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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hello All!!

So my wife and I have a 5 year old mix named Tucker (Beagle, American Eskimo, Pug, Terrier) that I'm finally getting around to begin training. The first 4-5 years my wife and I were together we spent building our businesses and rehabbing our house and now we have a 9 month old son so things just took priority. Now that I have the time to spend with him I can get to work on his obedience training! I figured I'd start a training log so that other people might learn from my trials and errors, as well as get any tips from people who have already been there. That being said, here's some background on our little guy.

Tucker is a 32lb mix breed and he's just an awesome little guy to have as part of our family. We recently had a DNA test done as we have always debated what he was made up of and suffice to say that we nailed the Beagle and Terrier part fairly easily, however the American Eskimo and Pug really surprised us. Physically, he is almost an exact 50/50 split between a Beagle and Eskimo. He has Beagle coloring and hair type, but Eskimo body shape. Personality wise, even though he's only 10% terrier, I feel it left a definite imprint as he is highly prey driven, digs like crazy for underground critters and always prefers to be burrowed under something. Around the house he is very calm and mostly just lays around but will def bring his Mr. Squirrel to play and will do that for hours if you're up for it. He's also highly food motivated. He will chase the ball all day at the beach, but will go immediately for that nice chunk of hot dog if you have it.

As far as training goes, my immediate goals are to get him to overcome his distractions and get him fluent in the basic obedience skills. Then I really want to get him into Flyball. I think he would love it and would be pretty good at it as he's very athletic and very fast, plus it would just be a lot of fun. So I started my clicker training about 3 or 4 months ago. I started with him simply making eye contact with me, then introduced a basic nose touch. Once I thought he had that down, I started on a recall. I was able to get him to recall very well in a low distraction environment, but had little success beyond that. Eventually I began to realize a whole bunch of mistakes I had made, first being that I never sat down and wrote out a plan, not just for training but also listing out his distractions from least to worst, then basing the plan around that. So I stopped the training for a few months to give it a chance to start fresh again, which is where I am at now.

With this second go around, as stated before, I wrote down a general outline as well as his distractions, with Mr. Squirrel being the top of the mountain. My first plan of action is to just work on his focus until I can get him to take a hotdog every time over any distraction, including Mr. Squirrel. All I want is for him to make eye contact and he gets a click and a treat. My feeling is if I can get him to do that all the way to the top, then getting the Sit's, Down's, Leave It's and hopefully Recall's to stick in all environments should be at least a little easier because I will have already developed a baseline behavior to focus on me regardless of what else is around him. So if it takes me weeks or months to get him to make eye contact with me under any scenario, so be it.

I'm also realizing the importance of food value. I figured out that he prefers hot dogs over store bought soft treats. Of course his favorite meal is steak scraps so as we progress our distraction difficulty, I might have to start with small pieces of cooked steak (medium rare of course, he's a connoisseur of sorts) then work my way back to just the store bought treats as his focus behavior continues to develop.

That all being said, the past two weeks I have really drilled in the low distraction stuff, then moved it into my garage with the garage door opened (garage is in the front of the house with a busy street). So with the door opened, but still inside the garage, he gets all the noises and smells, but only 25% visual distractions as he can only see what's outside the door. He picked that up pretty quick after a few sessions. Then we moved to the driveway. Again picked it up pretty quick, didn't really care for people walking by or other dogs. Loud cars would pause him occassionally, so I upgraded to hotdogs for a few sessions and no more pauses for those. So then I went back down to the store treats and still no pauses, so then we were good with that. I then moved to the sidewalk and each set of 10 reps I would move further down the sidewalk. We did two sessions of this until today when he saw a squirrel about 30 yards away and that was all she wrote.

So I stopped right there to avoid letting him think its ok to blow me off. I gave it some thought and I think we are going to focus on the food distractions until he gets that down. I have the food distractions as being one notch below Mr. Squirrel anyways, so again another mistake on my part for not sticking to my list. I did two sessions tonight in the kitchen while my wife cooked dinner as he ALWAYS stands next to her while shes cooking. He had no problem focusing on me while she cooked. So ill drill that a little more over the next few days, then I think I will start putting a small piece of meat under a pot or heavy bowl and see if he will focus on me over the bowl with that sweet smell of cooked burger meat underneath it. If not, then Ill have to figure out a food distraction that fits between my wife cooking and food underneath a bowl that he can overcome.

Anyways, that's where I am at. Sorry for the long windedness here, my updates will be much shorter lol. I'm always up for idea's, tips, pointers or whatever that I didn't think or am missing. See ya around!!

 

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Sounds like you have a good plan.

