Training with adolescent dogs
This is Brax. He is an adolescent Australian Labradoodle. I love training the adolescent dogs. Their minds are still learning quickly but mostly I love their changing behaviours.
For the first 12 months our puppies are with their puppy raiser. Barb does an amazing job giving the puppies love, play and positive life experiences. So, when Brax came back to me he is confident and relaxed.
A part of his life as a puppy was learning how to walk on a leash without pulling and some polite behaviours such as sitting for a pat and coming when called as well as other basics in obedience.
Brax has been with me for a few months and in the coming 10 months he will be playing a lot of games with me, going to lots of places to increase his life experiences and advance his already great obedience skills to a higher standard of reliability.
The games we play will all be gradually advanced until they become cued tasks. For instance, we play tug of war with a rope toy. When Brax shakes his head vigorously from side to side, I stand still and say and do nothing. As soon as he pulls straight back to try and get the rope toy from me I say “Pull”. I let Brax have the toy then and he gets excited about ‘winning’ the game. Over time I increase my expectations of him before I release the toy. This game leads to the dog pulling on a rope to open a cupboard, drawer or door.
Every dog is different in how they respond to the training games and that is a challenge that makes my experience with these wonderful animals so rewarding. During the games the dogs confidence is built and so is their enjoyment of doing the assistance dog tasks and obedience behaviours.
This may sound like I only use play rewards. If I did that it would be limiting my opportunities to provide rewards for excellent advancement of a task or behaviour. So, the rewards used include breakfast or dinner, other food the dog loves like Love’m Liver Treats or chews, me laying on the ground and letting them initiate play, bringing out a favourite toy for play either with me or letting them destroy a soft squeaky toy on their own.
I also use other training games to reward the previous game. Deciding whether to do this is dependent on the individual dog, their level of excitement at that time and how far along they are in the training. If I do add another game then it has to be something that the dog really enjoys and is highly likely to be successful at acquiring a multi reward. A multi reward is where the dog is provided with a variety of rewards. For instance it might be a food treat first, then play with me, followed by a massage, then dinner and finally a chew or toy to enjoy alone.
In the past few months Brax has been enjoying games of tug and is now opening one cupboard door with a rope and will soon move on to other cupboards, drawers and doors. He has also started being directed to pulling socks off. I have the ability to train dogs within a few hours or days to do these types of tasks but that doesn’t build up the strong enjoyment for the dog when it successfully interprets and performs a task or behaviour.
It’s not always smooth sailing and I admit to sometimes making mistakes. Last night I had an urgent call of nature just after I had put the food bowls on the floor for the three dogs that are here. I failed to get the old dog started on eating his meal before I left. He eats fast so I can leave the room after he starts to eat because the other two eat slower. Because I didn’t ask him to start eating (he is old and forgets to eat sometimes but once he starts to eat he keeps going) he just stood there and I walked in to see Brax, who had already finished his own food, finishing off the last of the old dogs food.
Just in case you ask, I didn’t yell at or punish Brax in any way. It was my error and he didn’t do anything ‘wrong’. Eating is a normal instinct.
Anyway, after eating such a large amount he relaxed for a while and then came the need to expel some energy. This resulted in Brax being too rough in his play with the small dog and so the small dog was brought into the house. Brax then jumped straight into a crazy kind of rough play with the old dog.
Now, here comes the learning experience for Brax. I planned to throw out some new squeaky, plush and crunchy toys for Brax and call the old dog to come inside. Instead, arms full of toys, I opened the back door and Brax, who is usually very calm when entering the door, raced past me and down the long hallway to the living room, jumped on all the furniture, raced back down the hallway and straight to the treats cupboard where he bounced at it excitedly. So, what would you do?
This is what I did. I stayed at the open back door and said Brax’s name and gave the cue and vocal request to go outside. I didn’t laugh because that could reinforce the running and jumping indoors, which he has never done here before and I’m confident that he didn’t do this at the puppy raisers either.
I still had the toys in my arms and Brax ran outside with excited expectation. I calmly closed the door and walked inside to put the toys away. I had a quick glance and the disappointment on Brax’s face was obvious.
After putting the toys away I returned to the back door where I cued and asked Brax to sit which he did easily. Then I opened the door and he entered in the way he normally would which is calmly and staying with me. I then gave him a cue that let’s him know that he is free to move around on his own as we wouldn’t be doing any training. He chose to calmly walk to where I keep the toys.
This was now an opportunity for me to give Brax what he clearly wanted. He wanted a toy and the description of a reward has to be that a reward is what the dog wants. Then I let him carry the toy outside to play with. He went back to running but this time in the backyard with a toy which he happily destroyed in a few minutes.
Now, I could also have decided not to give him the toy and in some instances I would choose that option. However, on this occasion I had a dog that had eaten way too much for dinner and was clearly experiencing a period where he needed to expend some energy. Had I of brought him inside it is most likely that he would of found it difficult to relax. He is trained to lay still on a mat and he would have done that but he would not have been relaxed. That is not a healthy state and can lead to behaviour or even psychological problems over a period of time.
Brax eventually settled down on his own and slept soundly all night.
I hope you enjoyed this insight into some of the training I and the team at Miracle Assistance Dogs apply when training the dogs. Training adolescent dogs is a whole lot of fun.