Why Training Is Essential

Training is not a luxury, but a key component to good animal care.

Zazous, the rescued Moluccan cockatoo with "Flat Stanley" at the Audubon Zoo
Zazous, the rescued Moluccan cockatoo with “Flat Stanley” at the Audubon Zoo

There are many reasons people choose to train an animal.  Some people train animals to avoid being bitten, attacked, or crushed by them.  Some people train animals to avoid being their next meal.  Some people train animals to make their lives easier when working with them.

Those are a few of the reasons why I started training animals, but over the years I started to appreciate other reasons for training them.

I became dedicated to training animals because we had fun together!  I enjoyed training them because it enhanced our relationship.  I looked forward to training them because it was fun challenge, where everyone would win!   I appreciated training animals because I always learned something new about them.  I became humbled when training animals because they always found a way to “train” me in the process.  Training became one of my favorite forms of communication.  Training became an essential part of my life.  Training was an essential part of their life.

Something else I learned while training animals:  If someone acquired the skills, understood the techniques, and practiced patience, they could do it, too.

I am not special.  I merely took the time to learn the techniques.  I practiced the skills.  I learned patience.  I made mistakes.  And I tried again and again.

That’s why I want to talk with you about training.  You can train animals the force-free way, too!  But before we begin, you have to understand what training really is.


What Is Training?

 

Training is “teaching”.

When we make a conscious effort to train an animal to display a particular behavior, we are training the animal.  However, sometimes we influence (train) our animal’s behavior inadvertently, without being aware that we are teaching them.  We do this through our actions, or through other stimuli present in their environment.

That’s why it’s so important that we become aware of that fact that we are always training.

Whether you are consciously aware of it or not, you influence what your animal companion learns.  You are their teacher.  As their caretaker, you are teaching the animals that you care for 24 hours a day!  Now ask yourself, what are you teaching them?

ALL ZOO PICS FROM WORK PC 026
When Menari, the Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii) was born, we made sure that every interaction she had with us was a positive one. She was gradually exposed to people, places, and things that would help her to feel safe and secure in our human world.

Training is all about associations.

The key to an optimal environment at home (or in captivity) is to assist an animal’s opportunity to make associations that enhance its overall well-being.   Simply put, as their guardians (or caretakers), we help animals to feel more secure, safe, and content in their environment by creating scenarios where the animal feels good about who and what they encounter every day.   As various training methods are being applied to an increasingly diverse number of species, it is important to understand what methods are appropriate (and which are not appropriate).

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Dedicated animal trainers teaching one of our giraffe that people = only Good Things!

Training is about building a relationship.

When we are training an animal using positive methods, we are building trust.  Trust is the foundation on which all relationships are built upon.   Positive-based training is one of the best ways to enhance the relationship between a person and an animal, and maintain this trust for a lifetime.  Training increases trust and builds confidence. It builds bonds that last a lifetime!  Training creates a happy, harmonious environment.

 

Reward-Based Training is how you gain the trust of animals, like our handsome Tapir, named Melon!
Reward-Based Training is how you gain the trust of animals, like our handsome Tapir, named Melon!

Trust is one of the most important aspects of any training plan.  What defines a good relationship between trainer and trainee is a strong positive reinforcement history.

 


Why Training Is Essential

Training is a key component to an animal’s well being.  Training is the key to safety, harmony, and well-being in our homes!  A home without a well trained, well behaved animal is chaotic and stressful.  Most – if not all – animal behavioral issues can be successfully managed with a formal training plan.  From trips to the vet, to trips to the park, training is at the heart of having these experiences be a positive one for everyone involved.

This Rhino learned through positive training that people are safe, which allowed our zoo guests to interact with her.
This rhino learned through positive training that people are safe, which allowed our guests to interact with her on a daily basis. She could choose if she wanted to interact with them, or not. These same methods of learning can be used on your pets at home!

