by Mike Stewart | on October 15th, 2009 | in Features, Your Questions
Q. I have a very smart, 11-week old Golden Retriever puppy. He has learned “Leave it,” “Come,” Sit,” “Down,” “Look,” and to touch my hand with his nose on command. However, I have problems with biting and “heel.” On walks he is more interested in biting my hands, my pants, and especially the leash more than anything else. Using the command “leave it,” will get the dog to temporarily abandon the leash, but go back to chewing immediately after receiving a reward. Often, it is almost impossible to
get him to move; he lies on the ground, zeroes in on biting the leash and wanting to play tug-of-war. When I go down to remove it or pick him up, he turns to my hands.
I’ve also tried giving treats every 10-15 feet for good on-my-side heels, but once the treats are gone, the good behavior is as well.
Rewarding pets are returned with bites and verbal praise for good behavior is ignored.
At home, I’ve eliminated the biting by isolating him after every nip, but I cannot do this on walks and he seems to know.
A. Sounds like you’re off to a good start with your 11-week old Golden. I’ll point out one of the Wildrose laws—#5—”Make haste slowly.” You’re trying to teach a lot of commands and behaviors to a very young pup. Pups this age have a short attention span and are easily distracted. Keep things simple, interesting and the sessions short. You’re likely teaching far too many commands at one time before each is becoming a conditioned behavior.
Secondly, your pup is very young and youngsters, especially retriever breeds, very much enjoy using their mouths. Tugging, chewing, pulling are normal behaviors. At this age I’m concentrating more on holding focus, crate training, tying out patiently, early leading (not heel work), and perhaps a sit.
For the tying out, I use a flat collar and a steel tie out cable, 10 feet long. My pup fights, chews, and pulls at this cable which is a fruitless behavior and earns him no results. Therefore, he is not pulling against me nor is he gaining my attention. Once the pup ties out patiently, we can begin to teach leading. Heel work with a loose lead comes a bit later.
Lay off the treats which is only giving the puppy more interest in mouthing your hands and collect all the chew toys which is just reinforcing the chewing. One has to be very careful when training with treats that you are not conditioning in an undesirable behavior that must be trained out later… Wildrose Law #4 – “Don’t train in a habit that you’ll later have to train out.”
Follow these simple procedures, lower your expectations for a pup this age, focus your efforts on gaining patience and the pup’s attention, and be careful not to unconsciously reward your pup for inappropriate behaviors with treats, affection, and praise.
Best of luck.
by Mike Stewart | on September 16th, 2009 | in Features, The Wildrose Way, Training, Video Clips
In order to train any dog, you’ve got to know what your dog is willing to work for. Every dog is a bit different, even within breeds, so finding your dog’s favorite things is up to you. In this clip, Mike explains five basics that should be combined in different proportions depending on what you want in your finished dog. If you pay attention, you’ll also hear Mike mention something called a primary motivator or reinforcer. Here’s a quick primer on the difference between primary and secondary reinforcers.
Primary Reinforcers: These are the things a dog naturally views as rewards. You don’t have to teach a dog that a liver treat is worth working for. Almost all dogs will view a treat as a primary reinforcer. Most retrieving breeds (with a strong prey drive) will view a retrieve or even getting to hold a favorite object as a primary reinforcer.
The Gray Area: These are motivators that some dogs may see as primary and others may have to learn as secondary reinforcers. In this category are verbal praise, affection, and just being with you. Some highly-social Labs go crazy over a high-pitched baby voice. Meanwhile, independent sled-dog and pointer breeds often don’t care whether you’re around or not.
Secondary Reinforcers: These are also called conditioned reinforcers because the dog learns that they’re valuable based on their pairing with primary reinforcers. That sound that the food makes when it hits the bottom of your dog’s bowl is a good example. Most dogs will sprint toward that sound becaus they’ve learned that it’s predictive of food. If your dog will come to that sound, you should be able to train him, through repetition, to come to any sound.
Finally, there’s the bridge, which Mike Mentions. The main purpose of the bridge is to mark a specific behavior and to let the dog know that the reward is coming. But over the course of training, the sound of the bridge—a click or a one-syllable word—will become a conditioned reinforcer in its own right. The bridge word is the lynchpin in positive field dog training. It allows you to mark behaviors at a great distance and then deliver your reward once the dog has returned to you. It’s only through building up the power of these secondary reinforcers that we can get the dog to perform consistently at a distance without resorting to force methods.
by Mike Stewart | on August 24th, 2009 | in Features, Your Questions
Q. “White dog bit my hand.” That was the unabridged version of the note I found scribbled on an envelope in my mailbox, during the week when my patient and long-suffering mailman, John, was out of town. I’ve got two labs, both rescues. Angus is old and gray and barks at the mailman as well; Ruby is sweet and shy with all dogs and people outside the yard-but inside it, she charges the fence and acts like she’s going to kill passersby. It gets worse: The “White Dog Bit My Hand” note came a couple weeks after “White Dog Tried to Bite Me”—this from the paper deliveryman. And here’s the more embarrassing part: I’ve had Ruby for three years. She was probably abused as a pup, she used to be terrified of new people, but has settled down in most situations. She’s mostly lab, but may have a wee bit of pit bull. I’ve tried a citronella collar that squirts when she barks, but it doesn’t faze her.
