We have recently completed a few new training courses with Watercombe dogs and have just started a regular training class with them.
It’s turned my training priorities completely upside down!
Duke has absolutely loved it! And I have too. The training is all game based. You use games and fun to teach you dog to make better choices. I can feel some people already rolling theirs eyes at choice…. but, bare with me.
Through games your pooch learns what behaviour produces the most desired outcome; person runs by and I stay calm and look at mum = I get treats. This kind of learning is particularly helpful for us as things happen so fast we might not see the person running before Duke does. We won’t need to use a leave or calm. In this scenario the dog chooses to let the runner pass because they have learnt that behaviour carries the most reward (we are working up to runners).
Currently the choices we are working on are to settle on his bed or another boundary, to not break from his boundary even when excited till asked, ignore distraction, to pay close attention to me and come when called. The regular classes help Duke to practice paying attention to commands while excited and learning to settle down and return to a calm state quickly; all things that are really important to us.
The games are great, it adds a fun element to the training and as it’s purely reward and fun based, Duke has a great time. He gets lots of high value rewards like his squeaky ball (normally a no no in training classes) In fact we are able to do lots of impulse control work with what really really motivates him; his ball. Because he is having a great time and it’s so varied he seems much more invested in it; it’s less like he’s going through the motions and now he’s really paying attention to me AND what I’m asking of him.
The change of pace helps; The classes involve no waiting around and are constantly moving which is great for Duke because he can get bored easily. They also change constantly which is perfect for Duke; he pays more attention when he doesn’t know what you are going to ask him to do next. We have to keep him on his toes.
Over the last 16 weeks I have noticed he is much keener to start training, he’s more focused and easier to direct, surprisingly he’s also much more confident, less boisterous (which is how he gets when he’s nervous) and more optimistic. I know what your thinking how the hell do you tell if a dog’s more optimistic; well it’s simply he’s less scared of new things and situations, he seems more willing to approach new things and give new things a try!
We have also discovered a hidden skill! Duke LOVES scent work! As soon as we put him to work he is suddenly more focused and he’s energised but in a controlled way. It’s like watching a child colouring in the lines; he’s focused and working carefully to get it right. It’s really nice to watch. Our current class involves undertaking this work with other dogs working at high energy tasks nearby. some dogs are doing a bit of agility, boundary work and much more. Yet he is able to focus on the task at hand! Which is really amazing for Duke who is a dog always concerned with the goings on of people and dogs around him and sometimes quite nervous of their actions! For him to be able to focus on a task with all that going on, is amazing, what more could I ask for?