 

Animals deserve the best care we can possibly provide. Training should not be considered a luxury that is only provided if there is time; it is an essential part of good animal care.  Just as one would never consider developing an animal care program without a veterinary component, a nutritional component, a social component, and an environmental component; nobody should consider caring for an animal without a behavioral management component integrated into the program. ~ Ken Ramirez

 


Every year, Ken Ramirez leads a sold-out seminar for students and professionals in the animal training field.  Ken was one of my greatest teachers as I was learning about the science of animal training.  Watch Ken’s interview, as he explains why training is essential, how we are training animals every day- whether we realize it or not, and how the laws of learning work on all species, including people!

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CLICK ON THE IMAGE TO WATCH the VIDEO!

We are limited in what we can accomplish because of preconceived notions of what is possible.  When we limit ourselves or our pets, we also limit our view of what is possible.  Of course, there are limits to what we can train.  But sometimes we don’t give our dogs credit for being capable of far more than what we see them do traditionally.  

~Ken Ramirez, Executive Vice President of Animal Care and Animal Training at the world-renowned Shedd Aquarium; Executive Vice President and Chief Training Officer at Karen Pryor Clicker Training (KPCT)


Why Training Your Pet Improves Their Life, and Yours!

In the video below, Ken Ramirez share tips on how to train your own furry friend using the same world-class training and care that endangered species receive in captivity!  He also explains why clickers and “targeting” are helpful when training pets.  Ken demonstrates these techniques with a shelter dog that was once trained for dog fighting.  See how force-free, science-based training has transformed this Fighting Fido into a Canine Companion:

My message would be simple: Training is not a luxury, but a key component to good animal care.  Everyone who has a pet should understand that basic fact.  Training is a way to enhance the quality of life for our pets.  It is far more than just teaching a dog to do a cute trick.  Training is about teaching a dog (or any animal) how to live in our world safely.  ~Ken Ramirez

 

hocus pocus
Positive, reward-based training has transformed my relationship with Hocus Pocus, and it has helped her to live in our human more safely and securely.

 

Animal training should be about mutual respect.  The goal is to build a relationship based on trust.  When we build trust while respecting the animal’s individual needs and preferences, we enhance the bond between the animal and the human.  The results improve our life, and the life of our animal companion. ~ Conscious Companion

Coming Up Next:  How Animals Learn – It’s Not an Opinion; It’s Science!


Recommended Reading:

Thinking Beyond the Cue: Ken Ramirez Takes Animal Training to a New Level

Shedd Aquarium Participates in Beluga Conservation Research Program

Tortoises Teaching Us Through Touch-Screen Technology!

The old assumption that animals acted exclusively by instinct, while man had a monopoly of reason, is, we think, maintained by few people nowadays who have any knowledge at all about animals.  We can only wonder that so absurd a theory could have been held for so long a time as it was, when on all sides the evidence if animals’ power of reasoning is crushing.  ~Ernest Bell 

"Don't judge me by my appearance. I am much smarter than you realize." ~ The nearly 100 year young Aldabra Tortoise, Magma
“Don’t judge me by my appearance. I am much smarter than you realize.” ~ The 100 year young Aldabra Tortoise, Magma

I am beyond excited to share this post with you!  Huge breakthroughs have been happening for tortoises and turtles behind the scenes for decades, but most of the world has no idea what we have accomplished and learned from these complicated reptiles.  Thankfully, a new study has proven what reptile trainers, zoo, aquarium and nature center educators, and reptile enthusiasts all over the world already knew; turtles and tortoises are not simple, mindless creatures.

Thanks to scientists who are thinking outside the box, and who are willing to share their results, the world will finally know that turtles and tortoises are capable of decision making and complex cognitive behavior.  Yes, you read that correctly; tortoises and turtles make deliberate decisions, and use complex thinking to solve problems, and to gain rewards for themselves.

The title of this post is actually true! Tortoises have officially entered the world of touch-screen technology!  Scientists recently discovered that tortoises are capable of learning how to use an electronic device in exchange for strawberries!  The tortoises not only mastered the task in exchange for strawberries, but the animals also transferred their knowledge to a real-life setting.

