowledgeably on behavior, learning, and training, when you don’t know the answer to something you can say so and maintain your credibility. You can also tell your client that you don’t know the answer, but your best guess is . . . I write an “Ask the Trainer” column for my small local paper. Someone asked me why her pug likes to sleep under the covers. Well, I don’t know! It could be any number of reasons. But, I was able to put forth some ideas – one had to do with the breeding and another with the practical aspect of comfort.

When challenged with an outdated idea or training model, you can speak with authority on why it’s outdated

Although our industry has come a long way in the last twenty to thirty years, it will be a long time before people get the idea of “dominance” out of their heads. When we are challenged by a client, a competitor, or possibly a veterinarian, we can give logical, science-based reasons for dominance not being a valid behavioral model. There are many other strange ideas out there as well, and understanding how animals learn and why they behave as they do can only help us.

It increases your credibility with potential clients and veterinarians

Similar to the topic of clients asking you a question about their animal’s behavior, having good knowledge at the ready increases your credibility. Remember that veterinarians are scientists, at heart. They like information to be based on science, and understand that model.

You can carry on intelligent discourse with your peers

More and more trainers are becoming familiar with how animals learn – some have a deep knowledge, some have a rudimentary knowledge, but they have knowledge. Understanding the terminology and the concepts helps us discuss behavior problems with our peers in a productive way. We’re all on the same page with language and understanding, and our discussions become streamlined and efficient. I highly encourage those wanting to become a dog trainer to get started on the right path and study how animals learn.

It’s fun!

Not everyone will agree with this statement, but I think it’s fun, so I’m sticking’ with it!

At the end of August, I will be presenting a webinar called Understanding Learning Theory. This is a great course for beginners, those getting ready to sit for the CPDT-KA exam, or as a refresher for those who need it. For more information on this course, go to https://www.raisingcanine.com/course/understanding-learning-theory/. While you’re there, don’t forget to check out the hundreds of great on-demand webinars Raising Canine offers – you can find them at this link:  https://www.raisingcanine.com/education/od-webinars/.

Susan Smith, CPDT-KA, CDBC is the owner of Raising Canine, LLC, which provides remote education for professional dog trainers and dog behavior consultants, as well as business and marketing educations and consulting to help their businesses, including an intensive course for those wanting to become professional dog trainers. Sue is also the co-author of the book “Positive Gun Dogs: Clicker Training for Sporting Breeds.” Sue is certified through CCPDT and IAABC. She is an ex-Board member for the CCPDT, an active, professional member of CCPDT, APDT, and IAABC, and was named APDT Member of the Year. Sue also owns East Valley Dog Training in the San Tan Valley of Arizona.

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Courses For Dog Trainers: Nature vs. Nurture

Dog training courses can help you learn how to deal with behavior problems caused by both nature . . .

and nurture!

Ah, the age old question “Which has more influence over our behavior? Nature or nurture?” And, of course the answer has gone back and forth like a ping pong ball for decades. Fortunately, today there are enough good courses for dog trainers which address this question so that we don’t have to continue to debate the issue. The real answer is that the two are inseparable.

What it really boils down to is, you can’t do something if you are not genetically capable of doing it – i.e., pigs can’t fly – and you won’t do something you’re genetically capable of doing unless there’s an environmental stimulus – i.e., blink your eyes. Of course there are various bodily functions such as heart beats, that don’t need a stimulus in the way we think of them, and there are others, such as pupil dilation, that do need an environmental stimulus. But for most behavior – particularly the behavior professional dog trainers deal with – we need some kind of a stimulus and that stimulus usually comes from the environment.

In developing effective courses for dog trainers, an important question needs to be answered. How do nature and nurture affect us as professionals, particularly when using positive dog training techniques where you don’t just force the dog to do what you want? This is a very important concept for those just learning to become a professional dog trainer, as well as those who have been at it for a while. So let’s explore the question in more depth.

(I want to preface this section by saying that there is a lot of new understanding about genetics and heritability which may refute some of what I’m about to say. I am not a geneticist, so my knowledge is pretty basic.)

The ability to learn is genetic. But what we learn is not heritable. So we can be born with an ability to learn certain things, and every species is more susceptible to learning certain types of things. For instance, a horse is more likely to learn to be afraid of a snake than of a boulder – because a snake is more dangerous to the horse. A grizzly bear is likely to take to the water and learn to fish more easily than a camel – because a good portion of a grizzly’s diet is fish, and none of a camel’s diet is fish (not to mention there’s not a whole lot of water in camel territory).

