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Tag: dog training

Training Opportunities become clear with a Schedule

Donna has a limited repertoire of skills because I don’t really make time to expand it. That is what I want to do with her while she is still young and active.

How we took this photo “Leave it” so she knew to leave the kibble alone. Nose” to get Donna to go near the kibble where I wanted her to be. She typically would sit far away from temptation otherwise. :P “Sit-stay”. She hasn’t learnt “Watch me”, so I just snapped when she happened to look at the camera. Patience required. It also helps to make weird noises that get her attention sometimes :P 

What has helped me a lot in making sure she has not forgotten what she already knows is the Nothing In Life Is Free program. It basically means the dog only gets a treat if she has done something to earn it. Integrating that concept into our interaction with her means that she gets some form of instruction or reinforcement of good behaviour everyday.

1. Mealtimes are easy training opportunities

The table below shows how I tried to use key feeding times throughout the day for training. Normally I just get her to practice what she already know so she doesn’t forget. Integrating training into these points of the day helps me a lot because otherwise, it is likely I will not be as mindful about training her consistently on a daily basis.

Frequency Intent Behaviour Rewards
Meal 1 Refresh basic commands – Nose
– Wave
– Sit-Stay
– Go to crate
– Shake-a-paw
– High-Five
kibble + canned
Meal 2 Mental exercise Play with treat dispensing toys Kibble
Meal 3 New skills – Leg weaving
– Spinning
– Sit pretty
– Backward heel
Canned food

Mealtimes are definitely the easiest times to train simply because the rewards are there and the dog is eager. She is  already tuned in to the fixed feeding schedule and routines that we have.

Along the way, I decided to use different mealtimes for different purposes. This helps me not fall into the easy trap of just reinforcing her on commands that she already knows. The different purposes are identified in the Intent column for each meal.

2. Every walk is an opportunity for dog to learn good walking habits

Training during dogwalking is a huge incentive for me because I get very bored otherwise. I get absolutely no incentive for standing around doing nothing while the dog takes her own sweet time sniffing the dirt.

But I get inconsistent here too. Often I run out of treats or it is too hot or too hazy. But otherwise, just being outdoors in a distracting environment helps to reinforce the dog for behaviours that help hugely for when we bring her to highly busy environments like the Pet Expo.

Frequency Intent Behaviour Rewards
Walks (morning/night) Outside skills – Loose leash
– Off-leash
– Come, Nose
– Go sniff
– Leave it
– Jump/Up
– Stay, Wait
– Let’s go
– Slow
– Fetch
– Stop
Meat cubes

3. Grooming time is opportunity to reinforce behaviours that make grooming easy but also most difficult to reinforce when dog is stressed

Tooth brushing

We recently bought two expensive bags of Greenies at the pet expo and I tell you she goes crazy for them. I give her one Greenies at bedtime when I’m too tired to struggle with her over tooth brushing.

And yes, there lies my dilemma. It seems recommended for no food 2 hours before or after tooth brushing so there’s no incentive for her to like toothbrushing. She gets too grumpy with me for play to be an incentive.

So right now, Greenies and tooth-brushing are interchangeable during bedtime. I want to make toothbrushing a discipline every night simply because Donna’s teeth are in such bad condition. But I need to find some way to help her like it.

And that also means I need to slot the Greenies somewhere else, since there’s no point in putting them together, is there?

Frequency Intent Behaviour Rewards
Bedtime Refresh tricks – Go to crate
– Sit-Stay
– Come
– Play dead
– Rollover
Bedtime Toothbrushing – Sit-Stay
– Keep calm & Hold Still
Yummy toothpaste is not incentive enough :(

Bath, Ear cleaning and Nail Cutting

These are the three things we are really bad at. I used to throw kibble into the bathroom during mealtime just so that she can get comfortable walking into the shower herself. A lot of the preparation training during mealtimes help, but when it  comes to the actual thing I still struggle to have her keep calm, lie on her side and play dead for her nail cutting for example.

