Dog’s Eye View: Entree or ala carte?
Often, when I’m called in for consultations and training for the family dog, there are multiple topics to be addressed. In goal-setting for a positive outcome, we have to prioritize these behavioral issues and training challenges in order to create a plan for success.
Let’s consider this topic using a restaurant scenario — ordering off the menu or ala carte. What, exactly, are your goals? A common theme is to teach the dog to stop jumping on people, come when called and walk nicely on leash. Now that the “chef’s special” is listed, we can begin to build the recipe for success.
Without the basic ingredients, the recipe won’t hold up to “Wolfgang Puck” standards. This is my take on doggie manners in public. If your dog doesn’t behave at home, how can you expect a “gold medal meal” in public?
Our training starts in the least distracting environment to promote instant success. It also allows for optimum focus for the handler and dog. Let’s call this the appetizer; the appetizer sets the stage for an evening of conversation and enjoyment. This builds communication between dog and handler so this budding team can begin with a level of understanding and trust using positive reinforcement.
Compliance 80 percent of the time at home — in each area of your house, with family activities going on — begins to build strength in the behavior you are training. Using this as an indicator we can begin to add a bit of distraction. Come, sit, down and stay at home with 80-percent reliability means we might be ready to train in a new location.
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Outside on your deck, backyard or driveway will give you a preview of how this environment affects your focus and that of your canine. Remember, we have not had to deal with serious distractions, yet. If we decide to try the local park during an elementary school field trip, we’ve just piled the whole menu on our plate. This type of environment would be too distracting for both dog and handler. A remote, quiet side of a park will give us a better chance of adding just enough distraction ingredients to “spice up” our training skills a bit. Birds and squirrels and the smells of other animals are more than enough to start without adding the chili pepper hot sauce of kids into the mix.
So, check your menu carefully. How much can your dog handle? Certainly not the entire menu all at once. Here’s an entrée to choose once you have that 80-percent reliability at home.
Go to the park equipped with a hundred training treats and a camp chair. If you’ve taught your dog to “chill out on a mat,” then you can take that, too. Having that mat with hours of practice at home makes it easier to bring that skill to a new location. “Settle down on your mat” is one of my favorite menu items to teach my dog at home.
So, as you are sitting in your camp chair watching life go by, you can randomly reinforce that great “settle on your mat” behavior. If it’s quiet, you should be able to observe your dog relax as he takes in the environment. He’s catching the breeze, and that allows him to take in the entire park through his almighty nose.
If all is well and the soup is simmering, you can add a short walk and a sniff/pee break nearby. Then, it’s back to the mat for another several minutes.
What exactly are you teaching? In my mind, this exercise exposes your dog to the environment with rules and ingredients for good behavior. If he’s relaxed on his mat, then he’s developing impulse control. The dog knows: “I know what to do in the park. On my mat is good, it’s safe and it earns me my favorite cheesy bites. I can relax.”
All the while, you can sit back and be proud of the reliable training you started at home. Is he ready for the elementary school field trip? Only at a distance. That, my friends, is a delicious entrée for success. Pride in the work you have done is an extraordinary and well-deserved desert.
Laura Tyler is a certified professional dog trainer with more than 25 years of experience. She has earned associate certification through the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants and is a Certified Nose Work Instructor through the National Association of Canine Scent Work. She owns Total Teamwork Training LLC here in Northwest Colorado.
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