 


The Tortoise Test Subjects

The tortoises they chose as test subjects for this experiment were Red-footed tortoises. Like most turtles and tortoises, they are very inquisitive and very eager to eat tasty treats.  “This makes them very good test subjects”, Anna Wilkinson, of the University of Lincoln, England explained.

These tortoises lack a hippocampus.  This is an area of the brain associated with learning, memory, and spatial navigation.   The researchers believe that red-footed tortoises may rely on an area in their brain called the medial cortex.  This is the same area associated with complex cognitive behavior and decision making in humans.

Red-footed tortoises are inquisitive and eager to eat treats, making them good test subjects. ~Wilkinson

What better way to a tortoises heart than through a strawberry??
What better way to a tortoise’s heart than through a strawberry??

“Tortoises are perfect to study as they are considered largely unchanged from when they roamed the world millions of years ago. And this research is important so we can better understand the evolution of the brain and the evolution of cognition.”

 


Learning How Tortoises Learn

First the researchers needed to understand how tortoises learn, so they tested how the reptiles relied on cues to navigate the area.  To do this, they gave the tortoises treats when the reptiles looked at, approached, and then pecked on the screen.   All four red-footed tortoises learned how to use touch screens fairly quickly.

“It’s comparable to the speed with which the pigeons and rats do it. I’ve trained dogs to use a touch screen and I’d say the tortoises are faster.” ~ Wilkinson

Wilkinson explains that turtles’ and tortoises’ speedy learning is due to the fact that “tortoise hatchlings don’t receive parental care, so they have to learn how to make decisions about food and shelter for themselves from the moment they hatch.”

 


The Main Experiment

The tortoises attempted to bite a red triangle in the center of the touch screen.  When two blue circles flashed, the tortoises had to consistently peck at either the circle on the right, or the one on the left to get a tasty strawberry.

The results:  All four of the tortoises mastered the tortoise touch-screen task! However two of the tortoises eventually stopped cooperating; Wilkinson explains that it’s possibly because these two were too small to reach the screen.  Two of the tortoises, Esme and Quinn, continued to try and applied  their knowledge to a real-life situation.

You can watch part of the experiment below.

Tortoise With A Touchscreen Tests Testudine Perception Video

 


Learning Applied to Real Life

In the next part of the experiment, the remaining two tortoises applied their knowledge to a real-life situation.  The researchers placed the tortoises in an arena with two blue, empty food bowls that were similar to the blue circles on the touch screen.  The tortoises walked over to the bowl on the same side as the red circles that they were trained to bite at on the screen.

The researchers then trained the tortoises to go to the opposite blue bowl in the arena to see how flexible they were with learning.  When they were reintroduced to the touch screens three months later, the tortoises immediately began biting at the same side of the screen as before.

 “The big problem is how to ask all animals a question that they are equally capable of answering. The touchscreen is a brilliant solution as all animals can interact with it, whether it is with a paw, nose or beak. This allows us to compare the different cognitive capabilities.”

 


What Does This All Mean?

The experiment reinforces other findings that tortoises are intelligent creatures. ~Professor Vonk, psychology department, Oakland University, Michigan

These new findings will help researchers compare the perceptual and cognitive abilities of tortoises to other animals that can perform the same tasks.

Red-footed tortoises are native to Central and South America. When placed in captivity, tortoises and turtles of all species need mental enrichment! Science is continually proving this!
Red-footed tortoises are native to Central and South America. When placed in captivity, tortoises and turtles of all species need mental enrichment! Science is continually proving this!

“Their task was to simply remember where they had been rewarded, learning a simple response pattern on the touchscreen. They then transferred what they had learned from the touchscreen into a real-world situation. This tells us that when navigating in real space they do not rely on simple motor feedback but learn about the position of stimuli within an environment.” -Dr Wilkinson


“If you are taking on a reptile, you must consider their need for cognitive enrichment.” ~ Wilkinson

 

Red-footed tortoises are native to Central and South America. Here is one of our educational reptile representatives, the Red-footed tortoise
Here is one of our educational reptile representatives, the Red-footed tortoise. Educational outreach can be great mental and physical enrichment for reptiles, but we do need to consider that they can get stressed, too. Science is now proving that turtles and tortoises do have complicated cognitive abilities, so we must honor that with how we interact with them and care for them in captivity.

