Picture a sweet looking yellow puppy straining at the end of his tight leash, bouncing forward trying to go see other puppies instead of loose leash walking with his person.
Trainer said, stating the obvious to get the person to review what they are doing, “You’ve lost him, lost him, he’s not with you – he’s trying to get away from you, stop walking.”
Picture a hound sniffing mightily in the short mowed grass instead of paying even one bit of attention to her person who is cajoling her to do something. Picture a black pup wiggling in delight at a stranger and completely ignoring her calling young master.
How come everything else is more interesting, more enticing than the well-known provider of food and care who is wanting their supposedly unconditional love?
So you want those loving eyes, so you want that focus, you want that ‘you’re the one and nothing else is as important as you are to me, from your dog.’
And giving out treats, lots of treats, to get attention, for everything … for just existing. And toys, lots of toys. And when the pup wants to go see something or sniff something we go see and he sniffs. Walks he pulls to where he wants to go, in the house maybe he’s up on the furniture now that he’s better at climbing. In my lap (he loves me then) and I pet him until he wants to get down.
What could be wrong? where’s the unconditional love?
- when there are no conditions and everything is free for the taking everything isn’t worth anything
- when there is no structure, no cause and effect, no this action bartered for that how could anything have value
- forget the idea of unconditional love, if it was really unconditional you wouldn’t value it
- if you’re making them do things and then rewarding, or punishing after they’ve done something wrong, that isn’t teaching self-control
What right stuff?
Do something, get something – teaching self-control and adding value – no free lunch, no free anything. One of the best games to start with is a Susan Garrett game of It’sYerChoice. The game includes pup on a leash in a fairly distraction free area and you have a handful of treats and you’re sitting on a chair or step. You put your closed fistful of treats braced on your knee out under your pup’s nose. (the leash tucked under your foot, just so they don’t leave you initially before they understand how the game works).
Keep your hand closed and still (despite your pup’s efforts to get the treats), and remain silent. When your pup removes his face from your hand, you open your hand. Every time he attempts to take a treat close it (don’t say anything), re-open when he’s not trying to take one. Wait till he quits attempting to take a treat, then give him one from your below his muzzle level, opened flat palm (as long as he stays still and doesn’t try to help you, feed him one treat at a time, pausing giving him the chance to make the choice of stillness), but close hand and wait if he moves to take the treats himself. Note: if your pup starts to grab at your hand faster – you’re moving your hand – keep it braced in one place.
When he’s figured out this version, increase the difficulty. Take a nice cluster of treats and put them on the floor, cover them with your hand until he quits pawing, chewing, licking, then uncover. Re-cover them anytime he moves towards them (no verbal coaching, no threats, be silent). When he is still and not attempting to steal any, take one off the pile and give it to him. Cover if he moves to try to take them on his own, uncover when he’s not trying to take them. When this is working and he’s just sitting or lying or standing still then add a pick up of a treat and a drop back of the treat, give it to him if he’s remained still, cover now with open tented fingers if he’s moved forward to try to get some of his own.
If your pup seems to really understand the rules of this game – which are wait for the offer and don’t try to take even if treats are on the floor – drop the treat closer or put a treat on his paw. If you are going to invite him to pick up a treat from the floor add a cue for it, like a finger tap or get it.
- treats on the flat of your palm or on the floor ask for a sit (say only once) and offer one treat if the sit happens – if it doesn’t, no treat. If you need to, move the dog, or the treats further away from each other and try again. (Do this for all – down, stand, sit from down, and any other cues/tricks practiced)
- Make it part of life, to get what the dog likes, he needs to offer a behavior that you deem important – sit or down to go sniff, sit to go out the door, sit/down/sit for playing tug — whatever, but make it so he is offering something you like to be offered something he likes. You are creating value for behaviors, value for treats, value for you!
- to be petted by strangers, to see another dog, to play with other puppies … he must offer? … choose and make it consistent so that he will expect to do something for you to have whatever he wants (when you say he can have it – note he must commit to do whatever it is for you otherwise it doesn’t count as valuable to you).
- if you are inconsistent about this, you devalue it and so will your pup.
What do my students say?
“The hardest thing about this is training yourself.”
“I just do things without thinking, I’m going to have to break some habits.”
What do they mean?
- Puppies pull and lunge and people walk toward where the pup’s going – they forget about how they really want their pup to be, it just seems easier to walk forward.
- Puppies bounce with excitement and joy onto people and people react happily instead of waiting for calm, controlled behavior.
- Puppies jump up, grab at stuff and they give it or pet or coo or toss the ball or the toy.
What do you actually need to remember to do – notice what your pup wants and put in a contingency – sit before doorways/gates/car doors, before getting petted and be dogmatically consistent about it. He wants to sniff something, he needs to do something self-controlled for you first.
He’s pulling on the leash, but you want loose leash walking, you need to not walk until he stops pulling (no steps – zero, none- in the direction he wants to go unless he makes the leash loose). He needs to understand so he can make the leash loose, let him figure it out.
And when he does what you want reward it with something he wants ( food, toy/game, sniffing, play, petting) – make it fun and reasonable based on what he did (Ok gets Ok reward, great gets great).
If you want a calm dog then self-controlled calm behaviors need rewards and random unasked for wild behaviors need absent rewards. Commenting on wildness is a reward, saying his name in even a irritated tone is a reward.
Pups can do a lot more than most people think, as long as they know how to. And pups are learning now, they will repeat over and over again what has been rewarded (whether it was intentionally rewarded or not). We want dogs who understand, not just obey and who look to us for permission – it has to start early and be practiced mind fully, otherwise the laissez-faire rewarding will get us a wild young adult dog (joked about but not admired).
Have you used rewarding correct decisions by the pup as a key training method? Or have you thought you needed to take away their decision making to have things done right?