By Dr. Becker
Today, I'm interviewing another wonderful veterinarian and animal behavior expert as part of my Highlighting the Healer series. She's Dr. Sophia Yin, and she achieved her dream of becoming a veterinarian in 1993.
Dr. Yin Realized Early in Her Career That More Pets Are Euthanized for Behavior Problems Than Medical Issues
Once she was working in private practice, Dr. Yin quickly realized that more pets are euthanized due to behavior problems than medical issues. So she went back to school and studied animal behavior. She earned her Masters in Animal Science in 2001 from the University of California-Davis, where she studied vocal communication in dogs, and worked with behavior modification techniques in horses, giraffes, ostriches, and chickens. Dr. Yin also served for five years as a lecturer in the UC-Davis Animal Science Department, with a continued focus on animal behavior.
Part of the reason Dr. Yin's approach is so successful is that she recognized early on that animals rely on body language, plus desired or undesired consequences, in order to learn. This means humans must be aware of their movements and actions, because every time they move while they're interacting with their pet, it influences the animal's behavior and perception of them.
Dr. Yin is a wildly successful animal behaviorist, and her dedication to helping people learn to communicate with their pets in a positive, scientifically sound way has led her to create a variety of exceptional books and products for pet owners and pet care professionals who aspire to bond with animals on a whole new level.
Dr. Yin currently performs behavior house calls, creates handling and training curriculae, and writes for several popular veterinary magazines. She lectures and teaches workshops all over the world on animal behavior and low stress handling. She is also on the executive board of the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB), the American Animal Hospital Association's Canine and Feline Behavior Guidelines Committee, and was on the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) Handling Guidelines Committee, and the American Humane Association (AHA) Animal Behavior and Training Advisory Committee.
Her Own Boxer Was the Catalyst for Dr. Yin's Search for a Dog Training Method That Actually Worked
I asked Dr. Yin to talk a little about how she became so passionate on the topic of animal behavior. She explained that while she was in high school and working for a veterinarian, she owned a difficult dog – a big Boxer who was aggressive. The people she worked with at the vet hospital told her, "You better do something, or someday you're going to have to euthanize him." That made Dr. Yin really sad, because not only might she lose her dog, but she had no idea how to help him. And her work colleagues couldn't really help either, because at that time, veterinary professionals didn't know much about the best way to manage pets with undesirable behaviors. The only choice was to find a dog trainer.
So that's what Dr. Yin did. She went to dog trainers, and her Boxer had some experiences that actually made his behavior much worse. For example, the first trainer put the dog in a choke collar and leash and told her to "Run in the other direction really fast. When he gets a correction, he'll catch up to you." Well, the dog caught up to her twice, and the third time, he climbed up the leash and tried to bite her. This was because the choke collar was hurting him and he didn't understand what he was supposed to do, so he defended himself.
Dr. Yin says that incident kicked off seven long years of struggle during which she went to a number of trainers and did exactly what they told her to do. Much of the training was punitive in nature. Some things worked, but not well enough, which is why she kept switching dog trainers once she had exhausted what she could learn from each one. One method one of them used was to hit the dog on the nose with a padded stick. That's how she learned that "Hey, if he sees the stick coming, he can bite me first."
So the training methods mostly involved choke chains, pinch collars, or bossing the dog around. But as Dr. Yin explains, you really want your dog to do well, but then you're mad at him all the time – perhaps similar to the relationship many parents have with their teenagers. Very frustrating!
Eventually, Dr. Yin ran across some top level obedience competition trainers. They were the first people she'd met who were actually looking at the science of dog training. At the time, Karen Pryor's book Don't Shoot the Dog! The New Art of Teaching and Training had just come out, so people were starting to understand more about what worked, and realizing that "Oh, the dog has to understand what you want!" Dogs don't necessarily understand just because you think they do. You have to reward them, train them in little steps, and build from there.
That's the point at which Dr. Yin began communicating better with her Boxer – she learned to help him understand what she wanted from him. And she and her dog ended up doing well in obedience competition. But she knew she had already done damage to her pet with all the failed training attempts. She also knew there was still a little too much punishment involved even with top level obedience competition training. She added that she's not saying all punishment is bad, but most of it is, and most of it isn't done productively.
