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, February 4, 2012

A halter for short term, some new Level 3 work and a big puppy!

6 months 1 week old

Knightley a couple of weeks ago with his Freedom Harness
on. I chose the Freedom Harness because it is said to be the
best for not obstructing the natural gait of a dogs shoulder.
Many other no pull harnesses sit right over the dogs shoulder
joint. The Freedom Harness has been a great tool for teaching
loose leash walking and has made out walks much more
pleasant. I just think I need a halter to train some public manners
but I don't want Knightley wearing it for long, no matter which
I choose.
I've been thinking in the last couple of days about getting a halter of some sort for Knightley. For a while I was quite adamantly against head halters for dogs, and I am still not particularly approving. I think they can have quite a negative affect on sensitive and submissive dogs because of the way it wraps around their muzzle - which is a psychologically sensitive place for dogs. Especially for clicker dogs, it can stifle their creativity by putting them into a rather zombiefied state of mind. I also think they tend to become a crutch, like so much training equipment that is 'too easy'. Training equipment is for *training*. It is something you use for a month or maybe even six months.... but in that time you transition back to a *FLAT COLLAR* once your training equipment has done its job. That is what my Freedom Harness for Knightley has been for, and has by and large done a very good job. Recently on our walks there has been virtually no pulling, and I have started putting a leash on his flat collar as well as the harness so he gets used to not pulling when having a leash on the flat collar. Soon I will leave the harness on, but only have a leash on the collar. The association of not pulling whilst in the harness will help keep him nice and loose on his leash.  However, despite a LOT of progress, when we go into public, especially particularly exciting places, a front attach harness is not enough to stop the pulling, and my thoughts are perhaps a halter for a short time, for the anti pull and calming effect would be welcome for the training benefit.

My favourite option at the moment, a Training Halter by
Black Dog - an Australian company who makes top
quality equipment.
I have been looking at the different possibilities, and there are certainly quite a few these days. Of course, the halti was the original, but it is the least favoured these days it seems. The Gentle Leader is the most common, but there is quite a bit of talk of cornea irritation around the place, and I am not sure if it's the one for me. The one plus is it comes in Knightley's coat colour, which is an important thing to try to get for a head collar - or at least another colour not easily seen by the dog as it is less irritating visually. The Snoot Loop seems quite popular in the serious dog training circles, but it is hard to get in Australia, so I would have to order it sight unseen from the US. Not convinced. I am considering going for one of the halters made by an Australian company called Black Dog (they do international orders). They do two different designs, both of which are a little different from the 'average' dog halter design. The Infin8 is a halter that wraps around the dogs muzzle and clips onto a martingale collar. Instead of attaching your leash underneath the dogs muzzle, you attach it to the collar part. Certainly different, but it encourages transition back to a collar quickly. I like that part, if it actually does work. The other one is called a Training Halter, and is a bit more traditional, although it is meant to move a bit more freely with the dog and avoid any cornea irritation. It is somewhat similar in design to the Gentle Leader though, it just has more parts that move independently, which is probably a good thing. I think this may be the one for me. Here's a link to the Black dog halter page.

So anyway..... after working on Level 2 for what seems *FOREVER* and being so very close to finishing it, I decided to move onto the beginning of Level 3.

This morning we reached a 1 minute relax for the first time!!! Yipee! Granted it was with no distractions, inside.... but it's a milestone. I need to start doing it outside some more. As with any training you need to set yourself up to succeed, so I will make sure that Knightley is nicely tired out when I really try to lengthen his times outside, so is more likely to really relax and maybe snooze. After a walk, or a trip to the dog park would be ideal.

Our sit and down stays still aren't up to a minute, and I haven't finished the homework for Level 2, although I am close there - watch out for it as I will post it here!

