Karen Pryor is the CEO of Karen Pryor Clickertraining and Karen Pyror Academy.
Karen is an active, leading spokesperson and teacher for effective force-free training across the globe. Her work with dolphins in the 1960′s revolutionized animal training by pioneering and popularizing force-free training methods based on operant conditioning and the conditioned reinforcer.
Karen’s 40-year career working with and educating scientists, professional trainers, and pet owners has changed the lives of countless animals and their caretakers in zoos, oceanariums, and pet-owning households.
She is the author of six books, including Don’t Shoot the Dog!, the “bible” of training with positive reinforcement. Her most recent book, Reaching the Animal Mind, is about how to bring out the undiscovered creativity, intelligence, and personality of the animals in our lives. Karen lives outside Boston, Massachusetts.
Q & A with Karen Pryor
1) When bringing home a dog like Cassidy (from rescue), where prior experiences may have impacted on the canine’s ability to trust people, what are some ways in which an adoptive family can build a positive, cooperative relationship with their pet right from the start?
Starting with some very simple clicker training is a way of giving the dog some confidence that the power is in her hands. Very often shelter dogs have never been able to influence their own environment. They’re just at the mercy of whatever happens to them and they just react spontaneously to whatever happens, which usually means they either get very excited or they get frightened.
[Try] a little bit of targeting. So, when she sees the wooden spoon she knows that if she touches it with her nose she gets a click and a treat. If she follows it she gets more clicks and treats and all of a sudden she’s got something that she can do that pays off for her. Then you don’t have to touch her. You don’t even have ask for eye contact. But you can already get the dog having something in her world that works for her.
I think the other thing that people miss out on is that when you bring a dog home, make sure it has a quiet place that it can retreat to and sleep in. Even if it’s a crate right by your bed, the dog [should have a place to] get some down time. Because it’s exhausting for them, being in a new environment.
2) In a multi-pet home, where one of the dogs has demonstrated effects of poisoned cues, how can a family ensure that their new pet doesn’t learn this?
If [a dog] gets clicked for something then they can learn the cue for that thing, but watching other dogs get a cue and respond or not respond, they don’t learn anything from that. They might pick up environmental cues from another dog, like when the doorbell rings they all go running for the door. They can certainly learn when to bark from another dog. I like having an older dog when I have a puppy come into the house, because they can learn household manners from the older dog. While they learn what the customs are in their new society, they won’t learn much about the cues.
3) Do you think it would be better in terms of training to teach Cassidy individually, rather than trying to train Cassidy and Ripple together.
If you want to teach the dog something new, that it needs to understand, it’s best to do it with one dog by itself. If all the dogs are going to learn the very same behavior, for example sitting in the kitchen waiting for their supper, you can teach them that as a group. Every body that is sitting gets a click and a treat and every body who not sitting missed out on the treat. Pretty soon they’ll pick it up.
But many people struggle with having a clicker session with one dog and the other dog is dying to be the one that gets clicked. There are a number of ways to handle that. One is to physically separate the dogs. Take each one in the bathroom, one at a time, for thirty seconds. Then send one out and bring the other one in. They’ll figure out pretty soon that, “If I wait, my turn is coming.”
If the dogs are calm you can also work with one and have the other one lie down and occasionally after you click the other dog gets tossed a treat. If she has to get up to get the treat, it’s all the better. You can say “down,” and then you can say, “stay,” and go back to working with the other dog.
4) Cassidy has demonstrated toy aggression, how do we maintain positive training practices while dealing with snarling and snapping? Should we take the toy away when she bears her teeth at Ripple?
Guarding possessions is something we often see in shelter dogs, and because people handle it slightly wrong, it can escalate at home. If [Cassidy is] guarding her toys and you take it away, what does that tell her? [That] she’d better start guarding her toys from you.That’s why we’re concerned about seeing any kind of food guarding and so forth. Really, the biggest problems in the dog world right now are that first time owners, people never having had dogs before, start out with dogs from the shelter who come with issues already. So, they’re stuck with a dog that’s got all kinds of problems and they don’t [have experience.]But there are some very good protocols for dealing with [toy aggression.] I would call the other dog, so that it’s giving you the behavior of coming away from Cassidy, then click and treat and give that dog something to chew. They always want what the other dog has. Whichever dog is dominant, and that can change back and forth too, [may try to] buffalo the other dog out of a toy, which can lead to trouble. So one thing you can do is to have a supply of toys available and redirect the dogs before the behavior starts.
For dog training tips on toy guarding and other ares related to caring for and training your pet pleasevisit Karen’s library at http://www.clickertraining.com/library?source=kpctnavbar
This coming Sunday play Guess the Breed for a chance to win Karen’s new book, Reaching the Animal Mind.