A conditioned reinforcer, simply put, is a sound we train/condition our dog to find rewarding. Then we use the sound to reinforce our dogs behaviour. I think of conditioned reinforcers as one of the main communication tools to use everyday with your dog.
You can easily use a conditioned reinforcer in a variety of different situations to let your dog know that what they are doing is what you want them to do. Examples of when to use a conditioned reinforcer include:
Verbal: Marker word - usually a one syllable sound like "Yes" or "Good"
Mechanical: Clicker or whistle.
Once you have decided it is time to set it up.
First you need to train/condition the dog to the sound you want to use. If you do want to use both for different aspects of training set them up one at a time. I personally use a marker word (“yes”) every day with my dogs and use the clicker for training tricks or more complicated behaviour.
Choose the reward you want to use which must be something highly valuable to your dog. There is little point in using something that don’t like or is only a little bit rewarding. That is why food treats are the easiest to use as they are highly rewarding for your dog and easy to use for this purpose. But you can definitely use a pat as the reward if your dog highly values your attention.
When your dog is not doing anything in particular you want to either say your chosen marker word or click the clicker and WITHIN 3 SECONDS get the reward to your dog. You can drop the food on the ground or give it to your dog from your hand as long as they hear the sound then get the reward. As your dog won’t be looking at you, you may need to drop the food on the floor in front of them or reach your hand around to give them the food.
You will need to repeat this in short sessions (only a couple of minutes) a couple of times a day until your dog recognises the sound and that food is coming!
How will you know when your dog recognises the sound?
When you make the sound (marker word or click) your dog will turn their head to look for the reward. And they will usually do it pretty quickly too! This may not happen straight away and it can take a few sessions, so just stick with it, make sure you are delivering the reward quick enough and that the reward is worth it for your dog.
To demonstrate how to set up either the verbal or mechanical conditioned reinforcer I have created the following videos so you can really see what happens.
One of the first things you should teach your dog, is to look at you on command. Luckily it is also one of the easiest activities to teach. The "Watch" game is simply a focus exercise where we teach our dog to look at our face and to pay attention.
In the dog world, staring at each other in the eye can be considered confrontational and looking away is a calming or submissive signal. Dog body language is very subtle and a lot can be communicated with a small gesture.
With this in mind the look you get from your dog will be short and you should be aware of keeping your eyes soft and non-threatening.
Being able to get your dogs attention when you need it has many benefits. Firstly the act of focusing on you, rather than anything else in the environment at the time, can assist to calm your dog if excited, distracted or anxious. By looking at you, your dog may not notice or may be able to ignore other distractions like a cat or another dog while they go past therefore avoiding an increase in your dogs excitement level.
Have you ever tried to give your dog a command when they weren't paying attention? How well did they respond? Probably not well if at all. By getting your dogs attention first you have a much greater chance of gaining compliance to the next command you give. And finally done correctly this game can help build a strong bond of trust and respect between you and your dog and strengthen your communication.
.Since our dogs can’t tell us when something is wrong we need to be on the look out for potential signs of trouble. Regular physical checks on your dog at home are good for identifying early stages of infection or developing health issues so you can notify your vet and seek the appropriate assistance. These health checks are not meant to replace visits to your vet or for DIY home diagnosis but acts as an early warning system so you catch any potential problems as soon as possible.
Done correctly, by creating a fun and positive association to the activity, these health checks can form a vital part of the relationship you have with your dog and build a strong bond of trust.
When conducting the health check it should be a relaxing and comfortable activity for your dog so make sure you use a soothing voice and make it as positive for your dog as you can. This can include offering treats and proceeding at a slow pace and stop if your dog shows signs of discomfort or of wanting the activity to be over.
For most of the health check it doesn’t matter what position your dog is in as long as they are comfortable and relaxed. Like most things with your dog, the more you practice and make the experience enjoyable for your dog the easier it will be.
Firstly we want to start by looking in the dogs eyes to check to make sure they are clear and you can gently wipe away any discharge from the corners of their eyes with a damp cotton ball.
Things to look out for:
Ear infections are very common in dogs and can cause significant discomfort and pain to the dog. If your dog is scratching at their ears or shaking their head more than usual this can be a sign that there is a problem. Make sure you have your dog checked over by your vet as soon as possible as issues with the ears will not just get better on their own.
