We’re on the homestretch in perfecting Levi’s downs.
We worked on latency, cues, and distractions. If you’ve kept up with our posts, you’ve seen his downs getting better each week. In our final week working on down, I’m sharing some other things you can do to help improve your own dog’s behavior — whether you’re working on down, come when called, sit, or anything else!
We’re sticking with distractions this week because that’s what gives most people (and their dogs) fits when it comes to “listening” or “obeying.” It’s not that dog won’t do it, it’s that the dog really can’t do it in the face of the distractions.
These tools will help your dog breeze through distractions quickly and easily:
- Make sure your dog is getting paid enough. Trainers use a phrase: “use a high rate of reinforcement.” That means click and treat a lot. Imagine if you were struggling through a difficulty a crossword puzzle and solved only one clue an hour. You’d probably give up on the crossword puzzle quickly — it’s just too hard. If you’re not reinforcing your dog enough when things get hard (when distractions are present), he’ll give up and won’t focus on you anymore.
- Use a treat that your dog doesn’t usually get. Trainers call this a “high value reinforcer.” If your dog’s diet is mainly kibble and a milky bone here and there, when you work on distractions, ramp up the treats to grilled steak! If you have 100 widgets lying around your house, and someone asks you to fill out a survey for them and the reward is … a widget (!), you’re not likely to be in any hurry to fill out their survey. Why would you? It’s a widget — you’ve got loads of them. If, however, they gave you $100 instead of the widget, you’d probably already have completed that survey and asked if they had another one!
- Make the task easier. Trainers say “lower your criteria.” That means accept less than you normally would because you’re adding difficulty by way of distractions. So if your dog simply can’t down when the bicyclists pass, click and give him a treat if he starts to lie down and his elbows bend. If your dog is overly distracted by the bicyclists, you way wish to click and treat your dog for simply looking in your direction. If you’re training for a 10K and your running coach wants you to run 5 miles and weight train three times a week, but you can’t do it because your work schedule has you out of town for four days, he may instead say it’s ok if you run and lift two times a week. Instead of getting a big, fat “F” for the week (and potentially derailing your momentum and progress), your coach knows it’s better to do something, rather than to do nothing. It’s the exact same thing we’re doing with our dogs with this strategy — we’re setting them up to be successful. Success leads to more success.
Have you been using these tips and tools to improve your dog’s behavior? Leave a comment below and let us know what you’re working on and tell us about your success!