The second part of Colette’s essay on training Spot!
Chapter Four – Training Time
Tom had told me that Spot now knew ‘heel,’ ‘this way’ (left), and ‘that way’ (right), as commands.
So, while Tom’s indicators for right and left were a bit vague, I worked with them.
All verbal commands are totally useless to a dog.
Dogs do not communicate verbally, except as aggression or warning barks. The rest of their social behaviour is non-verbal, reading body language, facial expression (which is the key difference between them and wolves, who do not read human faces), and some measure of reading intention into the non-verbal pictures in their heads. So to train a dog one needs hand signalling accompanied by verbal cues which dogs learn by rote (constant repetition).
Spot looked at me quizzically as I went to fetch the rope harness, then a devilish glint caught his eye as he jumped trying to catch it in his mouth. I snatched it behind my back and hid it from his view, whilst making him sit!
First treat for a good result.
As soon as the choke rope appeared again, the same thing! Spot jumped for it. So I repeated hiding it and commanded, “Spot, Sit“. On the third try, Spot stayed seated as commanded by my gesture with my hand held out, palm down to indicate that I wanted him to “Spot stay“. As I slipped the loop of the choke rope over his head, he received a treat and a ‘Good Boy!’ fussing to indicate that this is what I wanted.
A dog soon realises that he is not the Alpha when your hand signals dictate what should be done and how. A dog like Spot takes time as he has yet to learn all the hand movements and facial expressions we make when wanting our wishes followed by our doggy friends. Treat rewards are the reinforcement initially, but the “good boy” and hug is also given. Eventually replacing the constant treats as it is more of a reward and helps the dog to feel secure in its actions.
Spot learned through repetition to look up at the face of Tom, to know what to do. Now he had to learn to do the same with me. I always preceded the commands with “Spot.” He recognised his name, so it focused his attention for each new gesture and word.
He soon got the hang of it. We trotted around the house together with Spot enjoying the game of walking slowly, this way and that.
We progressed to the Yard, and due to Tom’s diligence, Spot did well here too, only occasionally forgetting to stay to ‘heel,’ as a distraction caught his attention. Tom had done really well in just four days.
I took Spot to the gate and opened it. Here, Spot lost his head entirely, trying to speed out through the opening and up the roadway, nearly strangling himself in the process. I brought him back in through the gate, and went to fetch the new, larger, black harness that I had purchased before arriving.
Harness’s are not the best thing to have on a dog. People use them for two reasons. The first is because their dog pulls and trys to go faster than their people, and they, of course, don’t want to see their dog choking. The second reason, somewhat related to the first, is that the harness offers a bit of protection if a dog falls from a height and the lead gets caught. This latter reason for a harness is actually not as good a solution as having a loose collar that the dog can wriggle free from.
I prefer a loose collar, but the amount of pulling that Spot is doing is too much and needs to be trained out first so I put his new harness on preempting Spot’s desire to chew it with a quick routine that didn’t give him time to think about it.
Now normally, I would use a lead in two hands. The left, keeping the lead straight up to my hand (in other words, no slack) where I keep a ‘short lead’ to keep the dog next to me. The slack is taken up across me, holding the handle in my right hand. This allows an ability to give a bit more length quickly when needed, but also to quickly retrieve it when you need a ‘short lead’ again.
Pauline had requested that I train to her right hand, rather than left, so the above principles were easily reversed.
Tom had already shown me how sore his hands had become, trying to keep Spot on a short lead with my preferred method. After I experienced just how hard Spot pulled I put him on a doubled chain lead, to shorten it, that I found in Pauline’s drawer for failed apparatus. Clipping it to his harness, it would give me the control I needed without causing hurt to either Spot or Me!
In addition to the harness chain, I repositioned the choke rope around Spot’s neck. We set out again through the gate. Spot immediately began to pull, so a new command of “Spot Round” came into force. I swept my arm around me indicating that Spot had to turn back. He quickly got this but was confused as to why.
As I brought him around, I brought him in to face a barrier; my legs. “Spot Stay!” I said, holding my hand palm out to his face. There I would keep him (obviously with a treat reward) until he calmed down. Then we would try again. The rope choke transmitted from me the subtle indicators as I requested movements from Spot to move accordingly.
Spot gradually got it and his walking slowed considerably but not enough for Pauline to cope with on a walk. Asthma had turned Pauline into a ‘shuffler’ so trying to walk like Pauline I incorporated the words “slowly, slowly” using a hand sign that we all use to slow traffic. Spot learned this really well.
All this new stuff was tiring for Spot. So when we reached the area where frogs and cats were lurking about he could no longer concentrate. True to Tom’s words, Spot went bonkers, yelping, pulling, slavering and not listening at all. Time to head home. Spot ate his breakfast of dry dog food and chicken (refused earlier in the day) and then after some happy wag tails, curled up in his bed and went to sleep.
