Dog’s Eye View: Shelf life
June 29, 2018
Last summer, I hosted a seminar with one of our respected K9 Nose Work instructor/certifying official Jason Heng. He's participated in more than 100 nose work trials with several shiba inu's and has taken them to elite level ability. We had him back for another three-day workshop earlier this month. His skill and teaching ability have given all who participated an enormous boost. Reading our dogs behavior and how we impact their ability to search for the scent we've trained allows us to be a successful search team. And it's great for me as an instructor to expand my knowledge and observation skills to help my own students.
In last year's workshop, Heng was observing the search behavior of a particular dog and commented on what he saw. The dog's handler said, "Oh, he always does that when he searches." Heng cleverly stated that "all behavior has an expiration date." That statement has stuck with me, and I share that with clients who make the presumption that since the dog "learned it" he should remember it and apply it to all environments whenever asked.
If we take that quote and apply it to our own dog's training, it's easy to see that if we don't nurture the behavior the dog's ability to comply slowly degrades over time. I have seen glimpses of this in my dog, Ruby. The once snappy recall is slipping as the distractions and novelty of summer environment stimulate her attention. I started her on a fun agility run at a friend's house, and instead of taking the course mapped out, she elected to chase a butterfly all the way across the yard. We got a good chuckle out of it at the time, but when I attempted to call her back, she did not respond. The shelf life of my recall is one of the most critical cues. It's in jeopardy of an expiration date.
So, my once happy recall has a shelf life. Ruby's new-found confidence is allowing her to explore more freely and feel safe in the environment. Young adolescent maturity is at work in not making the best decisions all the time. Now what? It's time to up my game plan and out-do the environment. To do that, I will practice using new and exciting training treats, squeaky toys and fun. So, we'll play the recall games in the backyard where I can run and hide at that first glance. I'll create some new fun games to play outside. I need to rate right up there with butterflies.
Another way to look at Heng's statement is the nonchalant manner some people perceive their dogs' education. It's easy to say I'm too busy or it's not my dog, it belongs to my significant other. Thinking you can put training on the back burner until you get around to it is a huge mistake. If you aren't involved in their education, then the environment and their own curiosity will take on that job. Not only will the behavior you've introduced expire the relationship has a shelf life too. The only way to get that dog of a life time is through continuous effort in maintaining training and social exposure. That's when as the dog reaches the age of maturity, you can say "this is the best dog I've ever had!"
Don't let your relationship with your dog expire. Nurture it and protect it and store it in your heart. You'll learn that loving connection has a shelf life until the end of time.
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Laura Tyler is a certified professional dog trainer with more than 30 years of experience and has earned associate certification through the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants as well as Certified Nose Work Instructor through the National Association of Canine Scent Work. She owns Total Teamwork Training LLC in Northwest Colorado.