You (yes you!) matter

You matter. It’s the simplest way I can think to put this message out there. But it is this simple: you matter.

If you’re working on raising a new puppy, or working through some frustrating behaviours, or maybe even working on behavioural modification for aggressive behaviours, it doesn’t matter what the issue is, what matters is that you recognize that you are a part of this equation.

All-to-often, dog guardians suffer in silence and don’t reach out for help. They believe the burden of whatever issue they are working on, is theirs alone to bear. Worse yet, many dog guardians feel that they have to show up, every single day, and work at their best, and support their dog a their best, and meet a very high bar they have set for themselves.

I’m not saying you don’t have to take care of your dog. Obviously you have to meet their needs. But if you’re working on complex or frustrating behaviours, you’re allowed to take a day off. You’re allowed to prioritize yourself over your dog once in a while. You’re allowed to also have your own needs met.

If you’re working through separation anxiety, you might feel like this doesn’t apply to you, but it does. Ask for help. People are often very willing to come over and hang out with your dog so that you can go take some much needed time for yourself. Asking for help is difficult, but every client I have ever worked with on separation anxiety has been able to find people to help them.

See yourself as a part of a team, because you are. If you’re not at your best, how can you be at your best with your dog? If you’re not rested, feeling better mentally, and ready to take on the challenges head-on, it’s not going to be fun.

Lots of dog training and behavioural modification work isn’t always fun, but if it’s something you dread, it’s not going to progress well. Inevitably, you’re going to hit a wall, where you resent your dog and the situation you’re in. That is not a fun place to be and it’s not somewhere that you have to be.

Take breaks from training. It’s really that simple. It’s okay to take a day or two, or even a week or more off training. Sometimes you need a break in order to re-charge and even re-connect with your dog through activities you both love.

If you’re working with a trainer, reach out to them to discuss your struggles. A good trainer will be empathetic and will support you. In fact, many trainers understand your struggles. There are a number of dog trainers who got into the profession because they owned a challenging dog (myself included). We’re all too familiar with these feelings.

Bottom line, you’re a part of a team and that means you matter just as much as your teammate. Take care of yourself. Do activities you and your dog love to do. Do activities without your dog that you love. Give yourself permission to honour how you feel and that this process is not easy. Take a break from training if you need to. But do not constantly prioritize your dog and others above yourself. This isn’t the best way to take care of your dog. Ask for help when you need it. You matter.

As seen on TV: Canine Intervention

Good dog training generally doesn’t make for good television. Television shows are about instant gratification. Magnificent makeovers done in 20 minutes. Full home builds and renovations in 55 minutes. It’s about showing one extreme to another. When it comes to good dog training (by this, I mean ethical, humane and science-based dog training) on television, history has not been kind to our furry companions.

The Dog Whisperer is by far the most popular dog training show that’s ever been aired and was based entirely on disproven “pack” theory and old-school (read: not ethical, not humane and not science-based) dog training techniques. If you want to find out more about the harm of the Dog Whisperer show, a quick google search can provide you with dozens upon dozens of articles and position statements from large reputable animal welfare and behaviour organizations.

In February, Netflix launched Canine Intervention. A show hosted by the lead trainer, and owner of Cali K9, Jas Leverette. When this show was announced earlier in the year, a petition was created to try and convince Netflix to drop the show. Although no one knew the content that would be included, Cali K9 regularly posted on social media demonstrating harsh training methods and aversive tools as a part of their regular training. It wasn’t hard to forecast what might be in the show. It should be noted that many of the posts that showed the lead trainer utilizing tools to show off skills, have since been removed.

So what is the show like? I watched the first episode of the series and here are my thoughts.

The good

Mr. Leverette talks in the show about dogs and the emotions they feel which was nice to see given that many people still believe that dog’s do not feel much in terms of emotions. He also talks about the importance of engagement from the dog and having to be interesting to our dogs when we’re training with them – all true and all good things. In addition, he uses food, praise and toys as a part of his training, showing that he’s not on the compulsion-only side of the balanced training spectrum. Again, a good thing!

