School Days: down/stay, impulse control, and leash walking continues!

Week four flew by before we knew it and just like that, class five of six is upon us! Dude has been on a quest to be basically obedient for the past four weeks, and we have been chronicling his progress each week — you can catch up with the first three sessions here, here, and here.

As always, we opened the class with some tiedown approaches (teaching the dogs to relax for attention) and loose leash walking. Then, we quickly moved on to teaching a “down” command. This can be taught in about a zillion different ways, but for Dude the simple lure approach worked — luring him into a sit with a treat, and then gradually bringing the treat down between his paws until he touches the ground, marking the moment that his chest touches the ground with a verbal “DOWN” cue. We practiced downs and releases, and the Doodlebug was much more advanced than some of his colleagues — probably because he had already worked on this one at home with his mama. For the overachievers like Dude, we added a “stay” component, just like we had done with the “sit” command a while back. We got our dogs into a “down” position, and offered praise and treats every 5 seconds for a full minute, then released the dogs and let them take a walking break for two minutes. Then, back to the down and treat every 5 seconds. Once this became easy, we went to a treat every 10 seconds for a minute, then every 15 seconds, etc. The goal is for the dog to be able to hold a “down” for a full minute without treats. The Dude isn’t quite there, but he’s getting pretty close! We also learned a neat trick: a lot of dogs tend to pop right up after they get that first treat. For those dogs, it’s good to hold the treat all the way down on the ground between their elbows instead of at eye level or above their heads. If they learn that down on the ground between their paws is where they will reliably receive treats, they will be more focused on staying down than on popping up to where the treats originate (our hands). Neat, huh?

Next, we worked on an impulse control game that we call “Take it / Too bad.” For this game, we put a treat or some kibble in our hand, and hold it about 6-8 inches in front of the dog’s face. If the dog moves forward, we close and lift our hand, and say (in a happy voice) — “Too bad!” right as the dog backs his face away. We open our hand and bring the treat back, and then lift it and close, saying “Too bad!” as the dog moves away from it. After a few times, the dog understands that grabbing the treat out of the hand won’t do the trick, so the dog will stop going for it — at this point, we put the treat in the dog’s mouth and say “Take!” We do this a few times in a row, a few times per day. It doesn’t have to be high-value treats; kibble works just fine. This not only teaches the dog that a phrase of our choice (in our case, “Too bad!”) means that they have just broken a rule and lost a privilege (we use the same phrase for time-outs), but also teaches the dog not to grab things out of human hands — very useful! Dude aced this one as well, since he had a head start — we have been using this game with Chick for years now to remind him to be gentle with hands.

Finally, we talked about house rules, and how to enforce them. We posted about this a few weeks ago when we wrote about time-outs, and this is the essence of what we discussed in class. The Dude started working on his barking at dogs on the street and the mailman approaching the house, and he’s almost cured of both bad habits. Now we’re working on not getting up on any of the furniture without permission!

Wait . . . the blanket means I have *blanket* permission to get up, right?

Our homework was to continue practicing leash walking, downs, and sits, and to keep working on our dogs’ play drive. The next session — session five — is a game night, in which the dogs compete on teams in a relay-style race incorporating all of the skills we’ve learned so far. It’s going to be a blast, and let Dude’s team the best team win!


17 responses

  1. Bobby is at the same level in his training. Leash walking is still a challenge, but he has figured out that with “leave it” that the real treat is in the other hand, so he focuses on that. Too clever for his mom sometimes!

  2. This is great stuff! Ray and i are in between classes right now, but I want to incorporate some of this in our practices at home. Thank you!

  3. Go Team Dude! These classes have all sounded like so much fun. It sounds like you have found the best kind of instructor, one who is not only kind and knowledgeable but who also knows how to motivate the human students. There is nothing like a little competition to encourage homework! Good luck!

  4. I would love a tutorial for alternative methods on teaching ‘down’ … current foster, Finnegan, has such short legs that holding the treat close the floor is not effective — if he tilts his nose down he’s already there! He knows sit, wait, and crate so far, but we’re struggling with lay down. All I can think of is to “click/treat” him when he lays down on his own, and then gradually associate that with a cue. You guys don’t seem to talk about clicker training much, but I love having a bridging command and some dogs seem to respond really well to it.

    • Another approach is to put some really good, stinky treats in your closed fist, and put your fist on the ground between the dog’s paws. The dog will start licking and nuzzling your hand, trying to figure out how to get the treats out. Eventually, the dog will go down in concentration — at which point you mark with a verbal “down” and release the treat.
      We don’t use a clicker because I think that verbal cues and emotion work just as well — and I’m not coordinated enough to hold a clicker, a leash, some treats, and keep a hand available for petting/praising. But you could just shape the behavior by clicking/treating for natural downs. Your dog will get it eventually!

  5. It sounds like the Dude is doing great!

    I have zero suggestions for training the furniture as an invitation based situation, though.

    • We’re using timeouts for it. Dogs are not stupid — he can learn that making a decision to get up on his own gets a penalty, but coming up when invited (we use a double-pat on the furniture or lap with a verbal “hup!”). So far so good!

  6. whoops, it logged me in with wordpress bloggy site, which i actually don’t use…i use this blogspot (hopefully, link is right, now!), if you’re trying to find me!

  7. Been reading your blog closely. Can i get a little advice? My two dogs are leash reactive, very reactive if they see another dog while in the car or at home if they see a dog out the window? How do you deal wirh the latter two? Love your blog BTW!

    • I would use timeouts in the house, and set up some timeouts in the car as follows: park your car somplace you know you will see dogs but you can easily get out of the car and leave. The second they bark, you say the timeout word (whatever it is), and get out of the car and run away. Stay away for 20 minutes. Best to do this where there is a Starbucks or a grocery store nearby. Repeat 4 times (doesn’t have to be on the same day), and they should start to get it. We wrote about timeouts two weeks ago on the blog, in case you want to check back to that post . . .

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