Do we really need another book about training?” I often asked myself as I was writing my new book. Each time I had doubts, however, I found myself in seminars and consultations answering the same questions again and again—questions I’ve addressed before in essays and articles that I’ve written over the years. So, I organized them into a single volume and The Eye of the Trainer: Animal Training, Transformation, and Trust was born. I begin the book with a new article called Why Training Matters! The article is the introduction to every major lecture and seminar that I present, something I have never before put into writing. I share my philosophy about why training matters, and this theme continues through the entire first chapter. All of the articles in Chapter One focus on simple or “basic” training concepts, with an emphasis on why they matter.
In the second chapter I discuss tools and topics that cause confusion within our community consistently: the keep-going signal, jackpots, end-of-session signals, and even the debate about whether a clicker is helpful or needed for training.
The book is also filled with personal stories about training. Some I share frequently when I lecture, while others are unique lessons that I don’t talk about often. There are stories about Tulip, the livestock-guarding dog; Zsa Zsa, a dolphin with an incredible memory; CJ, the sea lion that had trouble accepting new trainers; Salsa, the skittish alpaca; Rudy, the reindeer that had never been trained; Carson, the search-and-rescue dog that lost his enthusiasm temporarily; and Lucky and Hastings, the dolphins that showed me the power of relationships. These stories, and many others, have taught me valuable lessons about training, and I am glad to be able to share them in this book.
Perhaps the most valuable chapters of the book are the ones that discuss the difficulties of dealing with people. Through the years I have faced many challenges from clients who haven’t completely embraced the use of positive reinforcement or who put up obstacles that slowed down training progress. I have stumbled and made mistakes along the way, and I include those errors, hoping that readers gain wisdom from the lessons I have learned.
I also share stories about problem-solving, concept training, scent detection, conservation training, zoo consulting, and more. Each story is short, most running three to six pages. They are stand-alone stories, so the reader can pick the book up and start anywhere; chapters and stories don’t have to be read in any particular order. However, I have tried to group articles by theme to make it easier to find stories of interest.
My goal is to inspire and inform, and I want readers to gain insights that might help their training. I hope The Eye of the Trainer proves to be a valuable addition to every trainer’s library. Get your copy now!
Have you ever wanted to reward your dog for a job well done, but didn't have food treats with you? Consider playing with your dog to reinforce good behavior! Using play as a reinforcer is convenient – it doesn’t require anything but you and your dog. It adds variety to your training routine, and also helps strengthen your relationship. Here, Karen Pryor Faculty Member Laurie Luck offers these suggestions for finding your dog’s play preferences.
Finding and fostering play preferences
Some dogs are natural retrievers—fetch is their game of choice. Other dogs like to chase or be chased. Still other dogs like physical play—roughhousing is fun for them. To determine what play your dog enjoys naturally, watch your dog when he’s with other dogs. Does he like to body slam and wrestle with his doggie friends? Chances are he might like to do the same with you. Does he chase other dogs? Does he like it when other dogs chase him? See if you can engage your dog in these same kinds of games.
Maybe your dog loves the water? Find a water-worthy toy and get him involved in play in his element. Does your dog go crazy for squeaky toys? Buy several toys with different squeakers (there are toys that “squeak” grunts!) and see which type of squeak your dog likes the most.
If your dog doesn’t seem to like any particular game or toy, there are toys with little pockets you can put food into. Lure your dog into interacting with a toy to jumpstart play.
When you know your dog’s play preferences, next comes the fun part: shopping for toys! There are so many toys on the market, you are sure to find one that fits your dog’s preferences. If your dog likes to chase things, take a look at toys like the Kong Ball or Planet Dog Fetch Ball.
If your dog loves the water, look for bright, floating toys that you can toss into the surf such as the Gripple and the Bobb. Or, for fun both in and out of the water, try a ring toy such as the LED Floating Ring Mini. If your dog is just learning to fetch, attach those toys to a River Rope, in case your dog decides not to fetch the toy. With a River Rope you can pull the toy back in easily, without having to go into the water yourself. The rope also keeps the toy from going downstream or out with the tide!
