Rewarding vs. bribing in dog training

This past weekend, my husband, dogs and I went on a drive over Guanella Pass to enjoy some fresh air and beautiful fall scenery together. As we were making our way over the other side to Georgetown, two sheriff vehicles in front of us blocked the road, stopping us and all who were behind us. One of the deputies approached us and told us to make ourselves comfortable, even go walk our dogs, because we were going to be there for a while; some group of hot rod enthusiasts had a permit for an event and they were closing the road off for a race.

I wasn’t bothered by this as we weren’t on any set schedule and it is a beautiful place to be stuck! I got the dogs and headed down a little trail nearby, then came back after a few to take a place by the road to watch the cars go by.

Taking in the scenery on Guanella Pass with Uma (L) and Jasper (R)

Taking in the scenery on Guanella Pass with Uma (L) and Jasper (R)

My foster dog, Uma, is highly reactive. I knew the crowd of people and sounds of the cars would likely be stressful for her, and I of course had my treat pouch full of bacon ready. As she was able to look at people but look away, or offer another behavior like sniffing the ground or looking at me, I would praise her every so often and give her small bits of the bacon for these behaviors. Same with the cars as they came by, particularly if they were loud—as she was able to be calm and offer other behaviors, I continued to reward her every so often with the bacon. Jasper also got bacon for similarly being well-behaved.

After a while I decided enough was enough—we were all getting tired and Uma is older and has medical issues, too, so I took them back to the car to give them water and allow all of us to relax. They’d done very well at being calm, and Uma didn’t even bark once! I passed by a lady who felt compelled to say to me, “Bribing them to be good works.” As what I was doing was not bribing, I simply replied, “Actually, I was rewarding them for good behavior,” and just kept walking. I admit, it made me cranky. I didn’t have the energy to engage further but I also wanted her to know what I actually was doing!

Thinking back on this, I felt compelled to write about it because I hear it so much—isn’t using treats (or any reward, for that matter) for training bribery? Critics of positive reinforcement methods will often talk about this, and some seem to think that, if we took the treats away, the bad behavior would rear its ugly head. Others also seem to think that dogs should just do what we want of them, out of “respect” and no need for any reinforcement.

Let’s ask ourselves: What is bribery and what is reinforcement?

Bribery would be if I had to show a treat to a dog first, every time to get him to do something, particularly if he already knows it or is in the middle of doing something I don’t want him to do. If my practice was based on this and the dog learns that the treat has to precede his behavior, I would be doing him a disservice. Timing is very crucial when it comes to bribery vs. reinforcement.

Reinforcement is when my dog offers a behavior and I can mark and follow it with something she likes, like bacon, to reward her for making the right choice, and increase the frequency of her choosing this “good” behavior. When I am teaching something new, I will mark and reinforce every time the dog offers the behavior. As the behavior becomes more consistent, I will then switch up my reinforcement—marking and treating every other time, every few times, and offering other real-life rewards and praise. This is basic operant conditioning, and it works to teach a dog what choices to make if you do it correctly.

Food is a powerful motivator. It helps turn off fear. It is easy to carry and conceal, and it is essential to survive. It’s easy and relatively inexpensive, particularly if you make your own simple treats and use real foods. Your dog needs to eat so why not use his dinner as a reward for behavior you want?

We may have this fantasy of all dogs living to please us. While it’s true that most dogs are motivated by pleasing us at times, it’s not true all the time and for some dogs, pleasing us may not be much of a motivator! Dogs are living beings with drives and desires all their own. It’s our job to recognize this and work with them to get and reward the behavior we do want. It is so much more powerful—and fun!—to have this proactive, rather than reactive, approach. The ideal is to use a variety of rewards and mix them up to keep it interesting and engaging for the dog, and to vary the delivery as they gain proficiency. It’s like a slot machine—we keep hoping that next pull is going to bring the jackpot!

