This one is borrowed from horse trainers. Making right-angle inside turns forces your dog to watch your legs and make sure he’s in position to avoid getting stepped on. It’s kind of like a dance step. Practice often and your pup is bound to become a good partner.
We’re going to keep harping on this point all winter. Dogs that get close to skis receive gaping lacerations. It’s just that simple. Here are three tips to help ease your mind and your dog’s pain. Nothing keeps me awake at night like the thought of skis cutting doggy tendons. You can see, even in this video clip that Danger and Cooper aren’t perfect. In the heeling part at the end, Danger crosses over my right ski and was very lucky not to have gotten cut.
Next time, we’ll work on positioning—teaching your pup when he should be at your side, when he should be a ski-pole’s length away, and when he should be behind.
Cooper is 50 days old today and his training is well underway. This time around, I know how many different skills he needs to learn before getting to the fun stuff like retrieving. With a young cute dog, it’s so tempting to see what they can do, to throw bumpers and rolled up socks and to see if they’ll follow scent trails. Don’t get caught in that trap; don’t invest your ego in the athletic abilities of your dog. There’s a long list of important skills that need training right from the start. You’ve got your work cut out for you.
Recall: At this age, your dog will almost certainly view you as the most interesting thing in the yard. Start your recall drills now and do them consistently for the next several months. Ultimately, you want the sound of the whistle to bypass the pup’s brain entirely and go right to his feet. I’ve been using tiny pinches of soft liver for treats and scraping them off into Cooper’s mouth on his upper incisor teeth. This helps keep him from nipping at my fingers. I let him explore the yard a little and then whistle him in and treat/praise/pet. You want to know, when is it OK to give your dog inordinate amounts of affection? Answer: When you’re doing recall drills. If you’ve got another person around, practice recalling him back and forth between you.
Condition Your Bridge: The bridge or marker is the linchpin of your training. It’s an unemotional sound—a click, a one-syllable word like “good,” quickly spoken—you make at the exact moment of the desired behavior, and it’s followed immediately by a reward. The bridge is so important because it allows the dog to know what he did to earn the reward—not generally what he did, exactly what he did. But that’s only once he learns what the bridge means. The word “good” or a click is meaningless to a dog until he realizes that 1) the sound is always followed by a reward and 2) he can control when the sound is made by offering behaviors. At six weeks, there are most likely only two things your dog will view as a reward: food and physical affection. These are unconditioned rewards; your dog doesn’t need any training to know he likes them. Later, as food and pets are paired with verbal praise, the praise will gradually become a powerful reward of it’s own. This is the goal and it’s going to take time. Praise, you can throw a hundred yards into the field. Treats and pets, not so much.
Socialization: I never understood what this meant for a dog because it broadly encompasses half a dozen things that generally add up to your dog not acting like a nuisance. Here are five things you need to train specifically, starting now. We’ll break them out specifically over the next few days.
Housebreaking: The good news is that all dogs arrive from their mothers pre-housebroken, at least when it comes to their own dens. You just need to expand that sense of cleanliness from den (crate) to the rest of your home.
Crate Training: If you’re properly housebreaking, you’re also crate training.
Place Training: Dog’s gotta know his place, not just in the grand scheme of things but where he’s going to sit quietly in your house.
Calmness and Patience: These two are probably the biggest, hardest, most abstract skills of all. Raising a calm, patient dog is the sum of many factors, that are mostly undermined by the inexperienced handler’s need to see how far a young dog can retrieve and how early he can learn field handling skills like casting. We’ll go over this more, later, but quickly, before you get yourself into trouble: Never allow your pup to call you to him by crying unless he’s confined in his crate and needs to pee. Teach him that carrying on works—it can take fewer than a handful of mistakes on your part—and you could be trying to untrain it for the rest of his life. With Cooper, I wait for him to stop yipping before approaching his puppy pen. Ditto putting his food down. I’m happy to let him manipulate me with good behavior.
Tying Out Quietly: This is a big part of calmness and patience, but it’s more specific.
The trainers at Assistance Dogs of the West assure me that their K9 students who don’t make the cut can do all of the service dog tasks like hitting light switches and opening doors. They only wash out because they can’t be calm under demanding circumstances. Good dogs at Wildrose are judged by much the same standard: Control and temperment are king.