Gently feel the main part of the ear for any unusual or new lumps, bumps or cuts. Next have a look inside the ear. A healthy ear is a pale pink colour and may have a bit or wax which is normal and the inside of the ear should be dry. You want to notice if there is an unusual amount of wax or if the ear is swollen, red or flaky.
Now take a sniff of the ear. This may seem strange but if your dog has an infection you will definitely smell it.
There are many things that can cause an infection or problem with your dogs ears including ear mites (more common in young dogs), an allergy to food or something in the environment, a bite, grass seed etc.
Remember your dogs ear is easily damaged so carefully follow your vets instructions on ear care and avoid any unnecessary attention to the ears.
Teeth & Gums:
Gently lift up the lips and take a look at their gums and teeth from this angle. Check to see if there are any broken, wobbly or chipped teeth and whether the teeth have plaque or tartar build up. Next look at the gums, are they swollen? Are there any cuts or lumps and is the colour normal for your dog (gum colour varies) but most are usually a pink colour.
To look inside the mouth you can offer your dog a nice chewy treat so you can peer inside or wait until they naturally open their mouth.
ALWAYS use caution when handling around your dogs mouth as you do not want to risk a bite by causing stress to your dog.
Dogs often don’t like their paws touched so make sure you make this part especially positive for them and you can even make it a game by rewarding them whenever you touch their paws and especially if they offer them to you.
Gently feel around the base of their paws to check for cuts or prickles and check that the nails are intact. Its super important for your dog to allow you to touch their feet incase they get something stuck in their paws or for when the vet or groomer cuts their nails.
Body & Tail:
Start by giving your dog a lovely big pat! Feel along their body for any unusual lumps, bumps or cuts that may need further attention from your vet. Continue on down the body and make sure you also include the tail, gently lifting it up as you go. This helps get your dog used to attention down that area as remember where the thermometer goes!
If your dog is particularly furry you can feel for any grass seeds, sticks etc that may be caught up in the fur or notice the beginnings of matting or dreads.
Do's & Don'ts
What we did:
First we took a big deep breath as it had been quite a shock to get the unexpected letter in the mailbox and I felt that we had somehow let our dogs down since they were barking when we weren't around. Secondly we took stock of our living situation, day to day schedule and thought back on any signs we had missed that something was up with our dogs. As a household we discussed our options and selected strategies that we thought would be in the best interests of our dogs.
Someone asked me the other day what my number one tip is for dog training. Huh. Good question.
To be honest I wasn't exactly sure. I answered something along the lines that all dogs are different and it's important to use techniques that suit the dog and I didn't think there was any one thing that could work as a magic tool. Besides there are so many important aspects that go into dog training like proper leadership and communication, using rewards correctly and being able to understand how your actions impact your dog that I don't think you can select one and exclude the others.
The question stayed with me for a few days though and I couldn't get it out of my head. Surely there is a simple answer to this? There are so many tips I give out to my clients at workshops or during coaching sessions and through my written training plans couldn't I just pick one? Is it communicating and using the marker word? Is it being consistent no matter what? Is it being careful not to reward the wrong thing and rewarding the right thing instead? Is it mastering the walk? These are all important aspects of dog training but I didn't think any of them would be my choice for my "number one training tip".
It wasn't until I was practicing with my dogs to return to a calm state when I entered the house through a different doorway (if anyone is interested in firstly why I'm doing this or would like further info on how I'm doing it please leave me a comment) that I realised what my number one training tip is.
It's something that I tell almost all of my clients at some point and is one of the most important lessons my dogs have taught me.
It is the simple act of patience.
Now this may seem anticlimactic to some especially if you were expecting some great new thing but ultimately every aspect of your interactions and training with your dog can be improved with patience.
Now you can ask anyone (especially my dad) patience was never a virtue of mine growing up. In fact I was pretty impatient and would quickly and easily get frustrated when things didn't work out how I wanted immediately. I did get a bit better at this as I grew up but it wasn't until I was training my own dogs that I came to appreciate patience as a skill. This is a tool I use on a daily basis with my own dogs and with all the dogs I work with.
Often people are too quick to give commands and repeat them over and over, getting more frustrated each time until the dog finally does what they are asked or the owner gives up and says the dog just doesn't listen. Or we are too busy rushing from one activity to another and we wonder why our dogs are so hyper, over excited and always pull on the lead when we go for a walk if we even get a chance to go out at all.
And yes there are different training techniques to assist with these issues but throughout them all you must also have patience.