I’ve tried a lot of “no!” when I’m there to catch the behavior (but she does it mostly when I’m gone). I’ve put an inner fence inside the fence, but she can still reach the gate where the mailbox is. Now I’ve moved the mailbox and am thinking of fixing sweet Ruby up with a shock bark collar. Any other thoughts? Thanks Dog Shouters! —Elizabeth
We definitely have some issues here. Good that you moved the mailbox. A solid-paneled fence that would prevent her from seeing the mailman would stop the barking and lunging as well. But as for correcting the behavior of the dog (rather than just erecting more elaborate defences): Forget the spray collars. They’re not going to work. Bark collars are effective at suppressing the bark and will probably work, but they won’t permanently stop the barking or teach the dog anything. Also, if you wire up one dog, you should probably wire up the other as well. I subscribe heavily to the pack mentality. If the older dog can still bark, it will encourage the other. What the dog really needs is some socialization and desensitization for passersby, especially those in uniform. With Ruby on a lead, walk out and greet the mailman. Have her patiently, then have the mailman deliver treats with each visit. Give your mailman treats ahead of time if you need to. You want to emphasize that seeing the mailman is a good thing and that this territorial aggression thing isn’t needed. Consider a strong obedience program for both of your dogs and cement yourself as their leader. If they don’t feel like they rule the yard, they’ll feel less inclination to defend it.
by Mike Stewart | on August 18th, 2009 | in Features, The Wildrose Way
Here, I introduce Opus to water. The keys to a successful water introduction are simple:
- Get in the water with your pup and make sure it’s not to cold and not more than shin deep
- Toss your puppy bumper or toy. Make sure your dog doesn’t break for it, but watches it for a moment.
- Once you send him, move to block the most direct route from the bumper back to shore. This will prevent the pup from making land and running off with the bumper.
Every good adventure dog needs to comfortable in the water. Making a clean and fun introduction will pay off for a lifetime.
by Mike Stewart | on August 7th, 2009 | in Features, The Wildrose Way, Training
Introducing a young, inexperienced dog to water, whether it’s a hunting dog or otherwise, is a matter of desensitization. We accomplish it just as we would introduce a dog to any new situation—progressively. In case it needs to be said: Never “teach” your pup to swim by tossing him off a dock or forcing him into the water. That’s a recipe for a land-loving dog.
Start off in shallow, warm water, where the pup can easily stand. You should introduce your pup to water only after he understands basic obedience skills and the two of you have developed a trusting relationship. No problem if you’ve had a kids pool in the dog’s yard—actual swimming is different. If you make your intro to water slow and fun, you should end up with a dog that views swimming as a great reward.
The best way to ensure that your dog goes in the water at the first introduction is to get into the water with the pup. Most dogs don’t like being left on shore and will follow their handler right in. I begin with several sessions of heel work in the shallows, with no expectations for swimming. Once he’s relaxed, we start to play with a bumper (retriever), favorite toy (other dogs). Make sure there are no drop-offs or other spots where your novice pup could lose his footing and get dunked. Usually, after a few quick retrieves in elbow-deep water, the dog forgets about the water altogether.
Slowly and progressively toss the object farther from shore. We’re talking only a foot or two of additional distance with each toss and only a few tosses each day to avoid boredom. Water introductions can take several days depending on the dog. When your pup is showing no hesitation toward the water, toss the object far enough to require him to swim to reach it. Usually, that’s all it takes.
No?, He won’t pick up his feet and start to swim? Lead the dog out with you until he’s got to swim. Quickly, they catch on and the swimming reflex is triggered.
Once you’ve got him swimming. Try this gradual build-up to water retrieves
- Wade out with the dog at heel. Toss the bumper just far enough to require him to swim.
- Heel the dog back to the bank.
- Once he’s calm, send him for the bumper. Making him wade out with you to throw the bumper requires him to remember the location of the bumper. It builds calmness, focus, and problem solving ability. Throwing an object and immediately sending your dog immediately can spin your dog up and make him uncontrollable.
- Meet your dog in the water to take the bumper to avoid any fraps on the bank.
- And keep the distractions low. No other dogs, kids, boats, gunfire, real birds or any of that. Remember Wildrose Law #6. Solve one problem at a time.
With a solid introduction to water, layering progressively more complicated skills—like directional signals—will be easy.
by Mike Stewart | on July 27th, 2009 | in Features, The Wildrose Way, Training
Canine prey drive is the instinct that makes many dogs love to locate, pursue, and catch game. It’s a trait that has its roots in wolves, but that’s been honed through breeding over centuries. A strong prey drive, once integral for the animal’s survival, is now the trait that’s often the best predictor that a pup will make a good working dog in any field.
Man’s association with the wolf and, later, its domesticated descendants extends back more than 15,000 years. This relationship evolved first out of scavenging—wolves following nomads and living off their waste. But rest assured, man quickly recognized the gifts and abilities of these animals to hunt and track prey. Well before the shotgun, hunters in Europe pursued rabbits and fowl with falcons. And they used dogs to locate, pursue, and flush game for the birds much like they do for the gun. In today’s dogs, you can see prey drive in a number of different incarnations:
- Retrievers to fetch game
- Hunting hounds to pursue foxes, raccoons, and other animals. Narcotic dogs that locate drugs.
- Narcotics dogs that sniff out drugs
- Border collies that herd sheep
- Any dog that’s ever bolted after a squirrel
But prey drive isn’t limited to hunting or even to working animals. Prey drive also translates into a dog’s motivation to perform. And as a testament to the selective breeding process that’s been honed over centuries, certain elements of prey drive have been deselected. Retrievers, for example, have been bred to pick up game but, contrary to a pure prey instinct, not to consume it. That trait is known as soft mouth. On the other hand, dogs used for hog and bear hunting have been selected for their instinct to catch, hold, and kill game as a pack.
Now if you’re thinking this doesn’t relate to you because you’re not in the business of pursuing feral pigs behind a pack of dogs, I’ve got news for you. Any of these traits—both desirable and not—can be present to in shelter dogs of the type that commonly end up in homes. Evaluating a dog’s prey drive should be of paramount consideration to you in selecting a pet or a working dog alike. Does the untrained dog have any interest in thrown objects? Will he give them up after fetching them or does he clamp down fiercely?
