Monday Mischief–Training Time
I’d hoped to get some training done this weekend and take some pics for the blog, but everything seemed to conspire against that. I got a funky headache, it rained, couldn’t figure out the remote for my camera and my husband was working so he couldn’t help. Oh well. Maybe today. I need to get Cairo rolling with some serious obedience. She is smart, driven and too busy for her own good. That brain is going non-stop. We need to focus it in positive ways.
Coming from a background of mostly obedience, it was hard for my brain to switch from that to what I needed to do for my dogs that would be showing in conformation. While in my own mind a dog should be able to differentiate between commands, I was not the favorite of handlers when my dogs would sit when presented to the judge and every time the handler stopped. Whoops! Handlers and judges do not have the time to be trying to figure out what signal your dog needs or doesn’t need. You have “x” amount of seconds to present your dog to the judge and that’s it. Thus my regular obedience routine was modified.
With Cairo, she will get the full obedience run-down. I’m looking forward to it, actually. Obedience has always been my favorite competitive dog sport. It creates a great bond between dog and handler. Cairo and I need some work in that area, as most handlers and young pups do. She is spirited and–typical of her breed–can be stubborn, often wanting to do what Cairo wants to do. She must learn to work with me, not against me, and my job is to make it fun. This is the key to all training. If it’s not fun, why would they want to do it?
The first thing that you should be familiar with is what specific job your dog was bred to perform. Only a few dogs were bred to be lap dogs, so before you tell me that your Dane is a lap dog, do some research and figure out what job your dog was bred to do. This will help you immensely in how you approach training your dog. In a perfect world people would do this before they brought a dog into their home. It could save so many problems and a great deal of frustration. For instance, the lady that asked me why her Dachshunds were digging holes into her furniture, carpet, her yard. They were bred to go into badger dens and hunt other den-dwelling vermin. They dig. This is what they do. You must give them an outlet for this. Then there was the couple who were exasperated by their noisy Beagle. Beagles were bred to hunt and to be far out in front of the hunters who were often on horseback, so their voices had to carry over long distances.
So back to making training fun. How do make your pup want to pay attention? There are a few ways to accomplish this and the most popular of these is food. Many dogs are motivated by food. You will get the best results with something that they do not normally get, and something that is slightly stinky and soft. No hard treats. Do not use their normal kibble. Larger things such as dog biscuits should be avoided. These will take extra effort to crunch and chew and many dogs will lower their heads (you have lost their attention) and proceed to chew, chew, chew.
Your dog’s brain: “Oh look, a crumb fell here. Oh there’s another one over there…”
*Commercially-prepared treats can work, too, but I would stay away from super cheap treats and those made in China. If I am buying commercially-made treats, I tend to go with organic or premium brands or brands that I’ve had a chance to research from where they source their products. For the most part I prepare my own, but there are those times when I’ve prepared nothing and I’m in a hurry.
For my dogs, I cut these in half. These are Bil Jac training treats.
There are some more suitable things you can use. Cooked liver (recipes will follow in another post), hot dogs, chicken, freeze-dried fish, etc. Pieces must be very tiny, as you don’t want your dog chewing for 20 seconds, crumbs falling all around that they are compelled to clean up right now, etc. Keep the treats small (even for a big dog) and keep the training session moving along. Precious seconds are ticking away here. Do yourself (and your clothes) a favor and get a bait bag to put these yummies in while training. Do yourself another favor–remember to empty the bag immediately after training sessions or you will get an icky surprise next time you go to grab that bag!
Some people are hesitant to use treats, thinking that their dogs will learn to work only for food. This is not so. Eventually you will wean off of the food. It is a motivator only, used in the beginning to establish a good rapport between you and pup; to get their attention and have them focused on you.
There are those dogs, however, that are not motivated so much by treats but by toys. That favorite squeaky ball, Mr. Bunny, a frisbee, a ball. Some dogs will do anything for their favorite toy. Use this drive for good! I have a certain toy–a small giraffe with no stuffing and squeakers in it. Mr. ‘Raffe-‘Raffe. He is brought out only at shows. For my not-so-interested-in-food dogs, this is the holy grail of attention work. My kids know that in no uncertain terms is Mr. ‘Raffe-‘Raffe to come out for any other reason.
Mr. ‘Raffe-‘Raffe just hangin’ out.
There are also those dogs that are motivated simply by the happy sounds of their owner. High-pitched, squeaky and happy is how to best get your dog’s attention. You must be exuberant and sound like you are having the best day you’ve ever had. If you have a dog that can be motivated to work for you for a rub behind the ears or a pat on the head, go for it. I’ve known a few dogs like this; that would work for the sheer joy of being with their owners and pleasing them. Most of us, though, find that a little motivation in the form of treats or toys is necessary. Whatever works for you and your dog, use it. You want your dog happy and engaged.
Next lesson: Proper equipment and the Watch command.
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*I am not a veterinarian. The views expressed here are my own.