Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Knowing when to 'down tools' for the day...

Training dogs should always be a process of behavioural improvement and emotional development with a constant aim to be further ahead at the end than when you first started. Or at least that is how a session should be...

Over the years I have seen many dogs become stagnant or experience extreme regression because the handler dragged a session out for 2 hours when the intention was to only be a 20 minute session. While this is merely an exaggeration to emphasise my point that sometimes we just fail to see when we should down tools for the day and save it for another training session. 

The resilience and determination of some handlers to battle through a problem is, admittedly, quite admirable but unfortunately this can cause more creases than it irons out and could quite potentially jeopardise any future session you may wish to engage in with your dog. Having an argument over something late on into a session will cause the dog to become despondent, fearful, anxious and sometimes aggressive towards the handler. 

In my early days of learning how to train dogs and build drive I was always taught to finish while the dog is still motivated. By doing this you are creating more motivation and desire to work with you and respond to you the next time you engage in a session. 

While some types of pressure are acceptable to be used in the space of a training, you as a handler, must know when the necessary becomes unnecessary and whether your relationship with the dog is evolving or dissolving as a result of this.  

If you feel the session is going to reach a point where it's becoming stagnant, it's advisable to dramatically reduce the level of complexity to achieve a level of success in the dog's mind and then down tools till the next time. 

I, personally, always end my session with totally informal tug games and my dog winning the toy and going back in the car or in a crate, signifying the end to a positive and productive session.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Rules of Play: Yes, Good & No

It's been a year since my last posting, much to my disbelief! It never ceases to amaze me how life can flash before your very eyes without you realising.

In this blog post I thought it was time to discuss the 3 words that practically covers the entirety of how I train dogs... Yes, Good and No. To enlighten those who do not train with me, I shall go onto more detail on what each of these cue's should mean to the dog:

  1. YES: The behaviour you have just exhibited is desirable and will be followed by an immediate reward signifying the end of the exercise. An example would be: The dog has just completed a 2 minute Sit-Stay, you return to him, give the Yes cue followed by a reward and then end the exercise by allowing him to become mobile again. 
  2. GOOD: A 'check-in' cue, you have just exhibited a desirable behaviour and I want you to know you're doing a good job, but, we haven't finished yet. An example would be: The dog is showing good body position and intense focus during a heeling exercise. You offer the Good cue which can be followed by a smaller/lower value reward just to keep his motivation topped up and still keeping his head in the exercise. This allows you to prolong the exercises within reason.
  3. NO: A correction cue that can be coupled with an intense and brief action that is uncomfortable for the dog. You have just exhibited an undesirable behaviour I want you to stop what you're doing so I can re-direct your behaviour and bring your focus back onto me. An example would be: You're playing tug with your dog and give him a release command and he fails to release. This is when the No should be introduced with firm & constant pressure on a check collar or slip lead until he releases. The biggest thing one should be aware of is once the dog has stopped when given the No cue you must immediately follow through with a Good. By doing this the dog will then understand that stopping on a No is the right thing to do. 

A typical exercise I use to help start to create an understanding of these 3 cues is 'Rules of Play'. As owners, we all want to be able to engage in games of fetch or tug with our dogs, but, sometimes our dog's high drives to tug with a toy or to chase a ball cause them to become forgetful & impulsive in how they conduct themselves. We get scratched, jumped up on, accidentally bitten, have the toy's snatched from our hands and failure to release a toy when directed to do so.

So it is vital that, like with all games, some 'rules' are implemented. When playing fetch the rules are as follows:

  1. When the fetch article is brought into sight, you must keep your paws & mouth off my body. 
  2. If the article is in my hand or on the floor at your level you do not touch it unless you are given the Yes cue. 
  3. For the game to continue, you must bring it back to me. 
  4. (This one is optional) If you are bringing it back to my hand, you must release immediately. 
  5. (This one is also optional) If you are dropping it at my feet, you must do so immediately and give me space to bend over, pick up the article and stand up straight again. Preferably in a Sit or Down position. 
I use the No cue to correct jumping up, reluctance to release/leave-it and/or give me space when I go to pick up the article. 

When playing tug the rules are as follows:

  1. When the tug article is brought into sight, you must keep your paws & mouth off my body.
  2. If the article is in my hand or on the floor at your level you do not touch it unless you are given the Yes cue.
  3. For the game to continue, you must release immediately. 
  4. If I allow you to win the toy you must retrieve it back to be able to engage in Tug again. 
  5. Upon release you must give me space to be able to make the article passive again. Preferably in a Sit or Down position. 
The No cue is used under the same circumstances as I would with a game of fetch. 

Below is a video of me reinforcing the Rules of Playing Tug with Rocky, a 2 year old SBT. He has excellent levels of fetch and tug drive, but, in the past he became manic when a toy was brought into sight and became impulsive in his behaviour, failure to release on command and snatching at the toy was the 2 rules he broke regularly. Notice how I give the No cue once the article is been made active and brought into sight, this is just to reinforce that I do not want Rocky to engage with the toy until given permission. When given the Yes cue he engages with enthusiasm and when asked to release he does so almost immediately (his teeth did get stuck in the toy on both occasions, hence the slightly delayed reaction). 

Forming this basis to Rocky's training has enabled me to be able to take his training further and not be conscious of where the toy is when I work with him. Holding the toy on the outside of his head during some focussed heeling is reinforcing that the toy is passive and non-motivating until given the Yes cue. Making training with toys much safer, controlled and just as, if not more, fun!

A regular usage of those 3 cues and using the Rules of Play will help the dog to gain a better understanding of what is desirable and undesirable while creating a learning space that has clarity and less pressure.