Monday, 4 July 2016


This article was written by Lonnie Olson for Dogs Naturally magazine in its July issue.
Lonnie has been teaching people to train their dogs for 30 years in her successful Dogs Choice Training Centres.Lonnie founded Dog Scouts of America, a non-pro t educational and charitable organization that promotes responsible dog ownership and educates people about the human/animal bond.

I was at my Freestyle class last night with my dog. I was attempting to do a remote figure eight, which is sending my dog away to do a figure eight around two objects which are about 20 feet apart, making theatrical arm movements that don’t look like signals to the dog, the instructor happened to notice my improvement and said, “Nice, Lonnie!”
About that time, Kozi was rounding her third orbit around the bar stools and ran to the other bar stool, only to decide to climb up the rungs of the stool rather than run around it. All I could do is laugh. I was embarrassed because that’s right when the whole class was probably looking at us, after the instructor’s comment. I just wondered what would possess her to throw that into the routine? While I’ve never asked her to climb a bar stool (I don’t think she’s ever even seen one), I must have confused her somehow. When dogs don’t perform as instructed, they either don’t understand what’s being asked of them yet or they’re confused. This is where a lot of trainers would have thrown out that doggie swear word, NO! I don’t use this word in my training, because it doesn’t convey any information to the dog.

As I was leaving class, I noticed a woman in the open obedience class trying to get her dog to do the broad jump. This is a jump consisting of four low boards spread out on the floor. The dog must execute the jump correctly to clear the span of the boards and not step between or even tick one of the boards with a toenail as he begins or finishes the jump.
I noticed that the dog cleared the jump but ticked the first board on his way up and over. When the dog landed, the owner showed him a rancorous frown and shouted, NO! at him. I felt bad for them. What was the dog supposed to learn from this? He probably learned he shouldn’t have jumped.
Training is a progression that should move you forward, perfecting what you’re trying to accomplish. Saying “no” doesn’t give any information to the dog about what he did wrong or what to do differently. Did “no” mean he didn’t jump high enough? Should he have tried to step on more boards? Should he have done a pirouette in mid air? I really hate the word “no” in dog training. It’s used as a punisher and it doesn’t help the dog know how to get it right.
Think of all of the times you might say “no” to your dog. Usually it is screamed in a nasty tone. For example, if the dog starts to jump on grandma, you might be tempted to say, NO! “No” doesn’t tell the dog what not to do. He’s breathing, moving toward grand- ma, he’s happy... which of these things is causing his owner to use the doggie swear word at him? Is grandma dangerous? It’s so confusing for a dog to try to understand. Instead, tell the dog what you’d like him to do instead. The owner could say, “sit,” “off ” or “four on the floor, please,” and reward that when it happens instead of shouting a word that conveys no information. When teaching a complex behavior where there are a lot of things the dog must do right at the same time, you can see where the word “no” doesn’t clarify things for the dog. If you yell NO! because he got one part wrong how is he to know what part your happy with? How do we get the word “no” out of our vocabulary? Think about communication. Make every effort to convey true information to your dog. Let’s say you looked out of the offce window one morning and noticed that the new employee accidentally parked in the Employee of the Month parking spot. Then he got out of his car, used the side entrance to the building, came up the stairs, walked into the ffce, set down his briefcase, and said “Good morning” and you walk over and shout NO! at him! How’s he supposed to know that you’re admonishing him for using the parking spot reserved for Employee of the Month? You wouldn’t do this to a fellow human. You’d say, “Move your car.”
Dogs live their lives deciding what to do by what has gone rewarded or unrewarded.
Let’s go back to the broad-jumping dog. When the dog completes the jump, all happy with himself, instead of bursting his bubble by letting him think you’re upset with him, just ignore that particular try. Don’t reward it. Keep quiet. Don’t show your disappointment. Don’t confuse him with vague words like "no." It's always better to use no response, rather than a NO! response! then, set your dog up for success and try again.
Maybe go back to standing at the end of the jump boards, instead of to the side, where you have to place yourself for a competition. Maybe place a target of some sort at the end of the jump boards, to get the dog jumping straight and true, and reward all of the jumps that don’t involve toenails ticking the jumps.
Work on one thing at a time. If you’re trying to communicate to the dog that you don’t want toenails to hit the jump boards, then don’t worry if he angles the jump a little and almost cuts the corner.
You’ll have to clean that up separately. Remember that complex behaviors have a lot of stuff  that can go wrong to botch up the complete performance. Just work on one of them at a time.
By rewarding the successful attempts and ignoring the mistakes, you are communicating to the dog exactly what you want his performance to look like.
Let’s look at my dog’s attempt to insert her own innovative move into the figure eight around the bar stools. This is a complex behavior. She’s working away from me. She has to move herself from one side of the room to the other and back again, going around the bar stools while I’m off  to the side. If I’d said “no” to her, she might have thought I was negating her stellar performance on the other three-quarters of the behavior.
I simply went over to her and showed her that, just like all the other times, she needed to go around the barstool. I had been working on four consecutive trips around the bar stools with no reward except praise. Possibly she thought that I was having her repeat it until she “gets it right” so she assumed she needed to do something else to complete the picture. When you repeat a behavior over and over like that, sometimes the dog starts throwing in stuff because she thinks you want something she’s not giving you. The dog just has to learn that sometimes they must repeat a behavior and get a delayed reward at the end. At the end of the evening, I was so glad that I have a relationship with my dog that is based on communication and understanding rather than confusion and fear of admonishment.
I know that my dog will do everything in her power to do what I ask of her. If that isn’t happening, it’s due to a failing in my training or me not making things very clear to her. "Dogs Naturally: July 2016."

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