Teach your dog “Stop” (from walking)

Fabien taught Bono the word Stop and I’ve gotta say, it’s pretty awesome. Here’s a little video of Bono performing a stellar Stop, then a Go:

How did he do it? “Well,” he said, “when Bono’s on the long leash, I often need to tell him to stop, because he’d otherwise get tangled or he’d knock off young trees in our field.”

By the way, we’re still doing the individual walks in our field. He’s fine on group walks with the dogs from the doggy school. But individual walks are a whole different challenge.

So, where were we? Yes, Fabien explained why Stop is a useful word to teach your dog. “Besides untangling and protecting young trees, Stop can save your dog if he’s ahead of you and wants to cross the street. Or it can simply save you some cleaning, if your pup’s about to plunge in a mud bath and you can prevent it.”

Fabien and Bono. Bono’s taking a mud bath

“So how did I teach him? I began by telling him Stop right before he reached the end of the long leash. Within a few repetitions, Bono started to get it. Then I’d ask Stops earlier and earlier, not waiting for him to get to the end of the leash. And there you have it. This is how you teach your dog Stop.”

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How to teach your dog to stop barking at passers by

This morning when we went outside to play, our neighbor was standing in front of the gate. He was waiting for something or someone. Bono was worried and he started to bark at him.

In the past, nothing would have convinced him to stop barking. He would have barked until the man went away. By the way, this is a natural behavior for a guard dog. And a Bernese Mountain Dog is genetically speaking a guard dog. But he’s our fluffy cute and lovable pet, not our guardian. And he needs to understand that.

So coming back to our story. He was barking and in the past I couldn’t have stopped him. Today though, he came to me when I called him, even though the man was still standing there. This is the result of positive training. Lots of it. If your dog barks in inappropriate situations, know I’m not saying this to discourage you. But I wouldn’t want you to imagine it takes one training session or two and tadaaa, your dog stops barking.

Besides, barking for dogs is like talking for humans. There are many reasons dogs bark. In this case, it’s, “I’m worried.” But it could be, “I’m happy, I’m excited.” Or, “I’m bored.” Or, “I’m hurt.” Or, “I need to go pee.” Or, “I’m hungry.” And so on and so forth.

It’s communication. And while I might want to know if an alien lands in our garden, I really don’t want to be notified about each passer by.

So how did we succeed in getting Bono to stop barking and worry less? It’s a mental shift. It’s telling your dog, “Focus on me, we don’t care what happens around us. The world could be crumbling down, there could be giant pink unicorns flying above us, the president of the United Doggy Nations could be dancing La Cucaracha on the bar. We. Don’t. Care. We’re doing our work and it’s all that matters.”

So it’s this plus treats. Treats are mandatory. Amazing treats. Something your dog really enjoys. We’re using treats for two reasons in this case: to reward his work and to countercondition him.

Let me briefly explain counterconditioning. Your dog is worried about something. Each time he sees the scary thing, his body reacts negatively. And he might bark or lunge, etc. He can’t control it. He’s classically conditioned.

Now imagine this. Each time the scary thing appears, before he has a chance to react, he gets a treat. Do this enough times, and you’ll break the conditioning. Which means your dog won’t be afraid of the “scary” thing anymore. That’s counterconditioning.

So how exactly do you tell your dog, “Focus on the work, we don’t care what happens around us?” You start with a leash. This way he can’t run off and give way to his conditioned reaction. You work with him in your front yard, for 30 minutes, three times a week, whether people are passing by or not. This will give results faster if there are 20 people passing by during those 30 minutes, compared to only one or two.

If you don’t have enough passers by, could you stage it? Do you have some friends who could pass by instead? I know this is a tough one, especially since 3 times a week is a big commitment. Could they maybe help once a week?

If they can, it’s amazing. If they can’t, don’t sweat it. Even if there’s only one or two passers by, you’ll still succeed. You’ll just need more patience.

So what kind of work should you do? Well, anything that requires focus. It could be sits, downs, stands, turns, walking among cones, stays. Anything really. Just remember to reward with treats, petting and praise especially when it gets tough for him. If he’s sitting while a person’s passing by, then it’s jackpot baby.

What if he listens to your and sits, but also barks while someone’s passing by? Should you give him a treat in this case? I don’t know, it’s a much debated subject among the dog behavior professionals, I can explain the debate in another post. For now, I’d say don’t. Or you can try to sneak the treat in, before he gets to bark. It’s up to you.

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Why use treats in dog education

Me and Bono at doggy school. Bono's sitting, I go toward him to praise and pet him. There's also a Golden Retriever a few feet away.
I’m moving toward Bono to praise and pet him for doing such a great job at doggy school

I’ve always been generous with giving treats to my dogs. Sometimes even too generous, causing them to gain weight.

Then I discovered Dr. Ian Dunbar who explained that treats should be tiny. Ti-ny. He likes to use ZiwiPeak and break it each piece in four. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen ZiwiPeak kibble, I’ve seen it on video ’cause we don’t have it in France. But I’m telling you, these treats are already small as they are. And he still breaks them in four.

