Category Archives: dogs

Why Treat Training Is Not Bribing

Every once in a while I get pushback from someone who doesn’t want to do treat training for their dog.  They feel that is bribing the dog and somehow, miraculously no doubt, the dog should be thankful that it has a nice home, read all the schizophrenic signals an owner can produce and still find and save Timmy who fell down a well…all without any positive reinforcement whatsoever.  I always ask them if they would work for free.  Usually the answer is “No but that is different.”

Why is it different?  You are asking your dog to perform a job albeit a job to become a “good” dog.  Your dog is learning to do the jobs you want him to do like sit or lie down or not jump on people when he is excited and meeting new ones.  In the dog training world you will hear your trainer ask you what motivates your dog?  For some dogs, they could care less about treats but are driven by toys or the freedom of running in the yard or being able to sniff while taking a long walk with their owner.

Today, though, let’s talk about treats and what are high value treats, lower value treats, when to use and when to pass on them.  I’ll give you some examples as to what we do at Kritter Keepers Club and how we work with our canine students and human students.  And, last but not least, I’ll describe how we eventually move the cues from being treated each successful time to a once in a while treat.IMG_1809

When we start a new class, we always do a “taste test” with the participating dogs to see which treats have the highest value for them.  We set out a variety of treats we use for training – from hotdogs to cheese to baby carrots to cheerios and we allow the dog to choose and eat their favorites.  It gives an owner an idea of which treats their dog will eat (or not eat), which treat their dog wants the most and which treat is just ok for them.

When teaching new behaviors to a dog, it is important to reward them with the highest value treats.  As much as your dog loves you and wants to do stuff for you, learning which stuff you want them to do is another thing!  Using high-value treats helps your pup learn quickly and consistently that these are the behaviors you want.  At the end of the day, a dog doesn’t recognize the emotional tie of performing a behavior because he loves you and wants to please you.  In my opinion, Lassie and other highly trained celebrity dogs really did a number on us human companions!

According to Jean Donaldson, author of The Culture Clash and leader of the Academy for Dog Trainers, “Dogs do what works.”  Think of it this way, you go to your job and at the end of the pay period you expect a paycheck.  When you are trying to get your dog to learn it is doing work so using positive treat training is like giving them a paycheck.  If they understand that when they perform the behavior they have a high probability of getting great treats, well, they will perform those behaviors more.  Just like you keep showing up to that job because, well, the paycheck.

So, dog wants cheese…needs cheese.  You keep giving them cheese when you mark a behavior with a click or a word (we use YES!) and then they get cheese.  So now the dog’s brain starts clicking…if I do something and I hear the word “Yes!” then I will get cheese?  Heck yea!  Cheese!

So what is the likelihood that your dog will continue to offer the new behavior?  I would say pretty good because it is a high value treat that he really wants.  Now that he is associating this behavior with a great treat you can add different nuances like duration, distraction and distance.  To make sure your dog generalizes the behavior have others in your family ask him to do it.  Ask him to perform in all rooms of the home and indoor and outdoor.  The high-value treat is rewarded to him each and every time he completes the ask.

Once your dog has developed the “muscle memory” of the cue then you can start looking at putting him on a reward schedule.  I like to have my students train with their dogs in sets of five asks with rapid reward deployment once the cue has been performed.  So instead of rewarding on all five asks, start rewarding on the 1st, 3rd and 5th ask.  Then move to the 1st and 3rd and then finally use a random schedule for rewarding and once in a while give your dog a “jackpot.”

Ever wonder why people will sit an a slot machine and feed it quarter after quarter after quarter.  It might take $50 of quarters and then suddenly the slot machine producing a winning combination.  The winnings could only be $15 or $20 but it is enough to keep the slot player engaged with the potential of hitting it big.  The same concept is applicable to treat training your dog.  As long as there is potential that a treat may be rewarded, your dog will perform the ask.

Think of treats as a currency for your dog to do business with you.  It’s not bribing to pay him for work well done!

KRITTER KEEPERS CLUB BRINGS FITNESS, FUN AND EXPERT CARE TO COBB CANINES

My dreams coming true!!!

