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!
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!