Street Training: Because, You Know… SAFETY.

Roads are DANGEROUS, yo.

Over a million dogs are killed by cars in the U.S. each year, and cars are also one of the leading causes of death in children, with thousands being struck each year.

That’s why I always, always recommend street training your children and puppies.

I’m always surprised by how many people people DON’T street train.

Freedom is beautiful... except where it could end with a SPLAT

Freedom is beautiful… except where it could end with a SPLAT

Oh, I’m pretty sure every sane parent tells their kid not to run into the road, but I don’t think the rules are consistent, because they still seem to do it.

I see both dogs and small children joyously straying into the road on walks, while owners/parents panic (or don’t, which seems even stranger to me).

It’s worth the effort, trust me.

How To Street Train Your Puppy Toddler

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Eliminating Disobedience

In my previous post, I talked about discovering your puppy’s/toddler’s motivations.

Once you know their motivations, you need to eliminate other ways of getting what they want.

There’s no point in insisting that they jump through hoops if they are given other alternatives.

After all, no puppy is going to sit for a cookie if she can just snatch one off the table instead.

Similarly, a toddler will not wait in his chair for a snack if he can yank open the fridge and grab it himself.

Operant conditioning only works if your way is the only way for him/her to get what he/she wants.

If you want to train a rat to press a lever, for example, then you make it that the lever MUST be pressed in order for the rat to get a drop of sugar water. If the sugar water is just sitting there in a bowl, the rat is never going to press that lever.

So, once you have set up an if-you-want-that-then-you-must-do-this rule, you need to make sure that no other avenues are left open.

Put the dog treats out of reach, or put the puppy on a leash so that she physically cannot get to them. Put a child lock on the fridge (a good idea in any case) or buckle your toddler into his high chair.

Say your puppy wants freedom at the park, and you call him over to you. If he doesn’t turn right around and come back to you, make sure he loses that freedom (attaching a long line is a good way to go about this, that way you can just step on the line and reel the dog in).

If he does come back, praise him and turn him loose again.

Say your toddler wants to run amok at the mall, and you tell her to hold your hand. If she doesn’t allow you to take her hand, chase her down and pick her up (don’t tell me you can’t outrun someone whose legs are a third the length of yours, unless you are in a wheelchair, in which case, a long line might be a good idea).

If she wants to walk in the mall, she can do it holding your hand, or she doesn’t get to walk at all.

If a dog learns that he can just ignore you when you call, of course he won’t come to you. If a toddler learns that she can just run away giggling and have a great time when you insist she hold your hand, of course she’s never going to hold your hand.

Remember, the rule always has to be if-you-want-that-then-you-must-do-this.

If they don’t, they lose their chance to get what they want.

Win-win, or lose-lose.

Those have to be the options.

The Equation For Mutual Happiness

My puppy/toddler training originates almost entirely from the principles of operant conditioning. But you don’t need to worry about learning all that, because it can get really dense.

(For example, in university, I once had to do a literature review about developing an equation for what a rat will do when faced with a certain complicated scenario. The whole argument comes down to a tiny difference in the coefficients of the equation, and the behaviorists on either side of the argument won’t speak to each other at conferences.

People are nuts.)

That aside,  all you need to know is that the entirety of ‘operant conditioning’ can be condensed into…

Two Simple Rules

  • If doing something gets us what we want, we probably will do it again.
  • If something doesn’t get us what we want, we probably won’t do it again.

You can use this to your advantage by creating two baisc household rules:

  • If you do what I want, good things happen.
  • If you don’t do what I want, nothing good happens.

Do you see your dog sitting? Give him a treat. Did your child remember to say please? Tell her yes, she can have an extra big glass of milk because she asked so nicely!

The best thing about this kind of behavior modification is that it is win-win.

You don’t have to feel bad that you are manipulating your dog/child. If you get what YOU want, they get what THEY want.

That’s just teamwork.

Now, let’s look at the second rule. Your dog won’t bring the ball close enough? Then you don’t throw it again. Your child won’t go upstairs without a fuss? Then no bed time story. This isn’t being mean. This is teaching basic consequences.

Have you ever run into one of those people who doesn’t seem to understand that their actions have consequences? If you have ever worked in customer service, I am SURE you have. As a dog trainer, I can tell you that MOST of the dogs I get called to see never learned this simple lesson, and that turns them into jerks.

Life has consequences. If you don’t do your job, you get fired. If you don’t wipe your counters, you get ants. If you don’t go upstairs in a timely manner, there’s no time for bed time stories.

That’s life, and it’s better to learn it at age 2 than to learn it at age 30.

Because we DO learn.

Dogs learn fast that if they don’t drop that toy when told to do so, that the toy will be taken away. But if they DO drop the toy, they’ll get a treat and the toy will get thrown again.

Soon they’re practically chucking the toy in your direction.

Toddlers learn fast that if they scramble upstairs fast, they get an extra story, but if they fuss and drag their feet, they get no stories at all. Soon they’re racing you upstairs at bed time.

And then everyone’s happy.

Note! Do not confuse this with bribery!

Many people end up using bribes to make their dog or child behave. Proper training does not require bribes. Instead, make use of natural consequences, both good and bad.

Bribery introduces a prospective reward as a sort of dangling carrot to convince the other person to behave. The two household rules I mention above simply provide positive or negative consequences for behaving/misbehaving.

“If you sit still, I will give you a cookie after dinner” is bribery.

“You must sit still if you want to eat your dinner. If you don’t sit still, we will have to leave the restaurant and you will be hungry,” is not.

What I want = What you want

What I don’t want = what you don’t want