Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Lessons from "Step Ahead" Level 2 Obedience Class - Class #5

Second last class last week, before today's fun games night. Last class Andre took the reigns and trained with Duke.

  • down at a distance (remember to reward in the 'down' position

  • doggy push-ups (then progressed to push-ups with dog to the left)

  • stand stay (then progressed with instructor coming by to distract the dogs by walking by, bouncing a ball and something totally irresistible to Duke, a squeeky toy)

A new exercise that Duke failed at was doing 'sit/stays' with having every other dog stay, while the other dogs completed their 'come' command. Unfortunately Duke released from his stay every time the other handlers called 'come' to their dogs, even though it wasn't Duke's turn to 'come'. Amazingly half the dogs were able to maintain their stays even though dogs next to them ran towards their owners.

Next the owners and dogs did a heeling exercise where 'watch', 'touch', 'down', 'turns' and 'stand' were commanded while walking.

The last exercise of the night was Rally Obedience. Where 2 sets of 3 pylons were set up with 2-3 commands. For example: Sit-down-walk around, Sit-stand, sit-down. The object is to go to each pylon station and try to get your dog to complete the set of commands as fast as possible.

Rally Obedience is apparently an up and coming dog sport. Treats as rewards can be used during competition but treats can not be used as lures.

Again tonight, Duke's attention and concentration levels weren't great and he was easily distracted.

After this course, it's time to work on everything we've learned so that he can do them as fast as he can sit or go down.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Duke's lunging, howling, on-leash aggression (but not to beagles)

I recently found this discussion on MetaFilter while doing some searching and I wanted to share it with everyone:

"We adopted our beagle mix, Harvey, from the city shelter about a year ago. He's about 4-5 years old now. He's a great dog, great around strangers, have to watch him a bit around little kids, very easygoing. He is our only pet. We take him on walks in the morning and in the evening, and when we do, we have to always keep an eye out for other dogs because he simply FREAKS OUT when he sees them. Barks, lunges towards them, whines, etc. Most of the time, the other dogs don't respond. We've tried to ignore it, tried to correct him by saying "no," simply try avoiding other dogs by crossing the street or lingering behind cars so he doesn't see them walking. "

Duke has this same problem too. It appeared about 2 months after we adopted him and it REALLY, REALLY started getting silly about 6 months of having him in our family. There were times where at the mere sight of a dog - any dog - even a block away - that Duke would lunge, pull, jump, flip, and howl at the top of his lungs and even pull so hard that it sounded like he was gagging himself.

Our first mistake was not consulting a professional behavioralist sooner. We should have gotten professional, hands-on assistance well before the 6 month mark but instead we surfed web sites, read discussion forums, bought books from (some were good, many we tried and had no results).

We ended up working with Joan Weston who is Who's Walking Who's resident behavioralist ( Here's a summary of the type behavior modification we've been working on since May...

Conditioning Duke to look at us when he sees a dog.

We started using some very high value treats. The first type of food we used was boiled chicken thighs, shredded into manageable chunks for feeding.

Joan took us to a small park across the street full of dogs. We kept our distance from the dogs and we were instructed to feed and praise Duke lavishly every single time Duke looked at us. We also called Duke's name and if he spun around to look at us, we feed and praise. If he does it when a dog is nearby or if he manages to break his gaze from a dog to look at us, he gets TONS of food and praise.

There were times where Duke would not turn to look at us and was just too focused on a distraction (ie. a dog). We can pinch his bum or grab his tail (gently), just to get him to turn around and see what I'm doing. Then he gets praise for doing the turnaround.

Duke is VERY food motivated and this was easy and fun for him to get started with. It was amazing, even on day 1, because we were in a dog park that had upwards of 2 or 3 dogs walking through at any time and Duke was absolutely fixated on chicken and was quick to "check in" with us.

Towards the end of our session as we were leaving the park to return home, we ran into an extremely aggressive/reactive and poorly trained german sheppard in our building which caused both dogs to start barking/lunging uncontrollably. In this sort of situation where Duke's already gone ballistic, we simply turn around and walk away. There's no learning that can happen once he's gone past the point of no return.

Short-Term Results

Just one day of training made our previously frustrating/worrisome task of walking Duke into one that was manageable and increasingly positive and happy!

There were ups and downs though. For what seemed like no reason or logic, there would be walks in the AM that were "happy and howl free", and walks that same evening where he howled at half the dogs we spotted.

Here are some of the things we learned as part of the process:

1) You must believe that your dog will do the right thing!

We noticed that if we saw a dog that was approaching and that we felt Duke would go crazy, sure enough he'd lose it. Perhaps it has to do with a change in breathing, pulse, body temperature, or maybe dogs are psychic - bottom line is you have to believe in your dog!

2) Don't push too hard

Although we had major progress from just the first day of training, it has been really important over the last 4 months to set reasonable expectations and be patient with Duke. He has ups and downs but the overall trend has been extremely positive. Just because he had a good week, doesn't mean it's time to take Duke to a dog parade!

