Positive Training Techniques 101

One of great benefits of using positive training is that it gives an owner options when teaching a new behavior.  There are 3 main techniques that positive trainers utilize when working with dogs and creating wanted behaviors.

Luring:  This usually entails taking a treat and having your dog follow it until he reaches the “position” that you want.  For instance, for a “sit”  you would take the treat, place it in front of his nose, and pull the treat above his head causing him to sit.  Do this several times so that he has the “action”.  Then you can add the cue word “sit”.

Capturing:  This is used when your dog is already doing a behavior that you want..but you want it on a cue.  An example would be along the lines of wanting to teach “down”.  Wait until your dog is lying on the ground and simply walk up to your dog and “reward” him over and over again.  Soon you can add a cue word “down” and reward.  After that, you would  give the cue word “down” and see if your dog responds.

Shaping: This is when you break down a behavior into very small increments so that your dog can succeed.  For instance, if I was asking my dog to “down”, I may reward the dog for just bowing his head at first, then reward him for bending a bit more, and finally reward him lying all the way down.  This is the best way to train a dog when teaching difficult skills or tricks.

Positive trainers are always looking for creative and stress free ways to encourage dogs to offer behaviors. By understanding just how each techniques works, trainers are seldom at a loss on how to coach a dog through a behavior. Not all dogs take in information at the same rate, so not all techniques may work for a particular dog. With the above options, owners and trainers are able to choose the one that best suits their dog.

There are many books and articles which break down these three techniques a bit more.  The benefit of understanding how they work is that it gives an owner more “tools” in their training toolbox. The more tools, the better chance of success. And successful learning is what training is all about!

Helping Fido Learn to Love the Veterinarian

Most dogs do not relish a trip to the veterinarian.  It can be extremely stressful on our furry friends.  Honestly, who among us enjoys going to the doctor?  Not me, and at least I understand why I’m going there. Our poor dogs don’t have a clue as to why they are put through an exam which includes being hoisted onto a tall cold table, having needles stuck into them, and being poked a prodded from head to toe.

The associations that dogs can make at a vet’s office are very important.  It can mean the difference between a relatively easy visit and one where muzzles and restraints are involved. One bad experience in a vet’s office can create years of frustration for owners and severe anxiety and stress for their dogs.  So, teach your dog from the start that going to the veterinarian isn’t so bad, in fact it can be a great experience!

If you have a puppy, start the process now. It is always better to be proactive and teach a puppy to love the vet.  Load up on treats and toys and pull them out at the vet’s office.  Let staff members give the treats and make sure that lots of good things happen immediately after a shot (or anything that may be uncomfortable for your pet). If you have a “shy” puppy, then you may need to follow the steps below.

If you have a pet that is already nervous or difficult at the vet’s office, then you have to create a new association.  This means starting at square one.  The following is an example of counter conditioning that has been used successfully when trying to change a dog’s mindset when it comes to visiting the vet.

Step 1: Take your dog on a drive and pull into the vet’s parking lot.  Give lots of treats (high value….the really good stuff like hot dogs, cheese, turkey) and lots of praise, then drive away.   Try that several times over the course of the next week or two.  If you do this enough, your dog should start to wag his tail when you pull into the parking lot.  Once this is happening, then it is time to move to the next step.

Step 2: Next drive up to the vet’s office, get out of the car with your dog, walk around the parking lot, treat you dog or play with a favorite toy  and then get back into the car and leave. Again, do this until your dog is very relaxed and wagging his tail the entire time you are there.

Step 3: The next step is to walk into the clinic, stay a short amount of time while playing and treating your dog.  Make certain that you leave while your dog is still having a good time. Again, continue on this step until your dog’s tail is wagging all of the time.

Step 4: Finally, you can move into the office and have the staff and vet dispense treats. Always leave while your dog is in a “good” state of mind.  The idea is to change the association of this “scary place with evil people” to “Wow!  I love this place…and the yummy treats!”

My German Shepherd is a prime example of a dog that has some anxiety. I bring treats and toys, and we actually practice “sits”, “downs” and “targeting” while we are waiting at the office.  It keeps her mind busy, so she forgets to “stress” about it!

