We recently received this question! Thought we would post the answer in case it was useful to anyone else.

"I cannot train using treats, and I cannot find any information on using other rewards with clicker training, specifically with loading the clicker. I do plan on using praise as the reward since my boy responds well to that. Any in site (sic) you could provide would be most appreciated."


Primary Reinforcer

The reason food is used, then later faded or switched to other types of reinforcers, is that it is a primary reinforcer (therefore has intrinsic meaning to dogs-food, sex, air, water, chasing, barking, digging ,etc and the dog does not have to learn to love it), is an easy choice for most people, can be tossed from a distance and allows for quick delivery and therefore many repetitions in short order (key to marker-based training). This allows for faster learning. Treats used are small (we are rewarding the dog, not feeding him), soft so it can get eaten quickly with no crumbs and the dog must value them. To avoid weight gain, simply remove the same amount of food from his feed dish as you use for treating each day. Some people use the kibble itself if their dog will work for it (and if they feed kibble).


Timing (of the marker) Rate of reinforcement and
keeping training Criteria small enough for the learner to succeed are the three fundamentals of marker-based training.


A Few Considerations of using Secondary Reinforcer for Training New Behaviors

You could use toys (a secondary or learned reinforcer) but that can slow the process down significantly. For example, if you throw a ball, it takes more time for the dog to chase and catch the ball and bring it back (assuming he already knows how to do that or you must go get the ball). Using a bean bag limits how far it can move and would be a better choice. Similarly, using a toy often teaches the dog to be ready to move, which may not be the best choice in early learning stages of a stationary or relaxed behavior such as down, sit, or stay.

When using praise, it is usually paired with stroking/physical affection and this may limit you to how far away the dog can work or the position where you are in relation to the dog as you always have to either go to the dog to deliver it, or have the dog move to you. Doable, but again, slows the process down. Most people can quickly throw treats for long distances from any position once he learns to catch them so the dog can stay at and work at a distance.

Once a behavior is understood well by a dog (i.e. is on cue and dog is able to perform it in a variety of environments) that is typically when secondary reinforcers are brought in.


Training Secondary Reinforcers

You can train a secondary reinforcer (pretty much anything else the dog learns to love), but that will likely involve using food for at least part of the training, as you have to pair the new reinforcer with a primary one many times so it now has a new meaning for the dog. Periodically, you may have recharge it as well, as sometimes they lose meaning/value to the learner. Some examples: a high-pitched voice, a scratch on the back end, a neck massage -anything that becomes meaningful to the dog. Having said that, some secondary reinforcers can come to be more reinforcing than primary ones, if you find the right one! Think of a ball crazy dog, for example.

How to Pair them:
Introduce the Secondary Reinforcer (click or other sound, toy, affection)
Follow it quickly with a Primary Reinforcer x50 to 100

Do this many times until the secondary reinforcer clearly has meaning. The dog should be looking for the primary reinforcer when the secondary is presented.

Now you can use the secondary reinforcer  after your click but will probably have to go back and re-charge it periodically if it loses it's appeal.
 

Can You Pair the new Secondary Reinforcer with a Click?

(using a secondary reinforcer with a secondary reinforcer).
The short answer: Yes, if it works for the animal. Remember that the animal defines what is reinforcing so they are the factor that makes the decision if it works or not.
 
If you say "Good dog" and pair it with a belly rub, these are both secondary reinforcers. If your dog will work for them, then it works. If not, try something else. If you can remember to say "Good" in a short quick way, you should maintain the benefits of using a precise behavior marker. Studies have shown that the metallic click does speed learning by 45% or more.

If you don't care that you might dilute the effect of the clicker sound, then you can try pairing your new secondary reinforcer with the click.

Other Reinforcers:

For less formal behaviors such as waiting to go through the door, going through the door becomes the reward. Going for a car ride (if the dog likes doing this), greeting a human friend, another dog, sniffing, chasing squirrels (often called "life rewards" in case you want to Google it), etc can all be creatively used as rewards and reinforcers. Even things and events in the environment can become reinforcers if you take the time to train (the pairing is called conditioning) them.

It is interesting to note that having to train this process means praise means nothing to a dog unless it is first paired with something else of great primary value to the dog-usually food. We train this inadvertently when we feed from the table or pair our voice with food after the dog performs a trick etc.

If you train without food, you will have to be more observant than the average trainer to see what the dog is showing you is meaningful to him and use your creativity to build on that. Normal reactions are around food preparation-the sound of the fridge opening, the can opener, the tinkle of a spoon on the bottom of a bowl are all learned (or conditioned) like Pavlov's dogs.