So, as animal trainers, we need to take into account what the animal is designed to do – and this is a function of nature. Dogs, in particular, have been bred for certain traits which do affect their behavior. For instance, Corgis tend to nip at people’s heels, herd children, and bark, because this is what they were bred to do. Corgis were bred to herd cattle and sheep by nipping at their legs. Their barking probably helped herd the animals and also alerted shepherds to potential problems.

Not all breeds act like Corgis – for instance, most terriers love to dig, grab, and shake. For the most part, terriers were used to keep the vermin population down. Many vermin live in the earth, so terriers became diggers – in fact, the word “terrier” derives from the Greek work “terra” which means earth. Also, their job was to catch and kill said vermin, so they love to grab and shake.

And even other herding dogs don’t act exactly like Corgis. Although there will be some overlap in behavioral motor patterns between all herding dogs, such as controlling others’ movement, each breed has a specialty, almost always based on the terrain in which they work. For instance, Border Collies are famous for their “eye,” which helps to control the sheep they are herding.

These examples illustrate the great behavioral differences between dogs, brought about by selective breeding. Although most other animals are not as selectively bred as dogs, there are some domestic animals that are – such as horses. If you’re a horse person, you’ll be aware of behavioral differences between horse breeds.

But even with all this genetic influence, nurture still plays a big role in behavior. Corgi’s need something to bark at – even if it’s just a leaf falling from a tree. And terriers need something to grab and shake – which is why they love squeaky toys!

We can certainly teach Corgis not to bark, and terriers not to shake. The question is, should we? These are natural behaviors that need an outlet and these behaviors can be quite problematic for dogs living with humans. In fact, if there is no outlet for these behaviors, you may see behavioral problems develop in other areas, such as obsessive compulsive disorders.

With the advent of positive dog training methods and the many courses for dog trainers now available, we’re learning how to provide our dogs with an outlet for these normal behaviors without disrupting our human households. There are toys and activities to address almost every natural need of our domesticated dogs.

So, to put it all in a nutshell, nature is what allows a species to survive. A species adapts to their environment through natural selection and/or mutation. These adaptations should help them find a niche within their environment that hasn’t yet been filled by another species, or is plentiful enough that it can be shared. If the adaptation benefits the species, those individuals who have adapted the best will live to produce offspring with that beneficial adaptation, and those who have not adapted will either die off or find a different niche to adapt to. In other words, natural selection.

Nurture, on the other hand, is how an individual survives. Nurture is the environment we live in, and we all have to learn to survive within our environment. This type of learning is not passed on to our offspring through genetics; however, assuming the parents survive, they can then pass this knowledge on to their offspring through teaching. We’ve all seen animals teaching their young – any species that stays with their young for any length of time will help the offspring to survive, thus giving them the ability to procreate and pass their knowledge to their offspring. And so on.

For those animals who do not stay with their parents once born, it’s probably a bit of a crap shoot, but the ones with the best genetics for the environment – which includes the ability to learn – will survive.

For on-demand courses for dog trainers on this topic, go to the following links: Understanding Learning Theory or Motor Patterns, Drives, Instincts, & Fixed Action Patterns: Important considerations when choosing and training a dog

 Susan Smith, CPDT-KA, CDBC is the owner of Raising Canine, LLC, (www.raisingcanine.com), which provides remote education for professional dog trainers and dog behavior consultants, as well as business and marketing educations and consulting to help their businesses, including an intensive course for those wanting to become professional dog trainers. Sue is also the co-author of the book “Positive Gun Dogs: Clicker Training for Sporting Breeds.” Sue is certified through CCPDT and IAABC. She is an ex-Board member for the CCPDT, an active, professional member of CCPDT, APDT, and IAABC, and was named APDT Member of the Year.

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Positive Dog Training: Is Extinction Effective?

As positive dog training experts, when we get called in to help owners with their dogs, it’s almost always to get rid of behavior that has already been happening and is now a big enough problem they’ve decided to call for help. This can include anything from jumping up to aggression. Of course, the problem with behaviors that have been happening for a while is that they’ve got a solid history of reinforcement behind them, making them much harder to deal with.

Many trainers recommend extinction for annoying behaviors that require reinforcement from the owners, such as jumping up and barking. But just how effective is extinction? Theoretically, it works great. Simply withhold the reinforcement that has previously maintained the behavior. Simple, right?

Not so much, in practice. Owners have to be “on guard” at all times to avoid accidentally reinforcing the behavior. If they accidentally reinforce the behavior, it’ll come back stronger than ever, which often makes them think the behavior is getting worse. It’s very hard to ignore an annoying behavior—and I speak from experience!

