Here at That’s My Dog we believe that when we offer dog training services the most important factor is we get the dogs out into the community to make them as reliable and well behaved as possible.
That is why we pushed hard to gain access to more public places here in Dubuque. A dog simply is not going to learn to ignore distractions and behave in a mannerly fashion if you never take them out of the house or back yard.
Of course you can set up all sorts of distractions with toys and food and “created” situations but that is never going to compare with the unpredictability of the real world. The job of training your dog isn’t finished until you conquer the ability to handle the unexpected. That is only going to happen when you get out and take the show on the road.
The above photo was taken last weekend while working with one of our Wisconsin dog training clients. She and her young GSD came back to check in and follow up from the Board and Train program she had participated in. The day started with a private lesson with That’s My Dog!’s head trainer Kelly, then worked through a Polishing class and then I took her to the Mississippi River Walk for some out and about, put it to the test, training.
Taking a walk in a busy public place was a whole new experience and I had to chuckle a bit when the owner said “we thought we were doing really well until we got here!”
Training in a group class or private lessons at your home is great but it never replicates what it’s like to actually go out for a real walk in the neighborhood, or call your dog back when he would prefer to chase the squirrel. Relationship is gained through early training in those lessons but reliability is earned through the habit of actually honing those newly learned skills out in the real world.
Here are a few tips to help you when you venture out:
Use distance to your advantage. The closer you get to a distraction the more you increase the level of difficulty for your dog. In the early phase you may need to cross the street when you first see another dog or person coming toward you. Or you may need to move over to the side and make your dog sit while the skateboarders or bicycle passes by. Creating some distance between you and the distraction helps set the dog up for success when you first begin. But remember that your goal is to get to the point where you can just carry on and not have to relocate, don’s settle for “good enough” continue to up your level of expectation as your dog improves.
The Place command is your friend: If you have taught a Place command (or similar) use it to teach your dog to hold steady while you walk away. Too often people get a false sense of security from their leash. They are always hanging on “just in case” and usually too tightly. The reality is they do most of the work for their dog rather than making the dog accountable to follow through. By using environmental objects (park benches, retaining walls, boulders) as a Place in which you teach your dog to hold steady and not step off, you are teaching the dog to respect a boundary and not move toward distractions even if you are not right next to the dog and holding the leash. (if you are worried about your dog darting away, anchor the leash to some solid) A Place is much like a “crate” in the sense that it allows the dog some freedom to move about without actually changing locations. It is a GREAT way to teach a dog accountability to remaining in one location while still having freedom to shift a bit.
Surprises are awesome!: How cool is it when you have gone out for a walk, you look down and suddenly you see money laying on the ground? Pretty awesome huh? Those unexpected surprises are not only fun they keep you paying extra close attention for a while. You can’t help but continue to scan the ground just in case there might be more to come. The same theory works with your dog. Keep something special in your pocket. It might be Fido’s favorite toy or a tidbit of delicious steak from last night’s meal. But whatever it is…keep it concealed. You dog shouldn’t know you have it and it is not to be used as a bribe. Your goal is to “surprise” your dog when he/she is paying attention to you. If you surprise your dog with something awesome when he happens to look your way he also will remain a bit more vigilant to you…waiting for the possibility of another payout.
Ready? Now get out there and enjoy some training adventures with your dog!