The Wildrose Training Track
Here’s the training track that Mike has laid out for Cooper. Whether you’re beginning with a young pup or a grown dog, start with the basics and progress incrementally. Speeding through the exercises doesn’t say anything about your ability as a trainer or your pup’s ability to learn, it just leads to remedial problems down the road. It’s fine to work on multiple skills in the same week, but in each 5–10-minute training session only work on one thing for about ten repetitions. Make sure you’re training habits and not just testing your dog. Remember, habit formation takes about a thousand reps. You’ll know you’ve got a habit when your dog can perform a task to perfection five times in a row in five different locations (that’s 25 total, in case you were counting). Each of the skills in the table links to a post about how that skill.
Wildrose Hamish “Cooper” (3/17/2009– )
Social Skills (6 weeks–6 months)
- Housebreaking: Control what goes in and you control what comes out. In-house accidents should be rare occurances if they happen at all.
- Crate Training: This is foundational to both housebreaking, socialization, safety, and traveling
- Place Training: Wanna know how to get a calm dog? Teach him through early repetition to lie at your feet or on his mat. Roaming the house? Sounds like trouble.
- Lead Training: Before you ever try to give your pup a collar correction, have him get used to wearing his leash and dragging it around. The mild jerk he’ll get every time he steps on it will get him used to the idea. Pair this gentle negative reinforcement with some positive reinforcement and you’ll be heeling in no time.
- Desensitization: This is a big one. Before about ten weeks of age, puppies are pretty much chill with whatever you want to do with them. After that, they may decide they don’t like certain things. So use this time wisely to make gradual and controlled introductions to different people, machines (blow-dryers and vacuums are biggies), cars, bikes, boats, the vet, nail clipping, teeth cleaning… Seek out any experience that might later be frightening and make it enjoyable. BIG CAVEAT: Don’t try to introduce your dog to gunfire at this age. Mike tells me gun-shyness sometimes crops up at six-to-eight months when a pup has been taken to the range as a pup.
Focus (6 weeks–6 months)
This one falls somewhere between socialization and obedience, but it’s going to play a role in everything you teach your dog. The longer and more intently your dog focuses on you, the easier everything else will become.
- Eye Contact: Early on you’re just looking for 1/8th second of focus. Your pup should briefly look away from a distraction for a treat. He should make eye contact when he hears his name. This stuff sounds simple, but it’s incredibly important.
Obedience (6 weeks–6 months)
The problem with obedience is that the list is short and it’s easy to get a dog to “pretty much” do everything. But actually getting a dog to focus on you while the world goes by or to stay when he’d rather play is extremely difficult. Spend the full six months working on this stuff. Retrieves should only be used as rewards for calmness and focus.
- Heel: Dog prancing along at your knee and checking in regularly with eye contact. Squirrels, elk, and mountain biker zipping by? He barely notices them.
- Here: You’re looking for the sound of the whistle, your recall command, or hand signal to bypass the dog’s brain entirely and go directly to his legs. One call and the dog comes running away from any distraction.
- Sit: A nice prompt sit on the cue and instantly looking to you for the next instruction. With a working dog, sit is less about the act and more about getting your dog’s undivided attention.
- Stay: This needs to proficient for extended periods of time. Tying out and place training are the precursors. Slowly increasing duration and distraction will take you the rest of the way.