Thursday, October 17, 2013

7A What Do I Use if My Dog isn't Food Motivated?

Before answering this question, I pose several others to
see what may be happening in the situation to rule
them out first. Food is such a great tool to train service
dogs, not using it can really slow the training process down.

First: Rule out medical reasons: Check your dog's teeth and gums. Eating may be painful. Have you ruled out allergies? If you dog eats (say chicken) and gets an upset stomach, he is not likely to be food motivated. 

Second question -are you free feeding? If so, putting food down only twice a day for 10 minutes each will increase the motivation. (and using the food itself for training will increase motivation. There is something intrinsically rewarding about working for food, rather than being given it.)

Third question. is the dog overweight? If so, cut back to a good weight. 

Fourth make sure you are using the highest value food you know of. Cooked beef heart, liver, real meats (beef, turkey, chicken)  all rate high with
most dogs, especially if freshly cooked. Experiment.

Fifth, are you training above her threshold level for
the value of food? If so, lower the distractions and progress as she is able in tiny tiny step steps. 

Sixth, can you combine reinforcers to create a higher 
value (i.e. throw a treat to make a game of it). 

Seventh, what real life motivators does she have? What 
makes her go nuts that you wish she wouldn't? 
(jumping on people, sniffing, greeting other dogs,
chasing squirrels, greeting people,  etc.) Put those on 
cue use them as reinforcers. 


Integrate Real Life Reinforcers Sooner 
Once a dog has been taught the basic behavior with the
food at home, start integrating the real life reinforcers
sooner than later. Do the behavior and go out the door
for a short walk or play session. Going pee, going out
a gate, into a car, sniffing, greeting another dog, greeting a person can all be real life reinforcers.  Ask for the desired behavior fist, then cue dog to do the 
reinforcing activity, . The bonus is that is you pair them 
consistently and the dog cannot do them at any other 
time, you are using the Premack Principle-the most 
effective tool in the dog training tool box.

Capture Behaviors
You could also wait her out. Take a chair and sit with 
her on leash in a really boring location that limits what 
she can see in 3 directions. Use barriers if necessary 
and wait for any attention. C/t. It will come as she gets 
bored. (This is capturing). Decrease the visual barriers 
as she is able to stay focussed on you.

After that build up to the 'Gimme a Break' game by
Leslie McDevitt. Do 5 really fast behaviors in a row  like
nose target (can be the same one to start) then dismiss
the dog for one minute. Then re-engage her, do the
same 5 really fast behaviors and dismiss. Repeat. You 
will find she chooses to re-engage sooner than the 
minute as being there is really boring and training with
you is more exciting/reinforcing. Over time, add more
repetitions in a row, change up the behaviors or increase the 
duration/difficulty. It's all about increments.

Monday, September 9, 2013

NEW Assistance Dog Podcast! Podcast 1 Introduction

Here's the introduction to our new audio podcasts so you can listen to our blog on the go!
This podcast will be more global then the blogposts. Video links are provided in the video description below the video. Subscribe to either this blog as a RRS feed or the youtube channel (or both) so you don't miss any posts!

Podcast Number 1

All subsequent podcasts will be linked to the original blog so you can read the extra details if you like!
Videos can be linked directly from the podcast. Other links can be found in the video description below the podcast window.

Feel free to share with anyone who may find this helpful: other service dog teams, dog trainers etc

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

What a Service Dog Can and Cannot do in Public

What a Service Dog in BC Can and Cannot do in Public

While this article is written for US readers, it is very appropriate to BC Service Dog behaviors in public as well.

Basically, if your dog is being a nuisance (barking, jumping on or annoying others etc), an establishment can ask you to remove your dog if you have made no effort to control your dog or if that attempt makes no improvement.
If your dog defecates or urinates in an inappropriate location, they can legally ask you to leave.