If squeaking is what your dog is after, your options are almost limitless. Check out the Kong toys that have squeakers built in (my dogs’ favorites!), like the Kong Air Dog SqueakAir Buoy. If your dog likes to chase things and enjoys squeakers, toys like the Kong Jumbler Ball can be very enticing!
Top Choice = You
Don’t forget that the opportunity to play with you can be the most rewarding activity of all! Run from your dog, and see if he follows you. Give chase after your dog; my dogs seem to enjoy this game most of all. That one is a win-win choice—we’re having fun together and we’re both getting exercise!
Working play into your daily interactions with your dog is valuable for a myriad of reasons. First of all, it’s impossible to measure the fun! Fun is an effective reinforcer in training, too, whether you are training basic manners or more advanced skills and tricks. Don’t forget that amazing side effect of playing with your dog—your relationship with your dog gets better and better.
Now get out there and play with your dog!
While some breeds of dogs may be more prone to fear of loud noises than others, it is more likely that temperament and past experience will influence a dog's sensitivity and reactivity. Dogs that have not been exposed to a variety of sounds or experiences—or rescue, shelter, and/or abused dogs with tough times in their pasts—are vulnerable to the fear of thunderstorms and fireworks, and are at risk for other scares, too!
If your pet is frightened by the loud noises associated with fireworks or thunderstorms, there are ways to make the experience less traumatic. Try these tips and tricks:Dogs can indicate their fear in a variety of ways, with symptoms ranging from minor to extreme. Some common symptoms of fear can include: shaking, whining, hiding, pacing, urinating or defecating, or destroying property or items that a dog might otherwise leave alone.
Even when a storm has passed or holiday fireworks have sizzled out, your pet may exhibit lingering effects of fear. Be patient and loving. While your pet may never be free from anxiety associated with thunderstorms or fireworks, a well-managed "loud event" may make the next event easier and less intense.
If your dog's fear of fireworks or thunderstorms seems extreme or is not mitigated in any way by these strategies or other efforts, consider a professional consultation. Your veterinarian or a credentialed behaviorist can offer additional strategies for aiding a pet that is truly suffering.
With a variety of options for helping your pet through scary storms and loud fireworks, the focus of the season can remain on pleasure and leisure. Happy summer!
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is adapted from information in Karen Pryor Academy’s Dog Trainer Foundations course.
A crucial choice
Choosing the right training treats is so important that it can mean the difference between a successful training session and an unsuccessful one. Clicker trainers often use food treats for training new behaviors because they allow for lots of quick reinforcers. But how do you know what food to choose? Animals learn much faster if the rate of reinforcement is high. It’s easier and faster to deliver a small, soft food treat than, say, a thrown tennis ball. This makes small, soft food treats ideal for teaching new behaviors.
Make sure the dog considers the food valuable
Your dog must like the food you are using enough that he is willing to work for it. Otherwise, it cannot serve as an effective reinforcer. If you notice that your dog doesn’t seem to be enjoying the food treats you’ve selected, or his attention is starting to wander, try something else.
Also, keep in mind that when you’re asking the dog to do something more difficult, you should make sure the value of your reinforcer reflects that. While a low-value reinforcer such as a piece of kibble may be fine for training in your living room, higher-value reinforcers such as diced hot dog may be needed in more distracting environments.
Dogs get bored just like we do, and variety can be essential to the training process. While some dogs will work enthusiastically for the same food day in and day out, many will not. Training with different kinds of treats, and varying your reinforcers within training sessions, will maximize their value. Keep three or four different types of treats on hand, so you can be ready to switch quickly if your dog loses interest in one kind.
Treat size: think small…
Treats need to be delicious, but very small!Consider this: During a successful three-minute training session, you could easily be delivering 30 or 40 treats! That’s just one session. It’s not at all unusual for clicker trained dogs to consume 100 or more treats in a day.
