September 4, 2017

Food Puzzles for your Dog–Eating the Smart Way. Your Dog Will Thank You!

Terrie Hayward
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Blanca eagerly peers over this food puzzle: green interactive feeder

Does your dog still eat out of a bowl? Then this post is for you!

Using a food puzzle for your pup’s meals provides both mental stimulatio! Think: fun ways to alleviate boredom while working your dog’s brain in a healthy manner. And, food puzzles provide information for your dog about their environment: consider this-more intel about thier surroundings helps dogs to feel more secure and confident!

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Food puzzles for your dog: snuffle mat, Kong Gyro, Kong Wobbler, Tricky Treat ball, slow feeder, etc.

There is even science behind all of this food puzzle fun. The concept is called, “contra freeloading.” This means that animals will work for food even though identical food can easily be obtained from a nearby dish. This is because dogs (and other animals) are hard-wired to hunt, scavange, and seek out opportunities for food. That is to say that this food puzzle process is more reinforcing than just accessing the food without effort.

Take a look at some food puzzle options in this video–Your dog will thank you for these challenging meal time choices. Food Puzzles for your dog are the way to a happier, healthier meal-time option!

August 26, 2017

Adopting a Deaf Dog

Terrie Hayward

deaf dogHave you recently adopted a deaf dog? Are you confused about just where to start? Would you like some direction as to what to do first?

Great! This post is for you! In addition to a recent post about first steps, these videos will walk you through the process.

Step 1: The number one spot to begin is by establishing a form of communication. A marker system can help you to do this. In the case of a deaf dog you will use a visual marker. In the video that follows the visual marker is a “hand flash” where you open your hand like a starfish and then close it again.

Markers are always paired with reinforcers. We want to keep up this practice so that they maintain their value! Remember, it is up to the learner to determine the reinforcer’s value.

The marker lets your deaf dog know that, “Wow! That exact thing that you just did has just earned you access to something that you find reinforcing!” We know that behaviors that are reinforced will be repeated, so marking and reinforcing behaviors that you would like to see more of is the way to make that happen!

STEP 2: The next step is to teach your dog to check in with you. A “check in” behavior means that your deaf dog regularly glances back in your direction which allows you to provide further instructions. We can create a regular and re-occurring check in behavior by teaching a “watch me” cue and marking and reinforcing when your deaf dog maintains eye contact with you.

STEP 3: After establishing a communication system and a way to implement that system (your dog regularly makes eye contact with you), a hand target is a great next behavior to teach. Hand targeting is a confidence building behavior and dogs who are confident are self assured, calm, and well mannered.

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A hand target is also a nice foundation behavior upon which many other behaviors can be built–behaviors such as a weave or a spin which are incompatible with other less desirable behaviors. Too, with targeting you can teach your deaf dog to move onto a veterinarian’s scale or in/out of the car without any physical manipulation nor pulling/pushing.

You can teach your dog to relax and let you have their paw for nail trims or to learn a chin rest target to communicate when they are feeling calm enough for other grooming or veterinary procedures to continue. Both husbandry and fun behaviors can be trained from the hand target base.

A complement to starting out with your deaf dog, would be the pocket guide, A Deaf Dog Joins the Family. Using the techniques in this post will help to set you and your deaf dog up for success!

May 30, 2017

Training Your Deaf Dog: What’s the First Step?

Terrie Hayward

Are you struggling with how to begin training your deaf dog?

deaf-dog-BlancaYou are sitting across from your deaf dog eye to eye thinking, “Ok, now how to get her to understand what I would like?” Bringing a deaf dog into your family doesn’t need to be confusing. In fact it can be lots of fun. And once you have some simple and consistent communication in place it can be quite easy to communicate!

Often people ask what the first step is when working with a deaf dog. Contrary to what people may think, ASL (American Sign Language) or any other type of sign language is actually step number three!

STEP ONE

The very first step is to develop an effective and efficient method of communication. This means setting up a clear and consistent event marker system. An event marker is a communication tool. Often with hearing dogs the event marker may be a “clicker” which is a small plastic box-type device that makes a “clicking” sound. It may also be a verbal marker such as the word, “yes!”

In the case of a deaf dog, your marker can either be a visual (my preferred method) or a tactile (touch) event marker. I use an “open hand flash” for my visual marker. Some people use a thumbs up or an ASL letter “Y” (for yes).

A marker is a conditioned or secondary reinforcer. This means that it is not inherently reinforcing to the animal. As such, we need to condition it in order for it to have value. The way to do this is to pair the marker with something that the dog likes. Additionally, for the marker to maintain its value it must always be consistently paired. This means that a marker is like a little contract. If you mark, then you must reinforce with something that your dog thinks is valuable. This is an important distinction as sometimes your opinion of a valuable option may not be the same as your dog’s! As a marker is a key piece of communication you always want to keep up your side of the promise by always pairing the marker with something that your dog believes is worthwhile to work for.

The important message is that whichever marker you choose to use, it must be used consistently and should always paired with a valuable reinforcer.

STEP TWO

Once you have established a marker system the next step is to teach a reliable “check in” behavior. A check in enables you to have the dog look to you which then will allow for the opportunity to provide further communication. The way to foster a reliable “check in” behavior is to mark and reinforce each time your deaf dog looks at you. In other words, you are making “looking at you” a worthwhile behavior! Try to begin by practicing the behavior close to your dog and in a very low distracting environment.

Too, at the start, even a quick glance should get a click and then a treat. Working on this piece will also help you to get very quick with your timing skills! Over time you can try practicing some duration with the amount of time your dog will hold your gaze during a check in.

As per the rules of behavior and as noted above, you always want keep in mind the three “Ds” of training. Begin training in the lowest distraction environment, with the shortest duration and with the least distance. Then, build up from there!

STEP THREE

The third step is where I would now encourage teaching additional cues. This is the point at which people may choose to use ASL (American Sign Language) or any other type of visual cue. The important piece when choosing a visual sign for a behavior is to keep it consistent.

To teach new behaviors you will first want to “label” the behavior as it is occurring. This means that while your dog is doing the behavior you would use the sign for this behavior and then mark/reinforce as it is completed.

I suggest repeating this over and over many times before moving the visual cue out to just as your dog is “about” to do the behavior. Eventually, you put the visual cue out in front of the behavior so that you are actually “cueing” it before it happens. This strategy can also keep us from weakening the cue by cueing a behavior repeatedly without the correct response. This sequence of progression allows your dog to associate the visual cue with the action so that they make the connection between the visual cue and the behavior. The marking and reinforcing allow the dog to realize that this behavior is “worth while” and that they should therefore repeat it.

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To sum it up, you want to condition a marker, teach a “check in,” and then move to labeling and training consistent, and reliable cues! In this way you and your deaf dog can set up an efficient and effective system of communication, which is reinforcing and fun!

For more help, the pocket guide to working with deaf dogs can be found here: https://www.amazon.com/Deaf-Dog-Joins-Family-Communication/dp/1507578261

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