THE DOG TRAINING CHALLENGE: ARE YOU IN?
January is over and 2018 is well underway. Have you broken any New Year’s Resolutions yet? Well, February is ‘Dog Training Education Month’, making it the perfect time to commit to something fresh, especially if your resolutions haven’t gone exactly to plan… Plus, this is one that involves your hound – what’s not to love?
Dog training is so much more than ‘roll over’ and ‘play dead’. It’s our job as responsible pet owners, to ensure that our dogs are well socialised and well behaved, especially when we’re out and about in public. Training, even just teaching them the basics, is crucial to making sure your hound becomes a model canine citizen. And not only that, it also helps to form a special trust and a bond between you and your dog, strengthening your relationship even further.
Training can be started at any age, so whether you’ve just welcomed a new pup into your home, or you think it’s time to teach an old dog some new tricks – there’s no reason to put it off! And with that in mind, I’d like to set you all a challenge…
CHALLENGE #1 – DAILY DOG TRAINING
Okay, this one might sound daunting, but it’s actually pretty fun. The goal is to try a new trick, command, or activity with your dog every day throughout February. It doesn’t matter if you don’t master it in 24hrs, just give it a go! Simply trying something new each day will keep your dog stimulated and strengthen your bond together. Plus, you can tailor it to your dog’s ability level. Here are some ideas of activities you could try:
- Basic commands: sit, stay, wait, paw
- Recall/off-lead training
- Clicker training
- Advanced commands: Roll over, play dead, bow
- Agility, flyball, disc work, heelwork
CHALLENGE #2 – PICK A TRICK
If Challenge #1 sounds like a lot to wrap your head around, give this one a try. Pick just one trick or command (or activity) and work on it throughout February. This should give you plenty of time to practice and perfect a single skill with your dog – it could be something as simple as mastering a sit and stay, or it could be trying your hand at something new like agility or flyball, the choice is yours!
Whichever challenge you choose, I’d love to hear from you! Head over to my Facebook page and share your commitments and your progress (bonus points if you share a photo or two!). I’ll even feature a few of you throughout the month!
NEED SOME HELP WITH THE BASICS?
If you’re looking for a good place to start with your dog’s training, you really can’t go wrong with mastering a good, solid ‘sit’ (plus, it’s the perfect starting point for getting great photos of your dog!). Local dog behaviourist, Nathan Watson, has very kindly offered to share his expertise, on getting the perfect ‘sit’…
So you want to take that perfect photo of your dog! Simple, right? Bath them, dry them, brush and trim them, maybe even accessorise them with that special diamante collar or designer dog coat. You head out to the perfect location, the sky is blue, the sun is shining and your dog wants to do anything but stay still for a photo! You try your hardest, but all you get is an extreme nostril close-up, or a blurry tail, as your dog disappears out of shot!
Fear not – you can overcome this situation, all it takes is a little training!
When teaching any new behaviour, my recommendation is to start in a distraction free environment like a quiet room inside the house, once the new behaviour is reliable, you can then begin to add distractions which may include working in different environments. Think about when you learned to drive, you probably started on a quiet industrial estate, before progressing to busier roads, dual carriageways and finally motorways. It just would not work the other way around, and dog training is no different! Set yourself up for success and gradually progress.
Assuming you can already get your dog to sit or lay down, give them the cue to get in to the desired position and then reinforce with a small but very delicious treat, then release them for a play. Repeat several times until perfectly reliable.
You can now begin to add in the three D’s: duration, distraction, and distance. Begin by adding a second or two, before reinforcing with the treat. Working up to a minute would be great, before adding in some distraction. The distraction can be anything, movement of arms, legs, or body, turning, crouching, picking things up, holding a camera etc. Remember, when you add the distraction, stay right next to your dog, they must be super reliable with a range of distractions before you can think about building up the distance. Distance can be increased gradually in the same way that the duration was built up, tiny increments (half a step, 1 step, 2 steps, 3 steps, 5 steps, 10 steps etc.). Always go back to your dog to give them the treat, do not call them to you. Calling your dog may result in reduced reliability of holding the position.
Once you have mastered the behaviour with duration, distraction, and distance in the low distraction environment, you can repeat the training in other areas, the garden, park, woods, beach or wherever you may want to use the behaviour. This is referred to as ‘generalisation’. The more places the behaviour is generalised to, and the more distractions trained with, the greater chance you will have of your dog holding still for that perfect photo!
When increasing one aspect of the training, it can help to make another aspect easier. You may have built up a full minute of duration but when you start working on the distance it will be easier if you cut back the duration. In time, you can build up all of the three D’s. Short training sessions are best to avoid over stressing your dog. Adding play, in between repetitions will help to keep your dog enthusiastic for the training.
Most of all, enjoy your training and treat your dogs well!