What is The Dog Nanny’s  view on dominance dog training?

 

In recent years there has been resurgence in popularity of dog training methods that espouse “dominance” models of dog behaviour. Dominance models suggest that wolves live in hierarchical packs with the alpha wolf at the top and that dogs evolved from wolves and also live in hierarchical packs and see us (humans) as part of their pack. Dominance theory assumes that most unwanted behaviour such as aggression is due to the dog trying to be ‘dominant’ or wanting to be the alpha dog in the pack. Therefore, dominance theory suggests, that the way to solve many behavioural problems such as aggression is to establish dominance as pack leader over the dog.

However, many of these assumptions are erroneous and are often harmful to dogs and the human-animal bond. A lot of initial research about wolf behaviour was conducted by studying captive wolves. This is because wild wolves tend to avoid humans and were difficult to study. It was these studies that generated the idea of ‘packs’ with the alpha male and female breeding pair at the top of the hierarchical structure.

However in this false environment wolves could not disperse and escape from confrontation with other wolves, so relationships developed that are not necessarily reflected in more natural wolf groups. More recent studies of natural wolf groups show that they tend to live in families.

The group usually consists of Mum and Dad, the current litter, and possible juveniles from one or two previous litters. Dominance contests in such packs are rare and the breeding pair is able to maintain group harmony without aggression.

 

Most scientists accept that dogs evolved from wolves or they had a common ancestor. However dogs are not wolves. They are different anatomically, physiologically. The biggest difference between wolves and dogs is their ecological niche. Wolves, as a rule avoid humans whereas dogs have evolved to live near humans.

It is now widely recognised by animal behavioural specialists that dogs that use aggression towards humans or other dogs are not trying to be ‘dominant’. Rather, the aggression is usually the result of social confusion, frustration, fear, anxiety or learning. Dogs may use aggression as a means to control situations in which they feel frustrated, fearful or anxious. Some dogs are unable to navigate certain social and interactive demands placed upon them without showing aggression or reactivity. With repeated exposure to such situations dogs can learn that aggression ‘works’ and are more likely to use aggression to control similar situations in the future. If your dog is showing aggression, we suggest that you seek help from a veterinary behavioural specialist.

The ‘dominance’ model for dog behaviour poses serious dog welfare problems. Dominance models may use aversive training techniques such as “alpha rolls”, staring the dog down or other confrontational methods and punishment which can cause fear, pain and distress to dogs. In addition, these methods generally do not address the underlying cause of the unwanted behaviour which is why they are often unsuccessful. In fact, dominance training methods are not scientifically proven to be effective.

Aversive methods may also increase the dog’s underlying fear and anxiety which can actually make the unwanted behaviour much worse. Aversive methods can also reduce the quality of the relationship between the owner and the dog and they can place the owner at serious risk of physical injury.

 

When trying to change behaviour, try to think about the behaviours you would like your dog to perform and reward only for the responses that lead to those outcomes. This might include sitting rather than jumping on guests or chewing on a toy rather than your favourite pair of shoes. This approach revolves around positive reinforcement- i.e. rewarding behaviour that we like. Rewards can be food, toys or verbal praise. Basically, anything your dog will ‘work’ for.

Conversely, we also need to ensure that rewards for unwanted behaviour are removed. So, keep those shoes out of reach and try wherever possible to avoid any situations or triggers for unwanted behaviours.

The Dog Nanny’s position is that dogs should be trained using programs that are designed to facilitate the development and maintenance of acceptable behaviours using natural instincts and positive reinforcement. Aversion therapy and physical punishment procedures must not be used in training programs because of the potential for cruelty.

Why you should care whether your dog is chronically stressed

Stressed Out

Why you should care whether your dog is chronically stressed, how you can tell – and what you can do about it.

Lots of people joke about how they would like to have their dog’s life – no job, sleeping all day, having food delivered…but the truth is, that life can be very stressful for a dog! Dogs evolved to live in groups, not staying alone all day. Being subjected to our unpredictable schedules, often without so much as the ability to go outside to relieve themselves when they want to, can actually cause a lot of stress in some dogs.