The point I’m trying to make is, your dog won’t get fat if you give him treats, as long as they’re tiny. Look for puppy treats, they tend to make them smaller. Or you can try kibble for small dogs, which is tiny in comparison to big dog kibble.

I’m a advocate of doing it yourself because you’d make healthier treats with no preservatives. I’d really like to tell how easy and fast it is. But it’s not. Personally, I haven’t been able to consistently bake treats for Bono, as much as I’d love to. But I’m cooking his food, so I’ve got that going on for me 😅

Anyway, let’s move on. Maybe you’re not worried about dog obesity, but you just want your dog to listen to you because he wants to, not because you’re giving him treats.

Guess what, me too. And Bono does what I ask of him because he wants to. I’m using treats to start a behavior. Then as he progresses I fade the treats away. Eventually, I’m only giving him treats once in a while to maintain the behavior.

For example, a few months ago I taught him to close the door. Initially I gave him a treat each time. Then I made sure he really understands, “Bono, the door!” in different contexts. When I’m one step away, two steps away, out of his sight and so on.

Now that he KNOWS the behavior, I only give him a treat sometimes when he closes the door. And I always praise him. I need him to know he’s done a good job and I’m proud of him.

But why can’t praise be enough? Why do we need to use treats to teach a behavior? Because most of us aren’t that good at praising. Myself included, although I’m doing progress. Just saying a blend, “Good dog” doesn’t cut it. If I can’t see the joy on that dog’s face, it means my praise isn’t enthusiastic enough.

What if you can’t tell if your dog feels appreciated? Just measure the results. Did your dog learn the behavior? Is your dog able to perform it under most conditions (including at the park and other distraction filled places)?

If he does, it might mean you’re awesome at praising. In which case you can forget everything I just said.

But if he doesn’t, dare to use treats.

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I stand on the shoulders of giants

It’s the people I learned from by reading their books, taking their online classes and seminars, following their blogs or Youtube channels. They’re not specifically talking about Bernese Mountain Dogs, but the knowledge they share is invaluable and a lot of it applies to Berners. Here are my giants:

Dr. Ian Dunbar www.DunbarAcademy.com and www.dogstardaily.com

Kathy Sdao www.kathysdao.com

Karen Pryor www.clickertraining.com and www.karenpryoracademy.com

Turid Rugaas http://en.turid-rugaas.no

Dr. Patricia B. McConnell, Ph.D, www.patriciamcconnell.com

Dr. Sophia Yin drsophiayin.com

Pia Silvani, Raising Puppies & Kids Together and her website www.piasilvani.com

Emily Larlham, www.dogmantics.com and free videos on her Youtube channel, Kikopup

Stonnie Dennis, www.kentuckycanine.com and free videos on his Youtube channel Stonnie Dennis

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Your dog is not being arrogant

This week-end we went to our weekly doggy class with Bono, as usual. And he had a hard time doing the immobility exercises.

I’d ask him to stay then I’d take a few steps. He’d wait for two seconds and boopidybah…He’d follow me, instead of staying. Why wasn’t he listening? Was he being arrogant? Was he trying to show me he does only what he wants?

“Puppy, stay!” It sounds so simple. But for your dog, it’s a real challenge. He might fear you won’t come back, he might have the zoomies*, he might be worried or intrigued about something new in his environment. He might just not have the patience or self-control to stay still. It’s a game of teaching him to ignore as many types of distractions as possible and to focus on the task at hand.

So let’s figure out why Bono didn’t do the stay. You see, it’s spring and new puppies are coming to the doggy school. During the last half of our class, they were waiting on the other side of the fence. Actually, they weren’t just waiting. They were playing and yelping and being puppies.

On top of that, a handyman was hammering and repairing things around. These are two levels of difficulty we hadn’t worked on yet. Two new types of distractions. Can you see now why Bono struggled to pay attention to me? It’s not because he didn’t want to. He just couldn’t.

It’s as if you took some piano lessons and now you can play the Happy Birthday song. You’re all proud of yourself and you’re happy to perform. Then your mom asks you to play Gaspard de la Nuit. What song is that? I don’t know, I just typed “difficult piano pieces” in Google and this is what came up.

So your mom can yell, beg, wave cookies in front of your nose, she can tell you, “Come on honey, you can do it!” It won’t help. Only serious training will get you there.

It’s the same with dogs. You can’t expect your dog to be able to do a stay at the park, if he doesn’t yet know how to stay in your living room, when it’s just the two of you. Only progressive training will get you there.

As for Bono, the good news is now we get to train on these new levels of difficulty. I don’t know if the handyman will come back. But those puppies will be there next week and the week after that and so on. We’ll start working the stay at the other side of the yard. Then we’ll move closer to the fence as Bono progresses. And did I mention we’ve got treats? We do.

*the zoomies = a common case of energy in excess, running around and being silly

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