Even though it came out in 2004, The How of Bow Wow! is still the DVD to beat for careful explanation of early obedience training. Sherri Lippman and Virginia Broitman spend the full 84 minutes on the little stuff—like eye contact and resisting temptations—that you’re likely to rush by in order to get to the fun stuff, like retrieving. They use clickers and treats shape early behaviors that will become habits is you instill them early. Whether you’re training a hunting dog, a service dog, or a stay-at-home pal, these skills apply. Take them seriously, or regret it later. $35
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.
This is the training method of last resort, never to be considered a shortcut, only used for the most difficult subjects that continue to behave in a dangerous or uncontrollable behavior.
An ACME high-pitched penny whistle, commonly used for training dogs
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.
Ruby, a five-month-old service dog in training with Assistance Dogs of the West, learns the basics
As a novice dog trainer, I had a pretty skewed perception of what would be easy to train and what would be hard. All of the experts, books, and DVDs I consulted recommended spending a lot of time (like 80% for the first six months) on obedience. It’s not just that basic obedience is the foundation that you build all other skills on, it requires the most training. The difference between learning a skill and training it to a habit is huge. We’ve said it before: It takes about a thousand repetitions with increasing levels of distraction to get there with any skill. If you keep a detailed training log (I wish I had started earlier), you’ll see that six months is a reasonable goal.
Here’s a list of basic skills in order from hardest to easiest:
1. Recall: Seems like it should be easy. Your dog loves you, right? Maybe in your house or yard, but good luck calling him off a squirrel or another dog on the first try. Read Mike’s series on recall and train it every day.
2. Heel: Similar to recall, getting a young pup to focus on you while the sights and smells of the world pass by is really hard. Or, rather, it’s going to take a lot of pracitce. When you’re really nailing it, the dog should make frequent eye contact and avoid any sniffing. On your first walk in the park, you may only make it 30 feet. That’s fine as long as you get a good heel for all 30 feet. Mike’s got a good post on the classic slip-collar heel training here. I also really liked the segment on loose leash walking (a less formal version of heeling) in the DVD The How of Bow Wow for training the skill with a clicker, which requires no force on your part.
3. Leave It: Getting your dog to look up and make eye contact when food is dropped on the floor is one thing. Getting him to focus on you as another dog walks by in the park is another–especially if your dog is a greeter like mine. Here, you’re asking him to override his doggy instincts. That’s hard.
4. Stay: This one’s tricky because it’s got a big built-in distraction: duration. At home, Danger, would much rather be cruising the kitchen looking for scraps or in the bathroom eating toilet paper than confined to his dog bed. Initially, I set boundaries: You will stay on that bed or I will put you back on that bed. That led to a lot of torn clothing and staredowns (he ain’t mean, but he sure is stubborn). Lately, I’ve been using a clicker and treats and upping the duration in small increments. Instead of confinement, he’s starting to see his bed as a way to earn treats. We’re only up to 30 seconds, but it’s a lot easier on both of us.
5. Wait: This is a big one for safety. A dog that leaps as soon as the tailgate is dropped or a door is opened is much more likely to end up as roadkill. My big mistake on this one was thinking that having him sit or wait at a door every time we happened to be going through it amounted to training. Not so. Doing one repetition twice a day is testing your dog. To train a skill, you’ve got to walk in and out of a door ten times in rapid succession. Then go to the tail gate and drop it ten times, until you’re getting a consistent wait response.
6. Hold: This one depends a lot on the dog. Danger never minded having objects placed in his mouth. The trick is increasing the duration slowly and getting him to hold a bumper or object as he’s running in at top (OK, usually he jogs) speed.
7. Specific tasks like Target, Push, and Tug: Finite tasks, my housemate calls them tricks, are fun for the dog. After Danger reached fluency with these, earning treats for each good performance, the task itself started to become a reward. You can see the crossover moment when you train. One rep, he’s nosing a drawer shut haphazardly, the next he’s slamming it shut like he’s spiking a football.
8. Sit and Down: Please, people, childsplay.
9. Retrieve: I spent a lot of time trying to “teach” Danger to retrieve. I subscribed to a magazine called Gun Dog that said I was supposed to dangle a dead pigeon in front of him when he was five weeks old to make him birdy. But if you had to make your dog want to chase stuff, then #1 up there wouldn’t be so dang hard. For most dogs, retrieving isn’t a task at all, it’s a reward (though delivery to hand will probably take a bit of shaping).
P.S. If you think the order should be different, post your own list as a comment below.
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.
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.
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