Crate Training

     I am constantly getting calls about using crates.  The biggest misconception is that crates are cruel.  NOT SO!

     Crates are you and your companion's best friend.  Dog's naturally enjoy the comfort of an enclosed area, similar to a den.  My personal preference is a plastic travel crate.  The wire crates don't provide the same security as the plastic crates. 

     Many times, I have gone in to homes that have blankets over the wire crates.  This can create a health risk of chewing/choking on the material.

     When selecting your crate, make sure that the dog can comfortably stand and turn around, but do not go any larger.  Since the crates are critical to house breaking a puppy, you will have to start with a smaller crate and then replace as the puppy grows. 

     As I addressed in the house breaking page, using a crate with your puppy can prevent unnecessary accidents.  This can include pottying inside the home, or even worse, chewing an electrical cord. 

     As you guide your dog into the crate initially, use a command word (i.e. "house" or "kennel") and throw a treat inside.  A crate is not used as a punishment place, however, I will put my dog in the crate after a good or bad training session.  This gives the dog time to reflect over what just happened.  I will go into detail on this in a future blog.

     A crate can also be useful if you have company coming over and you are not wishing to have interactions.  Depending on your type of dog, it might be to keep him/her safe for over active children or vise versa.

     Good judgment, as with all things pertaining to owning a dog, is required when using a crate.  Dog should NOT be left in crates for extended amounts of time.  Over night is okay, but your dog should be given a break right before bedtime and the first thing in the morning. 

Happy Training!


Retractable Leashes...WHY I HATE THEM!

    It saddens me see clients come into my facility being dragged by their dogs on retractable leashes.  My first question to them is "WHY?".  The answers usually range from "I was told they give the dog more freedom", "They don't pull as bad" or my favorite despicable one, "Everyone at the dog park uses them."

     I'll rant about dog parks on another day.  I'm not disparaging anyone who uses them.  I was guilty of trying one in the past.  It didn't take long to figure out that it was teaching exactly the thing I didn't want, PULLING on the leash.

    REASON 1   Dogs receive cues from us all the time, whether intended or not, good or bad, they learn.  A dog learns quickly how the retractable leash (RL) works.  To walk in front of the handler, the dog has to pull against the spring.  The dog gets feedback from the pressure on the collar.  Unfortunately, that pressure is on his throat.  It is a possible risk of injury.  Then when you walk your buddy on a regular leash, the dog is used to feeling the tightness on his collar and will continue to pull. 

     REASON 2  You can be injured by the leash.  I've seen several cuts/burns from the dog running out and the handler was either holding the RL improperly or it was wrapped around a bare leg or arm.

     REASON 3  The RL have been known to be faulty and you might not be able to stop your dog in case of an emergency.  If you depend on the stopping mechanism and you need to stop your dog for safety for your dog or any reason, you take a chance of not being able to put on the brakes.  Or again, REASON 2.

Happy Training!




     The theories of dog training can get so confusing if you let them.  So many of the things you are reading about you probably already do, but didn't have a name for it.  That is true in my case, at least.  I prefer things to be simple.  It's just my nature, so I'm going to explain this in a way that will help you get an understanding what all these definitions are in easy to understand terms.

     Operant Conditioning is basically cause and effect and will be explained in the four quadrants in detail.  In a short summary, a dog makes a connection with their behavior, both good and bad, and learn from it.

      Let's go back to high school days, ugh!  To understand a dog, you really have to have an understanding of psychology.  Do you remember Pavlo's experiment where when he rang the bell, he immediately fed them?  Before long, every time the dogs heard the bell, they would start drooling.  That, my friends, is classical conditioning.  The neutral stimuli (bells) meant something awesome was going to follow it (food), hence the meaningful stimuli.  Also, the drooling in this case is called, "Pavlo's involuntary response".  

     I might as well get this out of the way, since you are going to be hearing references to her throughout this article and any that follow.  Revie is my female German Shepherd that has taught me probably more than I have taught her.  I will give examples of her responses throughout this article and any that follow.  