Once Dr. Yin was out of veterinary school and in private practice, having had such extensive experience dealing with her own dog, she realized just how many other people also had issues with their pets. And most didn't realize it. It was a horrible situation, because she knew many of these pet owners would eventually relinquish their dog or at the very least, miss out on developing a strong relationship and bond with their dog. And worst of all – they really had nowhere to turn for help.
That's why Dr. Yin went back to school and received her Masters in animal science with an emphasis on animal behavior. She was driven to help dog owners learn to help their pets.
What Does Your Dog Look Like When He's Playing? That's the Look You Want to See When You're Training Him
I asked Dr. Yin if she ever feels overwhelmed by how lost many dog owners are and the amount of damage that's been done to dogs by poor training choices. She responded that she tries to keep things very positive. She focuses on providing information in a way that people can understand, and letting them know that dog training can be really fun, and the information is there when they're ready for it. She's made her training materials entertaining and accessible.
Dr. Yin explained that over the years, she has tried different things to help people understand her approach to training. The most important thing is for people to understand their dog's body language. So in classes and lectures, she goes over the body language of fear and anxiety. And she asks the question, "Is this how you want your dog to look?" Once people understand their dog may be fearful, they can look more clearly at what might be making him fearful.
For example, she holds a preliminary workshop for pet owners who will be attending one of her training classes. In the workshop she goes over the body language of fear and then asks, "Which way would you like your dog to look when you're working with him?" And honestly, everyone wants his or her dog to be happy. Most people don't purposely do mean things, they just don't realize that when their pet is quiet, it might not be because he's being well-behaved. It could be he's scared and afraid of being punished. So Dr. Yin asks owners to think about what their dog looks like when he's playing. Does he look like that when they are working with him, or does he look like he's worried or scared that he might get in trouble? Once they get those two different "looks" in their mind's eye, they know how to tell what their dog is feeling during training sessions.
And Dr. Yin helps them understand how to get there. She says it's really simple. All you have to do is reward the behaviors you want and remove rewards for unwanted behavior, and you have to do it with the right timing. And people need to know that if a certain dog is fearful, he still may not do the right thing unless he is shown his options. If dog owners don't have the tools to see that their pet is fearful, they will continue to do things that make their dogs more fearful.
Many Dog Guardians Today Have a Desperate Relationship with Their Pet
I told Dr. Yin that I think a lot of people have a desperate relationship with their dog. When they see behaviors that are undesirable, they simply don't know what to do about it. They aren't bad guardians – they just don't have the tools to be positive guardians.
Dr. Yin agreed and said that when people see videos of her with her dog, they see a super happy little Jack Russell. But that's not who he's always been. He was once a reactive, non-bonded dog who didn't care about his owner all – he just wanted to chase squirrels. But then Dr. Yin adopted him and systematically worked with him and these days when she walks down the street with him, people say, "Oh my gosh! He loves you so much!" And, "What a happy dog," because he's very focused on her and energetic.
Dr. Yin wants people to realize that this is the type of relationship they can have with their dog as well. And she has a step-by-step process to achieve it. It isn't some vague variation on the "Be confident, be a leader" school of dog training. The first thing she wants people to learn is that if your dog performs a behavior you don't like, don't be immediately reactive and punishing. Instead, think to yourself, "What behavior would I rather have instead?" We must realize that dogs perform certain behaviors because they're rewarded, so we want to reward desirable behaviors instead of undesirable ones.
The goal is to reward the behaviors you want and remove rewards for unwanted behavior. Let's take a dog that jumps up on her owner. Her owner thinks, "Oh, I wish she wouldn't do that." Then she thinks, "Do I squirt her with a water bottle? Hit her? Yell at her?" But it turns out some of those reactions might actually reward the dog, because she's jumping to get her owner's attention. If her owner pushes her away or yells at her, she might see that as attention. So what this dog's owner needs to do is ask, "What behavior would I rather see from my dog?"
Teaching Your Dog, 'Sit Is Really Fun!'
Dr. Yin explained that her approach is to train the dog that "Sit is really fun!" Once a dog learns "Sit is really fun," when she comes running, she automatically sits and is then rewarded for sitting. If she starts to jump, Dr. Yin teaches pet owners to remove their attention in a very clear and obvious way by standing completely still with their arms to their sides, not looking at the dog. They don't need to turn their back to the dog, because if they do and she sits, they'll miss the opportunity to reward her. It's really very straightforward.
