Ask The Expert!
These videos will be a fantastic resource for anyone with dogs – not just new puppies and rescues. Training needn’t (and shouldn’t) be boring or laborious for dogs or humans. If you start thinking of training exercises as games, you’ll be amazed how much more fun you and your dog will have, how much you can both achieve, and how much the relationship between you and your dog will improve.
Top tip from the pro: “Be brave and train in the moment; try not to be self-conscious. If you mean it, your dog will feel it. In these videos, we have tried to emphasize that above all else, training should be fun.” – Ryan Neile
- You may have noticed Ryan asking Tok to sit when he comes back – this works well because Tok already has a solid reinforcement history for both recall and ‘sit’. When first starting out (or when trying to sharpen up a rusty recall), I would recommend simply reinforcing your dog for coming back to you. You can add a sit later if that’s what you’d like your dog to do, but it’s a good idea to build up a really enthusiastic recall first.
- You may also have noticed Ryan popping Tok’s lead on and taking it off. This is a fantastic thing to do, so that your dog knows the lead doesn’t always mean the end of having fun. However, if your dog is at all nervous of being grabbed by the collar, then it can be hugely beneficial just to work on a collar grab first – check out this training video.
- As Ryan mentions, you don’t always have to use food. Your dog’s favourite toy can also be a great reinforcer – especially if it’s a toy that requires your dog to be near you to be played with (i.e. a tug toy rather than a ball or frisbee that your dog associates with being thrown). I also have a habit of taking an ’emergency toy’ with me – this is a toy that Loki ADORES and would do anything for, but that she only gets very rarely. This keeps the value of the toy super high. I don’t use it very often – on 9/10 walks, it doesn’t leave my pocket. The idea is that if my recall fails for any reason, then the toy is my failsafe. This is not a replacement for solid recall training! And in fact it only works because it’s used so rarely, but in the odd situation where I’ve had to use it, it’s been really effective.
- On a similar note, I know other people have a cue word for a ‘super recall’ to be used in emergency situations. The cue is something totally different and distinctive from their normal recall cue and it indicates a mega jackpot reward – think bucket loads of steak, chicken and cheese raining from the sky. You train it in the same way as a normal recall, but you only ever use it in emergency situations – think life or death. Every now and again it’s a good one to proof out on a walk, especially if you’ve had to use it in an actual emergency, and so haven’t had all the mega goodies with you at the time.
- Ryan touched on this, but try not to over-use your recall. Often a more suitable behaviour could be asked for instead. For example, rather than letting your dog run so far ahead of you that you have to recall them every other minute (and ending up with a yo-yoing dog running towards you and away again), teach ‘heel’ or ‘stay close’ (this is something I’ve been working on with Loki, where she’s not required to stay in a fixed heel, but stays within about 2m of me). Or if you actually just want your dog to wait for you and you don’t really need them by your side, teach ‘stop’ and ‘wait’, rather than having to call them back.
2. Sit (Part One)
- Nothing to add, but I just wanted to emphasize the importance of increasing the criteria for your dog in tiny baby steps. I’d say this is the most popular pitfall in dog training. I’ve seen people with the very best intentions expect too much of their dog too soon, get frustrated, and this negativity feeding back to the dog. When training, you want your dog to get as much positive emotional feedback as possible. Dogs are just like us – knowing they’ve done well makes them happy and boosts their confidence, and in turn makes the desired behaviour more likely to be repeated. And the more positive you keep your training, the better the bond between you and your dog will be. Not to mention that a lot of problem behaviours are associated with low confidence. So by giving your dog a huge confidence boost through ‘sit’ training, for example, you might even find other aspects of their behaviour improving.
- This is also a great example of how a very simple behaviour (‘sit’) can be developed into more demanding exercises. Many people stop doing dedicated training sessions with their dog once they reach that ‘good enough’ stage. I know I’ve been guilty of taking some of Loki’s ‘good enough’ behaviours for granted. So you might think that because your dog knows ‘sit’, your work is done. But as Ryan demonstrates, there’s always ways to build on this basic skill. Can your dog sit while you sweep up? While you throw a toy? As cyclists go past? When you answer the door?
3. Sit (Part Two)
- Again, not a lot to add, but I wanted to draw your attention to the end of the video, where Tok broke his sit, and Ryan immediately said “I pushed him a bit too far there”. This is what you want your default response to be when your dog does something ‘wrong’! The responsibility is totally on us, the humans, to build up that reinforcement history. And I’m afraid there are no shortcuts – you need to work at your dog’s pace to get to where you want to be. Dogs are just like humans – they learn at different rates and in different ways. Just because next door’s dog got the hang of retrieving the newspaper from the front lawn in a weekend, doesn’t mean that your dog will (but they might develop a superglue heel in just a few sessions). It’s a case of putting in the time to make the behaviours you’re training as reliable as possible -it only needs to be in short 5/10 minute sessions every day.
