Training

sansorrella pack sit stay

Sansorrella Pack "Stay" - not that impressive until you know that there were
approximately 20 other Northern Inuit dogs running free in the same field at the time

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Wolf Lookalike dogs and wolfdogs are very intelligent but independent animals.   They will weigh up the pros and cons before deciding whether or not it is ‘worth’ them doing something;  what I call the “What’s in it for me” attitude.  When training it is worth bearing in mind that if they can’t see the purpose in doing something they will not keep repeating the same monotonous exercise.   Having done something once, if you ask them to do it again their expression is unmistakable: “What was wrong with the first time?   I just did that and am not doing it again.” 

Very few Wolf Lookalike dogs or wolfdogs will keep blindly retrieving articles for your amusement, although there are exceptions.   Most of mine will bring something back once, but if I am stupid enough to throw it away again then I can just go and fetch it myself!  

They do have a sense of humour and it helps if owners have one too.   I remember one instance when I was doing a retrieve at dog training with “Sky”.   She brought the toy back once and when I threw it again she shot me the “ok, you want to play silly buggers – I can play silly buggers” look, then she ran after the toy.   However, instead of bringing it back to me, she ran down the line of dogs waiting their turn, dropped her toy in front of one dog, quickly snatched their toy and tossed it at me as she ran passed!   She knew full well what was expected of her, but she was bored so adapted the game to amuse herself.   She would often have everyone in stitches at dog training class, making a big exhibition of “killing” the retrieve toy and only bringing it back once she was certain it was “dead”.

So, remember to keep training sessions short and varied, otherwise they will lose confidence and interest.   Always end on a good note.   Always have “high value” rewards.

Now you are prepared for training with a sense of humour we can talk about methods.    Wolf Lookalike dogs and wolfdogs respond well to “clicker training”, which is reward based and clearly “marks” the required action.   Once introduced to the “clicker” they catch on really quickly, especially if a “high value” reward is used.   (By “high value” I mean something that is valuable to the dog, not the most expensive treat you can buy).    Some dogs, such as GSDs, Border Collies and Spaniels will work well for a ball or toy.   Utonagans and some Northern Inuit dogs will also work for toys.   However, the majority are food orientated and need something really smelly and tasty as their reward.    I find the treat that works best for my dogs is liver and garlic (recipe below).

Right, you are now armed with your “clicker”, smelly treats and one ‘eager to be rewarded’ dog, let’s get started.  (Clickers available soon through the Sansorrella shop and ‘eager to be rewarded’ dogs also available from time to time.)  

 

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cash, sky and echo
Cash, Sky and Echo
reba echo timber and sky
Reba (GSD), Echo, Timber and Sky (NI)

Recipes for High Value rewards

1. The Sansorrella way:

Take some fresh or defrosted pigs’ liver, place a in bowl and liberally coat with garlic puree.   Cover with ‘cling film’ and pierce the film.    ‘Nuke’ in the microwave, stirring occasionally to make sure it is well coated in the garlic puree.   Cooking time will depend on the quantity being cooked; it can be used soft or hard as the dogs really don’t mind.  Chop into small treat-sized pieces.    It can be frozen in small bags ready for use.   The smell will have every dog in the park wanting to be your friend!

2.  Livercake (for those who want to spend more time on doing it properly)

1lb of pigs liver, 2 eggs, 1 bulb of garlic and 1lb of self raising flour.

Liquidise the liver in a mixer, then add the garlic and eggs and mix together.

Gradually add the flour and mix to a dough – if it gets too dry a little water can be added.

Transfer to a baking dish and microwave for 6 – 8 minutes.  When cool cut into pieces, place in freezer bags and freeze.

NB  The cooking aroma is not to everyone’s taste so maybe not a good idea to cook a batch of treats if you are expecting guests.

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me tihe cloud timber and merlin
Me with Cloud, Timber and Merlin in Cumbria

Clicker Training

This is the process of training an animal using a reinforcer which indicates to the animal or "marks" the precise behaviour that was correct. It was originally discovered and used with laboratory rats, and later was used in training animals such as dolphins, horses, birds, cats and dogs used in the forces.  The name "clicker training" is used because the primary tool is a small mechanical noisemaker called a clicker.

One of the difficulties in training an animal is communicating exactly when the animal has done the behavior that the trainer is attempting to reinforce.  For instance, consider teaching a dog to back up. Immediately the dog moves backwards, the trainer must let the dog know that it has done the correct thing. However, the traditional "good dog!" takes so long to say that the dog might already have moved on to some other behavior. By the time the dog realizes it is being praised it might be moving forward again, or even sitting and scratching.

Besides the imprecision in timing, using the trainer's voice for information means that the actual signal will vary. The trainer's voice, pronunciation, tone, loudness and emphasis can change even during the same training session.   Training is slowed when the animal has to realize that some variations (loudness or enthusiasm) aren't important while others such as "good dog" vs. "bad dog" are.  A “clicker” solves these problems.

The first step in “clicker training” is to teach the animal that the “clicker” sound means that they will get a reward. To do this, the trainer does what is called "charging" or "loading" the “clicker”. The trainer clicks the “clicker” and simultaneously gives the animal a reward, usually one small enough to be consumed almost instantly.

