Susan Garrett — Master Dog (and Human) Trainer

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Susan Garrett

“Dogs are here to teach us. And if you don’t open your eyes to that, you’re going to miss life lessons.”
– Susan Garrett

Susan Garrett (@susangarrett) is an incredible dog trainer. She has a B.Sc. in animal science, and for more than two decades has been one of the most consistently successful competitors in the sport of dog agility.

Susan has been on the podium of the world and national championship events more than 50 times, winning those events a total of 38 times. She was of great help to me when I first adopted Molly, my own pup, and her book Shaping Success (The Education of an Unlikely Champion) was selected as the 2005 dog training and behavior book of the year.

Susan is a champ not only for her competitive track record, but for her ability to convey concrete tips and recommendations for:

  • The most critical exercises for your dog
  • The three types of reinforcement
  • How to use crates properly
  • What you should do in the first 24 hours of adopting a puppy
  • How training a dog is like training an Olympic athlete
  • And much, much more!

We discuss every facet of behavioral modification and conditioning, which applies to much more than dog training. These are techniques that work on everyone from chickens to cats to irritating in-laws.

If you only have 5 minutes, you’ll want to learn why negative reinforcement isn’t as effective as positive reinforcement — even for people.

I hope you enjoy this conversation as much as I did!

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Want to hear another podcast about powerful communication? — Listen to my interview with Malcolm Gladwell. In this episode, we discuss routines, habits, and tools, how to make your stories relatable, and why he eats as little as possible in the morning (stream below or right-click here to download):


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QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.

Scroll below for links and show notes…

Selected Links from the Episode

  • Connect with Susan Garrett:

Twitter | Dogs That Listen | Susan Garrett Agility Training | Facebook | YouTube

Show Notes

  • What is the sport of dog agility? [08:27]
  • What separates a good handler from a great handler? [09:37]
  • What differentiates Susan’s approach to training from others? [10:26]
  • Susan contrasts choice-based training with punishment-based and reinforcement-based training. [11:32]
  • Susan explains how her ItsYerChoice game introduces the premise of choice-based training to dogs. [13:47]
  • The three big reinforcements for a dog. [16:11]
  • The first thing to identify: where’s the value for the dog? [16:24]
  • Explaining the reinforcement (or reward) zone. [18:03]
  • “It’s a crowded bar and you’ve got to tip with twenties!” illustrates a technique vs. incentive issue. [19:09]
  • Why crate games build the foundation for successful training. [23:40]
  • Explaining restrained recalls. [28:50]
  • What is the collar grab game? [31:17]
  • Is “call once” a relative or variant of restraint recalls? [34:37]
  • Giving the dog a choice is just one way behaviors are shaped. [35:50]
  • How I reacquainted myself with Molly after a long absence. [39:23]
  • Susan explains transfer of value and why you shouldn’t always make food available. [42:10]
  • The dos and don’ts of getting a new puppy (and how it ties in with trying to do 10,000 kettlebell swings in 28 days). [45:10]
  • Our dogs are just trying to help us become better dog trainers. [47:55]
  • Susan’s first 24 hours with a new puppy — and why she’s never had a puppy wake her up after the first night. [50:12]
  • Potty training: why Susan always raises dogs to do their business on a leash, and how giving that “business” a name helps the process. [52:44]
  • Clicker training: it works for dogs, marine mammals, and Olympic divers. [55:28]
  • Why negative reinforcement isn’t as effective as positive reinforcement — even for people. [1:02:59]
  • How do you avoid doling out negative reinforcement when bad behavior is exhibited? [1:11:03]
  • Susan explains how the San Diego Zoo got a troublemaking, diabetic mandrill to love getting his blood drawn. [1:14:10]
  • X pen versus tethering. [1:20:24]
  • What is jackpotting, and what does science say about its value in training? [1:23:39]
  • Susan talks about a couple of her mentors and how they’ve contributed to the scientific study of animal behavior. [1:24:35]
  • Why do chickens make excellent subjects for a trainer trying to understand positive reinforcement? [1:30:28]
  • “Dogs are brilliant at figuring out patterns of reinforcement.” [1:31:30]
  • The three Ds: distance, duration, and distractions.  [1:34:31]
  • Why did I stop using the bell on the door, and how can I reintroduce it by shaping Molly’s behavior? [1:36:54]
  • What are some of the common mistakes Susan sees people making? [1:40:04]
  • Is there a way to calm down your dog? [1:42:32]
  • Susan talks about her “dog-free” vacation to Ireland. [1:45:23]
  • Most people try to train from the world of “don’t,” but dogs only understand “do.” [1:49:02]
  • Even AcroYoga uses positive reinforcement. [1:49:56]
  • Striving to become a better trainer for the benefit of your dog makes you a better person. [1:50:27]
  • Tools to bring home for your dog before you adopt. [1:51:20]
  • Why Susan advocates online learning. [1:55:24]
  • What kind of training does Susan recommend staying away from? [1:56:13]

People Mentioned

Posted on: November 14, 2016.

