How often have you struggled with trying to get your Husky to stop what he was doing? Whether it is unwanted digging, squabbling or rough housing with your other dog, or trying to stop him from getting ready to launch his best ninja moves onto some poor innocent passer by dog. You can try verbally calling your dog’s name to get his attention.
You can try telling him NO. You can even try struggling physically with him trying to get him to break his focus but none of these things seems to work very well. In keeping with my pledge to help all Snow Dogs, today I am going to share with you a technique for redirecting behaviour that even works on our Snow Dogs. I call this method Squeak and Treat.
How Squeak and Treat Was Born
When Clicker Training first arrived onto the training scene many trainers instantly embraced the idea of using a gentle humane way to positively train dogs. I too love the idea of positive force free dog training but I quickly noticed that for “some” dogs (ahem, I am mostly referring to Snow Dogs here) there was gap between being able to mark the behaviour with a click and actually getting them to perform the darned behaviour in the first place. I could not “mark” the behaviour with a click if they never actually “did” the behaviour. I needed a pre-clicker training tool for my “special” Huskies.
I’m not sure if Huskies having the attention span of a goldfish qualifies as a special need. If it doesn’t qualify, it should. Face it, when it comes to our Snow Dogs, trying to get them to stay focused and on task is like trying to get a young child that is hopped up on sugar and Red Dye # 40 to give you sustained and full attention.
The Secret Weapon
The biggest impediment to getting the Huskies to do a cued behaviour was trying to break their attention away from whatever fascinating new object was holding their gaze captive in any given moment. This can seem like a practically insurmountable task – unless you have this secret weapon that so many Huskies find irresistible. What is this secret weapon you may ask?
It is the little plastic pillow squeaker removed from an otherwise destroyed stuffed dog toy and some High Value Treats! Need truly is the mother of all invention. This little plastic squeaker can redirect your Husky’s attention from what it was doing onto you.
Surely Redirecting Attention Is Not This Simple?
Actually, it can be this simple. You just need the right motivation to use with your dog. This technique, when used correctly, consistently, in combination with some counter conditioning, can redirect many unwanted behaviours. Imagine how lovely it would be to simply squeak and the dogs stop what they are doing and come running to you for a treat. This works quickly and effectively for most dogs. It can work if you have just one dog but you can also work with multiple dogs. I do use this all the time with my Herd.
Does This Work For All Dogs?
Nothing works 100% when it comes to animals. One size seldom fits all. In my direct experience, I can confidently state that this technique works for 8 out of 10 dogs and you can have a dog reliably responding to this technique in under 10 minutes. It really is that fast and easy. Honest.
At the dog park I have given away dozens and dozens of pillow squeakers to people over the last few years. After a quick demonstration of how to use it they are able to start using it on their dog right away. Now I chuckle when I hear squeakers being used at the dog park because I know that these people are using Squeak and Treat because I showed them the principles of this concept.
Why Does This Technique Not Work For All Dogs?
Not all training techniques work all the time because there are too many variables from dog to dog and from owner to owner that can cause the outcome to differ.
As this technique relies on food as the reward, if your dog is not food motivated, then this will not yield the desired behavioural outcome. If your dog is not food motivated, you can tailor this method to work for your dog and to support his unique needs.
The “reward” does not have to be food. It can be playing with a special toy or attention or affection. For the reward, you can use whatever holds the greatest value for your dog.
Follow These Conditions:
- You must be working with your dog’s “currency”. The treat (or reward) that you are using has to hold a high enough “value” that it is worth it for your dog to stop what he is doing and to come to you to get this treat. This is referred to as the Law of Competing Motivators. If the reward is not high enough, your dog will not redirect his behaviour.
- If your dog is not food motivated then using food as the motivator for redirection will most likely not redirect his behaviour. Use a different motivator.
- There has to be a “base line” of a squeak immediately followed by the treat established for this method to work otherwise the squeak really won’t hold any meaning for your dog.
- The timing of the treat has to be correct or the delivered treat will not be equated with the sound of the squeak. From squeak to treat in the mouth; under 2 seconds.
- Redirects must be happen as quickly as possible. The longer you wait to redirect the behaviour the harder it becomes to break their attention away from the original behaviour.
The Squeak And Treat Method of Redirection
The Principle of the Technique
Using a squeaker as a signal, redirect your dog to stop the unwanted behaviour, and come sit in front of you, offering you his attention. The point of this exercise is for him to stop one behaviour and instead perform a different behaviour.