Stress is not specific to humans – it affects all species, including our dogs, and it takes a toll on every living thing that it affects. The growth rate and production of plants decreases when they are stressed by unseasonal weather. Bees sting when they are stressed by threats to their hive. Humans get ulcers, are more susceptible to illness, and are more likely to lash out at other humans (or our pets!) when stressed.

As kindred mammals, the dog’s response to stress is very similar to our own: It can make them sick, and it can affect their behavior in ways that no one around them enjoys. It behooves us, as well as our dogs, to recognize the stressors in our shared lives and do our best to minimize them.

 

WHY STRESS IS BAD

There are two kinds of stress. “Good” stress, known as eustress, can actually enhance our lives (“eu” is Greek for “good”). Eustress is defined as: “The positive cognitive response to stress that is healthy, or gives one a feeling of fulfillment or other positive feelings.” This is the stress you feel getting ready for a promising date, or waiting to go pick up your new puppy. It’s the stress your dog feels when she hears your car turn into the driveway gets happy and excited because you’re home after you’ve been away at work all day. We’re not worried about eustress – ours, or our dogs’.

What we’re concerned about is the “bad” stress, technically called distress, and defined as: “Psychological discomfort that interferes with your (or your dog’s) activities of daily living.” If you’ve lived with a dog or dogs for any length of time, you have probably seen some of the signs of their distress (we’ll just call it “stress” for the rest of the article). Here are a few you may have seen:

 

  •  Tension and trembling on the exam table at the vet hospital

 

  •  Hackles raised and growling at the UPS delivery person

 

  •  Hiding in the back bedroom when guests are visiting

 

  •  Crawling behind the toilet when a thunderstorm hit

 

  •  Drooling or foamy mouth at the dog park

 

The list could go on for pages, but you get the idea. So why is stress such a bad thing? For starters, a huge percentage of what is perceived as canine “misbehavior” is actually a dog’s response to stress. Eliminate the stress in your dog’s world and you might be amazed at how much better behaved she is.

The other significant reason stress is bad is that it affects your dog’s physical health. It is well known that anxieties trigger the release of stress hormones – adrenaline, cortisol, and norepinephrine – and chronically increased levels of these hormones can negatively impact the immune system. A compromised immune system makes your dog more susceptible to a variety of infectious diseases as well as serious long-term health issues, including cancer. A 2016 study suggests that dogs who are diagnosed with cancer are significantly more likely to have lived in stressful environments than those who are cancer-free. 1

 

CAUSES OF STRESS

There’s no end to the things that can stress your dog – but some are more common than others. Life with humans can challenge dogs in a number of common ways, including:

Change. Life changes are stressful for all of us. For your dog, this can be something as small as a change in routine (such as when daylight savings time changes mealtimes) or as significant as the loss of a human or canine companion. Moving is another big stressor that often results in unwanted canine behavioral changes (although a move that removes stressors can be a good thing!).

Presence of an aversive stimulus. An aversive stimulus is defined as “an unpleasant stimulus that induces changes in behavior.” If your dog doesn’t like or is afraid of other dogs (or men, or children, etc.), the presence of another dog (men, children) is an aversive stimulus. If your dog is sound-sensitive, thunder, fireworks, a pan dropping on the floor or even the “ding” from a microwave oven could be aversive stimuli. The greater the intensity of an aversive stimulus – more dogs, dog(s) closer in proximity, louder volume of sound, repetition of the sound, etc., the more stressful it is to your dog.

Forced restraint. Many dogs prefer not to be restrained – and some find it very stressful. Forced restraint most often occurs during husbandry procedures – veterinary visits, grooming, nail trimming, etc. The shift toward cooperative care in the veterinary, grooming, and training communities is a change that will be appreciated by many dogs (and their humans). (See “Fear Free Veterinary Care,” WDJ August 2019, and “Fear Free Vet Visits,” December 2015.)

Force-based training. By definition, force-based training involves the use of techniques that are aversive to the dog – usually both verbal and physical force and coercion. These are significant stressors for dogs, and studies support the position that dogs trained with these methods are considerably more stressed and exhibit more problem behaviors than dogs trained with force-free methods.2

Medical conditions. Whether illness or pain (chronic or acute), medical issues are extremely significant stressors. This is why it’s critically important to rule out or identify and treat medical issues as soon as possible in a behavior modification program. You are likely to still have to do behavior modification after the condition is treated or managed, but your likelihood of success is greatly enhanced when you remove the medical stressor.

