The dogs learn that they can get more reinforcement from the environment than they can from their people, and that’s where all the trouble starts.
When the dog gets more pleasure from engaging with the environment than the person, I know the relationship is damaged. The damage is almost always NOT a result of harsh punishment, but usually a result of old fashioned thinking, “I must be in charge all the time and dominate my dog.”
This simply isn’t the case and in fact, the opposite is true. Think of a horse. If you put a bridle or halter on a horse and try to force or pull them, they will resist. It’s the same thing for dogs. Dogs respond much better when you don’t try to force them to do things. We want our dogs to want to work with us, but how do you get to that point? That’s the million dollar question.
It all starts with engagement. Engagement is getting your dog to want to be with you, working and having fun. If you have engagement, the obedience part of the equation is a breeze. An engaged dog would rather play tug, do some retrieving, or some fun treat training with you, than run off to sniff a fallen log.
Play and fun is the key to good engagement. Make it a point, especially when your dog is a pup, to play with them every day. Instill their prey drive, by teasing them with a tug toy, making it squirm around on the ground.
For our Weims, you can add a WHOA into this process, by making the toy “fly” away every time the dog jumps on it. At some point, the dog will stop and stand still, that is when you MARK (click or say YES) and reinforce (give a treat or re-engage the dog in a new round of chase the tug). Often times you can let the pup get the toy so they don’t get frustrated. But add in the “fly away” often.
I wouldn’t do any hard tugging with a puppy until they have their adult teeth. Tugging should be reinforcing, and if you tug too hard, you could hurt their necks or it could be painful to their teeth if they are losing baby teeth and have adult teeth coming in.
It doesn’t need to just be about tugging. Most of our dogs love to retrieve. Use this love of retrieving to engage your dog. Work on getting your dog to follow a food lure. Walk around and reinforce them very heavily when they are with you and paying attention. This is not about being in heel position. It’s about being “present” and engaged with and having fun with you.
Once your dog will engage with you in your house, it’s time to take the show on the road. Play with your dog in every different place you can come up with — the front or back porch, the front or back yard, the garage, the parking lot at the grocery store, the parking lot at the park, in the park, in your office, etc. The more new places you can think of to play and have fun with your dog, the better.
As your working dog gets a little older, he will start to see new places not as something he needs to go investigate or be stressed about, but as a cool new place to play with you! He will be thinking “what neat thing are we going to do here?”
Photo courtesy of SaraRenee Photography & Design.