Big Poppa | Rottweiler/Labrador Mix | La Crescenta, CA | In Training
Big Poppa is a 7 month old Rottweiler/Labrador Mix from La Crescenta, California who is joining OffLeash SoCal's 3 Week Board and Train Program to address general obedience as well as separation anxiety. In addition he play bites, jumps when excited and steals articles of clothing to play the 'come catch me game. The plan for Poppa is to first build a relationship. We then show him obedience behaviors I want him to perform on command and finally using those behaviors to help overcome Poppa's anxiety, naughty behavior and any other potential issues we identify in the process. Stay tuned for Poppa's 3 week transformation!
Today with Poppa was all about diagnosing his unique set of characteristics. Poppa is a sweet young dog who is largely lacking in direction. I brought him to a park where families were gathering and celebrating for Mother's Day--Happy Mother's Day! Poppa is equally as distracted by a blade of grass as he is a party of people which shows me with some guidance he will be able to ignore these distractions as his reaction is curious and interested rather than fearful. With fear we take a slightly different approach than over excitement. For Poppa so far his separation anxiety hasn't been an issue but time will tell. His anxiety will show itself to us and when it does the answer will be to keep his mind busy problem solving for obedience so he isn't focused on distractions.
Today I introduced Poppa to the stimulation of the e collar in conjunction with leash pressure. Sometimes dogs like Poppa can tolerate the stimulation very easily and training is a breeze right from the start. So far he only needed to learn an association between pulling on the leash and feeling the e collar stimulation to decide for himself he doesn't like that. He went from trying to drag me down the street to walking nicely for me rather quickly. Of course progress isn't always so linear but hopefully he continues this well. He did whine some in the crate but again only a small lesson with the e collar showed him he would rather relax. He has a naturally high tolerance for the sensation so I am working now to get him listening to as low a level as possible so we can retain nuance and make sure we are fair and balanced with our tools. Remember the e collar is for communicating, not punishment.
Today with Poppa was about adding some distance and duration to his behaviors. He is a very smart boy! We go out and exercise and see the sights around my neighborhood in the morning and he is already working very nicely for me. I want to challenge him a little and keep that brain occupied so I am already increasing the difficulty by having him wait for longer periods of time before releasing him to me for a reward. He is very interested in me and wants to interact so when there are distractions so far he hasn't needed much help to keep focused. He hasn't been anxious or making a fuss in the crate. Remember that a dog like Poppa who feels anxiety can also redirect his attention to a task if we show him what we want and how to do it. By encouraging Poppa past distractions in public we toughen his mind for those occasional noises from the outside world that upset him in the house. By experiencing more his frame of reference for what is normal grows and his anxiety decreases! We also went jogging for about 2 miles this morning. He did really well. I am monitoring him to make sure he doesn't have any strain from the exercise and so far so good.
Today with Poppa we worked on using as little pressure as possible with the leash. Poppa has shown a great fluency with the behaviors I am teaching to him. The goal for our training is off leash freedom and in these early stages the sooner the dog is able to grasp that working with us is the key to his advantage, the sooner we can trust him to move in the world without a leash. Poppa is able to stay motivated with low levels of distractions so the next step with his new skills is to increase the challenge yet again. Tomorrow we will be going to the Santa Monica Pier to see if he is able to use what he has learned to keep himself comfortable and focused on me instead of reacting to his surroundings.
Today with Poppa was about distractions. We worked with some fellow trainers at Santa Monica Pier and were able to perform various obedience behaviors with little to no pressure from the leash. In order to maximize the dog's understanding of the e collar I like to make sure they first understand what I am asking with leash pressure. I have introduced the stimulation to Poppa previously and with today's good effort at the Pier I feel confident about tomorrow and going forward marrying the leash pressure and the stimulation together until Poppa is fluent enough to lose the leash and graduate to our next steps.
Today with Poppa was all about marrying the sensation of the e collar with the light touch we have developed with the slip lead. Poppa has become quite sensitive with the signals I can give on a slip lead so the transition to e collar fluency and off leash freedom is going smoothly. Previously Poppa has worn the collar and felt the sensation in a manner I refer to as a "hot stove moment". When Poppa would sniff around and want to investigate something potentially dangerous or unhealthy (sometimes people will leave food on the ground, there may be poison or hazardous chemicals etc) I would use the stim to make an association between the environment--in this case something we want him to leave alone--and an unpleasant sensation. By combining his previous experience with the nuanced approach to leash pressure we have used thus far, Poppa is able to quickly and clearly turn the pressure off on his own and seek his advantage in the obedience I have asked of him. What that means ultimately is when we make the command the dog knows he will be nagged until he complies and also he knows when he complies he gets rewarded handsomely. The balanced approach is about showing the dog how to police his own behavior in search of reward.