 

“Generally people see reptiles as inert, stupid and unresponsive.  I would like people to see that there is something much more complex going on.” ~ Anna Wilkinson, senior lecturer of animal cognition at the University of Lincoln, England


This study was published in the July issue of the journal Behavioral Processes.

Story Source:  Materials provided by University of Lincoln


Journal Reference:

Julia Mueller-Paul, Anna Wilkinson, Ulrike Aust, Michael Steurer, Geoffrey Hall, Ludwig Huber. Touchscreen performance and knowledge transfer in the red-footed tortoise (Chelonoidis carbonaria). Behavioural Processes, 2014; 106: 187 DOI: 10.1016/j.beproc.2014.06.003

 

Fortify the barriers! Be proactive instead of reactive!

dog fears

Today’s tip for ‪#‎NationalDogBitePrevention‬ Week:  Be proactive instead of reactive!

If you are expecting a certified letter or a package to be delivered to your front door, place your dog(s) in a separate room, and securely close that door before you open your front door. Dogs have been known to break through screen doors and even plate-glass windows to get to the “Stranger Danger”.

This playful video from the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) demonstrates how to calmly redirect your pup from the “intruder”, and not yell at the dog, while the dog is upset:

It’s our job as dog guardians to remain calm, and be proactive.

To learn more about how to counter condition your dog to “intruders”, check out my tips, “Calming the Canine in the Castle”.

dog behavior mailman barking
Be PROACTIVE! Don’t allow this to happen.

It is far better to be proactive than reactive. – Che Garman

Let The Games Begin!

invitation PPG

Today is the “opening day” of a brand new, fun competition and you are invited!

Event Details

Who:  You! Your friends! Your family! Your colleagues! Your coworkers! And of course, your animal companions (pets)!

What:  The International Day of Celebration for Force Free Training & Pet Care

When:  Friday, January 17, 2014 – Saturday, March 15, 2014

Where:  In your own home, in the backyard, at the beach, in the mountains, in the forest, in the wetlands, in your neighborhood, at the pool, or at the park! Anywhere you can think of! This is an International Virtual Educational Event, so they possibilities are endless!

Why:  The community of force-free pet professionals and animal guardians recognize, value, and celebrate the positive effects and power of force-free animal training and pet care! We want to share that knowledge with the world and teach others that Force-Free is the way to be!

HostThe Pet Professional Guild

All profits from this event go to the Pet Professional Guild Advocacy Fund for PPG’s advocacy goals in 2014:

The Pet Professional Guild, the Association for Force-Free Pet Professionals (The PPG or The Guild), is a nonprofit member organization headquartered in Bonifay FL, USA. The PPG represents over 1600 members around the world.  The mission of PPG World Services is “Global News & Views on Force-Free Pet Care” and will serve as an advocacy forum for force-free dog training and pet care issues. The key advocacy goal of the PPG is to facilitate an ongoing conversation with pet owners, pet care professionals and industry stakeholders aimed at moving the pet industry forward toward better informed practices, training methods, equipment use and pet care philosophies. The Guild’s message will strive to build widespread collaboration and acceptance of force-free methods and philosophies consistent with its guiding principles.

If you are wondering what all of this means, here it is very simply; Force-Free is defined as:

No shock, No pain, No choke, No fear, No physical force, No physical molding, No compulsion based methods are employed to train or care for a pet.

Animals can be trained without fear, force, or intimidation. That includes ALL pets, ALL animals, ALL species, ALL the time!  Training can and should be FUN for everyone!

