When training reward value matters. That reward can be many things. From simple contact with you (affection), actual treats as we will focus on here, or in the case of field training the bird is the ultimate reward.
So, it is important to know the value of your ‘treat’ in relation to the training situation. Treat value matters a great deal when it comes to training dogs. You may be able to use dry treats or even kibble when asking for easy, known behaviors at home – or for situations when the treat itself is the distraction to lower the value of the treat. But when you go out into the world and must compete with smells, sounds, and squirrels, those lame treats aren’t going to cut it! And if you’re trying to work on hard things in a high-distraction environment, you’re going to need to some super high value treats.
You get what you pay for when it comes to behavior, so make sure you’re using the right treats for the right activities.
It is critical to remember; the actual value of the treat is up to the dog…so beware the currency rate can and may change on you! Some pups go bonkers for cheese, others lose it over ice cubes or tortilla chips. In my experience, the most expensive treats are not the most valuable to your dog.
Using this visual aide as a pretty good guide:
from left to right 1,2,3 are not high enough in value to be useful for most training scenarios, for most dogs (unless you NEED a low value treat e.g. starting work with ‘leave it’).
4 (stinky jerky treats) You are in the medium value zone, and like the low value treat, it does have it’s use and place in a training program. But when you really need and want your pups attention to get things rolling, go for the big guns.
5,6,7 Be sure to use only teeny tiny bits of these super high value treats. If needed, these treats are high enough value to help you use ‘luring’ to get your dog to do what you want and be of some help in high-distraction environments. I have learned over the years, most dogs like hotdogs in the same way crackheads like free crack. So, use them responsibly and with care.
I have been pretty quiet about what is going on with regards to the second edition of my book The Drentsche Patrijshond for the North American fancier, after all, the book has been sold out now for over two years now. I paid the big bucks a while back and put together an elaborate survey via Survey Monkey and that survey was sent to everyone who purchased a copy of the book. Thankfully, I received some good feedback. Interestingly, what I received is very much what I had expected – I had accurately assessed what people would like, and what the book needed to be more complete. That was a huge win!
Here is where it got sticky. The original fully edited manuscript was lost. Neither my publisher nor I had it. But we did have the PDF file of the pre-production book, which still predated the last round of house cleaning for the production run. So, I cracked the PDF and unleashed a storm of formatting errors – the result of my designer using a host of proprietary fonts. The resulting file did in fact look much like a train of dumpsters flipped into a ditch and set alight. It was a total disaster. I had to put it away it was so bad. Still from time to time I’d open it and try to make corrections. Some efforts were hours long, others just enough to open the file stare fear in the eye and close it. One day I was fooling around and had an epiphany regarding the pattern of auto-formatting the file crack job created. From that point, the clean up job become mission possible. Tedious, mind numbing the task was. Much, like picking grains of rice from a sack of lentils, the task was hours and hours of careful combing – but I did it. I managed to create a clean manuscript.
Still, there was the task of restoring the final print edit. This too was an unenviable task. Some of the edits were subtle, some quite significant. The result of my publisher’s efforts really put a level of polish on the project I was not capable of producing. So, I would set time aside and have a pre-production book as well as a book from the production run set page for page just off to the side, with my trusty laptop and power supply at hand and went word for word. Sentence by sentence. Paragraph by paragraph. Page by page. Chapter by chapter to restore the edits and make adjustments in a few places. This task took longer than I had anticipated, but the work passed smoothly and helped to breathe new life into my desire to see the project through.
With that wind under my wings, I began writing about all the things I wished I had been able to have in the book when it was sent to print, the same things my feedback told me that others wanted. To date I have written 21,000 words and still have more to write. Because the way my creative process works, I make the process a bit more difficult on myself than it really needs to be. It just is what it is, I stopped fighting it a long time ago – but I do still curse it from time to time. These past few weeks I have begun shaping what I have produced into a cohesive piece, so that one idea flows or builds to the next. I thought I had it, then realized I had boxed myself in and so I had to redo the whole thing. Cutting and pasting within a lengthy Word document is tedious. Scrolling up and down, down and up. Finding text and moving it to the right place, highlight text for future editing, and so on. Then identifying what is it that I am missing.
