Your dog isn’t ignoring you.
Your dog isn’t stubborn. He’s not blowing you off.
Nope, you’re not getting off that easy. Your dog just doesn’t know what you think he knows. Don’t worry, the fix is easy and you’ll learn how to fix just about any behavior you’ve taught your dog.
The folks at the service dog organization for which I’m raising Levi have requested that I clean up and improve his “down” behavior. There are a few specific complaints they’d like me to address:
- it takes him awhile to start the down after he’s asked
- occasionally it takes him too long to execute the down once he’s started
- he will sometimes need two different cues (the word “down” and the hand signal)
- when he’s in public, he has a harder time doing all the above
Sound like a big problem? Nah, it’s actually just a few little ones that are relatively easy to clean up.
It’s easy to see where inexperienced people could say that Levi was ignoring me when I ask him for the down. “Because he doesn’t want to do it.” Or “because he’s stubborn.” That’s the easy way out and doesn’t give you any sort of plan for improving the dog’s behavior.
That’s passing the buck and it doesn’t fly here at Smart Dog U: you’re the trainer, it’s your responsibility to fix it!
Let’s look at each piece of our puzzle and deconstruct each one.
This is how professional trainers solve problems everyday, but it’s not limited to just the professionals.
You can take the information here and work on your dog’s own issues using these same techniques.
It takes Levi awhile to start the down after he’s asked.
This is called latency. The amount of time it takes the dog to start the behavior after he hears the cue.
It takes Levi a while to do the down once he’s started.
This is called speed. The amount of time it takes the dog to actually do the behavior once he’s started it.
Sometimes Levi needs me to ask him to down twice, with the word and the hand signal.
This is a cueing problem. Levi doesn’t know one of the cues, most likely.
In public, Levi’s down behavior deteriorates. Everything’s slower, and he needs more than two cues.
Behaviors have to be dead solid to be immune to distractions. That Levi’s behaviors deteriorate in public means that he’s not ignoring me — he doesn’t understand the down as solidly as we thought.
Now, doesn’t that seem a lot more workable than simply saying “My dog is ignoring me?”
Here’s how we’ll fix the first problem: the latency (the amount of time it takes the dog to start the behavior).
Ask the dog to do the behavior, down in this case several times in a row. Count the number of seconds it takes the dog to start the behavior. Find the average amount of time it takes. From this point forward, when you’re working on latency, you will only click and treat those downs that have a shorter latency than your average. For Levi, his average was about one second. I will only click and treat the downs that start less than one second after I cue him. The other, longer-to-start downs won’t get clicked and treated at all. Levi will soon realize that only those faster ones count.
Additionally, I can help Levi by cleaning up my own cues, by getting him jazzed up with some super-short and energetic play breaks, and by clicking him the instant I start to see him start the down process (instead of waiting for him to get all the way into the down).
We’ll address the next problem in next week’s video. Stay tuned, you can use these techniques to spiffy up your own dog’s behavior.