Many people think dogs should and want to work for us. In reality, most dogs have no interest in pleasing us. They work for themselves and have to learn that working with us is rewarding in some way (or work to avoid correction or aversive stimuli, like our unapproving voices. That is why people who train using traditional correction-based methods have to resort to punishment-they believe the dogs should want to work for us, then correct them when they choose not to.

My previous dog loved to perform agility because of the reaction he got from the crowd-he loved their laughing, clapping and 'oohing and awing' as he performed. He learned this inadvertently. I was not something I taught. However, I did notice that for him in dog class, if someone laughed at something goofy he did, he would repeat it. He was an incredibly sensitive dog to human emotion. He would often stop at the top of the A-frame to make sure everyone was watching. He was quite sensitive yet confident-in short a showman. He was a rare dog though as most aren't that self-aware, clown-like and eager to please. This is a really rare combination.

 
Exploring New Ground

So far, everyone I know has started their animals with food as the reward for the secondary reinforcer, before changing to secondary reinforcer with secondary reinforcer, so you will be exploring new ground if you try this. I'd love to hear how it works for you! Even better would be if you could video your progress and show us! This would be great for people who refuse to use the clicker on the basis they don't like to use food. We would love to have an alternative to tell them so they and their animal can benefit from this way of communicating with their dog!
 
If you are travelling with your service dog, there are some things you need to consider:


1. Availability of your dog's regular food in the location you are visiting. Check ahead to see if the same suppliers are located where you intend to travel. If not, who does supply your brand and where are they located in relation to where you are staying? If you feed raw, find out where pet stores, butcher shops and grocery stores that supply your type of meat are at your destination. Use your regular treats, as treats your dog has not eaten before may cause digestive upset.


2. Keep the food (and treats) in its original bag so you have an ingredients list to refer to if you find you have to do an emergency food switch due to no supply. Try to match the list as closely as possible.


3. Crossing Borders: if you are crossing international borders, be aware that different countries have different laws regarding what pet and human foods they will allow in. And find out what Canada will allow back in as well. Do your research before you travel. If going into the US from Canada, for example, kibble and treats that are not in their original bag will most likely be confiscated and thrown out. Anything with beef in it that is made in Canada (or any country other than Canada) will be confiscated. US brands that have been imported into Canada are usually exempt. (i.e. if they recognize it as a product originating in the US, they are more lenient.) In any case, it's a good idea to check into #1 above in case they take it from you.


4. Train your dog to eat a variety of foods at home so he can eat them if you run out while away from home. For example, if you run out of food at your destination and it will be longer than the dog missing one meal, it may safer as well as more convenient to cook up some ground beef or chicken breast with rice or oatmeal and feed that for a few meals to tide the dog over. Working dogs should not be skipping meals as they rely on the energy to keep working both mentally and physically. If the dog has eaten these foods before, he shouldn't suffer digestive upset. Staying in a hotel with a dog who has diarrhea is no fun and can cost you money for clean-up. And you may not be able to tell if he's picked up a bug or eaten something he shouldn't have.


5. If you feed raw, and are crossing an international border, consider switching back to kibble or canned for convenience. Fresh meat, fruits, and veggies in any form are not allowed to be taken across most borders. Some forms may be allowed but look into the details (dehydrated, canned, processed, etc). The quality and safeness of raw meat (additives such as salt, dyes, hormones, antibiotics, and parasites) in another country may come into question, depending on where you travel.


Keep these tips in mind and you will enjoy your trip, knowing your dog can eat safe, familiar food.

 

Since puppy season will soon be upon us and many of you may be looking at litters, this post may be helpful to narrow down breeders.

Spay or Not and At What Age?

You'll hear many things about whether or not and what age to alter a dog. You need to do your research before you decide what is appropriate for you, your dog and your situation. This is an especially important consideration for service dogs since certification depends on the behavioral and physical abilities of the dog. Spaying and neutering too early can result in health and behavioral issues in many dogs. One thing across the board is to avoid altering puppies when they are under 6 months of age. 

Why & When Is Altering Done?

Spaying and neutering is typically done as a prevention for population explosion/unwanted dogs and to prevent health issues such as cancers (experts are now question the validity of this belief.). A common practice in some regions has been to alter the puppies as young as 8 weeks before they go to their new homes; this is seen most commonly in dogs from shelters and rescue organizations and some breeders. Recent long-term studies have shown juvenile altering especially for some breeds (golden retrievers, labradors, German shepherd dogs) is not a good idea. 

What is Done to the Dogs?

Spaying and neutering a dog removes the sex organs and hormones associated with them. In females the uterus is removed (as in human hysterectomy) and the ovaries. In neutering (also known as castration) the male's testicles are removed.  