The above steps can be moved through quickly (the first steps may not even be necessary with all cases) or each step could take weeks.  It will depend on the severity of the anxiety. Don’t move from one step to the next unless your dog is very relaxed and appears happy.  Moving too quickly can cancel out all of the work you have put into this.  Most vets should be willing to work with you, but it is always a good idea to call ahead of time and find days and times that are not too busy when asking the staff to help you.

A little bit of time can make a big difference in the way a dog handles a visit to the vet.  And an easy vet visit makes life a little more enjoyable for all of us.

Rewarding your dog is OK……..Really!!!!

Positive training uses a reward based system for training.   Many naysayers contend that the use of “rewards” during training teaches a dog to only respond if there is a reward involved.  They consider this “bribery”.  Realistically we have to dispel the myth that dogs live to please mankind . No matter how much we want to believe this, it is just not the case.  Dogs live to please themselves. “What’s in it for me?” is their mantra.  The sooner that we accept this, the easier it is to move on and provide wonderful “paychecks” whenever our dogs do something that we like!

Keep in mind that every dog has a different reward system.  Food usually works with most dogs, but don’t forget about affection, belly rubs, walks, access to outdoors, access to toys and wonderful interactive time with their favorite human. The difference in rewarding a dog and bribing a dog has a lot to do with timing.  It is important that you reward your dog “after” he has performed the requested behavior.  The reward appears after he has “worked” for it, not before.  It is also imperative that once your dog understands the cue and behavior being requested, you begin to change the ratio at which you reward.  Once your dog “sits” regularly, there is no need to reward every time with food.  He could be rewarded the 1st time with a treat,  the next time with an excited “good boy” from you, and the next time with a game of tug o war.  In other words, your dog knows that something great will happen, it is just a matter of “what”.


1. Use very small portions when rewarding with food. You can also use some of Fido’s food throughout the day as a reward so
that he/she doesn’t gain too much weight!

2. Make a list of anything that your dog likes…..each dog is different.  Anything that your dog likes can be used as a reward.

3. Constantly keep your dog guessing with what you will offer.  Sometimes you have great things and sometimes
smaller rewards.  He never knows what is coming his way….but it comes from you, the owner, and it is always good!

Myths About Dog Training #2

Myth #2:  My dog doesn’t seem to be able to learn anything. He is stupid, dominant or stubborn.

  Dogs are similar to humans in the way that they learn. We all have strengths and weaknesses and some grasp concepts quicker than others.  The same is true with dogs.  Keep in mind that many dogs were bred for specific purposes and others may have been bred more for “show”.  In any case, all dogs can learn, the trick is to meet them at the level that they can handle. We would never ask a child in kindergarten to study calculus, and we shouldn’t expect a young puppy to behave like a 5 year old dog.  Dogs need appropriate motivation, consistency and levels of testing in which they can succeed.  Something is missing in the teaching method if your dog is having trouble.  In other words, the human needs to make the adjustments in order for the dog to succeed.

If a dog refuses to perform a behavior make certain there isn’t a medical problem or causing the dog pain. Check the hips, legs or any area for possible pain. Finally, work in small increments.  Catch them doing what you want and reward them for it.  They will be more apt to do it again.

Myths About Dog Training #1

There is so much information floating around regarding dog training that I thought it might be a good idea to put to rest some of those “old favorite” myths that  seem to circulate and never die out completely.

Myth #1:  Dogs are descendents of wolves and should be trained based on how wolf packs interact with each other.

First of all, dogs are not wolves and there are many differences between dog and wolf behavior….the biggest one being that dogs have been domesticated and live with humans!  This information on wolf behavior came from a study years ago and unfortunately has been used as our basis for “dealing” with dogs.   Several books on wolf behavior can be found by author Nicole Wilde if you are really interested in the differences.

As far as training our domesticated dogs is concerned, there is no room for “alpha rolls”, “physical force” or “needing to dominate” our dogs.   These methods make little sense to our pets and usually don’t end well. Let’s spread the word and help this myth die out, for the sake of pet dogs everywhere.