Focus on Strengths; Not Weaknesses

I was recently reading an article wherein the author stated he had read a book called "Soar With Your Strengths." Although the book is about business management methods, the general takeaway applies to a lot in life:

"Don't try to teach someone how to improve their weaknesses, but rather focus on having them improve their strengths."

Some people might disagree, but I think that's paramount in a successful dog training program. Instead of focusing on "bad" dog behavior, hone in on what "good" behavior the dog is displaying, and cultivate that.

Picture this entirely hypothetical situation: your parents get a 7-week-old puppy. They haven't had a puppy in over 7 their patience is wearing thin with a rambunctious, young, untrained dog. Enter "trying to improve weakness." Everything the puppy does is "No." (Or, knowing your mother, more like "NO!!")

The puppy trots over to stick her head in the garba…

Charging the Clicker

An integral part of operant conditioning - also known as clicker training to the average dog owner - is the marker which tells the dog she's performed the desired behavior. While technically "any" sound can be made to mark behavior (such as a whistle or even a word, such as "Good!"), studies have shown that animals trained with a clicker as the marker learn quicker.

Why is that, you might ask? The reason is simple - the clicker makes only one sound, without variance in pitch, tone, loudness, etc. Therefore the dog knows that exact sound means he's offered the desired behavior. Before beginning any type of clicker training, first your dog must of course know the meaning of the clicker. To start him off, it's merely a matter of equating the sound of the click with some sort of "paycheck," the easiest being treats.

(While you can use any of your dog's reinforcers for training, the easiest to use is small, chewy treats. This is only because it…

Training "Play Dead" Behavior

Some people might think training a dog to "play dead" is just a cute trick. Dog owners, on the other hand, could look at it as a great behavior to teach in order to help relax a dog. Besides, when it comes time to add a verbal cue to a behavior, you can name it anything you want – regardless of whether everyone else thinks it's just "playing dead"!

Speaking of adding cues, it's important not to begin throwing either verbal or signaled cues around too early when teaching a behavior. Remember, dogs aren't people. They don't understand language; that being said, they CAN learn what movements and words mean when taught properly to cue behaviors.

Here's my first session with Zada working on getting her to lie flat – relaxed – on her side. I'm not so much shaping this behavior as I am capturing it. She was already consistently offering it in her repertoire of offered behaviors so I merely waited to capture it. (If I were truly shaping, I'd hav…

101 Things To Do With a Box

Did you know dogs can learn to be creative?

My German shepherd, Zada, is very obedient and disciplined but she seemed almost robotic...she was happy and healthy but always seemed to be waiting for me to tell her what to do. I learned a good way to stimulate her mentally and get her creative juices flowing was to play a game called "101 Things To Do With a Box."

Purpose of 101 Things To Do With a Box Game
What's the point of this game, and what does it actually DO for a dog? Well, the object is to get the dog thinking and offering behaviors. Even if your dog already offers behavior, this is a great way to make any dog think "outside the box," so to speak.

Starting The Game
To start, place a box in a relatively low-stimuli environment (inside works best). If your dog isn't used to the positive reinforcement method of clicker training, you'll need to prime the clicker first. Once the dog knows that click = treat (i.e., the click denotes the desired behavior …

Shaping Behavior: Teaching Tricks

Whether for new tricks or "normal" obedience cues, shaping is a great way to teach a dog a new behavior. This method seems to 'stick' with the dog much more quickly and for a longer duration than either luring or – something I don't recommend – making the dog perform the behavior.

If you've never tried this training method, it might take a while for both you and the dog to get the hang of it. But the rewards are worth the patience!

How Do I Start Shaping My Dog's Behavior?
First and foremost, your dog must understand clicker training. If he doesn't, you'll first need to charge the clicker before you begin.

You can free shape anything; you need to have in mind what you want before you begin so you can remain consistent with your rewards. Simple obedience staples – sit, down, stand, etc. – are fairly simple, since these are behaviors a dog performs every day. Often when teaching these behaviors with free shaping, it's more a matter of capturing t…

Feeding Your Dog with the Molecuball

The "molecuball," also known as the Atomic Treat Ball, is a great toy for dog owners to have. Much the same as a Kong toy, the Atomic Treat Ball is a treat dispenser*. Just place small dog food pieces or treats into the hole of the molecuball. Not only does it keep your dog busy, it's mentally stimulating – the dog must work to extricate treats or food.

This treat dispenser is also a great tool for those dogs who gulp their food too quickly (gulping food causes air to be ingested into the stomach, which can lead to a condition known as "bloat"), since only a few kibbles are released at a time, and the dog is forced to eat more slowly.

Here a German shepherd demonstrates the use of the molecuball. Keep in mind not all dog food is small enough to fit through the hole; the kibble displayed in the video is California Natural Lamb & Rice Formula.

* However, due to the size and intended use, the molecuball shouldn't be used to freeze food into, since the op…

Closing a Drawer: Teaching Tricks via Clicker Training

Here's a quick training session showing a snippet of how to go about teaching a dog to shut a drawer using operant conditioning. This is only a step in the entire process; attaining this level of commitment on a first try with a green dog would be out of the question.

While I had worked with Zada for a couple of minutes prior to turning on the camera, I hadn't worked with her on targeting – especially drawers – for quite some time, although we'd worked on it in the past. I still haven't put a cue to this behavior, as it's still not strong enough (in my opinion). She'll be ready for that soon.

Targeting can be done a couple of ways:
training the dog to touch an actual 'target' (such as a lid, piece of paper, etc.) and moving it to various objects you wish the dog to touchfree-shaping the dog's behavior by waiting for the dog to move towards the desired object (e.g., a drawer) and rewarding subsequent motion bringing the dog closer to the objectFor wor…