Please check out Tools of Titans, my new book, which shares the tactics, routines, and habits of billionaires, icons, and world-class performers. It was distilled from more than 10,000 pages of notes, and everything has been vetted and tested in my own life in some fashion. The tips and tricks in Tools of Titans changed my life, and I hope the same for you. Click here for sample chapters, full details, and a Foreword from Arnold Schwarzenegger!

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33 comments on “Susan Garrett — Master Dog (and Human) Trainer

  1. Thanks Tim. I’m looking forward to listening. I work with English & French bulldog rescue and the habits these guys come in with can scare anyone away from a dog. I’m hoping to pick up some tips & tricks to help with our foster dogs.

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  2. Thanks Tim! I’m a Licensed and Board Certified Behavior Analyst trained in the Skinnerian tradition (and long time listener). It is so awesome to see our little world given good exposure in the media! I always thought your worldview would jive nicely with the objectivity and deterministic framework of Behavior Analysis. Keep digging deeper into it!

    Like

  3. Living in Africa where we have a daily struggle to find funds to secure the future of our wildlife amongst rural poverty, I think it is high time for pet owners and animal lovers to rethink their application of funds. Can you imagine the millions of dollars that will be released to support animals in the wild if we get rid of pets over time and channel the funds used for our pets into wildlife funds. Not to mention the positive effect on climate change if the millions of pets all over the world can be phased out over time

    Like

      • I do not think it is a matter of compliance and timing. It is more a matter of a mindset change that should happen with animal lovers – the love of animals and the accompaning time, energy, money, etc should be diverted to and rather invested into the suffering animals in the wild (in their fast diminshing habitat). If this become a large voluntary movement it can have a marked positive influence on global warming (less overcrouding and less resources used due to less pets and the preservation of precious natural habitats that look after itself in theclong term.

        Like

  4. Great podcast again, Tim. Been thinking of getting a dog for a long time and I wanna make sure I have enough info before I do that. Quick suggestion: Could you leave out or at least, trim the product pitch in the beginning? I get that they are brilliant products, I am sure they are of great value but at times, I am just not interested. Thanks!

    Like

  5. Great podcast!

    These concepts are all new to me and they were fascinating to hear about.

    I’m wondering if I can use the same ideas to get myself to workout more consistently? I’m an artist and I practice that for hours everyday and I love it. I also like working out but it’s definitely second string to drawing.

    I’m not out of shape, but I still would like to be able to maintain a consistent routine even when my art deadlines are tight or when I’m working on a really fun drawing and don’t want to stop.

    Any ideas how you could use some of her techniques to do that?

    Like I said these are very new to me and I’m going to re-listen now, ant any help would be great!

    Like

    • One way is to reorder your activities. Do enjoyable ones only after the ones you have difficulty starting. Another way is to anchor the great feelings to a signal (clicker) and trigger the signal after each significant step accomplished This is your reward system.

      Like

  6. Another great episode! I would like to try out some of the things mentioned with my two goats. They sometimes jump over the fence and I have concerns that other goats in the herd will copy that behavior. Does anybody have experience with goat training or any good ideas?

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  7. Tim,

    Congrats on your milestone with Vince Vaughn. There’s your reward for all the hard work you put in, enjoy it. FYI – I just made a ticket request for your show in LA. Thursday or perhaps tomorrow.

    Like

  8. Man, this couldn’t have come at a better time in my life. Between my pregnant wife, my daughter, and running a business it’s been hard to train Goji. I get to spend time with him, but never enough. This episode has made it so the time I do spend with him is well spent! My wife has to handle a toddler and my golden doodle pup at the same time in many cases. We’ve got to get him trained well before the arrival of our son! The advice Susan gives here is easily implemented the same day and I believe it will change the relationship we have with our dog! Thanks for posting this on the perfect day! Thank you Susan and Tim!

    Like

  9. Can’t help myself — there were a lot of inaccuracies about specific behavioural techniques. I think it`s important to recognize the differences between punishment vs negative feedback vs negative reinforcement vs the positive of these…

    Reinforcement ALWAYS increases whatever it follows. When we talk about a “reward”, we mean a positive reinforcement (= something added to a situation that increases the behaviour that just happened. But negative reinforcement also increases what it follows — except by taking something away. So, a mother is negatively reinforced by having her child stop crying when she picks it up — crying is removed, picking up is reinforced (“rewarded”) by that. Or you giving treats to your dog is negatively reinforced if the dog stops barking when you do that. (The dog, on the other hand, is positively reinforced to bark more when the treat is *added* to its situation.)