When “clicker training” the trainer keeps very quiet and only introduces the command word once the dog has worked out what is required.   This may take up to 20 attempts for each new behaviour.   The timing of the “click” is vital in order not to confuse the dog, it should be delivered at the precise moment the desired movement or behaviour happens.

It won’t be long before your dog has grasped the concept and your first exercise should be to get your dog’s full attention and be focused on your eyes.   You can ‘shape’ this behaviour by showing the dog the reward and moving the reward in the direction of your face – once the dog is looking at your face you can “mark” that moment with a “click”, quickly followed by the reward.   Once the dog has done this several times you may introduce the command “Watch me”.   This is a useful command when you want to get your dogs attention away from any unwanted distraction.


As the dog learns “clicker” training the reward doesn’t have to be instant, the dog will learn that when he has been “clicked” his reward is coming.
   However, once the behaviour is learned the trainer need only “click” and reward the fastest or more accurate response, this will keep the dog working harder for his reward.

When “clicker training” you may either “shape” the desired behaviour, or wait until the dog does it of its own accord.
   For example, SIT.   If you want the dog to sit you can wait until he naturally does this and the instant his behind touches the floor you “click” and reward.   He will soon catch on that by doing this he is rewarded.  Alternatively you can hold the treat on his nose and move it back over his head – he will have no choice than to sit in order to follow the treat with his nose.  Again, as soon as his behind touches the floor “click” and reward.    Using your hand and the treat in this way will enable this to become a hand signal in the future.  When he has done this successfully several times you can then introduce the command “Sit”.

Once “Sit” has been mastered, this can be “shaped” into DOWN by using the treat to lure him from the sitting position to lie down.
   If he only makes a slight movement towards that position by moving his paws, then “click” and reward.   Gradually, step by step, you can lure him further down until you get what is required, then you may add the command.   Should the dog appear to be completely confused, as will happen from time to time, then you are moving on too fast and need to go back a step or two to reinforce the behaviour already learned.


Many desired behaviors start with the nose-touch, where the dog learns to touch an identified target, such as a small piece of plastic, with its nose; that behavior can then be transported to perform useful tasks or interesting tricks such as flipping a light switch, closing a door or even ringing a bell to go outside.

Training the nose touch begins with getting the dog to touch a target with its nose. The target is placed in easy reach, such as in the trainer's hand between the trainer and the dog, and the dog is rewarded each time he moves in the target's direction or actually touches it, this is known as “shaping” a behaviour.  As soon as the dog realises what he is being rewarded for the trainer may then include the word “touch”, or whatever command is to be used.

When the dog is consistently touching the target the trainer can progress to a target in different positions. Eventually, the trainer can transfer the behavior to a bell, for example, by holding the target behind the bell so that the dog has to touch the bell to get at the target, and then rewarding the touching of the bell. When the dog is reliably touching the bell, the trainer now adds the act of opening the door to the reward each time the dog strikes the bell.

I use this method to teach “send away” by moving the target further away so the dog has to move away from me to get to the target and then return for his reward.
   As this progresses the dog is told to DOWN as he reaches the target and there you have your “send away”.

There are lots of good training classes that teach “clicker training” and many books on the subject.
  I can personally recommend Shippshape School for Dogs, formerly of Milton Keynes now established in Devon. Theresa is an APDT trainer who taught me everything I know (see my links page for contact details) I hope to be running a few workshops specifically for Wolf Lookalikes and Wolfdog Hybrids.   Please contact me for more information.

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watch me
"Watch Me"
Nothing in Life is Free

The NILIF program is remarkable because it's effective for such a wide variety of problems. A shy, timid dog becomes more relaxed knowing that he has nothing to worry about, his owner is in charge of all things. A dog that's pushing too hard to become "top dog" learns that the position is not available and that his life is far more enjoyable without the title.

It is equally successful with dogs that fall anywhere between those two extremes. The program is not difficult to put into effect and it's not time consuming if the dog already knows a few basic obedience commands. I've never seen this technique fail to bring about a positive change in behaviour, however, the change can be more profound in some dogs than others. Most owners use this program in conjunction with other behaviour modification techniques such as coping with fear or treatment for aggression. It is a perfectly suitable technique for the dog with no major behaviour problems that just needs some fine tuning.


ATTENTION ON DEMAND

The program begins by eliminating attention on demand. When your dog comes to you and nudges your hand, saying "pet me! pet me!" ignore him. Don't tell him "no", don't push him away. Simply pretend you don't notice him. This has worked for him before, so don't be surprised if he tries harder to get your attention. When he figures out that this no longer works, he'll stop. In a pack situation, the top ranking dogs can demand attention from the lower ranking ones, not the other way around. When you give your dog attention on demand you're telling him that he has more status in the pack than you do. Timid dogs become stressed by having this power and may become clingy. They're never sure when you'll be in charge so they can't relax. What if something scary happens, like a stranger coming in the house? Who will handle that? The timid dog that is demanding of attention can be on edge a lot of the time because he has more responsibility than he can handle.

