7 things to work on when the weather is bad! Day 6: Listen to what I’m saying

Since Quling joined my family, having the dog really, really pay attention to what I’m saying and not guessing on what he thinks I’m going to say, has become one of the most important things in my training. He likes making his own decisions, he ”can do it himself” and likes to solve just about everything without me. 😉 A year ago, I was taking a private lesson from a trainer and I remember saying ”there’s really just one thing that’s important to me, and that is that he does as I say and not what he thinks he’s supposed to do”.

A way to work on this on a small scale at home is to simply use all the verbal cues (or other cues) that you know that your dog knows and make it more challenging by pretending that you’re going to do something in particular but then give a totally different cue. You can for example put down a bowl of treats and then ask your dog to lie down, spin or hand target. Or ask him to sit four times in a row and then ask for a stand. Or ask him to play with the toy that you’re holding on to even though you’ve placed a toy that he really likes behind him, and so on.

I really believe that dogs are smart enough to generalize this training. If I train this in as many different ways that I can think of, I can move the concept out into the gun dog training. My dogs need to be open to receiving information from me ALL the time during hunting, while lots of things are going on, adrenaline is surging and the dog has to solve certain things on his own, but has to solve other things under my full control and on my cue. Awesome and difficult!

The most important thing in training this concept is that doing as I say has to pay off to the dog. I need really good rewards. To my dogs, that means treats and play. Quling likes cuddling too, while Tassla almost seems offended if I go to touch her in training J There are a great many people that believe that just verbal praise and some pats should be enough, but most dogs that I’ve encountered really don’t agree. If you want to train reward based, you HAVE TO develop good rewards, otherwise you have nothing to resort to but punishment in order to teach your dog something. When the dogs know the basics, I reward with more work and hunting (for example, the dog gets to retrieve as a reward for sitting still), but that is a somewhat blunt instrument to use for foundation skills and detail training. Something to think about: What is rewarding to your dog?

The basis of this concept is ”get yourself involved in what I’m asking and you’ll get to do what you want”. In real life the dog might not ALWAYS get to do what he wants the most. However, I want him to have plenty of experience of getting it, making it likely that he’ll engage in what I’m suggesting.

Out of the 7 challenges I’ve presented over these days, this one is by far the most difficult for my dogs. I thought Tassla would be able to do really challenging things since she’s pretty well trained (we’ve competed in the highest class in obedience for example) and once upon a time we did a lot of this kind of training. But she was completely blocked by that bowl of treats on the floor! She could hardly retrieve at all and her deliveries fell to pieces completely. Her obsession with food has increased since she was spayed a year ago, but still. Totte was the one that succeeded the best. He showed signs of some frustration at one point but worked through it well. Quling really hasn’t done enough training but the surprised me by succeeding in doing what I asked. But he’s a CHAMPION at remembering where objects have been placed/thrown and can have a hard time parting with something he’s already started. You can see that in that he wants to return to the bowl over and over again, and also when the squeaky ball comes out (his favourite toy).

I do a lot of this training while playing. My body language helps the dogs to get it right in this training, but my goal is to be able to be pretty neutral in my body language and for the dogs to make the correct choice any way. In the final part with Totte, you’ll see how I try to make the exercise more challenging by standing still while giving the cue ”take it” and sometimes saying ”retrieve” or ”ok” instead. ”Take it” always means ”take the toy in my hand”. ”Ok” means ”take the placed out toy”. I’m not being consistent when saying ”ok” to a treat in my hand – but there the dogs choose to rely on my body language and my stretched out hand.

I begin this training by asking the dog to do one thing or play with me, even though he for example wants to run to a ball that he likes. I then begin asking for more and more things before the dog gets to do what he wants the most. I prefer to not begin with something that’s too difficult. I wouldn’t have begun with the food bowl with Tassla if I’d guessed that she would become so blocked.

This is a bit of a long video, but I stumbled upon quite a few challenges and I want to share how I solved them 🙂

If inspiration hits, please upload a video or photo of your training to the comment section. We’ve so enjoyed watching everything!

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