Posts filed under ‘Guest Post by Cyberdog Online’

The Power of Premack: A Recall Repaired – by Sarah Owings

This is PART 3 of a new series of guests posts by the trainers at, an online (clicker) dog training workshop that Boogie and I were enrolled in last year. This continues from PART 1: Premack Pearls and PART 2:Station Training.  Read my personal review of the Cyber Dog Online course in this earlier blog post. 

by Sarah Owings, KPA CTP

True confessions of a professional dog trainer…If there are big distractions like birds, cats,  squirrels, or the next door neighbor making noise in his yard, our twelve year old poodle-mix, Maya, still isn’t always all that great at coming when called. However, thanks to the power of the Premack Principle, I can safely say that she is at least worlds better than she used to be.

Maya is a dog who has only recently learned to appreciate food rewards. Once free-fed with a bowl of boring kibble left out all day long, Maya used to not only be an extremely picky eater,  she also made it abundantly clear that (unlike our other dog whose whole universe seems to revolve around whatever delectable morsel I might happen to have stashed away in my pocket at any given time), she would much rather chase a cat or a squirrel than eat even high value stuff like salmon, chicken, hamburger or cheese.

To make matters worse, not only was Maya difficult to motivate, my mom had also inadvertently poisoned her recall because back before she knew better, she used to yell at Maya for barking in the yard and, when Maya ignored her, my mom would stomp outside, snatch her by the collar, haul her back inside, and lock her in the house.

Not surprisingly, by the time I took over Maya’s training, she appeared to go “deaf” the instant I said her name, and would run off and even actively evade my hands if I reached for her. She would also deliberately ignore any food I offered her at such times too, clearly suspicious that I was attempting to entrap her.

So, how do you teach a non food-motivated dog to LOVE to come when you call–even away from an exciting activity like barking at the fence? Well, you Premack-it! That’s what you do! By establishing a new pattern where I released Maya back to her preferred activity each time AFTER she offered even the tiniest bit of focus, eventually she began to trust that I wasn’t there to grab her and end the fun, and she began to look at me more often. Additionally, as you can see in the video, an interesting side benefit to this work was that Maya also began to eat the food I offered her too! That means that not only did I end up Premacking her recalls, I ended up Premacking her acceptance of food rewards as well!

More than curbing the barking, my main goal with Maya was to rebuild trust. Because she had no real problems with aggression towards people or other dogs, and because our yard was a safe place to allow her to practice the barking behavior, I made the choice to begin our Premack sessions off-leash right next to the fence. (Side note: I do not recommend allowing dogs with serious dog-dog aggression or dog-human aggression to fence-fight). I also took video so I could measure Maya’s progress more objectively. If the desired behavior of looking at me all on her own without nagging or prompting increased in frequency and duration over time, then I knew I had hit upon the correct reinforcer.

One Year Later… Maya is still a dedicated barker. That’s just the kind of dog she is. However, she is now much more likely to only bark a few times and then come find me. If I have a treat handy, I typically reward her for this good choice. But even if I don’t have a treat, she gets praise and/or a favorite butt or belly scratch, followed by the now ritualized release cue “OKAY! Go bark!” What is interesting is that sometimes Maya does go right back outside to bark for a minute or two, but more often than not these day she seems content to stay with me instead.  When she’s obsessing about something in the yard such as the neighbor or an evil squirrel taunting her up on the telephone wires, I can walk over, stand 5-10′ from her and get offered eye-contact and then a pretty decent recall in just a few minutes. But best of all now, approximately eight times out of ten, I can stand all the way at the back door, 50-90′ away from the distraction, call out a cheerful “Maya HERE!”, and within 20 seconds she comes trotting right inside with eyes bright and happy, and her tail wagging. Now that’s progress!

May 25, 2012 at 7:41 pm 1 comment

Station Training. It’s not just for sea lions! – by Helix Fairweather

This is PART 2 of a new series of guests posts by the trainers at, an online (clicker) dog training workshop that Boogie and I were enrolled in last year. This continues from PART 1: Premack Pearls. Read my personal review of the Cyber Dog Online course in this earlier blog post. 


Look closely at the two dogs in the photo! While they appear to be two cute dogs (which they are!) sitting on little chairs (which they are!), they are also two dogs who have been trained to wait “on station” while the other dog is being trained.

BJ (now at the Bridge) is the dog on the right; Marcus is the dog on the left. Both boys are Havanese and both boys *LOVE* training!

Have you had the experience of trying to clicker train one dog while the other one fusses, vocalizes and carries on in his crate because he wants to be part of the action?  Many people have written to me with that exact problem.

The Premack Principle to the rescue!  The Premack Principle (thank you, Dr. Premack) tells us that we can use a behavior that is very likely to happen to reinforce (i.e. make stronger) a behavior that is not intially very likely to happen. When I started the station training with BJ and Marcus, it was clearly not likely either one would remain on his chair if the other were getting clicks and treats. However, it was very likely that either dog would zoom in upon hearing his name and eagerly participate in training.

