si Cocker Spaniel Training: April 2006

Cocker Spaniel Training

All about dog (cocker spaniel) training.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Dog Obedience Traning Styles.


There are many styles of dog obedience training. Here I'm going Dog Traningto mention what I consider the two main types. In future articles I will explore some of the less well known styles of training, some of which are becoming quite popular. This page and the next two pages should help you decide on the best style of training for your individual pet.

The main types of training are leash/collar training and reward training. I consider the leash and collar training to be a hard training style, and reward training to be a soft training style.

Both styles are very old; however, the leash and collar has been used more and is considered the traditional style. I think this is because most obedience training has traditionally developed from military dog training. There are several reasons why this method would be preferred to using food, such as the nature of the dogs being trained, the task or mission of the animal, and the temperament and background of the military handler/trainer.

Although obedience training with reinforcement has become very popular in the last 5 years, the leash and collar is still the best way to do many kinds of dog training. Especially in situations where you need a great deal of reliability, and at times when the dog would be highly motivated for not obeying, such as obedience with a police k-9 who is highly motivated to fight.

The leash and collar can be used with varying degrees of force. This could be from very hard correction to mild leash prompts. However, when the leash is used, it is best not to nag the dog with ineffective correction.

Generally with a leash based obedience training system, the dog is first taught a behavior, usually with the leash. Once the dog displays that it knows the command, the leash is used to correct the dog for not obeying, or when the dog makes a mistake. Usually with this style of obedience training, the leash is the main form of controlling and communicating with the dog.

In order for a dog to be fully trained, I think that the dog should be trained to trust the handler and allow the handler to at least place the dog into a position or posture that the dog does not want to assume. This does not necessarily require a lot of force, but it does require some physical manipulation. This manipulation is safest and most easily done with a leash. At least this much leash training should be incorporated into even the most advanced reward training systems.

One thing that must be understood is "the leash is just a tool." By learning to train a dog with the leash, one should in the process, eventually acquire the skills necessary to train a dog with whatever tools are at hand.

Even if the only tools at hand are your body and your intellect. One of the important skills that a handler can learn with the leash, is how to develop a leadership role in the dog's life. In this aspect of dog training the leash is a tool to help show the handler certain principles of leadership.

Leash training can never replace developing the proper leader/follower relationship between the owner and the dog. Although doing leash training will increase the bond between you and your dog, it cannot replace the bond of trust that can only come through treating your pet fairly.

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Dog Obedience Traning basic Commands.

"Heel" to walk on a loose leash 
  Respond to "No!"
  Respond to "Release"

One reason for doing obedience training is to establish a foundation from which you and your dog can learn to effectively relate to one another. The first thing obedience training does is to create a common language for you and your dog. This, in turn, lets your dog know the proper response (behavior) that you expect in place of socially maladaptive behavior.

The obedience trained dog can respond properly to your commands, instead of neurotically trying to please and becoming ever more anxious with your displeasure. This dog acknowledges the people in the family as the leaders and becomes more secure and calm in this bond of love and authority.

Obedience training can be used to help fulfill some of your dog's basic needs, such as exercise, the security of knowing what's expected, a feeling of accomplishment, and constructive social interaction. Obedience training will give your pet a job to do and can be useful in redirecting some of the mental energy of an animal that was meant for work.


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Saturday, April 15, 2006

Some peaces of advice for the owner of the dog.

