The Behaviour Interrupter
This can be a great little asset to train into any dog, it is easy to train, you really can’t go wrong with it and it has many uses whilst living life with your dog.
When I get a puppy I want to train something into all my pups that I will always have with me, something rewarding that really gets my dogs attention. I use a conditioned response to add value to a cue I make and I can tell you, it works great!
There are so many helpful ways this can be used to help smooth over humps in the road of life with your dog, I have listed just a few but they are endless really.
Think of this is the more “positive” leave it command.
Dogs that are reactive to other dogs, people, cats or anything really can benefit from this program. Initially it starts as a distractive measure that with good timing, can overt a reaction, but in time through consistent repetition, it can help to counter condition (improve the dogs perception) the reactive dog to whatever your dog reacts too.
Sport or Competition Dogs
During competition preparation, setting up for the ring or any time really, if you want to get your dogs attention in a positive light in the face of a distraction or not, this can be a very easy way to do it.
Dog in Training
Any time you want to get your dogs attention, reward your dog or just have a break from training and run an easy reward exercise, throw a few of these in to reset your dog and get motivation up.
So easy to train even for the novice yet so valuable and useful for many applications.
Nervous or Timid Dogs
This can be a great confidence builder due to the consistent reward nature of this program, it has to be said though that in the beginning, you will need to control your enthusiasm if your dog would ordinarily be afraid of you being excited. After the foundation training though, you will be able to, and should, ramp it up.
This program will use conditioning to gain reliability; the conditioning will make use of three parts. The cue, the action and the reward experience. Read on to see what each of these are and how we apply them.
Step 1. Choosing your Cue
The cue is the trigger to the dog that the sequence has begun and he is on the way to his reward experience, so the cue must be unique, only cue this exact response and nothing else, and should not be diluted by over use with under reward.
The one that I use is the Kiss, the sound you make with your lips that is called the kiss. The reason I think I like this best is that every time I make this sound, it pretty much sounds the same. I also think that this is a very familiar sound to dogs as when they were puppies, only a few days old, they heard this sound from themselves and litter mates when feeding. This is a very rewarding and stable time in their early lives, so this sound always seems to work well.
Some people make that clicking sound you can make in your cheek, some clap their hands or click their fingers, the sound of the cue isn’t really that important, but I choose to make the sound come from me rather than any tool because I want to have it with me all the time.
The major rule of the cue is that, we only ever want to make this sound when we are going to reward the action 100% of the time. I never take this to an intermittent reward schedule.
Step 2. The action
The action is simple and non formal, whatever the dog is doing when you make the sound, it must stop and move toward you giving you attention.
This requires a bit of body language in the early training but this part is pretty easy too.
Step 3. The Reward Experience
I use this term a lot in training, particularly in Training in Drive. The reward experience is a system that really requires the handler to not rely on the taste of the food or the pre value of the toy, but to add excitement and joy to the reward presentation and delivery.
We’re going to use food for this exercise, at least to begin with, so you want a hungry dog, if you feed in the morning, miss this meal and let your dog win his food in the reward experience. If you feed in the evening, perhaps halve your dogs meal the night before. A hungry dog is reward seeking, so this helps grease the wheels so to speak.
Cut up 150 small pieces of chicken or ham, or buy some diced ham from the Deli. When I say small I mean about 1 cm x 1 cm or just under. Don’t use kibble or dry liver, or any biscuit type treat, at the rate we want your dog to suck these down, he may cough or choke. Moist treats….
Pop them in a treat bag and put that treat bag on, and turn the pouch section right around to your back. In all styles of training this is the best place to wear the pouch.
Now choose an area where your dog is comfortable and not distracted, like your back yard for example, it should be as free from distraction as you can make it, so if you have another dog, good idea to put that dog away for now. The area must also be free to move around in without trip hazard or obstruction.
