Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Zero to 8 Minutes at Breakfast

Today's training focuses on self-control. When you welcome a new puppy or an adult dog into your family, hand feed morning and evening. Not only does this help with the human-canine bond but it's a terrific time to train your dog. This morning's training is with Lilly, a nearly six-month-old Lab and service dog trainee. She is doing a board and train stint in my home.

Lilly has very little self-control - pretty standard in pups. It is my job to teach it. Fortunately, she is food driven. And after a good night's sleep, she is hungry. Perfect training scenario.

Lilly has a terrific sit/stay but a sloppy down/stay. This morning she earned her entire breakfast working solely on the down/stay. Since measuring training results is extremely important, I pulled out the stopwatch. I put Lilly's dog food in her dish but made it inaccessible to her. She could see and smell it but couldn't get to it. Next, I needed a baseline. I learned she could not down/stay for 30 seconds, so I backed it up to 20 seconds. It took many false starts until she understood that a piece or two of dog food would be delivered only when she maintained the down/stay. Initially she popped up into a sit as I approached with kibble in hand. Each time she did, I put her back in the down/stay and started over. Finally, we got our 20 seconds. Then we got 2 minutes. Then 3 minutes 43 seconds. And the last, from which I released her for a potty break: 8 minutes 13 seconds.

While the above scenario played out, my two adult Labs were in down/stays about six feet from Lilly. As we worked on the stay, I walked around the living room and toward the end, out of sight into the kitchen. Other dogs and my movement were intentional distractions. More distractions will be added as Lilly gets better and better at her down/stay. For now, we work on duration.

Note: It is important when starting to train this behavior to deliver food rewards low, at nose height, to discourage breaking the stay.

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