     Rev has developed quite a liking to peppermints.  Every time she hears the wrapper, she immediately begins to drool, long strings of that lovely drool.  Neutral stimuli (wrapper) and then meaningful stimuli is that lovely peppermint.  Bye, bye dog breath.  The drooling is the involuntary response.

     Let's now dwell into using these responses in dog training.   I'm assuming that you are familiar with marker words and/or clicker training.  Personally, I either use the words "yes" or "free" instead of a clicker, but either way that is your neutral stimuli (bells).  It becomes a "conditioned reinforcer".  It doesn't take them long, if you are using correct timing for those babies to know something good is coming, i.e. praise, food, toys or anything that your dog enjoys.  Now let's throw some more big words into this.  Your neutral stimuli is a conditioned reinforcer and your meaningful stimuli is the primary reinforcer.  

     After a while, hearing the word yes (or clicker) in itself becomes rewarding to the dog.  I'm not saying NOT to follow up with the reward, but the dogs began to enjoy the sound and associate it with fun things.  It becomes conditioned.  Technically the term is a conditioned reinforcer, that is, anything that is paired with a primary reinforcer.  When Revie hears yes, she is one happy dog!  This is an example of what it means when you hear someone say a "conditioned response".  Also, here is a term for you.  Classical conditioning is neutral stimuli to a dog proceeded by a meaningful stimulus.  In a nutshell, a conditioned response is classical conditioning.  

     Okay, take a deep breath and get ready for what I find the most confusing part of dog training terminology.  The four quadrants of operant conditioning:

1.  Positive Reinforcement (+R) is adding a reward

2.  Positive Punishment (+P) is adding a physical correction

3.  Negative Reinforcement (-R) stopping something unpleasant with their behavior.

4.  Negative Punishment (-P) withholding the reward.

     Let's start out with +R, think of it as adding something in order to increase a response.  In training, if my dog sits immediately after I give her the command, I'm going to mark it with "Yes!" and give her food or throw a ball.  This will more than likely increase the chances of sitting the next time I ask her to, since she came out a winner of a prize.  

     +Punishment, oh boy, if you read forums you will see many a debate about this.  There seems to be many that have bitten into this gentler way of training, using no punishment.  In reality, a quick leash jerk is punishment and I really haven't been convinced by the arguments of pure positive training.  I've read a couple of books, and though they do have some nice training ideas, I'm not going to trust that my dog will mind me over a piece of food over a squirrel running in front of her.  This is something I will not chance, and will use physical punishment to make sure she knows to come when called, no questions asked.  Okay, I'll get off of my soap box.  Even in the definition which is, positive punishment works by presenting a consequence after an undesired behavior is exhibited, making the behavior less likely to happen in the future, it works!

     -R is a bit harder to explain than the above quadrants. For negative reinforcement, think of it as taking something away in order to increase a response.  When writing this article it was much easier for me to come up with examples of Revie using it on me than the other way around.  Sometimes, I get a bit slow about getting out of bed.  Rev will jump on the bed and lay on top of me (aversive stimulus) until I start to get up to let her out (behavior).  In dog training, constant leash pressure is the aversive stimulus and when the dog stops pulling we get the behavior we want.  

     Finally, we get to -P. Negative punishment happens when a certain stimulus is removed after a particular undesired behavior is exhibited, resulting in the behavior happening less often in the future.  I use this often in training in obedience and back chaining exercises.  If Revie comes to a heel, and does a crooked sit, I tell her "no" and do not reward her.  She has learned to independently readjust when this happens.  Then she is rewarded.  In back chaining training/shaping for a retrieve, I hold a piece of food and look at the object, I wait until she walks over and sniffs the object.  I tell her "Yes!" and give her a reward.  If she doesn't try to do anything, her only punishment is she does not get that reward.  The latter is -P. 

    So a reward is giving the dog what he or she wants and reinforcement is anything that makes the behavior more likely to occur in the future.  This one step in the right direction in having a fair and clear relationship with your dog.

Happy training!
Pam Falls
ArTex Hills Dog Training     

Artex Hills Kennels, LLC, Pet Training  Dog, Texarkana, AR