While I meant to write this post to keep doggo’s (and their owners) from going stir crazy during a rainy day, it’s actually come at a time when most of the country is on lock down due to COVID19. The virus may have temporarily changed our social habits, but at least we can still enjoy the outdoors with our four legged compadres….rain or snow. For those of us fortunate enough to live in beautiful Southern California, our rainy days are almost always guaranteed to offer at least an hour of sunshine at some point during the day to get out and stretch those legs…but what about the rest of the day? Hopefully some of our dog training games below can help you out!
(**Disclaimer…I’ve written most of these games with my active clients in mind, knowing they already have an idea of how to implement marker training and some behavioral basics. If you are brand new to these concepts, please feel free to reach out for more information. We have more articles outlining specific concepts in detail and are always happy to schedule a consult over the phone, on-line or in person).
Remember this general conversion…10 minutes of problem solving is the equivalent of a 20 minute walk in terms of energy expenditure (give or take, depending on age and natural drive).
Back to basics
If you have an adult dog or a young pup, never hurts to cover the basics. Start with asking for attention/eye contact, and move onto the old standards Sit, Down, Place (aka go to bed). So long as you can master the basics, anything else is easily attainable.
If just starting out, it’s best to practice this one on leash…especially if you have a dog that loves to chomp and gulp. You can start by laying out pieces of food, an old shoe, toys your kids are no longer interested in, etc…just make sure the item is safe in case your dog does get a hold of it. Layout a course of the objects you’d like your dog to ignore either in a straight line, parallel lines or randomly placed. Walk your dog past the objects, if your dog shows interest give the “leave it” command, if necessary use the leash to guide their attention away from the item…once they look away (or better yet, at you) mark and reward with a special treat. Gradually increase your requirements to gain the reward, start by giving the “leave it” command as you approach, if your dog looks away without leash guidance, instantly mark and reward. You can increase the effort, but always make sure your goal set is attainable for your dog’s level of understanding….in other words don’t start by putting a filet mignon on the floor and getting upset that your dog was more interested in the steak than your puny dry food reward. Successful sessions build better understanding!!
Teach your dog not to enter the kitchen, or go bounding out the front door. If teaching boundaries in an unfenced area (like your front door), do be sure to leash your dog and play it safe, only test off leash if your dog has a reliable recall with distractions and keep safety at the top of your mind. Start by placing yourself on the other side of the boundary (either just outside the front door, gate or inside the kitchen/room you wish to keep the dog out of), as your dog approaches, use the spatial pressure technique to walk into your dog and push them out of the area. Remember as your dog moves away from you, stop in your tracks to turn off the pressure.
Offer your dog their favorite tug toy by bringing the toy to life (playing with the toy, teasing and keeping the tug just out of your dogs reach). As soon as your dog is interested, give the Fetch command and allow your dog to grasp the tug toy while still holding on to it. Engage in a game of tug for about 1 minute. Once you’re ready to give the Drop command, stand perfectly still, holding the toy as taught and still as possible then give the DROP command. Wait patiently with little to no movement until your dog intentionally releases the tug. The second they release the tug, mark and instantly re-engage in the game of tug (bringing the toy back to life is the reward). This game teaches your dog that releasing an item will ensure that the game continues and is also the foundation for fetching any object your direct your dog to.
Crate or Send to Place
This behavior is often desired but rarely practiced. It’s a great overall command that has multiple practical applications…from sending your dog to crate or place as a guest knocks on the door, sending them away from your personal space when bringing in groceries, or just sending them back to a specific point (maybe the car/truck) if playing off leash at the park. Start with a short distance, maybe 2-3 feet from the target and give your dog the verbal cue to either Place or Crate. If your dog is brand new to the concept of moving away from you, lure them onto the target with both food and some fast paced movement. It’s somewhat helpful to think of yourself as a traffic director at a 4 way stop, move your body in the direction you want your dog to move guiding them through. As your dog hits the target mark and reward, with each repetition as your dog understands hitting the target is the objective, reduce the amount of movement you use to guide them there and begin to move farther away from the target. Before long your dog will run to Place or Crate regardless of where you are when you give the command.
Hopscotch (Directional Control)
Using multiple place boards/targets, create a 5 point layout. In terms of targets get creative… use stools, dog beds, ottomans, furniture poofs, basically anything your dog is allowed to be on and physically able to get onto). For the layout you could create a simple baseball diamond design, or a hopscotch style grid…distance between the targets is dependent on your dog’s understanding of directional commands. Once you have your grid design, you can start to move your dog from target to target using your directional commands (back, left, right, come), stopping them at the individual targets using your place, sit or down commands. You’ll use a combination of spatial pressure, and body language indicating direction to help your dog move from target to target. In the beginning, mark and reward the small efforts, as your dog gains more reliability and you’re able to fade out the lures ask for more moves before rewarding.
This is just a short list of the literally endless training activities you can do with your dog. Over the coming weeks I’ll be adding to the list and posting detailed videos on many of the exercises. We love and appreciate all of you and can’t wait to see the progress you make with your pups during to impromptu “social distancing” period. Stay safe, healthy and well trained!!