Sometimes, she just doesn’t want to respond and throws the treats on the floor, refusing them altogether. The good thing is nowadays she refuses food because she is grumpy and not because she went beyond threshold and is too fearful to respond. *Phew*

Still having a reluctant dog makes grooming a chore for the human at times, so sadly there are days the human needs to incentivise herself to groom her dog weekly. :P

Frequency Intent Behaviour Rewards
After weekly bath, ear-cleaning Matwork – Go to mat
– Stay
– Relax
Regular Kong
Weekly nail clipping Relax while nail clipping Play dead Meat cubes

Three times the opportunity for progress

So training for Donna in our household has always been off the top of the head, ad hoc and “when I feel like it“. Making these tables has really helped me to clarify the results I want to get from the different opportunities present, and also where it seems most efficient to train what command.

The first time I accidentally cut her nail to the quick was just a couple weeks back. I was properly horrified by the drops of blood that leaked form the cut! Feeling kind of resistant to try to cut her nails since then still. *Goes and looks for chocolate, haha.*

I have the say my complaints about grooming, I’m sure it’s my own fault for not being consistent. For all I know, she might be very amenable to them by now if I had kept consistent at desensitisation and trying to counter-condition her to like it.

So hopefully now that I’ve gone though this exercise, I will be more consistent and successful with the grooming part of it. Wish me luck!

How I took this picture of the dog with books

I seldom set up anything for the photos on this blog. Alot of it was: it is happening, quick get the camera/phone. So a lot of the photos were really candid, although some became an exercise in stay, stay, stay… because I am too slow and need her to hold on doing whatever she was doing. :P

Sometimes it works, most times it doesn’t because looking at the human to see if she will get a treat for staying became more important, or she looks away and stops doing whatever cute thing she did.

But I did have to jump some hoops for this shot. And so did Donna.

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Introducing the Thundershirt or any shirt to our dog

Note: Thundershirt kindly arranged with their local partner, Hound Habitat, to send to me a sample of the Thundershirt for trial after I wrote to them about Donna’s thunderstorm phobia. 

Strange as it may sound, there is a need to introduce anything new to the dog slowly. Our dog is not adventurous. New things are often viewed with an unhealthy dose of suspicion . So here’s Donna inspecting the Thundershirt.

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The first trick I successfully taught Donna was by a fluke

Well technically I didn’t set out to teach Donna the high-five. It was when we just brought her home and I knew nuts about dog training. We were in the park downstairs. Donna was sitting on one of the steps in the fitness corner.

We were practising “shake a paw”. And on the spur of the moment, I took her paw and placed it up against my palm and said “high-five”.

She looked at me, her head slanted at an angle the way dogs do when they are puzzled. Then I held up my palm and said “High-five!” The world shushed as everything paused. Time literally stopped as wheels turned in the dog’s head. Then it happened. Her paw tapped lightly against my palm. The world started to turn again.

That was the one and only time she learnt something in less than 3 minutes (estimated).

I wish it happens more often :P

Donna – will high-five for food.

The daily prompt is celebrating successes today.

How Donna came to us

When Donna came home with us, we pretty much had access to what was most accessible in the mass media – Cesar Milan and his Dog Whisperer series. You’re either a fan or a hater, or you couldn’t care less. Me? I thought the Dog Whisperer wasn’t a bad thing. It gave us newbies a clue as to what can get really bad with a dog and sort of prepared us for our first foray into dog shelter wonderland. I mean, come on, I never had close contact with dogs in my entire life, of course I’d be scared of walking into a shelter full of happy go lucky, barky dogs running around. So yes, I followed “No touch, no talk, no eye contact” that very first time we went to the shelter. Made a beeline for the bench right at the back of the big yard the ten or more dogs were in and plonked my butt on the bench and just sat there, soaked up the atmosphere. Had a big dog Mario plonk his head on my lap, as casually as the old school cat that used to climb into my cross-legged lap and nap there after I fed her (that was always the highlight of my day back in my teenage school life and yes, I was more a cat person than dog haha). Mr P’s cousin identified the dogs by name to us.

An hour or two later, we went out of the fenced yard with no dog in mind. To my untrained eyes, they look all the same! The only dog I can identify with 100% success rate was Mario, because he was the only white dog there. But he was too big for our apartment and we were looking for a younger adult dog who can spend many years with us. We were close to just leaving the shelter when Florence stopped to speak with us and suggested Donna, who was sharing a small yard closest to the exit, with the old male dog Buddy and a washing machine.

The introduction, now that one comes to think of it, is comical. Come in, this is Buddy, he is human aggressive. Just don’t go too near to him (maybe I just have a warped sense of humour). Donna was lying around sleepy after her meal, but she responded to treats, sat and pawed for us. Florence did some selling and we thought Donna was a possibility.

