Monday, December 16, 2013

Training the "Untrainable" Series: Thoughts on Using Tendencies

     Hey, y'all! Nola very generously let me post today so I could share some of my recent musings on dog training. I'm hoping to start doing this fairly regularly in the new year, so I'd like to introduce you to.... "Training the "Untrainable" Series", the hopefully-bi-monthly-but probably-more-of-a-whenever-the urge-strikes- segment for Miss Nola's blog. Pretty fancy, eh? Since "Training the "Untrainable"" is the title of our training page, I figured I'd tie into that and make it all official like.

     To kickoff this little series, I'll be talking about tendencies. What kind of tendencies, you ask? Both your dog's inborn nature and the things unique to your specific pup. I'll be talking about how to harness those tendencies in training, and in the next installment I'll be talking about how people use the very same tendencies as excuses not to train their dogs.
First I want to make a note of the fact that Nola is trained strictly with positive reinforcement and negative punishment. In my not so humble opinion, it's the only way to train a dog. To read more on that, go to my training page here. Since PR is all I use, I'm going to stick with it in these posts. When you hear me talk of training, it's all PR and NP.

A great visual that breaks down the quadrants for operant conditioning. 

Using your dog's inborn, breed specific tendencies in training:

    When you train your dog, it's important to find the method and reward that works best for your dog. Whether it's food, play, affection or good old fashioned Premack Principle , all dogs will work for something, with varying levels of intensity depending on the individual. Nola works for all four on different levels, with food being her biggest reward followed by Premack, play and affection. Once you figure out what your dog's needs are, you're well on your way to a great training foundation. But if you study your pup's breed specific tendencies you can use those tidbits of information to your advantage. Be careful though; if you aren't positive and proactive about their traits you can quickly turn them around in your head to work against you in training.

    Nola, as you all know, is a Miniature Dachshund. I'm going to breakdown a few of her breed's traits that I use to my advantage in training, and I'm also going to show you how I avoid them working against me.
Common Dachshund traits are:


Advantage: I know Nola won't give up until she gets the the reward, so I know I can work her longer than I could another dog without her getting frustrated. I also know that she can take learning the cue head on, and I don't have to pussyfoot around with her by easing her into the cue little by little (although it's a great way to train some things).
Disadvantage: "Stubbornness" is a common complaint in the breed, so if I let myself get sloppy and boxed in with a training idea Nola will keep going at it without letting up enough for me to try something different, which would result in frustration on both ends. The breed could be described as obstinate in the wrong hands. 


Advantage: Nola loves to try new things, and her vibrant energy makes her an enthusiastic and bright student.
Disadvantage: For someone who doesn't know how to interact with a highly curious dog, the constant in-your-face nosiness could be aggravating and unnerving.


Advantage: Nola is scarily smart, and she uses that intelligence to work out cues and problems almost faster than I can keep up with. I can teach her complex things and not have to break it down into micro steps, her memory is incredible which translates into needing  fewer repetitions for her to get it (she learned the Right Finish within two 5 minute training sessions), she keeps up when I change direction in training, and learns all the time. If I mess up a cue, Nola can pick her way through it with minimal to no guidance from me.
Disadvantage: I've been out smarted more times than I care do admit by Miss Nola, and the same problem solving skills that are wonderful in training lead to her vaulting baby gates, opening doors, stealing pumpkin pies, whizzing though food puzzles, and the list goes on. It can be difficult to stay one step ahead of Nola, and that's resulted in me screwing up cues while she breezes though it.


Advantage: Dachshunds were breed to work with next to no human direction and interaction, so the breed can be highly independent. Nola is quick to grasp new things, and doesn't need the constant reassurance that a lot of breeds with more human oriented backgrounds crave. I believe thins makes us a better team, since there's no need for excessive coaxing. It gives us a smooth and more fluid performance, since we're both confident that the other knows their part.
Disadvantage: You sometimes feel a bit unsure of what you need to do when your dog is breezing through her performance and all you're doing is direction. This is experience talking. :p

     Studying your dog's breed and writing down how you can use their tendencies can be a huge help with training, especially if you've hit a roadblock and need some fresh ideas.

Using your dog's own characteristics:

     This can help you even more than the above, since the first gives you a basic plan and this one allows you to totally tailor it to your dog's needs. Here are some of Nola's idiosyncrasies and how I've utilized them.


Is extremely visual
How I use it: Nola watches everything, so our training includes a great deal of hand signals and body language. Physical cues getting a faster response than verbal with Nola, so hand and body signals give a more streamlined performance.

Loves to showoff
How I use it: Nola is a little ham and adores preforming, both in front of people and other dogs. Her best responses are often in front of a "crowd", and it's a great confidence booster for her.

Very, very handler oriented and focused
How I use it: Nola is both naturally focused on me and highly responsive to my movements and body language, so we work very well together. When we first started with learning a formal heel, Nola instantly had the focus people strive for and often have trouble achieving (see below video). She has no problem giving me eye contact, and that's a huge sign of trust.
She's also a velcro dog, so teaching a loose leash walking, heeling, and recalls were all incredibly easy for her to learn and quickly master.

Loves a challenge:
How I use it: Nola doesn't have issues with cues very often, but when she does all I have to do is present the cue as a tough challenge and she gets it like that *dramatically snaps fingers*.

      So there you have it! That was my current disjointed ramble. Please excuse any grammar or spelling issues; it's nearly midnight and I'm still getting over the flu. See you soon for another installment!

Dachshund Mommy


  1. You mean Muffin and I should be trained by now?

    Lily Belle

  2. So glad you are doing this! It will certainly help our pack!

  3. Good tips for sure. Torrey is super smart and so easy to train. She is a pleaser and is treat oriented, so that makes it pretty easy. Roxy is smart but not really motivated by anything to learn a new trick. She is well behaved, has good recall, so I leave it at that.

  4. You know that once we DACHSHUNDS learn somethingy... we NEVER furget it. So you gotta help us learn it RIGHT the Furst time. RIGHT?

  5. Great tips and advice. Mom agrees with positive reinforcement and negative punishment

  6. Don't worry, they are almost trained....
    aren't you Mum and Dad?
    Dip Bridge and Elliot x

  7. We're not untrainable--we just choose not to be trained.

    Actually, we do all the basics...

    XXXOOO Daisy, Bella & Roxy

  8. Thank you so much for getting reinforcement and punishment correct. Lady is a behaviour analyst and she hates when people get this wrong (and think things like negative reinforcement is the same as punishment).

    Lady also thinks it is a great series. Her dog behaviourist actually said there were some things Lee could never learn and it made her mad. Thanks for doing this!

    Lee and Phod

  9. Uh, and what abouts terriers, namely 60lb terriers??! BOL
    Just kiddin' ~ Ma tries, I just choose to ignore her....hehehe
    Ruby ♥

  10. Thanks! We are laying out our "winter goals" for training now (since the agility course is "snowed in"). Loved all your thoughts on training...

  11. How appropriate for Mom tonight since she just got home from Bailies obedience class. All three of us dogs are independent types as is Mom and we are all stubborn, including Mom. Mom and Bailie's teacher don't get along and Mom isn't thrilled with all the things the teacher teaches but being stubborn, she is determined to stick with it and for Bailie to be one of the class best. She will be using her own methods at home and see how it goes at school. If only we didn't need Bailie to complete this class in order to do other things I think they would drop out. The teacher is a Border Collie fanatic and they are so very different from a GBGV, I don't think she likes free spirited type dogs. Oh well...we will see if Bailie graduates the end of February.


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