Patience to give your dog a chance to do what you ask, patience to take the time to fully teach your dog a new skill before you expect immediate compliance, patience to look at your dog and pick up on all the physical clues and communication they are sending you about how they are feeling and the patience to put their needs ahead of your own. Have the patience to wait your dog out when they are over excited until they have calmed down, have the patience to take the time to properly prepare for going for a walk instead of rushing out the door and have the patience to let your dog figure out for themselves what will work to get them what they want. Dogs learn better that way.
Both Zeus and Pepper (pictured above) learnt within a few minutes to sit if they wanted attention from me.
Apples are a great healthy snack alternative for your dog, minus the core and seeds of course. Apples are a good source of fibre and vitamins A& C and can even help clean your dogs teeth! Chop them up and give to your dog as training treats, slice then up and freeze in ice cube trays, wedge quarters into a Kong or even grate the apple over their biscuits, Did I mention how versatile they are?
2. Watermelon & rockmelon
Melon's are a tasty and nutritious way to hydrate your dog on a hot day. Did you know that watermelon is around 90% water! Both watermelon and rockmelon are full of vitamins, fibre and potassium. They are great to give your dog cut up into cubes, pureed and frozen into ice cube trays or even just freeze the fruit in cubes. Just remember to remove most of the seeds and the rind as eating these can cause stomach upsets.
Think blueberries, strawberries, raspberries and cranberries. Not only are they full of antioxidants which help to prevent cancer and heart related issues they taste amazing too! Blueberries can also help older dogs retain cognitive function and cranberries can help with urinary tract health. Basically they are a delightful addition to your dogs diet. They can be fed to your dog raw, in dog popsicles, ice cube trays or baked into cookies.
Banana's have a lot going for them including potassium, vitamins B6 & C, fibre while being low in sodium and cholesterol. They are however high in sugar so any use in small amounts. They are great to cut up and give as treats or as a part of a frozen fruit cube or popsicle.
There are so many wonderful things about this vegetable I don't even know where to start! Full of fibre, vitamin A, iron, antioxidants and amino acids both the flesh and seeds are good for your dog. Pumpkin can aid in digestion and urinary tract health, help prevent kidney or bladder stones, some cancers and can be used to help your dog lose weight if required. Roast the seeds and give them a couple a day and add pureed, cooked pumpkin to their dinner.
6. Sweet potato
Again so many vitamins and minerals are packed into this vege! Vitamin E, A, C, B6, iron, calcium, potassium, copper, folate and antioxidants. Plus they are naturally sweet in flavour. You can cook them up and scoop onto their dinner, make baked chips or slices to use as treats or as the "stick" in a popsicle.
7. Spinach, kale & leafy greens
Loaded with iron, vitamins and minerals leafy green vegetables like spinach, kale, celery, carrot & beetroot tops are great for your dog. Finely process these and add to their meal. Dogs will often eat kale and celery in bits but the rest is better to finely process.
Dogs can eat both the florets and stem of this antioxidant rich, super food vegetable. Broccoli also has anti-allergy and anti-inflammatory agents and can help boost the immune system. Broccoli is best given in small amounts to your dog as if given as more than 5% of their daily food intake can give them stomach upsets. You can process it up and sprinkle over their dinner, give cubes of the stem as a treat or a small floret or two while you prepare your own dinner.
9. Green beans
Green beans are nutritious and low in calories so can be a good addition to your dogs diet if they need to lose weight. There are plenty of iron and vitamins packed into a green bean and they can be fed to your dog cooked or raw.
Another vegetable that is low in calories but full of vitamins and fibre. Chewing on a carrot can help clean your dogs teeth but only feed in small amounts as dogs don't digest large amounts of carrot well. Another option is grate or finely process the carrot and add to their meal or add small amounts of chopped carrots to icy treats.
This is for information only purposes and is not intended to replace the nutritional recommendations of your vet. If you have any questions on the nutritional needs of your pet this should be discussed with your vet. Fruit and vegetables can be used as part of a balanced diet for your dog but should not make up the full daily intake of food.
Dogs can eat anything right? No actually they can't. Even though they have a great immune system and wonderful bacteria to help them eat things like raw chicken, it doesn't mean they can eat anything. Here is a list of food that should NOT feed your dog.
