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

Continue reading


Weaning Off Treats

Treats have an important place in training.

Not only do they give some extra motivation when you’re teaching a difficult new skill,  but they provide instant gratification, a way of really marking a success as something to celebrate and be happy about.

But once the skill is acquired, treats are no longer motivation.

They are bribes.

Many parents have used candy treats during potty training. But as an adult, if your mother is still popping by your house to give you a brownie whenever you successfully manage to avoid wetting yourself, then I have to take my hat off to you and ask you what your secret is.

(Besides, after giving birth to a child, wetting oneself seems to be less a matter of training and more a matter of physical inability to hold one’s urine.I have wet myself more times in the last three years than I did have since I was a small child. Bright side: Recently my son caught me changing my pants and reassured me, “it’s okay, Mommy. It was a accident. Oh well. That happens.”)

The key is to reduce the rewards slowly and gradually, as the puppy or child gets in the habit of performing the new skill.

So, at first, you give your puppy a big treat and lots of praise whenever it lies down on command.

However, once your puppy can do it reliably every time, it’s time to get rid of those treats. If you don’t, you’re going to turn into one of those people who needs to offer a treat to their full grown dog just to convince it to obey a basic command that it has known since puppyhood.

*head shake*

…You aren’t one of those people, are you?

If so, you really need this post.

How To Wean Your Puppy Toddler Off of Treats

Continue reading

How to Potty Train Your Toddler the Puppy Way – Part 4

Bowel movements are always harder.

…. allow me to rephrase.

Bowel movements are always MORE DIFFICULT.

People usually tell me that their dog has the urination thing pegged but still leaves little brown presents in surprising places.

That’s because they happen less often. A normal dog might defecate only once or twice a day, while a it will happily squat or lift its leg every two feet, long after the bladder has been emptied.

It’s the same with toddlers.

Our son was completely potty trained pee-wise within a couple of days.

(At least, while awake. Nearly a year later, he still tends to pee in his sleep, which is different from dogs, who never pee in their sleep at all unless they have some kind of hormonal imbalance.)

But poops were a different story.

Since they were less frequent, he had a much weaker reward history when it came to doing them on the potty. He also tended to do most of his bowel movements at daycare, where they insisted on pull-ups. (I will explain my hatred of the pull up as a training tool in a different post, as this post isn’t big enough to contain ALL THE HATRED.)

There was also a fairly traumatic incident where he had an accident in his stupid pull up and it went all over the floor and the young helper was horrified and I think they over-corrected him for it.

Over correction is a problem.

When someone terrifies the living bejeebers out of a dog, we call that over-correction. It’s the sign that you’ve gone too far. The most notable symptom is that the dog shows fear of the whole training process, which should never happen.

When your puppy or child has an accident, you want to interrupt it, redirect the the appropriate location, and then encourage a success. You don’t want to make them think that they have just utterly failed at life.

But when my son had a breakdown over a poop accident the next weekend, I suspected that this is exactly what had happened at his daycare.

Your puppy should not cringe with horror after having an accident, and your child should not weep “Waaaah! My pooped! NO POOP DOWN DOWN!” after an accident.

In this situation, simply and calmly redirect to the correct location and look for the slightest sign of success to try and build their confidence of the whole process.

You need to build up a strong motivation to overcome the fear of failure.

So we took a trip to the dollar store. We bought a small zoo of plastic animals of questionable quality. We placed them in a glass vase on a high shelf.

Those were POOPING TOYS.

A bowel movement in the underwear was OKAY, but would not result in a toy. On the other hand, a poop in the potty, well… that would be amazing.

There were no more poop accidents after that.

Even after the toys ran out.

Return to Potty Training Part 3

How To Wean Off Of Treats

Capturing Behaviours

One of the secrets to having a child who does sweet, adorable things (instead of appalling and annoying things) is to really try and capture the behaviours that you love most.

“Capturing” is the word behaviorists use for encouraging natural behaviours. It’s a way of clicking “save” on that adorable thing your puppy/kid just did.

It’s very simple. When you see if, and if you want it to happen again, reward the ever-loving hell out of it.

Want to teach your dog to sneeze? Throw a party and give him lots of treats every time he does it, and soon you’ll see him trying to figure out how to do it on purpose.

Want to teach your dog to take a bow? Wait until he stretches and celebrate. Soon he’ll be bowing every time he sees a treat in your hand.

I taught my son to sign “milk” when he was 9 months old by capturing the behavior.

One day he happened to develop a fascination with opening and closing his hands. He wasn’t trying to sign “milk”, he was just like “look! Fingers! I CAN CONTROL THEM WITH MY MIND!” But it happened to look like the ASL sign for “milk”.

Every time he did it I picked him up and plunked my boob in his mouth.

After this felicitous occurrence happened several time in a row, he took to opening and closing his fist while watching me intently. Sure enough, I immediately offered him a chance to nurse and that was that.

Next thing you knew, he was opening and closing his fist frantically and constantly, and waiting for me to acquiesce to his demand.

cmillman chicken baby

Food has always been a powerful motivator with this kid.

Anyway, “milk” was his first and only sign until he was 14 months old or so. It also because his sign for “mommy” because basically I was just a pair of milk jugs in his eyes.

As his speech improved, that sign faded, but even at two and a half, long after he had forgotten that he had ever used sign language, my son still unconsciously opened and closed his hand when he really wanted something.

Behaviour definitely captured.

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