by Walker Parks | on October 19th, 2009 | in Features, The Wildrose Way, Training, Video Clips
by Grayson Schaffer | on June 4th, 2009 | in Features, Your Questions
Post your training conundrum in the comments section below.
Q. I have two Alaskan huskies that are so smart and loving, but every time they are off-leash they run away and NEVER come back. Two or three days after they take off, someone will find them and give me a call to pick them up. I try desperately to keep them contained or on-leash at all times, but huskies are clever escape artists. I exercise them a few miles a night but they still run away every chance they get. I’ve been told that huskies will always run away, and you can’t train them not to. Is that really true? Is there any way to teach them to come back? —Amber
A. Amber, what you’re hearing is more or less true. Huskies have been selectively bred for their strong instinct to run long distances in freezing temperatures. I interviewed three-time Iditarod champion Lance Mackey for Outside’s March issue, and he had this to say on the subject: They’re designed and raised specifically for this sport. And in reality, they’re useless unless this is what they’re doing. They’re not a real laid back kind of dog. They don’t make good house pets. Their mentality is to run. You take ‘em of the chain and, shit, they’re gone—they run off. Now, Mackey was talking about dogs from his kennel that were bred specifically for racing. If your dogs are a few generations removed from mushing, their drive may not be quite so strong. Here are a few ideas to keep them closer to home.
- If they love their food, you can use this as a powerful reward for a successful recall. You’ll know you can train a recall if your dogs get excited when they hear the rustling of the feed bag or the clang of the dinner bowl. If those sounds have become conditioned reinforcers for the dog, you’ll know you can train other sounds to mean the same thing: Come to food. Read a few of our posts on recall, but a shortcut: Get a dog whistle and give the recall trill just before rustling the foodbag or filling the dogs’ bowls. Do this consistently over several weeks until the link between whistle and food is ironclad.
- You may also be unwittingly reinforcing the running-away behavior. If, on the occasions when the dogs do come back, you immediately leash them and take them home, you’re teaching them that a successful recall means the fun’s over. There’s something called Premack’s Principle in animal psychology, which says that you can use a high-probability behavior to reinforce a low-probability behavior. It’s the old, If you clean your room you can go out and play. If you come when called, you can go run some more. Try this in a big fenced run. (A lot of rural animal shelters provide these for the public free of charge.) Practice your recall. When the dogs return to you. Release them again and encourage them to run and play. The idea is that, through repetition, they’ll stop seeing the recall as a game-ender.
- An e-collar might be helpful, but, with a huskie, you should consult a professional animal behaviorist. With a Lab, the first instinct after getting a jolt will usually be to run to the owner or to scratch at the collar. A huskie may bolt and run into the next county.
Lastly, here’s a high-tech fix that won’t exactly solve your problem, but could help reduce your stress. Garmin makes the Astro GPS tracking collar that can pinpoint the location of both of your dogs on a hand-held screen that you carry. It seems that if your dogs are going to act like a pack of roaming wolves, you might need to take a page from the book of wolf field biologists and wire them up with tracking collars.
by Sue Barns | on May 18th, 2009 | in Your Questions
Q. My dog, Brutus, loves his toys to the point where he attacks other dogs that try to play with them. And it’s not just his toys. Say we’re at the dog park and there is a dog that is playing with a tennis ball: He will steal the tennis ball from the other dog and get very mean if that dog tries to take it back or even share it. At home, I have to take his toys away and put him in “time out” which is him being sent to his crate. I don’t think it’s a matter of lack of exercise; I let him run next to my scooter until he’s tuckered out, which he absolutely loves. Any suggestions on how to stop this possessiveness/obsession?
A. Possessiveness is an entirely natural behavior for dogs and, in the case of dog-dog interactions, a difficult one to modify. From Brutus’s perspective, his behavior works—and every time he successfully steals a toy or defends one from another dog, his obnoxious behavior is rewarded. I know of no way to decrease his interest in toys—I expect that “time outs” will have the opposite effect—and I don’t want to deprive him of what are obviously a great source of joy in his life! But here are some thoughts on improving his etiquette around other dogs:
- I suspect you’ve figured this out by now, but… Don’t give your dog toys when he’s around other dogs.
- Train your dog to drop toys (or anything else that’s in his mouth) on cue. When your dog has a toy, offer him another, better toy or treat. As he opens his mouth to take the new thing, say “drop” and praise him enthusiastically when he does. If he likes to retrieve, you can throw the toy for him as a reward. This is going to take a lot of training with every toy he has before it becomes automatic. Make your dog think that whenever you say “drop,” an even cooler toy or fabulous treat will appear. You will get lots of use out of this command, and you can use it when Brutus steals another dog’s toy. We’re working on this one with Danger at ADW, now.
- Train your dog to have solid leave it and come (recall) commands, and use them to prevent stealing other dogs’ toys. This is especially important if your dog is inclined to get ugly with other dogs. As your letter indicates, you recognize that he lacks self-control around toys, so it’s your responsibility to provide that control. Just like you wouldn’t let a son (or daughter) bully other kids at the local playground, you can’t let your pup bully other dogs at the park for their toys!
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.