Other than that, we've finished, and we're bored just working on the same thing all the time. The beauty of Sue Ailsby's Training Levels is that every Level teaches similar behaviours, although there are new behaviours in each Level, especially so in Level 2 which is packed with new stuff - Level 1 is very basic. The fact that the behaviours are all similar, and that they go in the same order each time means that you can almost finish a level apart from one or two things at the end of the last level, and safely go onto the beginning of the next level without bumping into stuff that you're not ready for. Sue recommends that when following the Levels in her books, to go through then as written. For instance, the first behaviour in Level 3 is zen. Within zen Level 3, there are 6 steps, each building on what you have already done, and also 'comeafters', which is kind of like proofing and bonus points.

After Zen comes focus (watch), which we are also good to go ahead on. Both Knightley and I work better learning multiple new things at the same time, so I will work on zen and focus until all steps there are done - or very very close to, before going on with Level 3. This is not how I did Level 2 as I was using Sue Ailsby's free online Training Levels when I started some of the Level 2 behaviours, where she doesn't suggested you go through in order, and doesn't have anywhere near as many things to train.

Anyway, we did some great work on Level 3 zen and focus. We have already been doing door zen before now - where he doesn't go through a door until asked to, but Level 3 gets you to do it for longer, then as you walk in and out the door carrying things (eg getting groceries in from the car), and then eventually with someone at the door, but still with Knightley controlling himself and waiting for a release before he would be allowed to go out (or not). We got up to the part where I could go in and out the door carrying things and he would just sit there. At first we did it with an internal door, and then leashed at the front door. He did great. I know with a person it will be much much harder. He goes nuts with people at the front door.

Focus was great too! It is wonderful doing new things, I think Knightley really got into it too. Usually when we do our eye contact work it is from a pretty close distance, but Level 3 builds on the short distance and gets it longer, and the time longer too. It then asks for your dog to watch your eyes while you actually don't return the eye contact. Knightley was already fine with the 15 seconds asked for step 1, then the 2 feet and 5 seconds for step 2 was great too, step 3 was 5 feet and 10 seconds and that was great to see him doing that  - although whenever we do stays he usually keeps eye contact so we have practice at that. You might notice whenever you initially increase the distance you lower the time. This is because whenever you make something harder for the dog, you should make something else easier. Just because Knightley can easily do 15 seconds of eye contact when he is sitting right in front of me, at a distance of 5 feet, I would only expect him to do 10 seconds - and that is after teaching him to do only a mere 5 seconds at 2 feet. When I moved Knightley out to 5 feet I went from 1 second, going up second by second. Every time you change something in a behaviour and make it harder, you should re-teach it like that. By re-teaching Knightley every time I made it harder, I was spelling it out for him, "yes, this is the same thing you did when you were right next to me, but I don't expect you to do it for quite as long as you did then, because it's a bit harder when you're further away."

The last focus step we did, since Knightley had had no problem with the previous ones, was using (in this case) a large glass door at night so I could see both Knightley and myself as we did the eye contact exercises, although a mirror would have been as good. The aim of the step was to get Knightley maintaining eye contact with me for 10 seconds *while I wasn't looking at him*. We started with normal eye contact for a second, then I would quickly glance at him looking at me in the window's reflection, then back at him then click/treat! Then it was two seconds at him, one full second window, then two seconds at him, window then back at him and c/t. Then one second him, two window, one him, two window, one him c/t. Then one him three window, then one him four window, then one him five window....... and then....... Knightley noticed his reflection.......... sigh. He kept wiggling around, wanting to watch me in the window not the real me! Or himself..... Sigh! And it was going so well. It was all I could do to get 5 seconds watch with me right next to him. So we did some simple sits, downs and relaxes and ended the session on a good note with some scenting games which he really does love!

Over the last two days we've done some more work with the shaver, and he's good with it on his feet, tail... everything except his head - which is pretty understandable! I'll be taking that one a bit more slowly. It is amazing what counter conditioning like that can get a dog to stand. Speaking of counter conditioning, if I do go ahead with a halter, I will be doing a fair bit of counter conditioning in order to make wearing it a pleasant experience, rather than an aversive one - as many dogs find them unpleasant.

