by Grayson Schaffer | on March 2nd, 2010 | in Features, Training, Video Clips
Last week, Danger and I got to hang out with the Telluride ski patrol and learn a few tricks. One that didn’t go as well as planned was Danger’s attempt to ride the chair lift. . .
by Grayson Schaffer | on February 8th, 2010 | in Features
Generally, digging dogs are a nuissance but I thought we should teach Danger to dig on command in case he ever needs to dig me out of an avalanche or help me burrow in for the night. How to do it: Bury some jerky in the snow or soft dirt. Show him where it is. Click him for digging down to it. Simple stuff. Just remember to click the actual paw stroke. I found that Danger would look at me and take one swipe at the dirt to test whether that’s what he was being clicked for. Fun stuff.
by Grayson Schaffer | on December 21st, 2009 | in Features, Video Clips
by Grayson Schaffer | on December 7th, 2009 | in Features, Training
Here’s a classic trick that never gets old: Play dead. Use a clicker to shape this behavior. The click should come right at the moment when the dog has completed the task. Early on, you might click just for him lying down and then for flopping over onto his side a bit. With a dog that’s had some clicker training before and knows that he’s got to offer a behavior to get the click, this should go quickly. You can teach a roll-over the same way.
by Grayson Schaffer | on December 2nd, 2009 | in Features, Media, Time Wasters
This one’s a chain of the first half of a retrieve, a drop it, and a go lie down. Getting him to reliably hit the bin with the can is the only thing that takes some time. To shape that behavior, I used a clicker, put the bin next to him, and clicked any time the can touched the bin. Then click for the can actually landing in the bin. Once he had that skill down, it was just a matter of adding the retrieve and the down to either end.
by Grayson Schaffer | on November 30th, 2009 | in Features, Training, Video Clips
What’s not to love about Ski Santa Fe? The same slopes we were hunting September we’re skiing in November. Cooper was too young to hunt this year, but he’s just the right age to get started on snow. We’re going to spend a lot of time talking about how to ski with your dog this winter. Everyone loves to do it, but few people do it safely. Of the Outside dogs that accompany us on morning hike-up laps, none have escaped a laceration either from a ski edge or a snowmobile. The reason it happens is simple: The owner has no control over the dog when new and exciting distractions are introduced. A few people have told me that I’m no fun for making my dogs heel. But that’s not quite right. The point is: Make sure your dog can heel and will come when called (even when skiers or snowmobiles are zipping by). Then when you release your dog to run and play, you can do so with the confidence that he’s not a danger to himself.
by Grayson Schaffer | on October 22nd, 2009 | in Features, Training, Video Clips
Some folks were asking whether Danger can do that beer trick from last week’s short movie, “In the Face of Danger,” in one take. Yes, and chances are your dog can too. Training a dog to connect tricks or behaviors end to end is called chaining. Typically, these types of linked behaviors are taught back to front, or what’s called back-chaining. Basically, you start with the last part of the task, train that to proficiency, and then add the next-to-last part. Withhold your reward until the dog completes both of these well-polished tasks end to end. It won’t take him long to figure out that the criteria have been raised and he now has to do two tasks before the reward. Then add a third link in the chain and so on. When you see dogs performing complex, apparently human-like tasks on TV, this is generally how they’re taught.
OK, here’s the video.
by Grayson Schaffer | on October 20th, 2009 | in Features, Media
Danger and I spent last week with Allison Otto and the Serac Adventure Film School making a movie about Danger’s attempts to become a tracking dog. Here’s Allison’s excellent movie. Please share it with your friends.
by Grayson Schaffer | on May 7th, 2009 | in Features, Training
The Ideal Scenario: ADW teaches loose-lead walking (and heeling, once you unsnap the lead) with a clicker and treats. It’s incredibly simple. Say your walk cue, Let’s go or heel, and set off. As long as the dog is in the heeling zone next to your knee, click and treat frequently. Then gradually lengthen the amount of time and distance required for a treat. Most dogs are pretty quick to figure out that their place in relation to the handler is what draws the treat. I also like to look for frequent eye contact. You can promote this by clicking when you’re getting a good heel position and the dog looks up at you. Eye contact means the dog’s focus is on you and not what’s going on in the world. The nice thing about this method is that it doesn’t require any force, a must for service dogs who will be handled by people with disabilities.
The Problem of the Outgoing Dog: With Danger, I’ve found that as soon as I give him his treat he suddenly speeds up and is out ahead foraging and looking for people and other dogs to greet. Like most training issues, the tasks are easy; the self-control is hard.
- Start with a preemptive leave it when obvious distractions are coming down the path toward you. Most problems of pulling can be fixed with a well-conditioned “leave it.”
- Some of the books I’ve been reading lately explain the dog’s urge to go ahead as an attempt to become a pack leader. Others explain it simply: Because it works. Whether it’s the former or the latter doesn’t matter; you can’t give in. When he goes ahead, stop, get him to come back whatever way works best. Then make him wait. Then set off again. Don’t let him pull you even a little. Just a few inches of give can reinforce the behavior.
- Like anything, loose-leash walking is much easier to teach if it’s started at a young age. Train it in as a good habit early, rather than trying to fix a bad habit late.
- If all else fails, use punishment. We’ll go over punishment in another installment.
