Training Lesson:

Thursday was our first private training lesson. These were, if you remember, intended as a bridge to help Silas work up to going back to classes.

It was great. Silas was his usual self (kind of anxious, a little barky, very distracted), and we talked about all of it. Now we have a lot of homework, plus lots to think about.

First, we are supposed to use Premack-based rewards for attention, in both everyday and stressful situations. Silas wants something, like a toy that’s out of reach, or to sniff a bush? He can have it (assuming it’s something okay for him to have) after he checks in with me. Check in, get a treat, get the thing you want. The treat step isn’t necessarily required, but the trainer thinks it will help raise the value of the treats for Silas. The thing I love about this is that it rewards active attention, not passive. The usual advice to “give a treat whenever you catch your dog looking at you” rewards staring at me all the time, which is pretty high on my Do.Not.Want list. Silas is an independent little dog, and I like that about him. As much as he might like to, though, he’s incapable of handling the world without my help. A happy medium exists somewhere. (Here’s a fantastic article on Premack and how it works. You can scroll down to “Be the Broccoli.”)

Next, we’re doing some mat work. I first ran across the idea in Leslie McDevitt’s book Control Unleashed. I’ll have to review that some day. Basically, you teach your dog to have a happy place. Wonderful, soothing things happen when your dog is on his mat. Eventually, you can take this portable “safe place” with you, to help your dog feel more secure in the world.

We also got sent away with what is apparently the gold standard of anti-anxiety conditioning: Karen Overall‘s relaxation protocol. The protocol was originally published in an academic journal, but Champion of My Heart has a copy linked from her website. I’m still reading through it. The program is at the most basic, 15 enumerated daily lessons of sit or down stays around very precisely detailed increasing distractions. Just reading day one, I’m thinking it will take us somewhat longer than fifteen days. Success is the goal, not completing on schedule.

Far from least, the trainer and I talked through a couple of our everyday training things and “special problems.” Like, if I put Silas’s leash on indoors, he is terrified. It was quite an hour.

Class wore Silas out, poor baby. He crashed out on the sofa for the afternoon, looking resentful when I did things that woke him up. (Like, take his picture.) It’s a good thing he doesn’t realize how busy we’re going to be for the next few weeks. I’m supposed to be making sure Silas gets out more, on top of doing more entirely new training than we’ve done in a long, long time.

Worn Out

I’ll keep you all posted, of course.

8 thoughts on “Training Lesson:

  1. I love that you aren’t just giving up because traditional classes aren’t working. All dogs are not the same and what works for one does not necessarily work for another. Many people miss this point. 🙂

    Silas will do well, I have not doubt and that is because you will not give up.

    I also find that changing my guy’s schedule a teensy bit shakes them up and tires them out. It’s a good thing!


    1. Thanks!

      I hope that we got some good training tools to use for him. He’s already, in two sessions, thinking, “Oh, I like this mat. Why would I leave it?”


  2. Sounds like you have your hands full but doesn’t it feel nice to have a plan in place? I know that how it usually works in our house is that a behavior begins to escalate, I’ve got no plan to deal with it so I feel a bit overwhelmed and incapable and then I do some research, put a plan together (which usually involves a spreadsheet or chart of some type – I’m a geek like that) and then I feel tons better about our path forward. Good luck to both of you!!


    1. I try to reign in my natural chart and list making with Silas’s training, because it puts me in too much of a success/failure place. I do like to have some nice, solid steps, though.


    1. I wish I could find a good discussion of mat work, like McDevitt uses it, online. But I can’t. I found Control Unleashed to be a very hard book to read, because it is badly organized, but it has a lot of really interesting training techniques.


  3. It’s interesting that you worry about Silas making too much eye contact.

    I worried a little bit that if we taught Honey to sit calmly when we greet another person or dog it would change her personality. But with all the training, the underlying friendliness remains. A calm greeting, for instance, always includes a light tail swish.

    I suspect Silas will always be independent. He’ll find the right amount of support he needs as you progress through your training.

    BTW, I had great success with the “mat” training we did with our foster pup, Cherie. We used a towel and I draped it around my neck on walks. It was amazing how quickly she adopted it as a safe space, even outside where scary things were happening.


    1. We went through puppy class with a herding dog. One day, I took his favorite treats to class. He watched me for, literally, minutes at a time, and he was just a puppy. It gave me the heebie jeebies. Since then, it’s been my (you’re right, totally irrational) fear that I will teach Silas to stare at me like that.


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