Dr. Yin says it's also very important that the appropriate behavior is trained first, because if you do the standing still thing when your dog starts to jump up on you, and she doesn't know any appropriate behaviors like "Sit" to perform instead, it could take her quite awhile to try to figure out what she should be doing. So it's much more productive to teach the appropriate behavior first before teaching her that you will remove your attention when she performs unwanted behaviors.
Dr. Yin explained that the way she teaches the sit behavior is with treats (which often consist of food from the dog's regular meal). You should stand completely straight because your body posture must be very clear to your dog. Keep your arms at 90-degree angles so your hands are clearly out of range of your dog, and keep your hands centered against your body. As soon as the dog sits, you straighten your arm and pop a treat into his mouth. Give one treat for sitting, then follow with additional treats for remaining seated, because you want your dog to stay seated automatically without needing a verbal cue. You don't want him to sit and then immediately stand and start jumping. When your dog realizes this is a pretty fun activity, walk maybe five steps backwards very fast. Your dog will follow you. Repeat the exercise all over again.
The goal is 30 reinforcements within a couple of minutes. With that many reinforcements in a matter of minutes, even the slowest dog will learn fast as long as his owner makes it clear what behavior is being rewarded. That means getting the treat quickly into your dog's mouth, then standing up straight again, and then in between treats, pulling your arms back to your body with your hands in front of your belly button. This is so your dog knows he won't get a treat when your hands are in that position, but only when your hand is right at his mouth.
When you come home, for example, and you know your dog is going to run up to you, you have your treats ready. When your dog sits, you immediately reward him once for sitting and additional times for remaining seated. You practice walking away, he follows you, he sits, and he gets a sequence of rewards again. The goal is that when you arrive home, your dog knows "We're going to play this fun sit exercise where I sit, I get to follow you, and I get to sit again. I get to follow you, and I get to sit again." The sit behavior becomes a game. The sit becomes fun. And as soon as he starts getting it you increase the interval between treats and decrease the total number of treats per session.
And it's not just about giving the treat. It's about delivering it in a way that makes it more interesting so quickly and moving in ways that make it fun. By moving and giving treats again when he sits, it makes the exercise fun for your dog.
Dr. Yin Believes the Majority of Shelter Dogs with Behavior Problems Can Be Turned Around with the Right Training and Communication
I asked Dr. Yin if she believes shelter dogs with behavior problems, if given the right training and communication by a committed owner, could learn more desirable behaviors and unlearn challenging behaviors.
She responded that in many cases, yes – especially if they have received some socialization when young, meaning that when they were young they were exposed to many positive experiences with new people, new environments, new dogs and other stimuli. Lack of socialization is probably the number one cause of aggression in dogs. It leads to fear and fear aggression. Dr. Yin says dogs NEED socialization. She believes probably 90 percent of shelter dogs who have been evaluated and deemed adoptable can do really well with the right training and communication. Dr. Yin went on to say that the reason there are so many dogs in shelters isn't as much about overpopulation as it is about people not bonding closely to their dogs. They don't realize what type of relationship they can have with their dog.
Dr. Yin says she's always surprised that people think her Jack Russell, Jonesy, is so well-behaved. They think he's the smartest and best behaved dog they've ever met! She tells them, "No, he's actually kind of naughty." They'll disagree and tell her he's very focused. But Jonesy is naughty relative to the amount of training he requires to control his high impulsivity issues. But he knows what Dr. Yin wants and he responds to her consistently. For instance when she got him, he didn't like being petted. These days he really loves being petted by Dr. Yin because he's received lots of treats while being petted, and because he's not petted for free, he has to earn it by sitting politely. That improves the value of the petting for him.
Dr. Yin says a lot of dogs don't like to be hugged or held, but she has worked with Jonesy and he's grown to like it. She thinks if people understood that they need to socialize their dogs and how to work with them so they understand exactly what their owners want, their relationships with their pets could be absolutely wonderful.
I expressed to Dr. Yin that in my experience, many people get a dog assuming it will magically evolve into a good dog, when really, good dogs are made, not born. People really underestimate the lifetime commitment a dog requires and the need to constantly invest in that relationship.
Dr. Yin responded that some people do get really lucky and get a dog who, through breeding, is naturally very attentive to people. For example, dogs bred to work with people are more attentive, like Golden Retrievers and other breeds used as guide dogs. These breeds want to be with people. They want attention from people. They care what their humans think about them. They're sort of like canine brownnosers!