A Good Exercise
- Walk Toward a Goal: In this one, Sue set out a bowl of food at the end of a hallway. Danger and I set off toward it and as long as he was walking at my knee, we could keep going. As soon as he moved ahead we had to go back to the starting line. This is a great one to teach a dog self control because calmness and patience are the only way to ge that big reward. And you don’t need to use food, either. We repeated the exercise with another dog that Danger really wanted to meet as the reward on the other side of the room. As long as he walked at heel he’d get to greet the other dog.
by Grayson Schaffer | on April 23rd, 2009 | in Features, Training
After learning push, tug came easy for Danger. Ever tried to wrench a favorite sock from your dog’s mouth? The instinct is to tug back. Dangle an enticing rag or rope in front of your dog and you’ll get the same response. But tug as a service dog skill is a bit more nuanced. You don’t want your dog to rip or yank as hard as possible, rather you want him to have a bit more tact. How you click and treat to end up with a crisp, gentle tug depends on your dog’s disposition.
- If your dog is the sort that really loves to play tug and hates to stop, click only for a gentle tug at the outset. If your dog is less forceful to begin with, just click when he grasps the rag in his mouth.
- Now shape the kind of tug you want. Danger has a soft mouth; in the first step all he’d do was hold the rag in his mouth. To get him to tug, I pulled sharply on the rag—just as hard as I wanted him to tug—while he held on. I clicked when he held on. This produced the right level of force. If your dog is more of the tugging type, be careful to avoid clicking for the sort of tug that involves head-shaking and growling.
- Now, if there’s a specific place on the rope or rag that you want him to tug—say, the tip for more leverage—click only for that. Make sure he’s successful 80 percent of the time before you move on to the next step.
- Once he’s consistently giving you the desired tug you want when presented with something to pull on, add the cue.
- After a few more training sessions, you’ll be ready to generalize the skill by tying the tug rope onto different objects like doors, drawers, and the fridge. A great exercise to work on is combining push with tug. The dog opens and closes a door, resetting his own training drill and receiving a treat each time.
by Grayson Schaffer | on April 22nd, 2009 | in Features
Winter has come and gone, and Danger—having taken a few months off to rest, contemplate his fear of water, and eat the cat turds thawing in the yard—is back with something akin to motivation. Yes, the same dog that would rather gnaw on live ammunition than retrieve a dead duck is coming around. There’s a lesson in here somewhere, probably more than one.
Lessons to Draw
- The first is that the expectations of the handler, especially young handlers like me, usually exceeds the maturity level if not the ability of the dog.
- Dogs, like people, change as they move from their puppy years into full-fledged hounds. Things are bound to go wrong while your dog is a teenager. Don’t take it personally and don’t get down on your dog for underperformance or occasional lack of focus during these periods. Just stick to your routine and work through the problems adhering to whatever method you’ve committed to.
- Keep it fun. No, seriously. I read this in just about every training manual I picked up. If you’re making retrieving, working, and training a chore for a young dog, he’s going to prefer self-rewarding behaviors like sprinting across the countryside, nose to the ground. —Grayson
by Grayson Schaffer | on April 17th, 2009 | in Features
Dog-friendly hotels provide an interesting training environment, and few hotels are as dog-friendly as the Ritz-Carlton at Bachelor Gulch, in Beaver Creek, Colorado. (The hotel even has it’s own mascot Labrador, Bachelor.) Here are some of the challenges you’re certain to encounter with a cute dog in a nice hotel:
- Aggressive petters: These are the folks who fairly dive in on the poor (lucky) dog and, in no time, have him sprawled on his back like a cockroach receiving affection. Meanwhile, the handler hangs onto the leash and tries to pretend like he doesn’t notice what’s going on.
- The Opportunity: Learn to identify these people from a distance and beat them to an interaction. Before they can close in, ask if they’d like to pet the dog. Then tell them the dog has to sit first and ask the Petter to try to use calming pets on the head and shoulder rather than going straight for the belly.
- Or, you can just return the favor by heavily petting the stranger or his/her companion. I’ve never actually tried this, but I think you should.
- Extreme temptation: Small children, good food left about, and a constant stream of interesting strangers in close proximity—these all pose a stiff challenge to even the most focused dog.
- The Opportunity: The lobby is a great place to practice some basic, leashed obedience commands like leave it, watch me, sit, and down.
- Long, empty hallways: Late at night or after a few drinks, these can seem like a good place for some off-lead time. Hallways provide environmental cues (i.e. he can’t wander away) to stay close, even though the carpet smells of everyone who has passed in the last several days.
- The Opportunity: Practice an off-lead heel with the added distraction of the smells. You’re still in a confined space where you can get hold of him quickly if you need to.
- In-Room Time: There’s no end to the trouble a dog can cause in a hotel room.
- The Opportunity: Crate training. Hopefully you’ve used a crate straight through from the first day you’ve had your dog. Crate training your dog is critical for any sort of travel, whether you’re in a car, on a plane, or in a hotel. When your dog is in the room, he should be in his crate. If he can stay without your closing the door, even better.
by Grayson Schaffer | on April 3rd, 2009 | in Features
At times, it seems like Danger is trying to willfully unhinge me. Frantic outbursts, lunging for my arm and then dangling from it by his teeth, swiping sticks of butter off the counters and then swallowing them whole like horse pills–these are all par for the course. Getting a dog to not do something can often be harder than teaching complicated behaviors. Most guys I know resort to some combination of shouting, “Cut that $@&# out!!!” and the dog’s name over and over. I’m guilty of this, too, though less now than I used to be. Here’s a primer on what works and what doesn’t. (more…)
by Grayson Schaffer | on March 30th, 2009 | in Who's Cutest?
This week, everybody seemed to have a special fondness for chocolate Labs