Controlling Prey Drive
The Wildrose training methodology is designed to bring out the natural abilities of dogs (instincts), apply controls, and forge a working
relationship (bond) between the dog and the handler. This is where prey drive becomes important. We want to promote natural instincts like tracking, flushing, and retrieving, but control them so that the dog is looking to us for guidance and not bolting at the first sign of a bird. We accomplish this
by establishing a positive relationship between the handler and the dog and relying on a training methodology that uses fulfillment of a dog’s natural desires as rewards for calm behavior. You give us what we want; we give you what you want.
by Mike Stewart | on July 20th, 2009 | in Features, The Wildrose Way
Dogs have long been used to alert us to faint whiffs of drugs or explosives. In the last decade, trainers have also discovered that dogs can smell high or low blood sugar levels in their diabetic handlers and alert specifically for each of these life-threatening conditions. Unfortunately, the information out there isn’t being readily shared and the techniques being used to train diabetic alert dogs is anything but standardized. To better understand this new field of dog training, we held the first annual Diabetic Alert Dog Training Conference here at Wildrose Kennels, June 24–26, 2009. The workshop was full and overflowing with 60 participants and 18 dogs covering 12 different states. Some of the participants were trainers, and some were people with diabetic alert dogs seeking training assistance. People who came without dogs were looking for guidance in finding a dog. The conference was facilitated by Rita Martinez, “Clickin’ Canines,” in California. Breakout sessions for hands-on work were led by Wildrose trainers, Mike Stewart, Jeremy Criscoe, Ben Summerall, and James and Carissa Skipper.
These are some of the observations we made over the weekend:
- There is a general lack of defined and standardized alerts. In some cases, dogs’ apparent alerts were confused for high or low blood sugar.
- There was a lack of obedience with most participating dogs. Diabetic alert dogs need to comply with the same public access standards as any other service animal.
- There was a question of consistent scent discrimination between the high and low blood sugar levels.
Participants had a great many questions, and a good number were answered by the trainers and those who own and handle their own diabetic alert dogs. Rachel and Abi Thornton, who have Mr. Darcy (a Wildrose Labrador) to alert Abi, run diabeticalertdog.com where they answer questions and give tips based on their experience training Mr. Darcy, who’s now 18 months old.
We’ve got a lot to learn in this field, and there’s an overwhelming need for diabetic alert dogs. More than 16 million people in the US have diabeties. Wildrose has begun developing a training program specifically for diabetic alert dogs. Currently, we have three puppies in training to prove the concepts. Wildrose British Labradors are known for their amazing scenting ability, temperament, and trainability. Their instincts, intelligence, desire to please and smaller size make them exceptional candidates for diabetic alert work. We’ve set up a page for our diabetic alert program here, and will also be discussing the top on our Facebook page.
Finally, we’ve set up the Wildrose Diabetic Alert Dogs Foundation (Wildrose DAD) as a non-profit project of Tupelo, Mississippi’s Create Foundation, to provide quality diabetic alert dogs to individuals with Type I diabetes. All donations to Wildrose DAD go to support programs designed to deliver trained dogs to qualified individuals with Type 1 diabetes. Also the foundation will support research, continued education, training and information dissemination about diabetic assistance dogs.
To contribute online to the foundation, go to createfoundation.com and search Wildrose Diabetic Alert Dog Fund or send a check to Create Foundation, P. O. Box 1053, Tupelo, MS 38802 and designate Wildrose Diabetic Alert Fund.
by Mike Stewart | on July 6th, 2009 | in Features, The Wildrose Way, Training
Summer months provide the opportunity to keep our dogs in shape, improve their skill levels, and, perhaps, rectify shortcomings identified in the field last season. Use the cool, damp mornings and be careful of the summer heat. Exhaustion can be a killer.
Retrievers, pointers, and other high-energy, athletic dogs have enormous enthusiasm for the job, often working to the point of self-injury. On hot, dry days, body heat builds up quickly in the active dog. And because they don’t sweat there’s no way to dissipate the heat.
The key is to recognize the warning signs of exhaustion early and to avoid training during the hottest part of the day. Warning signs include excessive panting, frothing at the mouth, lethargy, and dizziness. Some exceptionally driven dogs won’t slow down as they overheat. You’ve got to be exceptionally vigilant and stop training and cool them down with water.
Get the dog in shape before active training programs. If your dog has been out of service for a while or has become overweight and out of shape, begin conditioning with long walks practicing heel work and swimming retrieves on cool mornings. Swimming is more aerobic, easier on the dog’s joints, and cooler than running. Gradually extend the duration and intensity of the sessions getting the dog accustomed to working in warmer conditions.
Train in the early morning hours when the ground and air are cooler with less humidity. The dew is a bonus, much better than a sun-baked field. Involve lots of water work and choose places with a large tree canopy for shade. Plan sessions. Each exercise should have a training objective to prevent wasted energy, which builds body heat. Hold off long lining, casting, or pointing training for cooler weather. You can run four 25-yard retrieves with brief rest periods between each retrieve and keep the dog cooler than running one 100-yard retrieve.
by Mike Stewart | on June 18th, 2009 | in Features, The Wildrose Way, Training
Our training is based on a positive-reinforcement methodology, although we do use occasional corrections (positive punishment) to build boundaries and stop unwanted behaviors. These are the five reinforcers we use as rewards. The key is figuring out which rewards work best for your dog and then making sure that each of these rewards are earned and never given indescriminately. The dog must learn that all of these rewards come through you.
- The Treat: Food is a primary motivator. That means the dog doesn’t need to be taught to think of it as a good thing or reward. At Wildrose, we’ll use treats to begin training dogs and then move to other, secondary reinforcers (below) that have certain advantages over treats. One thing we’ve noticed over the years is that an over-reliance on treats can lead to latent dysfunctions like nipping at the trainer’s hand, dropping bumpers prematurely to go for the treat, or sniffing the ground to find any dropped morsels.
- The Retrieve: For many breeds and just about every retriever, this is also a primary motivator. Many animals will even value the retrieve more highly than a food reward. Some dogs may not view the retrieve as a reward, but many of those will view an object like a fun bumper or a Kong as a reward. Retrieves (and any other object you want to give your dog) must be earned; impatience, nosiness, breaking, or any disruptive behavior should never be rewarded.