When dogs deal with other dogs, animals higher on the pecking order may elicit attention from lower ranking animals. Lower ranking animals rarely elicit attention from superiors, but when they do, they also "give" appeasement behaviors (such as groveling on their belly, laying down, licking, etc.) to the higher ranking animal. When combined with many other mixed messages, something as simple as petting your dog whenever he demands without having to give you anything in return may result in your dog believing he ranks higher than you. This in turns leads him to believe that he does not need to respect or listen to you unless it suits him. Thus, when you try to insist, he may react aggressively.
Earning your dog's respect requires you to act in ways that he sees as worthy of respect - and the easiest way to do that is to control resources (the things that matter to him) and only provide them to him when he is cooperating with you. No need to deprive the dog, just the need to have him earn what he wants.
The most powerful tool you have to change your dog's behavior is your attention. DO NOT use any kind of physical correction (grabbing the lead or collar or the dog himself) to force the dog to obey you. Instead, walk away, refusing to acknowledge his existence for a few minutes. Then, in a nice tone of voice, ask again. If it is something the dog really wants, such as his food, playtime, a walk or whatever, you will usually get his cooperation within a few tries. Eventually, this new rule starts to sink in - "The ONLY time you get what you want is when you cooperate."
Reward all positive behavior with praise. When withdrawing attention is not possible, or leads to the dog increasing his objectionable behavior, try putting him outside alone in the yard for a few minutes, or into a room or his crate for a time out. Use a treat if needed to get him outside or into the crate. This does not reward him for disregarding any previous commands, but does reward him for cooperating with your last request of "outside" or "in your crate."
Whenever you find yourself frustrated, give yourself (and the dog!) a break with some time out. Dogs are easily confused by emotions such as anger and fear (their own or yours), so if you lose your calm, sensible approach, avoid further problems and separate yourself and the dog briefly until you feel ready to try again.
Be aware that as you change the rules, the problem behavior may escalate briefly as the dog pushes harder to see what the limits are. It is helpful to write down a daily record of aggressive incidents so that you can begin to see the patterns of frequency (how many times does the behavior occur?) and intensity (how far does the behavior go?). Changes will not occur overnight, but gradually over a period of time. A written record helps during times of frustration. For example, when it seems that nothing is happening at all, the written record may show that in fact, the behavior has decreased from 9 times a day to only 4. This is a significant improvement!
To resolve this behavior problem, you will need to change your own behavior so that your dog can begin to clearly perceive his place in the family structure as the least ranking member, and under the control of all family members, including children. All family members must agree on this program, and be faithful in adhering to it, or you will doom the dog to failure and possible death.

NO FREE LUNCH - Your dog must learn to value your attention, playtime and food. From now on, he will receive nothing from you without giving you something in return such as a sit. For example, if he would like to be petted or have a toy thrown, he must sit promptly on the FIRST command. You may then pet him briefly or throw the toy once or twice. If he fails to sit, ignore him and do not give him any attention or petting for at least 3 minutes. You may then try again.

TEACH SELF CONTROL - See the article on Teaching Self Control as well as our booklet, "Understanding & Teaching Self Control"

PUT ALL TOYS AWAY - Leave one or two toys to chew on and that the dog can play with by himself. Put all other toys away - these will now be the toys that you use to play with the dog. YOU will now choose play time, when it begins, when it ends, and what the rules are. DO play with your dog, but expect him to do something before you throw the toy. If he refuses, quietly get up, put the toy away & ignore him for at least 10 minutes

PUT FOOD UNDER YOUR CONTROL - Free choice feeding is a poor idea for dogs who are not by nature meant to nibble all day. At specific times, you feed your dog, and use this time to make him really work for his meals. Remember, you may be giving him a hundred or more "training opportunities" in each bowl - make him work by sitting for just 2-3 kibble in his bowl at a time.
Have him sit, put 2-3 kibble in his bowl, and insist that he stay sitting until you tell him "OKAY, Eat". If he moves or jumps toward the dish, calmly put it back on the counter for a minute or so, then try again. When he will politely sit and wait, allow him to eat the few kibble, then reach down, take the bowl, move a few feet away, ask him to sit (and WAIT), put the bowl down in the new spot and repeat with a few more kibble. You can work with this all over the house & yard, expecting him to sit and wait politely in all rooms before receiving a few kibble. The 10-15 minutes to "serve" a meal in this fashion is time is well spent.
If he decides he'd rather not eat rather than play by your rules, quietly put the food away and then try again at the next meal. Dogs will not starve themselves. It may take up to 4-5 days before your dog decides that he values his food enough to work with you on your terms. If this seems a little heartless, think hard about the reason this step is necessary - you have allowed your dog to get dangerously out of control, and he has either bitten someone or threatened to. A biting dog is not only a huge legal liability, but sooner or later, may have to be put to sleep. Being firm at this stage could save your dog's life.

