Dog Training Gadgetry Is a Good Thing

Modern technology helps us teach our dogs to tolerate being left alone, and more.


One of my students recently told me her husband had called her a “dog training gadget girl” as she shopped for a product I’d recommended for her dog’s training program.

I resemble that remark too. I rely on a number of modern gadgets to speed up my behavior modification efforts, and to make them more effective. Take for example, the goal of getting a dog over its anxiety about being left alone, which is a very common request from my students.

Of course, we start with some basics:

  • Use management when a situation is beyond your dog’s skill level at that point. Consider using the services of a pet sitter or doggy daycare when you won’t be able to follow through with your training protocol or when you would need to leave your dog for longer than it can handle at any given time.
  • See my Weekly Yip, for tips on setting up a space in your home where your dog feels safe, secure and relaxed.
  • Give your dog fabulous things to do when it is alone. My favorite activities for doggie alone time include chewing on a raw marrow bone (The Meat House on Mass Ave in Arlington usually has these in the freezer section) or solving a canine puzzle toy. For tips on where to find puzzle toys for your dog as well as how to get your dog hooked on them, see my Weekly Yip,
  • See a behaviorist like Dr. Kathryn Wrubel at Massachusetts Veterinary Referral Hospital in Woburn and/or consult with your own veterinarian to see whether medication may be a suitable option if your dog’s condition seems to approach the level of a true panic disorder, often involving behavior that could hurt your dog and your home, or if your dog’s noisy and incessant complaints are about to get you kicked out of your home.

In addition to these recommendations, I find the use of a Manners Minder remote control food delivery machine and some sort of remote surveillance option to be a big help in many cases. I’ll describe the basic procedure here, but because timing and execution are so critical to this process, I recommend getting the help of an experienced dog trainer to help you get your system started.

Assuming you’ve already gotten your dog accustomed to its zen zone, found chew projects your dog finds irresistible and taught your dog how to solve some puzzle toys, I’d introduce the Manners Minder.

In the beginning, some dogs are frightened of the machine, so it’s important to introduce it slowly. Start by laying treats out in a line leading to the machine, and then dropping a tasty tidbit in its food tray. If your dog is comfortable with the machine at this point, lead your dog away and “ping” a treat from the machine using the remote control. Lead your dog with a treat to discover the ones dispensed by the Manners Minder. Continue in this fashion until your dog goes to the machine eagerly without prompting when it hears the “ping” of the Manners Minder.

Now, start to use the Manners Minder to reward your dog for self-entertaining behaviors. If your dog shows interest in a toy, ping a treat without saying anything—let it seem to the dog like this has nothing to do with the humans in the room. If your dog sits or lies down, ping a treat … and so on. Your dog will begin to experiment with behaviors, trying to get the machine to dispense another yummy bit.

When your dog begins to get into this game and forget about you, slip out of the room, spying from a distance and continuing to reward your dog for self-entertaining and paying no mind to your absence. Return to the room without interacting with your dog and go on about your business, but don’t ping another treat until your next disappearance.

This is the point where remote surveillance becomes really useful! I’ve been able to ping treats from a manners minder while in the neighboring unit of a duplex, in the stairwell of a student’s apartment building and even one floor down in a stopped elevator while working with a student living in a penthouse unit.

Certainly, we could just keep pinging treats while we’re gone, and stop the flow of goodies upon our return—and that’s what I used to do until I learned about video baby monitors—which led to the idea of using Skype video via a laptop webcam and a smartphone. One of my enterprising students even recently found a video camera which works with her internet router so that she can watch her dog from her work computer all day long, helping us to get a sense of what’s going on at the times of day when it’s still a challenge for her dog to be alone.

Once your dog starts to look forward to your next disappearance, you can begin to feed your dog its meals out of the Manners Minder after you leave the house. It’s even possible to use the “down stay” feature to ping treats at random intervals while you are away, setting the dial to be a bit stingier with each trial, gradually setting it up to spit out treats only once in a while. Finally, you can stop setting the machine to deliver treats, and when the dog is used to chilling out alone and self-entertaining even when the machine no-longer delivers treats, you can fade the Manners Minder completely out.

And this is just one of the many ways I use modern technology to help me make my dog training endeavors more effective and more efficient. I’m completely content to known as a dog training gadget girl.

Ann Marie Hoff March 31, 2012 at 08:48 PM
Great article! I work with dogs with issues from being left alone, and any tools we have to make that easier is a godsend!
Bette Yip April 02, 2012 at 03:01 AM
Thank you, Ann Marie! I'm glad you enjoyed this Weekly Yip. -Bette
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