Big-dog-little-handler: Week 4&5

In my last post I was thinking about mixing up Duke’s treats during training; My mixed bag of treat was very successful. Clearly just like people dogs can get bored of working for the same treat. We have had a few training seasons where Duke had struggled to pay attention the first 10 minutes. He would however start paying attention after that, and would work for his treats, but the first ten minutes where definitely testing. He would just look at everything and anything but me. His nose would quite often be on the mat sniffing out the occupants of the last class. So I mixed up some human food and dog treats, including meat and cheese, it worked so well! So well that the next session I soaked the treats in gravy to! Which got an even better response.

Duke has definitely improved he’s sitting a lot faster when told. He lays down a lot quicker. He responds a little more swiftly when I speak. Which is all great! But he still manages to forget things when other dogs are around; alas we haven’t quite cracked that one. He still pulls towards other dogs but it’s a lot easier to manage now, as although he pulls he still half listens to the command. So he will half sit half pull. Much easier.

Another one that we haven’t quite cracked is the recall. In fact it’s gotten worse since we haven’t been letting him off leash at all. I think we use it a lot less now. We are going to have to keep working on it. We need to start using it more often even when on leash.

We had 2 successful sessions week 4 but he was a bit stubborn at times! I think he’s testing us a little. He didn’t quite manage the 2 minute stay but he did well over a minute so I’ll give him that. We had an exercise where we had to weave in and out of a circle full of dogs; with our dog under control. He did amazingly. I was pretty shocked. We use the “leave” command to get him to stop focusing on the others. Hopefully eventually this will translate to the real world. 

At home I have been working on the “heel” and “away”. In class we weave out of cones. At home? Well I’ve been doing this by weaving in and out of puddles and he seems to really understand what’s expected from him when I use the command! 

When he gets over excited I’ve been using “lay down” to interrupt his excitement . He’s still excited, but he’s excited laying on his belly which is a start! We have to stay away from deep puddles as that tips him I’ve the edge into deep excitement. But at least we now know what makes him crazy!

Last week we missed a session but our Friday session was a lot quieter and we got to try lots of new things . Because the session was a lot quieter there was also fewer distractions so we achieved a lot more. We smashed the 2 minute stay. We where also able to drop the lead and work on the goal of having him off lead during the tasks in class. 

Duke and I also tried something new called “rally-o”. Kennel club describes rally as “Rally involves you and your dog working as a team to navigate a course with numbered signs indicating different exercises to perform; think of it as a sort of ‘obedience exercise obstacle course ‘.”. We really enjoyed it, It’s abit new and I’m having to get to grips with the signs, but in general Duke and I did okay! We are going to try and work towards our level one and maybe follow it up with level two. Your not competing against another handler and dog, just the two of you working together, which appeals to me. 

It was a busy session as we also learnt a “competition finish” which definitely needs working on!! We are abit on the sloppy side. But Duke and I have been practicing everyday. I don’t intend to attend competitions with Duke but it’s a good way to get your dog thinking. And if he’s thinking he isn’t misbehaving. The best thing, for us anyway, about the rally is learning “go left” and “go right”. I like the left and right because when he gets distracted by other things on his waslk I use the “left” and the “finish” to bring him to my side and distract him from what ever has caught his attention. It’s a great tool. He’s too focused on the task to focus on the distraction. And it can be used (eventually) when off the lead to send your dog in the right direction. 

We have been practicing everything at home trying to re enforce the commands as much as possible. Most importantly, I think, my confidence increases the more we practice. I also get to see what works and what doesn’t (it’s all trial and error). Ultimately Duke wants to do what he’s told but he needs to be given enough information to be able to act. This information is delivered by using the correct command; harder than you think as language tends to have multiple words meaning the same thing. Think: stop, stay, wait. You have to stick to ONE word or phrase. Harder than it sounds. Using the right hand signal is key. We talk a lot with our hands so sometime the dog needs the gesture, again it has to be the same gesture each time, coupled with the word. And they need the right knowledge: these gestures, word and action couplings have to be positively reinforced over time. Duke responds a lot faster when I do all these things calmly and confidently. Sometimes it’s hard to stay calm when you have asked him to sit 5 times; but in general we do okay. 

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