    Punishment ALWAYS decreases what it follows. You might add something (positive punishment) such as a whack or loud angry voice or subtract something (negative punishment) such as withdrawing your attention or isolation.

    Feedback is something that just gives information. Positive feedback adds information that increases the “starting place” (like microphone “feedback” resulting from addin gthe amplified sound to the sound to be amplified — until it blows the amplifier or your eardrums😉 Negative feedback acts to constrain the “starting place” – to rein it in, like feeling less hungry the more you eat. Your body naturally uses negative feedback to signal it’s time to stop.

    None of these — as terms and techniques — have any value-implication. “Negative” is not bad,it’s just to the left on the number line — meaning it’s taking some out of the situation or dialing it down.

    Positive reinforcement is not any better than negative, depending on the behaviour and the goal. Punishment is generally more effective over the short term to stop something, BUT less effective over the long term or when the “punisher” isn’t present.

    Thanks for listening — I feel better now.🙂

    Like

  10. Great to hear from a) a knowledgeable woman (not too many of those are featured on your show….) and b) someone who has more dogs than me! Thanks for this one.

    Like

  11. Susan sounds like a great trainer. I was hoping she’d discuss training, or rather re-training, aggressive dogs, both human and dog aggressive. Does she have any experience in this or can she recommend trainers in the US who do? Thanks.

    Like

  12. Lots of great info here… Susan Garrett was a terrific choice for a dog training guest.

    A couple of points I’d like to make (not that anyone asked).

    I don’t think it’s right to say that world championships in agility are an objective measurement of how good a dog trainer is… it’s just an objective measurement of how good they are at teaching dogs agility. There are several different types of dog trainers and too often they all just get lumped in the same bucket.

    I am a “dog trainer” in Austin, TX… my specialty is working with dogs that have behavior problems, often some kind of “aggressive” behavior related to fear. That’s my thing and I’m confident I can do this type of work as well as anyone. But there are no competitions for this – I have zero trophies on my mantlepiece and competitive canine sports have just never interested me that much. It would be a serious mistake for someone whose goal it is to win agility competitions to come to me. And it would likely be a mistake for someone whose dog is exhibiting behavior problems to select a trainer based on agility championships.

    That’s not to say one can’t be great at both and that certain skills don’t crossover, but you can’t just assume because someone is good at one they are also good at the other.

    There’s a lot of talk about how other animals learn and how it applies the same way to dogs. But something I wish was emphasized more in dog training is what makes dogs DIFFERENT from other animals and how those characteristics can be used to enhance learning. Think about how dogs, compared to other animals, respond to our voices (activating excitement with higher pitches, etc) and hand gestures (specifically finger pointing). Look at the research (Paul McGreevy – “An overview of the dog–human dyad and ethograms within it” is a good place to start). I love clickers and the precision they provide for certain things, but how we use our voices and bodies to communicate naturally is woefully neglected by too many.

    I’d take the science not supporting “jackpots” thing with a grain of salt… jackpots can be given and used in so many different ways and for different purposes. I look at a jackpot as a tool for trying to get a certain result in a particular situation. There’s more to it that just giving extra treats when they perform something particularly well. I wouldn’t dismiss the importance of Susan saying she jackpots because it FEELS good to her. This is huge! It’s a natural and honest display of gratitude, which is good for the relationship and for the soul! The Jackpot is the ENTIRE party, not just the beer.

    In reference to the struggle you had getting Molly to do stuff at the party, think about what leverage you had. You mentioned tipping with $20’s, but maybe in this situation you have to tip in $100’s. What would have happened if you’d picked up a little pizza cheese or burger meat as a motivator? Or even a brand new, never been played with before squeaky toy? Maybe you tried, maybe you didn’t and maybe the results would have been the same, maybe they wouldn’t have been. Only the dog can decide what job is “worth” doing in any given environment. But the first thing I’m asking myself in that situation is “what leverage can I use?” The difficulty level of Distraction is ultra high in that environment. Maybe you were able to use $20’s to get Molly to do the easy jobs. But for the harder jobs, $20 might not cut it. Successful repetitions of the hard jobs in that environment will make the job easier for the dog to do in the future. So you might whip out those Benjamins and get a bunch of successful reps. When the job becomes easier for the dog to do, then you won’t need to (and shouldn’t) use $100’s anymore. This is not necessarily a one party process – it’s something you might do at one party, then another, until the dog generalizes.

