Training With Positive Reinforcement - Dope Dog

Training With Positive Reinforcement

Hey Dope Dogs! My name is Erin, and I'm the cofounder of Dope Dog. We are excited to be starting our Ask The Trainer Q+A series with Sylvia Wes. Sylvia is a certified positive reinforcement trainer based in Los Angeles. She's amazing with animals and an amazing person. We are so lucky to have her available to answer any questions our Dope Dogs have about dog training. Today we are sharing our most recent Q+A session with Sylvia.

Erin: Welcome Sylvia! Thank you for being here to answer real questions from real Dope Dogs!

Sylvia: Hi Everyone! Hope you're all doing well. My name is Sylvia Wes, as I was so lovely introduced. I love Dope Dog treats and my dogs are all Dope Dogs. Presently, I'm the head trainer at Up Dog LA. I also work as a partner trainer for Fit Dog Clubs and for Pet Food Express. I have been training for a lot of years in the Los Angeles area and I absolutely love my job. We know a lot of people are getting new dogs right now because of this quarantine, so I'm really happy to be able to bring you guys some training information.

Erin: And on that note, our first question is related to quarantine. 

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Q: What are the top three things that someone bringing home a new puppy needs to know? 

Sylvia: So here is the magic recipe. 

  1. The first and foremost thing that you need to have for your dog is routine and schedule. So that's number one, which honestly, we all need right now. So if you have a new dog, use it to your advantage to help create a routine for the two of you. Routine is very important. 
  2. Secondly, mental stimulation. You need to challenge your dogs mentally. I know a lot of our parks and  hiking trails are shut down,  but that's okay. Your new dog or puppy needs more than a hike. They really need brain stimulation. 
  3. And then thirdly, get a crate and make them learn how to be alone. This is especially important now because when this quarantine is over and we go back to our real lives, whether we're in an office or maybe we're still working from home, or we plan on having a dinner date again with our significant other or friend we are going to need to leave our dogs alone and when that happens, what's going to happen to our dogs? We want to make sure that we're not implementing separation anxiety now. 

Syliva: So to recap, the 3 things are routine, mental stimulation, and alone time. Those are the building blocks for all the dope dogs out there that are bringing home first time puppies. Make sure you get those into place.

Erin: Our next question is also related to our new situation. 

Q: What activities can my dog and I do since we can't go to the park or beaches which are all closed? 

Sylvia: So much stuff! First of all, training is a big one. We're all home. We have a little bit of extra time. Train your dogs and I mean teach them everything from your basics to sit and down to some cool tricks. My dog Hunter and I are currently working on play, dead and rollover. Last week we learned rebound, which is like a flip trick. Really take some time to train your dogs. That's a part of that mental stimulation that I'm talking about.

If you want a great tip, I personally use and train on the Dogo App, which you can find online, it's free. You can also subscribe to their premium, but what I really love about it is the fact that you videotape yourself training your dog and doing the trick. Then you get feedback from a real trainer like myself who will watch that video and tell you whether or not you're doing well, or  if your timing is wrong. So it's a really great way to train your dog in house with some of those tricks like crawl, name recognition, recall, etc. You can practice all the tricks that you really need to know and even the tricks that you don't need to know, because those extra tricks can be really cool to show off and can make your dog look awesome.

The other thing I would recommend to you is just playing games with your dog. On my Instagram page, I have an entire series of DIY games that you can build just out of like stuff in your house that you can play with your dog. 

So one of my favorites right now is a DIY game that we call a cover board game. Cover games are just as they sound, you're literally going to take treats and cover them with things. A cover board game is literally creating a board game for your dog. The easiest cover board game is to just get a cupcake tin, fill it with your dog's favorite snacks or even their meal, and then cover that with anything that fits in those cupcake tin holes like tennis balls, cups, or your dog's favorite toy. Just cover up all the treats and then hold on to that tin while they're searching so it doesn't slide around. Puzzles are a great way to not only stimulate your dog's brain but also to build their confidence, which is so important.

The whole video is up on my IgE TV if you want to really know how to do it and also how to make it harder, because once your dog gets really good at it, you have to be able to challenge them a little bit. 

Erin: Our next question is about walk behavior.

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Q: How can I encourage my Husky not to stop mid walk and refuse to move? 

Sylvia: Okay, so here's the issue with this question. As a professional trainer, I can't offer you specific advice on this particular case just because I don't know why the dog is stopping. I would encourage this dope dog to do is figure out what's going on with the Husky. 

