Saturday, January 15, 2011

Make your 5 minutes count!

We had schutzhund club training today and one of the things that I demonstrated, using Marco, was how to make your 5 minutes count.   You might say "5 minutes? That's all the longer you train?"  The fact is, too many people go out and march around without a plan on what they want to accomplish. The dog wanders away and only returns when corrected or called, if at all. Attention is sporadic.  Your goal should be a session that is dynamic and in which your dog never "falls out" of attention.  If you are like me, you will come out of a good session slightly out of breath!  Time yourself; see how long you can work when you are moving constantly before you are out of breath, or the dog starts to fade on attention.  If you can indeed work for 5 minutes without your dog stopping, looking around, waiting for you to talk to someone else or think about what to do next, good for you!  If not, pay attention to how long you can do it, and start there.

While I had a nice session, I did not, in fact, have a full five minutes of attention.  Marco thought that all those extra bodies in the building were quite interesting.  All of our people are instructed to ignore a dog that is working and runs over to them.  The last thing you want is the "aww, cute puppy" syndrome and have the disobedient pup get rewarded by leaving you. As Marco mugged Sue's yummy smelling treat fingers, I went to him, pushed him at the flank area to remind him that I was still there and he left her to go back to work.  I also recommend keeping a leash on the dog, even if it is just dragging at times to restrict the roaming if necessary and keep the dog active.  For some dogs, having the handler push them or touch them is worrisome (this is not a correction) and so it is better simply to restrict their options for mistakes. You can tap the leash lightly and move away and when the dog follows and shows attention be sure to mark it verbally and reward. 

Before you begin your training session, make sure you have the tools available that you will need. For this exercise, you need food because you need to keep things moving and not stop to get a toy back from the dog. Most dogs that we start this with do not know the gamut of the rules of toy play so you will be left stopping the exercise if you don't have proper grip, the dog tries to leave with the toy, or you can't get it back without a fight.  Stick with food.  Naturally, going back even further, this means you brought a hungry dog to training.  A dog with a fully belly (except a Labrador, which seems to want to eat at any time!!) may elect not to interact when things are too demanding, or possibly stressful because he does not NEED the reward system you are offering.
Have your food accessible.  Yes, this likely means dumping it in your pockets. And make sure you aren't wearing jeans so tight it takes a can of Pam and four strong men to get your hand into them!  Some folks use bait pouches but be careful about anything that you cannot have during a trial that the dog may learn as a visual cue. Another thing that I like to do is to leave my container of food on a table or chair, and when I am "out" I run excitedly with the dog to re-load.  For a dog, movement is rewarding, so you make even that part fun, and they don't lose attention while you fill up.  Instead of a time limit, you may find yourself judging how well you are doing by how many "fill ups" you get per session.
Have a leash available, even if you aren't using it.  Better to have it there at hand.  The leash ideally should be without a handle or long enough that the dog will not catch their feet in the handle if it drags.
If you use a clicker for any part of your training, stick it in your pocket.  Oh, and be sure it's not the same pocket as you just dumped your treats in. Take it from me, that gets very yucky. Same rule applies to cell phones. They don't like treat goo, either. (been there/wiped that off).  If there is anything else you might need during your session, such as tubs or other place markers, have them ready.

Before you begin, take a moment to consider what you want to accomplish.  If there is anything special that you will be introducing, consider how you will do that. Visualize your exercises and what you will do if your dog's attention wanders.  If you have already thought through the process, it won't throw you off your game when it happens and you will be more likely to make good decisions. If you struggle to remember what to do next in the heat of the moment, consider buying a small white board and making your list of exercises, then placing it next to your food container so you will see it when you refresh.  Remember that there is no rule that says you must do everything on the list--- always end with success and leave the dog wanting more!

If your dog is coming out of his crate or car, give him a potty break first.  THEN put on his training equipment.  This will become a cue to him that he is going to work.  If we want him to understand that he needs to turn on and be "into" us, then we need to make it clear to him by being fair and consistent. If we put on a prong collar and leash, let him drag us over to a tree and then yank the snot out of him for not paying attention to us it is not fair.  Certainly, with more experienced dogs, they understand obedience commands no matter the equipment, but when a puppy or young dog is learning, we want to give them every advantage. Therefore, let them potty on their flat collar and a long line or flexi.   Then put on the training equipment you will use and add a verbal cue.  For my dogs, I say "wanna play?" for obedience and "lets go to work" for protection or searching. In this way, your dog is not left to try and guess what they are going to do.  More likely than not, they would guess wrong and be corrected, when all we need to do is prevent that mistake by making their task clear.
An example of this would be if you were practicing martial arts and every time you walked in the door of the studio, you were engaged in a fight.  You would come in expecting a fight.  But today you enter, mentally ready to fight and when a man approaches you quickly and you hit him, they tell you" no, no, no! today is for meditation" . But then you walk into the library, and someone punches you.  It will be difficult for you to learn and very stressful because you will not know what to expect.  We all want things to be predictable, dogs included.

Have the dog driving into your hand for food before you enter your training area.  Don't enter your training field or building with the dog already not paying attention.  Then go, go, go! Keep moving, keep it fun.  Mark the behaviors you desire.  One of the things that I say is "there can be no NO without a YES" which means that until a dog understands what the behavior is that earns  "yes" marker, you can't tell him he is wrong!  "No" (nope or uh-uh) only apply when a dog knows a behavior and is being wilfully disobedient.  Keep it moving, keep it fun and quit while you're ahead.  At this stage it is not about how long your dog is able to work, but how well.  Do not push until the dog is merely surviving the experience rather than participating in it.
One other thing I do is add a verbal cue that tells the dog we are finished. I simply say "all done" and that means our exercise is finished. This can be helpful later on in protection work when we have a means of communicating to the dog that he can cease being on alert, in the search dog to let him know the search is over... it lets the dog know they can go back to being a dog again.

In a five minute session we were able to work the following behaviors:
  • "driving into my hand", pushing me back for treats
  • spins on both sides
  • the Knut Fuchs method of teaching heeling between the legs
  • heeling position on right and left with outside spins
  • sit
  • down
  • stand
  • recall
  • rear end awareness and turns
  • environmental distractions
  • working on elevated surface
  • place markers with object and 360 degree turn on object
The next time you set out for a training session, give some thought to what you want to accomplish and set yourself up for success by being prepared.  If you discover that your dog "checks out" before the session is over, make note of that and be sure to make the next session shorter.. then once you have built up to holding his full attention for that period of time, you can increase it.  Quality over quantity. 

 I hope it leaves you breathless....