Soundwork 101 Lesson Three: Set up for Success!

By March 26, 2018Blog

This lesson will show you how you can set up your attitude and your environment to make the most of your dogs natural talent and your training.

How Hearing Dogs Invented Themselves:

Who came up with the idea of Hearing Dogs? Not dog trainers! It was Deaf people who had dogs that “taught themselves” to alert to sounds. The idea spread farther when training programs started trying to train dogs to do this behavior.

You have probably met people who said they had a dog that knew that they were Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing, and alerted on its own without training. Or, met hearing people who say their dog alerts to sounds, even though they don’t need alerting. How does the dog do it?

First of all, the dog cannot understand the concept that a person cannot hear. That is way beyond even the smartest dog.

But here is how I have figured out that the process happens independently of training… especially with dogs that have super soundwork talent. These “naturals” are both curious about sounds, and very interactive with people.

  1. The dog notices that people get excited when sounds happen, and starts to anticipate the running to phone, door, oven timer, etc., by the family. It joins in the activity.
  2. One day, the dog hears the sound first, and beats the family to the door or phone. Of course, the owners are thrilled, and start praising the dog for this great trick. The praise and attention reinforces the dog for going to the sound.
  3. When the dog gets to the sound, it looks around for the people, and often runs back to them to join in their excitement and get praised. If the sound continues, then the dog will run back to the sound.
  4. Now the owners are really excited; the dog is going back and forth to remind them about the sound! Many dogs find the activity fun, and also love getting praised. High-energy dogs are usually bored by laying around, so sounds give a welcome break in their day.
  5. Wow! We have a dog doing sound alerting! The owners wonder how the dog knows they are Deaf, and how it knew that they wanted to know about those sounds. Now you know the secret. This kind of reinforcing behavior from the owner is how dogs become sound alerting dogs, without any conscious help from their owners.

We can copy this unconscious training process, but adding treats and systematic training will help the process go much faster. We can also teach the dog to alert to sounds that it doesn’t think are interesting. Not all dogs have exactly the right traits to pick this up naturally, so this class will help get less talented dogs alerting, too. No dog is perfect, and all have different areas that will need your intensive training.

Remember: the most important factor in your success will be the relationship between you and your dog, and whether you can make soundwork more fun than anything else! Even a talented dog needs nurturing and encouragement.

If your dog is not a “natural”, don’t feel bad. The dogs that are the very best at soundwork sometimes are the worst at public access training and behavior. A dog that is positively reactive to sounds is often way too reactive in other parts of its personality. For instance, Jack Russells react eagerly to high pitched sounds like smoke alarms and timers. That is because they have a strong instinct to react to sounds of small animals and kill them.

It’s VERY hard to find a dog that is both reactive to sounds AND has a gentle easygoing temperament.

  • Some are wonderfully calm and can concentrate on obedience stays, but need extra help to get excited about sounds, especially to wake up to alert.
  • Some are good at soundwork, but are active and distractable and have trouble controlling themselves for obedience “stay” cues.
  • No dog is perfect, and training a Hearing Dog continues throughout the dogs lifetime.

You can control these factors in your training:

  • Your attitude.
  • Your home environment.
  • Your dogs attitude.

Set Your Attitude up for Success:

Be prepared to be happy when sounds happen, no matter how you feel. If you notice a sound happening, you can act excited and give the dog a treat, then continue your day. Each tiny training session can be as short as 5 seconds. Intensity and fun are what makes a great Hearing Dog, not how many hours are spent drilling.

We are all busy… and training is doomed when busy people have to find time to plan training sessions. Every trainer knows that pet owners have trouble scheduling homework sessions for their dog. Life gets in the way. Dog trainers, of course, are obsessive. They neglect other areas of their life, in order to spend every possible minute teaching and playing with their dogs!

If you are not the obsessive dog-trainer type, then during daily life, be ready for every chance to let your dog know you love it to respond to sounds. Lots of opportunities to reward the dog happen every day, so don’t miss out! You will also have to schedule focused training sessions, but try to make training fun in between sessions, too.

Soundwork can be trained in the beginning like a rote- performed trick, but the reality of Hearing Dogs is that we need to be alerted at unpredictable times of the day and night, and to unpredictable situations. The dog needs to practice in daily life, not just in training sessions.

If you only reward the dog during training, it will only alert during training, and it will ignore sounds the rest of the time. BUT: If you reward and encourage the dog in daily life, it will alert in daily life.

These short training sessions help the dog realize that sounds are triggering your happiness… AND making you produce the treats or toys. And, when you are busy at a computer or on the phone, your sudden focus and attention is a nice surprise for a bored dog. Pretty soon, the sounds will become a conditioned reinforcer that means FUN, FOOD, TOYS, INTERACTION.

