new dog treats

in case you were wondering, in a pinch, primal sticks jerky works pretty well as a high-value dog treat. we gave them a try tonight in manners class, and maia thought they were pretty exciting. yay!

manners classes are going pretty well, i guess. she is good at some things, not at others, and i imagine that’s to be expected. the funny thing is that sometimes she’s bad at things i think she “already knows,” and she’s good at something i didn’t expect. she always keeps us on our toes. i need to do a better job of practicing in the time between classes, too. my husband is better about it than i am. i only seem to remember to practice when it’s around a mealtime. i’m being a slacker. oh well, i have four more weeks to improve!


  1. The phenomenon of incorrectly predicting which things she “already knows” and which she doesn’t is VERY common, bluedawg! You’re in good company! 🙂 A lot of it has to do with the dog still being in trial-and-error learning mode for longer than humans assume. We see a few correct trials and think “Aha! She knows it!” and then are disappointed when a few incorrect (error) trials follow. The trick is to a) not be surprised by this, because it’s normal, and b) remember to continue to give her feedback about whether her trial was correct or not so you can influence the probability that she’ll choose correctly next time, rather than assuming “OK, she knows it, we can stop reinforcing now…” (A lot of research points to dogs needing about a THOUSAND correctly rewarded successful trials to really-really-for-realz “KNOW” a behavior, to give some perspective on how long the trial-&-error phase lasts. And of course, even then, everyone screws up occasionally. I “know” how to do a lot of things that I still manage to mess up on a semi-regular basis! :p And I know you know that too… I’m just sayin’.)
    Another reason this happens is that dogs are VERY discriminative and VERY sensitive to context. They notice things that we don’t, and it takes them a lot of practice to figure out which of the many (hundreds?) of things that are different between one situation and the next are actually relevant to the behavior at hand and which can safely be ignored. For example, what’s the actual indicator that you would like her to lie down quietly and that you’re willing to reward her if she does– is it the word you’re saying? The hand motion? The body posture? The facial expression? The room you’re in? The time of day? How far away you are? What you’re wearing? Who else is in the room? Whether you have the treat in your hand? Your tone of voice? etc. ad nauseum… She’s noticing ALL of these (even the ones that seem “obviously” irrelevant to us!) and sorting through them by trial and error to see which ones REALLY matter. Some dogs are better at the skill of “Generalizing” than others, and figure out pretty quickly What Humans Usually Mean, but it’s definitely a talent (like musical ability or athletic skill) that individuals can possess in great or small measure and that has to be practiced in order to make it stronger. If you keep this in the front of your mind, you won’t feel as frustrated or disappointed when you’re still in that working-things-out phase, because you’ll see it as Fascinating Dog Brain Stuff instead of a training setback. 🙂 Plus, you can use the discriminative tendencies to your advantage. If you are consistent with your consequences, it’s actually pretty easy to teach dogs things like, You’re allowed on THIS couch, but NOT on the other one. Or to do tricks when you make VERY subtle cues (raised eyebrow, twitched finger) so they seem like Psychic Circus Dogs.
    Oh, back to the “thousand successful trials” thing– What you’re ideally aiming for is that good manners are such a habit for the dog that she doesn’t even have to waste any mental energy thinking about what to do, she just does it. Autopilot. Humans are on autopilot a lot of the time, too, of course. An example I like to give my puppy class is when the power goes out, so you go to the closet to get the flashlights, but the closet is dark, so you try to turn on the light. You weren’t thinking about it, and of course if you did stop to think about it you’d know that the lights won’t come on because that’s why you were there in the first place. But the behavior “turn on lights” has been succesfully rewarded thousands of times, to the point that you don’t even need conscious feedback from your brain anymore to carry it out. When in that situation – dark, need to see – you reach out and flip the switch/pull the chain, because That’s Just What You Do. If your manners training is successful, then by the end of it your dog will sit to meet people (etc) because she’s done it SOOO many times that That’s Just What She Does. And of course, if bad habits are practiced a thousand times then they’ll also be very hard to break, because she’ll be (for example) jumping up on you or barking or whatever literally before she even realizes it or can stop herself (just like you with the lightswitch) because that’s just become What She Does in that situation. That’s why habits are hard to break!
    ANYWAY… I’m babbling now, and probably saying stuff you already know. I shoulda just said: HI, and hope you’re having fun in class with Maia! Someday you must bring her to Chicago or we must come visit you again; I bet we could have fun doing a little clicker session. 🙂 Also, I see that you are listening to Blind — we’re Sundays Buddies! I’ve recently downloaded Reading, Writing, & Arithmetic and have been experiencing random college memories associated with tracks I haven’t heard in ages. ❤ -herbi

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