This week feels like two steps forward, four paws back. I’m a little frustrated with my furry friend Archer as I write this.
Saturday we had a very productive training class, for the most part. This was our third class, the second one with our dogs. The focus was on teaching us how to train our dogs to do the Hand Target/Touch command and the beginnings of learning how to Sit Stay.
My son and I are participating in basic manners dog training class at the Humane Society of Huron Valley. The class is run by Harmony Dog Training out of Ann Arbor.
Touch is the command to get your dog to touch his nose to your hand. It is a building block for training other behaviors in dogs.
Angela Schmorrow and Lowell Zuckerman, who run Harmony Dog Training, say “coming toward you to touch your hand is a great start on recall and touching someone’s hand is a nice alternative to jumping on them.”
Archer quickly grasped this command, especially because we would click and treat every time he got it right.
Lowell used Archer to demonstrate to the class the beginnings of the Sit Stay command. Step one of Sit Stay is to start with your dog in a sitting position and take a step away from him. While you do this, keep looking at your dog and do not turn away from him. You click and reward when your dog stays sitting and doesn’t follow you.
During the class, once we gave the reward, we were taught to say “break” and encourage our dogs to get up. We keep repeating this process until our dogs are able to stay until we release them.
Archer started off great when Lowell was using him to demonstrate the steps, but then he did something that suggested to Lowell that it was time to stop.
He began scratching and if I’m understanding this right, Lowell backed off on the training because he sensed Archer was done. It was a sign Archer might be stressed and needed a break from his training for the time being.
I think they were right.
We continued to practice the Sit Stay command in our area and often Archer wasn’t interested in participating. It wasn’t that he couldn’t follow the command, he was just was not up for doing it anymore. He would just lay down and chill. After a bit of a break he would do a little more training, then stop again.
Angela and Lowell were very reassuring that this is a normal behavior in dogs. They said if a dog shows signs of stress in a training session, “it might be time to go back to working on simple classical conditioning and helping him know the world is a safe place.
Learn to recognize the way your dogs exhibit stress, and help them out when they need it. Understanding that the world is safe is the most important lesson I think we can teach them!”
They focus on positive reinforcement and meeting your dog where he or she is in there training. I really like this piece of advice for building on the Sit Stay command: “The key to building a rock-solid stay is to practice small, incremental steps.
Here we will focus on duration, teaching our dog to hold a sit for longer periods of time. Going too fast causes your dog to fail and is the best way to build a spotty command. Instead, we always want to work at our dog’s level. If your dog is making frequent mistakes, it’s too hard. Back up and ask for a shorter stay.”
They suggest keeping training to just a few minutes at a time at home. I do find if we try to do too much in one session, Archer gets confused. Also, by doing short sessions, I find we can fit them into our schedule and do them more often.
Angela and Lowell also had great advice for my problem of Archer stopping on our walks. They suggested I try and use the Touch command to urge him forward. They also said it’s OK if he just doesn’t want to walk and I should not feel like I need to force him.
They suspect there might be something that happened on a walk that is discouraging him from wanting to do it. They asked me to try and record the behavior so they can see what is happening.
Well I was able to get a video, but it seems the problem has worsened. I have no idea why.
Wednesday morning, we took off down our street but only traveled past a couple houses before Archer decided he was done. Only this time instead of stopping and refusing to walk, he grabbed onto the leash and began pulling on it like he wanted to play a game of tug of war.
Sadly, our walk was over and I returned home fearing we have a new dog problem on our hands.
He did the same thing again Thursday morning, only not as severe. I’ve sent the video to Angela and Lowell for advice.
Walking Archer is one of the joys of having a dog to me. I really value that time and I’m frustrated walks are currently spoiled for me.
However, I have faith there is a solution.
While the walks are certainly a low, there have been some highs during our training practices this week. My parents visited on Sunday and when they arrived I explained how to be “on” and “off” with the dog.
Remember for “on” and “off,” if the dog jumps on us, we are to turn our backs to him and go into the “off” position. When he stops we can turn and face him, but if he starts jumping, turn away again. Being in the “on” position means we’re reinforcing good behavior.
When mom and dad walked in the door and Archer began jumping on them, I told them to say nothing and keep turning their backs. I said it might take several tries of them doing this, but eventually he will stop jumping.
The next morning, while having coffee with my mom, I asked her if the dog jumped on her when she got up and came down stairs. She happily said no, realizing he didn’t jump on her that morning. Success! I’ll take the victories, no matter how small.
Archer has done very well during our practice of the Touch and the Sit Stay commands at home. When I have him sit, I’m able to take a step forward and back several times without him following me.
This is one command I’m very focused on because I want the jumping on people to stop. If this week’s practice is any indication, we just might get the jumping to stop.
Like I said, two steps forward, four paws back.