Training This Week

Yesterday I spent a lot of time digging through my archives, filling up my new Favorite Posts page. I was reminded that I used to post a lot more specifically about what training we’re doing. I doubt that I’ll go back to the weekly routine from those early days, but here’s a snapshot for right now.

We have kind of a lot on our plates, because I got grabby hands with some of those awesome new online courses I mentioned. What can I say, Silas loves training, and I’m most motivated to work with him every day when there is someone, however distant, telling me what to do.

We’re working on three fairly new behaviors right now.

First, target. As in foot target, rather than nose target. I talked a little about this last week. It’s just a basic run over and stand on that spot kind of thing. I thought he had this one down. Then I realized that he doesn’t know the verbal. I was saying the verbal and instinctively pointing, and he was reading the point. I need to write this Sue Alisby quote over and over like “I will not chew gum in class.”:

When a good dressage rider goes through her routine with her horse, she appears to be doing nothing. Her hands barely move, her body barely moves, and any words she says are whispered. This is the ideal for dog trainers as well – quiet hands, quiet bodies, and quiet mouths. Concentrate on what your hands, body, and voice are saying to the dog. He’ll learn faster and easier when he’s not distracted by extraneous motion and noise.

Next is the classic sit pretty which Silas was never capable of doing. I couldn’t even get him to understand what I wanted. Then I tried again last week, and he’s doing great. Which is awesome, because sit pretty is a great core workout for dogs. (I wonder, in hindsight, if his musculature just wasn’t developed enough for it.) I had to use a lure to get him into position, and now I’m afraid I’ll never be able to fade it. Wish me luck.

Also bow, which is one we’ve played at learning several times before, We’ve never gotten the behavior completely fluent, in part because “Bow” and “Down” are such similar cues that Silas legitimately can’t tell them apart. We’re calling it stretch this go around and having better luck.

During playtime, we’re working casually on doing the cue I ask. Silas is an old pro at doing a behavior before I give him back a tug toy or the like, but if I use a cue he is obviously guessing. He’s old enough to know the difference between sit and down, even when he’s excited. So now if he does the wrong one, I keep the toy until he fixes it, or we reset and try again, depending on context.

So that’s what’s going on around here this week. I wouldn’t recommend teaching this many things at once if your dog doesn’t love it, but Silas is thrilled.

I forgot to snap relevant pictures, and Silas is sleeping like a baby. Instead, I’ll end with this random cuteness that you saw yesterday if you follow me on Instagram.

Silas sleeping with Kong

And yes, I trimmed his nails right after I took this. Yikes. That’s what you get if you never walk on pavement.



15 thoughts on “Training This Week

  1. As a dressage rider myself I like the dressage quote to a point, although with horses you’re obviously already sitting on their back, using your weight, the reins to the bit, your legs and all the communication aids. It may not be visible to the outside eye but there is always a lot going on. We (force-free people) don’t have that constant physicality with dogs and do have to rely more heavily on voice and gesture, but I appreciate the reminder to be quiet and aware of extraneous and unintentional cues. Riding holdovers: I hold my leash like reins and have been known to say “whoa” to my dogs.

    Ruby is a big over-achiever with “sit pretty” and added in her own “jazz paws” embellishment. I had the same trouble with bow/down and held off teaching it until I thought of a good cue. I finally settled on “bravo.” She’s more likely to do “bravo” now when I say “down” since she tends to play bow a lot naturally, and I have to remind her “all the way…”

    I’d like to get a paw target. Right now she sort of intermixes nose/paw and I haven’t really discouraged it but I’d like to start discriminating.

    I’m really anxious to hear about your online training courses!


    1. I wrote you a novel-length discussion of the differences between all the things we’ve done, then I decided that it might be overkill/not what you actually meant by that question. Let me know if you want to read it and I’ll e-mail it to you.

      Tl;dr version of the answer I’m not sure you were looking for: the Fenzi classes are hard to beat for the price, if there’s a topic you’re interested in and you already know the basics. If you can afford it, and have a dog who likes to play, Recallers all the way. The Absolute Dogs classes are still very embryonic (plus registration is closed until who knows when), but I’m not regretting my sign up. They’re very similar to Susan Garrett’s methodology, but the class focus is much broader.

      I try not to share too much of the specifics if they’re really unique to any one trainer, because it feels like it gets into a grey copyright area.