That is right, with 21K written, I most likely still need to write the better part of 10,000 or more words to cover what I have wedged in my headbone. That might be terrifying to many of you, but for me, it’s really not a big deal. My greatest limiting factor with regards to production is my ‘exquisite’ keyboard skill. Putting words to paper, so the speak, comes easy to me and now that I know what I want to write about, it’ll be for me to ‘buckle down’ and throw words at those thoughts until the idea is covered. Like this update, a thought I had last night. And this morning after breakfast, just tap it out in forty-five minutes or so…
In many ways I am glad I wasn’t able to include this new material in the original book. I really wasn’t ready to write about it. I wanted to, but I lacked the confidence needed to write definitively about the topic I wanted to write on. As I was in the process of learning and transition. In the years before and between when I was writing for the first Drent book project and now I have read thousands of research quality and fully cited pages, on canine behavior. Taken online courses, watched hundreds of hours of pro-trainers work with dogs and of course work hands on with a few pros as well. Of particular importance, is to note, more research has been done on the behavior of domesticated dogs in the past fifteen years than the preceding 150 years combined. This research has changed how and what I do with my dogs and after training dogs for a little over forty years has completely changed the way I train dogs.
It is my hope to produce a guide to help my reader to not have to do what I did, it took to long and for my reader it does not have to. You will be gifted with what I have learned regardless of medium, written in my direct conversational story telling style. So when will it be ready? That my friend is a great question. I do plan to make regular updates with regard to the ‘second edition’ from here on out. That alone will help keep me accountable with the whole production effort, as I plan to do it all myself this time and self-publish under my own label. Until next time, take care.
Some of the inquiries we get might surprise you. As you might guess in this day and age, many lack basic common courtesy – the worse of which we simply don’t even acknowledge. The better of which will we provide at least a reasonable, if not short, but professional response. However, recently we fielded an inquiry about how to bring a new puppy home. The answer for this question is best provided by the breeder you have acquired your pup from, or even Google vs some random breeder or person. After all it's not a short answer. A rather odd request from someone who you have not had nor plan to have any future interaction with. I provided some basic info, then reviewed our own puppy related materials and realized it wouldn’t hurt to add to what we have started. So, for that, thank you random person for your questions. This also this helped to make good on a client’s request on putting all this stuff in one place – I didn’t really know how to do it, but this is what I came up with.
Part 1: What is the best way to acclimate a new puppy into the home?
A great place to get setup for success is to review each of the articles highlighted by the hyperlinks throughout this article to include reviewing our Recommended Reading for new puppy owners. Getting Set up for Success is where we talk about all sorts of things ranging from general physical concerns and needs for a rapidly growing puppy's joints & bones, as well as puppy proofing your home & yard. Oh and not to forget, how do you plan to manage the messes that will happen, during your potty training adventures? Additionally, have you nailed down a teething management strategy,? Some pups will chew like a beaver, and others hardly any, but knowing what to do in advance can help shape all of their desires. Have you considered coat care, and the tools and time required? For Drents it’s pretty easy, but still it’s something you should have thought about.
Extending this thought process, you will want to be sure you have a veterinarian selected, if you don’t have one already, well in advance to bringing pup home. Also, what do you plan to feed pup? You don’t need to feed the ultra-expensive stuff to have a happy, healthy dog, but if you are considering to feed Old Roy, you should consider putting yourself on a diet of corn and rice hulls seasoned with charcoal, and for a big night out you guessed it – Top Ramen.
Next, you will also want to have a socialization and training plan thought through in advance. The more comprehensive, the better. At the minimum we strongly encourage everyone to update what they know, or think they know about dog training. A lot has changed with the advent of the scientific study of Canine Behavior: Example 1, Example 2, Example 3. The old concept of Alpha/Dominant v. Submissive is quaint. The old techniques of traditional obedience training are at best boring and repetitive. These methods tend to be unkind, bordering on inhumane. Not even thinking about the old ways of bird dog training which if we are to be frank can be quite barbaric. We can and should do better, by looking towards trainers like Brad Higgins, McCann Dog Training, and Stonnie Dennis, for example. You should seriously consider enrolling pup in a certified AKC S.T.A.R. puppy course and shooting for achieving an AKC Canine Good Citizen certification.
Part 2: How do you Introduce pup to your other dogs?
So, if have been caught be the Drent virus, you are likely adding to your clan. Or if you are recently afflicted, you may still have another dog as part of your clan. Either way, you need to integrate. If you don’t already have a dog, my initial reaction is to pass this up…but my better sensibility says take a moment to read, and let it marinate for a later time – after all, you have the Drent virus, and there is no known cure.
