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  • Writer's pictureMcKenna Caskey

Dolly | Blue Heeler / McNab | Upland, CA | In-Training


Meet Dolly!

She is a 6-month-old Blue Heeler mix from Upland, CA. She has joined OffLeash SoCal's Two-Week Board & Train Program to work on her obedience training. Dolly needs help with leash manners, performing and holding obedience cues, and exposure to following through with them in the presence of distractions. Dolly also needs help with home-manners, such as not jumping on the sofa and not barking all the time. Dolly also needs help with greeting manners, as she is notorious for jumping on people. Dolly does not listen to her owners, and is very selective when she does. She can be stubborn if there is something else she would rather do, and is in her rebellious teenage phase.


Stay tuned for her 14 day transformation.

 

5/15/2023

I picked Dolly up from Mike yesterday afternoon, and she spent the remainder of the day acclimating to me, my home, and my pack. She was a bit nervous, particularly around the larger dogs, but she adjusted to my personal dogs well. 


This morning we had our first training session at Walnut Grove Park in Anaheim. Mike did a wonderful job setting Dolly up for success during her first few days of her training program. She has been introduced to many behaviors and commands, and heels nicely. It took us a bit of time to get into the swing of things, which can be typical when changing handlers as there isn’t an established working relationship yet. 


Dolly hadn’t been able to jump into Mike’s car for “car manners”, so we worked on that first thing today prior to heading to the meet up with other OLSC trainers. It took many attempts, but Dolly was able to successfully leap onto my tailgate and into the transport kennel. We repeated the process several times while at the park and on the way home. Now that Dolly and I know that she can leap, we will practice the ‘manners’ portion of the behavior, where she sits patiently until provided a verbal & visual cue “load up” with an open palm facing up directing her to the car. This piece is important, as we don’t always want our pups jumping into the car whenever there is an opportunity. 


We continued to work on Dolly’s leaping skills, and practiced ‘place’ on several elevated surfaces at the park, indulging playground equipment and benches. These exercises help build confidence in engaging with higher platforms, and an overall sense of accomplishment. Dolly was a bit apprehensive with placing on some things, but with repeated attempts she got the hang of it. 


Dolly was a bit hesitant to offer “down”, but did so after providing additional visual cues and attempts. Dolly has a habit of going into a down when asked for an extended-sit. When we give our dogs a cue, we expect them to remain in that position until instructed otherwise. To remedy her propensity to go into a down, I would apply gentle leash-pressure upwards while moving into Dolly’s space. As I did this, Dolly would pop up back into a sit, at which point I would provide a marker-word ‘yes’ and reinforce with praise. This behavior still needs work, but we are off to a good start in her understanding.

 

Dolly and I also worked on increasing duration and distance to her extended sit/down/place. She broke cue several times, which is expected early in her program. If Dolly broke cue, I would immediately provide verbal-corrective cue “ah-ah!” as moved forward to bring her back to the correct location and position. Letting a dog know when they don’t do something correctly is just as important as letting them know when they do. It is all about communication in efforts to help speed the training process along. 

 

5/16/2023

Dolly and I went to Pearson Park in Anaheim to work on her obedience training. The first 5-10 minutes were practiced with a longline dragging, but since Dolly was listening well and maintained good engagement with me, she was offleash for the majority of the session. 


Herding breeds tend to fixate on smaller animals, so the ducks and geese at the park provided a nice distraction. Dolly was uneasy about turning her back to them in the beginning, but was able to perform lengthy extended sits while in close proximity. 


We practiced place on different benches and platforms. Dolly was hesitant with these new objects, and insisted on only placing her front feet on them in the beginning. We would reset at a bit of a distance, and quickly move towards them to help Dolly build momentum. She eventually placed on all objects we tried, but I made sure to set her up so she could be successful and continue to build confidence. 


Dolly started barking when she saw a small child running in the grass about 20-25ft from her while she was in an extended place on a bench. She had held that cue for a long period of time, since it was a nice shaded area where she could cool off. When she barked, I used corrective cue “ah-ah” and got her focus back on me. After keeping her attention on me, I gave her her release-word ‘break!’ to complete the cue. 


Dolly really enjoys an animated handler while she is working. She is a high-energy dog, and added movement and verbal communication do a lot to pique her interest and engagement. This method helped Dolly keep her focus on me while practicing tight turns during her heel, and she lived up to the breed name of “Heeler” (haha). She was able to pivot and turn with me in zig-zags while maintaining pace and not getting under-foot, and she seemed to have a genuinely good time doing so! 


To prevent Dolly from getting distracted and to pick up her speed during come-to-sit, I would utilize the same animation by quickly walking backwards. This was also beneficial in obtaining the correct positioning for the loop-around and sitting at heel— if Dolly seemed like she was approaching on the left vs the right, I would continue to move backwards and use my hand as a target for Dolly to hone in on. 