- Lastly, remember that dogs aren’t robots! They will make the wrong choice every now and again – it’s inevitable. But as Ryan says, don’t punish them – this doesn’t achieve anything. Take a step back (or more steps back if necessary!) and reinforce good choices.
4. Down (Part One)
- A quick note on luring – I just wanted to mention that this isn’t the only way to help your dog achieve the desired behaviour. Another approach is shaping. This is where you mark (with a “yes”/click and treat) any tiny steps towards the end behaviour. For example, with something like ‘down’, you could first mark any movement of the nose towards the floor, then the whole head coming down, then the front end coming down into a bow position, and eventually the back end coming down as well. This doesn’t happen all at once. It will take repetitions of each stage before you can increase the criteria. Shaping can take longer than luring, but it’s a fantastic way to work with your dog, because it encourages them to think about things and be creative. Once your dog gets the hang of shaping, it can be incredibly fun seeing them offer new behaviours to see if they get reinforced. Shaping is fantastic brain training, and if you try free shaping (where you start without an aim in mind, pick absolutely anything your dog does to reinforce, and then go with it), I can guarantee you that you’ll end up with some pretty novel tricks!
- You can also capture behaviour – where if you see something that you like, you essentially throw a huge treat party for your dog out of the blue! This relies on your dog doing something spontaneously, but by reinforcing this, you’re making that behaviour more likely to be repeated. And if you catch it enough times and reinforce it enough, you can eventually put it on cue.
5. Down (Part Two)
- I just wanted to note that although this video is about training ‘down’, you’ll see Ryan using the ‘out’ cue when asking Tok to release the toy. All I wanted to add was that this cue needs to be trained separately – Ryan goes over how to do this in the ‘tug’ video (right at the bottom).
- On a similar note, a good thing to bear in mind in general is that Tok has hours and hours of training logged for all of the behaviours you see in these videos. What’s particularly evident is Tok’s impulse control – Tok is an absolute master of restraint! Please don’t expect this of your dog right away. It takes a lot of time to build up, and Tok’s skills show off how much amazing work he and Ryan have put into their training.
- Ryan and Claire briefly cover this at the start, but as much as dogs enjoy fetch, it can be a real health risk. One issue is choking on the item being retrieved, but another is damage to their front legs -there’s a huge amount of pressure going through your dog’s front end when they run and dive for the item. One way I like to minimise this risk is to hide the toy, rather than throwing it in the open where Loki can see it and hurtle towards it at 200mph. You can do this in a few different ways – either throw the item into long grass where it can’t be seen, or ask your dog to wait while you walk away and hide the item. This encourages a slower search, rather than your dog simply charging manically towards it and then dive-bombing for it (or is that just my dog?!). Just remember not to make it too difficult for your dog to find the item, as this can cause frustration. Also try to remember where you’ve hidden it, just in case you end up having to fetch it yourself 😉
- Firstly I just wanted to emphasize how important the ‘out’ cue is! For you both to enjoy playing tug, you need this to be totally bombproof. This is the absolute foundation of a good, safe game of tug, as Ryan explains. If you ever find yourself playing tug and your dog doesn’t listen to your ‘out’/’drop’ cue, then that’s your signal to take a step back, use a less exciting tug toy, and reinforce that ‘out’ cue more heavily. Remember you can use treats to reinforce an ‘out’ too – it doesn’t always need to be restarting the game, especially if your dog is finding this too arousing.
- The only other thing I wanted to add is that (contrary to the myth that still gets passed around), you can let your dog win at tug! Think about it – how much would you enjoy a game that you never get to win?! If you’ve taught the game in the way that Ryan demonstrates, then I am 99% confident that if you let your dog win the toy, they will instantly bring it back to you for more tug! You only need to worry if your dog is actively trying to win the item off you in order to run away with it (and possibly guard it). If this happens, it means that your dog isn’t finding the game of tug rewarding, and/or they’ve misunderstood the rules. In either case – go back to the very beginning of Ryan’s video and work on your dog’s enthusiasm for the game.
- One last thing – remember to keep your dog safe. You may have seen dogs lifting off the ground to hold onto a tug toy, but by far the safest way to play tug is to keep the toy level with your dog’s head rather than pulling upwards. Only play tug very gently with puppies, and not at all with pups that are teething.
- The last thing to mention is that your dog might do what I call a ‘tug growl’ – this should not be interpreted as aggression, and it just means that your dog is really getting into the game! If the tug growl is getting too loud (got to keep the neighbour’s happy!), or you think your dog is getting over-stimulated, then just calm the game down or give your dog a little break before initiating play again.
And that’s all the videos for now! I rambled a little more than I intended to, but hopefully you found the comments useful. I’d love to hear any of your thoughts in the comments! And remember to leave any questions for Ryan down there too.