Alright, okay, enough shenanigans – I’ll get to it…well, not to be special, but you are here on my blog so endure. You need to introduce pupski to an established adult dog. So, let us consider the established dog for a moment. Is he a model canine citizen? Let’s be honest, you know him far better than anyone so there is no need to tell any stories or make excuses. Does Fido-1 have separation anxiety, excessive barking, destructiveness, house training issues, aggressiveness/shyness towards other animals/people? If so, you should really work on getting those issues remedied – puppy will not help any at all. What you can expect pupper to do is to pick up some, if not all, of these less than desirable traits unless YOU have a clear and decisive plan, which is likely to involve external onsite assistance. Because the only thing worse that one canine terrorist, is two (or more, God forbid).
Okay, so your current dog is more or less well-adjusted and well behaved. Finding balance is likely the path to success. This doesn’t mean if your dog is a total couch potato you should add Hellfire the Tasmanian Spaziod to the equation - what is or will be complimentary? What temperament and personality will compliment, coexist, or coincide with what you currently have? With some deliberate thought you can create some amazing canine partnerships.
Alright, so The Pup is en route - what to do? Each dog should ideally have its’ own handler – this really can make it or break it if things were to slide sideways. Both dogs should be restrained by a leash initially. Allow them to sniff one another. Expect pup to maybe be a little bit timid or restrained. If so, it may be appropriate to allow the pup off leash to make its own introductions on its’ own terms. In this case restraining the adult dog can be important as they can get over excited and without meaning cause harm to the pup, in particular if much larger and stronger. With a little care, some calmness and patience, introducing pup should be fairly quick and painless. However, pup and Fido-1’s interactions will need to be supervised for the next few days. Play sessions will likely need to be supervised for the next several months, remember avoiding serious injury to pup is paramount – when in doubt call a timeout.
With that in mind, here are a few other tips for success: Be aware and don’t leave yours dogs alone and unsupervised. Avoid free feeding and encourage waiting when it is feeding time. When you offer special treats e.g. chews and/or raw hides, ensure there is enough for all, supervise, and pick them up long before they are fully consumed. Please be sure to have an ample supply of toys and beds. If one toy becomes a point of contention, retire it. Monitor play time be aware of body language and if/when needed redirect and give timeouts as appropriate. To the greatest extent possible give each dog a little bit of its own time.
We believe through daily, structured walks; your dogs will respect you as the boss and look towards you for guidance and direction. Daily, structured walking is a great way to establish your leadership.
After a month of careful supervision, correcting misbehavior, structured walking, and supervised feedings, your dogs will know you are the boss and the new/old dog is not a threat. Once your dogs begin to feel safe with one another, their true personalities will come out and you will have two wonderful pack members to entertain you and love you for the rest of their lives.
Part 3: Crate training - what is that all about?
Some people want to think a dog crate is a punishment tool, when in reality a properly sized crate is your dog’s home inside of your home. This, as you might imagine, has a few benefits like helping to potty train pup, keep pup safe when you can’t supervise him adequately, to name just a few. It is important to have the crate properly sized and built to be safe and secure.
A dog’s crate should be a happy place. The training process can go quite rapidly, or it may take a couple of weeks. Always have in mind, the crate is the dog’s house, and it should be a pleasant place for him. Generally, this can be accomplished without too much ado by breaking the process down into a few steps, just be mindful not to rush.
Introduce pup to the crate. Do so calmly and be sure the door can’t slam around or close. Put some of pup’s favorite things into the kennel along with a few treats. Drop a few treats near the kennel, then just inside the door, then toss a few treats in. Let pup take his time to go in. We familiarize our pups with kennels in the whelping box – so this should be super easy. However, at first, this will be new in his new home, so a little bit of patience will serve you well. Once pup is going in the crate well on his own, be sure to feed him at least once a day, or possibly all his meals for a little while in the crate. At first with the door open, then gradually work towards shutting then even latching the door for short periods. Work up to 10 minutes or so after eating. Here is where things can get tricky, and you will need some will power to get through this. If pup whines in the crate, you did too much too fast and here is the catch, you can’t let pup out while he is whining or crying. You can sit by the door, even place a finger in for pup to smell and help calm him. Once the whining has stopped, and this could be a while in some cases, you may then open the door. If you open the door while the pup is crying it very well may make the association and begin doing much more crying and whining – just what we want to avoid. You may need to have pup close by in his crate at first, and just like ‘playing with the door’ you can adjust proximity. Evening TV time, or some other calm time is perfect for working on building familiarity and comfort.