Read the link  

Monday, July 1, 2013

Research Done on Service Dogs Training and Use

Ray Coppinger did a study on service dogs training and use. I am not sure if he covers owner-trained or not, but he does bring an important message:
Handlers put undue physical and emotional stress on their dogs by improper training and poor communication with them. Make sure your dog is trained to a high enough degree that she can perform her job comfortably and efficiently in the environments that you need her to. Ensure you have a good working relationship and strong communication in all venues before asking her to work with you.

Read abstract

Friday, June 21, 2013

So You Would Like A Service Dog... Common Questions

Here is a wonderful article if you are considering a service dog. The info and link are focussed on Ontario, but the main ideas apply across the board. Also be sure to read the replies below the thread for insight from SD owners.

Read article.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Tip: Teaching Your Social Service Dog to Focus on You and Ignore Strangers

All service dogs need to be comfortable being approached by and interacting with strangers as well as being handler by groomers, veterinarians etc. However, that does not mean that you want your service dog hanging on their every word, lavishing attention on them or even mugging them for attention, food or toys.

If you have a dog who really enjoys interacting with the public (highly human social dog), the behavior is self-rewarding and you would prefer your dog to be more focussed on you, make sure that all rewards come from you and never from the strangers. Choose high value rewards as well, especially in the beginning. 

If all rewards come from you, you will find that your dog naturally turns to you after a brief directed greeting, when in doubt of what to do or to be reinforced after doing a service task. 

How to Approach Training: 

For interactions with the public, start with a person the dog is familiar with.  Cue the dog to hand target the friend (toe, knee or offered hand), but the reward always comes from you. That way, the dog must turn to you, is rewarded in position while standing in front of you and is ready to perform a cue to do "something else". Work your way up to a person unknown to the dog, then to friendly strangers you meet who can follow instructions well. Always start with highly controlled situations and work to less controlled situations as the dog shows success.

That "something else" could be a sit or down to prevent over-interest or over-engagement in the other person, eye contact with you, or a cue for the dog to do a task for you that does not involve the other person. As the dog is successful in doing those behaviors, start incorporating cues that do involve the other person (such as carrying an object from that person back to you), but the person, instead of being a magnet of the dog's attention, becomes another object in the process of the dog completing the task. You may want to to start with some fun tasks like running around the person, walking between their legs, weaving between two people, doing send outs to a paw target to do a behavior past the person and return to you etc. Be creative.

A quick beginners tip is to engage your dog in simple behaviors that can be rewarded with a high rate of reinforcement when first learning how to focus on you (and minimizing interaction with the stranger). With success, you can decrease the rate of reinforcement and add in duration type behaviors such as a sit stay or down stay between the simple tasks. Then ask for slightly more complicated tasks working your way up the level of difficulty.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Preparing a Service Dog For a Disneyland Visit: Desensitizing a Dog to Costumes


My service dog will be coming with me to Disney World in October. One thing I am worried about is how he will react to the characters. Do you have any tips on how to get him used to them so he doesn't panic or get scared? I am planning to take him to Chuck E Cheese a few times so he can get used to Chuck but I was wondering if you know of any other way I can get him used to them? 


This is a great training task for systematic desensitization.

Get several masks (from sunglasses to the drama masks to a full face mask, and a larger whole head mask. Also get different materials (both textures and makes different sounds). Try a costume store and explain to them what you are doing or check out second -hand stores for what they may have or ask friends what they have, especially if they have kids.

If at any time, your dog shows discomfort, go back to a where he is comfortable, build a reward history again then make smaller changes the second time through. For bigger challenges, increase the value of the food. This process will probably go quite quickly if your dog is generally confident and resiliant and has no prior history of fear with similar situations.

Have many medium value treats ready. Sit down at your dog's level. Let him sniff one mask on the ground. Lift it up and reward him for looking or sniffing at it at nose level. Move it around and reward for looking at it and staying calm.

