I had a great time presenting the theory evening in The Hague tonight. Teaching you about the science of dog behaviour so you an raise a well-adjusted, well-behaved pooch. A dog who is dying for his next training session and works for you with all his heart.
Thank you to the students for being their enthusiastic, active selves. See? An evening of science doesn’t have to be about dusty old lab coats. It was games and quizzes all round.
Here are the highlights for you all.
To guess a dog’s emotional state:
Some interesting body language things:
Appeasement and other so-called stress signals:
They are itsy bitsy signs that the dog is not 100% comfortable with a situation, that he feels the situation may be a little unsafe, or may lead to a conflict if allowed to escalate.
Here is a poster that shows you the ones we talked about. Feel free to print it out and stick it in the loo or on the fridge, as a daily reminder. You could also watch this beautiful video, or purchase Sophie Collins’ Tail Talk.
And remember, it’s all about the context, and the whole dog. If he has a tightly shut mouth and he’s asleep, chance is he’s not extremely tense, right? But if you’re wondering in a potentially uncomfortable situation how you dog feels, check the signs.
I shared the signs that tell you that either 1/ all is probably well, or 2/ it might be time to think of taking a break, and / you should get out of there, like, now. These signs count for dogs who aren’t all that familiar with each other. You have a lot more play (excuse the pun) with dogs who know each other well.
All is rosy:
Think of taking a break: (again, this is for unfamiliar dogs. Dogs who are familiar with each other have a lot more leeway)
Walk away now:
If you want to remember just two things out of all of this:
Most problem behaviours can be fixed by working out what the dog gets out of it, and then:
Making sure he never gets that pay-off when executing that annoying behaviour. Getting him that pay-off through an alternative behaviour that you like (e.g. sitting instead of jumping to greet people)
Moments you catch the dog red-handed are NOT teaching moments. If you are faced with a problem that annoys you, take the dog out of the situation and make a note to yourself that you need to train this.
When you start training, do this at times you’ll have the time and patience and calm to see it through. e.g. Teaching him to sit to greet you, instead of jumping, means you may have to withstand a lot of annoying greeting attempts before he ‘guesses’ the sit is what gets him the jackpot. If you crack when he’s intensifying his attempts, he might just greet more intensely from now on!
You can break a habit within 4-5 tiny 1-minute sessions over the course of a couple of days. But if you are not consistent, it’ll be very hard to break indeed.
In 99% of the times, it’s because of STUFF:
You know it’s the case when you see the usual stress signals (see poster, etc.)
Solution: take a deep breath, relax your muscles, stand slightly sideways to the dog, take a step back, and ask again. Nicely does it now. Basically, take it down a notch when you ask him to do something.
Teach him: is he really fluent enough?
You know it’s the case when: you wouldn’t bet 50 euros he can do it. That means the behaviour was shaky at best.
We played the French game, during which I mumbled an order in French, and the (non-French-speaking) student had to guess what I wanted. I put increasing pressure on the student to really make them feel how we make our dogs feel every single day. Take home point: Dogs don’t come out of the box speaking Dutch, English, Arabic, or French.
So you have to teach them new words in stages:
You know you’re ready for the next stage if you would bet 50 euros he can perform flawlessly at the current one. If you’re not there, go back to ‘kindergarden’ for a second or two. Go back a stage or two to refresh the dog’s memory, and then take things back up at a more challenging level. It’ll take two seconds of your life and save you and the dog a lot of frustration.
To generalize a learning moment, many dogs need to be showed the behaviour in at least 2-3 different spots. And so do we. One successful session in one context does not mean that the dog has internalized the word. If he’s falling apart in a new situation with a word you could swear he knows, just go back to kindergarden for one or two seconds, to refresh his memory.
Far too distracted
If your dog is too distracted to work, go back to kindergarden and show him what you mean again by pointing at it, etc – by doing whatever it is you did to help him understand the word when you first introduced it.
If he has to perform reliably in this distracting environment, you’ll need to train that gradually, by asking him to perform in environments resembling that challenging environment more and more.
Would you bet 50 euros he is going to hold his sit next to this loud kid? No? Then you’re being unfair and unrealistic expecting it. Is it important to you he has does? Yes? Then get training. Start with quiet kids at a distance, then quiet kids closer, then wild kids at a distance, then wild kids closer, etc.
And if it’s not that important to you, then just cheat if you have to stay close to the distraction and use a ‘combat treat’ (the more delicious kind, the larger kind, but the less healthy kind). You could also put a visual barrier (when it comes to dogs, it’s pretty much out of sight out of mind). This can be yourself, a line of trees, etc. The simplest thing is often to increase the distance to the distraction, and asking again. If you can at all, that’s your best bet.
Far too excited
In the long-term:
Will my dog be fat?
Not if you follow our advice. Some tips and pointers:
Start only rewarding your dog with food sporadically once he really masters a behaviour (level 4, you guys). When you wean off the dog, just skip a treat reward once in a while, then skip it more and more. Make sure you don’t do this like a clock or the dog will work you out and only work one time out of three (if that is your pattern). For well-established behaviour, I find 1:10 reasonable, praising the rest of the time. But again,
Only use ‘combat treats’ (treats that are delicious, but potentially not as healthy) in situations when you really need it, like when teaching something particularly difficult, or in a highly distracting environment.
Take the treats you use for training from the dog’s daily ration, do not give him MORE than his daily ration of food just because you use treats in training.
If you want to dig into the whole dominance bombshell:
Essentially, the formula is this: patience, consistency, patience, boundaries, patience, intelligent discipline, patience, informed understanding, and… a lot of patience.
Lassie was a fictional character played by lots of different dogs who got hours of weekly training. And no, your childhood dog was not perfect when you really think about it.
So, like or kids, pick the battles that matter and enjoy the one you have.
Happy dog raising!
Tags: den haag, dog behaviour problem, dog behaviour the hague, dog training the hague, hondeneigenaar, hondengedrag, hondengedragsprobleem, hondentraining, seminar dog training, seminar hondengedrag den haag