I am a bit behind, here, but we started a new trick training course last Wednesday, and this one is four weeks long! Very exciting! So exciting, in fact, that I’ve been practicing the tricks, but failed to write down what they actually are and post them.
Firstly, the stage for this class – Monsoon Season is still in full swing, and was, last Wednesday, attempting to drown us. It was raining so hard that the idea of going down into the creek valley was both fool-hardy and impractical, not to mention overall unpleasant. All well and good, but it did mean that poor Gwynn didn’t get much of a walk before class. And he didn’t get to go for a nice long run-around with his blonde girlfriend Sadie, either. Instead, we managed a barely existent walk, a brief romp around a neighbour’s pond (aka, the giant puddle that once was a front-yard) with his dog, and to pile into the van with spare socks, towels under the dog, and a change of footwear. This made a huge difference in his attention span, so he didn’t pick up on things nearly as quickly as if he were calmer.
The drive up to the class was half-blind and half-terror. The rain coming down had the windshield wiper going full-tilt, and pooled on the road to make strange shadows and reflections of light, that made it almost impossible to tell where the other cars are on the road. Especially not fun, since the exit from the highway that we have to take to get to dog-class requires us to lane-change 3 times within the first block and a half of exiting, on a very busy road. OH! The angst, trying to check my blind spots, my rear-view mirror, my side mirror, and my passenger’s opinion about whether the way was clear for me to shift into the next lane before the current lane ended.
This time around, the instructor kept the class size smaller (only 6 dogs total), which made it a bit easier to find a place for Gwynn that was far enough away from other dogs to actually keep his attention. The down side is that, yet again, there was a leash-aggressive dog in the class. For those of you picturing a dog savagely growling at all the leashes in the class, just… no…. not even close. But I admire your imagination. Leash aggressive dogs are fine around other dogs when both dogs (or at least the leash-aggressive dog) are off leash. However, these dogs are not friendly when they are on-leash. Some of them bark incessantly at the other dogs when they get too close – others will snarl and do their best to bite the other dog if it gets too close. Yet another reason to always always ask if someone’s dog is friendly – just because you recognise them from an off-leash area, doesn’t mean the dog will be ok now, a week later and on-leash.
I am not a dog trainer, or in any way qualified to tell you how to solve the issue of your dog being leash-aggressive. However, I’m fairly sure it is entirely cure-able, and you should definitely try to fix this issue – it will make your walks so much more enjoyable. I did notice a few things that the trainer and her trainee-trainer daughter were doing and suggesting for this dog. The first and foremost thing is this – petting your dog or talking soothingly is a reward. So, if Fido barks and lunges and growls viciously at another dog, and you say, “Shhh, now, Fido, it’s ok, hush now, baby, there, there”, while stroking her cheek and her ears and scratching her where she loves to be scratched, what you’ve just told your dog is this: “Yes, Fido, that dog should be barked at, and you should continue trying to bite it. Keep up the good work, and maybe intensify this behaviour, in hopes of more rewards.” The trainer also said that replacing the barking with another action would work well. So, when the dog looked ready to start lunging and snapping, as a dog was starting to approach, they suggested that the owner make the dog sit. Something that took her mind off barking at the other dog before she started barking, so that she had a job to do that wasn’t ‘protecting the owner’.
A suggestion that made a huge difference for this dog was based on how the owners were holding her leash. The trainer asked them to loosen up – give her a foot or two of leash, rather than holding tight to her collar. The difference was immediate – she calmed down considerably, still out of reach of other dogs, but able to move around a bit, and get comfortable with where she was. Obviously, you still want to be able to pull her away from other dogs, but by holding her tight against her collar, you’re giving her zero room for movement. It’s understandable that she’s freaking out over the other dogs coming up to her, because she has zero ability to move away from them, or move up to sniff them, or defend herself.