Today Poppa and I worked on his impulse control around the front door. Dogs look at entrances and doorways as being highly exciting. In order to maintain our hard work building the dog's attention span we need to ask him to behave in a wide variety of environments. The area immediately available to Poppa is my living room and he is expected to behave in the living room, walking to the front door and coming back inside as well. In order to make the information general enough for Poppa to apply to new environments we need to practice in EVERY environment. The home and the front door are uniquely tempting because of the back and forth activity as well as usually not having to practice good obedience in the same place the dog recieves consitent rewards just for existing. Meaning if Poppa has to choose between listening or ignoring me in the house he will default to what has paid him in the past. Make practice an everyday addition to your lifestyle and practice everywhere the dog will be.
Today with Poppa we continued to work on his Off Leash skills. Poppa is sometimes making noise in the middle of the night but for the most part is learning to relax and settle in the crate. Poppa does unfortunately already know the difference between wearing the collar and being naked. This means I will be spending some time working on this by having him wear a second collar and removing it while he is still under control. Poppa knowing when he has the collar on ultimately makes him self-aware and helps to encourage him to behave while he is out and about but he will need to occasionally practice wearing it in his crate to relax or he will take advantage and attempt to be disruptive to get attention. When he barks in the crate we can command the dog "off" and reinforce with stimulation. We can remove the collar as soon as they are settled for a few minutes and relaxing. The repetitions of intentional practice help to reinforce our off command for those moments the dog may not have on his collar. Remember that we need to build powerful associations for the commands so that we can use our voice primarily and only reinforce as needed.
Today Poppa and I continued to work on his off leash skills as well as the place command specifically. With "Place" it is best to use something easily discernible from its surroundings. For example a change in height, texture/material and etc. The dog needs to be able to understand the specific area we are limiting them to so they can police their own behavior. It is acceptable for the dog to sit in place but generally I find they are easier to maintain the place position longer if they are laying down. I like for the down in place to be automatic but if the dog is having any trouble like Poppa here in the initial stages, I do give them assistance with leash pressure and my voice.
Today Poppa continued to improve and was able to work independently from leash pressure for the most part. We worked with fellow trainers and their dogs at a local park. With other dogs walking by being trained and the loud noises of landscaping equipment in the middle distance, Poppa was able to maintain a strong focus on me the entire time. We want to encourage the dog to pay attention to the handler as much as possible so they will naturally trust your leadership and judgement. If the reflex turns from staring at another dog barking into first checking in and looking at the handler then the obedience has done its job. Consider the ways you could guide your dog's attention span to better navigate previously challenging environments.
Today Poppa and I worked on adding distance and duration to his behaviors. We ask the dog to maintain their position and walk to the end of our leash initially, creating the first level of distance in the behavior. When a dog can reliably perform at the end of the leash and when they have shown me a reliable recall, I will drop the leash and go farther away. Poppa has a strong understanding of the positions at this point and while he occasionally follows and makes mistakes I am able to create space between us with distractions present. He has a strong focus for the handler that is easy to engage with and keep him busy. So long as the dog is more interested in us than the surroundings we can expose them to greater levels of distraction and keep them rewarded and motivated to obey. Remember that obedience is a game and with Poppa his desire to extract rewards is strong, so when encountering potential distractions aim to occupy his mind with a task rather than be concerned about having to stop negative behavior. If he has a job to do he will police himself!
Today Poppa and I worked on the "break" command. I use break as a huge reward of play before letting the dog relieve themselves. They associate the end of working with a massive rush of excitement and happiness. This positive association over time is evident in the obedience itself. The dog actually craves working for us because he knows this is all a big game he controls and he enjoys. Remember we are working as a team and when we reinforce our commands it is only that 1 percent more than the dog is resistant. So in the case of a dog like Poppa, we rarely have to use more than a low level and he is able to benefit greatly from the deep understanding of his costs versus benefit. He knows following the rules is fun and he loves it, while misbehaving is not so fun. Keeping things simple and clear help Poppa to maintain his positive attitude in any variety of situations so long as we offer him kind and patient guidance.
Today Poppa and I worked on his fear of large crowds. We went to the Del Amo Fashion Mall and while Poppa wasnt bothered by the flooring, the sounds, the elevator or any number of environmental elements that stress dogs, he did have trouble with crowds of people. We spent time working through his obedience around the fear to show him a better way to process his emotions. Remember that dogs aren't robots! It is important to consider his emotional state while training and to harness that information to build him up stronger and more resilient to the world at large. The number one tool for us is time. Patience will get you to the end faster than rushing! So relax and work the obedience around the stress and reward the good effort.
