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Monday, February 6, 2012

Level 2 Homework: 10 reasons why a dog may not obey a command

6 months 1 week 2 days old

This is part of Sue Ailsby's Training Levels. As part of each level you need to do homework, and for Level 2, you need to list 10 reasons why a dog might not obey a command. I've thought about this before and I knew finding 10 things would not be easy. This first couple come to you quickly, but after that..... Well, we'll see!

I have written comments after the reasons in italics, which spell out clearly what I can learn as a trainer from each reason.

1. You may not have your dogs attention when you give the cue

This is especially the case in high distraction environments, where your dog just won't hear you unless you focus him first. However it is applicable everywhere. It is worth saying your dog's name first and maybe doing a few seconds eye contact so you both reconnect before asking for what you want.

2. The connection between behaviour and cue may not have been made yet during training

It can take many repetitions of the cue word and hand signal whilst the dog does the behaviour to have the dog remember it. Some dogs learn cues quickly, others need a lot of repetition. If your dog is consistently not responding to a cue, consider this possibility.

3. You may have upped distractions too quickly in training so that a cue your dog could normally respond to becomes background noise

When teaching a cue, you go through a stage called proofing, where you expose the dog to more and more distractions as you continue to ask for the cue. It should be a gradual increase in distraction level - if you increased the level too quickly the dog will just become completely oblivious to you.

4. Your dog could be sick or just tired out and feel unable to respond

Sickness, heat, being thirsty or hungry, exhausted.... all these things will cause a dog to potentially 'misbehave' . You and your dog are a partnership, be aware of how it is feeling and its needs, and don't work it if it isn't feeling up to it. If it isn't responding to the most basic of cues, that in itself can tell you something about the dogs wellbeing.

5. Your training session may have gone too long and your dog may have lost interest

All dogs have a finite attention span. For puppies it is very short, sometimes only a couple of minutes. For a fully mature working breed it can be about an hour without a break. You should make sure that your dog isn't worked past the point that it still wants more. Once training becomes a chore it becomes either ineffective or actually can do harm to previous training.

6. If you are still at the stage you are training with treats, the treats may not be of high value enough for a difficult cue
When learning cues, treats are always used for reinforcement... but for some more difficult behaviours, more interesting treats must be used. If you are outside in a high distraction area trying to train loose leash and kibble just isn't cutting it, try exchanging it for real meat. Change the treat for every individual situation as necessary.

7. If you have faded treats for the particular cue, you may have done it too early while the cue was half learnt, or done it too suddenly leaving the dog unsure

When you stop using treats with a particular cue, it needs to be done slowly and systematically, not just suddenly cutting the treats off. The dog could become uninterested in working for you, or just confused because it isn't being rewarded for something it is usually - so thinks it is getting it wrong.

8. You yourself may not be feeling well, or may not be in the mood to train and your dog might be reacting to your lack of enthusiasm

Our dogs pick up on our moods and our wellbeing extremely sensitively. If you don't feel like training, don't train. If it's just a random 'sit' that your dog isn't responding to in the course of the day, remember that you being not yourself could have a great deal to do with it.

9. The dog might substitute another 'new' behaviour for the older cue you asked for, because you had been working a lot on the new behaviour and it is used to giving it so doesn't really think -

This happens quite often with a dog who knows sit and then learns down and starts thinking sit means down too and forgets about sit because of the shiny new down.  It is important when concentrating on a new cue that you don't train it to the exclusion of everything else. Continue to train your old behaviours as well as new, so that your dog doesn't start getting confused.

10. The dog could be actively 'rocking the boat', being cheeky, trying to get away with things it knows are pretty naughty

This is especially applicable during adolescence, as the perfect puppy disappears and the evil teenager from hell appears in its place. During training and during the day at any time, you must always act as leader in your house - not boss, but leader. I operate on a Nothing In Life Is Free (NILIF) policy, so that anything good that Knightley wants he has to do something to get it, even filling the water bowl he has to go in a nice polite sit stay until I have finished. This is about respect, which transfers into our training.

EXTRA ONES!!! WHEEE!!! (after racking my brains for days, I have more than 10!!!)

11. The dog could be scared - of the environment, the handler, other dogs... anything.

Some dogs have serious fear problems, and when the fear and shyness takes over, cues become a low priority. There are good techniques in clicker and positive training which can build confidence, like Look At That (from the book Control Unleashed) and BAT (Behaviour Adjustment Training, which I have mentioned before in another post). A good resource for dealing with a fearful dog is http://fearfuldogs.com/

12.  The dog might not be getting out for enough exercise, which can turn them into tightly wound springs - unable to concentrate on the task at hand

All dogs need exercise, as well as the mental stimulation of getting outside. An adult dog needs one good significant walk each day, and a smaller walk too. You can substitute something like time at a dog park for one of those walks, but dogs must get out - for both the exercise and the stimulation of sights and smells. If they don't get this, don't expect an obedient dog

...... and I think that will do. I've actually learnt from doing this, which was of course was rather the point! I am sure the more I thought about it, the more I could come up with, but this is certainly a good chunk of the the main ones. I will think more next time when Knightley doesn't do what I say.

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