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Tricks to help you train your dog to navigate obstacles

In last weeks article I wrote that I needed Winston to use my metal circular fire escape to come in and out of the villa. I filled in all the raisers with paper and tape then I cut up small frankfurters placing them on each of the steps.

At first, Winston climbed or I should say stretched out as far as he could to reach each titbit. He still tried to keep one foot on the floor but then gradually he started to climb almost pulling himself up by his front legs. This allowed him to eat one more titbit one-step higher.

To get to the next frankfurters required him to climb more steps using his back legs but then Winston lost his nerve and dropped back down to the ground again. This was the turning point for Winston.

He wanted more titbits so after his previous nervous attempts he then climbed all the way to the top receiving lots of praise. He did this eight times before I used his mealtime to take that up the stairs and Winston was up them like a shot.

The next step was to leave a titbit on alternate steps so he has to think why there was nothing there. This help to reinforce his memory that climbing such a staircase is rewarding.

Following this I stopped using the downstairs front door and for me to enter the villa from the upstairs balcony. Winston will want his meal and come inside when I settle down in the evening but before he always barked at the front door to come in.

He had learnt I would let him in the front door so this was more retraining him. For two days each morning, he went out and down the fire escape but barked at the downstairs door to come in. Now all it needs is for me to call him and he comes up the fire escape. This training will be a success when Winston comes up the stairs by his own choice.

Winston is an older dog so it is taking a little longer than it was to teach Trufa. Once her legs would reach the steps travelling downwards, she followed me with ease. Coming up again following me, was not a problem even with the missing raisers so she would go up and down these stairs unperturbed.

There are differences in teaching an older dog to teaching a puppy because we need to know what is driving them mentally. Knowing this you can teach any dog easily.

A few weeks ago, I went along to see how Kathryn Hollings Spanish Water dog Osito was doing in his positional command training. Osito is addicted to fetching the ball and every day Kathryn has been taking him along the rocky beach near her home. There he will swim endlessly just to fetch the ball.

I wrote that once a dog has learnt trajectory it is difficult to teach redirection as the dog knows where the ball has landed. We can play some tricks that do in fact prolong this training period.

Young dogs often ignore bounce and why throwing balls at walls or at bumps in the ground so the ball hits but bounces off in a different direction is excellent training. However, before they learn to watch the trajectory after the bounce gives us a chance to prolong the positional training.

Along the shore was a DIY diving board with a meter drop. Osito was now jumping into swimming pools, jumping off rocks into the sea just to get to the ball as quick as possible. Kathryn asked how she could get Osito to jump off the board. I simply took the ball walked to the start of the board and Osito walked onto the board. I then threw the ball to bounce off the end of the board and Osito chased after the ball and then dived off into the sea. I understand he now loves jumping off the board, much to the amusement of passers-by.

In order to test how Osito and his positional training was coming along I threw the ball at some rocks out in the sea so it bounced off in other direction allowing me the chance to give him commands to redirect him to the ball.

On the first occasion, he swam to the rock where he saw the ball hit and he climbed out of the water to search the rock for the ball. I kept walking towards the shore telling him away.

Eventually he got back into the water and though a little reluctantly he followed my commands. I then said Right and I moved right with my right arm out and he change direction. You could see when he had seen the ball as his speed quickened. At which point I shouted lots of praise like good dog and who is a clever boy etc until he was all the way back.

There are some nasty drops along this coast and young enthusiastic dogs can hurt themselves. The next weekend I noticed Osito look at one drop and choose a safer route down so he has learnt falling hurts. I said to Kathryn that it was a time they start to act like a team and give directions to Osito to help him retrieve the ball by helping him find a safer and easier way down to the sea.

He is working very well and it was possible to throw a ball into a rock pool and by command to navigate Osito down the cliffs and then to swim along channels over rocks then along another channel until he finds the ball.

I also found a hole in an outcropping and after a few attempts; I managed to throw the ball through into the cove at the other side. It then only needed to give Osito directions until he found the hole and went through finding the ball in the water at the other side.

The more Osito learns that at times, if he has lost sight of the ball then Kathryn can help him find the ball faster. It is though important that our dogs do not learn to rely on us 100% because in the real applications like search and rescue and other professional working dog we may not know what it is we are looking for nor exactly where it is.

If we understand what drives our dogs to want to work or play we can utilise this enthusiasm to make our dogs and ourselves enjoy each otherís company. Knowing how dogs think allows us the ability to out think or trick them in order to prolong and improve the training.

Whilst working with Osito you could not fail to notice people watching his ability to respond to human direction. It is an incredible feeling working a dog that responds to our commands and we all like to show off a bit donít we. We feel pleasure and our dogs like it too because we are pleased with them and they too love to show off their ability. Nothing wrong with having a little bit of pride in our dogs is there.

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