Dolly prefers to work at a low-level ecollar stim. I noticed that if I went above a 10-15, she would run about 7-10ft away. Humans barely begin to feel ecollar stimulation at those levels. Further work is needed to build the appropriate association between the ecollar stim and desired response. This can be achieved by using leash-pressure to guide the dog through the motions. Darting off, even short distances, may be unsafe and we want to make sure Dolly understands what the stimulation means. 


Dolly practiced car manners to and from the park. She was eager to jump in as soon as I opened the tailgate, but I used the ‘body block’ technique to reclaim space between Dolly and my car & get her back into a seated position. After she held her sit and maintained focus, I offer the verbal cue ‘load up’ to which she happily obliged. She is still a bit awkward in her leaping skills. 

 

5/17/2023

Dolly and I went to Huntington Beach Pier and Boardwalk for her training today. It offered unique distractions in high quantity, and was a great place to practice what Dolly has been working on the previous days in lower-distraction environments.


Dolly was kept on her longline for the first 10-15 minutes of the training session to ensure she was in the right mindset, and not overwhelmed by all the new & many stimuli. If a pup is overwhelmed and anxious, flighty behavior is usually more pronounced. Dolly did well, though, and worked offleash for the majority of the session (I would leash her back up when in parking lots or close to PCH). 


Dolly is getting much better at place, and more confident with leaping. Dolly broke cues a few times, but started picking up that corrective “ah-ah!” means to stop and listen for her re-cue. 


Dolly performed well around the many distractions, although she did start running towards a pigeon at one point. She was quick to correct and get back into a down position, and did not do the behavior again despite walking within a foot of two of them. 


We spent a lot of time working on heel and increasing her engagement and focus— she is excelling at heel. In addition to heel, we devoted a lot of the session to come-to-sit and it’s correct positioning. 

 

Dolly and I went to Santa Monica Pier for her training session today. This was, by far, the most challenging environment she has been in, with tons of different distractions and heavy foot traffic. 


After the car ride there, I took Dolly to a grassy patch to potty— she was more interested in heeling and working, so we continued on our adventure. 


Dolly really seems to enjoy her training and engagement, and was able to adjust well to all of the stimuli. We walked around the back part of the pier next to the rides, where I was able to see where Dolly was at in regards to reaction to loud noises (something she had struggled with). She was a little jumpy at first, but took them in stride. When we moved towards the middle of the pier, though, she did get overwhelmed and began to shake. My guess is the waves crashing under the pier and around us may have been a little much. 


We moved towards the front of the pier, closer to or over the shore, so that Dolly would maintain confidence and her ability to focus, and she continued to perform very well. Dolly hit a few snags on come-to-sit and place, but halfway through her program, there is still plenty of time to polish those up. She maintained extended positions well, but did break cue a couple of times. Overall, I was very happy with Dolly’s performance! 

 

5/19/2023


Dolly and I primarily worked on home manners, offleash heeling around the neighborhood, and cue differentiation today. With Dolly’s fast-paced introduction to high-distraction environments I thought she could use a bit of a breather today (although she’s been very active and happily socializing during her downtime). 


Dolly heeled well during our walk and was in sync with me in both position and pace. There were only a few verbal corrections needed when she veered to sniff. I would have Dolly heel, and then released her to go towards whatever she was interested in.


Although it is fair to let Dolly sniff, I want it to be on my terms. I will often take note of my dog’s favorite places to investigate, and proactively turn it into a training session. Breaks for your dog to get what they want is another great reward—particularly for OffLeash dogs, which can have more freedom. 

We worked on door/crate manners, good manners, and door manners— requiring Dolly to sit/down/place patiently before being rewarded with praise, her meal, or access through a threshold.


There are always great opportunities to practice good behavior in the home, which in turn creates a calmer cohabitant. Dolly has a particular tendency to get excited going through the front door or the door to the yard. She wants to run ahead, so we worked on maintaining composure and staying with me. We also extended this composure towards her car manners, and she has been much better about not trying to leap as soon as I open the tailgate. 

 

5/20/2023

Dolly and I walked to TeWinkle Park in Costa Mesa. We practiced offleash heeling during the entire session, but I brought a slip lead just in case it was needed. Dolly is very good about sitting whenever I stop, but sometimes she needs a verbal reminder. We worked on keeping her focus and engagement during heeling by doing quick direction changes, altering pace, and stopping randomly. This rapid-fire approach keeps Dolly’s mind busy, and the barrage of marker-words and verbal praise really boosts her confidence. 


Dolly veered off course a few times and needed low ecollar stim paired with verbal reminders when we came close to yappy small dogs, or over excitable dogs. She only moved about 6-8” away, but lost focus on me while fixating on them. 


Dolly had a tougher time with extended sit at a distance, and  did not respond to verbal corrections or ecollar stim. She continued to move towards me, which isn’t terrible, but still not ideal. We had been practicing come-to-sit so much that she may be expecting that cue early. This will be something we practice more in order to polish it up. 


