Learning to Learn
In this phase, you will “take it on the road” so the dog learns that the commands learned in the first 3-4 weeks also mean the same thing as they do at home, even in new, distracting situations.
Choose locations where you can be far away from distractions, but can gradually move closer while working on each exercise.
Keep the dog on a regular six-foot leash, and stand in a boring place where he can’t reinforce himself, at first. You want him to figure out that *you* are the most exciting thing in his environment.
Be patient. At the first location, your dog may be more interested in sniffing the ground than in working… initially. Let him sniff around a bit, then ask for a sit (for example, don’t ask a beagle to offer anything besides sniffing, if your first chosen spot is in grass… start him out on cement, get some repetitions under his belt, then work toward grass… if you visit a new location each evening, you’ll find that the time it takes for him to focus on you decreases very quickly, with practice – and, there’s nothing wrong in letting him have a 5-minute sniff-fest in return for 5 minutes of sitting exercises!
In these exercises, you’ll combine the “let’s go” with the “heel”, so that the dog will learn that there is a difference between the two. The difference, again, is that the “let’s go” is used to signal loose-leash only (the dog is allowed to walk anywhere he likes, so long as the lead remains loose, and is allowed to sniff the ground, greet people and other dogs, and enjoy his walk!), while the “heel” is a very focused, stringent exercise… the dog must remain in strict position, with attention focused on the handler.
Repeat the sequences in the first 3-4 weeks in new surroundings. Try to move to a new location each day, so that your dog has the opportunity to generalize to lots of new places – remember that every change in environment changes the learning environment, and this means that a change in rooms, houses, neighborhoods – even the person on the end of his leash – will change things for your dog enough that he may become confused! If this happens, simply lower your criteria, and reinforce him at a lower level. Keep the rate of reinforcement high, so that his interest is maintained.
REMEMBER TO HAVE FUN!!
**You will need to choose a trick for your dog to learn during this class, for graduation night. Try to choose something that your dog already does, and can do on-lead, so that it’s self-reinforcing. For example, Cis is a reformed jumper… she used to launch herself at the chests of guests. So, I taught her to “boing” – she now launches herself 6 feet into the air, and arches like a dolphin – without touching anyone with her feet!! Rody likes to snap his teeth toward people, when he’s excited – so I taught him to “talk back”, by chattering his teeth at me.
Brenda Rushman, CCBC