Clearly, I had a great Premack setup. The dogs want very much to be the working dog. Any time your dog wants something Very Much (and that something is allowable), you have a Premack situation in the making.

To put the Premack Principle to work, I needed the dogs to be able to jump up on their chairs on cue and to be able to leave their chairs on a release cue – so a little foundation training is necessary first. Marcus was the first “working” dog. The “working” dog is the one who will be on his feet in a training session. I chose a very simple behavior – not something new, not something complicated, but rather something simple that he knew very well – a nose touch to the hand is a good choice!

Even though Marcus was the “working” dog, the dog who is really being trained is the dog on station! To start with, I cued BJ onto the chair and immediately started offering my hand and cueing Marcus to “touch”, click/treat. At first, I cued Marcus for only one “touch”/click/treat. If BJ was lying down on the chair, I would cue “OK” to release him from the chair, followed by a cue to Marcus to get onto the chair.

Round and round we went – “on the chair”, do a rep of hand touch with the “working” dog, “OK” to release the dog-on-station, “on the chair” for the other dog and so on.

The reinforcer for being the dog-on-station was the opportunity to become the working dog.

The reinforcer for being the dog-on-station was the opportunity to become the working dog. It’s a bit of a coordination challenge at first – perhaps a good idea is to practice without the dogs so you can get the order worked out!

After a few rounds, I started extending the “working” dog’s training time. What I watched for now was any sign from the dog-on-station that indicated he was settling into being on the chair. The *instant* I saw a sign of settling in = “OK” to release him from the chair and wham! he was now the “working” dog.

It took only a handful of sessions for these two dogs to get it – that being on station meant you would soon become the working dog. And that, dear readers, is the utter power of Premack.

May 18, 2012 at 5:58 pm 1 comment

Premack Pearls – by Lynn Martin

** Here is PART 1 of a new series of guests posts by the trainers at, an online (clicker) dog training workshop that Boogie and I were enrolled in last year. Read my personal review of the Cyber Dog Online course in this earlier blog post.

PREMACK PEARLS – by Lynn Martin

Yes, most dog savvy people are familiar with the Premack Principle.   It asserts that more probable behaviors can be used to reinforce less probable behaviors.

High-probability behaviors are activities which are performed voluntarily and which are enjoyed for itself without human intervention. Sniffing, chasing squirrels, and all kinds of fun stuff are in this category.

Low-probability behaviors, are behaviors which are often the learned or trained.  Think recall here.

The opportunity to engage in those fun high probability behaviors is a reinforcer for those not so fun low probability, learned behaviors.
We all know this.  But, are we using the Premack Principle to it’s full potential?

It’s easy to “Premack” reinforcers as routine part of your training, whether your dog is a companion dog or a performance dog.  Premack in your training arsenal will allow you to turn distractions into prized reinforcers.  What a perfect system!  What was a distraction and determent to training is now your dog’s high value reinforcer.

So when to use Premack?

Many handlers use Premack routinely when their dog wants to go out a door-dog must “wait” while human goes first.  Perhaps a nice sit/stay while food bowls are being placed.  These are great starts to routinely using the Premack Principle in training.  But, that is just the beginning.

We as trainers sometimes become frustrated when our dogs lose interest during a training session.  I am of course talking about those times your dog makes it clear that he would rather chase squirrels or a ball than train.  You have cued your dog but your dog is not even hearing you because there is that DISTRACTION over there!

If you find yourself wondering what to do about a certain distractions -that’s the time to “Premack”.

Let’s try recall.  My Jake doesn’t know that he is a companion cocker spaniel and thinks he is a working ranch dog.  Life begins outside.  It is the jackpot of all rewards to Jake. Recall is a highly reinforced behavior in our house. But, it is still hard to train a dog that wants to stay outside, to come in readily and happily.

So, sometimes, his reinforcement for coming inside is just to be able go outside again. He loves this. It’s a perfect example of the Premack Principle:  using a high probability behavior to reinforce a low probability one.  I can count on Jake wanting to go outside (high probability). So I can use that to reinforce him for coming in. That means that sometimes when Jake comes in when asked, the reward is: “Good job Jake, you get 5 more minutes outside.”

Do you have one of those crazy “ball” dogs?   Does your dog stare at a ball drooling when you want to work on targeting? Yes, that is the time to use the ball as a reward.  Sometimes just offering eye contact will make me throw that ball.  Other times it is a beautiful high jump that will make me throw the ball.  Now that much-loved ball lives in your arsenal of reinforcers.

In this Premack Pearls series, we will walk you thru various ways to use the principle.  Stationary behaviors will get a training boost with its use.  We will even talk about using the Premack Principle in Behavior Modification.  We will show you how to deal with fence fighting using this principle. We will show you many different scenarios, so that using the Premack Principle in your dog training will become routine and rewarding.

Look how great these dogs are at watching other dogs being trained!

May 11, 2012 at 6:45 pm 7 comments

A gallery of Boogie Art

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