Are they stopping because they're afraid? Because sometimes it can feel like our dogs are just stopping and refusing to go anywhere, but there might be something going on with our dog that we're not picking up on. It could be fear related. It could be just a protest, but there could be any number of things going on. 

So to offer a treatment plan, we really have to get to the bottom of why this behavior is happening. Are they uncomfortable outside? Did a plastic bag blow by and they're like totally freaked out? Did they maybe hear something that you didn't pick up on because their ears are better than ours? Whatever it might be, could be leaning to why the dog is not not continuing to walk. And if they are just stopping for the sake of stopping, there's a reason behind that too. I always like to remind everybody that a great walk starts inside your house. If you want a great walk outside, build a better release relationship with your leash and your dog inside the house. Building important relationships with doorways, entrances, and exits is also super important.

Erin: Our next question is about clicker training.

Q: My friend uses a clicker to help with puppy training. Can you elaborate on how this works? 



Sylvia: Yeah, absolutely. So clickers all come down to basic foundations of positive reinforcement training. When you're training your dog, there's really only two important sounds that your dog needs to hear. One is your marker sound, which in this user's friends case, they're using the clicker. The other most important sound should be your release cue and your release tells your dog, I'm finished working with you. Notice that nowhere in there did I say one of the most important words is the actual keyword word itself.

So a lot of times we get really hung up on like telling our dogs to sit down, shake and using these really complex languages that guess what our dogs don't know what those words mean. Additionally, the most important thing you can do is build association to these two important things. So what your friend is doing is using a click to mark a dog's correct behavior. The sound that clicker can also very easily be replaced by a simple “yes” or good. You want to make it short, sweet and simple. You don't get into “good dog” or “Oh my gosh, you're such a good boy”, because that's not a marker. That's a reward. The important thing to note is that your marker word is actually your bridge between the desired behavior you're looking for and your dog getting their food reward.

So if I'm using a clicker, I would want to click the second my dog's tushy hits the floor. Ask yourself, “What behavior am I marking and capturing, and what are they going to get rewarded for?” Putting their butt on the ground? Really simple. If you don't have a clicker at home, that's okay. I like to use the word yes.

So when I'm working with my dog, Hunter or the puppy, you'll hear me saying yes, yes, yes. A lot. And I try to make it sound the same as much as I can. 

Just remember timing is everything. So click orr yes, to capture the behavior you're trying to get is more important than the food reward itself because that sound lets your dog know, Bingo! You've just done exactly what I'm looking for and here comes your food for it. I did what I was supposed to do.. 

Erin: Our next question is about dog snacks.

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Q: Can you suggest any dog safe recipes that you can make at home?



Syliva: I have a couple, but I'll give you my favorite because I'm puppy training right now. You can make your dog a Puppy Popsicle. They love these because they're teething and their mouths hurt because their teeth are coming in so a nice frozen treat feels so good, puts the gums to sleep, and makes them very happy. 

For a very simple puppy Popsicle, you're going to need a blender, some peanut butter. Blueberries or bananas, your call, and a little bit of parsley. Now the parsley, believe it or not, is a natural breath freshener. So just pop a little parsley in there, but don't go overboard cause then it'll taste weird and your puppy will be like, what is this? But if you just a little bit in there, it will help to naturally freshen their breath. So you just toss everything into a blender: a tablespoon of peanut butter, a handful of blueberries, and then just add water until it's kind of liquified. Then just stick like a little piece of parsley leaf on the top of each Popsicle. Pop that in the freezer till it's frozen and then boom, you have fruity, peanut buttery, delicious popsicles.

Erin: Okay, this Dope Dog has another dog walking question.

Q: My dog used to be fine walking off leash, however, she started this habit of running up to other dogs to the point where I can't have her off-leash anymore. Why might this be?

Sylvia:  This is an off-leash question, so that's a whole other thing. So typically when something like this happens and we have what feels like kind of like a regression. What really happened is your dog accidentally got reinforced for doing the wrong behavior. Right? So remember, reinforcement drives behavior. I'll say that again, reinforcement drives behavior. So the more you reinforce something, the higher the likelihood that behavior is to reoccur. That's the whole basis of positive reinforcement training. 

If we're talking about a dog who's off leash, the dog is thinking  “I'm having a great time hitting this trail with my mom. Ooh, look, a dog! I run over. Say hi to that dog. I just had a party. I got to sniff butts.” Technically as the dog, I just got reinforced for running up to another dog, right? So the best thing to do would start with, would be to start with reinforcing, obviously not running up to another dog. 