He also seems to genuinely care about the dogs he works with and has a great “dog voice”, which is the voice that he uses when working with the dogs.

Mr. Leverette also reminded the client in the first episode about how his reactive dog was a work in progress and that management and moving at the dog’s pace is important. I found this refreshing compared to many balanced trainers that I’ve seen tell clients that their dog is “cured”.

The bad

Right off the bat Mr. Leverette talks about being a pack leader. This is outdated terminology and misrepresents the social structure of dogs and how they integrate into our households.

In his visit with his client, his approach is to push the dog until it reacts. This is unnecessary and puts the dog in a stressed state. Good behavioural modification work is done under threshold (over threshold is when dogs react) so that it can address the underlying causes of the reaction – the dog’s emotional state. In that session, he pushed the dog so hard that the dog had re-directed aggression to its guardian. That was a moment which damaged the relationship between that guardian and their dog and it did not have to happen.

Mr. Leverette ended up telling his client that the only choice was to do a 3-week board and train at his facility. Board and train is a popular service with balanced dog trainers. I am not a fan and perhaps I will do a post on it one day. Regardless, the show implies that the guardian of the dog cannot rehabilitate this dog himself. Good dog trainers everywhere teach their clients how to manage dog’s similar to the one in this episode and how to achieve meaningful behavioural change without ever even interacting with the dog themselves in some cases. Most dog guardians have the capacity to work with reactive dogs themselves, without requiring a board and train. It just takes a committed dog guardian, which this guardian clearly was.

During the time at the board and train, we got to see some of how Mr. Leverette trains dogs. What did I notice during this time? Mr. Leverette uses very thin rope as collars and gives many corrections on this. The dog at one point had a very red neck. I’m not saying this was abuse, just that it clearly irritated the dog’s skin. Mr. Leverette also had surprising training techniques. He used the word “no” many times throughout the sessions and it meant many different things. He used “no” to tell the dog to not move, he used “no” to tell the dog not to react and he used “no” to tell the dog to leave it. This is confusing for dogs. “No” can certainly be used as a cue for a specific behaviour, but not multiple behaviours. Which is why this was surprising to see from him. He also corrects the dog for reacting to new people she meets. This didn’t surprise me since many balanced trainers prefer to correct and suppress behaviour instead of addressing the source of the issue.

I saw many other things I am not going to write about in this post because it’s getting a little long. Suffice it say, Canine Intervention may be an improvement of the Dog Whisperer, but it’s still teaching and promoting outdated dog training techniques, some of which have the potential to cause escalations in aggressive behaviour (correcting dogs when they react for example).

I truly believe Mr. Leverette loves dogs and cares greatly for the dogs he works with. That was clear. But I always find myself confused when I see someone in his position without any credentials or continuing education. There is no “world’s best dog trainer” out there. All dog trainers have their strengths and weaknesses and every single dog trainer out there can learn so much from regular continuing education. Mr. Leverette could become a phenomenal dog trainer and dog advocate if he employed more modern and science-based dog training methods. Methods I have no doubt he has the skillset to utilize. But he is operating on old-school methodologies based in suppressing behaviour. I’m sure he’s helped many dogs. But how many dogs could be helped without the use of force if he learned how to fully utilize modern science-based methods?

My final words: Dog training TV shows still hasn’t caught up to modern-day science-based dog training. If you do decide to watch it, be warned, just like “as seen on tv” products, you may be disappointed.

Any dog can bite

Any dog can bite. Let me repeat that: any dog can bite. I don’t say this to alarm anyone, I say it so that everyone can look at their dog with the respect and understanding that biting is a part of their communication toolbox and if we treat any dog as if it would never bite, tragic outcomes can occur.

