Yesterday, I spent an enlightening two hours talking about training dogs – Teddy in particular – with Mark Thompson from the The Dog House.
Why? We’re going to Greece in the summer and Teddy is not coming. This is going to be hard. On the few occasions that this Mini Schnauzer has not holidayed with us, he has gone to his home-from-home at my-in-laws. This year our timings are off, so we had to think again. After much mulling we decided on a sojourn at The Dog House for Teddy, hence the training session with Mark.
Before any dog is packed off for one of their, frankly exclusive, ‘activity holidays’, gambolling about on 300-acres of Welsh farmland, a home visit is required. Here, the dog is assessed for training issues – as is the owner.
While we did touch on the specifics of training dogs and Teddy, in particular (“He is a character,” said Mark, as Teddy displayed embarrassingly bad recall and disappeared off upstairs with Mark’s squeaky ball), it was the holistic approach that was so inspiring. By ascribing greater values to affection, food, games and permission – and ensuring that Teddy earns all of the above, and doesn’t just take them as a given – we can help improve Teddy’s overall training uptake.
For instance, making Teddy value playtime (games) with us, can improve his recall – it certainly makes sense that Teddy will come back quicker if he thinks there’s fun in store. If we teach Teddy to ask for permission before going right ahead and doing something he loves, it will help him control his impulses (on a practical level, this might stop him chasing a squirrel into the road). To underline our bond with him, rather than acquiesce to his demands for attention, Teddy should be given affection for good behaviour – another reward (very much like ignoring bad behaviour and recognising good behaviour – something also recommended with tantrum-prone toddlers). Then there is the motivation of food and the training treats offered. To improve their efficiency, they need to be ranked: there’s the ‘daily diet’ ie. a portion of his daily food that he’s used to, and happy with. Next up is a Shop Treat, store bought and a bit more interesting for your dog. Finally, the jackpot treat is human food (teeny-tiny pieces of chicken, sausage, cheese, – “Half the size of a pea” – if their diet allows) and this is the ultimate reward; the perfect incentive for any training that your dog finds challenging. We’ll be using some of these while we begin work on training Teddy with that recall.
So, by the time Teddy goes off for his holiday at The Dog House, he’ll be fully prepared. Hmm… Whether I will be is another matter.