Training A Neighbor's Dog
I don't know how or why, but information about my shock collar training had somehow spread. When we were talking to my daughter's preschool teacher in our local school, she asked if I could train their 7-month-old Labrador. I could only guess that my daughter told her about how I trained Maui to stomp out bad behavior. She said she was willing to pay, which means they were willing to do what they could.
I could not charge them because I'm not a professional. I've only ever trained one dog so even if I'm good at training Maui, I couldn't say I would be good at another. Dogs have their own personalities and temperaments, plus, I don't have a bond with that dog that I could take advantage of. Instead, I offered to go to their home and teach them my methods so they could train the dog themselves.
I brought my daughter with me so my wife could have some me-time and I brought my shock collar with me. I haven't charged the thing for a week but since I haven't seen the battery indicator say "low power", I think I'm good. I also brought my clicker and a bag of dog biscuits, in case they don't have any.
I also consider this as thanks for being a great and patient teacher to my daughter, so it's perfectly fine. When I went into the house, we had a small chat about alternatives, like hiring a professional dog trainer. They tried, but they don't want to take the dog somewhere far as the professional trainer doesn't do house visits. They also didn't need serious training, just enough to keep the dog's behavior in check.
Immediately, I understood why the dog needs obedience training. The dog, "Matty" welcomed me with open paws, and a running gallop. If Matty was fully grown he would have toppled me. He was quite mouthy, eager to understand me through teeth and tongue. His owner tried to call him to stand down, but it fell into deaf and quite floppy ears. We went into the yard where I listened to the teacher's concerns about Matty.
They apparently tried to use a "wireless fence" collar on him a month ago just to keep him in the yard when needed, but it didn't work at all. She was curious because my daughter mentioned that I use a shock collar for my dog and wondered if they were doing it wrong somehow. I checked the collar and to my surprise, it was battery powered. They bought a collar that creates a wireless fence, not the one that needs an underground fence. The collar would beep when it's about to cross the rather small invisible boundary, so it works. They were thinking about buying something to help with Matty's negative behaviors, but for now, opted for passive training because they had little time to spare for training back then.
Alas, I found myself again in a position where I wanted to shock myself. This was not to test if the shock works as we have testers for that. Instead, I needed to see how powerful the shock is compared to Pet Resolve's. I aligned the prongs on my arm and walked past the invisible fence. I heard the beep and soon enough, I felt the shock.
It was barely a sensation. I dialed the level up to the strongest levels of shock and tried again. The electric shock was there, but it wasn't as "solid". It felt like a cold, sharp, prickling thing, but it doesn't feel like anything else. To compare, I placed my own shock collar on the same spot and set the remote to the lowest shock level. It didn't hurt, but it was a solid sensation, almost enough to make the muscles in my finger wiggle a bit.
I sheepishly asked if Matty's owner would like to try it, and she agreed without question. She had the same opinion, that Pet Resolve's shock collar had more "punch". I guess preschool teachers are cut from much, much tougher cloth. You have to be if you're going to handle many kids at once.
We continued on to discuss the goals of the initial training. She agreed that I will teach her how to train their dog but I will do it the first few times, then they will do so. She then went about how we humans are only partially visual learners and we really learn more when we do things through trial and error. If her line of thinking is somewhat translated to what she teaches in my daughter's class, then I am getting my money's worth.
They first need Matty to obey basic commands. He loves physical contact with other people and will do so until he is physically removed from said people. When he has chosen a spot to curl up on, he will stay there, regardless of how much the spot objects. It was cute when he was a puppy, but Labradors grow fast and large. The basic obedience commands of "Notice when called", "Sit and Stay", "Approach when told", and boundary training as sometimes, they need the dog to stay in the yard but keep off the small flower garden area. She wanted to put a physical fence there but then it would lose the point of having a "pretty corner" of the yard.
The first one, "Notice when called" is the most important one. When his name is called, he must make eye contact with the one calling him, and sustain that eye contact for a few seconds at least. Since he already wears a shock collar, I assume it would be okay to place mine as he would think it's just another collar. I chose the longest prongs because Labrador fur is not just long, they seem to have two layers, or at least that's how it felt. That extra long prong really helped this time.
Before I start the training process, I have to see the lowest level of shock Matty will respond to. I placed the collar on him with the right tightness, asked for tissue to wipe off his saliva from all the licking, then set the remote to the lowest shock level.
After a press, nothing. I held it for about 3 seconds, but all Matty did was stare at me with those beady mercurial eyes of his. I raised the level and tried again. Nothing, not even a mild sense of confusion. I thought Labradors were supposed to be the sensitive ones? I suppose since Labs are one of the hunting breeds, they would be tough breeds deep inside.
Eventually, at level 6, he looked ever-so-slightly bothered. I placed it to 5 then began the training. With my tactical belt bag of liver ready and my clicker strapped on my wrist, I called Matty. He didn't look, so I kept calling him until he did. When he did, I gave two clicks and tossed a liver at him. It hit his head and he looked around, not even on the ground. Apparently learning to catch food mid-air is an acquired skill.
Since we haven't established that calling his name means looking at the one calling, I didn't use the shock collar yet. I called his name again but didn't respond, almost like they changed his name recently. I had the teacher call his name but it takes several times. I also considered that he may have a hearing problem, but when I used the clicker once, he seemed to notice it, so that may not be the case.
We kept on going and at about the 8th try, he seems to respond faster and faster. I've only been rewarding him for looking in my direction, so it's time to "shape" him to stare at me. He seems to like the liver too, so I'm banking on these tasty treats to get him to learn.
I sped the pace a little, quickly clicking as soon as he looks at me. Then, in the third cycle, I didn't click as soon as he looked. We made eye contact for 2 seconds then I clicked and gave the treat. He was becoming more playful but I think I can use that energy to help funnel the training. I made my voice chirpier and started tossing the treat, aiming for his mouth. I also started hopping around, trying to match his energy a little bit. After about 10 minutes of training him to just look at me, we stopped for a break.
The teacher was impressed by how fast we got him to look when his name is called. However, I had to tell her that teaching is easy. Reinforcement is a different beast. She did get a few good pointers and was asking if she could do the training next time. I agreed because I don't want Matty to associate my voice. It has to be his owner.
After about 20 minutes, we tried again, this time with the teacher holding the clicker and the bag of treats. She called Matty and the dog did look at her, but she only said "Good boy!" and gave the treat. She forgot the clicker, but I realized that since she is the one who will do most of the training, she either needs to buy a clicker or change the "marking signal" to her own choice. We had a small talk about clickers, and she wondered if it's a better idea to just use verbal praise. Based on my own experience, I told her that the marking signal must be unique, otherwise Matty may expect a treat when he gets praised with the same words in non-training situations. She decided she'll buy a clicker soon so we restart the training with the clicker.
She missed some of the timing at first, but soon enough, picked it up. Matty was consistently looking at her and making eye contact. I then told her to prolong the eye contact for another second. Since I'm just watching, I counted how long Matty's attention span is as soon as he's called. If nothing happens after five seconds of his name being called, Matty focuses his attention somewhere else.
I told her that we should stop the training for now. I could already tell that Matty was losing interest in the affair and would rather do other things. She'll get the clicker soon, and try to do the training again, then I'll come back the day after tomorrow to tell her about negative reinforcement training mixed with positive reinforcement.
I wonder now if I could actually pull it off being an unlicensed dog trainer for our neighborhood. Perhaps. We'll see how it goes from here.