So before you can take this off leash, you'll want to do it on leash and just work with some treats. Go to your usual hiking trailer park and start from scratch. Go on leash, get your dog walking. When you see another dog coming, just reward your dog. Before they can get going towards the other dog. If they pull or move towards that other dog, don't reward.

Now your dog is actually being reinforced for the correct behavior, which is seeing another dog and doing nothing. Seeing another dog and doing nothing and what's happening when they do nothing. They're eating something yummy like cheese or whatever you have left over in your fridge. Really, I mean, Turkey, lunch, meat, whatever you have, bring it with you and your dog is going to be like, I don't even care about this other dog because mom has drinks and treats.

A fun trick that I like to do when I'm training off leash is I'll make the click sound on the leash as though I have unclipped them, but I don't actually unclip. So the dog goes to take off and guess what? They're still leashed. So those small sounds and noises actually cue your dog to let them know that the environment has changed. So if you can sensitize those different parts, then your dog never really knows what's going on, and then they'll actually learn to release and move away from you when you say, okay. 

You can think about your dog's behavior in just two camps, one is a rewardable camp and one is a non rewardable camp. It's all about just feeding this behavior and not feeding this one. It's that simple, right? 

Erin: So I've got one more for question today

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Q: My dog sometimes pees in my bed, right where I sleep. Is something wrong or is the internet right that she just loves me? 

Sylvia: Oh, no. Okay. Couple of things here. First of all, if your dog is marking in the same area, whether it's like this dope dogger’s bed or your couch or your favorite rug, the thing to keep in mind is your dog's nose functions at such a higher level than ours ever will. So even though you might think that the area is clean and doesn't smell like urine, there's actually still urine. In the fibers and your dog can smell that. And so in their mind, it's a bathroom.

The problem with beds and couches is they're highly absorbent for your dog. So I want you to think of your bed as the most absorbent, biggest pee pad your dog has ever seen. And the great thing about peeing on your bed is it soaks into your mattress, which is good news for your dog, because now they don't have to sleep in their own excrement because it gets sponged in. So that's why, when we're crate training our dogs if they're having accidents in the crate, it means that what we have in the crate is too swishy because they can pee in one corner it gets soaked up, and they're like, “Perfect!” that cleaned itself up. So that might be what's going on. 

I also highly encourage investing in a really good enzymatic urine cleaner. You need something that's going to have enzymes in it that are going to eat the urine that's in the fibers of your mattress.

I might also recommend a waterproof cover for your mattress, you can pick one up at target or Amazon so if this happens again, it won't seep into your mattress because I think the problem we're having now is it just smells like pee and your dog is confusing it for a bathroom.

The next most important thing, which is the first most important thing if you just got a new dog is schedule, schedule, schedule if your dog is not going to the bathroom predictably. That means that somewhere there's an issue with potty training and scheduling. Remove access to your bedroom so your dog can't get in there anymore and put your dog on a very defined schedule so that they know when it's potty time and when it's nap time.


Take Home Message

I'll give you a breakdown of the schedule I'm using for my puppy just as a for instance. I have my puppy on a 2 on 2 off schedule.  Two on means two hours in the crate.  Two off means two hours of free play time free play time doesn't mean running around the house, but it does mean you get monitored by me.

I might tie my puppy to the couch if I'm in the living room or umbilical cord my puppy, which means I put him on a leash and tie it to my pants and he goes everywhere I go for two hours and then after two hours we take a potty break and he goes back in his crate for two more hours. So that's just a really simple schedule, but it helps the puppy understand when he's awake that he shouldn't be partying and that when he has his outside time is when he should be pottying.

It helps to give your dog a little bit of predictability so they know when they get to go potty so that they don't feel like, Oh, I better go potty. Now because I don't know when I'm going to get to go out again. And this smells like a bathroom and I've used it as a bathroom before. So this must be a bathroom, right?

The last ingredient is pay for outdoor pees. So if your dog does pee outside, give them a paycheck. Reinforcement drives behavior. If I'm getting turkey for peeing outside and nothing for peeing on the bed, I'm probably going to opt to pee outside so I can eat turkey. To recap, remove access, better schedule, and pay for pees!

If you have questions for Sylvia, please send them to and we will get to them in our next session.


Instagram: @dogupinthisbitch

Check out her free virtual class every Saturday. It's by donation only. The class is on Saturdays at 1:00 PM PST and you can find the link in her Instagram bio.

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