Informational cues differ from what we think of as a standard cue such as “sit” or “lay down” in that your dog does not have to perform any behavior when the cue is given. Instead, informational cues serve to let your dog know that something is going to happen to him or around him and there is no need to be scared or worried. We teach informational cues by choosing a word to let your dog know what is going to happen and then pair the event with something he enjoys, like a treat. By pairing the cue and the event with a treat, we can then shape his view of the coming event into a positive outlook. Here are three simple informational cues that can help your dog view potentially scary events in a positive light.
Lift: This one works for small dogs who gets picked up and carried a lot. The world can easily look very scary from a height that is five times your own. Let your dog know that you are intending to lift him by first choosing a verbal cue such as “lift” or “up-up” and then reaching toward him as if you were going to pick him up, then give them a treat. Practice this until you are eventually lifting him off the ground in increments until you are fully standing up with your dog in hand.
Touching of the Body: Some dogs are easily startled when touched by hand, especially if they don’t see the contact coming. Add a verbal cue such as “Got You!” or “Touching” to let him know that he should expect to feel your hand somewhere on his body. Give the verbal cue and reach toward him, then deliver a treat. Work toward being able to touch his fur with your fingers after he hears the cue. Practice touching various parts of his body for a treat. Eventually he will expect a human touch somewhere and will be ready for the contact.
What’s That?: This is a fun game to play with your dog that will help him deal with unexpected occurrences in the world later. Practice showing your dog various items he may not have seen before. Say the verbal cue “What’s That?” and reveal the item from behind your back. When he looks at the item click and treat him for being brave enough to make eye contact. Practice the “What’s That?” game with both visual and audible items. By practicing this over time, you can use the cue to let him know when something he may not expect is going to happen such as a bike rider whipping by him or prior to a noise like a vacuum or an aerosol can.
These cues are extremely helpful to avoid associating fear with unknown or possibly scary situations that your dog may not have experienced or may be uncomfortable with. Letting him know what to expect, and then pairing those outcomes with something he enjoys will only help when a real life situation presents itself. Examine the informational cues you may have already taught your dog and let us know some other great examples!
Chances are you’ve probably already trained your dog to do a hundred things and you don’t even know it. If you pick up the leash, does your dog come to you expecting a walk? When you go to bed, does your dog lay down in his bed, too? When your doorbell rings, does your dog bark? When you are preparing your dog’s dinner, does he come to you in anticipation? Picking up the leash, going to bed, ringing the doorbell, and preparing his dinner are all cues, meaning these things cue your dog to perform a specific behavior.
Dogs are learning all the time, responding to your unintentional cues whether you know it or not. Here are five things you can train your dog to do simply by bringing awareness to and/or naming the cues you are already giving your dog:
- Teach your dog to go inside on cue. Every time you come back inside from a walk, say “inside!” right before you step inside, and praise your dog once he’s inside. Doing this every time you and your dog return will teach your dog that when you say “inside” it’s time to go in. Once your dog learns what “inside” means, if your dog should accidentally get off leash while outside, say “inside” and you just might see magic happen when your dog willingly returns inside on cue.
- Teach your dog the names of his favorite toys. Every time you give your dog a toy to play with, say the name of the toy, then give it to him. This constant association between name and object will eventually start to sink in and you’ll see your dog start to pay attention next time you name one of his toys.
- Teach your dog that quiet behavior is favorable over barking behavior. When your dog is barking at something, wait until he’s quiet, and then reward him with praise and attention. He might very well go back to barking, but once he understands that every time he stops he gets rewarded from you, you will see a change in behavior. Most likely, he will then bark for shorter periods of time, then immediately come to you expecting praise and attention. Eventually, the barking behavior will diminish as your dog learns that coming to you is more rewarding. Just remember not to ignore the times he is quiet and giving you attention instead of barking.
- Teach your dog to stay off the couch (if that’s what you prefer). If you’re relaxing on the couch and your dog is relaxing on the floor close to you, praise him for being on the floor instead of the couch. He will learn that he doesn’t need to be on the couch with you to get the attention he is looking for, because being on the floor becomes just as rewarding. If this seems too obvious, you’d be surprised at how often we overlook our dog’s good quiet behavior by simply ignoring it
- Teach your dog to come to you on cue. Keep track of all the times your dog comes to you on his own. Maybe it’s when you get off the couch and are about to go upstairs. After you get off the couch, and right before you head up stairs (i.e. right before you know your dog is about to follow you), say the word “come.” Say “come” any time you notice your dog is about to come to you and eventually he will start to make the association between the verbal cue and behavior.