Are you doing doggy zen/it's your choice type stuff to get his attention? Basically you wait until he gives attention then give him what he wants, no cuing involved. Sassy had an intense prey drive and using that technique was able to wait then run to bark and jump at the treed squirrel. Eventually I was able to call her off fun stuff like that. She was a treat grabber and using doggy zen was able to teach it was hers but only when she took it gently. They learn very quickly, in a single session you would be able to put food on the floor but each session you start back at the first stage and move forward from there.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Ya that's basically the idea. I have been starting to begin each session with a simple set of reps with 0 distraction just to warm him up. Today I was able to get him to ignore the hotdogs under the salad bowl on the floor for two quick sets, no big deal. Then I did two more sets a few hours later with the bowl facing up, with hotdogs, covered with a piece of seran wrap so that he could see the hotdogs but not immediately get to them, again had no problems. Once I'm at the point where I have food just sitting out in the bowl, then I think I will put in less desirable food in there that I know he would prefer hot dog treats over, then slowly increase the value of the food in the bowl. If he can eventually ignore a few pieces of steak/bacon/chicken, then I think its safe to say we overcame our first big hurdle... :) we'll see what happens though!
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Hey all! So I've been working on "leave it" the past week. I started with food in a closed fist and worked on getting him to take one step back whenever he had the impulse to sniff/lick/investigate the food in my hand, then we gradually increased the time to reward up to ten seconds. Next we started back at 1 second with a caged fist so that he could see the food, then worked up to ten seconds. Then I did the same with open hand up to ten seconds. So far he is doing great and not getting too ancy and barking. We will be working with food on the floor next week and then once that is solid, we will work with food on a plate, then increase the value of the food (hotdogs, chicken, burger meat etc...). Additionally, I started working on toy games with him with the same "leave it" idea being that when I put my hand on the toy, he needs to calmly let go and take one step back. At the beach with a tennis ball, I do a couple of good throws just to take his edge off a bit, then I sit down and have him bring the ball right next to me. I then put my hand on the ball (in the past he would immediately grab it and we'd have to fight to get him to let go) and as soon as he let go, I clicked and threw the ball. Once he got the idea of letting go of the ball, I then worked on reinforcing his one step backward. It took two or three, 30 minute trips to the beach for him to get that down pretty solid. Now we are working on having him drop the ball in my hand, letting go, and taking one step back. He started to get the hang of it last time we went to the beach and became really good with it today at the beach. I have a 9 month old son right now so ultimately I want him to be able to gently drop the ball in his hand when he's old enough to actually throw it without worrying about an accidental bite. So far its been going great!!! I've definitely been making little mistakes that I have had to correct myself on as we go through this. One mistake being this long, stretchy toy that he has at home that he absolutely loves. Unlike a tennis ball, which I could cover with one hand and prevent him from getting any nibbles on it, the stretchy toy would always end up underneath him when he brought it back. This made it much more difficult to reinforce the "leave it" behavior because he would let go as he should, but then pulling the toy out from underneath him would trigger him to go in for another grab. So I think I'm going to get another toy that's similar, but much smaller and doesn't stretch, use that until he is able to handle it as well as the tennis ball, then bring the stretchy toy back into the mix. Hopefully the smaller, non stretchy toy will bridge the gap a little so as to make it a bit easier when I bring back the stretchy toy. We'll see what happens!
 

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Sounds like you're making a lot of progress!

I'd be wary about requiring a step back away from the thing being "left", however, for a couple of reasons. One, it can encourage a dog to fixate on the thing being left even though they're backing away from it, but requiring the step backwards can also bite you in the butt if you're doing sports things. I've started requiring eye contact, instead of backing away from the thing.
 

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I use the treat in hand the other way around too. I start not opening my hand unless eyes on me and I work it until I can wave my open hand around and dog can keep eyes on me. I did this mostly with grabby adult Sassy to soften her treat taking. At the finish I was doing slow airplane zooms and she got the treat if I could get it next to her nose without any grabs from her. She thought this idiotic and humored me. Really all I needed to do to soften her take was to slow down myself.
 

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I use the treat in hand the other way around too. I start not opening my hand unless eyes on me and I work it until I can wave my open hand around and dog can keep eyes on me. I did this mostly with grabby adult Sassy to soften her treat taking. At the finish I was doing slow airplane zooms and she got the treat if I could get it next to her nose without any grabs from her. She thought this idiotic and humored me. Really all I needed to do to soften her take was to slow down myself.
I wish slowing down the treats softened Snowballs grabbing, but all it does is make me less likely to get my fingers out of the way in time. -_- I have given up, and am switching to a treat tube. (For other reasons too - like he's missing two lower teeth directly across from each other so if his head is tilted at all while taking it, the treat falls out of his mouth. :doh: )
 
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