If you’ve watched dogs play, you’ve seen them play bite. Their mouths are a huge part of how they communicate and play. We often believe that our dogs would never bite us, that they love us too much to ever do that. But what is biting to a dog? It’s a communication tool. An escalation to communicate a desperate plea on their behalf. No matter how much our dogs may love us, if we put them in the wrong situation and ignore their pleas for help, they may bite us too.

Why do dogs bite? In almost all cases, dog’s bite because their pleas for a change in environment, or for more distance, is ignored. All dogs are different of course and some will have less tolerance for something that they are afraid or uncomfortable with and some will have a lot more tolerance and it will consequently take a lot more for them to bite.

Regardless of their tolerance, almost every single dog will give a warning before they bite. Dogs who “bite out of nowhere” are extremely rare and often, if they have not given warnings, it’s because their warnings have been punished in the past.

What are some common warning signs dogs will give before biting?

  1. Growling: This is a common one that dogs are punished for. People think that the dog should not be allowed to growl or that growling is bad. But growling is incredibly important information that our dogs are communicating. If we punish them for growling, they will not feel any better about what is making them growl, but they will stop warning us.
  2. Snarling or lip curl: Curling the lips, scrunching the nose and showing some teeth often accompanies the growl as a warning before a bite.
  3. Signs of stress: tongue flicks, whale eye (seeing the whites of their eyes), ears pinned back, stiff body and an upright tail can also be signs that come before a bite.

This list is far from exhaustive but it can provide you with some common signals to watch out for. The most important thing is to not ignore these signals when we see them. I’ve already spoken in a previous blog post about the importance of learning about k9 body language. Learning about this body language can help you avoid a potential dog bite in the future.

Most importantly, don’t punish your dog for giving you warning signals. Instead, give them distance, take away what is triggering them and seek out the help of a professional certified dog trainer so that you can better understand your dog and potentially help them understand that their trigger doesn’t have to be something they fear.

If your dog does bite you, or someone else, it’s critical to seek out help. Any dog can bite and dogs that have bitten someone are not inherently bad dogs. But instead, they are dogs that have been put in situations that they cannot cope with and have been left with no other option but to use that particular tool in their communication toolbox. However, preventing a dog that has bitten, from doing so again, is critical in the aftermath of a bite. Working with a professional can help you prevent that.

Not all dogs love all dogs

If you’ve got a 3-4 year old dog, you may have noticed some changes in their social behaviour. Perhaps they aren’t as interested in playing with new dogs. Or perhaps you’re noticing their patience is waning with younger dogs. You’re likely seeing a very normal change in social behaviour, the change to becoming dog-selective.

A lot of dogs start off extremely social and will seem like utter social butterflies. They may get along with almost all dogs they encounter and those dogs are truly great dog-park-dogs. They are patient, adapt play-styles to their partners, and tolerate rude behaviour from younger dogs easily. But the likelihood of seeing this social behaviour continue for their entire lives is unlikely. In fact, most dogs have some kind of dog-selectivity as they age. Some may only play with a few dogs they trust and won’t accept new friends easily. Some will stop wanting to play with any unfamiliar dogs and even some of their dog friends. And some will remain quite social. It’s a spectrum, from dogs that love all dogs to dogs that dislike the company of all dogs, and your dog will fall somewhere on there.

I’ve put this post together with the goal to manage your expectations. Your dog, especially if they are young, is likely to change their social behaviour as they age. This is often disappointing for dog owners. But it is a normal part of their development.

So what can you do? If your dog’s social behaviour changes, then it’s time to adapt. That means it might be time to stop hitting the dog park if your dog is no longer enjoying it and instead go on adventures for the two of you like a hike, or a sniffari. A lot of dogs don’t have fun at the dog park as they age. So it’s important to find other ways to meet their social needs.