Should a leash aggressive dog be in a group trick training course, or a group training course at all? In my opinion, no… not until you’ve worked on your own or with a trainer, or both, to solve this behavioural issue. I’m not saying the dog needs to be perfect, but you need to know how to deal with the issue, beyond just crossing the street to avoid the other dogs, before going into a small room full of dogs. What difference does her general good-nature make to me, if she bites my dog? However, hopefully these people took the good advice given by the trainer, and we’ll see some differences in their dog over the course of the next few classes. Either way, we’ll be on the other side of the room.
On to cheerier topics – the tricks!
This command is pretty much as described. The goal is to get your dog to shuffle on their belly, across the floor. Get him into a down, then hold a treat out just in front of him and urge him to go for it. If he stands up, you’ve got it too far away from him, so try again, with the treat even closer. It might seem like too small a space, but you’re just teaching him to not get up, and you can move the treat further and further away. This trick is a lot easier for your dog if he’s on a carpet or some rough surface. Once you’ve got it working, you can add the command word, and eventually the hand-signal you want. We’re using the hand signal of the first two fingers wiggling (like you’re walking them) back and forth, and the word ‘Crawl’.
Gwynn needed the treat extra close, to start off. If it was out of reach of his nose without more than an inch of forward movement, he just got up and walked to close the distance. Then he’d try circling around behind us, all sneaky, in hopes of getting the treat. Apparently he’s going for spy, instead of soldier. It was also a bit difficult because we were on linoleum, and he was slipping a bit. However, practicing since then has gone really well, and he hardly tries to stand up and walk over to the treat anymore. My goal is to be able to ask this of him from a standing position a few feet away from him. We’re at the point where he’s clued in to what the word means, and I’m getting to the point where I don’t need to have a treat in my hand to lure him forwards.
Take It and Pass It
The goal with this trick is to be able to point at something (like a Kleenex or a toy) and say “Pass It”, and get your dog to go pick it up and pass it to you. We used a small toy, something we tried to get him very excited about. Holding it out to the dog, get him to grab hold of it, saying “Take it” (almost as though you were playing tug-of-war), then hold a treat near their nose, and say “Pass It”. The reason you don’t want to necessarily use your drop-it command is because it isn’t something you’re trying to prevent the dog from picking up. You do, in fact, want him to pick it up initially. And then give it to you. The dog should drop the toy, and then you give him the treat. Easy enough. Eventually, you’ll stop holding on to the other end of the toy, and then start working on getting him to pick it up in the first place.
It’s going so-so for Gwynn. He likes the toy a lot, but prefers to just poke his nose at it, squishing his nose into it. He also seemed to have decided that the game required him to learn to not touch the toy (since we were giving him a treat every time he let go). He started pressing his nose into the toy, then leaving it alone and looking expectantly at my treat-filled hand. Or just ignoring the toy and trying to lick the treats free of my fist. Whether my fist actually has any treats in it or not.
This is a bit of the wave command, but with a twist. Unfortunately, Gwynn only has shake a paw and wave down on one paw, and it is kind of necessary to have both to be able to modify it to this trick. The trick requires that you pick up the foot on the same side as the dog’s waving paw, then switch to the other foot and other paw. Eventually, the dog will lift alternating front paws in time with you lifting your foot, like a march. You start off by giving the wave command for one foot, and lifting your foot each time. Switch to the other foot, and progress to doing them one after the other.
We’ll have to work on getting Gwynn to shake a paw with the other paw, and eventually get up to this point.
The rest of the class, we worked a bit with jumps. Gwynn really loves going through obstacle courses, which we’ve gotten to try with this instructor before. If your dog is just starting off with jumps, start them low for sure. Even a big dog will hop a bit over a single 2×4 plank, and they need to get the general idea before you try to get them to jump something higher. Once your dog is comfortable, integrate the command for jumping into the play, so that you don’t have to run up alongside the jump every single time. We found that throwing a toy over the jump while saying “Over” was enough to get him to go, and we’ll work on losing the toy as well.