Long term Effects of Spaying Too Early

Dogs spayed or neutered as juveniles (less than 6 mos old) show many undesirable long-term effects. What occurs is that the hormones normally emitted by the sex glands are not present and this affects both the temperament and physical development of the dogs in question. In females, fearfulness, overly long leg bones, low bone density issues, hip dysplasia, ACL tears and increased risks of cancer have been identified. In males, all of the above except fearful nature is replaced by aggression.

Two long-term studies of a large number of dogs show behavioral and physical effects are a real possibility. 

*In 1998 and 1999, 1444 Golden Retrievers by the Golden Retriever Club of America

*German Shepherd Dogs

Overall Summary of Studies done on animals altered at a juvenile age.  http://www.caninesports.com/SpayNeuter.html

What Age Is ideal?

If you are going to spay/neuter your service dog, a minimum age is just at the time the dog reaches physical maturity. At least 1 year for small breeds, 18 mos for middle size dogs and about 2 years for larger breeds. This way, physical development (especially the bone plates which are among the last to mature) has been completed. The ideal age may also be affected by sex. (Im HH, Yeon SC, Houpt KA, et al. Effects of ovariohysterectomy on reactivity in German shepherd dogs. Vet J 2006;172(1):154-159.)

Guide Dog programs typically spay females after their first heat and males at about 8 months of age. Could this partly explain the high failure rate of dogs due to behavioural issues (some as high as 50%)? 

Is Spaying/Neutering Necessary?

Do you need to alter your animal at all? That depends on the laws of your region, the breeder, the program you belong to and the individual dog in question. In British Columbia for example, dogs need to be altered to be certified.

Does altering males actually decrease or prevent aggression issues? Studies show that if the altering is done at the time of puberty, it decreases the hormonal levels and usually results in calmer behaviour. If the altering is done after puberty, there may be no behavioral improvement.

Here is a link to a summary of studies on spaying and neutering risks and benefits of dogs at all ages http://www.naiaonline.org/pdfs/longtermhealtheffectsofspayneuterindogs.pdf 

Alternative Approaches

If your situation allows you to choose not to spay or neuter you dog, be a responsible owner and do not allow your animal to reproduce, unless you are knowledgeable and experienced in the area of breeding.

One way to do this without spaying or neutering is ask your vet to do a vasectomy on your male dog or perform a tubal ligation in your female dog. This stops all possibility of reproducing without altering the natural hormone levels in the dog. Do be warned, though, these operations, while actually easier to perform, are not common and the vets may not want to do them. You may need to educate your vet or find one who is willing to do it. Only you can decide if the benefits are worth the extra effort.

Of course the common sense method of preventing your female from breeding is to protect her from male dogs (with solid fences, etc) when in heat and keep your male dog with you at all times.

http://www.caninesports.com/SNBehaviorBoneDataSnapShot.pdf

H
ere is a link to a list of studies on specific topics related to spay and neuter:
http://www.avidog.com/spay-neuter-research/

I
f you are looking for a new prospect check out our FREE Service Dog Selection class.

If you have your pup lined up already, then consider our Service Puppy class for 8-16 weeks. It's a great idea to read this before you get your pup so you are prepared for the intense first 8 weeks at home with you! 

When travelling by air you can prepare your service dog ahead of time to reduce the stress for you both

Specific Basic Skills Dog needs:

  • allowing self to be patted down by security staff which may include use of the wand. (Alternatively, taking off all harnesses etc., that may contain metal and pass through the metal detector on her own)
  • pee and potty promptly on cue (ideally on a variety of surfaces and over a grate)
  • curl up in tight spaces for long periods of time (start shaping the dog to go into a box then a round space such as laundry basket)
  • ignore other people eating off trays in close proximity
  • recognize that a familiar mat means calm relaxed behaviour
  • be comfortable with the sound of pop cans being opened nearby
  • stay calm in the presence of loud roaring sounds and vibrations
  • ignore the 'ding dong' sounds of the stewards making announcements

 

Here are some tips:

  • Practice a variety of modes of transport that mimic different aspects of plane travel (elevator for air pockets, laying on bus floors for vibrations, train travel for tight spaces. etc.).
  • Practice in a local airport before every getting on a plane
  • Do shorter practice runs if you plan on traveling for long trips especially with layovers.
  • Don't count on having enough time to potty your dog outdoors between plane changes (training the dog to pee on pee pads or in floor grates is handy at airports).
  • Take toys and treats for long trips so you can break up long stationary periods.
  • Teach simple tricks or games that can be done in a small space (nose target, 4 foot paw lifts, retrieve keys etc)
  • Carry a familiar mat with you so the dog has a place all his own.
  • Practice staying in small spaces for increasingly longer time periods (Place a couch or chair facing a wall to mimic the space under and in front of an airline chair).
  • Learn to read your dog to watch for signs of stress and knowledge of low key ways of relieving that stress (such as chewing a bone or toy on take off, playing a gentle tug game, using a massage, etc.)
  • Pack a clean up kit: disposable baby diaper, paper towels and wet towelettes to do clean ups.
  • Make sure you have all required 
  • Read each airlines guidelines for service dogs on their website to make sure you notify them in the amount of time they request and that your dog qualifies as a service dog
  • Carry your medication on you, not in the dogs vest or pack
  • Prepare for other dogs and kids in your dog's personal space


    Haley Mauldin shared her first experience flying with her SD. Here is what she wrote!