Also McCann has an entire crate training series which you may find helpful.
Crating pup overnight:
Alrighty, now it is really time to start to work with longer crating periods. We have found doing this while you are at home really is best as you as easily start adding some structure to an already familiar event. Here are your marks:
Yes, this can appear to run a bit contrary to to the whole training process, and frankly can be the most difficult part of crate and potty training – the night shift. Leaving pup out all night is surely going to result in a mess, damage to something, pup getting into things which might harm him, or for a real banner night all or a combo. Crating at night is a must until pup has proven himself reliable in all ways.
Generally, it’s a good idea to put the crate in your bedroom if space permits or nearby in a hallway. Young puppies will need to go potty during the night, and you'll want to be able to hear your puppy BEFORE they whine to be let outside. Put pup in the crate using your regular command and a treat, know what pup’s potty schedule is (going potty just before bedtime is an absolute must), so that you can set a gentle alarm to take him out just before his normally scheduled time. Expect to get up at least 2 times each night for the first few nights. As his day schedule lengthens his night schedule should as well. One bit of advice here is to pick up the water bowl about 2-2.5 hours before bedtime. Soon your dog will be sleeping comfortably through the night with the crate near you, you can begin to gradually move it to the location you prefer, although time spent with your dog—even sleep time—is a chance to strengthen the bond between you and your pet.
Whining - If your dog whines or cries while in the crate at night, it may be difficult to decide whether they’re whining to be let out of the crate, or whether they actually need to be let outside to eliminate. If you've followed the training procedures outlined above, then your dog hasn't been rewarded for whining in the past by being released from their crate. If that is the case, try to ignore the whining. If your dog is just testing you, they'll probably stop whining soon. Yelling at them or pounding on the crate will only make things worse.
If the whining continues after you've ignored them for several minutes, calmly take the pup out of the crate and carry outside. This should be a trip with a purpose, not play time. Give your “go potty” command and give pup a few minutes to get the job done. If he goes potty, give a calm “good boy” and carry back to the crate without a fuss. If he does not potty, then without drama take pup back to his crate. Potty or no potty ends with the same outcome - trips in the middle of the night are for necessity only, and the crate is a requirement until it’s time to start the day. If you're convinced that your dog doesn't need to eliminate, the best response is to ignore them until they stop whining. Don't give in; if you do, you'll teach your dog to whine loud and long to get what they want. If you've progressed gradually through the training steps and haven't done too much too fast, you'll be less likely to encounter this problem. If the problem becomes unmanageable, you may need to start the crate training process over again.
Separation anxiety - Attempting to use the crate as a remedy for separation anxiety won't solve the problem. A crate may prevent your dog from being destructive, but they may get injured in an attempt to escape. Separation anxiety problems can only be resolved with counterconditioning and desensitization procedures. You may want to consult a professional animal-behavior specialist for help.
With that all being said, what does it mean to you having a puppy or dog with a limited Registration? If you have no intent to show your dog in an AKC show ring or breed him/her, then it means very little as all performance events are open to you and there isn’t a negative impact with NAVHDA, or UKC participation.
But what if you would like to keep those options open? And what happens if you want to begin showing your Drent before his/her health clearances can be performed? It is up to your breeder to sign off on the paperwork to revoke the limited status of the registration. First off, your breeder should take an honest look at the dog and evaluate its conformation, possibly even ask a fellow breeder to offer an opinion. In the end, if it is decided your Drent could have a possible show career, then the breeder may endorse the paperwork. But don’t be surprised if your breeder requires to be made a co-owner, at least for the short term. Making the breeder a co-owner still allows the breeder to comply with the Code of Ethics, and retain control over breeding, as all of the future litter registration paperwork will also require the co-owners signature in order to be valid and have the offspring registered with the AKC. Another option that might be offered by your breeder is to have preliminary hip and elbow screening done through OFA. Though these results are not final and cannot be used to satisfy the requirements for breeding per the bylaws, they can be used to identify any developing issues early on.
When it comes to making your Drent available for the DPCNA’s breeding program, this too is something you will want to discuss with your breeder. Easy and inexpensive markers to knock out in the early stages are having a DPCNA e-Conformation conducted, obtaining an AKC CGC title, and maybe leaning forward and having his eyes run through the OFA CAER process. At this point, if the markers are looking good, you may be encouraged to press forward with having an OFA exam of the dog’s hips and elbows completed. Lifting the Limited Registration becomes an appropriate course of action when the documents with passing scores are shared with your breeder.