For most dogs, it is the covering of the face or eyes that freaks them out. Take it slow. Move the mask near your face (not covering your eyes), reward and move it away. When he is showing no stress signs, move it closer and then briefly pass it between your eyes and him. Reward for staying calm. Repeat several times. Now add a bit of duration with the mask blocking your eyes for a second, two seconds, three seconds etc. After about 10 seconds, put the mask on and take it off. (This may take 10 seconds) and add duration from there. When the dog is good with that, add some motion moving your head first a little side to side, them bumping up and down, then both. Next put it on and sit in a chair. Reward dog for staying calm. Move around in the chair. Stand up and repeat the process.

Repeat the whole process above with each new mask. Each one will probably go faster and faster as you will need fewer repetitions for him to become comfortable.

Next play some music loudly and dance around in the mask.

Next, desensitize to different clothing sounds. Again sit on the ground, have him sniff the clothing. Hold it in your hands and move it around, rub it against itself, other material etc. Sit in chair and repeat. Stand and repeat. Drape the material over you.

Now put the mask and the costume together.

Next play some music loudly and dance around in the mask.

Repeat with a friend holding and then wearing the masks. Then wearing the costume. Then both. Add music.
Repeat with someone the dog is not very familiar with.

Now arrange to meet a costumed friend somewhere away from home and see the dog's reaction.

Practice having the dog pose for photos with you and the costumed character as this is a common event for most people. The more you can prepare for these types of situations that you may do while there, the more unflappable your dog will be.  Do remember that every dog has his or her limits so do give the dog several quiet and relaxing breaks throughout the day as well as an opportunity to do fun exercise (like ball chasing) or other game to get rid of stress.

I would do all this before going to Chuck E Cheese. Don't forget to take a photo.

There is one more key element when the dog is at Chuck E Cheese or even Disney World. Try to avoid the element of surprise where the dog feels cornered by the costumed people. Always be aware of where they are (not paranoid, just generally aware) to be able to place you the dog to see the costume as it approaches. This is especially important the first day or two while the dog is acclimating to the environment.

We would love to see some photos of you and your dog at Disney World!

Good luck!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Service Dogs and Correction-based collars (such as prong or pinch collars or choke chains)

Well, I've tried to stay neutral on this issue (that is to stay private in my personal opinions against prongs and other tools that use punishment to train a dog to walk on a loose leash) but I found a fantastic blog post that's too good not to share.

Service dogs need to have the level of training that they are reliable on leash no matter the distraction. If the handler feels the need to wear such a corrective device, the dog needs to go back to basic training around distractions, or the dog needs to be counter conditioned or systematically desensitized not to be reactive to the trigger (stimuli). In such high level training that is needed, there are acceptable excuses.  Excuses such as: that the person doesn't have the physical ability to handle the dog, or that the dog is too large to be expected to walk on a loose leash or that the dog has a history of reactivity due to abuse, being attacked etc. Using such collars, especially on a long-term basis is an admission of faulty or inadequate training.  The dog need to be retrained before going out into public access work.

Bottom line is that we need to look at the world from the dog's perspective and have some empathy for the dog and the difficult job she must do for the human partner. That empathy must extend past when it is convenient for the handler. Training and behavior modification, not use of a punishment-based management tool, is called for.

Somehow, I get the feeling that the blog author will never again use a prong on any of her dogs or those she trains or advocates for.

Pinch Me

Monday, May 13, 2013

Canine Good Neighbor (CGN) Test in Nanaimo, BC May 30, 2013

Upcoming CGN Test on May 30th at Beban Centennial 

Building. Registration 5:45pm test 6-8pm.

Refresher Class for people who took the CGN Class in the 

Fall & Winter sessions with the Nanaimo Kennel Club will be 

Thursday May 16th at 8pm. At Beban Centennial Building.

Any further information please contact

Other CGN tests in BC and on Vancouver Island listed  here.

Scroll down to Western Provinces.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

57. Unloading the Dryer

Unloading the Dryer

The process of training a dog to unload a dryer (or load a washing machine) has many steps and is actually a chain of smaller behaviours that can be trained in steps. It works wells to back-chain the behaviour, starting with the last behaviour of dropping an object into the basket. This ensures that the last behaviour will be the strongest one and the dog will always be working towards something she knows better than the previous part of a the behaviour chain. In essence, the task always gets easier for the dog. 