- Affection: A vigorous pet—always on the shoulder or back and not on the head or belly—and enthusiastic “good dog” is a huge motivator when properly timed. Indiscriminate petting is seen as a weakness in the pack hierarchy. Save the petting and affection to reward the best behaviors during training. Affection and verbal praise are secondary motivators in that the dog learns to like them by their association with fun things like retrieving and eating.
- The Bridge: We’ve talked about the bridge before. It’s a sound or cue that bridges the time between the behavior one wishes to reinforce and the resulting reward. Many use a clicker. In dolphin training a high-pitched whistle is commonly used. At Wildrose we use a verbal “good” quickly and powerfully delivered at the same time the behavior we wish to reinforce occurs. With young pups, the bridge comes just before a primary motivator like a food treat or a reward. By association with those primary motivators, the bridge becomes a powerful motivator of its own. And the best part about instilling a motivating bridge word is that you can project it into the field to a dog that’s working. We can’t do that with food. A dog that hears “good!” just as he’s obeyed a good whistle stop or cast knows that he’s done the right thing and that a reward like affection is coming.
- Inclusion: For most dogs the opportunity to be with their owner (the pack leader) and the pack, whether it be other dogs or the family, is a powerful motivator and is reassuring to the dog. Banishment from the pack is certainly a form of correction of an inappropriate behavior much the same as it is for a child when put into time out. The disruptive dog is removed from the activities and is only allowed to re-join when they demonstrate the desired behaviors.
As with any reinforcers or corrections, it is imperative that they are properly timed, consistently applied, not overused to the point that their value is diluted. Normally our reinforcers are progressive. Only the better behaviors are to be recognized to promote behavior modification. In all cases, training is repetition and consistency to the point of habit formation. As always, remember Wildrose Law #5, “Make haste slowly.”
by Mike Stewart | on June 2nd, 2009 | in Features, The Wildrose Way
As with any new pup or dog that’s going to share the home, the first order of business is housebreaking. We are talking about forming habits that will last a lifetime:
We approach the matter by thinking about these three things as one concept. The outcome: a well socialized, disciplined home companion. With pups, building these habits begins the day you acquire the pup, and it’s no different with a new older dog.
We get to all three of these through restriction and confinement: First, no free run of the home and no free choice food or water. Control the inputs and the dog’s space and you will more likely control the outputs. Build absolute reliability before bending these rules.
Use these behavioral tendencies to your advantage. When food or water is offered and accepted, upon conclusion, take the dog straight outside to the designated relief area. Keep feeding and watering on schedule and you are building habits – absolute predictability, absolute consistency. Dogs are creatures of habit and appreciate routine.
Second, dogs need their own space. They should not have the chance to build a their own territory out of your house, so don’t give them the run of the house. When you’re not available to give 100 percent supervision, keep your pup in his crate. Crate training provides the dog with a sense of security. Crates are great for travel and for control when necessary in the home. Pups spend a lot of time in their crates now so they don’t have to later, when they’ve grown into calm reliable dogs.
Dogs do not like to soil their own nest. Do not indulge the dog with an over-sized crate or your dog will likely turn it into a condo – soil in the back and live in the front. As soon as the youngster exits the crate in the morning or after a rest, it’s straight outside to the ol’ designated area. Not a time for a slip up here. Stay the course: Persistence and routine.
Place training is a great habit to instill. It puts you in control as the pack leader. Leaders control territory and define a “place” where the pack members may rest and be patient. While outside the crate, our dog has a place in the home, office,or camp site. Again, dogs respect the sense of security and pack order. With place and crate training, one has improved chances for housebreaking success and the ability to prevent the entrenchment of some quite undesirable behaviors as well. See our selection of dog training mats at www.wildrosetradingcompany.com.
These are the habits fit for a lifetime and rest assured, with consistency and patience, you can teach old dogs these tricks or shall I say, habits.
by Mike Stewart | on May 19th, 2009 | in The Wildrose Way
Once you’re getting a consistent glance away from a bumper or treat, it’s time for the more advanced levels of focus. Gradually build in each of these levels in parallel to your basic obedience and socialization training.
In obedience training, every command is preceded by the pup’s name. This will eventually allow you to work multiple dogs without confusion. Get the youngster to look you in the eye at the sound of his name. Once you’ve got eye contact, then give the command.
Sequence: “Deke” —> eye contact —> “heel.”
Gradually lengthen the duration of the eye contact. This helps build focus no matter what you’re training your dog to do. Then use the whistle instead of the dog’s name. The objective: The peep gets the pup’s attention and the eyes. This is where whistle stops begin—by building up a solid foundation.
Whistle –> eye contact –> “heel.”
Another point at which to gain focus is during hold conditioning, which we’ll get to. (This is teaching the dog specifically to hold an object gently in his mouth without any chomping or chewing.) When teaching hold, maintain eye contact. Provide lots of praise. Later in the progression as the youngster wants to take and hold the bumper to receive the immediate affection and praise you may utilize a variation of Stage I. Hold the bumper to the side and without a word wait for the eyes to lock on yours. Then, quickly give the bumper and praise.
Later, in stop-to-the-whistle training, I once again emphasize eye contact. During whistle stop exercises, hold those eyes for a brief period before the next command or cast. Do not allow glancing about or head swinging. If the dog looks about looking for the bumper (a behavior that can deteriorate into self-employment if the dog decides he knows better than you where that bumper is) or focuses on a thrown diversion bumper, use the whistle to regain the eyes and hold the focus briefly before the cast. If you build up the behavior gradually over time, every whistle stop will result have your dog instantly hitting the brakes and looking to you for direction. We’ll build in this same default response for every diversion, flush, gunshot, or bird down: eyes on their handler for instruction, which will ultimately be followed by the reward of a retrieve and lots of praise.
by Mike Stewart | on May 14th, 2009 | in Your Questions
Q. My three-year-old mutt sure loves cats. Mabel’s dominant breed is black-and-tan coonhound mixed in with some Lab, Weimaraner, and who knows what else. She’s never met one up close but she chases them with enthusiasm that I would really get a kick out of were it not the fact that she often chases them into traffic. It’s happened maybe five times in the two-and-a-half years I’ve had her.