Now, compare those dogs to, say, Jack Russells. They evolved to be independent. They can't help that they have other interests in the world. It's very similar to people. Some people care a great deal what others think of them. But a Jack Russell is more like an adventurous person who wants to go out in the world and explore. Some people think Jack Russells are stubborn, but they're not – they just have different interests from breeds that are more attentive to people. But if you work with a dog like a Jack Russell consistently and correctly, especially early on before he gains a lot of bad habits, you can develop him into a dog that really cares what you think. Much of it is about knowing what motivates your dog, learning his body language, rewarding the behaviors you want, and removing rewards for unwanted behavior. And she states that the more time and thought you put into your dog, the closer your bond.
I asked Dr. Yin, for those of you who may be watching and realizing you've made some mistakes with, say, a dog you rescued who has some baggage – is there ever a point when she decides there's just no hope? Or does she try to encourage pet owners that no matter what, they can turn things around with the right training and communication with their dog? If a committed owner sticks with it over time, is there hope for even the worst cases?
Dr. Yin responded that it really depends on the dog. Some dogs actually have something wrong with their brains, so they are the outliers. She also feels that once a dog has bitten someone, he shouldn't be adoptable, because the liability is so high. You can make biters a lot better, but there's always the small chance they'll bite again. However, Dr. Yin says the majority of dogs people adopt are not in either of those categories. They're dogs that simply haven't been able to bond with their owners. They haven't received good, clear direction. What she advises owners to do is to begin working with the dog right away. She puts them through her version of a "Learn to Earn" program, where she trains dogs to say "Please" by sitting for everything they want. It starts by teaching them to sit for treats.
Dr. Yin Helps Dog Owners Teach Their Pet Impulse Control
When she trains dogs, Dr. Yin uses a portion of the dog's daily allotment of food. If the dog isn't interested in eating it yet, the amount is cut back until he becomes interested. Dogs eat to survive, so they will start eating before long. She starts with food, rewarding the dog for sitting. Then she adds in an exercise where she moves quickly and the dog follows and gets rewarded when she stops and the dog sits. That makes it fun for the dog. The dog learns to follow when his owner runs to the right, or runs to the left, and he learns that when he catches up, he stops and sits. It becomes a fun game for the dog. It's a focus game.
Next, Dr. Yin adds in impulse control exercises. One of the biggest problems many owners have with their dogs is that when a dog wants something, she just takes it. Dogs don't know they need to exercise self-control, because they aren't taught to. What Dr. Yin does, for example, is take a dog that's on leash who has already been rewarded a lot for sitting and looking at her owner. She throws a treat out of the dog's range while on the leash, and then stands perfectly still. The dog learns that when she gets to the end of the leash, and pulls and pulls and pulls, nothing happens. Once she figures out she's getting nowhere, she turns around, sits, and looks at her owner because she was rewarded yesterday many times for that same behavior (sitting).
When your dog focuses on you, you reward her once for sitting and additional times for remaining seated until eventually she just looks at you. When she's focused just on you, wait two seconds, give a release word like "Okay," point to the treat, and let her get to it but hurry with her so she's on a loose leash. What she's learning is "When I'm on my leash, I can't go anywhere, so I should come back to my owner and ask for permission, because then I might get what I want." She also learns a new situation: "If I want something and I can't get it, I should give up, and I should come and look to you for permission, because then you might give it to me." She's learning that she might get what she wants if she focuses on you and asks politely. You're teaching her to say "Please" by sitting.
The dog is learning "If I want something, it's not a big deal. I might get it if I try harder to look at you and control myself." This training can be applied in all types of situations and for everything the dog wants. If your dog wants to go out, she learns she might get to go out if she sits politely and looks at her owner. If she wants to be petted by somebody you run into in the neighborhood, she learns she needs to sit politely and look at you until you let her approach. If she wants a certain toy, she learns not to go nuts over it, but to wait for you, look at you, and then maybe she'll be able to get the toy.
The training is step-by-step. When Dr. Yin trains dog owners in her classes, during the first four weeks, she works on teaching the various exercises. And there are a lot of human-only exercises because dog owners have to develop the techniques. It's like any sport you learn to play. You wouldn't just go out and starting hitting balls on the golf course or play basketball with others if you'd never played before. Instead, you would learn the skills to play the sport. Dr. Yin teaches those skills, and the owners learn to train their dogs in individual exercises.