Kritter Keepers Pet Services

small KKC logo–West Cobb training, boarding and doggy daycare facility opens Sept. 18.

MARIETTA, GA. (9/11/17) – Pooches and pups in West Cobb are getting a doggy “sports complex” designed to bring out their strengths—and keep their tails wagging.

Kritter Keepers Club, which opens Sept. 18 at 2380 Powder Springs Rd., puts a canine-centric twist on training, boarding and doggy daycare, says owner and head trainer Kasey Collins Litt, a Certified Professional Dog Trainer—Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA) and graduate of the nationally renowned CATCH Canine Trainers Academy in Little Falls, N.J.

“At Kritter Keepers Club, we want dogs to be dogs and to develop the skills they were bred for,” Litt said. “That’s why we’re so focused on doggie sports like agility, nose work, Flyball, Treiball, lure racing and other activities that dogs absolutely love.”

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Located on more than an acre of land, the 6,200-square-foot facility, conveniently located close to downtown Marietta and…

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Match Game – Adopting the Right Dog Part 2 — Adjustments and Accommodations

Sometimes, there is that moment when your eyes lock onto an adoptable dog’s eyes and there is an instant bond just like in the movies but that is a rare occurrence.  For a majority of the animals in a shelter you are going to see a sometimes shut down, scared or anxious dog.  It’s loud, often smelly and, did I mention, loud in shelters.Woman Rubbing Noses with Puppy

Then there is the cuteness syndrome…there are reasons we ooh and ahh when we see a cute animal or human baby.  When we see those cute little faces, our brains are washed in a wave of dopamine which is the same chemical reaction we have when we fall in love, have sex or use drugs.  So, the cuter the dog, the more our brain tells us we need that animal. Big eyes, round, bulbous foreheads, wrinkles of skin…all these trigger this thing in our brains that makes us feel good and want to protect these “babies.” Some of the cutest dogs I’ve known have been extremely fear aggressive and are not a good match for anyone but the most experienced dog handlers and guardians.

So, as hard as it might be, we need to fight off the dopamine and cuteness factor when choosing the right right dog for the family.  When you find the right dog for you, I guarantee he will be the cutest looking after a while.  All human babies, to me, look like Winston Churchill with their big bald heads and rolls of fat but human instinct of the moms always say their baby is the cutest.

One of my friends, Laurie, went out to shelters one weekend looking for a Yorkie or Silkie Terrier or something that was scruffy and fluffy.  She came home with a large, red, short-haired dog that looked like a Vizsla or Rhodesian Ridgeback mix. and has since adopted three more largish, red dogs!  The point is that looks are really only a small part of that bond you will establish with the dog in your family.

This is the advice I give people who are visiting a shelter to choose their next family members:

  1. Look at less subjective things about your new family member rather then how cute he is.
    1. Energy level – I always use the example of a border collie who is adopted by a family of couch potatoes.  Neither dog nor humans will be happy in the situation.  The dog wants to work and herd whatever it can.  The people want to lie on the couch and watch sports or movies…not participate in them!
    2. Sociability – if you are looking for a furry companion that loves all people and dogs and can join your family on outings and vacations then you probably don’t want the dog cowering at the back of the kennel who is terrified of all around. But, please, keep in mind, that shelters often are scary and a dog is not himself there.
    3. History with Children – if you have kids or grandkids then you want a dog who can be around them and interact with children.  Some dogs are so frightened by children that they shut down so you want to make sure your new dog is comfortable and unphased by the lively antics of a kid!
  2. Ask if the rescue or shelter has a “Foster to Adopt” program.  This allows you to see how the dog lives in your environment and allows the dog to show you their true selves.  But there is generally about a two-week “honeymoon” period when bringing home a new dog.  This first two weeks is where everyone is on their best behavior and not quite accustomed to their new situation.  Humans aren’t habituated to their new family member and the dog is getting adjusted to this new life.  As an adoption counselor I want to make sure my adoptions stick so if there are any variables in the situation like other pets, disabled individuals in the home, etc. then I suggest we try a Foster to Adopt first.  One couple came to adoptions and fell in love with a lovely pitbull mix we had available for adoption.  They let me know that the husband had done several stints in Iraq with the Army and is now suffering from PTSD.  We knew that the bond was already starting to form with him and this young girl pup but we all wanted to make sure that the daily stress of keeping a dog wasn’t going to make the husband’s PTSD worse.  I’m happy to say it was a match made in heaven and they are all living happily ever after.
  3. If you can take a few days off when you get your new dog everyone will be happier! There are a few days needed for adjustment period for both you and your new dog. You can ease that adjustment by taking a few days off to acclimate your new best friend to your house and your rules.  We see a lot of new puppies in the spring/summer time and that’s a great time for adoptions during vacations!