I can hear the groan you just let out…We are all stuck at home, and the best training article idea you have is to write about ‘sit’ and ‘down’? Well, at the moment, yes, it is, and I’ll tell you why. I’ve trained dogs for over forty years now, mostly using the Old School obedience methods that are still, unfortunately, quite common today. I began transitioning to the LIMA (Least Invasive Minimally Aversive) way several years ago – but to be honest it was not very deliberate until a little over a year ago. The impetus came when Jenna and I had intent to retain a puppy from the Powder X Joeri litter, and then take that puppy to Brad Higgins for her field training. Brad is a highly dedicated and devout LIMA trainer who has developed his own highly effective system for field training… In my research and preparation to take Ila to train with Brad I watched hundreds of hours of videos, read multiple books, signed up for on-line dog training courses and am now beginning to work towards a CPDT-KA or equivalent from an accredited institution.
Great, so what does that have to do with teaching a dog to sit or stay? Well, for most of us who keep dogs in our homes and take them to pubs or other public gathering places (well, hopefully soon we will all be doing this again), when we ask our dog to sit or lay down, our expectation in most cases is for the dog to stay where and as they are put. Yet we still teach ‘stay’ as a separate stand-alone ‘command’. I learned this little trick recently and I think it will forever change how I teach Sit, Down and Stay. I’ve already begun working my already trained dogs on this, and the transition has been seamless and easy.
The process is the same for both ‘command’ sequences - the only difference is in one scenario your dog is sitting and in the other he is laying down. So, without further ado, let’s get to it.
Assuming you have been using my other training articles, your dog has most likely been offering a polite ‘sit’ as a response to get what he wants from you – and if not, you’ll have a little more work to do. Either way you will need a sack of your dog’s favorite training treats and to have your dog on a long lightweight line. A TGK Precision Lead, a 15’ section of biothane cord with a high-quality brass snap on one end and a straight-raw end for the other is a perfect example. Use your bait to lure pup into a sitting position. Be aware of how you hold your ‘bait hand’ which is also your hand-signal hand (this will be important later when you back off the use of the treat). Once pup sits, immediately mark the behavior with a happy ‘yes’ and treat. Next you will use a release cue, consider “all done” (I have a really bad habit of using ‘okay’ which is used way to often in conversation to make it a good choice for a release cue – my producer nearly choked me out during a day of shooting…). With pup finishing his reward, say ‘all done’ and lead the dog a few steps away. Ask/lure him into a sit, ‘yes’ him, treat him, give ‘all done’ and move again. That is the basic drill to get started with. In this early work, more or less, anticipate your dog to break the sit and if he does, simply lift the line straight up and give a tiny bit of upward pressure and a gentle ‘jiggle’ to encourage pup to once again sit. Once he does give him the happy ‘yes’ as before. As his sit response improves taper off the use of the bait. Additionally, you will transition to having your treat in a pocket to be awarded only for the crispest most perfect sits – be sure to use the same hand configuration whether you are using a treat or not. This will teach him the verbal cue and the hand signal. Do not move to the next phase until your dog is reliably sitting on cue with little to no treats involved.
For phase two we begin to introduce a waiting period for the pup. Here are the steps:
1) Ask pup to sit, you pick up a foot as if to step back, but don’t. If pup remains seated mark the behavior with a happy ‘yes’, treat, give the release cue ‘all done’ and move to a new spot. Wash, rinse, repeat until you have confidence in pup’s reliability to stay seated. If pup chooses to break his sit, use the same corrective measure described above. It’s a very low threat and no drama way to help make your point, in these early stages where you begin to move, watch pup closely to anticipate him breaking before you offer the release cue. If you are experiencing trouble, just keep your session short, check your frustration and go back to a step where pup was successful.
2) Once you have that, now work towards taking a step backwards with one foot. Just as before, give the cue to sit, he sits, you step back, then return. If he stayed seated, mark the behavior with a ‘happy yes’, then release with an ‘all done’ and move away with pup. Again, work this step until you have a reliable behavior from pup.
3) This next step is the same as before, but you will now introduce dropping the rope into the mix. Like as before, give the cue to sit, he sits, you then drop the lead followed by taking a step back, then return. If he stayed seated, mark the behavior with a happy ‘yes’, then release with an ‘all done’ and move away with pup.
