100,000 Stones

When training, one thing I feel is necessary for owners to fully understand is the importance of repetition in learning any behavior. I have told this story in my group classes, but I think it bears repeating. My favorite 2012 Winter Olympic moment happened during the Curling event when the British were at the point where they had to place the stone exactly right.* With only microns to spare the dude absolutely nailed it.  It was beautiful. At this point the announcer said, in response to another announcer’s amazement at how he did it, “Well, when you have thrown 100,000 stones, you can place it wherever you want it.” Let me repeat the pertinent part: when you have thrown 100,000 stones. (I wanted to kiss that announcer!)
     We, as owners, need to realize that it takes a lot of repetition to be able to do a specific command all the time, every time. Behaviorists will tell you that 10,000 reps are needed to proof a behavior. So I ask you, how many things have you done 1000 times? 10,000 times, 100,000? Have you asked your dog to sit in every possible place under every possible circumstance? Have you asked little Milton to sit 1000 times anywhere? Dogs learn quickly, but like any creature, they need to practice, and practice often, in a variety of settings in order to understand that sit, for example, means “put bottom on ground” no matter what is going on or where they are.
      I mention this not to discourage anyone, but instead to encourage an owner and to give him or her a bit of understanding (and patience) as to why Milton performs beautifully in the kitchen, but not in class or at the dog park.
      The kitchen is not full of new distractions and sit has been practiced there more than anywhere else in the house. Thus, it will be the easiest place for Milton to do a sit. In class, cute little Juliet is on the other side of the room, Bruiser’s owner just dropped a hand full of chicken on the floor and Milton has only been there twice and done 5 sits total in the room. The amazing thing should be that Milton sits on cue at all!
      So how does one get to 10,000 sits? The same way anything gets done: one sit at a time. Try to carve out 3-5 minutes, 3-5 times each day to work your dog. Choose a different location for each session and/or a different behavior to practice. For example, this could be one session: Take a handful of treats into the living room (that is if Milton is allowed in the living room). Click and treat 3-4 times. Do 3-4 Name Games, followed by 5 sits, 3 downs, 5 puppy pushups, and 4 sits at side. Throw a treat across the room, call Milton to you and reward with 3 treats and a game of tug or an ear scratch. Ta Da! One training session under your belt.
      One last note, be patient with yourself as well. Just as Milton is learning new things, so are you. You need repetition as well to get it right and to learn to be consistent in what and how you ask your dog to perform something. You don’t  have to be perfect, you can make mistakes, positive reinforcement training is very forgiving of mistakes! Moreover, remember that you have a lifetime of learning together. So, take a deep breath, grab some treats and a nearby canine, and have some fun practicing those skills that will set up both of you for success now and in the future.

The Norwegians’ Curling Pants!

* The other highlight of the Curling event was the Norwegian’s Curling pants seen in the photo at right. You too can own a pair, just click on the picture!

General Philosophy of training or "Why be positive?" Training or "Why, Why, WHY?"2 comments

Why be positive, or what’s wrong with a “correction”?

3ballsbingley.jpg.w300h225Welcome to A Positive Connection and my first blog post. I hope to be writing each week on a variety of topics, so be sure to check back frequently! And, feel free to email me ( with suggestions of topics you might like to explore.

When my younger daughter was 8, she wanted a dog of her own. Our family Shih Tzu wasn’t making it as a frisbee dog, and she wanted something bigger and more athletic. After she earned/saved $100 we went to the local shelter and brought home Molly, a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever who was about 1 year old.  We tried training her with some of the local groups but Molly’s fear of other dogs, learyness of strangers, and general distrust of the world became increasingly apparent. We decided to enroll her in a board and train program which used traditional methods (choke chains). After 3 1/2 weeks we went to pick her up, and she was obedient, but her aggression to other dogs was worsening. The trainer said to correct her when she started to act up around other dogs. It didn’t help, at all. When we moved to Virginia and Molly bit a boy visiting our house, I called All About Dogs for help.

We started over with Molly, using clicker training and positive reinforcement under the private tutorage of Robin Bennett. Molly began to improve. She was more relaxed with people and dogs, and we even started her in group classes for agility training. However, for whatever reason, though she improved with positive reinforcement, she never fully recovered from whatever happened to her in her first year and the punishment based training we started with. One day she killed our neighbor’s dog and we had to put her down. Unfortunately, this is not as uncommon a tale as I would like it to be, and the facts associated with punishment based training (read correction) show that punishment increases aggression in dogs. In other words, as we learned with Molly, violence begets violence.*

According to Gary Lansberg, DVM, DACVB, a veterinary animal behaviorist who spoke at the 2013 Midwest Veterinary Conference in Columbus OH, recent studies show that dogs that are punished show an increase in aggression, fear, and avoidance of people and dogs. They show more behavior problems and are less playful. Moreover “Hit/kick, alpha roll, dominance down, stare, grab, shake – increase aggression by 25%” And the alpha roll and yelling “NO!”  have the “highest [incidence] for owner aggression.”

Patricia McConnell (animal behaviorist , college professor, and Author of The Other End of the Leash) writes,

The most confrontational, and I would argue aggressive, behaviors on the part of the owners resulted in the highest levels of aggressive responses from the dogs. 43% of the dogs responded with aggression to being hit or kicked, 38% to have an owner grab their mouth and take an object forcefully…

She continues with more statistics, but you get the idea.

So, what’s an owner to do? I contend that finding a trainer whose primary approach to training is positive and uses lure/reward or clicker training as his or her starting point will: 1) help avoid future problems with your dog; 2) help you develop a relationship with your dog based on co-operation and trust; 3) increase the effectiveness of your management of the dog as he learns what is expected of him and; 4) it will more likely allow your dog to be the interactive, curious, creative and loyal friend that you want him to be.  If you start off choking, jerking, swatting, alpha rolling, or yelling, you are, in reality, instilling fear and distrust in your dog and may find that he would rather avoid you than come to you. Behavior problems can and do arise with dogs who are positively trained, but yelling at them is not the solution to the problem, it is more likely to exacerbate the issue. Why not use a method that is designed to work with your dog rather than on him?

*Nota bena: What happened with Molly and the kind and gracious help we received from Robin and all her trainers at All About Dogs is what inspired me to become a trainer. I wanted to support owners of dog with behavior issues and hopefully help them to avoid the pain and heartache we went through.

For more information on this topic see the following:

Companion Animal Psychology: What is Positive Reinforcement in Dog Training?

Why You Should Never Hit Your Dog:

American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior:  Position Paper on punishment based training:

Patricia McConnell’s website (with blog):

A great resource for all things dog training featuring my hero Dr. Ian Dunbar: Dog Star Daily:

Philosophy of training or "Why be positive?"0 comments