I thought I would share some of my experiences from flying for the first time with my SD. Other people’s posts about this had really helped me so I thought I would add!

Things I did to Prepare:
• Played youtube videos of planes taking off through the speakers in the car (good way to get them used to how loud the plane is especially during take-off and landing).
• Did a lot of tuck practice in small spaces.
• Practiced putting Morgan in a sit wait (I use a wait command and a stay command depending on the situation), walked away from him, then stopped, turned around, and called him to me immediately into a sit stay. We did this with a lot of distractions.
• Use the bathroom on command.

Our Experience:
• I flew Southwest, when I bought the ticket I said I was flying with a trained assistance animal, I had no trouble at the counter and didn’t get asked for anything (I was, however, using Morgan’s pull strap due to a recent dizzy spell so I think they assumed he was a SD not an ESA).
• Went on Morgan’s first shuttle thing through the airport, something we hadn’t really prepared for but he did fine.
• When we got to security we went through a different line a little ahead of everyone because they had a working bomb sniffing dog and didn’t want him to get distracted by Morgan.
• We went through the metal detector separately. Really glad we practiced in highly stimulating environments because there were two ESAs losing their minds over Morgan just on the other side of the metal detector.
• I went through and they swabbed my hands then had me call Morgan through but I couldn’t take his leash until they had the results from the swabbing so it was good that we had practiced him coming to me and immediately sitting.
• I didn’t take his vest off when we went through but wish we had because Morgan carries two sets of medications of mine in his vest and they had to pull them out of his vest and examine them, in the future I will just take his vest off and send it through the scanner.
• On the other side of security we ran into the two ESAs on flexi leashes that were barking and running up to Morgan and one started snapping at Morgan so I switched sides with Morgan and body blocked them from Morgan (he did great ignoring them).
• My flight ended up getting delayed an extra hour because of a storm over the airport. All in all Morgan ended up going nine and a half hours without a bathroom break. The morning we flew I only gave him his breakfast and let him drink water until about noon (we got to the airport at 4:00pm). I’m really glad I didn’t feed him after that. On the plane I gave him a little water and some of his kibble to tide him over.
• We loaded onto the plane after those in wheelchairs and were given bulkhead seating. Thinking back on it I’m really glad we took the bulkhead seating as it allowed Morgan to do paws up DPT while we were flying which I don’t think he would have been able to do in a regular seat. He, however, wasn’t too fond of not being able to tuck under but it ended up working!
• I brought his small dog bed that rolls up for him to lay on (I use it when we go to class so he knows exactly where to go).
• When it came time for takeoff Morgan checked in with me a few times and I gave him a little kibble to get his jaw moving to try to help with the pressure changes in his ears just to be safe.
• He checked in a few times with me at first but then relaxed. 
• When it came time to get drinks I got ice water and gave Morgan a couple of ice cubes (he loves them) which I felt he deserved and was a good way to give him water without having to worry about spilling.
• The one thing I wish I had done a little more exposure with was the opening of soda cans. I don’t drink much soda so Morgan wasn’t really familiar with the sound and they were opening all of the cans on the other side of the thin wall right in front of where he was laying. He was fine but a bit confused at first so something we are going to work on.
• Morgan did a few alerts and DPT during the flight and then really just slept the rest of the time. I brought his sweater but didn’t end up using it.
• All in all the flight ended up being almost six hours with around nine and a half hours between the plane and airport. 
• Got the usual comments about “what’s wrong with you?” “Who trains pitbulls to be service dogs?” “Are you blind?” “Who are you training him for?” But I have my canned responses so I just used those and moved on.

 
Thanks for sharing Haley!

In many parts of the world, a service dog is considered a valuable caregiver and are actually paid. The fee covered food and toys for the dog and saves the health system up to 29,000 pounds a year for a human caregiver.

And costs incurred may also be a deduction for income tax purposes for the handler in some countries. Check into it in your country.

In Canada, typically it is only the costs to maintain service dogs provided by non-profit societies that can be deducted, but save your receipts and ask your tax man in case the laws have changed in the last year. 
In the US, you can deduct the costs for an owner-trained service or assistance dog (but not an emotional support dog or therapy dog).