4) This next step very similar as before, but you will now introduce a full step using both feet. As before, give the cue to sit, he sits, you then drop the lead followed by taking a step back with one foot, then the other, smartly return to pup. If he stayed seated, mark the behavior with a happy ‘yes’, then release with an ‘all done’ and move away with pup.
5) Exactly as step 4 but take three steps back.
6) Just like step 5 but now take six steps back.
7) You know the drill quite well now, as does pup. We continue to proof the sequence by now taking ten steps back. This may all sound tedious, but each increment adds a small layer of complexity to the task. Once pup really has it down, you can add distractions to the environment, but when you do, be sure to work closer to pup and work outward like you already have done. If pup struggles with a new distance, just go back to a distance where he was successful and get him a taste of success again. The process is the same for down and you will have taught your dog to stay while doing this. No unnecessary ‘commands’ to give when you build the skills you desire in a commonly used sequence.
What is Puppy Culture?
Puppy Culture is a program developed by Jane Killion, professional dog trainer and breeder. It is a comprehensive, organized program for breeders to follow during the first weeks of a puppy’s life.
The first 12 weeks of a puppy’s life are incredibly important. This is an almost magical time when a breeder has the power to change the outcome of a puppy’s life by what we choose to teach him. By doing just the right things at just the right time, we can give your puppy the best start possible.
Making sure that your puppy’s genetic material is excellent is only the beginning. The physical and emotional health of the mother will affect the health of her puppies. Since research has shown that puppies born to mothers that receive prenatal massage are more docile and enjoy being touched, we spoil our mothers with lots of affection and belly massages. A puppy’s predisposition to form deep and meaningful relationships begins even before they are born.
Neonatal Period: 0-14 days
Early Neurological Stimulation (ENS) begins on day 3 and continues through day 16. Research shows that tiny struggles and stresses in appropriate small doses are actually good for puppies and will help them grow into strong, healthy well-adjusted adults. Benefits include greater tolerance to stress, greater resistance to disease, faster adrenal system, stronger heart rate and stronger heartbeat. This is a gift that a breeder can only give their puppies once during the window of 3-16 days.
Transitional Period: 14-21 days
Behavioral markers are used to identify the beginning and end of each developmental period because every puppy is different and these timelines are simply guidelines. The transitional period begins when the puppy’s eyes open and ends when they first startle upon hearing sounds.
Critical Socialization Period: 3-12 weeks
Most people think of socialization as exposing their puppies to as many new experiences as possible while the puppy is young. While this is part of the process, it’s not enough. Our goal is to raise dogs that have the emotional intelligence to connect with you. Emotional intelligence can be taught to young puppies and one of the goals of the Puppy Culture Program is to teach breeders how to do this. There are 7 key things that will nurture the emotional intelligence of a puppy.
1: Communication – giving a puppy his own voice: Communication Trinity – power up clicker, box game, manding, attention/distraction protocols
2: Emotional stability – the ability to recover easily from fear as well as stress (startle recovery, barrier challenges, Volhard Puppy Aptitude Test at day 49
3: Habituation – familiarity with the maximum number of things: Puppy Parties, sound protocols, habituation soundtracks and noises, meeting different people, dogs, other animals
4: Enrichment – the view that novelty and challenges are opportunities for enrichment rather than things to be feared or avoided: novelty items, Adventure Box, off premises socialization
5: Health – physical wellness and motor skills that will allow the puppy to develop in a neurologically and physically sound way: daily weight checks, grooming, vaccinations, deworming, proper nutrition, vet health checks
6: Skills – learned behaviors which allow him to function in human society: recall, manding, simple commands, litterbox training, crate training, leash walking, resource guarding, bite inhibition
7: Love – the desire to seek out the company of both dogs and humans as emotionally positive experiences: shaping emotional responses, Happy and Calm CER (Conditioned Emotional Responses), daily cuddles with humans and mom
This is definitely an incredible amount of work, but it is 100% ABSOLUTELY WORTH IT!!!!!! When you adopt your puppy, you will be just as thankful as we are for this program!
The Reliable Recall is a Life or Death ‘command’ for any dog that will be allowed to run off leash. In fact, if you were to wash away all of the extraneous things we will teach a dog there are literally only three things a dog must know: to go away from the handler, to stay put, and to return to the handler. House training is right up there, as is having a dog who knows how to turn it off, aka Impulse Control. But let's get back to topic.
