Dog Trouble in Training

Lady and I had been working on our training for about a year. She was learning a complex behavior. I was teaching her that every person in the woods had a toy for her. If she would find them, come back and bark at me and then take me to the hidden person, she would get her toy. I don’t know how much you have ever tried to teach a dog before, but that’s a lot for a little doggy brain to remember.

To her credit, she was figuring it out. She didn’t love it as much as I had hoped. She loved searching and I had gotten her good at barking at me. She was even pretty good about finding our team members. What she didn’t like was finding strangers. She did not love strangers. She was worried about them and didn’t want to take me all the way to them.

This was largely my fault. I hadn’t socialized her well as a puppy. I worked hard at socializing her, once I saw the problem, with every kind of person I could find. I asked random people at the park to give her treats, my friend’s kids would give her hot dog pieces, people in the grocery store parking lot would get recruited to toss her treats. I even paid a couple of homeless guys to give her cookies. Her confidence level did increase, but she still wasn’t thrilled about it.

We tried all kinds of things to get her better at her job. We gave the subject (hidden person) every kind of toy we could think of. Frisbees, balls, squeakies, plush toys, feathered toys, rubber toys, latex toys, tug toys, toys with lights, toys that glowed in the dark. The trouble was she changed her mind all the time. She would arrive back at the subject and they would give her a Frisbee. She would promptly spit it out and stare at them, waiting for something better to appear. Eventually, it was all her subjects could do to carry all the toys in the woods to let her pick the one she wanted.

One morning after a particularly frustrating training, one of the experienced handlers threw her hands up in the air and said “I just don’t understand it! She has drive, there has to be something she really loves.”

I turned red. I did NOT want to tell everyone what Lady really loved. They would laugh at me! I was pretty sure they would tell me I was the worst dog owner ever and that my fur kid was the craziest critter ever. Deep down I knew, if I didn’t tell the handlers, we would never fix this training problem.

“G-g-golf clubs,” I stuttered. “She loves golf clubs.” This was followed by awkward silence. Crickets chirping and all.

“She loves what?”

“Golf clubs,” I replied.

All the handlers looked at each other in confusion. I really don’t know what they were thinking. I was pretty sure it couldn’t be good. Finally, one of them asked if I had one with me. I did. They sent me over to the truck to get it. Pretty sure they had a powwow about the whole thing while I was gone. I returned with the club and handed it to the subject.

She looked at me in confusion and asked’ “So, what do I do with it?”

“Just throw it for her,” I replied.

The subject showed Lady the club and took off into the woods. She found her subject, returned to me and barked and led me back to the subject. The golf club was tossed and Lady went nuts. She was scooting it around on the ground and barking at it. The handlers just stared at her and then started laughing. The whole group was giggling about it. They had never seen anything like it. It ended with a group of head shakes and comments like “Whatever works I guess.”

Lady performed much better after that. No more switching toys. The handlers did ask that I cut the 9 iron in half and tape the end up. Cutting it would make it easier for the subjects to conceal and the tape might keep Lady from impaling herself when she chased after it and pounced on it.

I learned some important things that day. When we are working our dogs (or even asking people to do jobs) it is important that THEY think the paycheck is worth it. It’s not important what I think the task is worth. If I really want the dog (or person) to perform, I need to figure out how to make it worth it for that specific dog. Each dog is different when they decide how difficult or easy a task is and what is of equal value in a reward.

I also learned that if you really want to solve a problem, you have to swallow your pride and be honest with people about the situation. I embarrassed myself and told everyone about the golf clubs. If I hadn’t told them about it, we probably wouldn’t have been able to solve the training problem.

I learned that it’s ok to use unconventional solutions to problems. I’m certain no one else in the working dog world was using a golf club as a toy. Sometimes you just have to think outside the conventional toy box.

Now I do everything I can to teach other handlers and dog owners how to motivate their dogs. I think it’s a pretty big deal in dog training and really the key to getting as much performance from a dog as you possibly can.

He will, therefore, do his best not to do his business in the pen or kennel. You will need to take him outside very regularly and give him lots of praise whenever he goes to the toilet in an appropriate place. Always make sure that he is taken out of his pen about half an hour after a meal or else you’re just asking for trouble!

Dog play pens can also be used in slightly different ways. Some people use them as a gateway across a door opening so that the dog is kept within a certain room but has free access to the room itself. Once your dog gets bigger the pens can double up as outdoor dog exercise pens. This will allow your pet to enjoy the sounds and sights of the outdoors without risk of escaping or digging up the garden. Of course, unless it is a galvanised dog run it will need bringing indoors during bad weather or overnight as otherwise it could rust. The galvanising process helps to protect metal from corrosion and so if the metal has been treated then the pen is safe to leave outside in all weathers.

If your dog is to spend any length of time in his pen then it is best to keep a dog kennel in it. This way he can escape bad weather and also has somewhere to go when he just wants to lie down and relax.

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