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Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Tuesday's Training TIP: DOWN

Tonight:  puppy-class for FLD Gus at Leader Dogs for the Blind.

Homework from last class:  "Leave It" and "Down" from the heel position.


LEAVE IT--overall, I'm pleased.

FLD Gus knows this game.  I put a pile of puppy food on the floor.  Gus bounds towards it.  I cover it with my hand and say, leave it.  He bounces back into a sit and whips his head up to look me in the eyes.  Good boy, Gus!  After a treat reward, Gus isn't even tempted to go for the food.  I move the pile to my leg, to another spot on the floor, to my open palm.  Gus watches in interest, but when I whisper, leave it, he pops backwards into a sit, eager for his treat.  Time to up the ante.

I work the "leave it" command with Gus at Sam's Club, but it's difficult to concentrate when I'm also filling my shopping list.  I tell myself to make training time here, or at another grocery store, when I don't need anything.  Unfortunately, I don't follow through--bad patti!

Later, I am surprised at how infrequently FLD Gus dips his head to grab stuff on the sidewalk when we take a walk through the neighborhood; he is more interested in scoping out everything around us.  It's nice not to have to finger-sweep this puppy every few steps!

DOWN from the heel position--making progress, but slowly.

"Down" is a very submissive position, and an assertive puppy like FLD Gus does not readily yield.  Gus will slink into a "down" if he is not on-leash (and anticipating a treat reward).  He'll even suffer through several rounds of "puppy-push-ups" (alternating "sit" and "down" so he is popping up into a sit and then back into a down repeatedly).

On-leash, however, FLD Gus prefers to gaze elsewhere, and mostly he ignores my "down" command.  How do I count progress?  He has stopped mouthing me when I physically place him into the "down," and, occasionally, he WILL slither into a "down" on the command.

FLD Gus thinks, Ok, I'm "down" but I'm not happy about it!

  • From a heel, stop and have your puppy "sit."  (For Future Leader Dogs, always say your puppy's name, followed by the command.)
  • Say your puppy's name, followed by the "down" command.  As with all commands, use an assertive voice (yet assertive doesn't mean "loud").  Remember, a command is NOT a request!
  • Mentally count "one one-thousand, two one-thousand, three one-thousand" to give your puppy a chance to process your command.
  • If your puppy does not make a move, you must physically place him in the down position.  Step on the leash and sweep his front legs out with each of your hands, your left arm gently touching his back.
  • Stand up, keeping your foot on the leash as close as possible to the buckle to prevent your puppy from popping up.  If your puppy does pop up, place him back down again.
  • When your puppy "relaxes" into the "down" position, praise your puppy, but keep your praise low-keyed if your puppy is excite-able.
  • Hold this position for a few moments.  Say your puppy's name and the "heel" command and walk ahead.
  • Repeat.

  • If your puppy starts to lie down immediately when you stop, your puppy is "programming."  (See my "Definitions" page for more information on programming.)  To avoid programming, mix things up.  Heel a few steps and stop without giving another command.  Heel again.  Stop and have your puppy "sit."  Heel again.  The idea is that your puppy must pay attention to what you are asking him to do, rather than him going through the motions.
  • If your puppy makes any slight movement after your command, he is likely starting to "get it."  Be patient and wait to see if he will complete the command on his own.  Sometimes an encouraging "that's it!" will help your puppy finish the command; with other puppies, any encouragement will pull them into an excited leap up.  Adjust yourself to your puppy's reaction.
  • Give lots of praise when your puppy goes "down" on his own for the first time!
  • Keep your training sessions short to avoid "shutting down."  (Read more about shutting down on my TIP from July 6, 2010.)
  • Try to end your session on a positive!  If you think your puppy is shutting down, go back to something he knows well and finish up with him completing a command successfully.
  • Remember to release your puppy with an enthusiastic "OK!" when the training session is over.
With any luck, perhaps FLD Gus will surprise me at puppy-class again this week! 

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