Want to learn more? I recommend these links:

Thank you for reading!
Owner, Delightful Doggies

Welcome Ellen to the Delightful Doggies family!

Ellen with her dogs, Ruby and Zelda

Ellen with her dogs, Ruby and Zelda

It is my pleasure to officially announce the addition of Ellen Jensby as a training assistant to the Delightful Doggies family!

I met Ellen this past spring when I began teaching the CHAMPS program at the MaxFund shelter. Ellen’s impeccable timing skills definitely caught my eye and she also approached me with questions about how to become a professional trainer and the myriad certification programs that exist. As we became acquainted, I offered to allow her to help with training sessions where I need extra hands and found her to be a wonderful addition to these sessions.

Over the course of spring and summer, Ellen has worked for me to gain experience and has proven herself to be very capable of not only taking great direction and learning, but adding some great additional insights.

Because of her hard work and talent, I have decided to officially add Ellen to my team so that she may get paid for her hard work as a handler and assistant. This is very beneficial for clients who need practice with other strangers or dogs who need handling. We’ve handled everything from over-enthusiastic jumpers to leash-reactive dogs, and dogs who have attacked other dogs. Ellen’s ability to help us maintain a stress-free threshold for these dogs to be able to learn in each of these setups has been invaluable!

Thank you, Ellen, for your dedication to helping dogs and their people, as well as volunteering your time in shelters to help dogs become more adoptable. I’m so happy to have you on the Delightful Doggies team!

You can also learn more about Ellen on our Meet the Trainer page (scroll past me).

If you have any questions, feel free to contact us!

Thank you,
Owner, Delightful Doggies

August 2014 clients; changes in service

August was one of the busiest months ever, and it was so busy I had to re-evaluate the direction of the company and my career. On September 11, I will be taking my exam to gain certification as a Certified Professional Dog Trainer – Knowledge Assessed (CDPT-KA) through the Certification Council of Professional Dog Trainers. I’m both very excited and a little nervous!

I’ve taken a lot of time to reflect on things and have made the decision to eliminate pet sitting and off-leash adventures as service offerings. Soon they will be de-listed from this website. Over the next few months, I hope to have more time to develop the business and strengthen existing training services, as well as build new service offerings. While I will miss the clients I’ve had for these services, I cannot deny the demand they’ve made on my time, and the increase in training business has made it challenging to do both. Thanks to all of you who have referred me for these services! I am happy to provide quality referrals for other professionals as needed, so don’t hesitate to contact me for help in this regard.

Click on the below photo icons to view the August client slideshow. Don’t forget–you can also see all our client slideshow photos on our Flickr site, and also join us for more photo fun, and other great content, on our Facebook page!

Mandy Trixie and Patrick Magik Toby and Heidi Wrigley Jasper and Devo Basil and Koa Mya Thea Daphne Murphy Holly Poppy Lucille Valentine Charlie Gatsby and Gertie Charlotte Sophie Willa Chase Varly Lupo Maggie Mae Keesha Reese and Reg

Not pictured but still very appreciated: Casey the golden retriever/cocker spaniel mix and Jack the Australian shepherd; Dillon the cattle dog mix; and Moses the domestic shorthair cat.

Thank you!
Owner, Delightful Doggies

Client spotlight: Mandy the tuxedo cat

Congratulations to our August client spotlight, Mandy the kitty!

Pretty Miss Mandy

Pretty Miss Mandy

Mandy is a beautiful tuxedo girl who is very loving and sweet. She has been receiving pet sitting services for a year now, and it’s a real pleasure to visit with her. She is very good at taking the meds she needs and is very affectionate. One of her favorite little games is to be “chased” and then getting belly rubs after I say, “I’m gonna get you!”

Many times Mandy is ready to tell you all about her day as soon as you walk through the door. She is a very talkative girl. She will also let you know that she’s hungry! ;)

Mandy also enjoys lots of ear scratches and purrs generously as she receives these and belly rubs. Her spider toy and string also help bring out her playful side. She has been known to dip into the delights of catnip as well.