A final note: If your dog is starting to display aggressive behaviour at the dog park and outside of the dog park when they see another dog, then it’s time to reach out to a certified professional dog trainer for help and definitely stop going to the dog park. Dog parks will not “socialize” your dog into eliminating this behaviour and will likely make it worse.

Why are puppy classes important?

This photo illustrates exactly what kind of puppy Buffy was.
The wild land-shark type.

So you just got a puppy and everyone is asking you when you’re starting puppy class but you don’t know why you even need to do it. In this post, I’ll break down the important benefits of attending a puppy class.

Learning how to socialize your puppy.

Socializing your puppy is not just about getting them to meet new people, explore new places and play with other puppies. It’s about HOW you socialize them. Getting direction from a certified professional trainer on how you approach socialization, coaching on what to look for in terms of stress/fear and what to do in those situations is critical. You only have a short window of time in which to truly socialize a puppy, there are no opportunities for a do-over.

Learning how to deal with common problem behaviours.

Problem behaviours are common with puppies. I don’t know a single puppy owner who hasn’t had at least one of the following issues: nipping, barking, jumping, potty training, and over-arousal. Learning how to deal with these problems from a professional is going to save you so much time and frustration.

Learning how to socialize your puppy with other puppies

If you are able to get an in-person puppy class, puppy playtime is always a HUGE perk. However, during the pandemic, this isn’t always possible. But you should still be attending a puppy class. A virtual puppy class should go over in-detail how to manage puppy playtimes so that you can safely set up your own puppy playdates. Your puppy needs to play with other puppies so that it can learn about communication, self-regulation, bite inhibition and more. Knowing how to handle these puppy playdates is critical. Puppy playdates should not be you just letting your puppy and the other puppies play non-stop for an hour. This can result in puppies that are overaroused and start to make poor decisions. So learn how to manage these puppy playtimes in puppy class.

Get support for the hard days

Puppy class gives you access to a trainer. Getting support on the days where things are not going well is going to make your life easier, and you need to try and make your life easier because puppies are not easy! Have a trainer to shoot an email off to, to ask what is going on when your puppy does xyz. Or ask them at the end of class. Get support so that this process is a bit easier.

You may have noticed I didn’t mention training skills. You can train your puppy at anytime, but they will only be a puppy for a short period of time. A time where you need to try and get things right to set them up for success. Yes, skills are important and some of them are incredibly valuable to work on at a young age, that’s why I teach 14 of them in my puppy class. But you can take a training class for training skills. You need a puppy class to get the puppy raising right, so you aren’t contacting someone like me, a year later, because the nipping never stopped.

How do online dog training classes work?

Online dog training is not a thing of the future, it is here! Maybe you’re wondering, how this can work, don’t you have to be there in person? Thanks to the technology of today, you don’t! In this post, I’ll go over what online dog training looks like and what to look for and a few recommendations!

There are generally two formats available for online dog training. On-demand and scheduled. On-demand online dog training is hosted on a variety of platforms, including online course platforms. These classes typically involve a number of modules which may have videos, text, downloadable exercises, and, like everything in dog training, a variety of trainer credentials from zero to several.

Scheduled online dog training courses come in topic specific formats such as puppy classes, agility, reactivity and more. These classes are led by dog trainers on a weekly basis, typically live on a video platform like zoom. Some will record videos weekly and send them along, others will provide you with written instructions week by week. These courses typically offer some interaction with the trainer so that you can ask questions. You may also be allowed to submit your own training videos and get feedback directly to you.

So why go online? With either format, there is more flexibility! You don’t have to have a trainer locally who can offer the classes (a real gift during the pandemic), you can practice in your own home without an audience and submit videos privately to the trainer, and you can keep your dog in a home environment if they are easily stressed and overwhelmed.

This week, I’m launching my own scheduled virtual classes and also happy to share that an on-demand class I worked on is now live! I’ll go over each so that you can see what some options are.

