Sunday, August 17, 2014

Puppy class graduate

We've just finished our group of puppy classes at Oh My Dog.  I'm proud to say Whiskey's improved so much over the 4 classes and was really getting the "heel, sit, stay, come here" we were working on.  'Heeling' to 'sit' was the hardest for us since she's not looking at me most of the time.

This isn't the first 'school' we've tried and it's been a bit of a tough road the first couple of weeks.  We've worked so much on training at home and in the park with other dogs around, but in a small indoor room environment with other young excited puppies, Whiskey only wanted to play.

Over the weeks though, she got better.  Her concentration capacity extended and her brains kicked in.  A couple tips that helped were

  • coming to class early so she could say hello first
  • try to get her walking at least 3 times before class with some offleash running too- get her as mellow as possible
  • from the last point, an evening class is easier than morning class
  • practicing the training everyday
  • don't take everything the trainer says as gospel- you know your dog better so adjust
  • repetition
  • patience!

Treats vs no treats:
The treat class (first school we tried) emphasized the importance of treats but Whiskey wasn't very treat motivated.  She's a hunting dog with a drive to run, play and chase unlike a hound who may be better with treats.  In the end we found she's much more play motivated (she will work for a stick or Frisbee) as well as agility motivated (she will interrupt play time for a chance to climb a log).  Even using different kinds of high value treats didn't hold enough value compared to playing with the other puppies so we felt so frustrated in the first class.

We know that working dogs are not trained with treats so we were curious to try training without treats.  Oh My Dog classes used pets, cuddles and praise of owners instead of treats.  I was pretty skeptical at first.  On top of that, there was emphasis on only saying the command once, and then forcing the dog through the command if it didn't volunteer the action (pushing bum down for a sit).  Bonus was the class also had less puppies enrolled and didn't allow drop-ins  (12+ puppies vs 4).

I have to say it was hard to stop all the treats and even harder to say the command only once (dog is usually looking away) and follow through.  My takeaway from these classes was a middle ground.  We still treat when teaching a new behavior but treat very little over time.  I still keep some treats around for a good recall in the park with other dogs, and also when playing children are around.  On top of these situations, treats are also very useful when there is a potential "scary" situation: new animals, loud noises, dremelling her nails, baths.  But overall our "treats" have been reduced from 10 treats a walk to maybe 1.  I find "play" motivation much better.

Dogs: Morgan,Whiskey, Gus, Maple

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