We appreciate the continued patronage of Mandy and her parents, who are so wonderful to entrust us with her care. Mandy is a pleasure to visit and is a testament to how sweet kitties truly are. Thank you so much for your business and confidence in Delightful Doggies for your pet sitting needs!

Owner, Delightful Doggies

Important notice re: pet sitting services

Hello everyone,

I just wanted to send out a reminder that, for the Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year holiday season for 2014 leading into 2015, I will NOT be offering pet sitting services. This year I am going to take the holiday season off to be with my own family.

Also, I am fully booked with such clients and will not be able to accept new pet sitting clients for a while. (I am still accepting new training clients!)

If you are looking for pet sitting services, I will be happy to do my best to give a quality referral, so feel free to reach out and contact me for this help and I will do my best to find a quality sitter for your needs.

I am so blessed that so many have chosen me to help with these needs so I appreciate all of you and your word-of-mouth and kind testimonials.

Thank you!
Owner, Delightful Doggies

July 2014 clients

July was an interesting month for me and the business. I was very thrilled to see my hero, trainer Pat Miller, at a workshop she delivered during my birthday weekend! I learned so much from her about working with dogs and using shaping techniques. It was also a challenging birthday since my foster dog was not feeling very well and we had a bit of a scare with her.

Some of my clients also faced challenges, and it seemed to be a difficult month for scheduling and maintaining consistency. The weather wasn’t very helpful at times in this regard either! I also had an amazing CHAMPS session at MaxFund working with volunteers and the dogs on training basics! feel like this month was a great practice in learning in many different ways. I appreciate the growth my clients, business and volunteer efforts provide!

Take a stroll down memory lane by clicking on the below photo icons to view the July client slideshow. You can also see all our client slideshow photos on our Flickr site, and don’t forget to join us for more photo fun, and other great content, on our Facebook page!

Daphne Mochi Mya Bo Percy Deacon Luca Roosevelt Jackson Murphy Thea Charlotte Chase Varly Basil Koa Willa Wrigley Buster Arial Devo and Jasper Heidi and Toby Puma and Toonces Charlie Poppy Lucille Valentine Lucky, Keesha and Maggie Mae Patrick and Magik Trixie

Not pictured but still very appreciated: Nola the Airedale terrier/Rottweiler mix.

Thank you!
Owner, Delightful Doggies

A day in the life…

Being a dog trainer is the best career I’ve ever had. It’s also been one of the hardest! Many times people are curious about my life or what it’s like to be a dog trainer, and so I thought it might be fun to blog about it.

First of all, every trainer is different: we all have different levels of expertise, and areas in which we train (both in terms of type of training and geographical locations). Some trainers are self-employed while others work for small companies or large franchises. Trainers may come to your home to work one-on-one with you, or you may go to them for privates or group classes at a location they own, or through which they are employed or have an agreement to run classes. Vet offices, dog daycares and pet stores are common places where some trainers can find space to do group classes.

Me and my idol, trainer Pat Miller (L), at a recent workshop of hers

Me and my idol, trainer Pat Miller (L), at a recent workshop of hers

Currently I am a self-employed trainer who offers in-home services, though I also have begun this year teaching group classes on a volunteer basis for a local shelter. Because I am self-employed, I spend my time not only as a trainer, but as a scheduler, marketer, sales person, administrative assistant, web designer and content creator, A/P and A/R, and as many other job titles! In some ways, it’s similar to when I worked in a non-profit environment: I wear many different hats.

My typical day can start with pet sitting clients, or sometimes I have training clients who like early hours. Usually, though, I am either pet sitting or spending some time with my family in the early morning. I am frequently in and out throughout the day into evening on appointments for training and pet sitting, and alternately answering emails and phone calls as I can in between appointments.

