Wrap It Up – My Top 9 Dog Training Tools for 2012


Buddies in the winter sunshine
Buddies in the winter sunshine

Here are my top nine training tools for 2012. In this, my 42nd (wheow!) year of being a dog trainer I learned quite a bit about dog training, I focused on performance basics, tracking, agility and took a year long web course from Susan Garrett and enjoyed it a lot. And in the summer, volunteered my dog, Max as the dog in the “Annie” play. At the end of the summer I was blindsided by the demand to euthanize a dog I was successfully rehabbing so maybe I need to add a people evaluation tool. There are so many possibilities, but I’m focusing on what I think I’ll always incorporate into my future training.

Max doing his 'star' pose.
Max doing his ‘star’ pose.

1. Taking courses from innovative trainers that use positive training methods. They give you new ideas and different perspectives and new ways to have fun with your dog. This was the first time I ever took a dog training class via the internet. My slightly slow connection interfered with wonderful viewing of you-Tube videos, but it was still worth it. Also I couldn’t have had access to this trainer otherwise.

Image representing YouTube as depicted in Crun...2. Shaping behavior as the key strategy rather than luring (clicker training).  And targeting is one of the tools that makes this possible. Why not lure? Because it tends to become the go to tool, which ends up in lack of self motivation.  I am working to minimize luring in my classes, which is a bit difficult because even with explanation, people don’t understand why they need to target train, or how to see to do shaping and its initially easier to understand luring.

Toy focus
Toy focus

3. Learning how to really use Tug (and other games) as rewards in training. Previously in most of my training I used food rewards and I still do, but I’ve balanced them with play rewards and become more fluent in getting the dog to be willing to work for whatever I’m offering as a reward. And getting them to ignore the potential reward even though it’s right there, until it’s offered. So there is ‘surprise’ here’s a reward and there is the reward sitting there to be ignored until the behavior and release to get it is given.

4. Crate games. Most of us have one, but it wasn’t getting the kind of alternate use it could have had. Crates are for more than sleeping and hauling around, they can be used as a tool to train stays, for sending, for a place (gate open) to be while other dogs do rowdy games, etc. And in classes when people say their dog is crate trained they mean the dog will go into it at night and not whine, but what I mean is dash into it happily.

5. Targeting. I had been using it for a series of games like ring the bell, push the ball, come, stand, sit, but it can be refined much, much more. Max was “Sandy” in “Annie” this year, his target training helped immensely.

The Production poster for the original Broadwa...

But if your dog is in that play make sure you can put a target, laminated square sheet, on the stage so your dog knows his mark, especially for the “Tomorrow” song/section (which is really quite long).BellaApril62012 004

6. Recall refresher. Having a special call, not just the usual one used, for exceedingly speedy comes. And having a whole series of games to play to get this to happen. I ended up training and using silent whistles for Max for the play, taught him a come and a down cue via silent whistle, this was cool.

7. I’m a multiple dog owner and we usually do things all together, but this year I trained my guys as a group, but had them doing individual things.Circus dogs!

8. So you thought, when I said tools I’d have certain leashes or collars or kinds of treats? Mostly its having the stuff you need when you need it and not being, well, empty handed. I have multiple hot spots in the house, in my car and outside where I have extra equipment and treats (biscuit type). Other than that, a leash that has a tug toy attached is very handy, but since I work mostly off-leash… Treats should be whatever the specific dog likes with really, really liked ones for distracting situations (a belted on treat bag is good). I like head halters for distracting walks where a leash is needed. For the “Annie” play I used a silent whistle with two sound cues, it’s weird to use something you can’t tell is making a sound. Also in the play I decided to have him go collarless and leash-less because whenever he had one on the actors wanted to put tension on it, plus it seemed appropriate. FYI, in that play, every time the dog is onstage the policeman ends up shouting at people.

9. My focus was on actions and games this year, play, play, play, but stillness and quiet time is important. Remember to reinforce long downs and sits and have quiet together time with your furry bud to balance the high drive you’re producing.

To wrap it up, if you want your dog to be a great friend, do games, learn things with your dog so yours can  be the story – Lassie, Benji, Rin Tin Tin, Lad, Big Red or just the real deal kind of relationship you dreamed of as a kid.

10. The People tool, getting the message out about punishment/corrective based reactions…when “dominate the dog, show him who is boss” is used there will be a significant number of dogs that feel forced/trapped into aggression or cowed into submission. Having a dog that growls in the fact of aggressive actions by people shouldn’t be the criteria for their life or death. And dogs growling are giving you a chance to reconsider how you’re approaching them/doing stuff – stop, think of a different way.

What kind of cool things did you do with your dog this year? Anybody else have a dog that played Sandy? Did they bark at the cop, protecting Annie like mine did the first time he was in uniform?

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