Owner stress. We have long known that dogs are very aware of their humans’ emotional states. A recent study supports our also long-held belief that dogs mirror their owners’ stress levels. If you are stressed, you are stressing your own dog, so mitigating your own stress can be beneficial to your dog as well as to you! 3

This is by no means a complete list of stressors. It will behoove you – and your dog – for you to sit down and make as complete a list as you can of your dog’s own personal stressors, so that you can begin to address them and help you and your dog have a better life together.

 

SIGNS OF CANINE STRESS

If you are not fluent in canine communication, it’s time to study the language so you can better understand your dog and be prepared to help her when she needs it the most. Here are some of the common signs you might see that tell you your dog is stressed:

Aggression. With one very rare exception (idiopathic aggression), aggression is caused by stress. The best thing you can do for aggressive behavior is reduce stress. The worst thing you can do is punish the dog, which merely adds stress to your already stressed dog. (See “Good Growling,” December 2016.)

Vocalization. Dogs vocalize for a long list of reasons. Vocalization is normal canine self-expression, but it may intensify under duress. Dogs who are afraid or tense may whine or bark to get your attention or to self-soothe.

Dogs with separation anxiety may bark or scream for hours. Your dog may howl to express her unhappiness, or because the fire truck is going by with sirens blaring. When your dog vocalizes, check to determine the trigger. If it’s from stress, it needs to be addressed to mitigate her emotional distress, whatever the cause. (See “Oh Shush,” March 2017.)

Destructive behavior. Left unsupervised, puppies can wreak havoc on a home in almost no time. That’s often just normal puppy behavior. When an adult dog is destructive, we tend to think she’s being a “bad dog.” In many cases, however, she’s destroying things because she’s in a stress-related panic. Reduce her stress, and you’re likely to see a significant behavior change.

Unusual elimination. Just as with anxious humans, nervous dogs can feel a sudden urge to go to the bathroom. House-soiling in an otherwise well housetrained dog is a big red stress-flag. Marking (especially indoor marking) is commonly a function of stress rather than a house-training issue. Diarrhea can be a sign of stress, and the sudden release of bladder and/or bowels can also indicate significant stress. (These can also be medical issues, so be sure to discuss  with your veterinarian.)

Not eating/losing weight. If your dog turns up her nose at your high-value treats during a counter-conditioning session, she is probably stressed because the aversive stimulus (the thing you are trying to change her response to) is too close or otherwise too intense. Move farther away or otherwise reduce the intensity of the stimulus (by decreasing its volume or movement, as appropriate). If a dog with an otherwise good appetite isn’t eating well, consider illness first and consult your vet, but don’t rule out generalized stress.

Avoidance, escape, and displacement behaviors. When faced with an unwelcome situation, your dog may “escape” by focusing on something else. She may sniff the ground, lick her genitals, suddenly start scratching an itch, avoid eye contact, or simply turn away. If your dog avoids interaction with other dogs or people, don’t force the issue. Respect her choice.

Some dogs will move behind their human to hide – an extension of avoidance. Other escape behaviors include displacement activities such as moving/running away, digging or circling, or hiding behind a tree or parked car.

Hypervigilance. The dog who can’t seem to settle, is always on alert, reacting to every noise or change in the environment, is very likely a stressed dog. This behavior is common with dogs who are identified as having generalized anxiety disorder – they rarely or never relax.

Stressed body language. There are a multitude of ways that dogs tell us they are stressed, with their eyes, ears, tails, faces, mouths, and body posture. In fact, your dog is talking to you all the time; be sure to “listen” with your eyes. (See “Listen by Looking,” August 2011, and “About Face,” March 2013)

Comfort-seeking. Your stressed dog may seek you out for comfort and reassurance. Contrary to an unfortunate popular myth, it is okay – no, it is good – to calmly comfort and reassure your stressed dog. A stressed, frightened dog may also tremble – again, provide calm comfort and reassurance.

