Oz Working Dogs - Assistance & Working Dog Equipment

For assistance/service dog equipment, as well as guide, therapy, detection, search & rescue, police and dogs in training equipment check out my website http://www.ozworkingdogs.com.au - I make and sell vests, capes, belly bands, harnesses, handles and more... and will post to the world!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Happy 6 month birthday, Knightley! Amazing progress

So, Knightley turned 6 months old today. Time sure has flown! He is becoming much much more easy to care for, taking far less time and attention than he used to. I know a lot of people start having trouble around this age, but so far I am extremely happy with his behaviour. We'll see how the next couple of months shape up. A lot of adolescent dogs are given up to pounds and rescues or even abandoned during that trying age, because their owners just don't know how to handle them. I think by getting a sound general obedience background from an early age, Knightley's trying behaviour should be at least minimised. So far, apart from separation anxiety (which may be somewhat my fault), he is as good as gold.

Knightley very happy (and dirty!) at the dog park. He is getting
good training there to sit infront of people to get attention and pats
instead of jumping up. I haven't seen him jump up on a person
once, although I can see him visibly tempted with the kids that go
with their parents! He really loves kids and they tend to excite him.
One of his more annoying habits was jumping up on people when excited, but I think I have got that fairly well under control now. The cure was simple, but took consistency and treats on hand all day. Basically when he was excited, and it was likely he would jump up, I would start clicking (or saying yes! if I didn't have a clicker on hand) for him keeping all four feet on the floor. If he jumped up, I would freeze and become as boring as possible, until the four feet were on the floor again. I counted 1-thousand 2-thousand after the front feet dropped down, then click/treat and LOTS of praise. I specifically want him to sit to say hello to people, so I am asking for a sit often when I come out in the morning, or come home from work. Now he knows that is what I want, so I click the instant he sits down, and the praise starts.... which is what he really wants in this particular scenario. Usually I focus on treats as the reward, but when he is just itching to be patted, why not use that as the reward? It certainly works, he knows if he wants it, he behaves. Now I just have to take the behaviour into public, because occasionally he lunges at people to jump up on them, so that they'll pay attention to him! Not particularly desirable for a dog who will hopefully be an assistance dog.

We did more nose work today and he is loving it. I had two cotton bags next to each other on the ground, and I'd throw some kibble across the floor, making sure some got into places where he had to sniff them out... then while he was busy I would hide a couple of kibble in one of the two bags. He knew his job was the find kibble and got excited every time he smelt something, his nose working over time. I'd then ask him to sit, pick up and open the bag so he could shove his head in, nose going a million miles again, and snaffle all the kibble.I want the sit to become part of a behaviour chain to signal 'hey mum, I found something!' instead of him just pawing and mouthing at the bag, trying to get to the kibble.

Soon we might start work on something other than food, maybe a cloth with a bit of vanilla on it, or something. Vanilla is often used to mark items for assistance dogs, to make them easier to find. Eg, handbag, sunglasses, or even a phone. All you need is a cue tip with some vanilla on it, and to put a small stripe down part of it where it won't rub onto everything else easily, then just let it dry. You don't want the vanilla to come off onto everything around it, you want it to stay localised to only the object. Some people put snap-lock bags inside their handbags with some scent on it, so the scent very much only stays with the handbag. Then the item has a big scent flashing light on it, so if the dog is asked to 'go get handbag' or similar, it will be much much easier. Knightley obviously really enjoys using his nose, and giving a dog an outlet like with nose work games, even as simple as I am doing, will decrease random sniffing when you don't want it. You can also train a 'sniff/nose to yourself' cue pair, if you have a sniffy dog training to become an assistance dog. This is important in stores where there may be fascinating animal smells, or interesting other scents... and it is *not* considered professional for an assistance dog to start being distracted by the smells - which is where the 'nose to yourself!' cue can come in. I'll just focus on giving him some fun for the moment though.

Learning relax a couple of months ago. It is interesting to see
how he has changed since then! His chest is much deeper,
and he has started getting his 'feathering' (the longer fur
goldens have on their tail, back of the back legs, back of the
front legs, chest and stomach). In a couple of months he is going
to look quite adult, and very handsome, if I say so myself.
We did some work on Knightley's 'relax' today, and it's coming along well. He has to be able to hold the position for a minute, then be excited for a minute, then relax again and so on. He will stay in a relax for about 25 seconds and lift his head up... see me, and then flop back down. We were up to about 45 seconds, which is getting close.to the target. It's rather amazing seeing Knightley going from excited, tugging and running around me, to splayed out on his side all floppy and relaxed in a couple of seconds. It seems this training thing actually works!! Relax is quite obviously a useful command, mostly as notice that I won't be moving for a while, so why don't you have a snooze. Eventually, that is what the relax cue will become.

We did a bit more work on stays, getting the sit stay where I walk around him, and the down stay at a longer distance as I actually do things and take my eye off him. Sit stay is fine unless he is getting a bit bored, and then the long 1 minute sit stay doesn't last and he slides into a down..... There is no stand stay in the Levels, but I have been doing it anyway, to get him generalised on what stay means. The more positions I can do it in, the better, and it will actually help with the individual stays sit and down stays as he really internalises the cue. I practice stay in relax and on your mat, as well as the normal ones. Actually it has been very useful in the relax position, as Knightley has now become a joy to groom. He was the normal baby puppy, trying to chew on his brushes and combs, but now he just likes there in a stay, letting me do what I need to. I just need a cue for him to change the side he's lying on, and I'm set!!

He's also getting great at other handling as part of Level 2, for example he is very happy for me to lift up his lips and poke around his mouth now. I do have a doggy toothbrush and toothpaste for him, but he's been pretty wary of them. It's kind of ok for now, he gets a LOT of freeze dried bones to chew on, especially kangaroo tails and water buffalo forelegs (HUGE! we jokingly call them dinosaur bones)..... but these are his adult teeth for life, just like with humans, so I am working on stroking his teeth with a finger as I lift up his lip. He is being a very good boy about it too. I need to train him to tolerate the sound and feel of something vibrating like clippers on him (never know when your dog will need surgery), and then that part of the handling is pretty much done.

In four months Knightley has really come amazingly far, both in training, and in his maturity. He is turning into a much calmer dog, and remains happy and willing to work. He is confident in new environments and with new people, but still submissive to other dogs (which is what I ideally want). He is very smart, and seemed to just get a brain boost a month or two back. He also loves training, and takes a lot of satisfaction in doing a job right, like closing a door. I am very impressed with him so far.... his breeders obviously did a good job socialising the puppies as he is a nicely balanced dog that is scared of virtually nothing. If he continues like this, we have a good shot at getting him up to working standard by about 18 months. Needless to say, I am thrilled.

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