Scheduling and travel to and from these appointments are sometimes the most challenging parts of this job. We live in a fast-paced world where cities can be congested, so rolling with the punches is a pretty regular occurrence. Luckily, technology can help us; I have been happy that my GPS can estimate arrival times somewhat accurately so that I can head off any delays and inform clients. I hate being late! It helps me to be less stressed having that knowledge.

Working one-on-one with clients is great, particularly if they have special concerns or behaviors they want to modify. I enjoy it because it does offer variety–there is never a dull moment! Each dog and human client presents their own unique goals, and I enjoy problem solving. No two cases are alike. It requires a lot of attention to detail, tracking progress and having a variety of tools to help achieve the goals.

After I meet with clients, I always send a follow-up email to help outline the homework and additional resources that may be useful in doing the homework. These also help me track what we have done and help determine progress and where to make amendments and additions to treatment plans. When I’m able to give and receive consistent feedback with clients, we can better work together to achieve goals more quickly. While a majority of my clients take a coaching approach, I do offer training one-on-one with their dog(s) in a day training/walk and train scenario. This can help speed up training for clients and give their dog some additional enrichment to alleviate boredom and provide a constructive outlet for their energy if their human is gone for long days. Some also enjoy off-leash adventures with me, which is a fun service!

There is a lot of energy that goes into training beyond the actual appointment times. Managing time to maximize the ability to profit from the time that is paid for appointments is a huge consideration for anyone thinking of being a self-employed dog trainer. Having policies about cancellations is also very important. It can be difficult to enforce policies but without them, it would be much harder to be a business, so it’s important to set up expectations with clients and review contract policies thoroughly from the beginning.

The best dog trainers know they will never know EVERYTHING so another consideration is pursuing continuing education; this is of great importance to me. I have attended several workshops and hands-on seminars that have helped me to learn more about everything from how to address aggressive behaviors to free shaping with a clicker. Building in time and budget for CE is very important to me; some certifications also have CE requirements.

If you are interested in becoming a dog trainer, I’m always happy to talk with and mentor other trainers. I only recently began mentoring other trainers and I have found it to be an awesome experience. I learn as much from them as they do from me! Networking with other trainers can be a great way to learn and get mentoring from them, as well as gain insight into how the business works. It can also be a way to gain referrals one day when you decide to become a professional trainer, or if you decide on another dog-centric career path.

Thank you for reading and your interest in a typical “day in the life” of a trainer like me!
Owner, Delightful Doggies

Client spotlight: Daphne the Chi/terrier mix

Daphne is always smiling at our training sessions!

Daphne is always smiling at our training sessions!

Congratulations to our July client spotlight, Daphne the Chihuahua/terrier mix!

Daphne is a very special girl who is a total delight! She is also very lucky; her parents are very proactive in their care for her. At nine years of age, Miss Daphne is still a spunky, smiling girl who is ready for fun. She’s been picking up on clicker training fast! She’s proof in the pudding that old–ahem, mature–dogs can learn new tricks.

Another consideration Daphne has is that she is going blind; she has progressive retinal atrophy. Clicker training is a great way to help boost her confidence and give her some clear information about how to adapt in this time of her life. We are using tactile (surfaces) and scent (smells courtesy of Dr. Bronner’s fabulous non-toxic line) cues to help her navigate her home.

In addition, we are getting her used to noises, strange people and dogs in order to prepare her for anything that may become more fearful to her through her loss of hearing. By pairing these things with awesome stuff (like her favorite, freeze-dried raw chicken liver!), we will be able to help her feel more comfortable with them, rather than fear them.

I very much appreciate the dedication her parents are showing through working on training with her, and ensuring this big transition in her life goes more smoothly. Their trust in me to help them achieve these goals is very humbling. It is a real pleasure working with all three of them and having this wonderful experience in building a relationship together that can help Daphne remain happy for her golden years to come!

Thank you, Daphne and family!
Owner, Delightful Doggies

I am a Clucker Trainer


I loved this blog SO MUCH I just HAD to reblog it! I’ve often heard clicker training/positive reinforcement critics say “it’s just a fad.” This proves their argument and negative attitude moot! This is a wonderful read I hope you enjoy!
Owner, Delightful Doggies

Originally posted on awesomedogs:

Some claim that there is a new fad running rampant through dog training circles.

