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Monday, January 16, 2012

Zen, recall practice and crate improvement

5 months 2 weeks 5 days old

I am beginning to see the truth in what Sue Ailsby says, in that zen is the foundation for all training. Zen, when used in this context, basically means doggy self control - especially on cue. Like when you don't want your dog to follow you through a door even though he really wants to go, or you are eating food on your lap that he wants to steal, you can use your zen cue (mine is leave it) and he should retreat from whatever he wanted to go through or after. Saying leave it in front of an open door will stop Knightley in his tracks and he'll just stand there waiting for me to say our release word. The more you teach and use zen, the more it becomes a part of your dogs day to day impulse control. It helps him become a calmer dog, a thinking dog who considers consequences. I am definitely becoming more and more of a fan. It helps with other duration behaviours too, especially watch (eye contact), stays, wait, relax and so on. It should also help with our loose leash walking too - eventually - as he slowly conquers his urges to investigate every smell and spot near him, despite a tight collar.

Knightley doing a zen on a small pile of
kibble. I've trained him to keep eye contact
with me when staying away from food etc
It is impressive how well dogs can generalise the cue, because usually dogs are very poor generalisers. For instance, if you teach sit indoors all the time, and then suddenly expect your dog to sit outdoors for the first time ever, it is very likely he won't have a clue what you're talking about. You need to re-teach cues whenever you change the situation significantly - if you change the place, difficulty, duration etc. However, when it comes to zen, dogs generalise 'leave it' very well indeed. I can use the cue to stop Knightley from sniffing a patch of ground, from chewing something, from being too interested in our food, from eating food on the floor or even on his paws when in a down, from trying to mouth a comb or brush when trying to groom him.... the list is endless. I used Sue Ailsby's method for teaching it from the beginning, which from my description hopefully you can see was pretty successful. You can use her free online Training Levels to train zen, although I very much recommend her books, as they have a lot more information than the free Levels.

We continue to do LOTS of recall practice. I really want this to become solid. Some of the little tricks for getting a dog to come to you I can't do due to my physical limitations... for instance, dogs being predators it is nearly irresistible for a dog not to chase you if you run away a little, whilst calling. Once your dog associates the running with calling and coming, then you can start phasing out the running away, and your dog will still come. The other thing that can be very useful, but that I can't do once again, is to get down on all fours, or at least get your hands on the floor as you call. It is signals play to your dog, and if you call as you do it (once again to make the connection that call = fun) it is almost guaranteed to get your dog to come to you. Once he is close to you, drop a treat to your feet. This will mean that he never jumps up on you when he responds to a recall because he'll be aiming at your feet instead. It's a good idea to carry around some treats (I just use kibble) in your pocket during the day so that your dog never knows when he'll be rewarded for doing behaviours like sits and downs. Behaviours that we are actively working on, like recalls, I treat every time.

Doing a Level 2 behaviour - 30 seconds down inside the crate
automatically upon the cue to enter the crate. He only leaves
upon me giving him his release cue. What a cuddly looking
We've nearly passed the Crate section of Level 2, which requires Knightley to get into his crate on cue (crate!), lie down automatically, then lie there for 30 seconds until I say the release word - whilst I do things around the room. I now just have to take it to different rooms, and teach it to him all over again in his portable fabric crate, which he isn't very good in!

In the new Levels books, you are meant to do all behaviours in order, but that is a change from the old Levels, where I had worked on pretty much all behaviours at once. So I am trying to finish the earlier Level 2 behaviours, before going on and finishing the later ones. Then I can go onto Level 3, yay! I can't wait to get done with Level 2, and it isn't all that far off now. What an awesome puppy I have.

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