That means a lot of learning happens, but also a lot of treats are consumed. The aim is to give the dog the pleasant experience of tasting and smelling something wonderful, over and over again. The treats need to be delicious, but very small. Pea-sized treats are plenty big for medium- to large-sized dogs, and half that size is plenty for smaller dogs.
Small treats that the dog is able to consume quickly and easily will help you, the trainer, maintain a high rate of reinforcement and optimize the learning. Hard, crunchy treats like biscuits that take a long time to chew are okay for maintaining behavior, but they are more difficult to use training a new behavior because:
When training in a new or challenging environment, it’s a good idea to use perishable, high-value treats.When training in a new or challenging environment (such as the vet’s office, around strange dogs, or at a dog-sports competition), it’s a good idea to use perishable, high-value treats. Soft things like diced hot dogs, liverwurst, deli meat or cheese are highly valued by most dogs and are very easily consumed. (One caveat is that “slimy” treats such as those can sometimes be a little more difficult for a novice trainer to deliver swiftly.) Some examples of soft, high-value reinforcers include:
Non-perishables have a role, too
High-value treats, although usually appreciated by dogs, are not the most practical to carry around all the time. There’s definitely something to be said for having non-perishable treats always at your disposal. Non-perishable treats are easy to use for day-to-day training both in the house/yard, and out on walks. These treats are already cut up to the perfect size for training, and you can carry a handful of them in your pocket or keep a bag of them around without worrying that they will go bad. Having them always at the ready allows you to “catch” your dog being good and quickly reinforce him or her. Some favorite non-perishable treats are:
A long-lasting treat
My favorite long-lasting treat can be consumed in a crate, in the car, as I’m leaving the house, or during a boring/rainy day. My choice is always either a bully stick or a frozen Kong. Kongs are so versatile, are easily washed, and can be filled with anything you want. My favorite fillings include a combination of 2-3 of the following:
Let your DOG tell you what he finds most reinforcing...It’s best to have a variety of treats (perishable and non-perishable, easy to deliver and long-lasting) on hand. Remember, the more difficult the behavior, the higher value the treat should be. Most of all, let your DOG tell you what he finds most reinforcing and use in new, high-expectation, or difficult training.
Imagine teaching your dog to put his hind feet—just his hind feet—on a mat. Or, imagine teaching your cat to give a high-five. What if you could teach your dog to use his nose to ring a bell to go outside?
These fun and useful behaviors are all examples of targeting a body part to a specific object. Training your pet to touch a target is not only a fun game to play, but it is easy to teach and can extend to even more complicated behaviors or to tools in administering veterinary care.
Targets can be almost anything. Use a kitchen rug as a settle mat for your dog; the dog targets his whole body onto the kitchen rug. Your cat can sit on a drink coaster while you fix dinner; as long as her feet are on the coaster, she can't jump on the counter and pester you. Teach your dog to ring a bell, and you have a doggie doorbell for him to use when he has to go to the bathroom outside. Targeting the dog's nose to the bell is the easiest way to avoid damage to the bell. Teach your horse to target a hoof to a bucket, and you have made soaking the hoof a lot easier (for you and the horse!).
It's easiest to begin by teaching an animal to touch its nose to a target held close to the nose. Use just about anything as a target: a sticky note, a pencil, or even your hand. These targets all work well for smaller animals like dogs and cats. For larger animals, a larger target may be easier. A tennis ball on a dowel rod can be used as an inexpensive target for horse training.
Here's how to get started using a target with your pet:
After you have taught your animal to touch a target, move to a more advanced targeting skill: following a target. Think of how easy it would be to move your pet from one location to another (loading your dog into a car, for example) if all you have to do is place a target in front of your pet's face and then move the target to where you'd like the animal to go!
Other uses for targeting include getting an animal onto the scale at the veterinary hospital, moving your pet off the sofa so you can have a seat, and moving your dog away from another dog walking down the path. You can also use a target to teach your dog to move away from you. Stick the target on the wall and the dog will learn to move away from you in order to earn a click and treat.