Part 1 Put Your Toys Away
The first step is that your dog must already have is a solid retrieve. You can use that to shape your dog to retrieve an object (toys usually work best to start) and place it in a basket. 

A tip from Robin J: If you dog already know 'drop', you can cue a drop when the dog brings the toy back to the basket. Pointing helps direct the dog to the location.

Part 2 Handling Different Weight and Length of Items  The second step is to teach your dog how to handle different items she might interact with when unloading the dryer. Towels work well as they come in different sizes and weights. The dog needs to learn how to manipulate heavier items  as well as longer articles. The video examples are just a beginning. Generalize the dog's skill to other objects such as jeans and bed sheets as well as smaller delicate items such as undergarments. More delicate items need to be trained separately before adding to a laundry load so the dog does not shake, stretch, lick or drool on the articles.

A tip from Robin J: If you cannot hold the basket in place during training, you can either place a 10 lb weight in it to hold it still (a bag of rice works great!) or you can glue velcro the bottom of the basket to a non-skid bath mat.

Part 3 Comfortable Near, On & In the Dryer The next step involves teaching the dog to be comfortable near, on and in a cold and warm dryer, using stools and stepping around the laundry basket etc. Small dogs, in particular, need to be comfortable inside the dryer as they may need to step inside to retrieve an item on the far side. Reaching into a dryer from outside is another skill.

Part 4 Training with larger Items
Continue training with items that are slightly larger-sized. A hand towel works well. Add more items of the same size once the dog has learned how to handle one. Once you have built up to several items, use an intermittent schedule of reinforcement so the dog is willing to take out several items for one reward. (Actually, if you cue the next behavior, you are building a chain of repeated behaviors and the cue becomes the reward for the previous behavior). 

If you ask for too many repetitions too quickly without putting the foundation effort inin, the dog may stand and stare at you -see video 5 for an example where Jessie does this. This is the beginning of extinction because the payoff of doing the behavior is not yet big enough for the dog to do many repetitions without reinforcement. More reinforcement history is needed before the task is a fun thing to do for the dog. (Think of it as putting many pennies in the bank before being able to making a 50 cent withdrawl. Dogs don't do deficits!)

Increase the size to a bath towel. Mark after part of the time is pulled out, then for the whole item. 

Every step in training is a dance between asking for more so the dog doesn't get stuck at that level of training and not asking for too much so the dog doesn't get frustrated. 

Mix the size of the items more like a real laundry load.

Part 5 Adding Sound, Motion and the Verbal Cue
The last things to train are the sound and motion of the Dryer. With the dog standing away from the Dryer, turn it on the see what reaction it gets. If the dog shows any fear, you will need to counter condition the sound with food. This is achieved by pairing a high value food reward with the presence of the sound. Turn on the dryer, the food is is given to the dog. Dryer turns off, the food stops. As the dog gains confidence, you can ask the dog to move closer to the dryer. Over time the dog will associate the sound of the dryer with good things happening. 
Jessie was fine with the sound, but was a little wary of the movement of the clothes in the Dryer as I opened the door. (see the video) I didn't need to counter condition this (although I could have) as the more we practiced the known behavior of unloading the dryer starting with the dryer on, the stronger the positive association became and the mild hesitation disappeared. Counter conditioning can occur with operant conditioning (and usually does, it just takes longer if the fear level is high).
With Lucy, the heat of the dryer brought out some interesting smells. I simply allow her to time to smell it before giving the hand cue.

Adding a verbal cue is done at the very last once the behavior looks like you want it to and the dog has acquired all the skills needed to carry out the task.  Here's a post on the specifics. If the dog is not successful doing the behavior, you need to go back, retrain without the cue, then try adding the cue back in.

