Trainer Tuesday: Fears, Recall, Pulling on the leash, Eating too quickly & Barking at neighbours

Clare Hourie Ive had my elkhound rescue dog for 7 months, they think he is about two years old. he won’t walk on any type of flooring..I place him directly on the floor and he extract his nails which makes the situation worse for him. Ive placed peices of carpet on the kitchen floor so he can make his way around..but taking him to the pet store or the vet or any friends house is a real issue.any helpful ideas??

Hi Clare,

This is actually a very common problem with dogs. I’m glad you asked! First off, you never want to coax or force a dog towards something that makes them uncomfortable. This can break trust between the human and dog and can actually reinforce and strengthen the fear. It’s kind of like throwing a bucket of spiders on someone who is terrified of them.

Here’s the plan: Walk your dog on leash towards the scary flooring, but at a distance that doesn’t cause him any stress (you might need to start from very far away). Before he becomes nervous, stop in your tracks and quickly give him a really high valued food reward (use cheese, hot dog, liver or anything that really gets your dog happy and excited). Then walk your dog away from the scary floor for some relief, wait about 20 seconds and repeat. Repeat this exercise a dozen times, twice a day and over time get closer and closer to the flooring. Once you’re able to walk your dog to the floor without a negative reaction, proceed with your dog actually stepping onto the floor one foot at a time (or even part of a foot). Repeat the exercise each day where the dog puts more and more paw onto the floor until he is putting two paws onto the floor and then actually taking steps and so on. The key is to work with him while he’s calm and not stressed. Before you know it, your boy won’t even think twice about walking across the floor! This kind of training is called Counter Conditioning. You’re conditioning an unwanted response (the dog becomes scared) to something (the floor) into a desired response (dog happily crosses floor), by the association of a good thing (food reward). You’re also desensitizing your dog to the scary floor with the gradual exposure.

Now, if your dog absolutely needs to cross any scary floor in the meantime, I would get a long carpet to help him out. This will help keep your dog’s stress level down and therefore make the training process a bit easier on both of you.

Good Luck!

Arielle Justine My dogs needs to work on recall. Taz is a bit better than Tug (who’s still a pup), but if either are really focused in on something it doesn’t matter how much I call, they don’t come back until they’re good and ready… Any training tips techniques?

Hi Arielle:

Very good question! Below you will find some tips on training recall. The one thing you will want to do is train them separately before you try them together. Get a good foundation before you put them in a situation where you know they won’t come back.

Start Easy: This is critical when teaching a dog anything new. You need to practice teaching your dog to come when there are no distractions and when there is a high probability that your dog will come to you. A good place to start training recall is in your home, where there are few or no distractions. Later on, you will work on adding distractions to your training, but for now, start easy. One of the biggest training mistakes that dog owners make is calling the dog when the dog is clearly absorbed in something else, whether it’s playing at the park or tracking a really good scent in your backyard. Give your dog a chance and make training fun and easy for him.

It’s important to note that when you’re not training, avoid calling your dog and using the verbal command come. If you need your dog to come inside or come to you at the park, you need to go and get him yourself. You don’t want be making progress during training and then at other times give your dog the opportunity not to come when called. This will hinder any progress that you’ve made and it will also confuse your dog. So, until your dog is a master at recall, don’t ask him to come to you.

Use the Leash: This is another essential component of recall training. If your dog is off leash and you call him and he doesn’t come, what can you do? Every single time you practice recall with your dog, you need to do so on leash. That way, if your dog is suddenly distracted you can very gently gain your dog’s attention by moving away from the distraction and trying again. Over time, once your dog is showing great progress you can use a longer leash (15 to 20 feet) and practice recall with some distance.

Reward BIG TIME: We tend to be a little less exciting than a squirrel up in a tree or the other dogs at the park, so we really need to work on making ourselves more exciting for our dogs. That’s where tasty food rewards come in. When training recall, use food rewards that your dog absolutely can’t deny. Some great reward ideas include: liver, chicken, Roll Over, peanut butter, fish, or anything that gets your dog drooling. Also, don’t be cheap on the amount of reward given. Make your dog feel like he’s won the jackpot! Don’t worry about your dog gaining weight. You can cut down on your dog’s dinner portions when training or up your dog’s daily exercise. If your dog isn’t food motivated, you can use a favorite toy or ball. No matter what the reward of choice is, make it a good one and add tons of praise and encouragement.

Say the command ONCE: One common mistake that owners make when training their dog is that they repeat the command until the dog finally obeys. By doing this, the dog is simply learning that he doesn’t have to follow a command immediately. He can choose to obey when he wants. The other problem with repeating any command is that the dog might just think that repetition is part of the command. If you reward a dog for sitting after saying “sit, sit, sit”, you’re reinforcing that sitting after 3 commands is a good thing. Later on, we will discuss what to do if your dog doesn’t come to you after you ask him once.

Adding Distance: Once you’ve been practicing recall for about a week inside the house on a 6 foot leash, you can slowly add and increase distance to your training. Many pet stores sell 15 to 20 foot leashes that are perfect for this type of training. Add a foot every few days, but only increase if your dog is showing progress.

Adding Distractions: Since real life is full of distractions, you need to slowly add distractions to your training. Start practicing when the house is a bit busier and then take your training outside. Start in your yard where your dog is somewhat comfortable and then start venturing out into the real world. Once again, start easy. Try on quiet streets and work your way up to more exciting spots such as parks, popular streets and so on. Remember, you’re still practicing on leash!