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Participation in this global event is simple.  All you have to do is participate in any 30 minute Force-Free Fun Activity with your pet!  Take a walk or a jog, swim or hike, bike or skate, train and teach, but the idea is to spend 30 minutes of Force-Free Fun with your animal companion!  This can be anything and anywhere that you decide. Where do they love to go? What do they enjoy doing? What’s your favorite place to be with them?  Do it when and where it’s convenient for you!

Note: If you don’t have time to complete your chosen event all at once, you can split it up over several days.

force free fun training pet tricks

Photo Fun!

Participants are encouraged to submit photos showing what they did for their fun, chosen event. The photos will be judged on these three criteria:

  • Originality
  • Creativity
  • How much force-free fun the human and pet are having together (this one is strongly encouraged!) Fun is the key!

What’s In It For You!

Each participant will receive:

  • A special competitor medal for your companion animal!
  • A certificate to show off that you rocked the contest!
  • Entry to the fun photograph competition!
  • PRIZES!

Get a sneak peak of the awesome prize list here! And remember to check back as more goodies are added to the list!

Register today to help celebrate and educate others about this important event. Through education and celebration, we can help others learn the value and importance of force-free training and animal companion care methods.  Education and inspiration starts with you!  Won’t you join the fun, Force-Free revolution with us?

Note: The registration deadline is March 3rd. So be sure to add your name to the fun, force-free list today!

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  • We welcome and encourage you to check out the pet owner resource section of The Pet Professional Guild website! You will find tons of helpful resources! You can also listen to a few of the PPG’s free podcasts on iTunes here.
  • If you are still wondering why our Pet Professional Guild has proclaimed An International Day of Celebration for Force Free Training and Pet Care, check out this video and our news release here!  
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Please spread the word to everyone you know!  Download the event poster here and feel free to share it with your networks and community!

If you are interested in sponsoring the event or becoming involved on any level then please contact Niki Tudge at IFCC@PetProfessionalGuild.com


If you missed the event, don’t worry! We will have another event in February of 2015!!!

… Stay tuned and never miss another event by joining us at The Pet Professional Guild!

Will you become Force-Free All the time?
Will you become Force-Free All the time?

Calming the Canine In the Castle

One of the most challenging and frustrating behaviors that many dog guardians experience with their canine companions is when someone knocks on the front door. Dogs seems to go into some kind of medieval warrior role as if their Canine Castle was about to be invaded. God forbid the doorbell rings! And oh my word, don’t even think about letting someone waltz calmly into their home. If a dog has any “dog sense” at all, they are going to freak out a bit when a stranger arrives. They are programmed to respond and protect!

Most dogs will dash to the door in a panic while barking wildly. If you live with more than one dog it’s probably not unheard of to be literally run over by frenzied dogs while you are trying to even get to the door. And forget about even trying to open the door with a dog that’s determined to get to the Stranger Danger on the other side of their Doggie Castle!

Once the door dashing chaos has subsided and you are able to let the guest inside (without a dog escaping), then the fun really begins. The dogs are jumping up on the person as they are entering your home. Slobber is flying. Tails are whacking. You’re utterly embarrassed and equally aggravated. You find yourself yanking and yelling at the dog to “GET OFF!” your frightened and overwhelmed guest.

Well, all of that chaos can be managed and even eliminated.

In the video below, Victoria Stilwell’s teaches you how to train your canine companions to stay calm and stay put when the doorbell rings!

IMPORTANT THINGS TO NOTE:

  • Victoria never raised her voice.
  • She never became aggravated, irritated, or impatient with the dog.
  • She remained calm and patient throughout.
  • She never forced the dog to do anything.
  • She allowed the dog to have a mental break.
  • She let the dog be a willing participant.

This is how all animal training should happen. I promise you will see faster and more accurate results when you use these positive training methods.

Note: A “release cue” is how you let the dog know that it’s OK to stop doing what you’ve just commanded. For example, if you say “sit” the dog should remain sitting until you say the “release cue” word or phrase. A very common one is “OK”.

Check out more helpful dog training tips from Victoria here.