She, has a very strong prey drive for many different animals (deer, wild turkeys, squirrel, etc) but I’d be happy just to curb her desire to chase cats. I’ve heard that I can get a remote-controlled cat decoy for our house and use it to desensitize her to them. I heard about this electronic cat third hand, and so am not sure where to get one of it they even exist. She said it’s used in combo with clicker & treats.
Obviously, I do not let her walk around outside off leash in my neighborhood unless I know we’re in a catless area (dog parks, mainly) but she has snuck past me and run across our street to a house where, like, five frickin’ cats live.
The other night we were driving home from the country–-where she has spent two days chasing critters–-and we stopped for a bite to eat. While we were eating in the parked car, she spotted a cat in the parking lot and was going nuts, wanting out of the car to chase it. About two hours later we pulled into the driveway at home and when I opened the car door she bolted out and ran like nuts down the block, at nothing in particular, then bee-lined for the cat house. She was a dog possessed, but I believe it was the adrenaline from the weekend and the cat in the parking lot. —Mary Catherine
Sorry to be so long-winded. Just looking for advice on curbing this obsession of hers.
A. A cat hound, hey? This is going to be a tough one. What we have here is a dog bred to instinctively do exactly what she is doing, pursue game. To her the cat is legitimate prey. Cats do indeed offer a bit of sport to the hound breeds. Take a look at my post on the various breeds. Basically you’re working against this dog’s instinct. But that said, we, too, in the retriever business do the same. Our dogs pursue game, pick it, flush it from cover, track it, etc. But they have to learn to be steady and only perform these skills when directed. Here’s your task:
- An enormous amount of obedience control is needed: heel, sit, stay and recall must be impeccable.
- When these skills are thoroughly entrenched and your dog’s behavior is calm and focused, we can start introducing distractions. Naturally do not start with the ultimate, a cat (fake or otherwise). Simply walk your dog down the drive bouncing a tennis ball or rolling it in front of you. Have your dog at sit, throw her favorite toy past her and and then require her to stay seated while you pick it up yourself. (This is called a denial.) Only when your dog has mastered one level of distraction can you move to the next level.
- De-sensitize your dog to more active distractions: kids running around the park, squirrels playing about, ground birds such as robins that would flush in front of your dog as she walks on lead. Get your dog walking around other dogs that are running, playing and retrieving. Practice recalls, stay, etc. with all these distractions moving about. Add a check cord for security so you can add distance between you and your dog–another big disctraction.
- Finally, after several months of incremental training with lesser distracionss, it’s time to introduce a cat. See if you can find one that you can place in a cage and work your dog around–seeing it from a distance, then gradually heeling or loose-leash-walking toward the cage, and finally walking right past it. In all trials, your dog’s attention must be on you and not the cat. If she wavers, go back to a lower level of distraction and build up slowly. When heeling, a quick snap of the lead or treats can help put her attention back on you. If your dog likes to retrieve, you might have a bit of a game on the check cord rewarding the good behavior with a fun retrieve and keeping her focus off the cat. With our bird-crazy retrievers, we do a similar exercise using caged quail and pigeons. In order to get a reward, the dog’s attention must remain on the handler and not wander to the bird.
- Once she’s solid with the cat in a cage, it’s time to have a friend release the cat while your dog sits patiently on lead. If your hound attempts to chase, give a firm correction with a “no” and heel in the opposite direction.
There are a lot of exercises you’ll need involving a cat. Desensitization takes a great deal of time, positive reinforcement (treats), a check cord and a slip collar or choker chain for firm corrections and, finally and most importantly, a willing friend with a cat. You can’t just expect your dog to start ignoring cats. It’s a slow and gradual progression. With consistency, patience, and a lot of time, I’m confident you and Mabel can do it.
by Mike Stewart | on May 11th, 2009 | in The Wildrose Way
No matter what discipline—hunting, service, adventure—you’re training your dog for, he’ll require one very important behavior for success: focus.
Focus is a byproduct of patience, concentration, and biddability (the dog’s willingness to please). If a young dog lacks appropriate focus, he’s neither going to learn nor retain what you teach him. Eye contact is the benchmark of focus. I like to see the dog stare straight into my eyes for a few seconds, awaiting instruction. (This means you can’t train with sunglasses, handlers!)
If you hold the dog’s gaze, you’re a leader and your instructions will likely get the attention they require. Learning will take place. Own the eyes and you own the dog. No eye contact, on the other hand, is indicative of an independent nature, lack of concentration, or avoidance. Before you can go on to any other training, build focus.
I look for three levels of focus in training, each occurring at different stages. Here’s stage I. We’ll get to stages II and III in future posts:
With the young pup—three to five months old—I expect brief but direct eye contact. At this age, I’ll use a primary motivator like a treat, food at feeding time, or the youngster’s favorite bumper. (One of the reasons I withhold chew toys is because they lessen the value of the object as a reward if the pup can have access to them any old time. This way, we reinforce that all good things—bumpers included—come through me.) When your youngster offers eye contact, immediately reward the behavior with a verbal, “good,” and a quick treat. Once the pup understands how to sit patiently, set the pup off the ground on a bench. Hold the treat out to the side at arm’s length. Remain perfectly still and quiet. This must be a voluntary action on the part of the pup. When the pup glances at your eyes, reward him/her with a verbal, “good,” and the treat. The pup quickly learns the association: eye contact = verbal marker = reward. Gradually extend the duration of the eye contact required to earn the reward.
I’m very cautious about the use—or, rather the overuse—of treats for training retrievers. Treats often promote mouthing problems and later delivery difficulties. Remember Wildrose Law #4: Do not condition in a problem that must be trained out later. Limit the use of treats by moving to the bumpers, praise, and pets as rewards as soon as the dog is willing to offer behaviors for those other motivators.
