School Days: Recall, sit/stay, and hand targeting

Gosh, week three of the Dude’s quest to become basically obedient is done — we’re halfway there! We covered a lot of ground in weeks one and two, and week three was no exception.

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.

Sometimes I just don't wanna.

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!

Sometimes training makes me so tired I have to tuck myself in.


20 responses

  1. I’ve been struggling for a while to get my one dog, Rose, to check-in on walks and I finally thought to bring treats along last week. I only did it the one day but it was enough that the next time we went out she knew to look over and check-in. I didn’t have treats so I heaped on the “good girl”s and maintained her quasi-interest for the rest of our walk.

    When I have the girls walking on and off leash the command is “with me” and Rose is generally at my left side just barely testing me to take the lead while Analaigh dutifully walks behind my right side. About 6 months ago I noticed she’d start bumbing her nose into my hand as we were walking. I thought it was maybe her way to let me know she’s still back there. I still don’t know quite what she’s saying but whenever she does it she gets praise for being a sweet girl and letting mama know she’s still with me.

    Your Doodlebug sounds like my Rosiebear.

  2. Hey Aleks, love the Dude and Chick!!! I do have a question though, and hope you can at least point me in the right direction. I know you used to live in MD, and I was hoping to be able to get a recommendation from you for a good training place. We have a year old grey bull pup, and he is soooo food motivated, that its hard to get him to focus on anything, and he doesn’t seem to be really interested enough in toys to learn with those. I would love for him to be though!! I live in Anne Arundel Co, and info would be appreciated! 🙂

    • Hi Mandy,

      I lived in Montgo County, and I unfortunately don’t know what’s going on in Anne Arundel . . . Perhaps you could call the place that I like in Rockville — “Your Dog’s Friend” — and see if they can recommend anyplace local to you?

      You may be able to get him interested in toys by getting some that you can hide treats inside, and then gradually moving to no treats inside the toy. Lots and lots of praise and petting for showing interest in the toy every time you bring it out to play / hunt for the food inside.

      Best of luck! Aleks

  3. I love this post, as I’m always interested in teaching Addie new things. We worked with a trainer (Jules of Sit, Stay and Play — in response to a previous commenter). She was great, although she told us that the command “Come” was white noise to Addie because we had been using it previously so much to no avail. She helped us re-train Addie using the word, “Hustle!” and she is responding much better to it. I’ve heard of “Touch” command and think that would be another great one to use. Thanks for sharing your techniques!

  4. It’s so cool that hand targeting is taught right from the beginning! I’ve started adding it to puppy classes as a bonus command- people love it! I hope the Dude feels back to normal soon!

  5. Recall: We had a recent trainer offer up a two-person training method for recall where person 1 hides in the house and the person 2 plays with the dog. Person 1 calls the recall and the dog is rewarded with a “party” (praise and food/games) when they find Person 1. Meanwhile Person 2 hides and then recalls the dogs and offers “party” when found. Keep repeating the pattern for about 5-10 minutes. This is great for those who don’t have a yard or a lot of practice space.

    We called hand-targeting “touch”. Emma loves “touch”. We were told, that as an added bonus, “touch” helps when your dog is in a stressful situation (like the waiting room at the vet’s office) because it engages them with you in a fun, highly rewarding manner. As they get better at this, you can assign an object to touch and then throw it and use the word and they need to touch it with their nose for a reward. We were told this is a good foundation for agility training as well.

    Both the recall and touch, which Emma is really good at for both, we laid a great foundation to get her in to agility training!! So exciting!

    Walking: I have been wondering about this lately. Emma is an excellent loose leash walker. She is a little behind you in the heel position, loose leash and if she pulls, she redirects really quickly, with a simple “heel”. BUT she doesn’t check in. She almost always just walks with her head forward and not looking at you. She is also not reactive to other dogs or people. Squirrels are her real problem and honestly, I don’t think anything is going to train her out of doing that. But I’ve been wondering if it really is a problem that she doesn’t check in with her walker, me or anyone else if she is doing everything else right? Any thoughts?

    The training is fun to read again. It’s been triggering the joy of the process, realizing how far you’ve come, what you can still be working on, etc. for me. So thank you!!!

    • Hey! I wouldn’t worry about the checking in. I fins it most helpful for dogs who need feedback on their performance and dogs who lack confidence (fearful and reactive dogs). Checking in helps dogs with issues get guidance on what thy are supposed to do when they aren’t sure. If your gal doesn’t have leash or meet-and-greet issues, don’t worry!

  6. Just love reading about how well the Dude is coming along! Molly and Brodie just graduated from their respective obedience classes last week. Molly in Proofing (intermediate obedience) and Brodie in Beginner one. One thing I was surprised to hear from people when I told them the dogs were enrolled in classes was “You can’t train them yourself? You really need a class to teach them to do things” I am going to write a post about this topic in particular but thought I would share it with you first because you obviously realize and value the importance of positive obedience classes and the benefits of them 🙂

    • That is SO interesting! Maybe I will do a post about that too… Would you be mad? We could link to each others….

  7. I love the Dude’s school time blogs. I am learning something new every day! Thank you Aleks and high paw Dude!

  8. Pingback: School Days: down/stay, impulse control, and leash walking continues! « Love and a Six-Foot Leash

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