CHOMP! How a 5 year old boy taught an animal not to bite

Building Trust, Creating Cooperation, and Reducing Aggression at Any Age

Even a five year old can teach an animal not to bite.  This well documented video shows a very young boy teaching the family parrot how to feel safe around him, which results in the parrot no longer biting him.

What makes this video so amazing (and why reward-based training should be the goal when working with any animal in our home, or in a captive environment) is the safe, slow, and steady progress you see without using force, punishment, or intimidation.  Perle, the parrot was asked to participate in every step.  She was never forced to participate.  Perle was given choices.  She was able to decided what she felt comfortable with in every step; this allowed her to have control over her environment, which increased her trust and helped her to feel more secure around Noah.

You’ll also notice a bonus to taking the positive reinforcement training route:  the boy and the parrot gained a relationship based on trust and respect. They had finally created a clear, open, and honest dialogue.  They were communicating together, in a new language they could both understand!  If the boy and the parrot continue this kind of safe interaction and positive training, they will continue to build their relationship together, because they will both learn to trust one another much more deeply.

This video is one of the best examples of what we must ask ourselves:  Why force an animal to do something out of fear or intimidation when you can just ask them calmly?

Force-free training is not a fad; it’s based on decades of research and science.  These positive methods are what many professional animal trainers have been trying to teach the public (and fellow “old school” trainers) for years.  Thankfully, we are now seeing it being used with almost every species, and now in our homes!  These training methods work on cats, rats, dogs, horses, pigs, ferrets, and every animal in between!

With the right tools, patience, and determination, we are all capable of making positive impacts and lasting improvements with the animals that we share our homes with.  We can do this without fear, force, or intimidation.  Our children can, and should, be a part of this process.  We can teach children safe boundaries with our pets, while helping them to increase their trust, and to help the animal to learn to trust as well.  This is how we build long lasting bonds for life!


If you are interested in learning how to using these methods in your home or at your facility, please check out Steve Martin’s workshops.  He was one of my greatest animal training mentors and teachers.  His training skills, and compassion for people and parrots are recognized and respected all over the world.

If you are experiencing aggression or fearful behavioral issues with your parrot, I recommend reading The Parrot Problem Solver: Finding Solutions to Aggressive Behavior by Barbara Heidenreich, or contact a qualified parrot behavioral consultant.

“Man masters nature not by force, but by understanding” ― Jacob Bronowski

Life with Your Animal Companion, Improved

Life with Your Animal Companion, Improved

If you read one thing today, this would be the one to read.  Why? Well, this is something that you don’t want to miss out on and it’s actually pretty amazing.

Today is the last day to access the FREE replays in our Here We Grow Again – Natural and Holistic Pet Care series!

This eye-opening and informative series has 18 amazing interviews with some of the top experts in the world of natural and holistic pet care and training.  Some of the topics that we discussed in this series include:

  • Homeopathy for animals
  • The importance of positive reinforcement and force-free training
  • Animals as Messengers
  • 3 key components to providing a healthy environment for animals
  • Acupuncture for pets
  • Chinese Medicine for animals
  • What it means to be a Conscious Companion
  • Chiropractic for animals
  • How your energy affects your animals
  • Cancer cells in animals – Natural remedies that work!
  • Supplements for animals
  • Bodywork for animals
  • The Emotion Code and EFT for animals
  • Essential Oil Use for animals
  • Animals in the Afterlife
  • Herbs for Animals
  • Natural Nutrition for Dogs & Cats

I invite you sit back, relax, and then click the link below to listen and learn how you can improve life with your animal companions!

http://www.intentiontraining.com/speakers/

Who’s Walking Whom?

 Such short little lives our pets have to spend with us, and they spend most of it waiting for us to come home each day.  It is amazing how much love and laughter they bring into our lives and even how much closer we become with each other because of them. ― John Grogan, Marley and Me: Life and Love With the World’s Worst Dog

Dog walking human
Is this what you and your dog look like on walks together?