What other things have you taught your dog to do without realizing it?
Disclaimer: These are merely suggestions and we do not guarantee the success of your training from this small bit of advice.
Editor’s Note (8/30/2012): As of 9/1/2012, the Nature Nanny will no longer be servicing the Maryland area.
We have the privilege of knowing some great people in our line of business, and Kelli Rosenberg (aka “The Nature Nanny”) is certainly one of them. If you live in the Baltimore area and need a dog walker or pet sitter, there’s no one more attentive, caring, and nurturing as Kelli. We know this personally because she is Debbie’s own pet sitter and she doesn’t trust just anyone with her critters!
We wanted to know more about Kelli’s experiences with positive training, so we asked her a few questions and here’s what she had to say:
On your website, you say you “also [have] experience with positive reinforcement training methods and it is the only method used for her own animal companions as well as others people’s pets.” Please describe some of the experiences you’ve had with training.
I have three dogs of my own with very different personalities. I also have a parrot! All have benefited from positive training methodologies. I have attended numerous training classes with the Humane Society and at the Oriole Dog Training Club. Both utilized clicker training which I found worked quickly and effectively for my companion animals. I also learned from a trainer that without a clicker you can use a word as a marker which I also utilize A LOT. As soon as the animal performs the desired action I say “YES!” in an excited voice and smile. Works beautifully! I have also done a lot of research and reading on the topic: Karen Pryor, Pat Miller and Jean Donaldson to name a few.
You get to see lots of different pets, some of which I’m sure are trained traditionally, and others probably positively. What kinds of changes do you notice between dogs who have had one type of training over the other?
When I see a choker or prong collar I cringe! I have seen some things done with a choker collar that were shocking. I do not feel that fear and pain should ever be used in training an animal. Positively trained dogs, I notice, are very happy and trusting dogs! They have joie de vivre and offer well-mannered behaviors on their own all of the time. It is much better than seeing a dog that cowers from you if you move too fast or thinks it’s being punished when it’s crate time. That is really heartbreaking.
How do you incorporate positive training in your pet sitting services?
I incorporate positive training with all of my pet friends (unless the client requests otherwise of course)! It not only makes the animal happy to receive positive encouragement and treats, which they LOVE (ha-ha)! It also helps the human family to have a happy and well-behaved animal. I focus on leash-walking skills and sitting quietly while having their harness and/or leash put on.
What factors in your life led up to the start of the Nature Nanny business?
I have always loved and had a natural affinity with animals. My first job at 13 years old was in a dog kennel! After leaving Bark!, I knew I still wanted to be around animals, it is very rewarding and fulfilling for me to make a positive difference in animals lives. I decided to start my dog walking and pet sitting business. It felt like a natural progression from being in the natural pet food and supply industry to a solely positive service model.
What is most rewarding about your job now?
The most rewarding thing for me is making a positive contribution everyday in an animal’s life. When I see their eyes light up and their tail wag when they see me, that completely makes what I do rewarding and wonderful. I love what I do!
What makes you “earth-friendly?”
I only use certified biodegradable plant based poo bags that meet ASTM D6400 specifications. I use grain-free organic treats that are US sourced and made, preferably local whenever possible. I am an avid recycler of everything! I purchase carbon offsets for my travel. I use reusable tote bags. I compost and grow veggies! I Use compact fluorescent light bulbs in my home. I only use safe, non-toxic earth friendly cleaning products, including animal grooming products. I keep my cats indoors. I am a vegan. That’s all I can think of right now, there might be more!
What advice would you give to the average pet owner so that they can keep their pet happy and healthy?
Good nutrition, play, love and exercise! I would also recommend consistency. When positively training your dog always maintain consistency in what you ask. Make sure everyone in the household is doing the same thing. Animals like the security of routine and consistency, I think. They know what is being asked of them, which make them more confident and happy.