By Jenny Higgins

Jenny Higgins earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology at the University of Florida. During her undergrad, she worked in the Canine Cognition and Behavior Lab and enjoyed
the projects on various dog behavior topics, including play versus aggression, and thunder phobia. After graduating, Jenny went on to attain two certifications in behavior consultation and training. Jenny loves training tricks, but her passion is with behavior modification. So, she continued with her education and completed a 2-year program with the DogNostics Career Center to earn a diploma in canine behavior consulting. Currently, Jenny runs her own business called PUPS Gainesville, LLC and works with clients in group obedience classes in a training center near downtown Gainesville, or she works with clients in their homes.

What is a positive treat-approach and how do you use it to train a dog?

Reward-based training is using something the dog finds valuable in order to motivate and reward good behavior. Training with treats is very common because we know that most dogs find food valuable. Other rewards can include play, enthusiasm, getting a belly rub, chasing their person around the house and endless others! We use the treats, or other rewards, as positive reinforcement for a behavior the dog just performed. If Fido gets a cookie when he offers eye contact at the park, Fido is going to realize that focusing or checking-in with you is very valuable.

Is there a restriction on age to start training my dog or puppy? Is there an age where they are considered “too old” for training?

Training can never start too early. Confidence building, impulse control, and proximity are all concepts that should be started as early as possible to help build the optimistic, well-mannered adult dog that likes to be around us and vice-versa! Even if you are waiting for a certain age to attend a group class with your dog, home-training should start ASAP. And if you have ever heard, “An old dog cannot learn new tricks.” That’s a myth! Even if there are certain habits in place, new behaviors can be taught regardless of age.

Does using food to train my dog mean that they will only obey if they see a treat?

No, if rewards are used appropriately, then the dog will not become dependent on seeing, smelling, or hearing any treats or toys to perform the behavior. I teach three stages of food training for a reinforcement schedule, and by stage two the dog is not aware if a reward is present.

What shot records should I have for my dog or puppy to participate?

Several diseases do run in families. If your puppy is coming to a group class, I recommend having the first series of puppy vaccinations: DHPP (distemper, adenovirus, parain uenza, and parvovirus) and Bordetella. In addition, I would suggest the puppy has been in the home for at least two weeks before going to a class.

How long is training and what will my dog know by the end of it?

Group classes run an hour, whereas private sessions can last anywhere from an hour and a half to two hours. The most important thing is what you, the owner, will know by the end of the lesson. It is my job to teach the owner how to live with their dog in a way that both parties are enjoying each other’s company and being safe. I will teach management and prevention strategies as well as go over how to communicate with your dog and teach goal behaviors. Typically, owners will be equipped with preventative solutions and about two to three new homework exercises per lesson.

How do pet training and psychology correlate?

There are many principles of psychology that pertain to teaching your pet dog–or cat, chicken, sh, etc.! Some big topics include the four quadrants of behavior, reinforcement schedules, classical conditioning, respondent conditioning, and motivation. It is important for anyone working with your pet to understand which quadrants of behavior are safe and humane to apply to your pet as well as how to maintain good behavior through motivation and reinforcement schedules.

Will my dog continue their behavioral skills after the training is complete?

Training should not be considered a short-term project, but rather a system of communication that we reinforce throughout the dog’s life. Also, the age of the dog plays a big factor here. A 5-month-old dog can be taught to sit, lay down, come when called, but that dog’s training needs to be maintained and challenged throughout adolescence, otherwise they can backtrack and/or explore other options (such as NOT coming back when called) and find those to be more rewarding instead of the behaviors we taught as a puppy. To put it into perspective most working dogs will not go into service until after two to two and a half years of age and training. After these two to three years of training, behaviors are maintained by occasionally being reinforced (this is called an intermittent schedule).

What are the first things my pet will learn in training?

Premack’s principle! They will learn that certain less desirable behaviors equal a more desirable outcome. Human example: “Eat your veggies, get dessert!” When first starting a training exercise with food, toys, or praise, the dog should learn that calm composure is what results in getting those pieces of food or the toy thrown for them. This would be the basic of impulse control.

My dog does not behave when we go out on walks. Is there a way to teach her how to walk?

There are several games and exercises to work on for loose-leash walking. Some games involve disengaging from distractions and some focus on teaching your dog how valuable it is to walk close to you. It can also be very helpful to teach your dog that there is a cue to “go sniff” and explore around and there is a cue to “let’s go” and walk with you; that way your dog has a distinction between some doggy free time and walking right next to you.