CONSIDER CHANGING FOODS - Your dog may not have skin problems, diarrhea, vomiting or other obvious signs of allergies, but in my experience, behavior problems, irritability, poor appetite, excessive stool and/or gas, recurring hot spots or ear infections point to possible food allergies or food intolerances. Many dogs receive far too much protein, which is converted into energy which can be a problem if the dog has no acceptable outlet for that energy. First, evaluate the protein - see if you can lower it by switching to another food. Try a food whose main ingredients are unlike your current dog food. If, for example, your current dog food contains chicken and corn, seek out lamb & rice, turkey & barley, duck & potato, etc. Also read the labels on treats - full of calories, high protein & stuffed with chemicals, sugars, salts & preservatives, many dog treats are not a great addition to your dog's diet.

EXERCISE - A huge percentage of problem dogs do not receive sufficient exercise. Increase your dog's exercise by long walks, jogging, playing in the back yard or whatever he enjoys, and keep it regular and vigorous. Remember - unused energy has to go somewhere, and a tired dog is almost always a good dog.

WHEN IN DOUBT, WALK OUT. Use your dog's natural desire for your attention to work for you. If the dog becomes aggressive when asked to do something, simply withdraw your attention. This may mean you need to go into another room and shut the door for a few minutes. When you re-enter the room, use a treat to call the dog to you, then ask him to sit or lay down, rewarding him for showing you his willingness to work with you. If he does not comply, walk away again.

USE TRAINING EQUIPMENT - Rather than grab a dog who is misbehaving, you are better off leaving a training collar and lead on him while you are with him. (Never on an unattended dog.) If appropriate, quietly pick up the leash and gently reinforce the command. Be calm but firm.

ANTICIPATE PROBLEMS - Knowing what situations may trigger your dog's aggression and his body language changes will allow you to prevent this behavior from occurring. For example, if your dog is aggressive when people enter the house, have him on lead and sitting as they enter, instead of trying to stop him from running around out of control and biting. Whenever possible, help the dog substitute desirable behavior for his problem behavior and PRAISE!

TRAIN - Initially, you may need to work on your dog's behavior and your relationship with your dog in private lessons. Once your dog's basic problems are under control, enroll in a basic obedience class to help your dog become a more enjoyable companion, and improve your overall relationship with your dog. Remember, training is a lifetime process, not a quick fix. The sooner you begin, the more years you will have to truly enjoy your dog.

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Monday, April 10, 2006

At one time or another, every owner has to deal with problem behavior. Understanding why your dog does what he does, and how to handle the situation correctly can help resolve problems quickly.

Here are some basic guidelines that apply to nearly all problem situations:

Be positive. Instead of saying "NO", try giving your dog something positive that he can do for you, such as "Sit", or "Heel". This positive approach means you can praise generously for his good actions, instead of simply yelling at him. For example, a dog who jumps up can be told to sit, and helped if necessary, then praised for sitting.

Allow a dog to be a dog. Often, what owners consider problem behavior is simply normal dog behavior that they find unpleasant or annoying. For example, digging is a natural canine activity but distressing to a garden proud owner. Instead of scolding for what comes naturally, it might be kinder to set up an area in which you have buried small treats to make it more attractive than the rest of the yard, and praising your dog for digging in "his" garden.

Whenever natural behaviors conflict with what you might like, be creative and see if you can find an outlet for those interests and activities that is suitable for you both.

Be consistent. It is unfair to the dog to change your rules depending on what you're wearing, who's visiting or the kind of day you've had. If your dog is allowed on the furniture, he will be confused when you yell at him because Aunt Bess is visiting and she doesn't think dogs should sit in chairs! If he's allowed to jump up when you're wearing jeans and a sweatshirt, don't be surprised if he can't tell the difference between that and your best evening gown. Whatever your rules are, keep them consistent.