Some dogs see their ability to demand attention as confirmation that they are the "alpha", then become difficult to handle when told to "sit" or "down" or some other demand is placed on them. It is not their leadership status that stresses them out, it's the lack of consistency. They may or may not actually be alpha material, but having no one in the pack that is clearly the leader is a bigger problem than having the dog assume that role full time. Dogs are happiest when the pack order is stable. Tension is created by a constant fluctuation of pack leadership.


EXTINCTION BURSTS

Your dog already knows that he can demand your attention and he knows what works to get that to happen. As of today, it no longer works, but he doesn't know that yet. We all try harder at something we know works when it stops working. If I gave you a twenty dollar bill every time you clapped your hands together, you'd clap a lot. But, if I suddenly stopped handing you money, even though you were still clapping, you'd clap more and clap louder. You might even get closer to me to make sure I was noticing that you were clapping. You might even shout at me "Hey! I'm clapping like crazy over here, where's the money?". If I didn't respond at all, in any way, you'd stop. It wasn't working anymore. That last try -- that loud, frequent clapping is an extinction burst. If, however, during that extinction burst, I gave you another twenty dollar bill you'd be right back in it. It would take a lot longer to get you to stop clapping because you just learned that if you try hard enough, it will work.

When your dog learns that the behaviours that used to get him your attention don't work any more he's going to try harder and he's going to have an extinction burst. If you give him attention during that time you will have to work that much harder to get him turned around again. Telling him "no" or pushing him away is not the kind of attention he's after, but it's still attention. Completely ignoring him will work faster and better.


YOU HAVE THE POWER

As the human and as his owner you have control of all things that are wonderful in his life. This is the backbone of the NILIF program. You control all of the resources. Playing, attention, food, walks, going in and out of the door, going for a ride in the car, going to the dog park. Anything and everything that your dog wants comes from you. If he's been getting most of these things for free there is no real reason for him to respect your leadership or your ownership of these things. Again, a timid dog is going to be stressed by this situation, a pushy dog is going to be difficult to handle. Both of them would prefer to have you in charge.

To implement the NILIF program you simply have to have your dog earn his use of your resources. He's hungry? No problem, he simply has to sit before his bowl is put down. He wants to play fetch? Great! He has to "down" before you throw the ball. Want to go for a walk or a ride? He has to sit to get his lead snapped on and has to sit while the front door is opened. He has to sit and wait while the car door is opened and listen for the word (I use "OK") that means "get into the car". When you return he has to wait for the word that means "get out of the car" even if the door is wide open. Don't be too hard on him. He's already learned that he can make all of these decisions on his own. He has a strong history of being in control of when he gets these resources. Enforce the new rules, but keep in mind that he's only doing what he's been taught to do and he's going to need some time to get the hang of it all.

You're going to have to pay attention to things that you probably haven't noticed before. If you feed your dog from your plate do you just toss him a green bean? No more. He has to earn it. You don't have to use standard obedience commands, any kind of action will do. If your dog knows "shake" or "spin around" or "speak" use those commands. Does your dog sleep on your bed? Teach him that he has to wait for you to say "OK" to get on the bed and he has to get down when you say "off". Teach him to go to his bed, or other designated spot, on command. When he goes to his spot and lays down tell him "stay" and then release him with a treat reward. Having a particular spot where he stays is very helpful for when you have guests or otherwise need him out of the way for a while. It also teaches him that free run of the house is a resource that you control. There are probably many things that your dog sees as valuable resources that I haven't mentioned here.

The NILIF program should not be a long, drawn out process. All you need to do is enforce a simple command before allowing him access to what he wants. Dinner, for example, should be a two or three second encounter that consists of nothing more than saying "sit", then "good dog!", then putting the bowl down and walking away.


ATTENTION AND PLAY

Now that your dog is no longer calling the shots you will have to make an extra effort to provide him with attention and play time. Call him to you, have him "sit" and then lavish him with as much attention as you want. Have him go get his favourite toy and play as long as you both have the energy. The difference is that now you will be the one initiating the attention and beginning the play time. He's going to depend on you now, a lot more than before, to see that he gets what he needs. What he needs most is quality time with you. This would be a good time to enrole in a group obedience class. If his basic obedience is top notch, see about joining an agility class or fly ball team.


NILIF DOES NOT MEAN THAT YOU HAVE TO RESTRICT THE AMOUNT OF ATTENTION YOU GIVE TO YOUR DOG.

The NILIF concept speaks to who initiates the attention (you!), not the amount of attention. Go ahead and call your dog to you 100 times a day for hugs and kisses!! You can demand his attention; he can no longer demand yours!

Within a day or two your dog will see you in a whole new light and will be eager to learn more. Use this time to teach new things, such as 'roll over' or learn the specific names of different toys.

If you have a shy dog, you'll see a more relaxed dog. There is no longer any reason to worry about much of anything. He now has complete faith in you as his protector and guide. If you have a pushy dog he'll be glad that the fight for leadership is over and his new role is that of devoted and adored pet.
me and the dogs 

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"A girl is a person who screams at the mouse and smiles at the wolf"

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