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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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  • Edeitz says:

    Sounds like great strides have been made! Check out Grisha Stewart and her B.A.T. protocol – Behavior Adjustment Training. I use her approach in my “Growly Dog” classes and it works very well. She also has quite a few videos and you can find her articles here Look on the right hand side for articles.

    • Hi Elizabeth! Yep, we’re coming right along. I have read about the B.A.T. protocol. The challenge I have is setting up the situations as she describes. This is probably more difficult because we’re travel full-time. But even when we were in the Poconos, I didn’t have a lot of friends with the amount of free time needed to help my dogs past their issues. I guess, in a way, I’m setting up the situations myself by finding a trail and waiting for dogs to come by!

  • Akila says:

    We are also using a harness for our one dog who pulls and it has made a HUGE difference. It is so much easier to walk her.

    Another great game that has worked so well for one of our dogs and makes us feel much more secure is what we call the running game. We basically stand about 20 feet (or more) apart from each other and call the dog’s name, acting super excited they are coming to see us. When she reaches us, we pat her and then say “Go” and the other person acts super excited. She runs back and forth between us and high speed. She thinks this is the BEST game and what we’ve discovered is that she now comes to us very well when we walk off-leash. She will even stop nosing other dogs or random things because she knows how excited we get when she comes to us.

    That being said, this game works well with her because she is attention-motivated. For our other dog, who is food-motivated, we had to reward him with treats.

    Our big worry about travel + dog training is getting our younger dog over fearful situations, especially loud trucks or cars when we are walking down the road. She freaks out when a truck goes by and starts pulling like crazy toward the house. We are thinking about using one of those Thunder Shirts but aren’t sure if it will work. [OMG, I just re-read this comment. So sorry it’s so long. I got a bit long winded today.]

    • No apologies needed, Akila! I’m glad you’re also finding the the harness helps with pulling on the leash, and I love your suggestion! I think this game might work really well with Buster (he’s also attention motivated). Ty is not much of a runner, so there would have to be a lot of treats involved. =)

      I have heard of the Thunder Shirts, but have not tried one myself yet. I’d like to see if it helps Buster when we’re driving. Though we’ve gotten him to stop barking constantly, he still whines quite a bit when we first get going.

  • Lori says:

    I’m not sure a clicker would work with our dog; when we rattle the treat jar, he comes racing, but if he’s distracted by a squirrel or a scent, he comes when he’s good and ready and STILL expects the treat! And he still pulls on the leash, no matter how many times I stop and make him sit when he pulls.


    • Sometimes they can be tenacious, can’t they Lori?!? I’m having luck with Ty by using really, really interesting treats – cheese sticks and hot dogs. He can hardly keep his nose out of the little treat bag I carry. Even then, squirrels are hard to compete with. :-)

  • Hi Y’all,

    I’ve been very interested in all the people switching to the easy walk harness.

    When your dog weighs in at 100 lbs and has knocked or pulled you down more than once when he was younger, you hesitate a long time before trying something new.

    Since the dog’s head is totally free, when you release your dog from heel to sniff and take care of business, how much control do you actually have?

    BrownDog’s Momma

    • Hi Momma,
      I completely understand having a dog that’s powerful enough to knock me down – Buster can get pretty wild sometimes. Rod and I agree that we have more control over the dogs in the Easy Walk Harness than we do with collars – because it attaches at their chest. I can’t comment on other harnesses, but I know this one works great. It’s well worth the $20 investment. I think Hawk would need a large – here’s a link to what we’re using on Amazon:

      I have one more tip that I learned from Linda on our Facebook page: when you adjust the harness for your dog, put it on “upside down” meaning that the darker colored strap goes across your dog’s back and the lighter colored strap goes under their belly (the reverse of what the directions say). This will keep the loop higher up on their chest and helps keep them from stepping over the leash. Let me know if I can help more!

  • Nice picture of Ty! he looks very focused on you.

  • I’m so glad to hear the clicker training is helping with your leash manners, and glad I could help! Keep up the good work!

  • Miriam says:

    Awesome job! You are great dog parents and I wish I had more clients like you who follow through and do the work. Miriam

    • Thanks Miriam! I suppose for us it’s harder to ignore the behaviors that aren’t working for us than it is for your clients. I’ve been guilty of not dealing in the past, but now that it’s in our face all the time and we just can’t avoid it. Plus, once you see the progress, it’s addictive! :-)

  • Maggie says:

    Oooh, I love the idea of the “Where’s the doggy?” game. I’ve been working with Lucas out and about, but he struggles with a dog walking past our house (the nerve! other dogs on the sidewalk!). I’m going to start implementing this game today!

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