I started my week in domestic goddess mode – baking up a fine batch of liver cake for my own dogs and those lucky enough to be in my classes
As I was washing up the ensuing mess, it had me thinking why I had made the effort – after all, opening a packet of dried dog treats is a lot simpler!
But as anyone who’s ever been in a training class with me will know, I like to CELEBRATE with dogs when they get something right – and that means giving them an appropriate reward. So if I think they’ve done a good job then good things will follow 🙂
So rewarding my dog is part of why it’s important to know what they enjoy – but it goes a bit deeper than that too.
Because anything my dog considers rewarding is also a potential distraction from whatever I’m asking them to do. Something delicious and tasty like liver cake can be a tremendous reward, but it also can cause brain freeze if my dog gets too excited about it – many might consider this counterproductive!
However the time that you want your dog to respond is likely to be when they’re highly aroused by some distraction or other – perhaps playing with another dog, greeting a person, running after a cat.. I’m sure you can think of other scenarios.
I think it’s only fair that I train my dog to understand that I expect them to listen to me even when they’re very excited, by setting up training scenarios that challenge them to really pay attention to what I’m saying.
To set these situations up, I need to have an idea of what my dogs top 10 rewards/ distractions are – so that I can start small and build up to really difficult challenges. Here’s my 3 year old collie Jade’s list to illustrate what I mean:
1. Fishy treats – not a big fan!
2. Dried dog biscuit treats
3. Ham/ Sausage
4. Cuddles with the children on the sofa
5. Seeing one of her favourite people – Clint Elliott (dog walker) or Auntie Nicola Pilling (Daybreak instructor)
6. Liver cake/ Garlic sausage
7. Playing tuggy with her other toys
8. Playing tuggy with a furry toy
9. Running with our other dogs
10. Running with her Auntie Ella
So if I wanted to improve a certain behaviour – such as her recall, I would start with distractions at the lower end and get plenty of rewards in for her coming straight back to me at speed, before working through the rest of the list.
I’d also look to ping-pong the challenges – so rather than getting harder and harder, I’d build up to a difficult recall and then follow it up with an easy one. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and I’m not looking to over face my dogs – I’m looking to build their understanding of their cues and in spending time with them, put valuable money in our relationship bank.