Yawning, drooling, licking, scratching. Of course, dogs yawn when they are tired or bored, just like we do. They also yawn when stressed, just like we do. A stressful yawn is more prolonged and intense than a sleepy yawn. Dogs may also drool, lick, and scratch excessively when nervous. Again, rule out medical conditions and fleas when you see these, but also consider stress.

Excessive shedding. It’s normal for dogs to shed a lot in the spring and fall, getting rid of their old coats to prepare for the new season. Some dogs also normally shed year-round – Labrador Retrievers and Huskies (and several other breeds) are notorious for this. However, shedding can also increase when a dog is anxious, so watch for this type of shedding as a stress indicator.

Panting. Panting when hot, excited or having just exercised is, of course, normal. If, however, your dog is panting absent those conditions, it is quite likely due to stress.

This is not a complete list of all the signs exhibited by dogs who are stressed. Your dog may display some of the stress signs listed above or others. Take time to observe her and identify her particular signs of stress so you can recognize them and help her when she is stressed.

Most importantly, remember that when your dog is behaving inappropriately it is most often because she is stressed and cannot help it, not because she wants to misbehave. One of my new favorite aphorisms is, “Your dog isn’t giving you a hard time, she’s having a hard time.” Remember this, and help her times get better.

Give Your Puppy a Smart Start

saty alert thanks giving advise

Wondering when and how you should start training your puppy? Immediately!

 

March 20, 20203

“Catch her doing something right” whenever possible! When you notice your puppy doing anything you like, such as sitting calmly and quietly, or chewing on one of the toys you bought for this purpose, let her know she’s being a good dog! Offer her a treat, praise, and/or a little bit of calm petting.

When it comes to puppy training, it’s never too early to start. Puppies are more than ready to learn by the time they leave the litter and transition into a home. After all, they’ve been learning since birth, so why not keep the ball rolling as soon as you welcome a puppy into your family?

It’s our responsibility to teach puppies how to successfully live in our human world, which has a rule structure quite different from what they’re used to with their littermates. There are plenty of options for positive-reinforcement training starting at a young age: a well-run, in-person puppy kindergarten class; one-on-one instruction with a trainer; an online program; books and videos; your own knowledge of training; or a combination of options. No matter what you opt for, starting sooner, not later, is key to success. From the first day you bring your puppy home, have these three basic principles in mind:

 

  1. Have clear goals for your puppy’s behavior from day one and support his understanding of them every day.

It’s important to have some basic training goals before your puppy comes home, so you can create clear behavior contingencies from the very beginning.

Your puppy is constantly learning. From the moment he sets paw in your home, he will be learning which behaviors get him things he wants and which ones don’t. Make it easy for him to get what he wants when he does behaviors you like, and prevent him from getting what he wants when he explores behaviors you don’t want him to practice. The more black and white your expectations, the easier it will be for the puppy to figure out what works for both of you.

 

So, as just a few examples: If you don’t want a grown, 80-pound dog jumping on you to get your attention, avoid petting the tiny, 8-week-old puppy when he jumps on you. Instead, if he happens to sit or even just greets you with happy eye contact and all four paws on the floor, go ahead and tell him what a good puppy he is and lovingly give him all the petting he wants! If you want a well-housetrained dog, commit to paying close attention to your puppy’s need to eliminate, not giving him a single opportunity to “make a mistake” indoors. And if you don’t want your adult dog to sleep with you on your bed or your nicest sofa, don’t allow the puppy to do so, either.

Gray areas are challenging for dogs. It’s not fair to make exceptions to what we know our rules will be later (because the puppy is so cute!) and then change the rules as she grows. It’s also harder to “fix” unwanted behaviors than to train correct behaviors from the beginning. (For more about this, see “The Biology of Early Learning”)

 

  1. Make your interaction with your puppy rewarding and engaging.

Teach your puppy that spending time with you is fun! Be generous with rewards of food, attention, petting, and play so the puppy is eager to focus on you in anticipation of enjoyment.

Build a strong history of reinforcement (with treats, toys, praise, and play) for behaviors that you like from your puppy; she will strongly associate you with all these good things, helping cement a solid relationship between you.

A great strategy is to aspire to feed more of your puppy’s daily ration of food from your hand than from a bowl. This makes you the primary source of a pretty great thing and gives you plenty of calories to leverage to your advantage by reinforcing any behavior you’d like to see more of.