Next month, I’ll share with you Focus Stages II and III. Focus is a must for handling retrievers, adventure dogs, and alert dogs. These dogs are biddable team players requiring an interdependent relationship with their pack leader. Eye contact is the first step.
by Mike Stewart | on May 6th, 2009 | in The Wildrose Way
The world of the versatile sporting dog is where we live daily at our facility. Dogs capable of pricking waterfowl by morning, hunting upland birds in the afternoon, then possess the temperament to make a great family member that evening. Today, many sportsmen hunt a variety of game in various locations across the country. These enthusiasts also wish to have a companion for other outside pursuits and travel. The one dog fits all objective is a tall order to fill for any animal, but there are breeds of sporting dogs and some select trainers producing just this type dog.
One of my clients, Joe Auteri, says of his lab Flynn, “He goes with my wife, Maria, when she drops off the kids at school riding in a red convertible VW bug. With Flynn on the front seats, she says she gets more comments about the dog than she does about her prized car.”
Auteri says Flynn travels each year with his buddies to the Colorado River to hunt duck and fly fish. “He’s a fantastic hunter, family dog, and patient in temperament.” He hunts duck with enthusiasm and accompanies him on a float fishing trips, a true, versatile sporting companion.
There are five main categories of sporting dogs to consider, each with varying attributes: pointers, retrievers, flushers, treers and trackers. First, to understand versatility, keep in mind instinctive traits as opposed to skills trained in. No single breed will perfectly match all the necessary skills one might wish for in versatility. Pointers may lack a bit at retrieving ability. Certainly spaniels , traditionally bred to flush birds, may be compromised as a pointer. Select breeds based upon your primary desired utilization and keep expectations for other skills reasonable.
Next, match the energy level of the dog to yours and your lifestyle. Performance-bred, competitive retrievers may prove to be a handful on a duck hunt or a hike. A dog from show lines can be an attractive specimen but lack the natural gamefinding abilities and trainability for field pursuits. Pointers and hound breeds are independent in nature and may not be enjoyable on a hike or a float trip.
In selection, think:
• Desirable skills needed
• Energy level and lifestyle considerations
• Reasonable expectations
The Versatile Breeds:
• Retrievers: Labrador Retriever, Chesapeake Bay Retriever, Golden Retriever, Nova Scotia Towler
• Pointers: German Shorthair Pointer, Hungarian Vizla, Brittany Spaniel, Wiemarener
• Spaniels: Field-Bred English Cocker, English Springer Spaniel, Boykin Spaniel
by Mike Stewart | on April 28th, 2009 | in The Wildrose Way
As we launch our blog further introduction is in order. This is a getting-to-know-you session on the Wildrose training methodology. Read up, post your questions as comments, and we’ll do our best to answer them.
If you’re new to OutsideK9.com, you’re probably wondering what The Wildrose Way is, and how it’s different from all of the other training methodologies out there. First, you’ve got to understand what my trainers and I aim for in finished dogs, here at our kennels outside of Oxford, Mississippi. When potential clients inquire, the first thing I ask is, What do you want from your dog? Over the years, the answers to that question have gradually focused into two main categories—both companions for a sporting lifestyle.
- The first, we’ve taken to calling the Gentleman’s Gundog. Once finished, these dogs are capable of hunting and retrieving multiple types of game plus serving as a fantastic companion for the family.
- The second, we call The Adventure Dog. These are dogs that will retrieve game but have additional training specific to other activities like boating, biking, skiing, camping, fishing, etc. These are loyal and obedient dogs that complement a family’s sporting lifestyle.
The Wildrose Way, then, is how we get to these two outcomes, which, as it turns out, share a lot in common: Heeling beside a bike is very similar to heeling beside a mounted rider on a quail hunt. Sporting lifestyles place dogs in some of the most demanding and distracting situations for even the best-trained canines. These include working off lead, sometimes at great distances from the handler, and often in the face of enormous enticements like wildlife, hikers, other dogs, and gregarious humans. We’ve tailored our methods specifically to these situations.
There’s a lot of animal psychology out there that relates to dog training, but theories alone don’t add up to an incremental training method that produces finished dogs. The Wildrose Way applies a blend of operant conditioning and pack leadership (the theories) to a series of training drills (the mechanics) and an overarching philosophy for interacting with our dogs to get us to those end points. Our ultimate goal is to help people form strong bonds and greater understanding of the dog for the smart, social animal it is and not the baby in a dog suit it’s so tempting to imagine.
The Wildrose Way avoids the use of force—heavy-handed techniques like toe and ear pinches, heeling sticks, e-collars, and check cords—in favor of positive reinforcement that rewards dogs for correct responses. Positive reinforcement isn’t just less mean from a human point of view, it brings out the natural ability of the dog by encouraging him to offer behaviors without the threat of pain. There’s a time and a place for force, namely as a last resort to stop unsafe behaviors like bolting after wildlife or other dogs, but we believe behaviors are best shaped by consistent reinforcement to the point of habit formation. We structure our relationships with dogs as a pack hierarchy and train owners to do the same.
Our unique drills, exercises, techniques and conditioning are primarily reward-based, all designed to entrench the desirable behaviors and skill sets necessary for control, performance, and civil conduct. We build a strong foundation of obedience—critical for every dog, whether a hunter, service animal, or house pet—and then slowly layer on specialized skills for a wide variety of situations. Follow along, ask any question, and check in often.
Our training e-newsletter and archives are available at uklabs.com.
by Mike Stewart | on April 6th, 2009 | in Features, The Wildrose Way
OK, so we have an independent-minded, self-employed dog that just will not come when there are tempting distractions. What then?
If Part I and II of our recall training did not work, we have the final option of force. An effective tool is the electric collar. I recommend E-collars only as a last resort for stopping a determined dog from engaging in dangerous or uncontrollable behaviors like chasing cars, bolting, or chasing animals. Using a modern e-collar with variable levels of intensity, we can apply just enough discomfort to get results. The training begins at the lowest setting of intensity that will get a response from your dog. First, teach the dog the appropriate command as we did in parts I and II. You can’t teach anything with an E-collar—only reinforce what the dog already knows. To assure a response in the field when those interesting distractions appear, we will want to begin training with our dog close to us backed up with a 50-foot check cord.