Example: Instead of rough housing with your other dog, after hearing the squeak, he stops that behaviour and comes and sits in front of you offering you a watch me gaze for which he is rewarded with a High Value Treat.
When Can You Use This Redirection Method?
Anytime that you want to redirect your dog from a behaviour you can use this technique.
I have used this method to:
- Help with off leash recall – instead of running off, come and sit to get a treat.
- Help with squabbling dogs – stop the physical interactions and sit to get a treat.
- Help with dogs who jump up or bite at people – instead of jumping on people come and get a treat.
- Help with dogs who chase cats – when the cat comes into the room come and see me for a treat instead of chasing the cat.
- Help with dogs who like to take objects but not give them back – drop the item and come and see me for a treat.
The list is endless. Anytime that you need a redirection from one behaviour to another behaviour, this method will work.
How To Squeak And Treat
In order for Squeak and Treat to work you must first run a base line to anchor the learning for the new behaviour. Without doing this first, your dog will not equate the sound of the squeak with the potential of getting a High Value treat.
For those that may not know what a High Value treat (H.V. treat) is a treat that is very desirable and cannot be gotten in any other way except by complying to a cue. If the dog can get the treat in some other way, then the “value” of the treat is diminished significantly. Usually moist smelly treats work the best. Hard tack biscuits tend not to be as enticing.
To run a base line, have a pillow squeaker and handful of High Value treats ready.
With the squeaker in one hand, and the treats in your other hand, get your dog’s attention by squeaking the pillow. When your dog comes over to investigate the noise, immediately give him a treat and use the cue good to mark the behaviour.
While you have your dog’s attention, quickly squeak again and follow it up with another treat. Mark the behaviour with the cue good. You have under two seconds to mark this new behaviour with a treat so have them ready in your hand.
Run a succession of squeaks and treats and watch your dog’s reaction when you squeak. If the dog licks his lips and rivets his gaze either on you or the hand with the treats, you are making progress.
Keep squeaking and treating in quick succession.
Begin shifting the cues to have your dog sitting in front of you and watching your face in order to get the treat. Use the cues sit and watch me to achieve this.
Do this as many times as it takes for your dog to get the connection between hearing the squeak and getting a treat. When the dog has made the connection with the sound of the squeak and coming to you for a treat, a base line for the new behaviour has been started.
This is the new behaviour that you want your dog to do instead of whatever he was doing before you squeaked for the redirection.
Now, add some distance between you and your dog before you squeak. Then have your dog come and sit in front of you and watch me for a treat.
Keep adding more time and distance between your dog and you until you can easily redirect your dog to come to you from across the room or from across the yard.
When your dog reliably comes to you every time you squeak, your base line for a new behaviour is now complete.
Using Squeak and Treat To Redirect
When you see your dog engaging in an undesirable behaviour, squeak the pillow squeaker to break the focus of the dog. As there is an established base line of new behaviour in place, the dog understands that when he hears the squeak, that means that he should stop what he is doing, come to you, sit, and watch you to get a treat. This is a classic Pavlovian conditioning response.
When your dog complies, immediately give him a treat and mark this behaviour with the cue good.
Then release the dog using the cue okay.
If the dog goes back to doing the same undesirable behaviour, repeat Squeak and Treat until the dog no longer tries to go back to doing the original behaviour.
Eventually the dog just abandons the original activity because receiving a treat for sitting and watching you holds a greater value for him than doing the original behaviour.
Congratulations, you have just successfully redirected your dog’s behaviour.
Do autopsies on those squeaky toys that are hemorrhaging stuffing and harvest the pillow squeakers out them. Collect and keep these squeakers in a container so you always have one when you need one.
Because these squeakers are pretty small they easily fit into your pockets you can always have one with you when you need to redirect unwanted behaviours. Just make sure that you also always have a supply of treats in your pocket too. If you have to run to get a treat after you squeaked, the power of the squeak induced redirect will quickly be lost.
Using the Squeak and Treat method of redirection is fun for your dog and fast and easy for you to use. You will be amazed at what a handy tool this is to use with your Husky. Happy squeaking!
As always we welcome your questions, comments, and stories regarding this topic. When we share our wisdom and stories we may well be helping someone who is currently struggling with their Snow Dog.
Helping ALL Snow Dogs … one owner at a time.