My scheduled classes will be hosted by me, weekly. The format of these classes includes learning the important key pieces of behavioural sciences so that you can understand how your dog learns, how to best teach them, and how to communicate with them. They are also jam packed with lots of skills to put into practice. Every week, those that pick the full-class option get to participate live, discuss issues they may be having and also ask their own dog questions at the end. They can also submit videos every week to get feedback on their technique and work through any struggles they have as well as ask more questions via email. Audit level participants will get the recording of each class, the written homework, but no additional implementation support. Each class is recorded, so even those choosing the option to participate live will get the recording if they can’t make it.

One important note I want to point out. For online puppy classes, we’re obviously missing a big benefit of playtime with other puppies. In my virtual puppy class, and hopefully in any you may join, the trainer should absolutely go over how you will fill this socialization need including how to manage playtimes safely, how to find puppy play partners for your pup and more. Do not sign up for a virtual puppy class that doesn’t include this!

The on-demand course I worked on with Sniffdog is for puppy’s and their new guardians. This course is incredibly comprehensive. It covers far more than I could cover in a 5-6 week course and it does it through fun, instructional videos with minimal need to read. Perfect for sipping wine! You also get access to a course community and live Q&A’s with Annika McDade! It’s a great format for those who can’t commit to a weekly schedule and want to learn a LOT about puppies – I’m talking nose to tail knowledge.

I’m not here to tell you to buy an online dog training course from me or Sniffdog. But I am here to tell you not to be afraid of online dog training. Online dog training offers so many advantages. Just make sure that you purchase classes with a credentialed professional behind them and science-backed methods! You won’t be disappointed!

Why letting your dog off leash can have unintended consequences

Cody & Buffy, enjoying summit views in the Rockies.

A lot of dog owners love letting their dogs off leash. Off leash time can provide opportunities for our dogs to run free, sniff, roll, dig, a.k.a: be dogs. It’s fun to watch your dog fully engaged in enjoying the moment.

However, letting your dog off leash without a reliable recall, in an uncontrolled environment, with no way to get control of your dog, can have a LOT of unintended consequences that you may not be aware of.

Firstly, if you’re not in a designated off-leash area, please leash your dog. There are countless areas banning dogs every single year because of dog guardians not respecting leash laws. Not to mention some of the unintended consequences that will be discussed in this post.

Unintended consequence #1: Your dog rushes up to leashed and/or reactive dogs.

Until you’ve been the guardian of a reactive dog, it’s easy not to comprehend the consequences of your super friendly dog bounding over to a reactive or leashed dog. But reactive dog owners will tell you that your shouts of “don’t worry, he’s friendly” do nothing to help them.

Reactive dogs are often on leash so that the owner can maintain control of their dog for safety. Or perhaps they’re purposely in an on-leash area so that they don’t encounter off-leash dogs, which are often a trigger for reactive dogs. Regardless, off-leash dogs approaching a reactive dog trigger those dogs. What does that trigger do? The dog’s stress levels spike. They are prepared to go into fight or flight (often fight) and often the owner’s only option is to put tension on the leash to move away which will increase the dog’s feeling of vulnerability and therefore increase their fight response. This also puts your dog at risk of being attacked. Think the stress is done once you get your dog back? Nope. Those dogs are on edge for the rest of the day, often for days after (dogs take longer than people to bounce back from stress). In all likelihood, that dog guardian had to make the choice to head home, perhaps cutting off their walk, because they know their dog needs an opportunity to de-stress. You can see how “it’s okay, he’s friendly”, is not helpful in the least.

A lot of leashed dogs will also react to dogs that are off-leash. Leashed dogs know they have no escape and here comes this dog barrelling towards them. So even if they aren’t reactive, they will often have a stress response to off-leash dogs heading their way.

Perhaps you’re of the mind that reactive dogs shouldn’t be outside if they aren’t friendly. There are very few dogs that like all dogs they meet. Reactive dogs deserve every right to be outside and to not be harassed by other dogs. Instead, if someone wants to have their dog off-leash, the expectation should be that they have a reliable recall, including recalling off of dogs. More about that near the bottom.