Be super generous with rewards with a young puppy because, as the puppy matures, environmental distractions will become more interesting, and it’s helpful for the puppy to have a strong history of finding you rewarding. This makes it easier for the puppy to continue to choose you, and what you have to offer, over the environment. No need to worry the pup will end up “only doing it for the food.” Since the food comes directly from you, you gain value by association. Plus, when you pair praise and petting with the delivery of food, the food increases the value of your praise and petting, so it is more reinforcing in the future if you choose to use fewer food rewards in training.

Don’t forget to mix lots of play into your interaction. It’s fun (for puppies and people!), it breaks up training sessions, and studies show following learning with play can lead to improved performance in subsequent sessions, when compared to immediately following learning with an opportunity to rest. Playing with your puppy, in ways you both enjoy, convinces your puppy that you’re a blast to be around because you know how to play all the best games. Who doesn’t like hanging out with the fun guy or gal?

 

What you can expect?

With frequent, short training sessions, most young puppies can start offering simple behaviors like “sit” in anticipation of “good stuff” as early as 6 to 7 weeks old, even before they leave the litter. If you really want to stack the training deck in your favor, look for a responsible breeder or rescue that provides early enrichment and basic training opportunities to young puppies in an effort to set them up for success when they meet their new families.

If you’re starting from scratch with the basics, it’s still reasonable to expect a young puppy to quickly learn to offer a “sit” for a food bowl or when approaching people, or follow a hand signal to lie down. In fact, in many cases, people report their puppies readily respond to cues for “sit,” “down,” “come,” “leave it” and a parlor trick or two by the time the puppy is 3 months old.

The catch? This degree of understanding is generally limited to the home environment. Sound familiar? “But he does it at home!” is one of the most often heard frustrations among dog owners when attending a group class or otherwise asking the dog to perform seemingly “known” behaviors away from home. Learning to do these behaviors in the face of a highly distracting, enticing world takes a little more time and maturity.

Learning the physical mechanics of the behavior is easy. Adding duration, making the behavior resistant to distractions, and properly generalizing the behavior so the dog understands the same rules apply anywhere, anytime is a process that takes time and patience. Try to avoid thinking your puppy truly knows a behavior until you’ve seen him be successful under a wide variety of circumstances. Until that point, he’s learning a behavior. Working in a new environment, around new people, other dogs, interesting smells, etc. makes it harder for the puppy to perform correctly. People often become frustrated and view the pup as being “stubborn,” when really, he’s just not developmentally mature enough to concentrate for long periods and in the face of distractions. He’ll get there with patience, maturity, and continued training support.

 

  1. Keep training sessions short but frequent.

 

Like young children, puppies have short attention spans. The most effective training happens frequently throughout the day, but in short sessions each time, and with a high rate of reinforcement. Three to five minutes is perfect for a young puppy.

Try five repetitions of cheerfully saying your puppy’s name when she’s not looking, and rewarding her when she turns to orient toward you. Practice “sit” and “down” a couple of times, changing your position relative to the pup with each repetition to help her begin to “generalize” the behaviors, understanding that “sit” means the same thing whether you are standing right in front of her or next to her.

Bust out a toy for a quick round or two of tug, trading the toy for a treat to begin a “drop it” behavior, then playfully run away from the puppy, encouraging her to follow you with a happy, “Let’s go!” as you take off. Reward her when she catches up to you, with treats or another one of her favorite toys. Aim for three to five short sessions each day. Also, remember every interaction is an opportunity for learning, so be prepared to help her practice desirable behaviors every time you casually interact with her, too.

Formal training sessions that are short and fun keep the puppy’s head in the game. More importantly, they teach the puppy to enjoy and look forward to training sessions, creating a pup who exhibits a happy conditional emotional response (CER) – that is, she becomes visibly excited – when our behavior starts to predict a training session is imminent.

 

The Big ‘A’ (Adolescence)

Trainers who teach group classes have seen it a million times: Owners bring their young puppies to “canine kindergarten” classes and are delighted with all the cues and behaviors they and their puppies learn to do. After graduation, a few months roll by, and gradually, more and more of those formerly delighted owners start reporting that their puppies “don’t know anything anymore!” Sit, down, come, stay – all the basic behaviors the pups “knew” when they were tiny seem to be gone! What gives?

