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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Tuesday's Training TIP: VARIATIONS

Fellow-blogger Erin's pertinent post from yesterday got me thinking.
Erin is currently raising Pompei, her fourth puppy for New York's Guide Dog Foundation.  (Her blog is "Pompei's Progress"--check out her post from November 29!)

Future Guide Dog Pompei is a one-year-old yellow lab.  Erin recently received news that Pompei will be with her through the holidays, his return-to-school-date extended until January.  Erin says in her post that she's been "using the 'teenage stage' excuse with Pompei" for his "annoying" behavior, but she admits that really, his behavior is the result of her complacency.  For the most part, Pompei is adapted to her daily routine and has learned the basics of what he needs to enter "college."

I understand Erin's feelings about getting "bored" with the repetition of working obedience drills.  Pompei, at a year old, is no doubt more accomplished than four-month-old FLD Gus, yet sometimes I feel like I'm just going through the motions with Gus, especially when we're stuck in the house on a crappy weather day.  How many times can I tell Gus SIT, DOWN, STAY, and LEAVE IT without the both of us losing interest?

My strategy to overcome this inertia?

Adding VARIATION to our obedience exercises.  Like I did with FLD Mike last August (here is a link to that post: 
"mind exercises"), I've integrated working FLD Gus's mind this morning as I went about some typical daily activities.


Take advantage of your puppy's natural inclination to follow you.
  • From room to room, command your puppy to SIT or DOWN and have him or her hold the position while you do whatever you are doing (changing laundry loads, for example, or straightening the kitchen).
  • Throw in a few STAYS and practice leaving your puppy in the room; remember to return to your puppy for praising!

If your puppy is able to STAY while you leave the room, practice NAME  RECOGNITION.
  • Place your puppy in a SIT or DOWN.  Give the STAY command and leave the room, just out of sight.
  • Call your puppy's name.
  • Praise and/or reward with a treat when he or she finds you.
  • Have your puppy SIT before rewarding.
  • Expand this fun exercise to more challenging places (a different room, upstairs or downstairs).
  • Lengthen the time your puppy holds the STAY.
  • You can also introduce the command COME after calling his or her name if your puppy is a master at this game!

If your puppy will hold a STAY, use a favorite toy (like a Kong or Nylabone) to introduce the command FIND IT.
  • Put your puppy in a SIT or DOWN and give the STAY command.
  • Take a few steps away and set the toy where your puppy can see it.  If your puppy tries to go to the toy right away, pick up the toy and bring your puppy back to where he or she was sitting.
  • Try again, but be ready to say FIND IT as soon as you set the toy down so you can begin to reinforce (praise) this new behavior you are teaching.
  • Repeat and repeat again!  After your puppy starts to "get it," walk away from the toy before giving the FIND IT command.
  • Eventually you should be able to place the toy out of your puppy's sight (in another room, for example, or under a towel).

If you need to sit in one location for a period of time (like when I'm writing at my desk), you have the perfect opportunity to work on SETTLE and long DOWN/STAYS.
  • Clip a leash on your puppy's collar so you don't miss "catching" him or her if you are distracted and he or she gets up to leave.
  • Have your puppy SETTLE into a down.  If your puppy is young, give your puppy a toy to chew to keep his or her interest.
  • When (not if, because he or she will) your puppy gets up, just place your puppy back into the DOWN.  You don't need to say anything.  You might have to be VERY persistent!
  • If your puppy is young, or not used to doing a long SETTLE, stay with it until your puppy "sighs" or gives a sign that her or she has given in to the settle.
  • If you absolutely need to spend the time without constantly adjusting your puppy, contain your puppy in his or her crate while you are busy.  Being able to stay quietly in a crate is also a necessary skill for our Future Leader Dog puppies!

A dreary, misty morning keeps me and FLD Gus inside today.  While Gus is not as wild-puppy-crazy as yesterday, he still has his normal morning energy.  He eagerly follows me to the basement, a place he loves to visit--I store the puppy chow here and there is always fun stuff to sniff in the corners deep behind the furnace and under the pantry shelves.

As I shift loads from dryer to hamper and from washer to dryer, I have Gus SIT, then lie DOWN.  Alternating these commands is a cute way to have him do "puppy-push-ups," but after only one or two repetitions, Gus will have no more of it.  I try STAY, and step around the water heater.  Gus immediately gets up to follow.  I put him back.  He pops up.

Never mind VARIATIONS, it looks like I have plenty of regular obedience commands to work on with FLD Gus after all!