Learning New Tricks

You may remember us mentioning our plans to enroll Georgia in obedience classes. This is not because we think she is difficult to train, but rather because we would like to make this an automatic step for each foster pup that comes into our lives. It is a great way to spend focused time on their training, while also exposing the dogs to new people, environments, and dogs! We have gone to two classes so far, and are really loving it!

Our classes take place at Ringer’s Pet Dog Training, which is a quick drive for us, as they are located in Tarentum, PA (just outside of Pittsburgh). They bring a fun, practical, and of course positive, approach to dog training. We have a great time during our class, and we think the dogs do, as well! Not only do they do a great job of helping our dogs (and their owners!) reach their full potential, but they are extremely friendly towards mutts, fosters, and rescues. They gave us an incredibly generous discount on our rates, because Georgia is a foster. They also offered to refund or roll-over the classes, if she is adopted before the class concludes. (Ringer’s also offers a really cool class called Nose-work… check out their page for more info, but we plan to do a post on it at a later date.)

The instructors utilize clicker training as a method of positive reinforcement. Georgia, being the… ahem… little piggy that she is, is of course ALL ABOUT this. Essentially, you are teaching the dog that the clicking sound is their reward. So of course, we teach them to positively associate with this sound by giving them treats… lots, and lots of treats.Β Last night was only our second class, and while we did our best to remain impartial, we have to say that Georgia was the rock star. While most of the other dogs were barking and trying to get to the other pups, Georgia was content to sit or lay quietly at our sides, with a wagging tail. Not only was she friendly yet aloof with the other dogs, but she also made a total liar out of us, and didn’t jump at all. She was absolutely a great representative of her breed, and picked up on each cue with ease.

Ignoring the barking dogs... what a great student!

Ignoring the barking dogs… what a great student!

As the owners, we were given homework to work on for the week. Georgia is a master at sit, and some of the other simple cues, but the ‘down’ request seems to be a bit difficult for her. You may remember that we have taken her to our friend Dr. Dave, who is a fully-licensed canine chiropractor. We are thinking that her hesitation with the down cue may be due to some lingering back pain, so we plan to take her for a visit to his office, to see some improvement.

One main theme of the exercises dictated in our classes, is to teach your dog to look to you for reassurance and guidance. This is a great tool for dogs who are reactive to other dogs, or just a little A.D.D. easily distracted. Below, check out a brief summary of our classes so far.

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Clicker Training

  1. The first step of clicker training, is to reward your dog for focusing on you. If you get a head turn in your direction, you are to click, and then feed your dog a treat. You will then advance to rewarding the dog only when they are looking at your face. It is important that the dog is associating the ‘click’ as the reward, as opposed to your hand movements or rustling treat bag. Therefore, keep your empty hand at your side when clicking, and don’t reach for a treat until you have achieved the behavior and applied the click.
  2. The next step is to reward the dog for a ‘sit’. If you have been working on step 1 for very long, your dog will probably fall into a sit on their own. The reward is the same; click, then treat. Once it is clear that your dog understands your cue, work on allowing them to figure out the behavior on their own, by not verbally or manually requesting that they sit. They should fall into it on their own, which shows confidence, independence, and intelligence. If your dog gets ‘stuck’ in the sit, try dropping the treats to the ground, rather than feeding them directly. This will get them moving, so that they must then exhibit the behavior independently.
  3. Once the above steps were achieved, we advanced to a head turn. Putting either hand out to the side, the dog was supposed to turn his or her head in the direction of the hand. This was rewarded, and we progressively worked to rewarding the dog for leaning toward the hand, and eventually moving their feet so that they came closer to the hand. This is especially great for timid or fearful dogs, as it gives them confidence when greeting new people. It can also help for positioning your dog, which could help in an environment such as the vet’s office.
  4. The next step was to work on the ‘down’ command. First, the dog was guided down into the laying position by dragging the treat slowly from their nose to the ground. Once the dog was making full body contact with the ground, they were rewarded with a click and then the treat. This was repeated 2 more times, to help the dog understand the behavior. Then, the handler was to stand in front of the dog with the treat visibly in hand, and the dog was to (ideally) figure out what they needed to do to earn the treat. This step required a lot of patience for some teams!
  5. We finally worked on an off-leash ‘come’. This can be intimidating and distracting in a classroom environment! For some dogs, the temptation of play-time with other dogs seemed more intriguing than their owners with a pocket full of treats! Person 1 would hold the dog on-leash at one end of the room, while Person 2 was positioned about 15 feet away, with the clicker and treats. Then, Person 2 would say the dogs name, and the command, just one time (Georgia, come!). Once the dog was moving in the commander’s direction, Person 1 released the leash, and Person 2 was only then to begin rewarding the dog verbally (Good girl, that’s it!) in a high-pitched voice. Once the dog met Person 2, they were given lots of treats and lots of love. This distance could be widened with each successful attempt.
Playing with the instructor

Playing with the instructor

While these steps may seem pretty intuitive, the classes are a great way to cover all of your bases in a focused setting. I really recommend them for any dog owner! It added a degree of difficulty to work on Georgia’s obedience with the temptation of other dogs, new people, and interesting smells. I cannot wait to see what kind of dog is on the end of our leash at the culmination of these classes!

PS- Did I mention that she is still conked out after all of her hard work last night?!

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