    This is also why you don’t use hot dog or cheese at home if your dog is excited to work for kibble – you waste leverage. It’s not just that they are taking it – they need to be excited by it. I’ll take a dollar for nothing, but I won’t run thirty laps for a dollar. I have a technique called the Golden Treat that I use for finding the right treat for any environment, always trying to maintain leverage. It’s a mistake people make with loose leash walking very often. You take your dog on a walk and they are already super distracted, so you immediately break out the $20’s every time you go for a walk. All is well and good until suddenly your dog sees another dog and goes apeshit and suddenly your dog couldn’t care less about $20. You’ve lost some leverage. You need to have something BETTER than $20 for those situations.

    I might be wrong, but I think there was a miscommunication about the tethering – it sounded like she thought you meant it as a way to force a bond, but I think you meant it as a way to not let Molly go off and get herself into trouble. Otherwise, tether or x-pen, you’re still forcing the dog to stay within a certain area…

    I could go on and on but I’ll spare you any more of my foursigmatic fueled ramblings. Hopefully my writing made sense. Would love to hear an episode about more serious behavior adjustment stuff!

    Your “Be nice to your dog for God’s sake” sign off was perfect.

    Thanks as always for the great content!

    Like

  13. Any suggestions for training two dogs? We have two litter-mate bros about 18 months old that could use some more work. Should we train them together or separately?

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  14. Aww…I remember when you first adopted Molly and were considering training options on your FB page — I was one of the many that chimed in against CM, and refered you to Ian Dunbar, Susan Garrett, Karen Pryor, Jean Donaldson, etc. I am so pleased to see that you made the sound decision to utilize humane, effective, scientifically proven methods to modify and shape her behavior to create a peaceful, stress-free life for her living in our human society. I am only shocked that, being who you are and what you do, and that you were able to make this excellent choice for methods to train Molly, that you continue to feed kibble. I know. I know — the diet issue is such a can of worms, and with most people I wouldn’t even say a thing, but you are so plugged into the diet/nutrition topic for humans that it’s just shocking to me. It’s just so hard to believe that you wouldn’t feed her a species appropriate, wholesome, fresh food diet – particularly since you are so interested in health and nutrition that you don’t recognize how feeding her a raw diet would “just make sense”. But well done on the training aspect — you are making well-informed and excellent choices for Molly on this front! Perhaps you could explain your reasoning behind choosing to feed her processed foods vs. a species-appropriate fresh foods diet? I would be curious to hear your thoughts. Apologies if you have already discussed the “dreaded” diet decision and topic in the past, but you’ve tackled the training topic (and..training, diet, off-leash access, spay/neuter and vaccinations are the biggest lightening rod issues in dogs/cats) so you’ve already tackled one on this list – diet next? 🙂 Cheers! Kasie

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  15. Really enjoyed this episode. My 9-year-old dog has been learning some new tricks, like not being a feral dick.

    My favorite interviews have been the guests who aren’t celebrities. They always seem more real and have more tips that I can apply to my own life.

    Some brains I’d love for you to pick:
    A teacher–at any grade level, really. Tips on parenting, group management, teaching and learning…
    A classical musician (might I suggest Yuja Wang?)–How to practice better, dealing with nerves in performance…
    A living philosopher–How to think and reason better, navigating morality in the real world…
    Robert Greene–I’m surprised this hasn’t happened already.

    Thanks for the work you do. My life is definitely better since I discovered 4HWW ten-ish years ago. Can’t wait to get my copy of ToT.

    Like

  16. My post-it note of stand out management principle, canine, homo sapiens…business etc…:
    What do I want?
    What have I got?
    Where’s the value?
    then, create the behaviour
    and, reinforce.
    Rinse and repeat….!
    Thank you Susan and Tim

    Like

  17. Thanks so much for featuring an amazing positive, choice-based trainer! It’s really sad to me that so many people only know about force-based, punishment based training thanks to the media’s focus on that type of training. Susan is one of my mentors and my sll time fave dog trainer!

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  18. Great episode Tim. I will be revisiting it and putting into practice next month when I dogsit for my parents for six weeks!

    I am an interviewer and I’m always trying to improve by studying great interviewers (like you). One of the ways of studying I have found helpful is to transcribe just what the interviewer says / asks. This way you can attempt to follow their train of thought as they were listening to the subject. It’s particularly interesting to hear how the interviewer handles transitions from one subject to another, and how they ask follow up questions.

    Aside from actually interviewing people, what homework / study / practice have you done to improve your interviewing skills?

    Thanks!

    Conor

    Like