Teaching Your Dog a Behavior Gets You About Halfway to Your Goal. The Finish Line Is When Your Dog Learns Good Behavior Is a Habit
In week five, Dr. Yin goes full-bore into the program. All interactions must be correct. The dogs know the behaviors, so now the owners need to really focus on interacting correctly each time. For example, an owner spends some time each day with her dog attached to her on leash while they do things around the house. Every time she stops, the dog must stop. It's basically doing a sit-stay with lots of rewards at first, but as the dog improves, the treats become fewer and farther between.
When the owner walks around the house, the dog must heel next to her. Dr. Yin says many dogs are rather anxious or hyperactive. They run all over the place. Just as people shouldn't behave that way in the house, neither should dogs. Normal dogs, even those who have a lot of excess energy, can learn to walk while at home. Their minds shouldn't be scattered.
The goal is to teach the dog to heel next to the owner, stopping and sitting when she stops, while getting rewards for sitting. The dog is learning that during a regular day, he needs to be calm and focused, and to move calmly through the house. Owners can do these exercises in the beginning for 10- or 20-minute sessions. As the dog improves, they can do longer sessions because they don't need to reward the dog as much.
When an owner can't focus on what she's doing with her dog, the dog should be in what Dr. Yin calls a "bad behavior-free zone." That could be a crate, the backyard, a different room – someplace where the owner doesn't inadvertently do things like pet the dog when he's standing up instead of sitting, or walk too close to the dog so the dog jumps on her when she's not ready to remove her attention. The bad behavior-free zone can't be, for instance, the yard if the dog is going to be barking at other dogs, because that's not a bad behavior-free zone. Basically what this does is focus owners on being consistent and making all interactions with their dog correct. That's how a dog learns that good behavior is a habit.
First the dog learns how to do the behavior, but that's different from learning a habit. It's like teaching a child to wash the dishes. It takes all of two minutes to train someone to wash dishes. But can you train them to make it a habit? Because it's not the same thing. Many of us can train our dogs to perform behaviors very quickly. Dr. Yin uses the example that she can train a dog to heel nicely in five or ten minutes. But to make the behavior a habit is the ultimate goal.
Many Professionals Who Care for Pets for a Living Need to Learn More About Low Stress Handling
I asked Dr. Yin her opinion on why the common-sense principles she teaches aren't offered in veterinary schools. Why aren't vets more of a go-to resource for people who want to train their dogs the right way, in a positive fashion?
Dr. Yin said that what she thinks should happen is the public should put pressure on both vet schools and vet hospitals to provide those resources. Big universities are slow to make changes, and veterinary schools just teach medicine. Educators haven't yet realized that behavior is an integral part of medicine. Veterinarians can't help patients that are too nervous to be brought to the animal hospital, or pets that are unmanageable once they get to the clinic or hospital.
Something Dr. Yin says is absolutely necessary is that veterinarians and their staffs learn how to handle patients in a low stress manner. That's one of her focuses – low stress handling. There are many pet owners who don't bring their dog or cat to the vet because it's too stressful for the animal. This is especially true of cat owners, and Dr. Yin feels a big part of the problem is the way cats are handled at vet appointments, as well as the environment at many vet clinics.
For example, in human medicine, many MRI rooms for young patients feature story themes on the walls so the children are less fearful of the procedure. Dr. Yin feels the same kind of thing needs to happen in veterinary facilities. There are ways to make animal hospitals more comfortable for patients. And pet owners also need to arm themselves with information about how to recognize signs of fear and anxiety in their pet during vet visits.
Dr. Yin has a lot of information on this subject on her website, DrSophiaYin.com. If you go to her blog, you can find lots of videos and photos of what dogs look like when they're fearful. She also provides flyers and posters on what people do that inadvertently makes things worse – like greeting a dog the wrong way. That includes staff at veterinary clinics, groomers, animal shelter employees, and even dog trainers. People in all walks of life make these mistakes. If pet owners arm themselves with information about what exactly is going wrong, they can work to change things.