Today I worked on Send Away to Place with Poppa. He already understands the place command but we are working on the concept from a distance. The process is simple but it does require consistency like all things in dog training. I simply ask the dog for the place incrementally farther away until I am able to gesture at an appropriate spot and Place him from afar. Poppa does well with listening but he isn't very confident climbing on various objects so I spent some time today helping him to generalize his understanding of what is a good place and how to approach climbing up. He has plenty of strength and coordination but he is lacking in confidence. With a few repetitions he does well with getting up onto places but he does need the time to get familiar.
Today with Poppa we worked on the "Under" command. He hasn't practiced this at all before the video and was able to figure out what I am asking him to do rather quickly! Remember how Poppa would pull and be so strong on the leash? He has developed a very soft and easy going relationship with leash pressure so now I am easily able to guide him into the proper position. Going forward I will marry this experience with the ecollar stimulation in the same process as the other behaviors he has learned thus far. Poppa has a strong desire to work and a will to please, so if we properly engage his mind he has a great time problem solving and working together.
Today Poppa and I continued to work on the send to place command. Send to place has an extra challenge because the dog has more opportunity to make a poor decision on the way to the place object. The goal is to make the dog desire the place more than any potential distractions on his journey. When working on obedience it is important to keep in mind the dog's mood. We want them to be excited and happy going into the work itself so feel free to take a moment to play and get them feeling good before asking for a behavior. The entire experience should be plainly and obviously rewarding to the dog so use your voice as much as possible and be enthusiastic.
Today Poppa and I continued to work out the rough spots with the Send Away to Place command. Poppa did very well! The secret to training any dog any thing is breaking down the steps into understandable pieces and then putting them together once the dog becomes fluent. In this case we are asking the dog to leave our side (something opposite the Heel command they have been practicing) and to stay on a place and hold a position. It is actually a pretty complicated process! Poppa did have some trouble leaving me because he learned the heel so well but he just needed the practice to cement the concept of going all the way to the place object and not stopping to come back to my side. For more complicated behaviors we can always go slow and help the dog as much as necessary! There is no rule that says we have to only quiz their knowledge and not tutor them, so make sure if he is struggling that you try to add some directional information in the form of a hand signal or even a leash. Then as he understands slowly remove the help again. Training is about 1 percent improvement each session and then the magic is looking back and seeing just how much progress they make.
Today Poppa and I worked on all of the skills he will use during our Final Video shoot. Poppa is nearly finished with his training and at this point we are polishing all of the behaviors he has learned. Consider how far Poppa has come over the last few weeks with me and be proud of the effort your dog has made. Day in and day out Poppa brings himself to training ready to work and willing to learn! While he has a strong foundation to carry with him for the rest of his life it is up to us as his handlers and caretakers to ensure he is practicing his valuable skills. When we work the training into our daily routine and treat it as the language we use to communicate going forward, the dog will get plenty of practice all the time.
Poppa and I filmed his Final Video at the Santa Monica Pier and he did so very well! I am incredibly proud of all of his progress and I cannot wait to show off his skills at drop off. Poppa has been an exceptional student and something to consider is I haven't had to medicate him for his anxiety a single time while in my care. I think with adequate stimulation during walks and the structure of his new normal you can achieve the same results consistently. Poppa has a tremendous work ethic and he loves to please so think about all of the wonderful opportunities to share in the world together that teach him better manners which as a bonus are just fun to do! Training isn't a chore it is a key to the freedom we all dream of for our dogs. Good luck and remember how far we have come!
Today Poppa and I played! As previously mentioned- Break is a big jackpot to use in order to build motivation. However a way to jackpot the jackpot so to speak is to go out to train and ask for something easy, then immediately play for an extended period of time. We don't do this often but when we do a play day even once a week we bring a huge amount of commitment to the obedience in general. If the dog knows that sometimes we have a crazy awesome time he is always working towards this bonus, rather than going through the motions.
Today with Papa we walked around the neighborhood and took it easy while doing our obedience behaviors. I like to let a dog enjoy their time on a walk by giving them more time to sniff around and explore during a "break" between behaviors. For example I ask the dog to heel and when I see a good spot to stop for a bathroom break I release with the "break" command and play as usual. When they are sniffing around and being free I give them more time to explore. This helps to promote the idea that the free period is highly desirable as well as the playing that proceeds it. By making the freedom a consistent reward we also get to practice a recall while the dog is enjoying themselves. Dogs often don't want to come back when they have that taste of freedom and haven't practiced being obedient again so I use this time to proof against the dog deciding running off and exploring is more valuable than our game of obedience we practice. Keep in mind that I don't do this every day or every walk and much like yesterday's extended play session I use the extended period of freedom to cement the value of working for the handler.