3) Don't train for too long

Duke can only remain focus and check in for 40 minutes or so at a time (about the length of his walk). After that, it's time to let him relax and have a good game of tug or fetch just to relax.

4) Keep the treats interesting

Don't use the same treats every day, change the quantity/portion of treats you give each time - sometimes don't treat at all and just praise. If it becomes a predictable, 1 treat per reward, same treat each time, Duke gets bored.


I hope that this blog post helps you if you have the same problem... but if reading books and web sites is not the way to learn how to help your dog if he has leash aggression issues. Please find a behavioralist that uses positive training methods (treats, praise) and get some hands on help.

Longer Term Results (4 months later)

Every single time we walk Duke, we have a treat bag and clicker on hand. We've been walking Duke and praising him for every check in. Over 4 months that's around 360 walks.

Here's a video of Duke we just took...

As a benchmark, Duke now...

- Ignores a lot of dogs and doesn't even care about them.
- Will spot dogs that get him nervous/excited, but will turn around and look at us as the conditioned response.
- Has not gotten into any dog fights at the off leash dog park
- Is much easier to train and heels much better on walks now
- Does sometime still lose control on certain dogs (there are a few in the neighbourhood that we know cause him problems), especially un-neutered, intact dogs.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Lessons from "Step Ahead" Level 2 Obedience Class - Class #4

Tonight, Hyedie drove the Miata to my office and picked me up with Dukey in the front seat. He shed a lot and was quite nervous and hyper when we arrived at school. We had 45 minutes before class to settle him down but it may have been too much because he wasn't that sharp tonight...

Tonight we learned/reviewed:

1) Review of Stand Stay (Duke had a lot of trouble with this!)
2) "Stack" your dog to make him stand (hold collar and push up on belly in front of hind leg)
3) Around (using a treat in each hand and luring your dog to walk behind you from the right and back to heel position on the left)
4) Sit stay with Voice only
5) Come without voice
6) Heeling exercise by using a lure and progressively walking in a tighter and tighter circles. Clockwise is used for dogs that lag, and counterclockwise is used for dogs that lead ahead.
7) Dog pushups (Down with right hand, Stand with left)
8) Down at a Distance
9) Sit stay attention span work (30 seconds+)


The funniest part of the evening was during the Sit Stay attention span work, as all the dogs were staying, one of the big houndy-type dogs decided to screw it and stood up and decided to run around in a circle. All the naughty dogs (Duke included) became very distracted!!!

Some other ideas picked up:

-Corinna (the instructor) was having a conversation with at student regarding the COME command. She was suggesting that you could take your dog's meal, divide it in 3, and make him COME and as the reward, give the 1/3rd of the meal to him. Duke's recall is not that good unless it is part of the Sit Stay Come sequence.

-Hyedie had to switch to better treats to get results with Duke (very stinky Wellness treats)

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Rocky the 6 year old beagle at Trinity-Bellwoods

This weekend on Duke's long, long Sunday walk, we were walking with Leah and her dog (Duke's girlfriend!) Sophie.

As we were leaving Trinity-Bellwoods Park, off in the distance, by a tree, we saw the flash of a beagle in the middle of a hunt! He was chasing squirrels and just like Duke, nose to the ground, tail wagging.

We talked to his owner and learned that just like Duke...

1) He used to go off leash in the dog park, but he would run off and get into fights with other dogs or chase mice.
2) Boxers are his enemy!
3) Non-neutered dogs are his enemy!

We recently learned from one of the neighbourhood dogwalkers that Non-neutered and Neutered dogs should never interact with one another. A lot of conflict and flights erupt when you mix dogs like that up. If you have a non-neutered dog, PLEASE consider doing the right thing and neutering him. If you can't because you intend to show or breed him, then don't take him to an off-leash community dog park!!!

Monday, September 3, 2007

Lessons from "Step Ahead" Level 2 Obedience Class - Class #3

Class #3 for Step Ahead started with a review of Stand-Stay (which Duke couldn't do). And then a review of heel without the help of a lead. We also did a fun heel exercise where all the students became real life pylons and we took turns slaloming through the standing owners and dogs. (Duke got a little distracted but overall did well!)

I asked for some help on trying to correct Duke's sit. Because Duke likes to face his treats, he ends up sitting at 45degrees from where he should be. Here are some tips that I received:

  • when using a lure for the perfect sit, be slow and steady, not frantic

  • once the nose is following the lure, bring it up high and parallel to the outer thigh
  • putting the treat between the middle and ring fingers to create a cup with your hand can help the dog follow the lure better than a lure pinched between the thumb and index finger

The last lesson of the night was 'Touch'. This is when you hold out the palm of your hand and your dog touches your hand with his/her nose upon the command. I thought it was such a cool trick! It is supposed to help with heeling your dog.

To teach touch, hold out your hand (closer to make it easier at first) and when you dog touches your hand with it's nose, mark it w/ a treat/click. Once your dog starts touching your palm with more regularity then you can mark the action with the word 'Touch'. Eventually the palm cn be placed anywhere and the dog will touch it with it's nose.