A Dog’s Eye View: Teaching 2nd gear
January 3, 2013
Although requiring nerve-testing stamina, patience and vigilant guidance, my 5 1/2-month-old puppy, Willa, never ceases to amaze, entertain and educate me. Every day, as she grows more aware, more confident and more independent, I'm challenged to find ways to keep her engaged and stimulated while simultaneously teaching her the manners needed to live in a human household. Temperamentally she is 180 degrees from the calm, quiet and reserved Zoey, my first training experience. Willa is teaching me that things I thought I knew and understood about training now need to be re-examined and adjusted. She's teaching me that training is a multifaceted endeavor for which one size does not fit all.
Two of the main issues facing me when training Willa are: 1) how to handle her energy, and 2) how to curb her rampant vocalization. Today, we'll explore how I'm learning to deal with and redirect her puppy energy for teaching purposes.
Being able to focus is a key factor in being able to absorb and learn, and focusing is usually easier when we are calm — or at least in a less frenzied state. This applies to dogs, as well. When they are distracted, stressed or anxious, teaching them can be a lesson in futility and frustration. Willa, as I have written, came with enough energy for 10 dogs. So, before we could start any training, I first needed to figure out ways to focus her.
One approach I found helpful was to bring my own energy down to the barest of minimums. She is such a sensitive and reactive pup that if I showed even the slightest bit of excitement, she ramped up and flew over the top, unable to grasp what I was attempting to teach her. I had to present a happy but calmly intent manner to help her remain settled and tuned in, despite the fact that we were going to have a lot of fun learning something new.
Willa loves food, so using treats when training makes it a really fun thing for her. The timing of the treat delivery was another key element in reaching her — and it had to be dead on. If I reinforced too slowly or too late, I'd lose her attention. If it was too fast or too early, she'd begin to rev up and I'd be reinforcing something other than what I was trying to teach. So I developed a method of quiet, direct, correctly timed treat delivery to teach Willa certain obedience basics. Once she has these basics down, then I'll work on asking for some duration — some waiting-before-you-get-the-treat from her.
Because of her short attention span, our training sessions are brief sessions repeated frequently throughout the day. This keeps her focused and eager and prevents me from becoming frustrated because I can't maintain her interest and focus for very long. But it's all a part of this particular learning journey together.
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Lisa Mason is an experienced dog training instructor with the Total Teamwork Training group. Her specialties include new puppy owner education and management.