We weighed Knightley today, on the way to the dog park... and was quite surprised at the weight he has put on since he was sick and got weighed at the vets. Let's just say it was good I gave him he extra 1/4 tablet for heartworm this month!! He was about 24.2kg, which is about 53 pounds. So, at a guess he was maybe about  23.6kg when he turned 6 months old (52 pounds or so). A recent thread on the Golden Retriever forum I participate in (link in the right sidebar) had a lot of people reporting their dog's weight at 6 months of age. Knightley is on the lighter side for a male still, which is good news, as all along I have a) been trying to slow his growth with a 'slow growth plan' to increase the likelihood of good joint formation and b) have tried to keep him lean, again to make sure his joints stay as good as what his genetics have given him. Extra weight in a puppy can be a contributing factor to hip dysplasia. I was very rigorous when selecting lines that had good hip scores and finding breeders I believed in. If Knightley had significant hip dysplasia that would spell a complete end for my plans for him. I'll find out in about 6 months when I get his hips x-rayed. Until then it's more of the same, keep him lean, not too much jumping, stair climbing, no weight carrying (eg a backpack) and no pulling weights. Anyway.....I was happy with that weight, many male GRs are a good couple of kg (4-5 pounds) heavier at this age, although he has put on a couple of kg in the last three or so weeks - a faster growth rate than it has been for a long while. He really is looking much older, I can barely remember that fluffy fuzzball we had those first few weeks!

Knightley, gorgeous fluffy fuzzball at 8 weeks old. I loved that puppy fluff,
 and was heartbroken when it all fell out at about 4 months old, leaving him
looking like a lab.
The closest I had to a similar position already taken and very recent! No more
fluff, although his coat is definitely starting to grow longer and get some
'feathers', especially his tail! He hopefully won't be mistaken for a lab ever


  1. Lyssa, I think I have your head halter solution! The program that trained my former assistance dog used the Comfort Trainer. It's a softer rounded webbing and the part the goes across the nose is tan! You can get it direct or through Pet Expertise.

    1. Oooh, I like it!! It can come in all tan too, so I'd need to decide which one I wanted. Pet Expertise ship internationally, so that's all good too. Now I just have to resist getting more stuff 'to make the most of already paying the shipping costs!' ;) Thanks so much for the suggestion, I think the Comfort Trainer may well be my choice.

    2. You're welcome! Pet Expertise has some great stuff so it would be easy to fill your shopping cart!

    3. Hi Lyssa,
      do you use the freedom harness strictly as a front attachment harness or do you use it with the dual connection? I bought the set with the dual connection leash, and i didn't like it. my dog was always getting tangled up like a marionette. the instructions also make it seem like the front connection is optional, and just for extra control, so i think it's a little bit different than other harnesses. i do like the fact that it doesnt cut into the shoulder and affect the gait, though. im looking into the sense-ation harness as well. do you have experience with the sense-ation?


    4. At first I used it as a dual connection but found the double clip leash would wind around itself and the whole idea of using it as a kind of lever just didn't work very well. I do like the flexibility of having the clip on the back and still having a small no pull reminder with the martingale loop there. For example if I have him on a long line with the harness I clip it to the back so he doesn't get wrenched around if he happens to lunge (as a long line gives him potential to build up energy). It works well as a front attach harness and has improved Knightley's loose leash walking no end. I like the gentle velvet girth strap and the overall feeling of quality I get from it. I don't have experience with the sense-ation harness but I have heard it is one of the better ones. I also use a custom made harness which is very different to the standard no-pull as it is in a Y conformation across the chest. Did you happen to read my harness post? There is a link to it at the top of my "all time popular posts" list if you scroll up on the right. Good luck finding a harness to suit!