We subsequently had two trial homestays with Donna.

The first one freaked me out when she got so excited she pranced up and down the sofa and basically tuned me out. I tried to get her down the sofa, but her mouth was snapping at my hand. I went out to the balcony to regain my calm, by the time I returned, she calmed down too. Florence laughed and told me Donna never bit anyone before when I told her about the incident. On hindsight, we realised that she was having fun playing and never really intended to bite, but to someone like me with no real understanding of dogs, it can be unnerving with an out of control, excited dog.

By the second homestay, we had more confidence in ourselves after having visited Donna for many weekends walking her. We knew that Donna at the shelter is a different dog from Donna at home. Donna at the shelter was fixated on the main door, doesn’t finish her food, likes to steal morsels of food from Buddy, is challenging to leash when she squirms around in excitement and can rival an Olympic gymnast twirling a ribbon as she spins endlessly in circles, saliva trailing after her. Donna at home still turns her nose up on food, but is calmer and doesn’t spin frantically in circles. We may not entirely be assertive, but we are pretty calm and we have learnt after the first homestay to prevent her excitement from building up by stopping play and ignoring her until she calms down again.

Donna came home permanently with us at the beginning of this year. Florence warned us that all the bad habits will come out when she adjusts to her new home.

I did think of it as bad habits, but as I did more research on Donna’s behaviour, I started to think of it as the dog adjusting to a new abode and trying to make the best of living with two new humans. Donna was previously house-trained, so it was not difficult to get her back to using the newspaper. But if the newspaper was removed, or if the kitchen rug was in closer proximity, the kitchen rug became the next preferred place for her business. This to me was not ideal since it prevented me from getting my meals and her meals. Clean up became the top priority when she did it on the kitchen rug and clean up was a pain and I did lose my patience. I ended up throwing the rugs, and replacing them with new ones. Things went back on track for a while until I slipped a tray under the newspapers. It made sense to us as the tray can collect any seepage and we can push the tray under the sink so that the common toilet can still be used by house guests without the yucky feeling of dog pee on the toilet floor. Unfortunately, Donna decided she had a fear of the tray and went back to the next most sensible spot (to a dog) — the kitchen rug. By then, I was convinced that no matter how well trained, there is always the potential for mishap, so Donna was barred from the kitchen. We installed a child gate.  And since I enjoyed our walks  and hated cleaning up her pee and poop at home, I stopped lazing in bed and took her out for walks on time in the morning (delays could mean she would go at home) and also later in the evening and at night before her bedtime. My ultimate dream is for her to finally learn to poop on demand!

Fast forward to today, which is about two months since Donna has come to live permanently with us, I am starting to think that living with a dog will always be as much as an on-going process of adjustment as living with another human being. The difference is that there is so much more that one needs to actively learn in order to manage the dog since it cannot speak with us, give us verbal and easy to understand feedback like a human can. The Dog Whisperer continues to be a fun sort of entertainment where you can see all sorts of dogs that you may not see on the streets in Singapore, but we’ve also learnt that there is more than just one methodology when training your dog. Do we really need to be all dominant and always eat before we feed our dog, which pardon me, sounds a little wacky :P So more and more, I veered towards trying different things from  bodily blocking her and stopping her from entering the study (which is out of bounds to her) to positive reinforcement of actions that I like from her. If I see her sitting calmly by herself outside the study while I work, rather than clattering in and demanding attention, I surprise her with a treat. After a while, she learnt to relax and chill out, catch a nap by the door.

I’ve also tried negative punishment – if she starts tugging, we walk in the other direction from where she wants to go, and when she stops tugging, she gets to continue the walk and that worked really well so that we can at least enjoy our walk together without inconveniencing the people around us particularly on narrow sidewalks.

But yes, two months is a short time and we are still very much a work in progress, trying to figure out how we fit and gel together from food to play to engaging and bonding with our new dog.


Note: This post is written March 06, 2013. It’s now 21 Oct, 2013. I’ve seen become better at reading dog body language and no longer watch Cesar Milan for entertainment. I find it quite painful to see the fearful dogs being dominated by a “trainer” who doesn’t understand the behaviours they are showing… too painful to watch.

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