 

In our family, the evening walk with our dog is our “family time” together.  It’s such a great time to bond with our dog, and it’s a great time for us to talk about our day with each other.  Our dog gets to spend “happy time” with her people, and frankly, its the highlight of her day!  If you are gone all day, I can promise you that the evening walk is your dog’s most exciting time of the day.  They do look forward to it, and it’s the very least that we can do for them when they are stuck inside all day, waiting for their people to come home.

However, walks can be very stressful when we are not in sync.  One of my biggest pet peeves (no pun intended) is when a dog pulls on a leash while we are walking together.  It is incredibly frustrating, and it makes the walk very stressful.  The walk ends up being cut short because it’s not enjoyable for anyone.  This can also be dangerous for older people, or anyone with physical limitations. If a dog is pulling on the lead, you can literally be swept off your feet! (I know this for a fact.)

Here’s another problem:  Dogs need to be walked once a day – at a minimum.  Who wants to walk a dog that walks the person?!  No one does.  If walks are stressful, chaotic, or exhausting, you are probably going to be less likely to want to go on a walk with your canine companion. Avoiding walks because they are stressful is not a productive solution!

So what’s the solution?  Teach your dog how to walk politely on a leash.


dog pulling human
Does your dog walk you?

 

Dogs love to explore their outside world.  Going on a walk is the most exciting (and most stimulating!) part of their doggie day, so their desire to rush ahead of you is very strong.  It’s their nature to want to run ahead and seek out all of those incredible scents, sights, and sounds!

Unfortunately, we don’t make ideal walking partners for high energy dogs, since we only have two legs.  A dog’s natural and comfortable walking pace is much faster than ours.  When a dog has to put the breaks on their excitement by walking calmly by their person’s side, this is very hard for them, especially when the only thing our dog wants to do is RUN and EXPLORE!  Our boring, slow human pace can drive them nuts, making them want to get further away from the person that’s holding them back.

Contrary to popular belief, dogs do not pull on the leash while being walked because they want to be pack leader, top dog, alpha, or dominant over their human.  There is a much simpler explanation that does not give credence to the myth that dogs are on a quest for world domination! ~ V. Stilwell

Walking calmly next to a person while out and about on a walk, requires a great amount of impulse control.  This is often very difficult for some dogs to practice.  People often get frustrated and fed up, so they resort to punishment or tools that are downright dangerous.


Tools of the Old School Trade – What to AVOID

There are a variety of tools on the market today that claim to help with leash walking.  Be Aware: Some of these methods are outdated and downright cruel.

Choke, prong and shock collars can irreversibly damage your dog.  Learn why these collars cause hypothyroidism and other health problems:


FACT:  Modern behavioral science has proven that forceful handling such as physical punishment, using choke chains, shock collars, and leash yanking is psychologically damaging for the dog.

I invite you to do a little test: 

1. Open your hands with your thumbs touching each other. Place the thumbs at the base of the throat and with the fingers pointing back and surrounding the neck.
2. Now, take a deep breath, squeeze and pull back with all your force keeping your thumbs connected.
3. This is how many dogs feel when they are on the leash and collar and they are pulling.

If you are still keen to continue with this experiment, put a choke chain or pinch collar around your neck, attach it to a leash, and ask a friend to pull and jerk on it periodically.  Welcome to the dog world!

pinch collar choke collars

 

 


Tips for Success, and What You Need to Consider First!

Before you begin,  here are a few tips that you need to consider:

Reward:  Do you know what motivates your dog?  Is it verbal praise, toys, or treats?  Once you know what their motivation is, you can use that as a tool for training.  Find out what really excites your canine companion and what grabs their attention.  If your boss at work gave you sauerkraut when you performed well, but your favorite treat is chocolate, you probably won’t perform well again.  Make sure the reward is something that will be worth their effort.

Time Limit:  Remember that you don’t need to spend a half hour doing a training session.  5 to 10 minutes is best.  Do a training session with your dog two or three times a day.  Keep it short! Keep it FUN!