  2. I love you new blog header. 🙂 Great picture.

    When we are doing handling (casting) with our dogs, our trainer is constantly reminding handlers that you use arm movements for direction and voice to drive. (We are working with the dog 100 yards + out.) So for example, lets say you need to reposition a dog either right to left of a blind. The handler should try to do it with arm signals only. If however, the dog needs to go farther back, you would give the arm signal with a verbal “back”. A lot of times handler’s get nervous or stuck and may use verbals for the overs. Most times the dog will go back and not over. I have always noticed that if our trainer gives a verbal over, he will say it very softly and then not at all if the dog is so far out that he would need to yell. Our goal is no verbal cues just signals. And slow down with them…lol…another thing our trainer gets on handlers for is too many signals too fast.


    1. Thanks!

      That sounds similar to agility handling–you really *want* your body to do the talking there. And dogs learn it so naturally! Obedience, from what I’m gathering, is kind of the opposite. From that perspective, it will definitely help your dog “cheat” a cue that he doesn’t know. You’re supposed to be very still except for the verbals. Which also makes sense–competitive obedience is basically asking the dog to do a long series of totally unnatural behaviors, just because you want him to.


  3. The similarity between “Bow” and “Down” is a problem we’ve had. That, and we don’t practice “Bow” very often, where Elka is told “Down” frequently. I either need a better hand signal or, as you did, rename it. We had to rename “Come” to “Here” in here first year; poisoned cue and all that.

    “Sit pretty”, much like “roll over” or “play dead”, is a thing I don’t think we’ll achieve. Elka’s real crowd pleaser is taking an object from one person to a named target (typically another person, or the kitchen).


    1. We have a play-dead type cue that’s on his side, but, like you, we’ll never get a reliable roll over. Silas is just not shaped well for it. Plus he tends to cough or sneeze when he’s on his back, so something in his anatomy doesn’t like it.


      1. Really, I’d take on on-the-side style play dead! It’s been hard to just name the behavior when I see it (fine, I’m lazy.

        Elka sneezes when excited! The instances in which she goes on her back, she seems all right with it so far as that goes; it just really has to be on her terms and sometimes she immediately rethinks it for no reason we can discern.


        1. We call it “relax,” which is actually what I was teaching when I taught it. (A la Pat Miller.) I never even connected it to play dead until one of our dog training class instructors saw it.

          Silas really struggles to get onto his back unless he has something he can kick off against. His center of gravity is just wrong for it.

          For what I suspect is the same reason, Sit Pretty is tough for him at the musculature level–I have to watch and only do a few repetitions a day. He’ll start to get a little wobbly, or he’ll pop up but right back down, and then I know that he’s tired. That sighthound-y chest is apparently heavy.


        2. “Relax” is a good cue for that, and a dog on his or her side voluntarily is relaxed. It’s a thing Elka does when she’s tired after a walk, say. I should start naming it then!

          Elka tends to use her head as the fulcrum to get onto her back. Sometimes, she’s unfortuantely grinding that bony skull ridge against somebody’s leg to get there! Elka’s chest is also why I think getting on her back, and “sit pretty” are not things she would naturally do. One of my coworkers has a beagle mix who essentially taught himself “sit pretty”, for the attention! But he doesn’t have the big deep chest, so even overweight, it’s easier for him.


  4. I was once working on a ‘stretch’ cue with Alma – perhaps I should reignite that! It’s something she does often naturally, it’s just me that needs to be more consistent about it. We have friends who used the cue ‘yoga’ for it and I thought it was cute.
    Speaking of cute… Silas! Nail trimming isn’t a concern in our house – we walk on pavement a lot and both Moses and Alma have lazy gaits. It actually is to the point where I need to give Moses the opportunity to walk on grass a lot to avoid his nails being overly-worn. But that’s a post-spinal-surgery issue.

    Also – I like the new blog theme! Not sure when you changed it, but I’ve had to neglect the blogosphere the past couple of weeks as ‘real life’ was a bit busy. Looks good!


    1. Thanks! There were a few rocky days with no header image, but now everything is on-course. I just couldn’t handle the clutter anymore.

      Silas will play in our garage, but that’s the most concrete he sees. Asphalt doesn’t seem to have the same nail-trimming effect. Silas will grudgingly let me trim, but there’s this threat in the air–I know that if I get one too short we are *done* and I’ll never get him back.


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