Training should be fun and friendly for both dog and handler. Creating a stable learning environment in which fear and intimidation have gone extinct is what we are all about. 

It has been proven time and time again that dogs are a very intelligent species and have the capability to show emotion. So as the most intelligent species on the planet it's up to us to learn to communicate and train on a level that our dog can understand and work with.

When we choose to use tactics that create an environment in which the dog does not want to participate, we are simply showing our lack of intelligence.

Here at Poochy Smooches K-9 Academy we strive to work with each dog and handler right where they are. Making it achievable to reach the goals needed to arrive at success!

Method of Training

The technical term for this method of training is Operant Conditioning.   This is the same method of training used by professional animal trainers around the world.  I believe that any animal that can be trained would benefit from operant conditioning.  Marker Training is the same thing as operant conditioning, but we use this term because it more correctly describes what it is we are trying to achieve. With marker training (the use of verbal markers) we are marking a moment in time when your dog was correct or incorrect. 

This type of training bridges the gap between dog and human language. Using marker training we are able to open a clear line of communication that your dog has the capability of connecting with.

Once your dog has an understanding of marker training,  each time you give a “mark” it will be like taking a snap shot of what your dog at that time. Your dog will remember exactly what he was doing at the moment they heard the “mark” and received a reward. This allows us to more accurately pinpoint fine details in our training. It also helps the dog more clearly understand what it is we are asking of them.

Dogs are associative learners, and with this type of training we take advantage of mother natures own inherent education techniques. With operant conditioning, dogs form an association between a behavior and immediate effect, the effect can be either good or bad.  This is how dogs gauge if a behavior is worth repeating. If the outcome was good then they are more likely to repeat that behavior.

You will find that your dog will start to offer behaviors that he knows have earned him a “mark” and reward in the past. This is called “anticipation”, this is a wonderful thing, it means your dog is enjoying working with you and is actively trying to figure out what you are looking for.  He has become OPERANT or active in the training process and is communicating back with you. NEVER reprimand your dog for anticipating what you are asking.  We want our dogs to be great problem solvers and to attempt to solve without us telling them what to do every time. 

If your dog is not delivering the correct behavior, simply give the “no reward marker” (“nope”) and wait for your dog to think through the exercise. This is called shaping the exercise. To many people rush in to rescue the dog when they look confused.  If you are sure the dog understands the exercise simply wait.  If your not sure he understands or think he is genuinely confused then back your training up and go through the training again, this time split the exercise into smaller segments and offer more physical cues.

It is simply not necessary to get angry or correct the dog for these types of mistakes. If we do this will force our dog into a state of mind called “learned helplessness”. In turn that will cause our training to halt and damage the relationship between human and K-9.

Operant conditioning is the use of binary consequences to modify or shape a behavior or action.   

When a behavior is inconsequential (ignored) most of the time, it will occur with less frequency. Unless it is self-reinforcing, like chasing a squirrel.  When you react to a behavior whether positively or negatively you are reinforcing that behavior (good or bad).  

With that being said, not all behavior should be ignored.  Some behaviors that are self-rewarding (the dog is rewarded by the behavior itself) can not be corrected with the use of a secondary reward like food or toy. Counter conditioning is required in repetition to remove these types of behaviors. Please consult a professional when behaviors like these occur. If they are not handled correctly they can become dangerous for dog and handler.

Just a quick note regarding clickers. I do love my clicker, however, it is not possible to use a clicker in a group setting without all of the dogs in the group responding to the click. This is one of the reasons we use verbal markers. Also because our dogs become accustomed to our verbal markers and will likely not respond to a stranger.

Happy Training!

Phases of Training

Our training methods include three phases of training; a learning phase, a proofing phase and a maintenance phase. It is vitally important that you take the time to go through each phase of training and not move on until your dog is 100% ready to do so.  Rushing through your training or not taking your dog through these three phases of training will result in inconsistent  and unreliable performance from your dog.  These phases need to be repeated with every new behavior that is taught.

Phase 1: The Learning Phase

In this stage of training we would have already introduced the dog to markers, once this is understood then other behaviors can be taught. In the learning phase the dog is taught the meaning of a command. In other words we use markers to help the dog form an association between a word (command) and an action or behavior.  The learning phase of training is always done in controlled environments with little or no distractions. We don’t want to add a lot of distraction until the dog knows and understands the behavior that you are asking him to perform.  While in the learning phase the dog is given a lot of leeway in order to work through the exercises with out stress.  We don’t ever correct a dog for something we are not 100% positive he understands fully.  You will take your dog through a learning phase every single time you teach him a new behavior.  It will go a little faster each time because the dog is already accustomed to communicating with you 

and he now understands how to work with you.

Phase 2: The Proofing Phase

This is where we will add distractions to your training.  Once your dog is performing an exercise consistently and you know for certain he is on board and understands what you are asking, you can then move to a proofing phase of training.  This is the phase of training where we will ask the dog to perform the same exercise but in new locations or on new surfaces or perhaps with other dogs and people around.   In this stage of training we will still need to give the dog ample time to understand that he still needs to perform the exercise even with the distraction in place.  So we will need to make use of our verbal “negative marker” for this.  We will gradually increase the level of distraction to be more and more difficult.

Phase 3: The Maintenance Phase

This phase of training is just what it sounds like, maintenance.  We never add new things in this phase we simply practice and perfect what is already known to the dog, keeping the known commands fresh to the dog.  We use distractions at what ever level the dog is used to working at.  Any changes to an exercise would be made in a learning phase.

Training Rewards

The use of food in dog training is an important feature because in doing so we are able to access the pleasure center of the K-9 brain, this makes the training more memorable, rewarding and productive. 

I know people worry about using food because they feel that their dog will not perform when the food is not present. However, this is simply not true. We use the food to teach our dogs new skills, once the skill is mastered we start to reduce the food use until the dog is able to perform on a verbal ques alone. The majority of trainers in today's competition world use food as a reward to train, me being one of them. If the training is done properly, there is never a problem competing in the show ring where food is not allowed. 

Food rewards need to be a high value reward to your dog. This means something they only get when training, and something they like above everything else. The food rewards need to be high enough value to over ride other distractions in the environment. High value treats would be something like dried liver or anything they want and focus on with intensity.  These treats should be used specifically for training exercises, this way the dog looks forward to working with you. Once you bond with your dog and work well as a team you will begin weaning out food rewards at level two of your training.  You will never stop using a reward all together, anytime you teach a new skill you will revert back to phase 1 of your training. 

Treats should be very small.  You do not want your dog have to take time to chew them as this just slows down your training.  You should be able to deliver a lot of treats in one training session, so having them small makes sure your dog isn’t getting over fed.  You will need to do your training before you feed your dog.  Hungry dogs stay more interested in the treats that we have.  If you your dog tends to be over weight you can cut his food back, as long as you are feeding healthy treats during training.  

Using toys as a motivational reward in training is a fantastic Idea. You just want to make sure your dog effectively releases the toy on command and is not a resource guarder. 

We do not use toys in beginning levels of group training classes. As you can imagine, this would over stimulate the rest of the group and make it impossible to work.