Learning to Learn
Sit -- you've started “pairing” the behavior with the command… when his butt is about to touch the floor, say “sit”, then c/t as his butt touches the floor. Do this over and over, in many locations, with and without distractions, for several days. Now, up the criteria again: click when the dog has remained seated for a full second. After 4-5 sits are offered where the dog will remain seated for the full second, make it 2 seconds… then 3 seconds, then 4. You must use your own judgement on upping the criteria – if your dog can’t remain seated for 6 seconds reliably, then back off to 5 seconds, and do that until he’s reliable. Then, progress.
Down -- 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.
Let’s Go! -- Repeat the sequences from Weeks 1 & 2, 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.
Heeling -- When he’s reliably walking in heel position through the house with no distractions, add distractions like strangers or friends sitting, standing, tossing toys in front of him (start with the toys he doesn’t like as much, then move to those he loves), offering food, etc. As he becomes reliable with the distractions, move to the back yard and repeat – first, with no distractions, then with distractions.
Stand -- In the first room, keep some treats (really good stuff, not store-bought doggie treats!) handy. Wait patiently for your dog to stand up on his own (sooner or later, every dog will stand!), or lure him into position.
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!).
Brenda Rushman, CCBC