The simple answer is adolescence.

Adolescence is a natural part of canine development. It’s generally said to begin when the dog is about 6 to 9 months old and lasts until about 18 months old. (Different breeds mature at different rates. Smaller breeds mature faster than larger breeds. Whereas a toy breed might be fully mature at 12 months old, a giant breed won’t fully mature until closer to 2 years old, so the adolescent phase will vary from breed to breed.)

 

 

If you don’t want your puppy to chew your shoes or any other household items, make sure you provide him with a large and varied assortment of “legal” chew items and toys, so he always has “good” choices available.

Dogs go through lots of changes during this time – physical growth spurts, hormone surges, and an increased need to chew in an effort to fully set adult teeth into the skull. These physical changes generally coincide with the secondary fear period, a developmental stage where dogs often react fearfully to things they’ve been fine with in the past.

Much like in human adolescents, a hallmark of canine adolescence is a push for independence. Dog owners often report the adolescent dog is “blowing them off,” “being stubborn,” or otherwise seems to have forgotten everything she’s ever been taught.

Although it can be a trying time, patience is a virtue. Find ways to foster success and prevent failure in training. For example, if your young adolescent is overly distracted by other dogs when in a group class, add distance or use a visual barrier between the dogs to filter the distraction. If the dog is clearly driven by his nose, avoid letting him off-leash in unfenced areas. Avoid scary or painful punishers, as they can erode the relationship you share with your dog. The good news is, this too shall pass.

 

The Bottom Line

When we bring a dog into our life, it’s our responsibility to teach them how to successfully live in our human world. Good training is a partnership. It’s not something we do to our dog, it’s something we do with our dog. It’s also ongoing. We get out of it what we put into it. With modern-day positive reinforcement training methods, it’s easy to make training an enjoyable way of life that creates treasured companions for years to come.

Teach Your Dog to Help With Chores Around the House

lab eat garden

Jessie can, among other things, wake up family members; dust with a feather duster; close a left-open toilet lid; mop up spills with a towel; get the mail; use a Dustbuster; mop the floor; polish shoes and boots; take out the trash; pick up dropped items; turn on lights; carry a shopping basket; and push a grocery cart. Some of these behaviors are just for fun; you couldn’t genuinely expect a dog to understand the point of putting polish on your shoes, much less doing a good job of it! But some of them are legitimately helpful!

 

  1. Fetch the Newspaper

Of course there’s the old standby of bringing in the newspaper. Trainer Clarissa Bergeman, CPDT, owner of In Canine Company, in Round Hill, Virginia, enjoyed sharing a walk down the driveway with Anny, her Pembroke Welsh Corgi, to get the newspaper or the mail. Anny was always happy to carry the paper or a magazine on the walk back. Anny is gone now, but Bergeman’s new Corgi, Simon, is learning the task in her stead.

 

  1. Sort Laundry

I thought this one might be particularly up my 8-year-old Scorgidoodle’s (Bonnie) alley, since she loves to hold soft things in her mouth. In fact, I often have to search Bonnie’s crate for socks; if she finds any lying on the floor, she stashes them in her bed.

Since dogs are partially color-blind, it’s probably too much to expect she could sort clothes by color herself, so I started by placing an article of laundry in each of several spots that I named accordingly: Whites, Jeans, Brights (pronounced “Buh-rights,” to help distinguish it from “Whites”), and Towels. The piles were generously far apart at first (six to eight feet between) so I could point to the proper pile without confusing her. I started by handing her a piece of clothing from the basket, gave the cue, pointed to the appropriate pile, and moved with her to the spot. Then I gave her the “Trade” cue, and when she dropped the item on the pile to “trade” for a treat, I clicked my clicker (one could also use a verbal reward marker, such as the word “Yes!”, to indicate that she performed the desired behavior) and gave her a treat.

 

I quickly faded my movement toward the appropriate pile, finding that the pointing gesture alone sufficed to send her to the proper spot. The “Trade” cue prompted her to drop the item, and a click-treat brought her back to me for the next piece of laundry. We just started this recently, so it’s still a work in progress. Our next step will be to fade the pointing gesture and see if she can identify the proper pile with just a verbal cue.