Here's how to teach your pet to follow a target:
Using the target stick makes teaching tricks easier, too! Imagine how easy it would be to teach your dog to turn the lights off or to close the refrigerator door for you. You can accomplish this, and realize other dreams, all by using a target stick!
The targeting behavior comes in handy if you would like your dog to walk on a loose lead. Simply present the target next to your leg; click and treat the dog for walking at your side (i.e., for following the target). Targeting is a great tool for horse owners, as well. Using a tennis ball on a dowel makes loading your horse into a trailer a breeze. There are so many practical and entertaining applications of targeting!
Whatever needs targeting can fill for you and your animal, remember to work toward your goals slowly and positively. Steady success makes training so much more enjoyable for all!
Laurie Luck, KPA CTP, and a Karen Pryor Academy faculty member, is the founder of Smart Dog University. She has been involved with many pet dog trainer certification initiatives, all based on humane training practices and the latest scientific knowledge. Laurie also participates in service dog training, and she and her Tango are a pet-therapy team. Through her work with dogs and owners, Laurie has developed many happy canine and human friendships.
If you are a trainer, when you see a dog on a leash your attention may go to gait, ease of movement, equipment worn, and the handler’s use of the equipment. It is deeply satisfying to see an animal’s comfortable stride, with a handler enabling that stride. But often what you see is less than wonderful: a roached back, constant tension on the leash, leaning-away from the handler, blocking of the animal’s joints, and more. The wrong choice of equipment or a bad fit can be responsible for these problems. Careful equipment choices and equipment fit, especially the fit of a harness, can eliminate these issues.
Read on for suggestions for making informed decisions about equipment and fit. What your dog wears for walks is your personal decision, but the information that follows will help you decide what is best for your dog and for you.
Some concerns about collars
Many excellent trainers leash-walk with the leash attached only to the dog’s collar. They do this for a variety of reasons, including:
Here are some of my concerns with collars:
You don’t have to have pulling in order to create pressure or injure your dog via the collar. It just takes one instance of accidentally stepping on the leash. Try this exercise: Wrap your hands and fingers around your neck with your thumbs at the front and center of your neck. Now push in with your thumbs and try to breathe normally. It’s not comfortable for humans, so why would we think pressure on the neck is comfortable for dogs?
Well-known veterinarian Jean Dodds has also been concerned about collars, and answered a question on her blog about collars damaging the thyroid.
“This is an important question that we’re all trying to pay more attention to, because the thyroid and salivary glands are superficially located just under the skin in the upper part of the neck. The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped organ just in front of the larynx and trachea, and the mandibular salivary glands are found on the side of the face just below the ears. Thus, they can be easily injured by trauma and sudden pressure forces (like could occur from the slip ring and chain of metal collar, and a metal prong or hard braided leather collar).”
I no longer use collars, even for tags; there are identification (ID) tags for harnesses that stay put and don’t get caught on things. I recognize that there are some especially soft collars and collars with lovely designs that might be used for ID tags, fashion, or connecting a leash to. Of course, prong, choke, and electronic (remote) collars can harm your dog and, therefore, are not recommended at all.
Like collars, ill-suited and ill-fitted harnesses can cause harm, both physical and behavioral. Harnesses that rub under the legs or restrict movement, or otherwise make your dog uncomfortable, should be ruled out. Some dogs are uncomfortable with anything touching their ears or slipping over their heads. While some people want padded or fleece harnesses, I think this is because they have experienced some of the many harnesses that rub dogs and aren’t soft enough where the harness is in contact with the dog’s fur or skin. A soft nylon harness is perfectly comfortable as long as there are no rough or cut edges that can rub against the dog.
Look for a harness with both front and back rings to connect to the leash. I often teach a handler to attach a leash to both the front and back rings while handler and dog are learning to partner on leash. This requires a leash with two snaps, not two leashes, and can be done with one hand easily. Once the team communicates well while walking (no pulling matches are occurring), the handler can move the leash to the front or back ring only.