Why have I not written about The Reliable Recall skill yet? Afterall, I think it is so important we begin working the recall into our puppies as soon as we begin to wean them from their mother! Well, to be honest, I just haven’t thought of it until recently. In recent months I’ve had two internet friends lose their dogs due to being hit by a car because their dog wouldn’t come when called. In one instance during the chaos of trying to get his dog back, the gentleman slipped on some ice and hit his head so hard he awoke in the Emergency Room, which is when he learned of his dog’s fate. Again, just yesterday in Belgium a young female Drent was lost due to the lack of an effective recall, their other dog is still at large. For the record, I also lost a dog in 2014 a few months after rescuing her to similar circumstances. I, for one, hope you never have to use your GPS collar to locate a mangled or dead dog, as I have had to do, to appreciate how important a rock-solid recall is.
As mentioned, here at Two Gun, we start teaching the recall when we are weaning pups from mom at feeding time. We use their insatiable appetite to our advantage, and even use some good old-fashioned Pavlovian conditioning with a whistle while they are eating. But let’s assume your breeder didn’t do this, or you have an older dog you need to ‘get right’. For that older dog I’d recommend tossing the ‘command’ you have used, after all Fido only knows to blow that cue off. The verbal cue I prefer to use is ‘here’, but you could use ‘hot dog’; it really doesn’t matter so as long as you are consistent with the cue you choose.
Mindset & Learning
Before we roll our sleeves up and get to the meat and potatoes of teaching a reliable recall, I need to segue for a moment to discuss the mindset of the dog. This is important in all training, but with the recall mindset can really work against you, since the dog is, or will soon be, off-leash, and your ability to physically control him goes to zero. These generalized mindsets are more or less like a heater with a rheostat that gently moves from one end of the spectrum to the other without clearly defined detents. ‘Calm’ is where a dog can really soak up a well communicated message. A calm dog is a dog that can really learn. Next is ‘Alert’, which can also be a useful training state, however it is better the dog be at the calm end of alert so that they are not being reactive to their environment. ‘Alarm’ is when the dog has become reactive and this can apply to virtually anything - a kicked pinecone, a squirrel, etc. an alert dog is not paying attention to you it is paying attention to whatever has its attention. This is not an effective state of training and why impulse control is so important. The last state is ‘Fear’, and this state is also useless to you as a trainer/handler. A dog in fear will withdraw, not meet your eye-contact, etc. Old School obedience methods can get you there (E.g. generous use of choke collars and heavy handed handling techniques), worse yet Old School field training methods (E.g. high-stim e-collar use, toe-hitches, and ear pinches) are almost guaranteed to put a dog in the ‘fear’ state. There is no place for this, and any methodology advocating for its use should be abandoned immediately. So now we have a deeper appreciation as to why the calm dog is pretty much in all ways a better dog.
The Recall Game
With a young pup all you need is a friend or family member and maybe even a hallway. Sit an arm’s length apart each with a small pouch of ‘high value’ treats nearby. One person starts with the pup, and the other a treat. If you have been working on impulse control, then you have been playing the name game. Pup knows his name being said and looking to you is a good thing. So, the person without the pup says his name, cues ‘yes’ once the pup’s attention has been gotten then takes the treat and instead of giving it to pup, uses it to lure the pup to their lap. Once pup begins to follow use the cue ‘here’. Use the cue once and only once. If pup isn’t wanting to follow your lure you need two things: One: a much better/more exciting lure, and two: put pup on a leash so you can gently encourage him to come into to you, never reel him in like a fish. But don’t go giving a ‘command’ and heaving on the line, you must let the dog decide (read more on this in the next step), besides this is only a game. Now, wash, rinse, repeat five to ten times every day, twice a day for at least a month. Pup will love this game and is very likely to just start running between you and your helper. When this occurs it’s time to only treat the pup once he has offered a more acceptable behavior such as sitting or standing still – your choice. No ‘command’ or cue needs to be given for this at this time.
We want this to be fun for pup and adding too much structure is a sure way to kill the fun! Now that we have this working well, begin by adding a little bit of distance each session. If there is any drop in performance just go back to when pup was last successful and start again from there. Once you are unable to use luring effectively or you have outgrown your hallway it’s time to move to the back yard – probably a place where pup listens very little. Our challenge now is to break some old associations for that location and generalize the association with ‘here’ we have made in the hallway. You should close the gap down, and have him on the longest lead you have, at least 12’. That may mean joining two or more shorter leads together. Please, never use a retractable lead. Once he gets this, you can really have fun with this game and try playing it in new and novel places. Once pup has it down really good you can start gradually upping the distractions. Just be careful to not go to fast and keep it fun. If you get frustrated, just stop.