I once tried to extinguish my dog’s scratching-at-the-door-to-be-let-in behavior. What a disaster. I’d do really well for a while, then something would happen—I’d be on the phone, talking to someone, doing something—and I’d end up letting him in. And most importantly, I totally understood the science behind extinction—I knew about extinction bursts, spontaneous recovery, resurgence, the importance of consistency, and on, and on, and on. I knew what I needed to know and I still couldn’t do it.

That experience made me start thinking about owners trying to extinguish behavior. If it was that hard for me, how hard must it be for an owner who doesn’t have the depth of knowledge I have, or even just the normal desire to modify behavior that most positive dog training experts have? Probably close to impossible for them. So, that was my turning point in moving from using extinction to straight differential reinforcement with great timing.

Now, having said all that, it’s still very important for trainers to understand extinction because extinction affects behavior in more subtle ways – such as when we raise criteria. So, extinction isn’t all bad – just not a great way for owners to modify behavior.

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Positive Reinforcement Dog Training: Functional Assessment

A functional assessment is a positive reinforcement dog training method for systematically assessing behavior when trying to determine what is setting up the environment to make it easy for the behavior to happen and what is maintaining the behavior. Once we have those two pieces of the puzzle, it makes our job much easier.

It’s important to always remember that behavior has function. Sometimes it’s difficult to understand what that function is, but it’s there and we need to suss it out. There are functional relationships between an antecedent and a behavior, and between a behavior and its consequence. Bringing it down to its simplest form, a functional assessment is designed to determine those functional relationships and get to the heart of positive reinforcement dog training.

Too often we assume we know what’s going on – and probably the majority of the time, we’re right. When a client calls me and says his seven-month-old Belgian Malinois is out of control and never settles down, I have pretty good idea of what’s going on. Lack of training, lack of parameters, lack of consistency.

When someone calls and tells me their eight-month-old English Springer Spaniel is eliminating in the house when the owners are not home, my first assumption will be that the dog is not properly house trained, yet. And this is a reasonable assumption because of the age of the dog. But, what if it’s actually separation anxiety? That’s also very possible.

Let’s go back just a bit and talk about the principle of parsimony. In psychology, the principle of parsimony states that when there are two or more possible explanations using and accounting for the same set of facts, we should first test the simplest, briefest explanation before moving on to a more complex explanation. (You may have heard of this concept under the name Occam’s Razor.)

In addition to the principle of parsimony, those of us belonging to a professional organization will usually have some kind of guide for behavioral intervention and dog training techniques. For the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT), Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDTO, and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC), we have the LIMA principle – “least intrusive, minimally aversive.” At the very top of this hierarchy of interventions is physical and mental well-being.

So, utilizing the LIMA hierarchy and the principle of parsimony, the proper path of intervention would be:

  1. Veterinary check to see if there is a urinary tract infection, bladder infection, etc. In my mind, the fact that the dog is only eliminating in the house when the owners are not home makes this an unlikely explanation. However, if it is the explanation, all the training in the world is not going to solve the problem and the dog will be in distress as long as the problem remains, so we need to rule it out.
  2. Go back to basics on house training.
  3. Check for indications of separation anxiety.

Now, basic house training and separation anxiety checks can be done at the same time. There’s no logical reason to go through an extended period of time working on house training if, in fact, the problem is separation anxiety. However, we should never jump straight to separation anxiety without first or coincidentally working on the housetraining issues.

Back to the functional assessment. Again, most of us are doing a mini-FA in our heads as the client is explaining the problem. And, it’s absolutely true that once you’ve been in the business for a while, you’ll have seen the same problems over and over. And that’s fine – we just don’t want to become so sure our hypothesis is correct, that we overlook important information.

When applying positive reinforcement dog training techniques, if the owner is compliant and works on the problem as agreed, execution is good (meaning they understand how to do the training), and the hypothesis is correct, you should see behavioral change in a fairly short period of time – three-to-five days in most situations. This does not mean the problem is resolved, but that you are seeing progress. House training may take a little longer, but if the criteria is raised systematically and everything is in place, that should also happen pretty quickly.

If you are not seeing progress and you are comfortable that the client is doing their tasks properly, then it might be time to do a functional assessment. It’s possible something is going on that you are unaware – and the owner may be unaware of. Here are two examples of situations where something happened to the dog that the owners were not aware that had a great influence on the dog’s behavior.

Example 1 – A dog that had previously had no issues at all suddenly refused to go out into the yard. To the owner’s knowledge, nothing had changed. A trainer was called in and a program of systematic desensitization was implemented. It worked, and everything was fine. Weeks later, the owner found out from a neighbor that the dog had been harassed with a BB gun.

