L-R Conan, Bob and Floh. | Joachim Sommer

By Joachim Sommer

Setting the dog up to succeed

Irrespective of whether we want to train general obedience like to sit or come when called, “house rules” like not to jump on tables or sofas, leash walking, or address any behavioural issues we need to do it in a way that the dog understands what we actually want of them.

For this we have to consider the different types of difficulties, the “3 D’s”:

1. Duration

  • The amount of time a dog exercises a task

2. Distance

  • The distance the handler can distance themselves when performing a task or the handler expects the dog performing a task in a certain distance to them.

3. Distraction

  • The presence of stimuli that are interesting or stress inducing to the dog.

When we first teach a new skill we have to start with all difficulties at as low a level as possible, later we gradually increase difficulties one at a time. This is going to be a process and depending on the dog and handler may take a longer or shorter time to reach the final goal.

Under normal circumstances we would start to gradually increase the time a task (for example “sit”) is performed.

Once the dog can sit for a certain amount of time we would start to slowly increase the distance by slowly backing away from them, making sure to initially stay way under the already achieved maximum time threshold.

When the dog is happy to sit for a while with us moving away we can increase the distractions, like turning our back to them, moving away quicker, starting to circle them and later introducing other people or animals in the training, again ensuring that we initially lower the other two difficulties (i.e. don’t immediately max out on neither time nor distance).

Introducing distractions may be tricky sometimes. We may live in an apartment and the increase in difficulty level “distraction” between the flat and the outside world may simply be too great for the dog to perform a certain task reliably (or at all) in the street, sometimes just opening the garden gate is too much for a dog. Then we have to find a place where we can introduce the distractions that are “important” little by little (like an open field with whatever stimulus the dog finds too attractive or disturbing only present in a certain distance or simulating “close to real life” situations with friends or family)

L-R Brady, Mollie and Sylvester

Complex skills (like bringing a beer from the fridge) will have to be broken down into sub tasks (like “walking to the fridge”, “opening fridge door”, “grabbing can without damaging it” etc.). Even seemingly simple skills like lying down from a sitting position may need to be broken down into sub steps for the dog to achieve the final result (dog lowers head, dog moves first one and then the other paw forward, chest touches the ground etc.)

When working with the dog we should always respect their pace. If we advance too quickly the dog will start to fail (like getting up from “sit”) regularly and we have to raise the difficulties more gradually. If we advance too slow the dog will get bored and not make any progress because of lack of interest.

And if the dog needs a break we should let them have it of course.

Sylvester using the snuffle matKeeping Collies Busy

The longer we let our dogs 'do their own thing' the more they will find a job we do not want them to do. We have various games and toys in our garden, favourites being those that need our interaction and containing treats. Our new toy this week as seen above is a snuffler mat. I made this from a piece of plastic green fencing and some strips of fleece. Simple to do, just poke it through the holes, overlapping so it doesn't come loose. It takes me three minutes to poke kibble into it and entertains who ever's turn it is for at least 10 minutes.. Sniffing games gives your dog a 'job' todo and boosts their confidence and mood as they work out how to get all those treats. Hiding kibble for dogs to sniff out is a great game we play all around our house and garden, a fabulous nose workout!

If you have some great games you play with your dogs and a photo/video please let us know.