Calling your Dog Off Leash: Now after all of that hard work on leash, you’re going to need to start back at square one if you want to test your dog off leash. Your best bet is to start in a very small room (like the bathroom) where your dog simply can’t run away. Over time, begin to increase your distance and add distraction when your dog is ready. When training off leash in your yard or if you take your dog to the off leash park make sure to load your pockets with food rewards. When you see that your dog is looking at you or focused on you, call him over with enthusiasm and reward him plentifully. Try calling your dog every minute or so and keep rewarding. After doing this for a bit, your dog is going to automatically start looking at you and checking in. Remember to set your dog up for success. Don’t start practicing recall off leash while your dog is busy playing with other dogs. Wait until he is finished and then call him over.

After you feel confident about your dog’s recall, you can slowly cut back on food rewards. The key is to keep rewarding intermittently, so that you’re still reinforcing recall, but not so much. As a dog trainer, I still carry food in my pockets when I walk my two dogs off leash and I call them a few times throughout each walk, just to reinforce their recall.

So, what does Recall Training look like anyway?

Step 1: Leash up your dog. Six foot leashes are great to start with.

Step 2: Load your pockets (or training pouch) with some extra tasty food rewards.

Step 3: Make sure your dog is focusing on you and is not distracted by the environment.

Step 4: In a happy encouraging voice say, “Fido, come!” and reward immediately with food and praise.

Make sure to repeat this exercise approximately 10 times in a row and always end on a positive note. Try to practice a few times a day (10 times each session) and only increase criteria such as distance and distraction when your dog is showing progress.

What if your dog doesn’t come? If your dog doesn’t come to you after a few seconds, your food reward might not be enticing enough. You might also want to double check that your dog isn’t distracted by something like the family cat. If your dog still isn’t getting it, try calling him when he’s much closer to you. It’s important to follow the steps listed above and remember to be patient. It’s also important to note that, after one unsuccessful “come”, don’t keep saying “come, come, come”. After one “come”, simply turn around for 10 seconds and try again.

One last point I should make is you don’t necessarily have to just use the word “come” when training. Try using your dog’s name and follow the same rules. It doesn’t hurt to have a few words in your recall vocabulary!

 

Gillian Fern-Loeppky How do I get Dakota to stop pulling when he is in his harness?

We often unintentionally teach our dogs that a tight leash is okay by allowing them to move forward when that leash is tight. Dogs love to move forward. They want to explore, smell everything possible and meet other dogs and people. Forward movement is beneficial to any mammal. If you want to get somewhere, you usually move forward to get there. If you’re excited about where you’re heading, you move faster! When we allow our dogs to move forward on a tight leash, they have no reason to believe that a tight leash is a bad thing. We need to change this and teach them the opposite. We want to teach our dogs that a loose leash equals forward movement.

So now what?

*You want to start in the house before you take this training outside. Sometimes when I’m training a dog to walk on a loose leash, it can take days before we even leave the driveway! Be patient and don’t worry about the distance you’re gaining on your walks and instead worry more so about the quality of the walks. This new kind of training will drain your dog’s energy because mental stimulation is exhausting!

When your dog’s leash gets tight on walks, plant your feet and don’t move. DON’T YANK ON THE DOGS LEASH for any reason. (Your dog can be out in front of you. Don’t worry about heeling at this point.)

Wait until the dog turns around and say “YES” and reward.

This teaches the dog that when they hit the end of the leash, they go nowhere and that when they pay attention to their handler good things happen (Food and praise).

Over time the time it takes for the dog to look back at you will lessen. It will become habit to turn around and look at you when the dog hits the end of the leash, instead of hitting the end of the leash and either doing nothing or getting overly excited.

Over time you can fade the food out and reward your dog with some forward movement. You will find that both you and your dog will start to enjoy walks much more without all of that tension!

Beth Godin I have a 4.5 month old foster pup, and he eats each meal like he will not get another one. I scatter his food on the ground (have started doing it outside) and putting his food in the kong. It has slowed him down a bit, but he still inhales it as fast as possible. What are some other things to try? I also have a 3 yr old black lab who eats really quickly.

Hi Beth,

This is common in homes with multiple dogs. Try allowing the dogs to eat in separate rooms where they are comfortable and where no other dogs can hover or even watch. Make sure to feed when the dogs are not overly aroused or excited. The pressure of having another dog around might be forcing your dogs to eat fast. This is actually a form of resource guarding (“I’m gonna eat super fast, so you can’t get my food”). You can also purchase dog bowls that are made to slow a dog’s eating. You can also try putting a big ball in the bowl so that the dog has to eat around the ball and actually think while eating. Ask for a few calm behaviours before you place the bowl down (Sit/Stay or eye contact). Your best bet is to keep the dogs calm and create calm, peaceful environments where they don’t have to rush to eat their meals.

Ainsley McSorley Lisa, luce barks non-stop at our neighbors and being gardening season they are out a lot, i feel terrible (esp as one woman is scared of dogs), any ideas on how to get him to stop?

Hi Ainsley,

Nice to hear from you! There is a wonderful trainer on Youtube that demonstrates how to teach your dog not to bark. She uses a form of training called clicker training. You don’t necessarily need to clicker train, but instead just mark the behaviour with the verbal marker “Yes” (you can email me if that doesn’t make sense). Anyways, check out this video and try it out. Start out with nobody outside and then work your way up when people pass by. Start far away from the fence or window and slowly work your way closer over time and only when Luce shows progress. Also, I recommend training Luce at first when the other dogs are put away, just to reduce the distraction.  Here’s the video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jp_l9C1yT1g

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