What’s a conditioned reinforcer? Think about the recess bell in a school.

Boredom…boredom…classwork… recess bell: DING! FREEDOM!

Now the kids get freedom, play, interaction, a snack, running free: these are all intense rewards for children. I would bet that for the rest of your life, if you heard that bell at any random time, you would experience a happy little leap of joy in your heart. That emotional association you have with the bell or recess is now a conditioned reinforcer. This is the feeling a Hearing Dog must have when it hears the phone, so that it prefers alerting to sounds rather than sleeping or playing by itself.

Think of all the times you get frustrated or bored waiting for something, and make these your cue to do a few seconds of training:

  • When you are waiting for something on the computer: ring the timer and give a treat.
  • On hold on the phone: ring timer and give a treat.
  • Doing dishes: ring timer and give a treat.
  • In the bathroom: ring the timer and give a treat.
  • Cooking: ring the timer and give a treat.
  • On the toilet: ring the timer and give a treat.

A ten-second training session is very valuable. It mimics real life alerting, and surprise sounds help the dog learn to alert at any time of day or night.

Set up Your Environment for Success:

Wear a treat bag. The best for this class is the kind that snaps shut. Try to keep it towards your side or back, not right in front of your body.

The dog can still smell the treats, but the shut bag is better than the open type. Carry treats the dog loves. Later, the treat bag will be substituted by the treat containers around the house.

Put treat containers all around the house out of reach of the dog.

Velcro treat containers to a wall, thumbtack baggies of treats to a wall, or put them up high on a shelf. If your dog does something you like, you can easily reward it. Seeing a container will remind YOU to make a sound happen or simply practice a sign/verbal cue like “Touch”. Taking the treat out of the container reinforces the dog’s understanding that it can cause people to open treat containers. This helps the dog gain initiative, because in our method of Soundwork, it will be pestering a person to go to the sound and open the treat container.

Always keep treats in your containers. Yes, for the dogs whole lifetime! The reason for this is that daily life events are always un-training your dog. Other people answer sounds, or you are sound asleep and ignore your dog, or sounds stop. Other pets and family play with the dog and distract it. Sometimes you might accidentally tell the dog to go away, when it is alerting you. Maybe the phone will fall on the dogs head. This is normal life. So, your dog needs treats, to compensate for all the times it did not get a reward.

Set up Your Dog for Success:

Your dog needs more than training. The happiest part of its life must be fun and partnership with you.

Your family needs to be cooperative and helpful. Sometimes kids get jealous of the dog when you spend time training. The solution: have the kids help you train. They can hide timers, hide treats, help praise the dog when sounds happen, and keep treat containers filled. Praise them a lot!

Who will the dog be trained for? If you are training the dog, then you need to be the favorite person! Your dog can love everyone, but it must love you best. You should do MOST of the feeding and playing. If your dog prefers another person, then you must become more interesting, and the other person has to reduce their interacting or feeding the dog.

Lessons Four and Five will give you many tips on motivating your dog.

Foundation for Timer Training:

This is your instructional video for Lesson Three. “Dinner Is Served” with the timer first silent, then ringing.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H4qU-DJRq8g

Starting a baby pup? Here is a video on starting a puppy or fearful dog with this method:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gHrahpgjXuQ

Learn to set your kitchen timer to one second.

Your training will go faster if you can turn the timer off and on with the same button. The Acu-Rite and many other timers do this. Get several timers if possible. It is okay if they have slightly different sounds. You might want one by your bed, one clipped to your clothes or in your pocket, and one elsewhere.

First, make sure your dog is not afraid of the timer! Get off to a good start by associating the silent timer with treats:

NOTE: You will be doing these exercises twice. This set of instructions has the timer silent, and the next set of instructions has the timer ringing.

Is your dog trained to NOT eat treats from the ground? Choose now between two options: train with the timer on the floor, or train with the timer on a Target Area.

Perhaps you are not comfortable with placing the timer on the floor and having treats spill off onto the floor. In later lessons we will be using a stepstool or cake pans as Target Areas. You have the choice to put the timer on the stepstool (where treats may still roll off onto the floor) or a cake pan. Either way will get good results. Follow these directions to acclimate your dog to these items. Then do the next lesson, but again using the stepstool or cake pan instead of placing the timer on the floor.

CHILD’S STEPSTOOL:

  • You can Velcro or tape the timer with lid onto a childs stepstool. If the stepstool is wobbly, tape or velcro it to the floor to avoid scaring the dog.
  • Put a treat on the SILENT timer lid or directly on the stepstool. Praise when the dog eats the treat. Repeat until the dog seems confident eating off the stepstool.
  • The Stepstool will be an important Target Area for later courses like Soundwork 102, so this is a good time to get the dog used to eating treats on the stepstool.

