Be a Change Agent! – Whole Dog Journal

There’s an outdated saying: “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” Fortunately for our beloved canines, that’s not essentially the case on this planet of canine coaching and conduct. Granted, there are nonetheless far too many professionals who cling to old school strategies that make use of the usage of pressure, ache, and coercion. For them, issues do appear to remain the identical. However, the corps of enlightened coaching professionals that routinely examine, soak up, and apply improvements of conduct science grows day by day, and I’m proud to think about myself considered one of these.

Of course, meaning sometimes I’ve event to vary what I say and the way I say it. I typically look again at one thing I wrote years in the past and cringe after I understand that, as a lot as there could have been common settlement with it within the career then (no matter it’s), there’s rising or widespread settlement now that it isn’t actually so. Here are some examples of issues about which I’ve modified my thoughts through the years:

* The significance of placing reinforcers on an intermittent schedule of reinforcement.

Early on, when utilizing treats in coaching was considerably revolutionary, we “foodies” took numerous warmth for our use of treats. As a end result,  previously, we put numerous emphasis on shifting the canine from a steady schedule (during which he will get bolstered each time – essential when he’s first studying a brand new conduct) to an intermittent schedule of reinforcement, which suggests he learns to supply the conduct a number of occasions when requested and will get bolstered solely sometimes. Continuous reinforcement, we thought, would make canines and people depending on the presence of the deal with as a way to get the conduct to occur.

We have come to understand that it’s not all that vital to make use of intermittent reinforcement until you want the conduct to be sturdy – immune to extinction. There is totally nothing incorrect with reinforcing the conduct each time it occurs. And I just about do! The Miller canines are usually on a steady schedule of reinforcement, even when it’s typically only a cheerful “Good dog!”

Remember, “reinforcement” doesn’t should imply a deal with. While I virtually at all times have treats in my pockets, I can even use reward, a toy, petting (for canines who like to be petted), opening a door to go outdoors, the chance to carry out one other conduct the canine loves – or the rest the canine finds reinforcing, instead of a deal with. 

We do know {that a} conduct extinguishes over time if it’s not bolstered and that behaviors which can be intermittently bolstered are extra sturdy than others. But how many people are sometimes in environments with our canines the place we will’t reinforce conduct each time, or more often than not? I can assume of some – a canine in an American Kennel Club obedience trial, a canine actor on stage in a play, a working canine who, by nature of his job, has to work at a distance from his handler . . . not all that many!

In the actual world, few homeowners “over-reward” and find yourself with canines who refuse to work until a deal with is proven to them first. More generally, I see homeowners who fail at “catching their dogs doing something right” – that’s, fail to ceaselessly reinforce their canines for the behaviors they wish to see. Lacking reinforcement, and thus, expertise that teaches them which behaviors will reliably end in pleasurable penalties produced by their homeowners, canines will discover issues to do this please themselves! 

That’s why I now advise you to bolster your canines any and each time you see behaviors you want – taking a look at squirrels out the window with out barking, going to her mat when the household sits all the way down to dinner, checking in with you on a stroll, greeting mates on the door with all 4 paws on the ground. And reinforce these terrific behaviors with something your canine finds pleasurable – a deal with, a cheerful phrase, a stomach rub, a favourite toy, or a rousing sport of tug o’ struggle.

* Rules for enjoying tug o’ struggle together with your canine.

Use a toy that’s lengthy sufficient to maintain his tooth away out of your arms – and name for a “Trade!” from time to time.

Speaking of tug, I’ve significantly lightened up on my really helpful “rules for tug o’ war” with canines. Again, delicate to criticism from the old school coach crowd, we used to dictate strict guidelines for enjoying tug together with your canine. Playing tug even beneath these guidelines was once thought-about harmful by many old-school trainers, who warned homeowners that tug might make their canines aggressive. I wouldn’t ever go that far – although I actually wouldn’t advise an inexperienced proprietor to casually play tug with an already aggressive  canine or one who is understood to protect sources. 

Many canines like to play tug with their homeowners, so it has a ton of potential to be used as a mutually pleasurable and beautifully reinforcing sport. To get essentially the most out of the reinforcing nature of the sport, ask your canine to play by some fundamental guidelines; to maintain your self secure, play with just a few security pointers in place. Here are my present guidelines and pointers for enjoying tug:

• Use a toy that’s lengthy sufficient to maintain your canine’s tooth distant out of your arms and that’s snug so that you can maintain when he pulls. 

• Hold up the tug toy. If your canine lunges for it, say “Oops!” and shortly conceal it behind your again. He must be well mannered when he performs tug with you.