- Place the E-collar on the dog as instructed by the manufacturer.
- Work the dog for several weeks through obedience skills just wearing the collar so they become accustomed to it.
- Test the level of responsiveness on the lowest level possible. Walk the dog forward, then abruptly back away in a reverse heel while calling the dog to you. As the dog turns, activate the collar as you give the recall command. Hold the button down until the dog takes his first step toward you. If he doesn’t respond, use the check cord to encourage them forward.
- Our student quickly learns that coming toward you relieves the discomfort. Now, gradually lengthen the distance and distraction of your recall in small increments. Each time, be consistent: 1) Call the dog, 2) activate the collar, 3) release the button as the dog comes forward.
Cautions, warnings, and downsides
- Never use an E-collar to punish a dog, and never lose your temper. E-collars are incredibly powerful tools but can deliver incredible pain (like a wall socket or stun gun) at the touch of a button. Treat the button with respect.
- E-collars are a good training tool when they’re necessary, but they make a terrible training methodology. As with a choker chain and other training equipment, an E-collar shouldn’t be used as a crutch to make up for a trainer’s lack of ability or experience. Before you convince yourself that your dog is too stubborn to learn, have a professional evaluate your training style. Often times it’s the handler and not the dog that needs correcting.
- If you’re using an E-collar, you’re using it to correct undesirable behaviors. You’ll know you’ve succeeded when you no longer have to use the collar. Always keep this in mind. Once you start using the collar, it’s hard to stop.
- If you use the collar for any length of time, you’re certain to end up with a dog that has two personalities: One with the collar on that obeys; one without the collar that does what it wants.
An electric collar is often euphemistically described as “stimulation” or “pressure.” That’s not quite right. An E-collar produces an electric shock that all dogs (and humans and just about everything else with a nervous system) know to avoid after very brief contact. The dog avoids the shock or relieves the shock by responding to the command. Never use the collar until the command is totally understood, then keep the collar on for extended periods of time so your dog does not become collar wise.
by Mike Stewart | on March 31st, 2009 | in Features, The Wildrose Way
Getting a reliable recall in older dogs without previous training or breeds commonly known to be less biddable and more independent (hounds, pointers, and such) will require commitment and effort. First, you’ve got to train out the old problem and then train in the new, desirable behavior. Here’s how we’ll do it.
1. Teach the command, “Come” or “Here.”
2. Consistency—the reinforcement and the command must be presented the same way each time. Introduce a reward your dog likes for a correct response.
3. Condition with distraction. You want your dog to come to you despite any distractions out in the world.
4. Gradually extend distance of your recall.
It’s easy to teach the “here” behavior. Just walk along with the dog at heel on lead (leash). Then stop and quickly walk backward, showing your positive reinforcer, like a treat, and you’re your recall command. Use a bridge like “good dog,” “yes,” or a clicker, and mark the behavior as the dog starts toward you. Deliver your reward as the dog comes in. I call this exercise a reverse heel. Next, leave the dog at sit. Attach a long cord for safety. Walk out, give the command, “here,” and show the treat. No compliance? Use the cord for encouragement. Keep distances short to teach the command and introduce the reinforcer.
Use a trill on a whistle to signal the recall as well. I prefer high-pitched Acme dog whistles because they don’t draw a lot of attention from people, but the dog can hear it just fine over long distances.
Now here’s the key: Just because your dog is coming to you doesn’t mean he’s necessarily trained for recall. You’ve got to get a 100-percent response rate in five different locations (yard, field, park . . .) to call it a trained behavior. On average, getting to that point will take about 1,000 repetitions with increasing levels of distraction. No, it’s not quick, but it’s worth it.
Some positive reinforcers, a treat, food or perhaps a toy, or for some dogs a retrieve of a ball or training dummy and there’s always the big one, lavish affection. The goal: Convince your dog that you are the best thing going. A big, fun reward is waiting for an immediate recall. If it’s more interesting to be with you than on an independent frolic, training the recall shouldn’t be hard at all.
A tough rule: You cannot maintain the integrity or value of a primary reinforcer if it is inappropriately or indiscriminately given out. If you’re giving out treats or lavishing affection any old time, you’ll diminish the effectiveness of the reward as a motivator.
You must get eye contact. Total attention is needed if you intend to become the leader. Practice holding your dog’s attention for increasing lengths of time with direct eye contact. You cannot do so wearing sunglasses. Treats work well: Say the dog’s name and give a treat after a few seconds of eye contact. Gradually lengthen the time required to earn a treat. Then add distraction. If you walk in a circle, will the dog follow you with his eyes? If you raise your arms, will he maintain eye contact?
Once you have a basic recall down, start to add distractions. Throw a ball over your dog’s head as he’s coming in. Have a friend bike or jog by. Have a child playing elsewhere in the yard. Start adding distractions in an enclosed area—a garage, fenced yard, using a check cord. . . You want to control the situation so that your dog is successful almost all the time. Failure weighs heavily on most dogs and quickly leads to confusion and disengagement. Timing is crucial. Wait until there’s a pretty good chance your dog will look up from whatever he’s doing before you give the recall command. Every time you try and fail, you’re reinforcing the dog’s tendency to ignore you.
Once you get five recalls in five places with minor distractions, move to big distractions: Water, other dogs, interesting smells, people, and wild animals. . . The only way to desensitize your dog to the effect of these is to repeatedly expose him to all in a controlled environment. First, at short distance, then gradually extend the distance of compliance.
Dogs are pleasure seekers. Make coming to you more rewarding than whatever else is going on and reinforce it time after time and you’re on your way to a reliable behavior—a habit.
• Never chase the dog.
• Never call your dog to punish, confine, or provide any negative experience. If your dog doesn’t like being put outside, never call him to you to put him outside.
• Don’t dilute the value of the positive reinforces with indiscriminate application. The dog needs to work for everything.