I like to attach a leash to the dog to start, but this isn’t the best idea for everyone. When I pick up a leash or leash up my dog, they don’t get excited or start visualising going for a walk or anything that would get them over excited, they are conditioned not to do that so by adding the leash I still have the attention of the dog.
I will tell you what to do with the leash but if you find your dog is too distracted, then just remove the leash and start again for the first steps.
Attach the leash to your dogs collar, flat buckle collar or martingale is fine. There are no corrections in this training program.
Wait until your dog calms down now and sneak a couple of pieces out of your pouch into your right hand. Holding the leash in your left hand and the leash loose.
Make your cue sound quite loud, be ready and as soon as your dog looks at you, mark YES! and move backwards away from your dog holding out your right hand now to the right side.
This is what should happen…
Your dog see’s you moving away so should come after you, if not the leash will make this happen.
Your dog may not know the food is in your hand on the first repetition; you guide him to chase and eat the piece of food. When he does get excited and celebrate the win with your dog.
Come to rest now and look away from your dog, you’re looking for your dog to lose attention for you and look elsewhere. As soon as your dog does, start again with your cue, the backing up and the reward.
Your dog should expect the food in the hand now and be working toward grabbing it!
If your dog is monstering your hand and being rough, don’t concern yourself, the higher drive your dog displays the more the reward will be an experience…
Now repeat the same thing for as long as your dog is super keen, if this means he eats the whole 150 pieces so be it!
I may span this game over an hour with breaks me going inside etc, but I only train it in the same location, with the same food in the same way.
Training Lesson 2
This should occur 2 – 3 days after the first session. Begin just the same as the first training session, in fact repeat it exactly, 150 pieces of food, same location, leash etc as identical as the first session.
By the end of this session you should have a dog that is spinning around on the cue and really going after that food.
Training Lesson 3
Again after about 2 – 3 days prepare your 150 treats, treat pouch and leash. Get your hungry dog and take him for a walk, after walking for about 5 minutes with no warning at all, give the cue. Choose a time in the walk when your dog isn’t reacting or fixating on anything, but just walking.
When your dog hears the cue we are hoping for him to spin around, you step backwards and let him enjoy the reward experience. If all goes to plan, move on down the road, then as unpredictable as the first time, CUE! > move > reward!
You want to run this the same as the first two sessions, keep training whilst your dog is super keen, even if that means the whole bag of treats!
Conditioning has now begun, this means we are running the same process over and over again so the dog can predict the same outcome if he follows the same process.
You can run a training lesson any time you like with the food, in particular if you’re doing some work with a reactive dog, this can really help if you maintain the food delivery.
Fading in a New Reward
This program would be of little use of we had to have food every time, so it makes sense to not fade out the food, but fade in another reward experience linked to the same cue.
I like to fade in a rough play game with my dog, just like the kiss sound, I always have this with me. So its cue > move > rough play.
If at any time I find myself with a treat I want to give to my dog, for life I will make this sound and give my dog a treat.
I want to keep the reinforcement schedule at 100%, that is 100% reward every time, either the food or the play. I want this cue reliable in the most distracting environments.
Some Extra Information that May Help…
If you’re working with a reactive aggressive dog, I recommend that you seek professional help, we specialise in these types of behavioural problems and if we are not near, we have many trainers and behaviourists around the country that may be able to assist, just ask. Please don’t attempt any aggression work without help.
If you find your dog won’t respond to the cue outside, never try and force or lure your dog with the food, this is a reinforcement program not a luring program. If your start to lure it will have a negative effect on the program.
If you find that your dog is going for the food with such enthusiasm that you’re losing skin, first look below at the way I like you to present the food. If even then you are losing skin, consider a pair of training gloves, these are excellent and I wear them often. Don’t discourage or require your dog to take the food slowly, gently or with manners. We are looking for drive not gentleness.
See how the food is held, hand is shaped like a catchers mitt and food wedged between fingers, this saves a lot of skin.
The below picture is how many people hold food, it gets skin torn off your thumb and finger and is not the best way at all.