Editor’s note: This is the second of a two-part series about handling a rambunctious dog. Part one printed in the April 5 Steamboat Today.
When I began my life with my dog Stuart, it didn’t look promising. The sweet English bull terrier I wanted wasn’t handed to me on a silver platter. I had to work for that.
My goal was to teach Stuart what to do rather than shut down his rambunctious behavior. The foundation behaviors of “sit,” “watch me” and “touch” (Stuart touches his nose to my hand) were the basis of our work. Each exercise was reinforced with a food treat upon completion. Using a food treat worked well for Stuart to help him understand he was completing the exercises correctly. I also said “good boy” every time I handed him a treat.
Giving a reinforcing food treat to your dog when he does what you have asked is one way of giving immediate feedback that he can understand. When I started taking Stuart out in the exciting world of lots of people and dogs (the Yampa River Core Trail), I stopped by McDonald’s and purchased a plain hamburger (only the bread and meat patty). I broke it up into pieces and put it in the treat pouch that I wear around my waist while training.
Stuart had plenty of at-home practice and understanding of his basic skills before I increased the environmental excitement.
I used the “watch me” cue when a person or dog approached so that Stuart would look away from them, focus on me and sit. I reinforced this good behavior with bits of the hamburger until the person or dog had passed. With practice, Stuart got so good at this that he’d look at another dog or person and immediately turn away to look at me. This was my goal. He now knows what to do rather than bark and lunge at the end of the leash.
Greeting people was our other challenge. The “touch” cue helped us. I taught Stuart to touch his nose to my outstretched palm. When he did this, I gave him a treat and said “good boy.” I then taught Stuart he could touch someone else’s hand using the same cue.
It takes some coaching from me to help friendly people who want to say “hi” to Stuart. I have to stop them from coming right up to him as they might do with other dogs. I show them how to present their palm toward Stuart and say “touch.” I send Stuart to them so that he can touch their hand with his nose. And here’s what works so well for him: I am the one who gives Stuart the special treat for this polite greeting. Now he goes to others, touches their hands and immediately turns to me for his treat. He no longer jumps up and gets rambunctious with friendly strangers. He knows what to do in this situation.
Now, the words most often spoken in our house are “good boy, Stuart.”
Sandra Kruczek is a certified professional dog trainer with more than 25 years of experience and is an instructor with Total Teamwork Training.