Training A Neighbor's Dog Part 2
It's time for my dog training skills to be tested again. My daughter's teacher asked me to train their lab puppy in basic obedience commands and possibly some boundary training to keep the dog from the small flower garden. The pup's owner provided the treats this time, which was good since I ran out of boiled liver due to Maui's new fast-paced training session.
Matty, the 7-month-old Labrador Retriever is a cuddly and friendly beast. I say beast a bit derogatorily because he will not stop acting physically friendly with you until you physically push him off. I think this is normal because he's a pup, and I presume a Labrador Retriever is bred to be a social dog so they can work with their owners closely.
I also think this behavior was "developed" because he only learned to back off when he's physically pushed off. I have this growing notion that we "train" certain behaviors into our pets without our implicit knowledge simply because we allow certain behaviors. I'm just not sure if this applies to cats. So far, I don't own my cats. Instead have an agreement with them that they will not bother me as long as I feed them, and they will take care of any mice and rats that enter my home.
What Matty's owner is worried about, is when the puppy bites, mouthing, and all the unwanted behavior carry over to his adulthood. I don't know much about dog behavior but at least what I know from my parent's dogs is that these normal puppy behavior even out as they age. Still, she wants Matty to obey simple stuff like going to her when called, staying when told to, and going down from the couch. She wanted to teach all the discipline stuff early on so it doesn't evolve into her always scolding her dog. She plans on taking her not-so-little fur-baby places with her, so Matty needs training.
So, in the absence of a professional trainer, she gets me. I get to have more experience training another dog, my daughter gets to hang out here in their home with her classmate, (teacher's daughter), and my wife gets the house to herself. Everyone wins.
We'll continue the training process from last time. I've taught Matty to look at me or his owner when called. Now I have to reinforce it. I placed the shock collar on him and set the level to 5. She bought a clicker and a large bag of surprisingly tasty smelling dog-bone-shaped treats, almost enough for me to try it out, so I took a bite out of it.
It was then that I wondered if dog treat development involved a lot of "A-B Testing" or were there actual employees that have a flavor palette fine-tuned to a dog's taste because these biscuits are definitely not for normal human consumption. I didn't want to throw my pride away and spit it, so I had to keep chewing until I managed to swallow it. RIP, my dignity.
However, Matty likes them. I tossed one to him to see how he likes it and he eats it with gusto.
We went to the yard and started by calling his name. It took a second time for him to look, but I pressed on the clicker and gave him the treat. We did this again and again at a fast pace, then when I thought that he got it consistently, I readied the shock collar and began the negative reinforcement.
First, I called his name, then pressed on the shock collar. The effect is mild but noticeable. The stimulation lasted for 2 seconds before he looked and as soon as he did, I clicked and gave him the food treat.
This is going to be the process when reinforcing any basic command. The level I'm using is 5. When I first tested him, he responded to 6, so I dialed it down to see if he'll respond to a lower power so that he doesn't have a bad experience from it the first time. However, he's not acting as snappily as I thought, and looks like he's shrugging the sensation off. I raised the level up back to 6 and tried again. The first two times, he was confused, but the third time was the charm as he responded almost at the moment I pressed the button. I had to stop since I need him to understand that following the commands properly means the stimulation will stop, or won't happen.
Her owner also understood the process and wanted to try it for herself. The buttons were pretty easy to understand and she was impressed by the other stuff like the vibrate, beep, and the LED lights. I explained how the Pet Resolve's shock collar also has this built-in automatic anti-bark function, but I've forgotten how to set it. All I know is it will give a warning beep for a few seconds if it hears barking, then delivers a shock when it keeps hearing the bark, which is not that different from the boundary collar they had.
She missed the timing a couple of times but soon got it right. I start seeing that the dogs tend to be more forgiving the first few times as long as your correct process is far more consistent than your mistakes. I told her that this kind of training goes on for a while even though the dog already fully knows how to behave with the command as the training is meant to drill the behavior into their brain.
After a few more cycles, we decided to take a break and use this time to play a fun game with Matty to help keep the training a brilliant experience for him. He likes to chase his toys around so his favorite toy is the ball and rope that I drag while running and he chases it. When he catches it, he clamps down on it and chews it to no end, and like Maui, loves it when you turn it into a game of tug while they are biting it. His owner thinks this is why Matty has a persistent case of puppy biting, but I think the opposite. He doesn't get enough of this kind of play which translates to plenty of biting, but she reasons that since this is a form of play and Matty is a social animal, he thinks biting is a social activity, therefore doing it in excess.
Once again, preschool teachers are cut from a very tough, and clever cloth.
With the happy puppy a little petered out, we take a break and resume training in a couple of hours. In an effort to cut some time, the next session is to teach Matty a reliable recall method. I would have used the collar's beep method. I still have a lot of the tasty treats and I asked to bring some home to see if Maui likes them because it's quite affordable for the amount.
After some time passed, we resumed training. This time, I'll do the recall. They have an absurdly long retractable leash which was perfect.
Teaching Maui recall commands wasn't difficult at all because that pooch is heavily encouraged by food. This dog was different. Food doesn't give that big of a spark to Matty, so I don't have much hold of his focus or attention. However, Matty already knows a recall command, it's just that he doesn't obey when he's busy with something else. The point of the training is to make him drop what he's doing and approach his owner.
The leash was there mostly to make sure he does know to approach. We agreed to use a specific command, "here!" as the recall cue.
I placed the leash on him and with the treat and clicker at the ready, I called Matty and said "here!" in a somewhat chirpy tone of voice. I then retracted the leash with a bit of pull. He went with the leash then I gave him the treat. I walked away loosening the leash and tried again. This went on for a bit until he reliably went to me when I said "Here!". I removed the leash and tried again. It took a few tries but he got it soon enough.
Then, it was time to use the shock collar. It's a little fast-paced, but I don't have the luxury of taking my time with him right now. In a way, I'm also trying to see if taking advantage of a pup's faster learning skills will work. I called his attention, said the recall cue, then held the shock button. At first, he was confused, then began to approach me. When he was near, I stopped the sensation and gave him lots of praise and gave him his food treat.
I tried again, and sure enough, he approaches us with a cute little gallop. I think he quickly understood that the shock stimulation stops when he does the right thing. This is perhaps a good example of how a shock collar can be used to train without "punishment". The stimulation pushes them to do the right thing, so they have some kind of agency on how to control the sensation instead of fearing it. We kept on going until I noticed that he was getting a little sluggish. I stopped the training and called it a day. The teacher asked if she could borrow the shock collar for another day so she can try to train Matty tomorrow. I agreed since I'm still shaping Maui's fetch behavior and I just need positive reinforcements as my teaching tool.