• When he’ll stay sitting as you provide the toy, inform him to “Take it!” and encourage him to seize and pull. If he’s reluctant, play gently till he learns the sport. If he’s enthusiastic, go for it!

• Randomly all through tug-play, ask him to “Trade!” Offer him a yummy deal with, which he can take after he relinquishes the tug toy to you. Then, provide the toy and inform him to “Take it!” once more. 

• While you might be taking part in, if his tooth creep up the toy towards your arms, say “Oops! Too bad!” in a cheerful voice, have him provide the toy, and put it away briefly. (This is for security causes. You can get it out and play once more after 15 seconds or so.)

• If your canine’s tooth contact your clothes or pores and skin, say “Oops! Too bad!” and put the toy away for a minute (once more, for security causes).

• Children mustn’t play tug together with your canine until and till you might be assured they will play by the foundations. If you do permit kids to play tug together with your canine, at all times straight supervise the sport.

• Only tug facet to facet, not up and down (up and down tugging can injure your canine’s backbone) and mood the vigor of your play appropriately to the dimensions and age of your canine. (You can play tug extra vigorously with an grownup Rottweiler than you possibly can with a Rottie pet or a bit terrier.)

Here are the foundations for tug that I’ve discarded or modified:

Keep the tug toy put away. Bring it out solely while you wish to play tug. (There is not any logical justification for preserving the tug toy away from the canine at different occasions.)

Ignore the canine if he invitations you to play tug. You get to resolve when tug occurs. (What does it damage in case your canine asks you to play? You can at all times say, “No thanks! Not now!”)

You ought to “win” more often than not – that’s, you find yourself with possession of the toy, not your canine. (As lengthy as you allowed the canine to take the toy, and he didn’t take it in an aggressive method, there is no such thing as a hurt in letting him have it typically, and even ceaselessly. In truth, some canines shortly study that taking part in with the toy by themselves is nowhere close to as a lot enjoyable as taking part in with you.) 

When you might be executed taking part in, put the toy away till subsequent time. You management the good things. (Playing with you is the actually good things! It’s high quality to let the canine trot off with the toy while you’re executed, so long as it’s secure for him to have.)


As you possibly can see, I’ve eliminated all the foundations that insist you at all times should be in complete management of the sport – those that have been based mostly within the old school considering that in the event you weren’t in complete management your canine would reap the benefits of you and maybe even turn out to be aggressive. We know higher now. Happy tugging!

* Leave It/Walk Away

We’ve discovered that almost all canines discover the “walk away!” conduct to be rather more enjoyable (and thus, simple to recollect to do once they hear the cue) than “Leave it” or “Off!” At least a part of the explanation for that is the emphasis on doing one thing, fairly than not doing one thing.

Many of us train our canines a cue to “Leave it!” (also called “Off!”) to be used in these conditions while you see one thing you don’t need your canine to mess with – whether or not it’s a pile of cat poo, a discarded hen bone, a cat crossing the sidewalk, or a snake. I nonetheless train that cue to be used after I need the canine to know “Whatever you are coveting or considering going toward, I want you to leave it alone.” But I additionally train an alternate cue, “Walk away,” which suggests “Whatever you are looking at, I want you to do a 180-degree spin and run away with me.”

While there are numerous conditions the place the 2 cues could possibly be used interchangeably, and a few instances the place “Leave it” remains to be the extra acceptable alternative, I discover that canines reply rather more reliably to the “Walk away” cue, just because we train them that it’s a enjoyable sport. Given the selection, it’s my much-preferred conduct to ask for.

I first found this with my Cardigan Corgi, Lucy. She had discovered “Leave it!” in her adolescence and responded moderately dependable to that cue. When she was 10 years outdated, I discovered about New Jersey coach Kelly Fahey’s “Walk away” protocol, and taught it to Lucy. 

Then I did an experiment. I set a bowl of tasty meals on the ground, and as Lucy walked towards it, I stated, “Leave it!” She took two extra steps and began consuming. Then I stated, “Walk away!” and he or she spun away from the bowl and ran away from it with me.

The ethical of the story and a very good reminder: We are virtually at all times extra profitable asking our canines to do one thing (run away with me!) than not to do one thing (don’t eat that!). It’s one of many fundamental tenets of constructive reinforcement-based canine coaching.  

For full directions on instructing “Walk away” to your canine, see the “Walk Away!” sidebar within the “Frustrated on Leash?” article within the October 2019 situation of WDJ. 

* Head halters will help – or damage.