Unintended consequence #2: Harassing wildlife.

This should go without saying, but wildlife does not exist to entertain our dogs. Dogs are not a part of the ecosystem where wildlife flourishes. They are a part of our human ecosystem. I’m not necessarily saying your dog should never chase a bird or squirrel, that’s unrealistic. But I’ve seen or been told of, multiple occasions of off-leash dogs chasing wildlife such as deer, moose, rams, and bears. This may seem harmless to us, but here are some devastating outcomes that have happened from those situations. 1) Dogs get maimed or killed. 2) Dogs bring back the bears to their people who then get attacked. 3) Dogs chase the wildlife for so long that the wildlife ends up dying or struggling for the remainder of the winter because of loss of critical energy with little ability to replenish and stay warm. 4) Dog gets hit by car while chasing wildlife into the road. 5) Entire areas of parks are closed to dogs following multiple incidents in on-leash areas with wildlife.

Unintended consequence #3: You’re making your recall even more unreliable.

You may be someone who believes their dog should be off-leash most of the time. But what happens when you try to recall your dog and it fails? You’re teaching your dog to have an incredibly unreliable recall. Yep. It’s true. When we recall our dog and they ignore us, we’re teaching them that our recall cue means nothing. You’re essentially working towards having an even worse recall.

So what can you do if you want to let your dog off-leash but you don’t have a reliable recall?

Firstly, if this is you, please don’t do this in on-leash areas. Reactive dogs and people who don’t like dogs deserve to be able to enjoy outdoor spaces without off-leash dogs.

But what can you do? First things first, get a harness and a long-line. A long-line is a leash that should be at least 20 feet but ideally over 30 feet for this type of situation. You’ll attach the long line to the back-clip of a harness. Never attach a long-line to a collar. This can result in injuries to your dog. Now, you’ve got a 30 foot safety line. You can either hold it and let your dog run around like that, or you can drop it and if you see a dog or wildlife in the distance, you go and step on that leash so that you can keep your dog from going over there.

Next, you work on building your recall. Recall training takes time. It needs to start in a low-distraction environment and you will need to build up until you can recall off dogs and wildlife. This is 100% achievable without the use of tools like an e-collar, it just takes a specific approach that is tailored to your dog. I can’t recommend enough working with a certified trainer like myself. A lot of people fail to teach their dogs a reliable recall because they don’t fully understand how to tailor techniques to their particular dog.

Reliable recalls are a must for off-leash dogs, but regardless, please don’t let your dog off-leash in on-leash areas. I know it may seem like a victimless crime, but as someone who is the guardian to a reactive dog and who works with a lot of reactive dog clients, it’s got a lot of unintended consequences.

The BEST thing you can do to improve your dog training and relationship

Someone recently asked, “what is the best thing I can do to become a better dog guardian?”. This was such a good question that I thought I would put together a post about it.

So what is the answer? The best thing you can do to improve your dog training, improve your relationship with your dog and be a better dog guardian is to: learn how dog’s communicate.

Dog’s don’t communicate with words. They communicate in majority through body language. A lot of it is subtle and hard to notice if you don’t know what to look for. But learning how to read a dog’s body, what specific body movements mean, and what happy vs threatening body language cues are is the best thing you can do for your dog.

Most people do not understand dog body language. In fact, when I’ve asked clients “What does it mean when a dog’s tail is wagging?”, I usually hear a “they’re happy!”. When truly, it does not always mean this. A high tail that is wagging quickly is a warning sign that this dog is concerned and there may be impending conflict. This is what I mean about subtleties.

If you can understand what your dog is communicating, you will be better placed to meet their needs, understand what makes them uncomfortable, and provide them space when they need it.

