Atlas | Mix Breed | Long Beach, CA | In Training
Atlas is an energetic 1 year old mixed breed dog joining OffLeash SoCal's Two-Week Board and Train Program to address his over-enthusiasm and general obedience. Atlas is an excitable young dog with a passion for jumping on people and over the next two weeks we will address this jumping as well as his play biting/ playing rough with humans and his issue with counter surfing. Stay tuned for Atlas' Two-Week transformation!
Today was all about diagnosing Atlas' unique set of traits so I can best approach his training. Atlas has a deeply entrenched habit of jumping on people and seeking his own rewards via misbehavior. For his best results I will employ our obedience behaviors as a go between so that his intense energy is channeled into what we want before we allow him to play and seek his reward. Ultimately his excitement can be an asset as well as a hindrance so it is up to us to be good leaders and show him how to best focus and get what he wants. The self rewarding pattern of Atlas' behavior tells me we can form good habits but we have to be even more consistent than the bad habits have been.
Today I introduced the prong and e collars both to Atlas. The e collar is initially introduced just by wearing it and getting used to the sensation of the collar itself without any stimulation. As Atlas develops a fluent understanding of the prong collar and my leash pressure I will begin marrying the e collar stimulation to the directional information from the leash. The desired result is the dog makes a more complete association between my commands and the end picture of what space they occupy and how to get to that position etc. By making the muscle memory automatic and giving adequate rewards we are able to guide the dog through more challenging distractions later on with our obedience. These first steps are about creating the skills necessary to learn and later thrive under pressure so the most important tool I have is patience. If we lay the foundation properly there is less room for error or bad habits to form later. Atlas was able to get the basics of the heel, sit and down commands today.
Today Atlas and I worked on Sit, Come to Sit, Down and Heel on a long line and prong collar. The work we are doing this early is foundation for adding the e collar. Now that Atlas has a solid understanding of what I want from him and how to access his rewards, I am working on making the transition to e collar and off leash freedom! Tomorrow we will begin marrying the physical sensation of the leash pressure with the stimulation from the e collar so that my voice has the same value and I can still reinforce my commands if need be. If we make a command and the dog is able to ignore us they will learn to satisfy their own interest without considering our needs but if we first give them the value of our interaction and show them thoroughly the expectation from them, we can insist upon certain rules knowing the dog will seek their satisfaction in the same manner we have been practicing. If we do this process and slowly subtract the leash from the picture the dog is left with an inner desire to work with us and the ability to interact with the outside world but with our peace of mind knowing we can rely on the dog to listen even with distractions. Consider the reinforcement of a command more in line with a seatbelt or airbag rather than a punishment. It is there to provide safety and security knowing the dog will be responsible even off leash.
Today Atlas and I worked on combining the E collar with the leash pressure and prong collar to make a complete picture for him to understand what we are looking for. Of course there are initial hiccups and confusion but Atlas was able to lean into his knowledge of the leash pressure when confused and we were able to get a lot of learning done today. There is no one size fits all technique in dog training but generally the concept of right answers are easy and wrong answers are hard makes for a clear picture. For example walking at my side is easy. There is praise and rewards for finding the heel position. Breaking the behavior on the other hand is hard because there is no reward and he finds it mildly uncomfortable when he pulls against the prong. By combining the mild discomfort and dislike for misbehavior with a verbal cue, we can reinforce the desired effect with our e collar. Meaning if the dog feels a consistent sensation in conjunction with the mild discomfort of the prong we can associate them together so that in the dog's mind they are one experience. Then the directional information from the leash is preserved even absent the leash and prong. Like magic.... but it's just dog training.
Today Atlas and I worked on his obedience at Santa Monica Pier. The level of distractions was high and he did struggle at times with his obedience because of how many stimulating elements caught his eye. When the dog is having trouble--while we do eventually want to expose them to higher levels of stress and difficulty to make them stronger--we don't want to do too much too soon and overwhelm them. Consider Atlas' progress typical at this stage in his boarding. He has learned the basics of all of his behaviors and now we are beginning to dip our toe into these deeper waters of high distractions. Atlas may have struggled at points but overall did well.
Atlas still needs the time to figure out his advantages with the prong and the e collar together. The e collar alone is still foreign to him and so I spent more time marrying the leash and the collar also in conjunction with my voice to make the order of operations clear to Atlas. In the video you will see Atlas at first struggle and then persevere through adversity, finally able to perform his obedience with only my voice and some additional guidance from the e collar. The leash is a guide but we don't want it to be a crutch so to speak. Tomorrow I will try weaning him from the prong again and in smaller steps to make it easier to understand.
Today with Atlas I began allowing him to drag a leash while we worked our obedience. There are still moments that I need to intervene and remind him what to do with the leash but he is primarily performing his behaviors by voice command and e collar stimulation. Generally Atlas is a sensitive dog and he needs a lot of encouragement. Where he gets frustrated is the finer details. He gets nearly into the right position, he heels nearly where he should...and when I ask for those slight adjustments he can lose his motivation. He will then get distracted or opt to disengage with the obedience so my main tool has been building his enthusiasm for our interactions so that when he does feel discouraged to any degree I can remind him what fun there is to be had more than have to rely on the leash or e collar stimulation. He overall is tolerating the e collar much better today.
