Learning to Learn

 

Week 1

  • The following step-by-step list will help you past most hurdles you might encounter during these exercises. You can progress as quickly or as slowly as you would like. The important thing is that you do the steps IN ORDER.

  • Do not skip steps.

  • Do at least 10 repetitions at each step. If this skill is difficult for your dog, do more. Do not do fewer than 10 repetitions at each step, and don’t push your dog past the point where it’s FUN for your dog to learn.

  • If your dog is “bored,” either use a higher-value reinforcer, or consider that you’ve worked him past his abilities – always leave the dog wanting MORE.

  • Treat after EVERY click. Never click without treating (that’s LYING), and never treat without clicking (that will diminish the value of the clicker as a secondary reinforcer).

  • Toss (or drop) the treat, if necessary, to set the dog up for the next repetition.

  • It is extremely important to practice this behavior in new locations. The more locations you visit, the more easily the behavior is generalized.

  • Keep a clicker handy, so that you can click your dog for freely-offered behaviors – then, find a reward for him!! It’s not imperative that the treat IMMEDIATELY follow the click – it can follow a few seconds later, after you’ve gotten it from the fridge. The important thing is that the dog hears the CLICK during the behavior. Smile and tell the dog how wonderful he is.

  • When adding distractions, don’t forget to increase the value of the reward… use popcorn, grapes, cheerios and the like in the house, but use liverwurst, sliced hotdog, and cheese with greater distractions.

Bear in mind that the following descriptions are only OUTLINES… I highly suggest that you work with very tiny pieces of behavior, moving ever closer to the goal behavior. This is called “successive approximation” – moving successively closer to the goal, in small increments.

 

Teaching the ‘Sit’ Command:

 

Using your right hand, while standing, move the treat toward the dog’s nose and then toward the back of his head. Keep the food close enough that he doesn’t jump to get it… but far enough that he can’t simply grab it. As you move it toward the back of his head, he should naturally move into a ‘sit’, or maybe just 'crouch' a little, bending his back knees so that he's 'approximating' the sit (getting closer to it). If he backs up, move your left foot into position behind his back feet, then move it out of the way as his butt lowers to the ground. When his butt touches the ground, mark and reinforce.

Bear in mind that the following descriptions are only OUTLINES… I highly suggest that you work with very tiny pieces of behavior, moving ever closer to the goal behavior. This is called “successive approximation” – moving successively closer to the goal, in small increments.

Teaching 'Down'

 In whatever room, keep some treats (really good stuff, not store-bought doggie treats!) handy. Wait patiently for your dog to offer a down on his own (sooner or later, every dog will lie down!), or lure him into position. When luring the behavior, shaping is very useful – the lowering of the front elbows is the beginning! Simply have him start this way over and over, each time withholding the 'click' in 1/4 second increments, so that his elbows lower a tiny bit more each time.  Eventually, they'll give out, and his belly will touch... Jackpot!  When capturing, the *instant* his belly touches the floor, click and offer the treat.

Repeat this over and over – toss the treat onto the floor, away from the dog, to set him up to do it again. Keep the rate of reinforcement high – every 2-3 seconds, if you can manage it!

Practice this 3 times daily, for 5 minutes each time, for 4-5 days (more often, if you can manage it – but keep the sessions short!).

Teaching Walking on Loose Lead:

Let’s Go! -- Keep some treats (really good stuff, not store-bought doggie treats!) handy. For loose-lead walking, it’s best to keep these on your person, in a hip-pack or pocket. Use a 4-foot or 6-foot lead to keep your dog close to you. Practice walking through the house, with the dog not pulling… if he pulls, simply stop and wait. C/T for any non-pulling behavior, and always c/t if you need to “be a tree” – at the moment when the lead goes slack! Keep the rate of reinforcement high – every 2-3 seconds, at first.

Hold a treat in your hand (either one), while the dog is off-lead in your fenced back yard. Allow him to follow the treat for a step, then mark and give the treat. Gradually build up time, so that he’s taking 2 steps before receiving reinforcement… then 3 steps, and so on. Then, add the cue/command (‘heel’, ‘walk nice’, whatever), and practice until he’s consistent at this level. Then, start leaving the treats in the pouch on your hip (not using the lure). You’ll want to reinforce the dog in position… it’s best not to have him cross in front or behind you, to avoid tripping you.

 

Note: I know you can’t ONLY work your dog in a fenced yard… I can’t stand not taking mine along, either! Lol So, give that first step a couple of days in the yard, then, before you take him out on-lead, WEAR HIM OUT. {grin} I promise, your first few walks will be MUCH less frustrating, if you’ll just take 15-20 minutes to run him around the yard, first. Then, make sure you take along PLENTY of really good treats, and start out with him walking beside you, just as you did in the yard. If he pulls forward, simply stop and wait. He’ll come back to you… when he does, mark and reinforce, and continue.

Practice this 3 times daily, for 5-10 minutes each time, for the first week (more often, if you can manage it – but keep the sessions short!).

Heeling -- Definition of finished behavior: the dog glues his right shoulder to your left leg for short distances, even in the presence of food and other distractions. This is a very strict position, and NOT intended for all walking exercises! The number one enemy of the perfect heel lies in its overuse!! Keep the duration short, such as the distance required to cross a street. This exercise has some very practical applications, such as crossing busy streets, and keeping your dog close to you when in the midst of lots of other dogs or when walking down a busy sidewalk.

Brenda Rushman CCBC

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