I prefer to use the ring that is between the withers rather than the front chest ring. Given that dogs often walk in front of us, we can too easily pull them off balance if we are behind them and using only the front ring.
Measuring your dog’s girth for harness fit, be sure to measure where you’d like the harness to fit (assuming you are using a fully-adjustable harness like the Balance Harness). Once you get the harness, use your own eyes, hands, and the dog’s reaction to the harness to tell if it is a match. The dog should be completely comfortable in the harness.
If you are using a harness that slips over the head, once the neck strap is adjusted to fit over the dog’s head you will get an idea of how much the girth strap needs to be adjusted. Remove the harness and adjust it. The chest and top straps (Balance Harness only) can be adjusted last. By adjusting these straps, you can decide where the girth strap fits best on your dog’s rib cage. I usually adjust a harness so that this strap is two to three inches behind the front legs and elbows.
Teaching your dog to love his harness.
Teaching your dog to get dressed
Take the time to introduce the harness so that it’s a positive experience for the dog. Invite your dog to put her head through the neck opening on her own and reinforce her for doing so. You can use a nose-to-hand “touch” cue that starts with your hand near the opening of the harness. Gradually move your hand so that to touch it she has to put her head through the harness. This should be easy for your dog and reinforced often (refer to detailed steps below). Take your time before using the harness as a cue. Hold off until it predicts that good things are going to happen. It’ll be worth it in the long run. If your dog is sound-sensitive, gradually get her used to the sound of the neck buckle closing.
Follow these steps to teach your dog to slip her head into a harness. You may need to repeat the steps several times, over several training sessions, before actually putting the harness on the dog. You are teaching the dog that the harness predicts good things will happen.
Before you head out…
Selecting leash-walking equipment means making an important investment in your dog’s health, performance, and behavior. Take the time to make the choice that “fits” you and your dog perfectly.
What is also important, and closely related to leash-walking equipment, is training loose-leash walking. This kind of training pays off big in building your relationship with your dog and cementing an activity that you can do together with ease and in sync. With your equipment set, you’re ready to head out. Before you do, read How to Teach Loose-Leash Walking and watch the DVD Tellington TTouch Techniques: Walking in Balance With Your Dog.
Panda, the guide miniature horse trained by ClickerExpo faculty member Alexandra Kurland and the beloved service animal and companion of Ann Edie, had a tough 2016. Like many of us, Panda and Ann are looking ahead to brighter skies in 2017—and we all can help.
Ann, who is blind, has enjoyed the assistance and friendship of Panda since 2003! Panda not only helps Ann “travel smoothly and efficiently around my community,” but she transmits joy to those around her, demonstrating her intelligence and good humor daily. As Karen Pryor wrote in The Panda Game:
“KPCT was fortunate to have Ann Edie and Panda as honored guests at ClickerExpo Newport in 2006. Everyone enjoyed meeting this distinguished pair. We were awed by Panda's calmness as she guided Ann during the day, through crowds and halls and past all sorts of dogs (some of which were distinctly upset at having a horse among them).”
Since May, 2016, Panda has been ill. While Panda is at home now and is continuing to recover, the multiple hospital admissions, tests, and medications she has needed have resulted in very high vet bills for Panda’s family.
Alexandra Kurland has created a YouCaring fundraising page for Panda and Ann, hoping that kind and caring friends and strangers might contribute to paying down these medical bills. If you are so inclined, please visit the page to make a contribution (of any amount), read updates, and post good wishes for Panda.
To show support for Panda and Ann, throughout the month of January Karen Pryor Clicker Training will donate 20% of the proceeds from the sales of horse training kits, books, and DVDs (authored by Alexandra Kurland), treats, and apparel to the Panda fund! Shop now.