Punishment is Outdated:  Positive training is going to produce results faster and is going to last.  It’s far better to have a dog do what is asked because he or she wants to do it rather than doing it because he or she is afraid of the consequences if they do not.

Set them up for success:  Begin inside! Then you can move outside after both you and your dog have mastered indoors!  You want to start in an environment where there are few/zero distractions.  Once you have mastered that together you can move the sessions outside.  When you go outside, follow the same guidelines: zero distractions, in a boring, small area.  (ex backyard, no squirrels, people, or other dogs, etc.).  Once you master small, boring spaces, progress to moderately exiting spaces.  If that’s too much, take a few steps back, and make the environment less exciting. You want to set your dog up for success in an environment where you are way more exciting than anything else that’s happening. Then you can start to add in outside distractions.

TIP:  You will both succeed more quickly if you find a way to tire your canine companion before a training session.  Dogs pull, in part, because they’re full of excess energy.  So unless you can expend that energy, he or she will find it hard to control themselves.   Before training, play fetch in a hallway or your backyard, play a vigorous game of tug, Get crazy with a Flirt Pole, or let her play with her favorite doggie pal first!

High Note: Always end on a positive note (even if you did not see the results you wanted yet)! Ending it on a good note will help you both; your dog will want to do another session with you if she’s having fun, and you will too!

 

You will have more success during a training session if  your canine companion is relaxed and not full of hyper energy.
You’ll have more success during training sessions if your canine companion is relaxed and not full of hyper energy.

Training TRUTH:  The most successful modern training theories show that reinforcing good behavior with rewards while using constructive discipline is much more successful.   Learn more about why positive reinforcement works.

Hocus walking calmly on leash while surrounded by lots of neighborhood distractions.  She doesn't have to walk parallel to me, but we do continue to encourage calm, relaxed behavior on lead.
Hocus walking calmly on leash (while surrounded by lots of neighborhood distractions). Our Criteria: She doesn’t have to walk parallel to us, if she chooses not to, but we do continue to encourage (reinforce) calm, relaxed behavior on lead. Notice that the lead is loose, not tight, which is the criteria we have reinforced. She can walk ahead, but she has learned that it’s no longer reinforcing to pull on her leash. We never punish unwanted behavior. We REINFORCE the behavior we want to see more of!

 

 

paw prints

Behavior Bite:  We add tension and stress when we pull back on the leash.   Not only does pulling back on a dog’s leash prevent the dog from moving freely and naturally, but it creates tension in our dog.  Most dogs will resist this pressure on their necks/shoulders (that you have created) and they will pull harder!  Loosen up. It lightens the load on both you and your dog!


The videos below demonstrate easy and simple techniques that teach you how to teach your canine to walk politely on a leash.  These methods are using positive, force-free techniques:

Victoria Stillwell demonstrates how to teach Loose Leash Training – INSIDE:


Once you have successfully mastered loose leash training inside, you can train again outside:

 


Loose Leash Walking Outside  -Using Tasty Treats, Outside, with Minimal Distractions: 


 

Loose-Leash-Walking
Tip: The goal is to have a “J” shape in the leash/lead.

 

Remember:

Find their motivation.

Keep the training sessions short.

Always end on a high note.

Positive reinforcement always triumphs over negative consequences.

Set them up for success.

Make it Fun!

 

 


Training Truth + Tips for Success: See Beyond The Surface.

Not everything is what it appears to be. Most dogs who lunge on leash are highly insecure. They may look vicious, but behind many frightening Fido faces are dogs that are are experiencing frustration or FEAR.

This is why it’s never recommended to punish a dog that lunges on the leash.

When we yank, hit, yell, or jerk on the leash of a dog that is *reacting*, we are adding fuel to the fire. We are making the situation worse, AND in the process, we are teaching the dog that they should be afraid of whatever it is they are barking, growling, or lunging at.

Our job as their guardian is to do the opposite: We want to teach the dog to focus on something else, and to change they way they FEEL about the perceived threat.  Learn how to by clicking on the image below.

leash-aggression_dog barks lunges on leash

 


 

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