Sunday, January 8, 2012

Boot Camp - The Sequel

The Beast, hubby and I took a ride out to the countryside today to begin our training with Alpha Trainer.

We spent 90 minutes or so with her, going over and over a number of commands in her front drive way, until all of our toes and fingers were completely numb and our brains were completely dead. The Beast slept all the way home. Were I not driving, I probably would have slept all the way home too. Training a dog is hard work!

The only point to this post, really, is to record what we learned today. Because there was so much information. I want to make sure that I don't forget anything!  So very little humour or story-telling today, but if you're interested in teaching a dog a trick or two - or just how to behave nicely in general - you may find this post helpful.

Here is what we worked on: 


The Beast must heel when he walks (either beside or behind us, but never in front). We place the Beast on our right side (our choice - many people use the left side), keep the leash in a relaxed "j", and take the first step with our right leg. Then we walk naturally (meaning that both arms swing side by side). If he tries to take the lead, we swing our right leg out in front of him like a pendulum so that he can't move in front of it. After doing that a few times, he starts to look out for the leg and heels. So it looks a little funny in the beginning, but a very effective way to get him to stop trying to lead. He was heeling like a pro in no time. 

The purpose of this command is to stop the Beast from putting his mouth or nose on something (food, a piece of garbage on our walks, a toy) or someone (a human that he wants to greet, a dog that he wants to herd). Eventually, this command can be used when he barks excitedly because he wants to sniff or mouth another dog or human. 

We learned the first building block of what will become a powerful command back in the summer when the Alpha Trainer visited us for the first time. With the Beast square in front of us, we present a piece of kibble and say "out" as we are moving it toward his face. If he makes a move toward the kibble, we quickly move our hands out toward his face to back him off. If he does not move toward the food, we mark the success with a "yes out", and then a "take it" as we let him have the kibble. He learned this very quickly, and so we kind of stopped because we weren't sure what else to do. Until today.

Stage two of this command is to present a piece of kibble closer and closer to his snout, challenging him to move away from the food even when it is right near him. The next stage is to drop a few pieces of kibble on the floor, and he must maintain eye contact with us rather than try to pick up the pieces of kibble on the ground in front of him. We will keep him on a leash as we practice this one so that if he does make a move for the kibble, we can give him a quick leash correction. When he successfully ignores the pieces on the ground, we retrieve them and give them to him as a reward, because he earned it!

“Sit” “Down” “Sit” and "Down" "Stand" "Down"
The purpose of this exercise is not only to teach him basic positions, but to teach him to hold these positions for a long time. As an added layer just for the Beast, we are also using this exercise to teach him to stop wiggling about, because he has the tendency to "sit" or "lie down" without being still - given his high levels of excitability.  And so using a piece of kibble, we lure him into a sit so that he is square to us. Then we lure him through the positions in sequence. Once he is in position and stops wiggling, we acknowledge that success by saying "yes sit" or "yes down". Then we count to 3 seconds, and if he stays in position for that time, then he has earned his piece of kibble and gets lured into the next position. To further challenge him, we up the "staying" from 3 seconds to 5, to 10, and so on and so on. And to up the challenge once he has mastered these positions, we can move to "stand" "down" "stand", following the same rules.  

“Stop” and “Hustle” 
The purpose of this exercise is to teach the Beast to respond to these commands when he is off leash: "stop" to stop him from advancing any further (like toward another dog or toward a body of water) and "hustle" to get him to come toward us when he has gone too far ahead or when he is lagging behind. But first he has to figure out what these commands mean when he is on-leash. and so while walking him in a heel position, we say "stop". If he stops right away and gives us eye contact, we say "yes stop". If not, we give a gentle leash pop to get him to stop and look up at us. To move forward again, we say "hustle" and as soon as he falls back into heel position, we say "yes hustle". To up the challenge, we can begin to try this exercise with a 20 foot lead in a wide open space.

"Working heel”

This was the last exercise of the day, because we were all freezing cold and the Beast was showing major signs of frustration and fatigue. (Just like me, he doesn't like not being able to figure something out, and the "stand" exercise from earlier had been a little tough on him).

The difference between a general heel and the working heel is that for the latter, the Beast must make very good eye contact and keep his focus on us at all times. This command will come in handy when we are in areas where there are many distractions, and we want to ensure that the Beast pays close attention to us so that he stays safe. Today we learned the very beginning stage of this exercise, which is simply to get the Beast used to hearing the command while seated slightly behind us on the right side, with a wall or other obstruction on his other side so that he can't go anywhere. Then, we simply hold a piece of kibble up to our chest to get him to look up and say "heel" at the same time as we gently pop the leash to signal to him that he needs to make eye contact. As soon as he makes eye contact, we say "yes heel" and give him a piece of kibble. And then we just repeat this over and over and over again (about 10-15 times) before we take a first step. When we do start to step, he must stay in position and maintain eye contact in order to get his piece of kibble. 

Coffee breaks
And since all of the above is such hard work, it is important to give the Beast a few little breaks during a training session. Otherwise, he will get too tired and frustrated and won't be able to learn the lesson. It will also help him begin to learn the difference between work and play - he can be excited during playtime but has to be serious when it is time to work.


So there you have it. For the next few weeks, we have our work cut out for us. At least 15 minutes of training a day. It doesn't sound like all that much, but I know it will be a challenge for all three of us to be consistent with this. I mean, really, it's more fun to play fetch in the park than it is to learn how to heel, right? But I know that the Beast has the potential to learn all of this quickly as long as we commit to teaching him. I also know that he wants this leadership from us so that he doesn't have to be the frenetic one trying to take control all the time.

And most importantly, I know how proud hubby and I will be of the Beast when he starts to succeed at all of this. And how proud we will be of ourselves for having taught it to him.

Better set the alarm a few minutes earlier tomorrow so that we can get started!