The Higgins Recall
Wait, what!? Yes, that’s right, you aren’t done, you still have work to do, and the next step is the Higgins Recall. If you have an older dog that has a sloppy recall and is familiar with being on a lead, you could start here and use the Recall Game from time to time to help up the fun of being called in, but the game is a wonderful thing for young pups. Either way, this highly effective method is simple to learn and use. If your pup already has a grip on ‘here’ this is going to be a good tool to use for when you don’t have a helper or need to work ‘here’ in some new or novel situation so there is definitely merit in learning and using the Higgins Recall. First, you will have needed to familiarize pup with the Higgins Leader Walk. The Higgins recall relies upon having pup on a lightweight check-cord approximately twelve feet in length and having some patience. I’ll quickly explain the video. Pick a quiet distraction free place to walk pup using your check cord. Allow the dog to walk freely and once they are out a little way simply give the cue ‘here’ and only see what pup does. If you have been playing the Recall Game odds are, he’ll come right on in. When he does give him a ‘yes’ and once he is in be sure to offer praise and possibly a little reward. But if he doesn’t, that’s okay as we want the pup to make the decision to come in on his own – this is the critical step. So, pup didn’t come in. Depending on your dog, don’t be afraid to take your time before gently ‘nagging’ the line and calmly repeating the cue when pup turns to you. Also, don’t be afraid to vary the amount of time between cue and ‘nag’ if needed, the dog will come in, we want to be careful to avoid establishing an association where the 'nag' is the command to come in. The only part I like to add is ‘yes’ once pup is really moving in since we have built a strong praise association with that cue. This is one of the few times it is okay to repeat the ‘here’ cue, but soon enough the extra ‘here’ will be dropped – you may not even need it. Once pup is coming in reliably it’s time to take this act to a new location, then to another, and then begin to layer in distractions. This is why the Higgins Recall is so important. It offers you the ability to safely build the association with ‘here’ without the need for help, and more importantly in multiple new locations. No matter what, keep this exercise short - maybe five minutes is all you may want to go with in particular with young and/or softer tempered dogs and ten minutes if you can keep the session moving and upbeat. The recall must ALWAYS be a taught when you are not in a rush, having a bad day, whatever. Coming in to you needs to be much like winning the lottery for the dog. If you can’t be in that place, you will be better served to skip or cut the exercise short. Okay, so now pup is recalling like a champ, here, there, and everywhere, and you feel it’s time to ‘go off leash’. Think again.
You are now ready to move on to the optional level of the recall and it’s the one thing we will use an e-collar for, but only at very low levels. Simply put, your dog needs to be used to wearing an e-collar before employing it. You will want to put it on a fair bit before you plan to use it and take it off an hour or so after using it. Vary times some, we do not want to create an association here where the dog will only recall with the e-collar in place. Find the lowest setting on the collar where the dog acknowledges the momentary button being pressed, it is likely to be well below what you can feel. Now go back to a quiet place where the dog has been successful before, carefully lower the check cord and allow the dog to drag it. Give the cue ‘here’ and if he doesn’t come in, instead of giving the gentle nag, simply press the button and if necessary, repeat the cue. Your dog may realize that he is free. At this point your job is to kneel down, smile and wait. If he comes in, give a ‘yes’ and praise once he is in. If pup just stands there, offer the ‘here’ cue again, and if nothing happens, a moment later tap the button again. Whatever you do, don’t panic, rush, or run towards the dog or check cord – just be calm, and smile. Be very aware of your tone of voice, be inviting. Be patient. He will come in, and when he does praise him. Also, be sure you have line of sight on your dog when using the e-collar, you don’t want to tap the button if he has already started in or if something unusual is happening, you could make a association you really don’t want. Like before you will need to work this up over time, using new places and distractions. Once pup has that down, start over and leave off the check cord. Then once pup is iron clad you may consider not using the e-collar. Be prepared to “step back” a step or more, as setbacks can and do occur. Progress can come quickly, or it may hit a snag once you learn of a distraction pup really has trouble with. Take your time, be patient, be positive, be upbeat. Soon you will have a dog who will run in, straight in, every time.
A quick checklist
I'm just a guy suffering with an infatuation with gundogs since childhood. Fifty some years later this is what you get.