Countless dog bites happen because people aren’t educated in canine body language. We commonly hear “the dog bit out of nowhere!” or “they’ve always been so good with the kids!” when in fact, the dog has been pleading for space for weeks, if not months. The number of “cute” dog and child videos on the internet that absolutely make me cringe are evidence of just how many of us misinterpret our dogs.

So, what’s the solution? Get educated! This is THE place to put the most effort into for your canine education. Below, I’ve included some amazing free resources and links to many great paid resources.

Bravo Dog’s free Body Language course:

https://dogknowledge.thinkific.com/courses/dog-body-language

Lili Chin’s free resources:

https://www.doggiedrawings.net/freeposters

Lili Chin’s amazing book:

https://www.doggielanguagebook.com/

On Talking Terms with Dogs by Turid Rugaas (book):

https://www.dogwise.com/on-talking-terms-with-dogs-calming-signals-2nd-edition/

Dogs are allowed to have bad days

Husky mix dog sleeping on sandstone in the shade

I think we sometimes forget that dogs are living sentient beings, or at least that what that entails. We seem to expect training to result in a constant upward curve of success. Often it feels like that upward curve is normal. We progress, we progress, we progress and then bam! Our dog just stops performing.

There are a lot of reasons this could happen when you’re training your dog. Sometimes we increase difficulty constantly and our learner gets frustrated. Sometimes we try to make things too difficult too quickly. Sometimes we don’t communicate well or we unintentionally set up the dog to fail.

But sometimes, our dogs are just having a bad day. Just like us, they have days where they may have gotten up on the wrong side of the bed. They have days where their motivation is just lower. They have days where they are more easily distracted. Dogs are not robots and we can’t expect them to perform like robots.

Don’t get discouraged if your dog is having a bad day. Instead, change gears. Stop training and play a game. Go outside for a fun adventurous walk. Just put the clicker away and commit to meeting your dog where they are today.

If you do see your dog having a bad day on a very regular basis, along with other changes in behaviour, it goes without saying that you should see your veterinarian to rule out any medical cause. But one bad day, even a couple in a row, once in a while, isn’t something to get frustrated about.

Let your dog have a bad day every now and then. We all have them and when we have a bad day, it never helps if others get frustrated with us.

What is the Premack Principle and how can it help me?

The Premack Principle is one that all dog trainers are generally familiar with, and that some very savvy dog owner’s also know. So, what is it and how can it help you?

The Premack Principle was discussed in a study by David Premack who discussed the principle in a paper of a study on Cebus Monkeys. The Premack Principle states that a less desirable behaviour can be reinforced by providing access to a highly desirable behaviour.

We often utilize the Premack Principle without even knowing. We will tell kids “if you eat your veggies, you’ll get dessert”, or tell ourselves “if I finish this report, I’ll let myself take a 15 minute break”. The less desirable behaviour in this case is eating vegetables and finishing the report, the desirable behaviour is eating dessert and taking a break. The desirable behaviours essentially become rewards for completing something the learner didn’t want to do as much.

The applications in dog training are immense and can even help us work with some challenging behaviours. We often employ the Premack Principle to teach an automatic stay at an open door. We utilize our dog’s high desire to be outside, as a reward for staying put at the open door. The dog then gets to out of the door on cue, and gets the highly desired behaviour.

We can even use it with working on challenging issues such unwanted chasing behaviour. We can do appropriate set ups where we work on having the dog engage with us, instead of chasing something, and (if safe), we can then reward the dog with a short chase (ideally a stuffed animal pulled on a string). Thus reinforcing the behaviour of focusing on us, with the actual problem behaviour! It may seem counter intuitive to utilize an undesired behaviour, but when we can set things up safely, this can be a powerful reinforcer for our dogs.

There concludes my mini lesson on the Premack Principle. I hope you’ve learned something and you consider the application with your dog and even the people in your life! I use this one on myself all of the time and it works very well.