1. Cooked bones
When cooked, bones become brittle and more likely to splinter which can cause various injuries to your dog. Splintered pieces of bone can get stuck in their mouth, throat, stomach or intestines which could also lead to constipation, rectal bleeding or peritonitis.
Raw meaty bones are a better option provided they are fresh and suitable to the size of your dog.
With Easter coming up there is bound to be lots of different chocolate based treats around your house (or yard if you do scavenger hunts with the kids) in the form of Easter Eggs or Bunnies. To avoid broken hearts and sick dogs keep your dog well away from the Easter stash. Chocolate is toxic to dogs because it contains cocoa (theobromine compound). Depending on how much cocoa is in the chocolate, how much the dog has ingested, the size of the dog etc. will depend on how sick the dog can get. Your dog may show signs of hyperactivity, increased water intake, vomiting, diarrhoea, muscle tremors etc. Chocolate poisoning can usually be treated by your vet.
3. Grapes & Raisins
At this stage it is unknown what it is exactly about grapes and raisins that is harmful to dogs, we only know that it IS harmful. Eating these can cause vomiting, diarrhoea, and kidney failure.
Eating onions (or foods in the onion family like garlic and chives) can damage your dogs the red blood cells severely enough in some cases to require blood transfusions. Depending on how much your dog has ingested symptoms may not show for a couple of days. If your dog may display a lack of appetite, may seem lethargic, vomiting, diarrhoea, look pale (pale gums) and increased heart rate.
There is some debate about whether or not Avocados are toxic to dogs. The potential issue is with the compound persin which is found in some types of avocado (including HAAS) in varying amounts depending on ripeness etc. which can cause stomach upset. Plus the pit could cause your dog to choke if they got hold of it. Due to the diverse range of opinions it might be safer to err on the side of caution and forgo feeding avocado to your dog.
6. Seeds of some fruit (apples etc.)
The seeds of apple's , peaches, plums, pears and apricots contain a form of cyanide. While a few seeds may not cause any harm, the effects can accumulate over time.
7. Nuts (especially macadamia nuts)
Most nuts are high in oil and fat and this can cause vomiting and diarrhoea and may lead to pancreatitis. Macadamia nuts can also cause weakness, depression, tremors, inability to walk and hypothermia.
Side note. Peanuts are not actually nuts they are legumes so peanut butter is OK in small doses as it too is high in fat, and contains additional salt and sugar.
Does your dog like to eat EVERYTHING while out on a walk? Even if your dog is a bit more picky than that, make sure they don't consume any wild mushrooms. Certain mushrooms can cause vomiting, diarrhoea, convulsions and kidney damage.
Even though for a lot of us (myself included) coffee is a daily essential, it is definitely NOT essential to your dog. The stimulation from caffeine that helps us through the day can cause vomiting, restlessness and heart palpitations in dogs.
No surprise here! Alcohol can sometimes be toxic to humans too! The grapes and hops used in the making of wine and beer are both toxic to dogs and therefore so is the end product. Plus dogs are not designed to to process alcohol and due to their smaller size it doesn't take much for them to become intoxicated.
If you suspect that your dog has ingested any of these foods, seek veterinary assistance immediately. The symptoms listed above are not exhaustive and can also represent other illnesses in your dog. If you are unsure if something is safe to feed your dog, always check with your veterinarian. This is for your information only and is not intended to replace the advice of your veterinarian.
There are a large number of commercial dog food toys on the market these days and the range can be quite frankly overwhelming. Do you get the spiky one, or the one with the twists? How about the one that looks like a UFO or maybe a puzzle? You can be forgiven for getting confused or for maybe going slightly crazy while trying to decide.
I recommend rotating the toys so your dog doesn't get bored and you keep them challenged. I also recommend a selection of commercial and DIY dog food toys to keep things interesting for your dog and to keep money in your pocket.
I have three dogs of my own and have had the privilege of looking after many others including puppies. I have tried a wide variety of toys, for a range of different size dogs with different ability levels so have put together this list of my personal top 10 dog food toy picks in order of my personal preference:
10. Rope and bottle toy.
This is an excellent toy for those dogs who are good at problem solving, have patience or who has never had a food toy before. To access the biscuits or treats inside, the dog has to tug on the rope which drags the biscuits out. If your dog is used to other toys where they have to roll them around to get the treat out of they may find this more difficult as that strategy doesn't work for this toy. Great if you are looking for an extra challenge for your dog or looking to teach your dog about food toys. I wouldn't recommend if your dog likes to chew rope as they may be more interested in that rather than the food and rope can cause stomach issues if ingested.