For example, if you take your dog for a veterinary appointment and he's a bit fearful, and you notice that one of the staff is putting her face right into your dog's face or handling your dog roughly, you can say "Here's a resource you can use that shows you better ways to greet a fearful dog and other ways to handle dogs in a more socially appropriate and skilled manner. It's put together by a veterinarian and it's a well-recognized tool." The dog owner can even suggest to the veterinarian that he or she train the entire hospital staff in Dr. Yin's low stress handling techniques. There's a special section of her website dedicated to low stress handling, and people and hospitals can become certified after they've been through the training. Dr. Yin just started the certification program, and already a handful of animal hospitals and many individuals are onboard. But it's important for pet owners to also arm themselves with this type of information so they can put gentle pressure on veterinarians. At some point, it may even trickle down to veterinary schools!
Dr. Yin Offers Three Pieces of Advice to New and Prospective Dog Guardians, Based on the Top Behavior Problems She Sees
I asked Dr. Yin to offer three pieces of advice, based on the top behavior problems she sees, to people who have just brought a puppy home or are thinking about getting a dog. What are three things these dog owners can do to avoid making any huge mistakes with their new pet?
Dr. Yin answered that number one, people need to select the right puppy. She says her dog Jonesy couldn't be in another home – that he would've unraveled quickly, probably within the first few weeks. When she went on a trip to Australia for a month, she left Jonesy in the care of her staff. Now, Jonesy has been trained to sit calmly when he wants someone to toss his toy. He will immediately sit or lie down and wait calmly. Within a week of her departure, Dr. Yin learned that Jonesy was barking for over two minutes continuously to get his toy tossed. So within a very short period of time, the dog's impulse control was just gone. His problem behavior of impulsivity had reappeared within a few days. So the first thing potential dog owners should consider is what type of dog is right for them. They should ask themselves, "Do I want a project?"
And there are programs to help people do that. There's one called Meet Your Match, sponsored by the ASPCA. And there are others. Prospective adopters can ask their local shelter what program it uses to match pets with new owners.
The second piece of advice Dr. Yin offers to prospective dog guardians is to try to avoid any problem issues. One of the biggest issues is fearfulness, because if a dog is fearful, there's going to be a lot of work involved. She advises against allowing compassion to make the choice for you. A dog cowering at the back of his kennel can tug at your heart. You feel sorry for him. But that fearful pup is going to be a lot of work. And be ready to invest some money as well, because you're probably going to need some help for a dog who is fearful. She advises prospective owners to stay away from those situations unless they know what they're getting into and have the time and other resources required to work with a fearful pet.
Number three, according to Dr. Yin, is to begin working with a new dog immediately. People often wonder if they should let the dog get used to them first, or try building a bond first. Dr. Yin says you build a relationship with the dog through her Learn to Earn program. The program is designed to build strong positive relationships between people and their dogs. It's about training your dog to focus on you. It's learning to move your body in ways that give clear cues. It's about learning to reward your dog when she does the correct behavior and removing rewards for unwanted behavior. And it's about training your dog in impulse control.
The program teaches dogs to understand what you want and to know they will receive clear direction. Dr. Yin likens it to visiting a foreign country. If only one person speaks your language, that's the person you will seek out and trust. What owners learn with Learn to Earn is how to speak their dog's language. You can then give clear direction, which makes your dog trust you. Many people believe all their dog needs is love, but that's not the case, because you need to learn to understand him. Dogs need their guardians to understand them and provide clear direction. That translates as love to dogs, because they're being provided with what they need and want.
Dr. Yin's Fabulous Treat&Train® Device
Dr. Yin has developed some great resources for dogs and their owners. One in particular is my favorite, especially during our long Chicago winters. It's a fabulous interactive training device called the Treat&Train®. My Boston Terrier, Rosco, is quite old. He has cataracts and is also totally deaf, so he can't hear the beep the device emits. But he can still see the target and he still gets fired up! Even with his arthritis and dementia, Treat&Train® time is his favorite event of the day. I asked Dr. Yin to talk a little about her involvement with this fabulous device.
She explained that she was contacted more or less at random by the Sharper Image in 2002. They asked her if she would be interested in developing a product with them. What they suggested was a bark translator because of Dr. Yin's research on barking as vocal communication. There was a product already on the market that they wanted to improve on. She told them she had tested the existing product and it was a loser. She told them they'd lose money and not to develop their own.