 

  1. Close Doors

Susan Giordano, CPDT, owner of K9U in Atlanta, Georgia, taught her dog Potter to close the refrigerator, pantry door, and any cabinets that are open. Potter will also fetch a towel so Susan can wipe off the counters. Susan says when they are finished with the chores, they dance!

It’s relatively simple to teach your dog to close doors. Begin by teaching her to target with her nose or paw (hint: using your dog’s nose to close doors rather than a paw reduces the likelihood of scratches to the finish). Offer the palm of your hand to your dog at her nose level. When she sniffs it, click (or say “Yes!”) and treat. Repeat until she eagerly bumps her nose into your hand, and then add the cue “Touch!” as you offer your palm. (If she thinks your offered palm is the cue for “Shake” try the back of your hand, or offer her the knuckles of your closed fist.)

When you are confident she understands the “Touch” cue, hold a plastic lid (such as the top to a tub of cottage cheese or yogurt) in your hand and ask her to touch that. First hold it so it covers your palm, then eventually hold it by the edge.

When she will touch the lid reliably, attach it to a door or drawer with double-stick tape or rubber cement and cue her to touch it there. You may need to start with your hand near the lid and gradually fade the presence of your hand. When she reliably targets her nose to the lid, shape for more powerful touches until she touches hard enough to close the door or drawer. (For tips on using a target stick to teach this behavior, see “Utilize Target Training,” January 2007.)

 

  1. Pick Up Trash

Lots of dogs have been taught to pick up their own toys and put them away in a basket designated for that purpose. Dana Ebbecke, one of the trainers at My Pet’s Teacher in Horsham, Pennsylvania, suggests a variation on that behavior: teaching your dog to pick up trash and put it in a garbage can. This is a perfect behavior to “backchain” – where you teach the last piece of the behavior first, and build the chain backward from there.

 

Offer your dog a piece of trash (that she won’t want to eat) directly over the center of a garbage can and say “Take it!” When she takes it, praise her, then cue her to “Drop.” If she already knows a “Drop” cue, she will drop the trash and it will fall in the can. Click (or use another reward marker) and treat. If she doesn’t know the “Drop” cue yet, say “Drop” and offer her a treat. When she opens her mouth for the treat the trash will fall in the can. Click and treat.

When the “Drop” is working over the center of the garbage can, move the trash slightly to one side, but still over the can, and cue the “Drop.” If it falls into the can, click and treat. If it misses, say “Oops!” and try it again. Gradually move the “training trash” farther from the center of the can, until it’s no longer even over the can. You are helping the dog understand that she needs to move it back over the middle of the can to make sure it falls inside, not outside the can.

When she can bring the trash that you hand her to the can from some distance, start offering it to her closer to the ground, so she understands she has to lift it up and move it to the can. Finally, place the trash on the ground, and add your “Pick up the trash!” cue before you say “Take it!” In fairly short order you should be able to fade the “Take it!” cue and your “Pick up the trash!” should prompt her to pick up that item and drop it in the can.

Now you’ll need to generalize the cue to a variety of different trash items. Make sure you don’t leave valuable objects on the floor when you ask her to pick up the trash! You can’t expect her to make good judgment calls about what is trash and what is treasure; your smart phone could end up in the garbage.

Ebbecke suggests adding to the “Wow! factor” of this behavior by using a garbage can with a push-pedal lid, and teaching your dog to step on the lid to open the can before she drops the trash in. (Just don’t teach this one to a dog who is likely to help herself to items in the can rather than putting more trash there.)

 

  1. Pick Up/Find/Bring

The “seek back” used to be a behavior performed in advanced obedience competition. You walked around the ring and, when cued by the judge, dropped an item, such as a glove. Your dog was supposed to continuing heeling with you until you stopped and gave him the cue to, go back, get it, and bring it back to you. Very useful!

 

It’s relatively simple to get your dog to pick up something you just dropped. Your “Pick it up!” cue (from “pick up the trash”) can generalize to anything you indicate you want your dog to pick up – and it sure beats stooping over to get it yourself.