PAN:

  • Put the SILENT timer in a metal or plastic baking pan that is the same material as the dogs food bowl. This helps the dog think the pan is a safe object like its food bowl. Then the treats are not directly on the floor. Tape or Velcro the timer in the pan so it doesn’t move around or get grabbed by the dog.
  • Put a treat in the pan. Let the dog eat the treat. Praise when the dog eats the treat. Repeat until dog eats the treats confidently from the pan.
  • The pan will be an important Target Area for later courses, so this is a good time to get the dog used to eating treats from the pan.

Training Game – “Dinner is Served” (with SILENT timer) 

The timer must be OFF. Why not ring it? Because a sudden sound, combined with the sight of the timer, could make a fearful dog afraid of the sound AND the timer. First, train the dog to be confident eating from the SILENT timer.

  1. Take a plastic lid from a container (like a yogurt lid) and tape or Velcro it to the timer to make a place to put treats.
  2. Leave the silent timer on ground with treats around it and in the lid. You can also put sticky cheese on the lid for the dog to lick off. Put a treat in the lid. Praise whenever the dog eats the treat. Repeat until the dog seems confident eating out of the lid.
  3. Pick up the silent timer with lid and hold it STILL. Put a treat on the lid and let dog eat it. Praise when the dog eats the treat. Repeat until dog eats the treats confidently from the lid.
  4. Pick up the silent timer with lid. Put a treat in the timer lid, and move the silent timer AWAY from the dog, so the dog must chase it to get the treat. NEVER move the timer TOWARD the dog. Why? Because things that move toward dogs, often frighten dogs. Things that move away from dogs seem harmless, and are fun to chase. Praise when the dog eats the treat. Repeat until dog eats the treats confidently from the lid.
  5. If you like, set up your video camera and film a one or two minute session to show us your progress!

Now, CHARGE UP YOUR TIMER SOUND!

Daily life training: Keep the timer in a pocket or clipped to your clothes. In between formal training sessions, ring the timer at random times, and act happy! Encourage the dog to come and get a treat. Soon you will notice your dog pricking its ears, running to you, or waking up when you ring the timer.

Does your dog now have a happy attitude about the timer sound? Your dog is ready for the next part:

Are you using a stepstool or pan? Follow these instructions.

  • Then do the next exercise, but with the timer on your chosen Target Area.
  • There is some overlap in this training, because we want the dog to be very confident with the timer, props, and timer sound.

CHILD’S STEPSTOOL:

  • You can Velcro or tape the timer with lid to a child’s stepstool.
  • RING the timer. Put a treat on the timer lid or directly on the stepstool. Praise when the dog eats the treat. Repeat until the dog seems confident eating off the stepstool while the timer is ringing.

PAN:

  • Put the timer in a metal or plastic baking pan that is the same material as the dogs food bowl. This helps the dog think the pan is a safe object like its food bowl. Then the treats are not directly on the floor. Tape or Velcro the timer in the pan so it doesn’t move around or get grabbed by the dog.
  • RING the timer. Put a treat in the timer lid or in the pan. Let the dog eat the treat. Praise when the dog eats the treat. Repeat until dog eats the treats confidently from the pan.

Training Game – “Dinner is Served” (with RINGING timer):

  1. Take your timer with its plastic lid attached. Put it on the floor. Set it to one second, and ring it. Put a treat in the lid. You can also put sticky cheese on the lid for the dog to lick off. Praise when the dog eats the treat. Repeat until dog eats the treats confidently from the lid.
  2. Pick up the RINGING timer with lid and hold it STILL. Put a treat on the lid and let dog eat it. Praise when the dog eats the treat. Repeat until dog eats the treats confidently from the lid.
  3. Pick up the RINGING timer with lid. Put a treat in the timer lid, and move the timer AWAY from the dog, so the dog must chase it to get the treat. NEVER move the timer TOWARD the dog. Why? Because things that move toward dogs, often frighten dogs. Things that move away from dogs seem harmless, and are fun to chase. Praise when the dog eats the treat. Repeat until dog eats the treats confidently from the lid.

Why are you doing this? Because chasing the timer gives your dog a head start for later Soundwork courses. Your dog will then learn to chase the timer, and then search for a hidden timer.

Training Game – “Dinner is Served”  (Advanced)

Is your dog now completely confident and happy about the timer sound and eating the treats? Great! Now you are ready for a more advanced training session:

  1. Get about twenty treats, and hold the timer in your hand. Ring the timer. Put a treat into the lid and move the timer away from the dog. Let the dog eat the treat when it catches up to the timer. Praise when the dog catches up and eats the treat.
  2. Turn OFF the timer, and then RING IT AGAIN each time you start moving it away with a treat in the lid. Praise when the dog catches up and eats the treat.
  3. Ring the timer and move it out of sight behind your leg. Praise when the dog catches up and eats the treat.
  4. Ring the timer, walk away, and let the dog follow the timer. Praise when the dog catches up and eats the treat.
  5. Ring the timer, run or wheel away, and let the dog follow you and the timer. Praise when the dog catches up and eats the treat.