Bringing a new family member into your home is not something that should be a spur of the moment event.  You want the best family member you can get and your dog wants the best family he can get!  Do your homework and you’ll soon have a great new member of your family.

Need advice on training, dog selection, behavior or dog sports?  Hit me up and maybe your question will be my next blog!  –the Kritter Keeper

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Match Game – Adopting the Right Dog Part 1 – Knowing Your Family’s Needs

Recently a good friend of mine wanted to pull the plug and adopt a dog for the family. The twin boys have been asking for a dog as long as I could remember and Dad, my friend, was pretty enamored with the idea too!  Since he’s a writer, he tends to research everything so I was thrilled when they came to me to ask the best way to match up a dog to his family.

As an adoption counselor for Mostly Mutts Pet Adoption and Rescue in Kennesaw GA, I see a lot of families fall in love with a dog that just doesn’t suit their family based on how the dog looks or acts at an adoption event.  I gave Joel some questions to think about before he went to Mostly Mutts to look at available dogs.

  1. Puppy or Adult?
    1. A puppy is a mixed bag.  It is a lot of work and not always for the new dog owner but a family that has done a lot of research on bringing up a new dog and has the time and energy to devote to bringing up a new canine citizen of the world could have an awesome experience raising a puppy.
    2. An adult dog may already be house trained, may already be obedience trained and may already have moved out of his destructive phase!
  2. Adopt or Shop?
    1.  Your local shelter will have a plethora of choices.  My rescue pulls animals from local, county-run, kill shelters.  We have a huge number of foster families as well as space at the shelter for the dogs but when you have a dog that has been fostered, we can provide more detailed information on what training needs, health needs, or husbandry needs the dog has.
    2. If you are adamant about a specific breed, find a good breeder.  Visit the AKC site for that specific breed and find a breeder recognized by them.  Or, if you really would like to rescue, contact a breed-specific rescue organization.  There are lots of circumstances surrounding why a dog is homeless and they don’t mean the dog is broken!
  3. What is the energy level of your family?  To answer this question, think about your calendar and there is a Saturday that is totally open — no commitments, no plans, no family visiting. What do you and your family do with a whole day?
    1. Movie Day!!!! Rent a bunch of movies, make popcorn, and marathon the media.
    2. Waterfall Hike — find the nearest hiking trail that has a waterfall and get the family ready for an outing.
    3. Everyone on their own – you are in your reading nook catching up on that novel, the kids are playing in the back yard, and your spouse is gardening.
  4.  What is the activity level of your family?
    1. Kids are involved in every activity under the sun
    2. One or more adults work long hours
    3. Never home
    4. Good mix of family time at home and activities out
  5. What size dog can you see in your home?
    1. Extra large like a Great Dane
    2. Large like a German Shepherd Dog
    3. Medium like a Beagle or hound dog

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      Private is a boxer-mix available for adoption through www.mostlymutts.org

    4. small like a Chihuahua or aYorkie
  6. What degree of grooming?
    1. Weekly Baths, brushing every day
    2. Bath, what bath?
    3. Monthly visit to the groomer to keep that puppy cut fresh
  7. What activities do you plan to do with your new dog?
    1. Daily walks around the neighborhood — I need an exercise buddy!
    2. Take him everywhere with us, ball park, vacations, etc.
    3. Snuggling on the couch
    4. I’ve got a map of all the great hiking areas in the state I want to go to with him

Knowing the answers of these questions before you even start the physical search for your dog can help you narrow down your choices.