Chapter Five – Frogs, Cats, Dogs and Goats
Spot’s home was in a rural location and a goat herder regularly brought his small herd past the house.
Pauline was afraid that Spot would catch some horrible disease from them so had always tried to shut Spot away in the house as soon as they appeared. Spot had developed a pathological nervousness that translated into apoplectic barking and jumping at the windows whenever the goats appeared. Pauline was convinced that the goat herder intentionally goaded Spot by whistling. In reality, his dogs were distracted by a maniacal dog jumping up at a window so the goat herder whistled to call them to attention again. He couldn’t herd his goats without his dogs.
I heard the clanking of the goat bells just as Spot launched into his tirade at the window. Normally, Pauline would yell at him to stop barking, usually in vain. I went over to the window that Spot was now paddling with his front paws. I looked over at the herd and then held Spot firmly under his legs stilling his jumping. I was calm and said “Spot – Goats are Friends.”
Now this in itself is not enough, because Spot does not understand words. But Spot, like most dogs, does understand intentions. I focused my mind on goats being good animals worthy of kindness and cuddled Spot, saying “It’s OK! Thank you for telling me!”
Gradually, Spot learned that ‘Friend’ meant kindness and not a threat to him or anyone else. Even on this first attempt, Spot stopped barking and instead enjoyed the cuddle, and gradually, over time, Spot realised that “Thank you for telling me” meant that I was now in control of the situation and he could step down and let me be the Alpha to deal with it.
Later on, the goats bells never even raised a whisker as soon as I said “It’s OK, Friends!”
On some of our walks, we met loose dogs. One was friendly, but the rest were rural farm dogs and they all had a tendency to protect their farm territory including the roadway.
I would not let Spot interact with these dogs. Spot knew my commands and the little tug indicators on the choke rope kept us walking past with Spot not making eye contact with these dogs. Nor did I. There was no conflict! The friendly dog came up and sniffed Spot, but again, I kept the interaction short and Spot carried on walking.
Cats were a different prospect. For some reason, Spot only wanted to give chase and I could only think that he had been encouraged to be so determined a chaser. When the cats appeared, I stopped Spot from walking. The cats came nearer and sat about two feet away. Spot shook from head to toes as he whimpered. I held him steady, getting down next to him to cuddle him.
While he was behaved, he was too over-excited even to accept his treat. He was like a wound-up spring ready to explode. Lip licking and yawning told me that he was stressed. “Friends” I said, stroking Spot to calm him. That was as far as we got. It was time to take him away from this ‘threat’ and take him home. But the progress had been in him not barking, yelping or trying to chase the kitties.
It was a similar thing with frogs in a little roadside culvert. They splashed and swam in the shallow water. Spot was fascinated, but the word “Friends” stopped him short of going in to catch them. He was learning.
Chapter Six – Getting beyond the Gate
Pauline was terrified of losing her dog. She had a specific routine around the gate; a locked sliding edifice that really took the strength of two hands to pull open. She would pick Spot up and wedge him under her arm whilst struggling, almost one-armed, to push the gate.
I trained Spot to stand still and “wait” until I had opened the gate and then the “OK!” command was given for him to move. Training treats worked really well to get a perfect score rate on this command. I used it every day to open and to close the gate for our walks. It didn’t matter if Spot was off the lead, it still worked. The biggest key to this was consistency. I never changed the command and kept it a constant reminder for whenever Pauline needed Spot to wait for her, wherever he was.
I used “wait” as different from “stay.” Tom said that he couldn’t see the difference. I explained that “stay” meant to stay in position, i.e. to stay sitting, or to stay lying down. “Wait”, indicated with slightly waving fingers, was to indicate that he wasn’t to go on further without me, (or Pauline), but didn’t dictate a position. If Spot spent his time waiting, sniffing the ground or scratching, it didn’t matter as long as he waited to continue his walk only when I was ready.
I also trained Spot to “stay” while I walked away from him. This was gradually at increased distances. When I was ready, I would pat my knees and give the “Spot Come” command. He would spring into action and bound towards me as fast as a greyhound for his reward of a little food treat and a big hug human-style, gradually weaning him on to only the hug. I taught Spot these commands for his safety. With just this handful of commands, Pauline could keep Spot safe if there was traffic on the road and be sure he would come to her once any threat was gone. The gate would never be a problem again.
Even as I was reading it when preparing today’s post I was thinking of how much I was learning from Colette’s advice. Thankfully, all our dogs are incredibly easy to manage. Indeed, if ‘manage’ is the right word for on a day-to-day basis the dogs intuitively know how our/their days pan out.
The final part of this most interesting essay will be along tomorrow!