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I've searched for answers, but didn't really find what I'm looking for. If my questions have been answered someplace, please point me in the right direction.

In several places (including here) I've read that when training, one should not give a cue unless there is 1) a high probability of the dog performing and 2) a way to enforce the cue. In theory, I understand completely; in practice, I'm a little confused. How do you know if your dog will perform and, within the framework of an aversive-free training program, what do you do if he doesn't?

Here's an example of what we do: On walks, we practice sit or down, and stay when cars drive by. If my dog is not distracted when I see a car, I guide her into a yard and ask her for a sit or down and then stay. Most of the time she does what's been asked readily. If she doesn't, I wait for her to do what I've asked before continuing our walk (I don't repeat the cue). If she is distracted (e.g., following a scent or watching a squirrel) when I see a car, I just make sure she's out of harms way and make a mental note to spend more time practicing her attention skills.

Outwardly, the times when she doesn't perform appear the same as the times she does. I've not noticed any signs of stress (e.g., yawning, lip licking) or distraction; are there other things to look for? Is this an indication that I should increase the rate of reinforcement? What should I be doing differently?

Thanks!
 

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It's not an exact science, it's more of a feel thing. You do have to try giving the command in various situations to see if it will work or not and what you need to work on. If you definitely know the dog will not obey the command, say a rabbit goes running by and your dog is in full prey drive, yelling "Sit!" 42 times won't do anything, not that that stops people from doing it.

As to why cars are distracting some days and not others . . . I have theories from working with various dogs.

1. We all have off days. Some days you're ready to go, some days, you're "meh". Dogs have their off days, too.

2. There's a distractor we're not perceiving. A smell, sound, etc. that the dog is perceiving, but we're not. Dogs have better hearing and smell, so it's possible that a car that sounds like a regular car to you sounds different to your dog. Maybe a rabbit ran by 5 minutes ago. You and I would never know, but my dog would be going nuts over that smell.

3. Physical state. A dog can't say, "I feel a bit nauseated". You really have no way of knowing your dog's physical state until it's really obvious. Maybe the dog fails to respond because he's nauseated or headachey.

(This is one reason why I'm opposed to correctives in training. You could very well be punishing a dog for feeling sick.)

Anyway, any time I'm getting less than stellar responses, I go back a few steps. I practice sits inside without distractions hardcore for a few days, with lots of treats, higher value than normal. Then I take it back outside. That always helps.
 

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Thanks! You're right that the dog is probably sensing something I'm not. It's amazing to think that the hallway that appears the same to me every day is different for her or that even though she's looking at me intently, she's completely distracted.
 

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There are two types of training that you can give to your dog
Obedience sessions and behavioral training. Both are important for dogs. Having a dog in your life should provide you with great joy and companionship - not extra burden or an endless source of frustration, as is so often the case.

This is what I personally consider to be crucial, and always strive for when training my own dogs:

To raise a well respected canine citizen. I want happy, involved, outgoing dogs who are valued and trusted members of the community.
To build a genuinely strong owner-dog relationship based on trust, co-operation and well defined roles.
To have confidence in, and control of my dogs in any situation - including around kids and other animals.
To work with my dog's natural drives and instincts, not against them.
Absolutely no cruelty or harsh "old school" dog training techniques. I certainly don't believe you have to "break a dog's spirit" in the training process.
 

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In several places (including here) I've read that when training, one should not give a cue unless there is 1) a high probability of the dog performing and 2) a way to enforce the cue. In theory, I understand completely; in practice, I'm a little confused. How do you know if your dog will perform and, within the framework of an aversive-free training program, what do you do if he doesn't?


It's one of those things where the more you work on it, the more in tune with the dog you are and the better you can predict if the dog will do it or not. If the dog's body has tensed up or he has started huffing at something, chances are pretty low that the dog will do it. Also, if the dog cannot see you, chances are your cue will just be background noise, unless you have specifically worked on out of sight cue recognition.

If you give a cue and the dog is simply not going to do it because he's out of his mind, you just need to take the loss, move on, and be better prepared next time.

If I give a "sit" and the dog is somewhat lackadaisical doing it or gets up from it too early, I will maybe bust out a treat and lure him or body block back into position. Occasionally for me, "enforcing" a cue involves a kind of aversive. Since I try to minimize my usage of aversives, I will take note of that situation and be sure to train it better before I give a cue.

That said, I typically don't care too much about verbal cues, just because of the aforementioned troubles that it takes to maintain them properly. If we are out in public, I mostly care about dog behaving politely, which is accomplished by direct training in the presence of triggers. Sometimes cues can be useful, but for my training methods, it's about desensitization (classical conditioning) more than it is cue maintenance.
 

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It's one of those things where the more you work on it, the more in tune with the dog you are and the better you can predict if the dog will do it or not. If the dog's body has tensed up or he has started huffing at something, chances are pretty low that the dog will do it. Also, if the dog cannot see you, chances are your cue will just be background noise, unless you have specifically worked on out of sight cue recognition.

If you give a cue and the dog is simply not going to do it because he's out of his mind, you just need to take the loss, move on, and be better prepared next time.

If I give a "sit" and the dog is somewhat lackadaisical doing it or gets up from it too early, I will maybe bust out a treat and lure him or body block back into position. Occasionally for me, "enforcing" a cue involves a kind of aversive. Since I try to minimize my usage of aversives, I will take note of that situation and be sure to train it better before I give a cue.

That said, I typically don't care too much about verbal cues, just because of the aforementioned troubles that it takes to maintain them properly. If we are out in public, I mostly care about dog behaving politely, which is accomplished by direct training in the presence of triggers. Sometimes cues can be useful, but for my training methods, it's about desensitization (classical conditioning) more than it is cue maintenance.
Thanks. Guess I just need to remember that even if she's gazing at me with those big, brown eyes, her mind might be chasing birds :) She is actually fairly well-behaved in public, with the exception of barking at a few specific dogs and occasionally getting a little too exuberant in greeting people and dogs.
 
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