Of course the reverse process is used to train a dog to load a washing machine. Front load machines work best with Service dogs. Train a different cue to indicate that the dog must take the items from the basket and put them in the washer.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

56. Using Mirrors to Train Service Dogs

The use of silver (reflective) mirrors in training dogs is a trade secret many owner-trainers of assistance dogs don't yet know about (unless they are training with a facility that has them).  Using mirrors is a great way to prevent and solve training challenges, and get instant feedback especially if you train alone. 


There are many benefits to using mirrors in your training. 

1. Mirrors allow you to use a normal stance (sitting or standing) while training your dog so you don't have to crane your neck, or twist around to see if your dog is doing the desired behavior when working at your side or behind you.  

2. You can use them to teach your service dog to perform cues behind your back or on the back of a wheelchair, like unzipping a zipper and retrieving an object from a bag slung over the back of the chair. 

3. They allow you to see your position and your dog's position from another person's viewpoint as well as how fluidly the two of you work together. 

4. Leash handling skills and food delivery can easily be observed. 

5. You can see at a glance if how, where and when you give a hand signal works for your assistance dog. 

6. Mirrors are great for shaping behaviors such as heel position, or moving around behind your wheelchair or walker. They allow you to see if your dog is making correct choices during the shaping process. 

7. Mirrors allow the handler to observe and prepare for potential distractions the dog may encounter without even looking directly at their dog. 

8. A dog that is socialized to a mirror is prepared to seeing them in public.

9. The best thing about mirrors is that they allow instant feedback that videotaping does not allow. Used in combination with video taping, mirrors can help to solve many problems.


1. There is always the risk on bumping into and breaking them. Make sure have shoes on, wear gloves and remove your dog from the room to prevent cuts while cleaning up broken pieces.

2. Heavy mirrors cannot be transported to different locations.

3. Light reflecting from the may pose a problem so on sunny days, window coverings may need to be closed.


Mirrors do not have to be large. In fact, using three mirrors each one foot by two feet high set side by side provides quite a large range of movement to start indoors (2 feet by 3 feet). Simply step back to see a larger area of movement. Because they are smaller and lighter, they are also easier for a person to move around and store than a larger mirror of equivalent size.

If you are planning to move your mirrors around much, (in other words take them on the road to train at different locations) having a frame and backing will protect them chipping and from cracking.  Ideally, plexiglass mirrors would be the most resiliant and lightweight for carrying but they are not always easily available locally and are more expensive. 

If you plan to only use the mirrors indoors, they can be used as is without a frame etc. For slippery floors, a rubber-backed mat laid under the edge prevents them from slipping or scratching the floor.

Mirrors with several panes (horizontal or vertical) can also work as long as the mirrors are not separated too far apart. 

Mirrors can be temporarily set on the floor leaning against the wall at an angle that allows easy viewing or permanently hung on a wall at a specific height. Mirrors with stands can also be purchased from equestrian suppliers. 

A key consideration for location is to make sure there is enough space for you (your wheelchair or seat if applicable) and the dog to move and for the behavior you plan to train. The end of an open hallway, in a large room with no furniture in the middle or in a designated training room are good choices.

Where to Get a Mirror

Garage sales, flea markets, second hand stores, internet classifieds, buy and sell, recycling stores, the larger hardware stores, bedroom and bath stores (for full length mirrors) and of course glass stores are all potential locations. There are specialty equestrian supply houses on the internet that sell larger mirrors, both mounted and unmounted. These are on the upper end of cost.

Away from Home

When training away from home, look for shaded windows on buildings that reflect the sun and hence provide mirror images. It doesn't have to be a one way mirror as even those that are partially colored can work as well. Many come low enough to the ground that you can easily see you and your dog from a short distance. Ideally find a few that have grass or other flat surface next to them for safety. Parking lots can pose a safety issue but if you go on a day of the week or time when the business is closed or is a slow day, it reduces risk. Always be aware of moving cars if you are in a parking lot. Orange parking cones may help slow unexpected traffic but do not use them if the business is open as there may be bylaws against their use.

Share below how you have used mirrors in training your dog.