Example 2 – Again, a dog that had no previous problems began having severe panic attacks. All of a sudden he would jump into the owners lap (and this was a big dog!) and begin shivering so hard his teeth rattled. A trainer was called in and the first thought was that perhaps the dog was having seizures. He was about six-to-eight months old and this was a typical age for the onset of some types of seizures. It’s difficult to rule out seizures, because there are so many different things that could be happening. However, the owner was able to get the dog into the vet’s office within an hour of the onset of the attack and the vet was able to do a blood draw and rule out certain things.
Since no one knew what was causing the panic attacks, it was difficult to implement a systematic desensitization program, because they didn’t know what to desensitize the dog to. The only thing that had changed was they had very recently moved into a new house (within weeks of the onset of the attacks). Of course, this was a huge red flag, but it was still difficult to pinpoint exactly what the antecedent was for the attacks.

Eventually, the owners remembered that they had left the dog alone one day while they ran errands. They had just have Venetian blinds installed, had left the windows open, and it was a windy day. The dog had never been around Venetian blinds before and here he is in a brand new environment, alone, and the wind starts rattling the blinds. Taking that information, the owners started paying more attention, and sure enough, it was the wind. The dog was fine outdoors, but in the house, if the wind was blowing he was a nervous wreck. With that information, They were able to institute a systematic desensitization program.

So, these examples show that sometimes it’s very difficult to know what do address. In example #1, it didn’t matter that they didn’t know about the BB gun – they were able to systematically desensitize the dog to the yard without that knowledge. But in example #2, it was more difficult because they didn’t know what the problem was. They could have done straight counter-conditioning, but that’s a much tougher prospect.

In both of these cases, it was a more in-depth analysis of the events surrounding the behavior that led to the solution. And that in-depth analysis is a functional assessment of the effectiveness of any positive reinforcement dog training technique.

For more information on this course, go to A Simple Functional Assessment. While you’re there, don’t forget to check out the hundreds of great on-demand webinars Raising Canine offers – you can find them at this link:  https://www.raisingcanine.com/education/od-webinars/.

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Dog Training Techniques: Understanding the Theory Behind Learning & Behavior

What exactly is learning theory and why does someone who wants to learn dog training techniques care? Most people start out loving dogs, perhaps taking a basic obedience class, or dabbling in dog sports. Often they have a dog that has serious behavioral problems and through working with a professional dog trainer, they develop an interest in behavior and training. Sometimes people have been training their own dogs forever and their friends start asking them for advice. But almost always, when you get down to the nitty gritty, they think it’s fun and easy. Well, sometimes it’s fun, more often it’s hard work, and it’s never easy.

The traditional way to become a dog trainer is through mentoring under a professional and watching lots and lots of dog training videos. You can certainly become an adequate dog trainer, and learn important dog training techniques, through this method; and, the better your mentor, the better you’ll be. But you’re also limited by your mentor’s limitations. Apprentice trainers also spend an inordinate amount of time doing non-training work such as cleaning kennels, feeding and grooming.

But, through understanding learning theory combined with working under a knowledgeable mentor, you’ll have the best toolbox possible. You’ll understand the basics of how animals learn and how evolution, genetics, and survival have a huge influence on behavior. You’ll be able to move away from simple rote dog training techniques and actually analyze a situation and be able to figure out why the animal isn’t learning what you’re trying to teach.

When you understand the phases of learning a new behavior and the things that need to be in place for a new behavior to be learned, not to mention the most efficient way to train (which most trainers don’t know), you have less frustration, you satisfy your client’s needs more efficiently (saving them frustration and money), and you develop good word-of-mouth.

Learning and behavior is an established area of study that has been around for a very long time. It’s called psychology. We’ve been studying and practicing human psychology for decades – actually, longer than that as clinical depression was mentioned on a 1550 BCE ancient Egyptian manuscript known as the Ebers Papyruss.  In the mid-1800s, psychology became its own field of study, separate from psychiatry, and by the end of the nineteenth century, psychologists were figuring how to actually measure behavior.

Around the turn of the century, Ivan Pavlov published his findings on what we now call classical conditioning, and B.F. Skinner followed that up with his work in operant conditioning in the mid-1900s. Skinner also made the concepts he studied part of popular culture. He made appearances on popular television shows such as The Mike Douglas Show and Firing Line, as well as documentaries for television. In the 1960s and 1970s, experimental parenting techniques were in full force and much of what had been discovered in psychology was now being practiced in the schoolroom.