Just think how even more useful it would be if your dog could search for and find, by name, items you’ve misplaced such as your car keys, the TV remote, your cell phone, or your glasses. I realized many years ago how capable dogs are at finding lost stuff when our wonderful Terrier-mix, Josie, found our missing tortoise without even being trained to do so.

I didn’t realize I had taught Josie to associate the word “Turtle” with Fred and Wilma, the two yellow-footed tortoises we had adopted from the shelter where I worked at the time. But apparently I had. One day I couldn’t find Fred. I frantically searched the yard, repeating aloud to myself, “Where’s the turtle?” I eventually realized that Josie was coming to me, and then running to the spot where Fred had fallen behind a retaining wall. Because of that amazing little dog, Fred was found, safe and sound.

Chaser, the brilliant Border Collie and subject of multiple cognition studies, now knows the names of more than 1,000 objects, and can retrieve them by name.  Surely your dog can learn the names of a handful of objects, then learn to find them for you when they go missing.

You’ve probably already taught her some, simply by using object names in your conversations with her. “Fetch the ball!” “Go to your bed.” “Get in the car.” So it’s not a stretch to think you can teach her more.

Use your targeting cue, followed by the name of the object. Hold the TV remote in your hand and say “Touch, Remote.” Click (or say “Yes!”) and treat when she does it. Hold your car keys and say “Touch, Keys.” Click and treat. Then place them on a table or floor (one at a time) and do the same. When you’ve done it several times with each item individually, place both on the floor six to eight feet apart, stand six to eight feet away, and ask her to touch one. If she gets the right one, click, treat and party! If she goes to the wrong one, cheerfully say “Oops!” and try again.

If she gets more misses than hits, go back to working with just one object at a time for a while, then try again. Eventually teach her the names of other objects you’d like her to be able to find for you.

When she’s identifying the correct object at least 80 percent of the time, start adding the “Find it!” element. If you’ve already done nose games with your dog, this will be easy as pie. Just as you have been doing already, place one of the objects on the floor in plain view and say “Find Remote!” When she goes over and sniffs it, click and treat. She found it! Repeat several times.

 

Now start hiding it. First have her sit and wait, and let her watch you hide it in a very easy place. Return to her side and cue, “Find Remote!” When she goes to where it is, click and treat. If you want to teach her a “tell” – a behavior she performs to tell you she found it – start asking her for that behavior when she locates the object. You could have her sit or lie down at the spot where the item was, or she could come back to you and touch you with her paw to let you know she found it, then lead you to it.

Gradually hide objects in harder and harder places, and eventually hide them when she isn’t watching and then ask her to find them. The final step is to have her find things when you’ve really lost them.

You can even take this one step further by teaching her the names of family members and having her find them. Just as you did with objects, have your human hide first in easy places, then harder and harder. If, heaven forbid, a family member is ever truly lost, your dog can join in the search!

 

  1. Reveille

Now that you’ve taught your dog the names of family members, you might as well make every day use of it. Send her to wake up family members who are sleeping in too long. Teach her to pull the covers off the sleepyheads! Have her deliver messages to the kids – carried in her mouth or attached to her collar. Ask her to bring everyone to the table at dinnertime. The sky’s the limit!

 

Unexpected Help

A dog trainer friend, posted this on her Facebook wall, just as I was writing this article. It’s a great testimonial for the value of teaching your dog a few general purpose helping behaviors. Miller-Riley wrote:

“This morning I attempted to change a small latch on a screen door. I was standing on a 4-foot high front porch, which is bordered by 6-foot high bushes. In my clumsy attempt to screw in the small metal bracket, it flipped out of my hands and landed under the bushes next to the house – a place I would have great difficulty reaching.

“So I called for Rivets, my service-dog-in-training. I showed her a short pathway to the spot where the item fell and told her to ‘Bring,’ her cue to seek and bring something back to my hand. The object would have my fresh scent on it and would most likely stand out to her like a bright color to us. She went right into the bushes, nosed around and pawed at the object. I said, ‘Yes, bring!’ She picked it up, crawled out and delivered it to my hand. She is such a cool dog, her mind and willingness astonishes me. I completed my door repair after a treat fest with my little paw-hero.”