Today Atlas was able to work off leash and without any assistance from a prong collar. I did occasionally need to help him by pulling gently on his collar but the vast majority of the time he worked from my voice alone. When I did need to reinforce with my e collar the level remains low and he doesn't need a lot of stimulation. That being said when he does get confused the best way to help him is with gentle pressure and consistency with the stimulation. For example I command Sit, he lays down, I apply stimulation and he tries to scratch at the collar rather than just sit....I gently apply pressure on the collar and continue using stimulation and he sits immediately. I am having him work already without the leash even with these occasional hiccups because he was getting distracted with the leash dragging. He is doing very well! Tomorrow I will be cleaning up his Come to Sit and Place commands off leash. He is currently performing all obedience behaviors but we want them to be fluid and fast as possible. His occasional confusion is easy to work through now that he knows what to do with the various layers of added help and in the same way we subtracted the prong we will continue until Atlas is off leash and free as can be!
Today Atlas and I continued to work on his off leash skills in general with special attention paid to come to sit and place. I used a long line as an extra layer of communication while working on come to sit at varying distances. Atlas' sensitivity to the e collar means he listens very well at low levels but in the instances that he is distracted at a distance, when the level needs to increase to get his attention it can sometimes startle him and he reacts by trying to avoid the behavior rather than follow through. The long line is helpful in these moments to remind him that no, you cannot avoid coming when you are called and you do have the answers for your success. The necessity for a solid recall cannot be stressed enough. It is the difference between a dog running into traffic or turning around before they reach the street. Atlas works well with lower distractions but tomorrow I want to expose him to a tougher environment and see how we can help him improve further. We also spent some time working on place and he has the idea already but still needs time to get it solid. We have plenty of time left and I am proud of his progress.
Today with Atlas I went to the Home Depot where we worked on off leash skills. I did have Atlas drag a slip lead while working because around the new distractions he needed occasional input but besides that he did very well. He is sensitive to the stimulation and also dramatic so it is important to both hold him accountable but make sure we are being fair to him at the same time. Consider that the level will change dynamically over the course of a training session and the most important factor for determining the best level is learning to read the dog. If he complains occasionally but overall is moving his feet and finding the right answers he is doing well. If he ignores the stimulation turn it up slowly until we have his attention. If he balks are the stimulation then we need to turn it down until he doesn't. With Atlas being dramatic and also sensitive I do know that at such low levels he isn't experiencing much in the way of unpleasant sensation, so I simply offer him more guidance and encouragement while he searches for the answer that turns the stimulation off. By "holding his hand" while he problem solves I am still giving him the keys to his success but not putting him in an unfair situation where he isn't likely to learn. Stress is good for learning if the dog is processing it, but if they become overwhelmed no learning can take place. For Atlas we have to be attentive to our tone and body language while working him around stress so we don't add any new stress to his load. He is getting tougher every day and will continue rising to the occasion with patience.
Today Atlas and I worked on making his "place" and "come" commands smoother. Atlas being sensitive to e collar stimulation means he can sometimes get distracted by the collar when we are using it to get his attention. To make sure he understands what the sensation means and it doesn't confuse him in those moments I intervene either with a leash that he is dragging or when we are totally off leash I will sometimes gently apply pressure to the collar itself. The idea isn't to quiz the dog but to build him with good habits. If he is always given the answers, even when we know he knows them, then it becomes a problem but as the dog is acquiring knowledge it is important to be a good leader and guide them through the process. The idea is to slowly remove the help and let the dog stand on his own while rewarding tremendously their good efforts and success. Atlas does need extra help sometimes but also he surprises me every day with how much more he can handle.
Today Atlas and I filmed his final video at Santa Monica Pier. He did very well! Considering how many new sounds and smells were there to distract him, especially being as sensitive as he is, Atlas was able to overcome and do very well. We also stopped on the way home at a park and I let him sniff around and enjoy himself a bit. Every single time we take the dog out doesn't need to be training but the balance of things should be to consider those special moments a reward for good work like Atlas did today. Of course we can enjoy time together but remember to ask for obedience before "break"ing the dog into the time spent on the couch etc.
Today Atlas and I worked on obedience out in public on the sidewalk. I am very proud of how far he has come! Atlas struggled in the beginning to adjust to the new normal of manners and obedience but now he finds comfort and relaxation from the familiarity of the behaviors when the environment is changing and potentially stressful. Keep in mind Atlas is sensitive but do keep exposing him to new environments and opportunities to grow. Good job, Atlas!
Today Atlas and I worked on loading him up with positive energy and praise. Remember that break is a great incentive and Atlas is getting stronger every day by working for a worthwhile reward. We have to continue to enforce the structure we create but the main motivation is positive interaction between people and dog. We want to love our dogs, but responsibly! Atlas has a lot to give and knows the rules so hold him accountable, with love.