Some canines discover head halters extremely aversive, even after desensitization and counter-conditioning efforts have been made with the intention of associating them with good issues.

Just like virtually each different constructive coach, I used to be smitten by head halters once they first made the coaching scene round 1995. They helped many individuals stop their canines from dragging them round on walks, with out the usage of painful yanks from choke chains or pinching prong collars. With a daily collar, the leash is hooked up on the canine’s neck; with a head halter, the leash attachment is correct beneath the canine’s head, making it very troublesome for him to brace towards the leash and pull.  Gentle strain on the leash from the handler turns the canine again towards the handler. 

But the extra we noticed halters used, the extra it turned clear that almost all of canines hated them, even after pretty thorough efforts have been made to desensitize and counter-condition canines to carrying them. 

Then front-clip harnesses got here alongside and fulfilled a lot of the identical perform: giving us a major diploma of management over canines who pulled onerous. It was simple to modify my allegiance to those new merchandise (and we described all the explanations for this within the February 2005 situation of WDJ). 

Most canines settle for harnesses with out protest, and they’re far much less more likely to do harm to a canine’s neck or backbone in the event that they hit the tip of the leash onerous. (I sometimes come throughout a canine who finds front-clip harnesses aversive, and I don’t use them with these canines.) 

For a overview of entrance clip harnesses, see “Harness the Power,” WDJ April 2017.

* Modified suggestions for crating your canine.

Some individuals imagine that confining your canine in a crate – ever – is merciless.  Never worry: I’m nonetheless a powerful advocate for crating. There are a few issues concerning crates, nevertheless, that I do in another way now than I did years in the past.

I was on board with this widespread caveat to homeowners: “If your dog/puppy is crying in his crate, ignore him until he stops crying, or you will reinforce his vocalizations.” I shudder now to think about that. 

Okay, granted, in case your canine barks just a few occasions, it’s nonetheless good recommendation to disregard it so that you don’t reinforce him for barking. But something past that – ongoing, emotional vocalization – must be addressed behaviorally. Leaving a canine to cry in his crate for lengthy intervals will increase his stress and offers him a good extra unfavourable affiliation with being crated. 

A canine who’s burdened about crating however nonetheless wants confinement for administration functions wants a gradual program of habituation (just a few seconds at first with you proper there, then longer and longer, with you regularly eradicating your self), or wants alternate options to crating (an train pen or a dog-proofed room). 

My different change having to do with crates regards measurement. I used to say {that a} canine’s crate must be simply sufficiently big for him to face up, lie down, and switch round. That remains to be true in the event you’re housetraining – you don’t need the crate to be sufficiently big that he can soil one finish and sleep dry and comfortably within the different. 

But after he’s housetrained, if he nonetheless must be crated, there’s no purpose to proceed to deprive him of extra spacious quarters. 


In common, the constructive canine coaching world has made a quantum shift from, “I’ll make the canine do need I would like him to do … I purchased him so I might compete with him in agility and he’s rattling nicely going to do it!” to “I will explore options with my dog to see what he would like to do. I’ll be really happy if he wants to do agility, since I love agility, but if he tells/shows me that he would prefer to do nosework, or rally obedience, or canine freestyle, I’m good with that, too.”

Personally, I’ve additionally made a quantum philosophical shift. I was fiercely aggressive with my canines. My fantastic terrier-mix (and “crossover dog”) Josie had a number of obedience titles and was one of many first 26 canines on this planet to earn a rally obedience title via the Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT). I now not want my canines to be exact rivals, doing completely straight sits in good heel place; simply being who they’re is nice sufficient. Today, whereas I respect those that discover pleasure in mutual partnership and competitors with their canines, I simply wish to be with mine, doing barn chores, mountain climbing on the farm, and sharing and having fun with our life collectively.

As I learn via my previous writings to search out issues that I now disagree with, I used to be happy to search out there weren’t as many as I believed there may be. I went via my articles all the way in which again to Whole Dog Journal’s inception in 1998, and didn’t discover something horrendously objectionable. Yes, I discovered some issues I might do or say in another way now, however nothing that may get me kicked out of the force-free coach membership. It’s at all times good, although, to remind ourselves that once we know higher, we do higher. 

Author Pat Miller, CBCC-KA, CPDT‑KA, is WDJ’s Training Editor. She and her husband reside in Fairplay, Maryland, website of her Peaceable Paws coaching heart, the place she gives dog-training courses and programs for trainers. Miller can also be the writer of many books on dog-friendly coaching. See web page 24 for extra info.

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