Have Your Best Dog Now – Tip #1: Forget the treats, use an activity that your dog is crazy about.
What does your dog like to do best? Millie LOVES to chase squirrels in the trees. She will squeal with joy at the sight of them. Even better, the dog is learning to listen to you around major distractions. I know you’re thinking “How can I possibly use a squirrel as a reward?” Well, here’s how.
Your dog will need some yummy soft treats and have at least two trained behaviors, that your dog will do outside the home, in a low distraction environment. My favorite for this exercise is a hand target, because it allows the dog to move forward, up or around. This is preferable to a stationary behavior, which will be a little more difficult. One necessary behavior is making eye contact with you. Below, I’m using squirrel chasing as my “reward”/”MAJOR distraction”. You might want to start with a lower va
lue reward/distraction, and work your way up. Some good examples are playing with another dog, saying Hi to a human friend, getting to play fetch with a ball, or just getting a treat off the ground.
Step 1: Start on leash, with your dog a good distance from the squirrel. The distance will depend on the level of the distraction, and the level of your dogs training. To determine the distance, start far enough away that your dog just notices the squirrel. Cue your dog for attention. Cue only ONCE If your dog does not respond, instead of asking again, move 5′ further away. If your dog does respond, reward with 2-5 high value treats paid one at a time while telling your dog how smart they are! Don’t worry if your starting distance is 50′. Once your dog gets the hang of the game, you’ll move through the steps pretty quickly. SUCCESS TIP: Avoid lettting your dog chase the squirrel while you are working through this process. My dog can chase squirrels freely in the back yard, but not when we are on leash.
Step 2: Move a little closer. I said a LITTLE closer. Like 2′. We want our dogs to succeed. Now repeat Step 1. Remember to reward with several treats and lots of praise. If at anytime your dog can’t respond, move back to the distance they can respond.
Step 3: Continue to repeat Step 2. Add in another behavior. Attention, then Hand Target or Sit. Got it? Awesome! Keep playing this game over several days (maybe weeks), until your dog is relatively close to the squirrel (maybe 10′) and still able to pay attention.
So how are you feeling about your dogs ability to pay attention to you? Pretty happy? Ready to give them the reward they really want? Here we go….
Step 4: Start out with your dog at the closest distance that they can notice the squirrel, but still respond to your Attention, Sit, Hand Target. Don’t forget to pay your dog for each behavior. After all, they’re giving up chasing a squirrel to be with you. Now, ask your dog for a Sit, then immediately give them their release word (to let them know they are done), and tell them to “Get the squirrel!” Head over to that tree, keeping a good hold of your leash. Woohoo! Your dog will be shocked that her good behavior earned her a squirrel. And that you were the one that gave her the squirrel. How cool is that?
With a lower distraction, you should be able to move to Step 4 pretty quickly, maybe after 2-3 sessions. When you and your dog get good at this game, you will no longer need the treats. The reward will be the release to chase the squirrel. I suggest you use this reward in moderation, alternating with rewarding with treats and moving on. Once your dog is easily moving away from the squirrel in response to your cues, you can begin fading the food rewards. You’ll even notice that you’ll be able to call your dog away from the squirrel chase.
This exercise works best for people that already have good management skills, a basic recall, and understand how to control their dogs resources. Free loading dogs will have trouble attaining this skill. Need help? Give us a shout: http://foothillscanineacademy.com/contact-us/. Offering custom in home private dog training and Nose Work classes in Greenville, SC.
**Safety note: Please don’t do this if you don’t have good leash handling and control over your dog when they are charging after a squirrel. No flip flops either! This is however, how I keep in shape 🙂