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Training a One Way Sound Alert (alert 1.1)

One way alerts include any time the dog needs to get your attention, but you do not want her to take you to the source of the sound. For example, for a smoke detector or fire alarm just telling you that they are going off is enough. You do not want to be led back into a fire to learn it is the smoke detector going off. It is helpful to train a separate alert behavior for safety issues so you will know which specific sound your dog is alerting to (such as laying down at your feet for smoke detector, refusing to move for oncoming cars etc.)

You want your dog to alert only to you, not to helpers, family members or other people so only reward the dog when she alerts to you. if she tries to alert to anyone esle, ask them to ignore the alert and verbally redirect your dog by cuing the alert behavior. Reward that behavior.

1. Train and practice the alert behavior separately
For example: use targeting to teach a nose touch on your leg. Shape it into a hard nose nudge just above your knee. An easy position to start training this behavior is with you in a sit. Then when your dog is successful, change your position to a stand, squat, sit on the floor, face the dog, turn to your side, turn your back etc until your dog can nose nudge you in any position. Add distance.

2. Set off the sound (optional: use only for dogs that are not sensitive to sounds) Click and treat your dog for any indication that your dog heard the sound (ear flick, turning head, looking at source. Do not c/t a bark or other noise!
When your dog is consistently indicating that she heard the sound, go to next step.

3. Set off the sound and immediately cue nose nudge. (set off sound, cue 'touch', dog nose touches, click as nose makes contact, then reward)

4. When your dog is offering nose nudges consistently, fade the cue (touch). Set off the sound and alternating using the cue and not and see if you get the behavior. After several repetitions, the sound alone will trigger the alerting behavior (nose nudge). If not, keep practicing with the cue. Now the sound has become the cue to do the alert behavior. Practice this until your dog nose touches after sound 8/10 times before moving on.

Check out this video for an idea of what this looks like. This person started with no cue and is shaping the dog to nose nudge on the sound only.

5. Change positions from sitting to standing to facing towards dog and away. Practice crouching, and even laying down. When your dog is successful at this level, try doing other behaviors such as pretending to do the dishes, talk on the phone, watch TV etc. while setting off the sound.

6. Next add distance in one foot intervals. You can either throw a treat away from you or have a helper make or start the sound from increasing distances away.

7. Change positions where the dog is in relation the sound. For example, throw a treat on the opposite side of the sound to where you are standing, then you back up so the dog must pass the sound to come to you to do the alert. (This prevents the superstition that the dog must come first to the source of the sound or be near it before alerting you). Only reward when the dog walks by the sound to alert you.

8. Adding distractions such as another person in the room, TV or radio on, two people in room, a person standing between you and the sound, person engaging you in conversation etc.

9. Ask a helper to set off the alarm. Your dog may want to go to them to alert first. Ask your helper to ignore the dog by avoiding eye contact, not responding to the alert, not petting or otherwise distracting the dog etc. You then give your alert cue "touch" and your dog will come to you to alert. C/t. You will need to practice this several times before the dog understands that it is only when she alerts you that she gets rewarded. Adding other helpers in the room and training the same way with all of them (prepare them as to what you want them to do if they dog alerts to them). With many repetitions, your dog will learn to search only you out in a crowd.

10. Use the timer on your alarm to set the alarm off at unpredictable times during the day. Ideally, try not to let your dog see you set the alarm or she will anticipate that you are doing it. For example have it set to go off when she is relaxing on her bed, when she is playing quietly with a toy, when she is sleeping lightly, when she is sleeping soundly. Ideally, she should jump up from a sound sleep and run to you to give the alert. If she is sound asleep, she may hesitate and she may be disoriented, but give her upto to 6 seconds the first few times (count one one thousand, two one thousand) in your head)to assess what is going on and to start moving towards you before helping her by cueing the 'touch' cue. Do not say the cue if she starts moving towards you before that time. As she gets more practice, allow her less time time decreasing in one second intervals (but always allowing at least 3 seconds to orient on her own).

11. Generalize the behavior by training at different locations, starting from the beginning at each location.

You can use a one way alert to teach your dog to alert you to: fire alarm, smoke detector, wake up alarm, someone calling your name, horn honking, car backing up, etc.

This same process can also be used to train a low blood sugar (diabetic) alert. If your dog will be doing both sound and diabetic alerts, it is helpful to train different alert behaviors for each so you know which the dog is indicating.

Watch our video to see the process in action!