It is based on some of that sciencey stuff by Pavlov, Skinner, Watson and Thorndike.  A few well-known trainers such as Breland, Keller and Bailey furthered this fancy stuff by using geeky science outside the lab, causing this new age stuff to proliferate to the dog owning public.

Perhaps you have heard of some of these fads.  You’ll recognize these fancy methods because they use terms such as positive reinforcement, desensitization, counterconditioning and the charming though less scientific term clicker training… among others.  Some feel that these will quickly pass.

I’m still waiting.

It should happen at any moment.  After all, this fad has been around for at least 162 years.  Yes, you read that correctly.

One hundred sixty two years of “fancy” training and counting.

In 1882, S.T. Hammond published, “Practical Dog Training or…

View original 977 more words

Help for dogs with separation anxiety

A common complaint with dog pet parents are disruptive and destructive behaviors while they are away. Some of these may indicate boredom or lack of mental/physical exercise, while for some it may indicate anxiety, including separation anxiety.

sa dogWhat is Separation Anxiety?
Separation anxiety is distress a dog undergoes when separated from a certain individual, or individuals. Some dogs may have subtle signs of anxiety, while others may be in extreme distress. Signs of separation anxiety include: digging and scratching at doors or windows in an attempt to get to the person(s); destructive chewing; vocalizations such as whining, barking or howling; pacing, drooling and other signs of stress; escaping; and urination and/or defecation. Some dogs may also engage in copraphagia—eating their own excrement—something they may not do in the presence of their parent. Some extreme cases can result in self-injury.

It can be difficult to determine separation anxiety, so it’s important to set up a way to monitor the dog while you are away to see what is going on. Living in the digital age makes this relatively easy as there are built-in webcams and applications that allow for easy setup. By setting up a system you can then watch your dog for body language indicative of stress and evaluate if the dog is anxious, or simply bored while you are gone.

What Causes Separation Anxiety?
There is no single answer for why a dog may have or develop separation anxiety. Genetics may play a role, as may detachment issues (i.e., being weaned too early). Other causes include life changes (moving residences, losing a family member or other pet, or changes in regular routines), a traumatic event from the dog’s viewpoint, or being accustomed to never being alone and then suddenly being left alone.

How to Treat Separation Anxiety
First, it’s important to be patient. Understand that your dog isn’t trying to embarrass you or make your life awful. Punishment for any destruction or soiling can be very detrimental in treating the problem successfully. I never use punishment in training for any reason, and anxious dogs in particular should never be subjected to harsh, aversive training that is based on unscientific traditional or dominance-based methods. I highly advise obtaining professional help from a certified dog trainer, and/or dog behavior consultant, particularly in severe cases. Nothing can replace the help of a well-versed professional!

If your dog has mild separation issues, make your departures and arrivals uneventful. Ignore your dog for a few moments when you do come back home: get a drink of water, take care of other simple tasks first, and then say hi in a way that is friendly, but not over the top! Likewise, when you leave, you can say a simple goodbye, or I always say, “I’ll be back,” (Terminator-style, lol). Drawing less rather than more attention to your comings and goings is important.

Make sure you have project toys ready to keep him preoccupied when you leave; stuffed Kongs are a great option. Ten to fifteen minutes before you leave, give him a frozen, stuffed Kong and put on some soothing music (classical music is great, or I also recommend the music from Some dogs benefit from calming tools like Thundershirts, Rescue Remedy, ADAPTIL or ComfortZone diffusers/collars/sprays, aromatherapy sprays, or homeopathic supplements. You can read more about calming tools on a blog of mine here. Chewing items are important to consider: you want to use items your dog won’t hurt himself with, so don’t leave him with anything new that you haven’t tested. It’s important the dog has outlets for chewing, as it is relaxing for him, but you also want to ensure his safety.

