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Dog Training Update: Where’s the Doggy?

The last time we spoke about dog training, Rod and I were re-committing ourselves to more work with Ty and Buster. That difficult day in Key West convinced us that our pet travels would be more enjoyable with more effort on our part. We’ve made some progress in the past five weeks, and I waned to bring you up to date.

You may recall that we’d decided to focus initially on these three behaviors:

  • Pulling on the leash. By simply stopping when ever we felt pressure on the leash, we were hoping the dogs would learn that pulling wasn’t going to get them anywhere.
  • Getting fixated. By teaching the command “touch” we were hoping to help the dogs focus on us when they were near other dogs. Being near other dogs often causes them to lose their ability to hear. :-)
  • Building positive associations. Using the “look” command we were hoping to get Buster and Ty to think: seeing another dog = I get treats!

Where we are today:

Pulling on the leash: The dogs were learning that tension on the leash made us stop – so they’d run back to us and then right back to the end of the leash. Thanks to a suggestion from one of our readers (Linda, you’re the best!), we started using clickers and treating the boys when they’re walking next to us.

Ty Loves to Heel

Ty Loves to Heel

This has gone remarkably well! Ty is walking so nicely in “heel” position that we’ve dropped the “click” and are giving him a word to associate with this behavior. A couple of times, in low distraction situations, I’ve even asked him to “heel” and he’s popped right into place!

How’s it work? When I notice Ty walking in the heel position I say the word “heel,” take several steps, say “YES!” to let him know he’s doing it right, give him a treat, and then release him with the word “free.” We may go through this routine 20 times during a walk. From here, we’ll continue to build up the distance he can walk in the heel position before he gets a treat and work on his reliability when we’re around more distractions.

Buster is more intrigued by what’s going on around him, so this one has been a little tougher for him. He’s just getting to the point where it occurs to him that if he comes back and walks beside us he’ll get treats. No worries – once we’ve got his attention, Buster learns really quickly.

How’s it work? When Buster comes back and walks next to me I click, say “YES!,” and give him a treat. Right now he’s waiting for his treat and then walking out in front again. (Not pulling, but not walking along side us either.) Once he starts to voluntarily continue walking beside us, we’ll work on adding the “heel” cue and start fading out the clicker.

Ty and Buster Model Their Harnesses

Ty and Buster Model Their Harnesses

We’ve also switched from flat collars to the Easy Walk Harness. The leashes now attach to the harness at the dog’s chest, which is great if you’re trying to discourage pulling. We still have to stop and wait for the dogs to release the tension on the leash occasionally, but that is decreasing with time. Once we have a solid “heel,” we won’t have to worry about pulling at all!

Getting fixated and building positive associations: Both dogs caught on to these new behaviors pretty quickly, so we’ve found a way to combine them and make it fun – we’re playing a new game called “Where’s the doggy?”

Trail Through the Arroyo in Albuquerque

Trail Through the Arroyo in Albuquerque

How’s it work? It’s best if you can position yourself near a trail or path that is frequented by other people walking their dogs. If you have a reactive dog, your goal is to give your dog enough space that they notice the other dogs, but don’t get upset by them. When you see another dog coming down the path, ask your dog, “Where’s the doggy?” Wait for them to spot the other dog, then say “YES!” and give them at treat. You can continue until the other dog is no longer in sight.

As you’re out for your walks, your dog may sometimes notice another dog before you do. Remember, your ultimate goal is to build positive associations, so whenever your dog looks at another dog (or whatever it is that causes them to react), tell them “YES!,” give them a treat, and start playing the “Where’s the doggy?” game.

Ty is very food motivated, so he’s able to play this game when he’s just across the street from another dog. Buster needs more distance than Ty, but he’s getting better all the time.

Have you been working with your dogs on any new skills? How are things going for you?

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