So tonight I took Gretchen into the yard to train her for the first time in many weeks. Since my work schedule went crazy in early April, my poor dogs’ training suffered. Now that my schedule has regained a bit of sanity, it’s now frightfully hot. My training is still restricted, but this time to indoor work at night. That’s the joy of living in the tropics.
Although Gretchen has retained quite a bit of training, I’m appalled at how much she has left to learn! Yikes. She hasn’t learned the formal recall (her informal one is quite good, at least in my yard), and she hasn’t learned the heel, either. She’s seven months old.
Gretchen does her sits and downs pretty well in the house. She’ll sit out in the garden on cue, but is VERY reluctant to go into a down.
It is not uncommon for dogs to perform behaviors perfectly on cue in one location but not seem to understand the same cue in another. An extreme example would be the dog that will give you a sit very quickly and enthusiastically at home, but once he’s at the vets or in some other new environment, he suddenly has no idea what sit means.
The dog is not being stubborn or “hard ears.” The real reason for this annoying and sometimes embarrassing breakdown in training is simple: dogs do not generalize. “Sit” in your living room doesn’t necessarily mean “sit” in your kitchen, in your backyard, front yard, the vets, etc.
So, with Gretchen I took a deep breath, swallowed my pride, admitted that I am inconsistent with my work, and went back to basics. When she was a babe of about five weeks, I taught her the down by capturing the behavior. Now that she’s older and had already learned the down, I decided to root around in my training arsenal and try a different approach. I tried luring.
Now I’m not a huge fan of luring because I feel that it adds more steps to the learning process, at least the way I use luring; and if it’s not done correctly, the dog could become dependent upon the food lure in your hand. In order for luring to be effective in the long run, it is essential that the food lure be faded as quickly as possible within the training session.
As it turned out, I had to lure only twice before Gretchen caught on. After two attempts I took away the food but continued using the downward motion of my hand (as though I had food in my hand), and added the “down” cue. She performed beautifully and consistently.
Alas, it was late in the afternoon and the mosquitoes descended upon us, threatening to exsanguinate me. I ended the session and returned to the house with my dog.