Anyone Can Train Their Dog
By Art Hess
Keep a Tally!
During a recent class, a student said his dog just has a stubborn streak and will ignore him when he calls him. I asked what he did about this and he said mostly he raised his voice and called a few more times and when he still didn’t come he mostly just gave up and realized that the dog is just naturally stubborn and hard headed. I wanted to tell the man that he was the one who is hard headed but I realized the problem wasn’t going to be resolved by me being ignorant.
We went back and started at square one and reviewed the steps to a successful recall which require that you have to get the dog’s attention and that is why the first thing we taught was for the dog to respond to his name and to focus. Next we use a lure and a hand signal and voice command to tell him what we want him to do. We make the task very simple and easy so we are setting the dog up to succeed and when he responds favorably we “mark” his success with either a vocal response or a clicker and then we reward. Sounds easy? It really is but the challenge is carefully following the rules and to practice.
Here’s a simple tool to help you to be more successful. Get a small notebook and draw a line down the middle of a sheet. On the top of one side put your name and on top of the other column put your dog’s name. Now proceed to practice the recall or the “come” command. (This system can be used with any task) Every time the dog responds favorably and looks at you when he hears his name and comes directly to you as soon as you give him the command you count that as one for your side and put a check mark under your name.
If he ignores you, needs you to raise your voice, or doesn’t come at all, or in any way does not perform the task in the way you taught him to perform, you put a check mark under his name. This means he won that round. Keep practicing in various situations and be completely honest and tally the check marks for your success and for his. You see if he is doing it improperly and you are allowing that, he is really training you that he has found another way to play this game and you have accepted his method. Now if you were the trainer manager for one of these multi-zillion dollar sports teams someone would look at your results vs. his results and suggest that you perhaps should try to figure out what is wrong here.
Now is time for you to go back to the play book and review your steps and to practice doing it properly and not to proceed to step two, three, etc. until the student has completely mastered each phase. You continue to keep your tally and do not change criteria (location, distance, distractions) until the student is performing the task perfectly at least 4 out of 5 times or 80%. Only then do we change any of the criteria and remember to only change one thing at a time. If you change locations everything else stays the same. For example never change location, distance and add a distraction all at once because we are setting the dog up for failure, Remember we build on simple, solid successes.
If we don’t keep score we can’t expect to improve and if we don’t try something new and more difficult we keep doing the easy thing over and over and often become proficient at doing things improperly.