Have your dog earn what he wants. While everyone needs a few freebies now and then, your dog will not think you are a wonderful owner if you play with him, walk him, feed him and pet him whenever he demands it. In fact, this often creates problems since from the dog's point of view an owner who can be "trained" this well is not one who deserves much respect. Teach your dog to say "please" by sitting, laying down or following some other command before he gets what he wants.

Be clear. Owners often confuse dogs by changing the words or commands, repeating them over and over again without showing the dog what is meant, and worst of all, assuming that the dog understands.

When in doubt, gently show your dog physically exactly what you mean, giving the command at the same time so that he can associate the two. Use clear, matter of fact commands when addressing your dog, and be sure that your praising tone is excited, enthusiastic and upbeat.

Remember that while we use words to communicate, dogs are masters of reading body language. If your body language tells the dog one thing, but your voice tells the dog something else, chances are he will believe your body language. This is why people who bend towards their dog and shake a finger at them while scolding "No, no, no" often receive a playful bark - their body posture is much more like a dog inviting play than a dog who is annoyed or angry.

Exercise, exercise, exercise! The most common cause of problem behavior is boredom and a lack of sufficient exercise. While you work or go out, your dog has little or nothing to do, and his need to exercise will not go away. A familiar yard or house is boring, and few dogs exercise on their own without interaction with their owners. Take the time to play with your dog, jog with him, walk in the woods, swim or take long brisk walks each day. A tired dog is always a well behaved dog!

Provide mental stimulation. Dr. Roger Abrante's suggestions regarding using 1/3 of your dog's diet for treats to be earned during training, 1/3 to be given as usual in a food bowl, and 1/3 to be "hunted" (try a Buster Cube, an ingenious toy which the dog must persistently work with to receive a few kibble at a time. Even a border collie will be amused by this for hours! Buster Cubes are available from your local pet store or from This "home alone" 1/3-1/3-1/3 program helps your dog expend some energy and provides much needed stimulation.

Understand your dog's genetic heritage. Whether you own a Doberman or a Beagle, a Samoyed or a Westie, it is important to understand what your dog was bred to do. Owners often forget that the behavior that prompts a dog to run or stay close, hunt or guard, chase and kill or herd, work with people or work independently are all the result of generations of carefully selected traits. Research your breed's history, and talk to people who understand your breed's characteristics. You may find that Rover's tendencies, while annoying or amusing, are precisely what makes him what he is. You can then decide how best to work with your dog's instincts and where you need to concentrate training efforts.

Train your dog. Every dog should have basic manners, but dogs are not born knowing how to behave. Take the time to train your dog on a consistent basis using kind, positive methods. Find a class near you whose methods and philosophies you like. If faced with a behavior problem you can't solve, ask people you trust for a recommendation of an experienced trainer and get professional help fast. The sooner you begin working on a problem the sooner you will have it solved.

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Thursday, April 06, 2006

Dogs Training Equipments

The best training equipment in the world is of little use if your training techniques are not appropriate for you or your dog, and if the relationship between you and your dog needs some work.

When selecting training equipment, you need to consider several factors:

Does the equipment allow for quiet signals easily perceived by the dog?

For the dog to perceive a signal from you, he must feel it, hear it, or see it. Most training equipment relies upon touch and therefore upon the dog's physical sensitivity. Touch sensitivity can vary from breed to breed, individual to individual dog, as well as being highly dependent upon the situation. A calm dog at home may yelp in anguish if you so much as step on a toe, but in an excited state feel none of the leash signals you send. Be sure to choose equipment that your dog actually perceives as information. This may require several equipment choices depending upon the activity and/or situation.

As a predator, the dog is "hard wired" to react quickly to movement. The canine eye actually contains more of the components that detect movement than does the human eye. Beware of any equipment which necessitates large hand or body movements in order to be effective. Your dog's brain will have to sort out that movement before it can work on figuring out what you were trying to communicate.