But Dr. Yin also realized that Sharper Image employs some very talented engineers, and she wondered if they would make something for her. She wanted them to make a remote-controlled reward dispenser, because it would allow dog owners to reward their pet remotely, and also with better timing. When we handle a dog treat, there's lots of room for inconsistency in the timing of behavior to reward. When the reward comes out of a machine, the dog can trust that the timing is always the same.
Dr. Yin proposed several different uses for the product to Sharper Image, and they responded that they wanted something research-credible. So she chose the use that she could do a research-credible study on, and developed a product and program (which ultimately became the Treat&Train®) for training dogs to run to a location and be calm in the face of high distractions. The distraction she used was people coming to the door. But because the program is multi-step, the protocol can be used in different scenarios. It can be used to train dogs to be calm in any situation.
If you have a dog with separation anxiety, or a dog who gets distracted by certain types of events, the protocol is pretty much the same. For example, in stage one of the training the dog, who already knows how to lie down, learns to remain lying down with distractions, like people running by, doorbells ringing, or balls and other toys going by. The distraction is presented initially at a low level, then progresses in intensity quickly. Often by day two, the dog is suddenly able to lie down calmly in the midst of several distractions. And the protocol works for almost any type of distraction.
Let's say you have a dog that doesn't like having his skin handled at the vet's office in preparation for an injection. As the dog is receiving treats, his skin is handled, but very lightly so he stays focused on the treats. Then you stop, and repeat the step. Next time, you handle him a bit more roughly. In the end, the dog is loving being handled because he's associating it with treats. The product has multiple uses, for behavior problems, as well as training any time a dog owner needs to train a pet to do something at a distance.
The Treat&Train® really reignited my desire to train my own dogs. I saw how much fun they were having with it. In fact, I have to hide mine because the second I bring it out, they're thinking, "Yes! We're playing!"
Here's a quick video of my dogs playing with their Treat&Train®:
Dr. Yin explained that a lot of trainers wonder, "How come the dog's so much better now that I have this machine?" It's because their reward timing wasn't as good as it needed to be without the machine. They're getting much better timing and consistency, which is why the dog just loves it when the treat comes out.
And there are so many uses for it for average pet owners in addition to professional dog trainers. It can be used for agility training. The military in the Netherlands uses it because they need to train their dogs at a long distance. It's also great when a dog needs to be trained to do something complex.
In Dr. Yin's research on the training protocol that comes with the device, she found that dogs had less than a 10 percent error rate and they all finished in the lab environment very close to each other, even though there was a lot of variability in the dog breeds and temperaments. The instruction materials for dog owners explain not only how to conduct training, but also what mistakes look like so they can understand when they're doing something incorrectly.
The Treat&Train® study also helped Dr. Yin and her team realize that positive reinforcement alone doesn't always work, because dogs need to learn that unwanted behavior doesn't work. They need to learn impulse control. In the clinical trial to test the protocol for training dogs to run to a rug and stay lying on it when guests come over, all the dogs did really well learning to lie down with distractions. But in the final stages where you can't always control the level of the distraction at the door, the dogs had to learn that even if they got up, they wouldn't get to the door. Their human would stand in front of the door blocking them. And because they had already learned earlier that blocking meant that they only get what they want if they sit, they automatically sit at first and then decide to go back to the Treat&Train® where they know they can get rewards.
Special Discount for Mercola Healthy Pets Readers
I asked Dr. Yin about the special discount she's currently offering. She explained that one of the things she recommends to all clients is that they take their dog through the Learn to Earn program. The best resource for that is a DVD called Creating the Perfect Puppy, which can be used for both young and adult dogs. For those of you who are interested, go to DrSophiaYin.com/HealthyPets, where you can sign up for a 10 percent discount on that DVD, and begin receiving Dr. Yin's newsletter as well.
Thank You, Dr. Sophia Yin!
Dr. Yin is doing some amazing work, isn't she? She's reinforcing and supporting the bond we know can exist between humans and their canine companions. She's helping dog owners become better communicators with their pet. And of course, everything she does ultimately benefits the wonderful dogs we share our lives with.
Dr. Yin's online resource, DrSophiaYin.com, is loaded with great information, tips, videos, and products to investigate, so make sure to visit her over there.
I so appreciate Dr. Yin taking time away from her busy schedule to share with all of us the wonderful work she's doing. And it was nice to meet Jonesy, too, who got lots of love and petting during our chat!