Twenty rings and treats is a long enough session for most dogs. You can do several sessions in one day, with breaks in between.

The LIGHT BULB MOMENT!

Every day, at a time when you are NOT training, ring the timer as a surprise when your dog is not expecting it. You might notice that your dog perks its ears, searching for the sound. Or, it might come to you and act excited. YAY! That is the LIGHT BULB MOMENT! Your dog has learned that the ringing timer means a treat is coming. Show your dog how happy you are, with treats, play, toys, and fun.

Does your dog show no reaction to the timer sound? That means the dog is telling you it needs more sessions! Every dog takes a different amount of training to learn this association. But once it is learned, it is never forgotten.

If you like, record a two minute video session to show us your progress!

Foundation Training for Door Alert

  • Keep a treat container out of the dogs reach next to the door. Or, a toy box with a favorite toy. Velcro or tape the box to the wall if you need to.
  • Whenever you walk by, knock on the INSIDE of the door yourself!
  • Throw a treat AT the door, so it bounces off and onto the floor in an exciting way. The dog will think the door gave the bouncing treat, even though it sees your hand. A moving treat is more fun for the dog to chase and pounce on.
  • Or, open the toy box and bounce the toy against the door so the dog can chase it.

Training Game – “Knock and Drop”:

  • You can use a treat pouch, or keep some treats in your hand.
  • Get about twenty treats, and knock on the door.
  • Immediately after each knock, throw one treat against the door so it bounces off the door.
  • The dog will be eager to chase the bouncing treat! Praise when the dog eats the treat.
  • Repeat knocking and dropping until dog is eating the treats confidently.
  • If your dog is very toy-motivated, you can use the toy instead of treats.

Is your dog is not allowed to eat treats off the floor? Try this:

CHILD’S STEPSTOOL:

  • Put it next to the door.
  • Knock, then put a treat directly on the stepstool. Praise when the dog eats the treat.
  • Repeat until the dog seems confident eating off the stepstool.

PAN:

  • Put the timer in a metal or plastic baking pan that is the same material as the dogs food bowl. This helps the dog think the pan is a safe object like its food bowl. Then the treats are not directly on the floor.
  • Knock, then drop a treat in the pan. Let the dog eat the treat. Praise when the dog eats the treat. Repeat until dog eats the treats confidently from the pan.
  • You can do several sessions in a day, with breaks in between.

The LIGHT BULB MOMENT!

After about five to ten sessions, you might see your dog look at the floor or at the stepstool or pan when you knock. That is the The LIGHT BULB MOMENT! Your dog has learned that knocking means a treat is coming. If not, your dog is telling you it needs few more sessions. Once the dog learns this, it won’t forget.

This game teaches your dog that the door knock is an exciting sound that gives food and toys. This also helps the dog understand that the door knock is a signal to interact with you, not to overreact to visitors.

Do you have a doorbell?

You don’t have to ring it at this point. Your dog also needs to learn the knock, and this exercise is designed to be an easy shortcut for teaching a positive association with the door. In later courses, you will have a remote controlled doorbell, and people will need to be outside, ringing and knocking.

What about when real visitors knock?

Your dog will probably be very excited. Always keep an extra leash by the door. Put your dog on leash before you let the visitors in. Give the dog a treat, and try to keep it calm while you let visitors in. Later in training, you will need the dog to focus on you for alerting, not be sniffing and barking at the door!

Prevent future territorial aggression problems!

Even if your dog is friendly to strangers now, prevent future territorial aggression problems by having all visitors give treats (or throw a toy) for a sit when you let them in the door. Many shelter dogs show territoriality after about three weeks in a new home. Many pet dogs show this when they reach the age of 15 to 24 months. Assume your dog might develop these problems, and train NOW, to make sure visitors are accepted LATER.

Homework: Lesson Three

Post a video or comment in the comments and discussion area below to answer each of the following questions:

  1. How is your dog reacting to the ringing timer?
  2. How is your dog reacting to you knocking on the door?
  3. “Dinner Is Served” game: tell us how it went!
  4. “Knock and Drop”: game: tell us how it went!
  5. Is your home now Set Up For Success? What challenges faced you? Do you have an athletic cat that steals the treats? Other dogs who are jealous? Kids who are even more jealous? I’ve got lots of ideas, so ask for advice!

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