Does the equipment achieve the desired results?

If your dog continues to pull, ignore signals, choke himself or tune you out, you may need to switch equipment, as well as examine your handling practices and training method - you are not achieving your desired results.

While this may seem like common sense, it is astounding how many handlers continue to use equipment that frustrates them and/or the dog. By the same token, handlers often stick with a training methodology that is not effective for the dog, the handler or both.

Keep in mind the wonderful saying: "The response you get is the communication you gave." Forget intentions - look at reality, and if you are not achieving the desired results, do something else!

What effect does the equipment have on you?

While it is currently in vogue to train with thick leather leads, the mere act of holding such a lead can limit your ability to use your hands and arms in refined, subtle ways, much as a thick child's crayon inhibits fine penmanship. Remember that such heavy leads are popular because a very forceful correction can be given without hurting your hands, and without losing the full force of the correction to the dog. There are other ways to train. Softness and subtle in your lead signals is possible only when you can utilize fine motor control - instead of heavy, large movements, you can use fluttering or pulsing signals that originate with just a twitch of a finger or two. Such signals are welcomed, heard and understood by the dog.

Beyond limiting your fine motor control, holding a thick lead and/or holding your hand(s) in a clenched fist - a typical "training" position which readies you to give "corrections" - also affects your breathing. To test this for yourself, simply sit for a moment with your hands soft and open on your lap or at your sides. Pay attention to your breathing for a few breaths. Now, hold your hand(s) in your typical training position as if you had a lead in your hands - hold your imaginary lead with your usual grip. Now check your breathing. What breathing??!!! Check a little further - you may find tension in your jaw, neck and/or shoulders as well. How does this affect your emotional state? Do you feel calm, relaxed or focused? Or do you feel increasingly anxious or tense - two normal responses to interfering with your breathing? Imagine how this affects your training on many levels.

Still holding your imaginary lead, soften your hands so that your fingers are light and soft, as if you were attempting to contain a butterfly within your hand. How does this affect your breathing? Check the tension in your jaw - it should be disappearing as you relax your hands.

Your choice of equipment, as well as how you use that equipment, will have profound effects on your emotions, your patience and the results you get in your training session. Choose wisely, and with an awareness of the impact the equipment will have on both ends of the lead.

Can you be subtle?

One of the hallmarks of a novice in any activity is the rather awkward, overly large use of signals and movements. Compare the movements of someone just learning to ride a horse with the almost imperceptible movements and cues of the Olympic rider, or the lead handling of a novice handler with an experienced trainer. Unfortunately, these two images are not necessarily equal examples. In the first case, a beginning rider flails around, using large hand movements to "steer" their horse in very basic ways, while the Olympic level rider may achieve incredibly sophisticated responses with signals so subtle as to be virtually undetectable. The horse and rider seem to dance together in some pre-agreed fashion.

In the second example, you will not see too much of a difference between the typical novice handler and the experienced dog trainer in terms of subtlety. Oh, the corrections may be given with more precision and power, and no one ends up being wrapped up in the lead, but subtlety is not a quality that is taught or even sought by experienced trainers. I remember watching some of the top obedience competitors at a Gaines Regional and being surprised that at such a level of experience, there were still gross movements and forceful corrections. The only thing that set the novices apart from the "pros" was timing. The techniques were not refined to any great degree.

Mastery of any skill should include a progressive degree of subtlety. I feel this is especially true when our partners are dogs - the masters of subtle communications. Do yourself and your dog a favor - see how subtle you can get, and still achieve results. You may surprise yourself when a twitch of a finger is sufficient to "correct" a dog, or when a slight head turn is enough to give a signal across the room. Such subtlety requires precision and clarity in your signals, respect for and trust in the dog's willingness to respond, and mastery of your self.

Is it worth it? You bet. For the casual onlooker, subtlety of signal adds an air of magic to all that you and your dog do together. For yourself, you may find, as I do, that there is a genuine joy in both giving and receiving the kind of willing and mutual attentiveness that is the hallmark of a great team.

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