The young boy in class adored his puppy. It was a delight to see how proud he was of her, and how attentive he was to everything being taught.
Carl was 10 years old, and animals were clearly his passion. He was more diligent in his practice than many of the adults. And I was particularly impressed with how quickly he grasped this concept:
Don’t beg your dog!
Many of the owners were trying to coax their puppy to pay attention to them. They waved treats in front of their inattentive noses. They bent over and called their name repeatedly. Some even got down on the floor with their puppy in an attempt to get a response.
But young Carl had it licked!
He listened and followed the guidelines to the letter. He demonstrated to his little pup that he had food, then stood still and waited. He waited for the puppy to decide what to do, and as soon as she made a good choice, she got the treat!
He skipped all the begging, nagging, and cajoling that the others were doing.
(Mine is a force-free class – in many other classes people would go further and yank the lead, shout, or poke the dog. Not in my school! Put yourself in the dog’s place – how would you respond to this progression?)
Give your dog a choice.
There’s choice – and there’s choice! In Choice Training you give your dog a choice between doing something you like and earning a reward, and … nothing. So you weigh the chances in your favour of your dog choosing to do what you want. There is no punishment, no shouting or prodding – just patience. “I have a treat – what would you like to do to earn it?” So your dog will focus on you, maybe stand still, maybe sit, and keep trying things till she hits the spot. You keep the treat right out of the way until you get what you’re waiting for – no waving it about in the dog’s face!
What happens if you “lure” your dog with food is that you give your dog a free choice whether to pay attention or not.
“Come to me and get this treat I’m holding out,”
“Carry on doing what you’re doing and get the treat afterwards (because I’m desperate to give it to you!)”
You’re saying to your dog: “You choose.” But you’re not limiting the choices to what you want. It doesn’t take a pup long to figure out that he can have his cake and eat it – he can sniff the floor or stare at the other puppies then come and get the treat. He can give a slow and dawdly sit and still get the proffered reward. He’ll weigh up his choices – roll in this badger poo now or go and get a piece of kibble… hmm, which will I do? Later this will translate to – choosing to run off and chase things rather than choose to get a treat, pulling on leash rather than choose to have a treat. Then we hear “My dog is not interested in food.”
Bribing your dog with food is going to hand the reins to him. Rewarding him for making the choice you want keeps the power with you!
The boy inspired the others with his success.
Many of the puppies in that class were choosing to ignore their owners. All the time they were coaxing and calling, the pup knew they were there. There was no need to pay attention.
What Carl had grasped was that staying silent meant his puppy checked in with him very quickly, and earnt her reward. The onus was on the pup to pay attention. And she made the choice we wanted her to make.
Carl’s puppy quickly chose to face him all the time and watch out for clues for how she could earn the next reward. (The other owners got it later – especially when they saw the boy’s success.)
It occurred to me that Carl had also learnt a valuable life lesson. Begging people to do things for you is usually a fruitless endeavour. Inspiring them to act is a much better course.
Hopefully in a few years’ time, Carl will not be begging a girl to go out with him – rather the girls will be chasing him!
Beverley Courtney, author of the popular Essential Skills for a Brilliant Family Dog series of books, lives in Worcestershire with her four dogs, cat, hens and many tropical fish. She works with puppies and “growly” dogs, always looking to build the bond between dog and owner. Choose your free step-by-step email course to changing the things you don’t like about your dog to the things you do like. And look out for the new series of books, Essential Skills for your Growly but Brilliant Family Dog