The poor little Bug was feeling a bit under-the-weather because we (stupidly?) stopped at the vet’s office on the way to the training center, and Dude has his booster shots, which made him a little drowsy, achy, and grumpy. Getting his attention was easy as always, but getting him excited to play with a toy — one of the fundamental pieces to our facility’s method for teaching a recall — was pretty much impossible. What can we say: sometimes the boy just doesn’t wanna party.
Nevertheless, Doodlebug performed well in class. We opened the session with our usual tiedown approach exercise (reinforcing the concept of relaxing for attention), and some basic leash walking. Once the dogs were focused and in “work” mode, we moved on a few new skills.
First up was the basics of a good recall. We had previously noted that toy play was a building block for some other important behaviors — the recall is one of the biggest. While many training classes teach a recall with food, our center choses to use toys instead. The thinking is that any dog –except maybe a Lab– has the potential to get much more worked up and excited about a favorite toy than about even the most delicious treat. If we can build a positive association between the word “Come!” or “Here!” and a super fun, big party with an interactive toy game, we can develop a good recall that will call a dog off even a stinky squirrel carcass or a fun game of chase (the kind of activities that make a cube of cheese seem boring by comparison). The two-person exercise involved one person getting the dog into a great game of tug, keep-away, squeak the squeaker, or whatever gets the dog’s butt wagging, and the other person then dragging the dog away by a long line. Once the second person had gotten an appropriate distance away, person 1 (with the toys) was to call the dog (“Doodlebug, come!!”) and start waving around the toy and praising the dog excitedly. Although getting the Dude excited to play when he was feeling icky was a challenge, he did manage to run to the right person each time. Way to go, Dude!
Next, we worked on a sit/stay. This involves counting out treats, asking the dog for a sit, then praising and offering a treat every few seconds while he holds the sit, continuing for a full minute. As it becomes easier for the dog to hold the sit between treats, the amount of time between treats is doubled (so the number of treats is halved). In between the “sit” minutes, the dogs were walked around for two minutes to give them a break. Dude did well with this, but because he’s not super foodie, our progression from treats every 5 seconds to treats only after a minute has been slow — we only made it to 20 seconds over the course of the week.
Finally, we worked on hand targeting — the skill where the dog bumps the back of the person’s hand with his nose, and receives a treat or piece of kibble in return. The hand target is useful for moving a dog around (for example, from one side to another during leash walking), or for teaching advanced behaviors like dancing, turning lights on/off, etc. It’s also helpful for nervous or reactive dogs, as a reminder to them to keep moving or turn their face away when they’re not sure what to do. The Dude was a total pro at this, since we had been practicing at home.
Homework was as follows:
1. Practice the recall using toys and a second handler, increasing distance as the current distance becomes easy. To be honest about our failure, we pretty much skipped this one. Because of the Duder’s heartworms and his general allergy-related lethargy (more on this another day), his play drive has not been in full-gear, so we thought we’d give him a pass until he’s on the up-and-up — hopefully soon!
2. Sit/stay: Practice the sit/stay using the method described above, doubling the time between treats as it becomes easy. The goal is to get to a full minute sit between treats. We did well with this one, though we’re not at a full minute yet — we got to about 20 seconds without any trouble, and we’re continuing to work. Our trainer calls this the “lazy-man’s dog training,” so we’re naturals!
3. Practice hand-targeting, first throughout the house, then in increasingly challenging locations — in the back yard, the front yard, on walks, etc. We’ve been having fun with this one, and have been using it on walks when there are small distractions present, to draw Dude’s attention away. Far from perfect, but we’re doing pretty well!
4. Walking: loose leash walking continues to be a project. Early in the week, I realized that while Dude was able to stick by me for the most part, he wasn’t really *with* me — he was never checking in and quick to wander off in a different direction. Leash-walking would ideally be taught using only emotion and fun (and not food), but some dogs just need a little more. So I started bringing a treat pouch full of kibble for our practice sessions, and offering him a piece whenever he looked up at me. Magically, he started to check in more and more. Toward the end of the week, we felt like we were really getting somewhere. Distractions are still a problem, but we are confident that with time, Dude will be able to walk right past a person and dog without getting so very excited — or at least, we hope so!
Our homework kept us busy, busy, busy this week, which is a good thing– most evenings, we had a very snoozy little Dude!