These two concepts, classical and operant conditioning – particularly operant conditioning – are what the new school of animal trainers are using. You don’t have to have a degree in psychology to take these concepts and put them to work and apply effective dog training techniques. However, you do need to invest some time into learning the concepts and practicing your new skills –setting good criteria, observing behavior, analyzing behavior, and so on. If you have only a cursory understanding of how animals learn you’ll do okay, but if you have a good understanding of these concepts, you’ll do a lot better!

For more information on this course, go to Understanding Learning Theory. While you’re there, don’t forget to check out the hundreds of great on-demand webinars Raising Canine offers – you can find them at this link:  https://www.raisingcanine.com/education/od-webinars/.

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How to Become a Dog Trainer: Criteria & Rate of Reinforcement

I recently wrote a blog on Dog Obedience Training – Four Key Elements, which discusses one of the most basic principles anyone who wants to know how to become a dog trainer must know. However, within those four elements, there are two that are most often misunderstood by professional dog trainers – criteria and rate of reinforcement.

To learn what each of the four elements are, check out the blog Dog Obedience Training – Four Key Elements. In this blog post, I’m going to relay some of my experiences in observing many many trainers. Most of the old-timers understand these concepts, but even they get stuck on criteria once in a while. For newer trainers, I’d say criteria is the biggest single problem they have.

So, some real-life situations and what I see as the problem:

Scenario: A professional dog trainer has been working with a German Shepherd Dog for several months. He’s a one-year-old rescue and the trainer did well on most of his issues, but he barks when he’s in the car with his owners. For about a month the trainer and her partner drove around with the dog in the car. However, he rarely barked when in the car with them, but barks incessantly when in the car with his owners.

Assessment: There are specific triggers (the owners), so a thorough history might help – when did it start, where were they going, etc. But ultimately, that’s just background info, and we still need to set achievable criteria. There are a couple of ways to approach this, but they are both criteria-based solutions (as all solutions in the process of discovering how to become a dog trainer are).

Solution one – it’s highly unlikely he’s really barking non-stop for a long distance. So, they need to set a criteria of no-barking for . . . maybe 1 second, and reinforce every time he stops barking for 1 second. Once you’ve achieved your desired rate of reinforcement (ROR) (maybe 10 reinforcements in 1 minute), raise the criteria to no barking for 2 seconds. Etc. Gradually increase the time between reinforcements, adjusting your desired ROR as you go.

Solution two – under safe conditions, put the dog in the car alone and move away (perhaps out of sight). Wait for the dog to stop barking, then start walking toward the car. If the dog starts barking, go back to where you were. Eventually, the dog will learn that when he barks, you go away, and he will stop barking. This is less desirable than solution one because it’s negative reinforcement, but it can be very effective.

Scenario: A woman has a dog that chases and bites her tail when the woman and her boyfriend are present. The dog is uninterested in redirection, toys, etc. Clapping and walking away works; however the woman has times where that’s not convenient.

Assessment: Again, there are specific triggers, so that actually makes it easier to work with the dog. There’s probably a level of excitement or perhaps stress for the dog in this particular situation.

Management – unfortunately for the owner (and the consulting trainer), learning doesn’t necessarily take place only when it’s convenient, so we need to deal with the times it does not happen. This is called “management.” Because the triggers are specific (the woman and her boyfriend together), when they aren’t able to train, they can make sure the three of them aren’t together at those times. Put the dog in another room or a crate, have the boyfriend go out and run an errand or just sit in the car with a good book, etc.

Solution – there are several things that need to be done, but from a criteria standpoint, the woman needs to do set ups with the boyfriend and the dog, measuring the intensity and the rate of tail chasing/biting. She also needs to assess various situations: For instance, is the behavior stronger when she and her boyfriend are right next to each other (vs. him being in another room or 10 feet away); can she use a recording of his voice and get the behavior, and if so, is the behavior the same or weaker? All these things will help give them a starting point. We already know that clapping works, so if she precedes the clap with a cue, eventually she’ll be able to cue the dog to stop with a word.

Caveat – this could be an obsessive-compulsive behavior, so may require the intervention of a vet behaviorist.

So, there are a couple of scenarios where criteria is not being used to maximum effect in the process of learning how to become a dog trainer. These scenarios make me wish I’d taken some dog training videos of some of my clients to show you!

I feel so strongly about criteria and rate of reinforcement that I’m doing a webinar on that exact topic! You can access more information on this topic by attending the upcoming webinar, Criteria and Rate of Reinforcement: The most misunderstood piece of the puzzle.

For more information on this course, go to Criteria & Rate of Reinforcement: The most misunderstood piece of the puzzle. While you’re there, don’t forget to check out the hundreds of great on-demand webinars Raising Canine offers – you can find them at this link:  https://www.raisingcanine.com/education/od-webinars/.

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