Some dogs are born to tug. Although I wasn’t present for his birth, I did meet Blink, my border collie, when he was very young (about 3 weeks old). I was lucky enough to visit his litter each week until I brought Blink home at age 8 weeks. I can attest to this—from the time he and his siblings were able to grasp something in their tiny mouths and hold on to it, they were tuggers. Fierce, enthusiastic, tuggers. They would tug until they dropped from exhaustion, falling asleep mid-tug with some poor, unsuspecting, braided-rope monkey toy hanging out of their mouths with its stuffed head half torn off. (True story).
Having had two Labs that were all about the food and “meh” about tugging, I thought this was just about the coolest thing ever! These baby puppies were grrring and tugging with all their might and seemed to really enjoy the game.
Given that, tug became a very powerful reinforcer early on Blink’s life. In fact, tugging was used to reinforce desirable behavior long before the pups ever left their breeder. I had such a huge head start using tug as a reinforcer in training that it felt like cheating! By the time I brought Blink home, not only did he have a reinforcement history of tugging, he had a reinforcement history of tugging with ME.
I capitalized on that reinforcement history right away. Unlike food (which Blink would accept politely, if I was lucky), he was rabid about tug. So rabid that he once lost three puppy teeth in the span of an hour-long group class and kept right on tugging through it all. Blink simply could not get enough of the game. I would have been foolish not to use that passion to my advantage in his training. I used tug as his main reinforcer for every single new behavior I taught him. “Wait.” Click/tug. “Sit.” Click/tug. “Lie down.” Click/tug. And on it went, until we built up a basic behavioral repertoire successfully, solely using clicker training, but almost never using food as a reinforcer.
Blink also loves to chase toys like balls, Frisbees and ring toys. Later on, when I wanted to add some distance to Blink’s behaviors, I began using thrown toys as reinforcers. For instance, if Blink was 20-30 feet away, and it wasn’t possible to tug with him, I would click and reinforce with a thrown toy.
To this day, tug remains 7-year-old Blink’s main reinforcer. I do use food sometimes, but almost everything the dog knows was taught with tug or a thrown toy. “Give me a hug.” Click/tug. “Hold still while I trim a nail.” Click/throw a ball. “Do a dog-sport demo with me in front of a crowd of people and dogs.” Click/tug.
Although it works great with Blink, using toys in place of food as reinforcers isn’t for every dog. For example, this would have been a terrible training plan for my Labs, unless I took the time to condition toys as secondary reinforcers for them. But, if you have a dog that loves tug or toys more than food (not to be “breedest,” but herding dogs often fit this description!), try using those things as reinforcers.
If you’re interested in learning more about adding toys, tug, natural, and novel reinforcers to your reinforcement strategy, and improving your own reinforcement skills, Ken Ramirez has authored an entire online course on this very subject! Check out the Smart Reinforcement course.
Karen Pryor Clicker Training’s Terry Ryan Treat Pouch was named “best treat pouch/bait bag” in the August 2016 issue of The Whole Dog Journal (WDJ). Nancy Kerns, Editor in Chief of WDJ, tested and rated a variety of treat pouches as she walked and trained her own dogs. An admitted “treat-bag junkie,” Nancy experiments with all of the reasonably priced bags she finds, and has clear criteria on what makes a bag great.
The WDJ article discusses first the basic features of a working treat pouch, including preferred size, open-and-close method, quality, ease of care, and “extras.” Although she herself does not like bells and whistles, Nancy does mention some design additions that might appeal to other trainers (space for poop bags, extra loops for attaching keys, etc., space for personal items).
What leads Nancy Kerns to declare the Terry Ryan Treat Pouch her “absolute favorite” is its simplicity—and quality. From the pouch’s belt attachment to the French-spring hinge mechanism for easy access, from the space for a basic phone to the squared base of the bag that allows it to stand alone on a flat surface, Nancy praises the Terry Ryan Treat Pouch as an essential tool. While the WDJ test results article describes two pouches that are runners-up, and lists other bags that did not make the cut, only the Karen Pryor Clicker Training product was described as “Everything we need, nothing we don’t!”