Category Archives for "dog training tips"

Global Doggy Rules

Happy relaxed dog

This weekend at the KPA Dog Trainer Program Workshop, we discussed ways to train dogs to wait at a boundary (in this case a doorway) until released to go through. When asked how I train boundaries I said, “A wait, is a wait, is a wait.” “Wait” does not have any context or environment or dog position rules. A “wait” means, “You stay put until I say it’s ok to move.” It doesn’t matter if it’s in a car, crate, hiking trail, kitchen, bedroom or sitting with a hot dog 6 inches away. A “wait” is a “wait.” It’s a Global Rule.

Thinking about training this morning, I realized that I like the “one key” idea. I’d rather have one single key that opens my house, my car, my garage, my office, etc. If you look at my key ring I have 4, and the ones I don’t use with regularity are hanging on a second key ring on the coat rack. While I love having a very large tool bag full of dog training tools, I don’t like carrying them around with me on my dog handling key ring. I use my Global Rules 90% of the time; “Wait,” “Sit,” “Leave it” and “Get it / Give it.” At the workshop I met people that like to have all kinds of keys on their dog handling key ring, which gives them lots of creative behaviors to train, but also means carrying around a lot of keys.

Whatever your dog handling key ring looks like, it’s beneficial to have a few Global Rules. A case in point was demonstrated this morning as I picked up Pais and Shira from dog boarding. Rox had gone with me to the Workshop and the other 2 were boarded for the first time. When I went to pick them up I thought I had cleaned the entire backseat for them, but a small plastic baggy with 2 dog biscuits had gotten wedged between the back and seat. Now, my girls get along 99% of the time, but Pais goes into a guarding behavior with anything she has “hunted” or “found.” I can drop a food all over the floor and she won’t guard it against the other dogs, but if she finds or catches a secret treat all her own she guards it. Well, guess who found the little baggy of treats? Yep. Paisley.

On a side note of needing knowing your dog’s behavior signals, I recognized Pais’s guarding growl just as Shira was trying to get into the front seat. Her guarding growl is very different from her play growl or her “What’s that?” growl. I certainly can’t describe the differences or even mimic the differences, it’s something that I have learned to recognize while living with her. Hearing her guarding growl was like a seeing a stop light while driving; pull over, stop and find out what’s going on.

I peeked around the front seat to see Pais laying down with the baggy between her front feet and a look that was a combination between joy and pride and concern. Now, we had never worked on “Give it” in the car. There had never been any reason to. I certainly didn’t want my dogs wandering all over the car, digging under the seats to find stuff to hand to me, but “Give it” is a Global Rule. It’s something I’ve worked on with all types of items, in all kinds of contexts. The number 1 rule of having Global Rules is to be consistent. The same vocal intonation is always used, even when you’re stressed or worried. I actually find it calms me to have to force myself to use the same vocals tones. It would have been easy to think, “I have 2 dogs in a very small space that are available to each other and one is getting testy. Quick! Do something!” and react in a hurried and stressed manner. Unfortunately, that would just pass the stress onto my dogs and perhaps make the problem worse. As handlers, we need to react by taking our time quickly yet mindfully. As I calmly said, “Pais, give it,” and put my flat hand out to her, Pais very gently handed me her found prize. “Good girl!!” With all the dogs now calm, (Pais because she didn’t have to worry about Shira taking her prize, and Shira because she didn’t want the stupid plastic bag anyway, but was getting told off due to her proximity,) we got back on the road and headed home.

While dog training is fun and can be even more fun teaching dog tricks and cute behaviors, it’s important to have a handful of very practical Global Rules that are proofed over and over on your dog handling key ring. Unfortunately you cannot proof for everything. There are circumstances and configurations you cannot imagine to proof for, but the more you proof the more solid a behavior becomes. Every training session working on your Global Rule behaviors increases the chances your dog will remember, even in a brand new situation.

The universal usability of “Get It”

Dog holding toy

I was reminded today how useful “Get It” is as a command when my handy dryer ball bounced off the wall and under the bed as I was doing laundry. Yes, I could have gone to get a flashlight, discovered the batteries were almost dead, find the batteries, replace the batteries, then go back to the bedroom and crawl around on the floor to find the dryer ball. Instead I just pointed under the bed and said “Get It” and two of my dogs went into competition to “Get It” first. That’s so much easier!

“Get It” is one of the first things my dogs learn, along with its opposite “Leave It.” “Get It” with a finger point of what “it” is, will get “it” brought to me, whatever it is: Remotes, fallen socks, leashes, junk mail, etc. The command came in particularly handy when I had an emergency appendectomy and couldn’t bend when I got home. “Get It” got my dogs to hand me their bowls, help pick up the many things I clumsily dropped, and generally made life much easier. My dogs are not “service dogs,” but teaching “Get It” is a something most dogs love. If your dog loves “fetch,” you’re 80% there!

I teach the formal, competition “Get It” retrieve, the “fetch” retrieve and the “if I point at it and say these words bring it to me” retrieve. Since dogs are contextual they don’t get confused using the same command for all circumstances. “Get It” simply means “Go pick it up and hand it to me.”

There are many ways to train the retrieve, and again, I use them all. Hold something in your hand like a ball or a toy, say “Get It,” treat or click and treat if you’re using the clicker. Mouth on toy gets treat. Once they’re physically taking it, put it on the floor, “Get It”. Any mouth on the item gets a treat. You’ve taken a step back because you’ve changed the way the dog sees the item. It was in your hand, now it’s on the floor so it’s different. Once they’re picking it up, treat. Then getting it high enough for you to get it from them, treat. Once they’re doing that with consistency you can throw the item further and further away. Great! They’ve got that down, now do it with another item. Something that’s not a toy or a ball; keys, a remote, a piece of mail, etc. and repeat the process of handing it to them first. Once they have the idea that “Get It” can mean a lot of different things start putting two items side by side and pointing to the one you want. When they guess right, LOTS of treats! You can continue for lots of items, but be fair to the dog and separate them out so there is no confusion about which item you want.

I do the above process very informally, sometimes using treats and sometimes using “Good Girl! Thank You!” This is a great way to get your dog involved in your daily tasks. Doing laundry? Oops! I dropped a sock! Can you “Get It”? Cooking dinner? Oops! I dropped a spoon! Can you “Get It?” Again, be fair to the dog, don’t expect them to hand you food… yet. Have kids? Let the dog help with picking up their toys. Watching TV? There’s probably a multitude of pens, notepads, mail, remote, etc., you can “accidentally” drop. During every commercial you get 2 minutes to do a little training! How great is that?

Using “Get It” in lots of areas of the house during your normal day encourages the dog to stay by you and pay attention. “I better go help with the laundry and see if I can get some treats!” What a great way to spend the day with their human!

Rescue Dog “Vocabulary”

Peeking dog

I’ve been working with rescue dogs long enough to really wish that they’d come with a vocabulary chart. This hand wave means “down,” this head nod means “ok.” Whether the dog has had formal training or not, they have visual and verbal cues that they’ve come to associate with actions. This can sometimes get in the way of any training you’re planning on doing. Want to teach your dog to target your hand? What happens if the palm out signal means “stay”?Continue reading

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