Having a calm environment and using tools to help your dog relax is very important; by doing all this in advance of your departure, you can then get ready while he is busy with his Kong and draw less attention to yourself. However, to ensure that these items don’t become “triggers” for your departure, from time to time you will want to give him these items when you aren’t leaving. Triggers are items or situations that cause a dog to react in a way we do not want—so with separation anxiety, your routine for leaving can trigger anxiety in your dog. It’s important to render these triggers meaningless, so by picking up your keys and putting them back down periodically throughout the day, the dog sees that the keys don’t always signal that you are leaving. Repeat this process with your purse, jacket, briefcase or anything else in your routine that your dog may use to predict your departure.

For some dogs with separation anxiety, confinement may make the problem worse, so crating or confinement in a small room may not be a good idea. If you are worried about your dog being destructive, try managing the environment by using closed doors and gates as appropriate to limit your dog’s ability to roam in your home. Also pick up and put away items that are valuable or may be dangerous to your dog.

Practice smaller departures. Maybe don’t even leave at first; just touch your door knob or turn it slightly, on and off, throughout the day. This will also desensitize your dog to that being a trigger for your departure. You can then practice just stepping out the door, or staying outside for just a few seconds to minutes, then coming back in. Gradually doing this so that the dog isn’t too stressed is very important. You can then increase the time, decrease the time, and vary it as the dog can be comfortable while you are gone, to help him learn how to be alone.

Of course, it’s hard to manage this problem and do things very gradually if you have a regular 8 – 5 job, so you may need to get creative in managing the problem as you can treat it. Using dog walkers or friends to come by as needed to shorten the time alone is an alternative, especially in milder cases. Dog daycare may be a better option for some, or maybe you can take him to work with you. It’s important to do whatever possible to ensure the dog isn’t in distress on a daily basis, as stress will make it impossible to modify the behavior, so management is extremely important for success.

It’s important to do training that will help your dog gain confidence and independence. Clicker training cues such as sit-stay and simple tricks and games will go a long way in helping your dog build confidence. If your dog sticks to you like Velcro when you’re home, honing a good sit-stay and using some gates as barriers to gradually help them learn to be physically separated from you while you are with them, will help them cope when you are ultimately gone.

Likewise, if you walk your dog and do some basic training drills done before you are going to leave, he will have less energy to be anxious while you are gone! Physical as well as mental stimulation is important for a well-tired dog who can rest while you are away.

Consider your dog’s diet as well. Commercial diets are filled with ingredients that can make things worse for your dog. Fresh diets (raw or dehydrated raw, home cooked meals) are ideal, or at the very least, kibble/wet foods that are made using all-natural ingredients with no preservatives/artificial colorings or additives, are very important. Read the labels! Whole Dog Journal and are great sources of information about how to properly evaluate dog foods and understand your dog’s nutritional needs.

For extreme cases, especially where natural calming aids and management tools may not be enough to reduce stress to have success in behavior modification, a consult with a vet who specializes in behavior modification and medicines may be necessary. Pharmaceutical intervention is not always needed but may very well be helpful, depending on the severity of the anxiety and the individual dog.

Other Resources
There are two books I can recommend concerning separation anxiety: Nicole Wilde’s Don’t Leave Me! Step-by-Step Help for Your Dogs and Patricia McConnell’s I’ll Be Home Soon!: How to Prevent and Treat Separation Anxiety.

The Importance of Professional Help
While I hope this article is a good resource for anyone with questions about dog behavior and training, it does not replace the need for a qualified professional. Please do not try to go it alone if you have worries about your dog’s health and well-being. We have many great positive reinforcement trainers and behavior consultants in the greater Denver area, and throughout Colorado. I am happy to help you find a qualified professional who will treat you and your dog with the respect you deserve. Feel free to contact me for help.

Thank you!
Laura McGaughey
Owner, Delightful Doggies