We also practiced place on new objects, focusing on more challenging platforms like awkwardly shaped trees and rocks. Dolly was a little hesitant with some, but easily encouraged to try them out.


Dolly definitely has the most energy out of all the dogs at my home, and is usually the last one standing. Her favorite playmates are my two personal dogs, which are both shepherds, and she even outlasts them!

 

5/21/2023

Dolly and I went for an offleash walk around the neighborhood in the morning. I remembered the spots she had been interested in, and proactively asked for a stop-to-sit & extended sit before giving her the release word ‘break!’ She still doesn’t seem to understand that this means she gets free-time, since she usually always ‘breaks’ by running to me. I can only assume she associates it’s with ‘it’s time for petting’. We also use the term for other manners, such as food and door manners, so she does understand that it means ‘go through the door’ ‘come out of the kennel’ and ‘eat your food’. 

We practiced all of Dolly’s other obedience cues during our walk as well. She paid less attention to the dogs we came across, but still showed slightly more than a neutral interest. 


Later in the day, we worked on home manners. In addition to working food-manners at every meal, we  spent time practicing door manners at the front door. This is a good spot to ask Dolly to “place” and hold an extended down. If you have company coming over, it is a wonderful opportunity to practice impulse control, and ensure she calms down if she has a tendency to become overly excited when guests are over. 


We have also been working on manners while out in the yard, including not barking at noises or people passing behind the fence and not trying to turn things that aren’t toys into playthings.

 

5/22/2023

Dolly and I went to Wilderness Park in Downey to work on her offleash obedience training. We met up with other OLSC trainers so Dolly got the opportunity to work closely around other dogs while still following through with her cues. This is an excellent distraction since Dolly had a more-than-neutral response to other dogs while at the park the other day.


Dolly performed very well, and was able to be OffLeash the entire session, while still needing small ecollar corrections every now and then. Dolly did have an issue with holding her position while I gave attention to other dogs and received several corrections for this behavior. The corrections were mild, as Dolly may just be getting the crouched down posture confused with her release cue. 


Since Dolly has been doing so well with her obedience training, we emphasized extracurricular cues come-to-heel and send-away-to-place. Both of these commands are typically taught in our Three Week Program, however Dolly really enjoys her training and loves a challenge. There are still some cues that need more polishing up, but Dolly certainly has the capacity to build on new commands in the process. 


With Dolly’s eagerness to train, learn, and engage, combined with her energy, she would be a great candidate for agility training. She is a very smart, hyper dog that benefits from mental and physical stimulation. 

 

5/23/2023

Dolly and I returned to Huntington Beach Pier & Boardwalk to work on her offleash obedience. Dolly did very well and seems confident around higher distractions, but can still get a little jumpy with loud noises (such as bikes going over a loud metal panel on the ground). Her response is more diminished than before, however, and she regains composure quickly. 


We practiced all of her obedience cues, including her new extracurricular commands. She is getting much better about not breaking extended cues regardless of distance, duration, or distractions. Her heel continues to be very focused and tight, and she performs best with an animated handler that exhibits high energy. This makes her feel good and be extra excited about working. 


Later in the day, we walked around the neighborhood and worked on building Dolly’s understanding of the release-word ‘break!’  I would take a few steps, offer the break cue, take another few steps, offer break cue, and repeat the process until Dolly would show interest in something else other than me. When she began to do her own thing, I would mark and provide verbal praise. I want to make sure Ms Dolly can be able to enjoy the freedom the ecollar provides and not stay glued to me the entire time we are out. 

 

5/24/2023

Dolly and I returned to Santa Monica Pier to work on obedience in high distraction environments and gain exposure performing in challenge situations. Dolly did very well, but went into a down when asked for extended sit on a couple occasions. She would also get confused when corrected, and proceed with come-to-sit instead of fixing the current behavior. This may be due to jitters from all the stimuli, which may have been a little overwhelming. Dolly coped well, however, and seemed happy to be there working. 


Her heel was nearly flawless, and she maintained excellent focus and engagement, despite all the commotion. She ignored birds, which she had struggled with intermittently through her program, and was unfazed by most noises and distractions (even a gentleman whistling to get her attention, and passerby’s reaching out to her while she was in an extended cue). Dolly’s come to sit and extended cues are looking sharp, but Dolly prefers extended down. Extended down is my preference as well, since it tends to be more effective for longer cues. We still want Dolly to remain in an extended sit when asked for one, so we correct back into the desired position before offering Dolly the ‘down’ command. 


Later in the day we polished up home-manners, which Dolly also performed well on. If she is overly excited about the door or car, it is important to make sure she focuses. Her impulse control has gotten much better, but once in a blue moon she has a harder time. I will make sure to explain to her owners how to deal with an excitable Dolly during her pickup tomorrow. 


Dolly is so excited to be reunited with her family and show them all of her wonderful achievements and skills she has learned during her program! 


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