• Time the markerreward for the best behaviors, exactly when they occur. No delay. Timing is crucial.
by Mike Stewart | on March 31st, 2009 | in The Wildrose Way
With a good recall, your dog will come when called—whenever, wherever, despite other distractions. It’s an important behavior for any dog, yet our dogs’ internal monologues are often different from our own:
“He’s pleading with me to go over there—boy this is an interesting scent I’ve discovered.”
“Now he’s shouting—hey, this deer really needs chasing.”
“We’re hunting birds? Naw, how about this rabbit!”
Too often, dogs grow an opinion about recall. And if your dog thinks recall is optional, you’ve got a problem. Recall, like all other behavior is the product of a conditioned response, a trained behavior, and once ingrained, a habit.
In the following three lessons, I’ll teach you training methods that will produce effective recall behaviors. In all cases, build in the recall habit at a young age. Habits instilled as a pup will follow the dog for a lifetime. It’s a bond between the owner and the dog: Trust and respect. A relationship is more easily established when pups are young, but older, more biddable dogs are not out of the question. Whatever you train into a pup between 6 weeks and 6 months of age will not go away, so put in the right stuff.
1. Use any or all of voice, body language, hand signals, or the whistle to signal your recall.
2. When your pup is just a few yards from you, move away quickly and excitedly and your pup will follow. Once the pup has learned the behavior, add the recall command repeatedly. The pup will identify the signal with the behavior being performed.
3. As the dog comes in, offer a big reward: A treat, affection, whatever your dog loves most.
4. Then immediately release the youngster. Nothing negative should be occurring when they come to you. No crating, medication, scolding, leashing, or correction. Find other opportunities to approach the pup for these things.
5. In early field outings, don’t let your pup roam too far. Every reward should be found close to the handler in the early months. This reinforces his desire to be with you and to heed you. Distance is one of the primary distractions. Try to recall your dog from too far away without building up to it, and he’s likely to ignore you. As you walk, change directions frequently, so your pup learns to keep his eye on you. Occasionally call your pup in for a treat, a pet, or a retrieve. Don’t call your pup in when you can see that he’s preoccupied with a distraction.
Every time you try to call your dog and fail, you’re training in an “ignore” response. Set your pup up to be successful every time. Repeat the lesson with consistency, reward the desirable behavior, and gradually extend the distances. The same conditioning model is used for older dogs as well. Biddable dogs will respond to these methods at any age. More independent-natured dogs like pointers and hounds and those with pre-conditioned habits will need special attention, which we’ll will explore in Part II and Part III. For now, shaping the habit is the order of the day.
by Mike Stewart | on March 30th, 2009 | in The Wildrose Way
A civil, well-mannered dog must learn early on to have patience while walking on a loose lead—no pulling, jumping, or ground sniffing. He’ll need to negotiate any obstacles you’ll encounter—logs, ditches, embankments—without hesitation or interference. And he must work with an eye constantly on you for leadership and direction, regardless of distractions. Perfect the on-lead heel and you can move to the ultimate goal: A dog that will heel off lead without constant corrections or reminders. Here’s how to get started.
- Decide whether you want your dog to heel on your right or left side. Then be consistent. No switching sides. Start all of your training drills from this position from now on.
- Start your heeling lesson on pavement, which does two things. First, it gives your dog a straight line to guide him (this is helpful later in retrieving). Second, pavement doesn’t have all of the interesting smells of a field that will break your dog’s concentration. Sniffing equals avoidance. Your dog’s concentration must be on you.
- Use a slip collar that produces popping sound when the lead is snapped quickly. The classic, simple choker-style chain collar works well, but lately I’ve been using these rubberized leads and collars that slide more smoothly and use dot tread to give you a bit more control. Use a pronged pinch collar only on the wildest dogs. (I don’t recommend these to beginning trainers.) Also, forget those chest harnesses and collars with nose loops. They don’t correct pulling and may actually promote it. All you need is a simple slip collar.
- Have your dog sit. Say his name. When he makes eye contact, say “heel,” (once, only) and set off at your pace, not his. It’s much more difficult to get a pup to heel slowly than to pretend he’s heeling by quickening your pace to keep up with him. Go slowly. Don’t keep repeating “heel” as a correction. You’ll only add confusion.
- When your dog tries to walk ahead, lag behind, or wander off, quickly change direction and pop the lead as a correction. That popping sound and sideways jerk mimic the bite of the pack. Changing direction shows him that you’re picking the route and he needs to pay attention to you to avoid correction. Your pup learns to stay in place gradually rather than being pulled into place constantly.
- To start moving to an off-lead heel, drop your lead and let it drag. If you need to regain control, just step on the lead.
An obedient heel, both on- and off-lead, is a must for any dog that’s going to accompany you out in public. Short lessons should begin when your dog is as young as eight weeks old but, no dog is too old to start. Old dogs can surely learn new tricks.
by Mike Stewart | on March 30th, 2009 | in Your Questions
Q: Any suggestions on how to teach a dog to “drop?” My Jack Russell terrier will not let go of her toys once she grabs hold of them. —John
A: Realize the nature of the dog you are dealing with. Jack Russells are possessive and love a good fight. Giving things up is not in the nature of the breed. They are ratters and burrowers by natures, so don’t encourage the undesirable behavior.
- Get rid of all chew toys. They encourage possessiveness.
- Don’t play tug-of-war or chase
- Use treats as positive rewards
- When your Jack Russell has an item and won’t give it up, grasp the article firmly. Have a treat ready in hand. Give your release command, “Give,” in an authoritative voice—not weak or loud, just a firm pack-leader tone with direct eye contact. If she doesn’t respond, don’t pull the object or the Jack Russell will pull back. Just reach to the dog’s flank and make a sharp, quick grab of the loose skin in front of the hind leg at the belly—much like a pack mom would make a bite—and repeat the command. The dog should spit out the object. Now, quickly give the treat.
Soon, your Jack Russell should hear the release command, consider its options, and calmly give you the article in exchange for the treat.