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Mutual Trust.

In earlier articles, I focused on teaching our dogs to obey us when they are further away. Often people say their dogs turn a deaf ear and yet we know that they can hear us perfectly well. This then might appear it is purposely ignoring its owners and their commands.

In my intermediate classes, I eventually expect handlers not to use leads whilst attending training sessions. This means they should have their dogs always under control. The one thing we teach our dogs is when they hear the click of the lead when released; they can go off and play without any control. This means it makes it more difficult to train our dogs to work away from us, as off the lead is always playtime.

Even now in my classes, handlers will ask if they have finished so they can release their dogs to go and socialise. All this unintentional training began when they were puppies. Only when I mention this do the owners suddenly realise the problem that it has created. What better reward can a dog ask for than the release from the lead in order to go and play? What could be better than that?

Well one method is to train your dog to a clicker. Certainly, for Winston who loves to play, but on hearing the clicking he is back like a rocket with other dogs in the class. The problem is it is just the recall and though one of the most important and necessary commands, it does not help us when we need to teach our dogs to work at a distance.

With the earlier articles, they describe the beginnings of how to teach your dog to go away from you. Initially this is using some sort of target where it will find a reward. The problem here is you cannot be placing Targets, toys, or food out everywhere you send your dog. This raises the question of how do you get your dog to go away and do some work when there is nothing there to excite it enough to obey your commands. The answer is rewarded repetitive training.

The initial training is giving rewards nearly every time. It was this that Dr Roger Mugford discovered when training rats to negotiate a maze. Those rats given a reward every time they succeeded did not learn as fast as those that only received a reward some of the time. When they succeeded but received no reward, this created more synapses connections in their brains. With more connections, this helped them remember for the next time, encouraging them to go through the maze faster to find the reward.

Dogs work the same way. If a dog goes out on a send away and receives, a treat for five times but not on the sixth, it will be encouraged to shoot out on the next attempt for the reward.

Sometimes we can have the problem that the dog cannot find the reward. It starts to look all over the place trying to find what it believes is there somewhere. The handler will probably not get any response from their dog until finally it feels there is nothing to find. If this happens too often, it brings us back to Pavlovís law. If the dogs do not receive food after the ringing of the bell then, after a short time, they will give up salivating.

It is here where trust becomes a necessity in our training. A dog must learn to trust the handler that they know where the reward is. In saying this, we also must be aware the opposite can apply. With a dogs heightened senses, often they know more than the handler does, so it is important to know when to trust the dog.

An example would be if a handler were previously training their dog for a long send away by placing its meal in an airtight container at the target point. The handler brings out the dog and it sets off like a rocket to the correct spot, but there is no meal. Next, the dog rushes around the area looking for the meal, oblivious to the handlerís commands.

Another example is a handler searching with his dog for a missing person. All the handlers are in a line and walking across the fields. One dog indicates something but in an area covered by another. Does the handler keep to his own section or let it continue its search. It could be that the scent from the missing person has gone up and over the other dog yet detected by his, which is further down wind. If the handler did not trust his dogís indication, they would not have found the missing person.

What we have to teach our dog is the need to listen to us. Otherwise, it could spend all day trying to find something when only its handler knows the position.

First, we have to teach our dogs Left and Right. This we do by placing two cones next to a fence on which there are food treats. The handler sends the dog to the first cone. After it has eaten the treat, the handler gives the Command LEFT or RIGHT whilst pointing and moving in that direction. All these signs encourage the dog to go to the other cone, where there is a reward. Once the dog understands the commands of Away, left and right, we can move on to generating trust.

Again, using the send away exercise, I place two cones at a distance of fifty meters with one on the left and on the right. The wind should be blowing away from the handler so the dog cannot rely on its senses. I then place a treat on one of the cones and tell this to the handler. Finally, I go past the other cone and walk out of the way.

The handler then sends their dog AWAY towards the cone that has the treat. From past training, the dogís preference will be either the left or the right. If the treat is on the left one and the dog decides to go to the right, the handler calls out repeatedly LEFT. When the dog gets to the right cone to find nothing, it will then obey the command and go to the left to find its reward.

If the dog had gone to the left cone, the dog gets it reward. At this early stage, the handler does not send the dog to a cone without a treat. What the handler must try to guess is which cone the dog will choose first. By guessing correctly and placing the treat on the other, the dog will often go to the wrong cone first. What this teaches the dog is to not always rely on its senses or past training, but take guidance from its handler if it wishes to receive its reward faster.

We often think of ourselves as being the talented trainers yet our dogs also teach us. The fact is the dog will try using its own amazing senses in order to achieve the reward it is expecting. Thinking it knows best is often the reason our dogs will ignore us. We have to recognize that sometimes our dogs will be right. That is why it is so imperative that the handler understands and can correctly read their dog. It is also essential the dog trusts its handler and accepts their commands. When we achieve this mutual trust, then we have an impressive working team, whether it is an ordinary dog owner or a professional dog handler.


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