How to use Exercise 1.1 The Up & Down Game to make sure your puppy grows up loving meeting other dogs but can remain calm and attentive to you too!
This video is also very helpful for anyone with a dog who can be reactive or uncomfortable around triggers such as cyclists, joggers, cars other dogs etc.
I’m using Ash as the demo dog in this video as he was markedly reactive when I first adopted him especially to cyclists, strangers and other dogs. He has made huge improvements and now remains happy and cheerful when cyclists and strangers go past even at very close quarters but he is still worried by new dogs when he is on lead.
Once reactivity takes root it can take lots of time and patience to improve as we are dealing with a ‘feeling’ rather than a ‘thinking’ dog so one of the best gifts you can give your puppy is to ensure they look forward to meeting other dogs and people they don’t know.
To explain the approach let’s imagine there is a device built into your car dashboard. Every time you are driving and you see someone walking a dog the device magically prints and dispenses a £5 note. It doesn’t matter whether it’s morning, noon or night, every time you see someone walking a dog the machine pays out. You also notice that it doesn’t matter what type of dog it is – ANY dog and the device pays out.
After a short while how do you think you would feel when you saw someone walking a dog – happy right? Me too. How would you feel when you realised the route you were taking would take you past lots of dogs? Would you be feeling happy, optimistic and looking forward to seeing all the dogs? Of course! This is the essence of classical conditioning at work.
The rule is simple, whenever you see another dog approaching, especially from head on you become the dashboard cash dispenser for your puppy by playing the Up & Down game – you can click for remaining calm and looking at the trigger (in this case the other dog), for looking at you, for looking away and then looking back at you – all these behaviours earn a reward and we use the clicker to make the exercise as easy as possible for the dog. If you know the other dog is friendly to puppies then by all means let them meet but do mix this up with keeping a nice distance away too so your puppy grows up learning that sometimes they get to play and sometimes we just play a fun game looking from a distance.
10 minutes spent is a busy car park like this is time well spent and will really tire your dog out too. Dogs have to learn how to pay attention when outdoors amidst distractions as this doesn’t come naturally and this is why this exercise is so great. It helps your dog feel good about seeing other dogs approach and helps them practice paying attention to you at the same time.
Note: if you have a reactive dog and he/she is very excited or is barking & pulling then you are too close to the trigger. It’s really important that your dog is remaining calm and happy throughout while you’re working so you may have to work at a long distance away to start off with and you need to become very familiar with your dogs body language so you know when they start to feel uncomfortable.
This is a super exercise to start adding distractions to your attention training!
In your quiet area hold a food treat in one of your hands, you can let it protrude from your fingers so your dog sees it. Then stretch your arm out keeping the food in clear view.
If your dog is highly food motivated, he will very likely look at the food in your hand and perhaps even drool. If he's the type of dog who gets frustrated he may bark or paw at you and if he's a jumper, he may attempt to jump up and grab the food.
Ignore all these behaviours and keep the food firmly held so he can't reach it, the only thing that’s going to work for him is to make eye contact with you.
Just wait patiently until your dog looks into your eyes and the moment he makes eye contact with you say 'yes' and feed a treat.
In some cases, your dog might not notice the treat in your hand. If so try moving the hand with the food around a little to grab his attention. If you really need to, you can lower the hand and let him sniff the food, then raise it back up into position.
Next, change hands and when he’s really got the hang of that then hold both hands out as if you were an aeroplane.
As long as he continues to make eye contact he gets a treat, be careful to bring your hands back to the centre position near your face before you feed so that the treat always comes from your face.
Now try the exercise in heel position using the arm nearest the dog to extend out holding the food. Start with your arm high and then gradually lower it and see how close you can get to your dog’s face with the treat!
This exercise aims to help you understand the process of taking the basic behaviours we are establishing well at home and make sure your young dog will respond away from home, without food in your hands and under distraction.
We're going to look at a really important concept in dog training, which is something called dog distraction training or ‘proofing’.
Proofing is your cure for the issue:
“My dog listens really well and is perfect at home but won't listen at all once we're outdoors!”
It's helpful to understand that dogs that don't listen outdoors usually do listen pretty well at home. They aren't being naughty or even stubborn when they're outdoors. They simply struggle to understand the cues or signals we give them when we change the context in which those cues are given and especially so if there are distractions around.
When learning a behaviour, dogs take note of their entire environment and associate the behaviour with that environment. When the environment changes, they are often no longer sure of the behaviour that's being asked of them and all dogs find it harder to be obedient when there are distractions around.
The solution is to teach in one context, then teach exactly the same thing in another context, one that's slightly more challenging and to repeat this training over and over again raising the bar a little each time. For example, you might teach your dog to lie down in one room, then in different rooms in the house, then in your garden. Then repeat the training in a quiet corner of a large park well away from others. Then repeat in a quiet street then a busier one until your dog can eventually do it in a busy bustling public place with distractions everywhere.
Dog distraction training is all about teaching a dog to be obedient no matter what is going on around him and it's achieved by creating artificial training scenarios where you personally have control over the level of distraction and of the dog's response to the distraction.
Good dog training programs introduce this type of training early on as soon as some basic behaviours are established. We focus on getting this right with limited distractions from the start, and only building up the difficulty when your puppy is ready.
To help us understand further, let’s think about an example:
The obedient dog -
The dog, let's call him Flint who recalls very smartly away from other dogs might well be described as obedient. However, it's not the rational obedience that we expect from people. It's simply that his owner has put in the time and effort into training him to respond in a particular way and under those specific circumstances. He has been specifically trained to recall reliably away from other dogs.
The disobedient dog -
If you put Flint in front of a bolting rabbit or in a field of sheep, he may fail to recall entirely. Many people would then describe Flint as being disobedient, whereas in fact, he was simply not trained to cope with that particular situation.
Always try to remember, no matter how frustrating it may seem, dogs don't choose to be disobedient. They're simply not that complex. If you want your dog to come when you call him when other dogs are in sight, you will need to specifically train your dog for this skill. You cannot expect a dog that has learned to recall in an empty field to continue to do so when another dog appears. He might come back and he might not - the only way to be sure he does is to train for it.
And so we aim to deliberately set up situations where you can ensure that your dog responds to your cues in the presence of the distractions that you want him to ignore.
Always remember distraction training is not about teaching the basic behaviours. If you can't get your dog to sit, down, stay, etc when conditions are ideal then go back a few steps and work on that more first.
How to tell if you're ready for distraction training:
If you're not sure if a behaviour you've trained is ready for distraction training, then take this simple test.
If so, that's great and you're ready to get started and use this behaviour with distractions present.
However, if your dog wandered around first or needed many cues, you have a basic training problem and you need to go back and retrain that behaviour first.
The Golden Rule is: do not use a behaviour in distraction training if your dog cannot perform it easily and reliably under pristine conditions and while you're holding food.
Take this test for each behaviour that you would like to use in your distraction training this week. In the accompanying video I am using a hand touch behaviour for Jim which is a nice easy behaviour and a good one for you to start with. When you start this type of training do focus on one behaviour only for just a few minutes. If you’d like to work on another behaviour do that in a separate session.
Each task should be repeated until your dog is successful at least 80% of the time and your dog should be bright, eager to train and having fun!