Dog’s Eye View: Training a process, not an event
My newly adopted 2-year-old terrier mix, Lawrence, is not a trained dog in the fullest sense. He meets people easily wagging his whole body. The expression on his face is so endearing and happy, people fall in love with him right away. He’s so good in the house. He doesn’t chase our three kitties, he plays with his toys, both alone and with us, and he travels well in the car.
However, we still have a lot of work to do. Our fourth week of Family Dog Training class convened outside in the warm, windy evening. Though Lawrence had been coming along nicely on the foundational behaviors of sit, lie down and name recognition, among other cues, by changing the environment to an outside active dog class, it felt as if we were almost starting from scratch.
This is how training goes. We start learning new behaviors inside our homes, then take these skills on the road. Actually, I was pretty happy when my classmates and their dogs assembled in an outside area. We sat in folding chairs with our dogs on their resting mats next to us. There were now fewer visual barriers between us, and Lawrence liked his cheese-stuffed hollow bone, even with other dogs fairly close. He didn’t bark at them.
When we got our dogs up to practice loose-leash walking, things got exciting. We kept a fair distance from each other, but it was the activity that caused Lawrence to start barking. Combine that with cars and people walking around, and I had my hands full keeping his attention on me.
I brought sautéed chicken gizzards for this challenging outside class, as I knew I would have to trump the great outdoors to get his attention. Even at that, he didn’t always want the treats. He was very aroused by his surroundings. What I did see though were little flashes of his understanding.
When he started to get fixated on a scent in the ground or another dog’s activity, he would suddenly turn to me as if to say, “There you are, I know what I can do.” This earned him some chicken, which he ate. Eventually, these moments started to come a little more frequently.
We then changed exercises to break up the work. There was a delightful young boy there with his family, and I asked him to help me practice “go to your mat.” It’s different than sitting on the mat next to a chair. This exercise teaches our dogs to target their resting mats and helps with impulse control. I held Lawrence’s leash, and the boy gave him the cue to go to his mat and reinforced his behavior with chicken treats. This more active work seemed to help Lawrence.
Together, we taught Lawrence to jump up on a low table, where we had placed his mat as a visual target. He likes to jump on things, so this was a fun way to get him engaged in the training. There were some large rocks by the parking lot, and the boy suggested it might be fun to teach Lawrence to jump on one of those, as in the sport of parkour. He cued Lawrence to jump, then sit on the rock. Success!
So, in this new environment, I learned some interesting things about my little guy and myself. We have to practice more outdoors, and for now, we need even more distance from other dogs in order to help him to succeed. He likes to do quick, active things, such as jumping. This helps keep him focused in an exciting environment. And he really likes that young boy.
I, too, need to remember what we say in class: “Training is a process, not an event.” And some kids can sure have great ideas.
Sandra Kruczek is a certified professional dog trainer at Total Teamwork Training, LLC with more than 30 years of experience.
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