Dr. Ian Dunbar Seminar! Science-Based Dog Training (with Feeling)

I recently attended Dr. Ian Dunbar’s Science-Based Dog Training Seminar that he held here in Madison and I have to admit that I thoroughly enjoyed it. Dr Dunbar is a very entertaining speaker and an obviously knowledgeable expert in the field. Not that I didn’t already think of him as an amazingly knowledgeable expert – he basically just confirmed it ten-fold. AND! He clarified several aspects of training that I’d read differently in different places so that I really understand exactly which source was right.

For example, I’ve read in some places that you should give a verbal cue and a hand signal at the same time or something like that. The key is to make sure you always give the verbal cue FIRST, pause, then hand signal. Why? Because it makes it so that your dog can anticipate the hand signal based on the verbal cue. It’s all about the anticipation. The faster they anticipate, the faster they are at whatever you’re trying to teach.

The other thing I was super impressed with – though it sounds so basic when I think about it – is the steps: 1. Request 2. Lure 3. Response 4. Reward.

Pretty basic, right? Not always.
The Request is almost always the cue: Sit, Down, Speak, etc.

The Response is what the dog does. Moves his bum til it hits the ground, barks, etc.

The Reward can be a number of different things – primary reinforcers like liver treats or play or secondary reinforcers like verbal praise or kibble or whatever you’ve trained to be a secondary reinforcer.

The Lure is the hard part. The Lure can be anything. Normally, when I think of the Lure, I think of holding a treat in my hand, sticking it under the dog’s nose and trying to have them magnet their nose to my hand as I try to get them to go into a Sit. That’s one type of Lure. I think the word “Trigger” can also be used here. Because a Lure can also be: ringing the doorbell to incite excitement and barking for teaching Speak or JazzUp. Or, playing Tug to get a dog to growl on cue. Sticking something SUPER SMELLY under their nose to get them to stop barking and smell it for the Quiet/Shush command. Etc. A “Lure” can be any number of things that gets your dog to do what you’re asking without you physically prompting/forcing them to do it.

Pushing on your dog’s hind quarters to get him to Sit is not a Lure. It’s a crutch. I also believe that leashes, halties/gentle leaders, prong collars, choke collars, electric collars, harnesses and really anything else that you can use to physically prompt – or rather, force – your dog to do something can be (not necessarily “IS”) a crutch. What I mean by that is, you can learn to rely on any tool to get your dog to do something, but you do not truly have control until you can get him to do it without the use of the tool. Because, really, that’s all it is: a tool. Using a tool can be a good thing! A great thing even! But you do not want to end up ultimately relying on the tool.

I absolutely use a leash on my dog in public – it’s the law. But I want to have off leash control as well – and in order to have off leash control, I need to also train my dog off-leash.

Let’s use the Gentle Leader as an example. I think Gentle Leaders are fantastic tools – I really do! They are gentle and they give you an extraordinary amount of control when walking a your dog – especially if he’s ridiculous on leash. My recommendation, though, is that when training your dog, you train him without the Gentle Leader. Why? Well, here’s what’ll happen if you use the GL every time you work with your dog: You’ll end up with a dog that works fantastically while on a GL – but the rest of the time, he’ll probably be just as nuts as he was before. If you specifically take the time to train without the GL on – that is: you have very specifically set aside times for training walks where he does NOT wear the GL, but still use the GL when you’re not able to take the time to specifically train, you’ll have a dog that is consistently reinforced ALL the time – both by you and GL so that he’s as well behaved off the GL as he is on it. The GL just makes it so that you can be extremely consistent when you don’t have the ability to specifically train your dog. You still need to take the time to train your dog without the GL on.

And… that was a tangent.

Anyway – Dr. Ian Dunbar – AWESOME. I was so impressed. Other things!
On Friday of the Seminar, he talked about puppies and puppy class. And I learned a bunch. At least, I think I did. I am STOKED to try out some of his ideas on a puppy class. There was a ton of emphasis on keeping the class as off-leash as possible. The theory being that PLAY is the ultimate reward – which, of course, it is! Especially for a puppy. So you keep the class off leash (this is for a puppy socialization class where they’re spending almost the whole time playing anyway) and every 15-30 seconds you interrupt them, grab a puppy THAT’S NOT YOURS and calm him down. AWESOME!!! Why? Cause this exposes puppies to strangers constantly grabbing their collars, allows them to realize that just because their collar is getting grabbed, the fun doesn’t end, and that calming down is good because it means there’s more play to come! It also keeps the pups from getting too rambunctious in a single play session. Having constant play allows you to use it as a reward more, too. Otherwise puppies learn that training interrupts play and that’s no fun. I bought the Puppy Class Redux video – so I’ll watch that soon and figure it out a little better, I’m sure.

I did, however, take some issue with some stuff. For example. Dr. Dunbar was promoting the repetition of commands. His examples I completely agree with and I’m sure they work quite well – for dog trainers. For your average Joe who just wants Fido to Sit, it’s not necessarily going to work quite as well. Cause Average Joe isn’t going to follow through.

Here’s the scenario. You want Fido to sit when you’re 100 yards away – you want him to Sit immediately and you want him to stay right there until given another command. You say Sit and he looks at you and starts trotting towards you. Dr. Dunbar suggests that if he doesn’t Sit right away, give your hand signal. Still no go? Start running toward him repeating first your verbal command and then the hand signal in succession until he does it. Go up to him, say thank you, step back and have him repeat the Sit right in front of you. If he couldn’t do it on the first command, he has to repeat the action. Let him go back to doing whatever, go to wherever you were and try it again “Fido, Sit.” This time, he’ll anticipate your going a bit nuts at him and Sit sooner. It’s about the Anticipation. This, I agree, would probably work excellently with a dog if you are very consistent while training. I believe that a lot of people would be as prone as I am to be like “Oh you’re not gonna sit? Ugh. Fine. Whatever” and give up. Which completely undermines the command. You have to follow up if you’re going to repeat the command. ESPECIALLY if you’re going to repeat the command with any urgency in your voice. Urgency tends to mean it’s an emergency, just DO IT. If you don’t follow up when your voice makes it sound like there’s an emergency, then they’re not going to comply when there really IS an emergency.

Which leads me to to idea of Freeway Recalls. That is: practicing using a SUPER LOUD URGENT voice for your recall – and having it mean amazing things are in store. Because if your dog is running for the Freeway, chances are you’re going to be using the SUPER LOUD, URGENT, SCARED TO DEATH voice and not the happy, “Fido, Come!” voice that we practice in class. Practice it. It’ll likely save your dog’s life if they understand that scared/loud voice means better treats and not just that bad things might happen.

So, yeah! Those were my main takeaways from the seminar. I’ll likely be writing up all my notes soon. *I hope.*

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