9. Cardboard boxes.
This may seem strange but these are one of the easiest, versatile and inexpensive food toys you can make at home. Save any cardboard food boxes (e.g. cereal boxes, cracker boxes etc.) and put food treats or your dogs biscuits inside and voila you have a home made dog food toy. One of the major advantages of using these cardboard boxes as food toys is you can adjust the level of difficulty depending on your dogs ability. For example if your dog is a pro at getting into boxes and you want to make it more challenging you can add scrunched up newspaper to the box and tape up the ends so they have a harder time getting in and finding the biscuits inside! Genius I know.
Please note: these toys should only be given to your dog under supervision.
7. Scavenger hunt.
Though technically this is not a food toy it is one of my favourite food games with my dogs and is very useful if you are running late or if you want a break from giving your dog a food toy. Take a portion of your dogs biscuits and scatter or throw them in the back yard or patio and let your dog go sniff them out. Depending on the distance you scatter and how good your dog is at scenting will depend on how long this activity can take but it is certainly slower than eating straight out of the food bowl.
6. Treat balls.
Treat balls are any food toy that is cylindrical in appears and your dog needs to roll around to get the food to dispense. I have the Busy Buddy Twist and Treat and the Kibble Nibble varieties but there are many other types to choose from. These are great because you can adjust for variations in biscuit size or level of difficulty. Plus some dogs love to play with these even without food inside!
5. Wobble toys.
These are any food dispensing toys that have a heavy base designed to be pushed or nudged by your dog to dispense the food. Examples include the KONG Wobbler and the Starmark Bob-A-Lot toy. The Bob-A-Lot also allows for the adjustment of the size of the dispensing space.
4. Bottle Toy.
This is another home made dog food toy that promotes problem solving skills in your dog. Your dog will have to work out how to get the food out of the bottles. I've seen dogs hit the bottles to make them spin using either paws or their muzzle and my dog Ruby holds the bottle neck in her mouth and pulls down to get a flow of biscuits out at once. Either way they have to figure out how best to get what they want and it's fun. If you are interested in learning how to make one of these for your dog there are many step by step videos available on YouTube.
3. PVC Pipe.
Another YouTube idea that you can make for your dog using a few items that can be found at your local hardware store. Drill holes in the pipe that are slightly larger than the size of your dogs biscuits and attach removable end caps to each end (so you can re-fill). These are great if you have a dog with a strong jaw or who is a bit rough as they can take a fair bit of rough play and bashing around. I know this as our Rotti Zeus has one and he has yet to break it!
2. Toilet Roll Envelope.
Huh? This sounds weird right? Well this idea is the most simple and inexpensive of the lot and PERFECT for small dogs or puppies. All you need to do is save your toilet rolls, fold down the ends and stick some treats or biscuits inside and watch your dog have a blast playing with this toy! Plus the amount of fun they get out of only a small amount of food is amazing.
1. Classic Kong.
This was one of the first dog food toys we brought for Ruby when she was a puppy and we have been using them ever since. They are extremely durable and also versatile which makes them a must have for any dog food toy collection. If you are only ever going to buy one commercial dog food toy then this is the one to get. Plus if you have a dog with a strong bite or who is particularly rough or destructive with their toys you can get the tougher KONG Xtreme (comes in black).
There are sooooooo many ways to use this food toy that I'm not going to be able to include them all here and I could probably even do a separate list! You can put your dogs biscuits inside, add water and freeze, put wet food in there or wedge in large dog biscuits. Honestly the options are almost endless. These toys wash up well though I recommend getting a bottle brush to reach into the crevices as bits of food can get stuck in there especially if you are using wet food. Honestly I could go on and on about these but I'll save it for another post!
If you are interested in seeing how I use some of these food toys with my dogs check out my YouTube videos' below.
If you and your dog have a personal favourite food toy I would love to hear about it. Leave me a comment or photo below.
It can get hot out there. And it does. Especially if like me, you live somewhere like Perth, Western Australia where the temperatures in summer are often in the 30's with high's in the 40's. Your dog will feel the heat too so here are some tips to keep your dog cool and beat the summer heat!
As a dog owner, dog trainer and pet sitter I have learnt many different tips and tricks over the years and I thought this would be a great way to share them with you. Enjoy!