Can You Teach an Old Dog, a Basic Command?
It's been a while since I returned Clara, and as I was heading out after Clara's reinforcement training, one of our neighbors approached me, the same owner of the dog that had the massive tick problem before. The dog is fine now but still gets a tick now and then. He approached me about training, particularly, simple recall training because "Jojo" gets out sometimes, and he'd like it if he could properly call Jojo back. He was also willing to pay. I quickly told him that I'm not a professional, but he said it was a great excuse for him to pay me back for trying to help Jojo with his tick problem. He's also concerned about Maui as his helper told him about the tick invasion in my garden. I told him a little neem oil did the trick, but I did admit I see a tick or two now and then.
He always overhears the training and he sees me walk with Maui leash-less. I told him about the shock collar, and he had plenty of questions about it, especially about any potential harm. I told him how many times I've tried to shock myself in an attempt to figure it out, but in the end, it's all subjective and what I can only say is that Maui isn't afraid of the collar, which for me, says a lot.
He invited me to his house and I saw Jojo. He looks great and is tick free. I called Jojo and he was quite friendly to me, likely because he was already familiar with me from all the times I passed by, and the fact that I am just a house away. I answered all his questions and suggested teaching Jojo 2 commands which are recall, and boundary training. He also asked if I will be using a shock collar. I asked him if he wanted to, and he said that as long as it doesn't hurt Jojo, and lets him learn better, then, by all means, I can use it.
As far as basic obedience training is concerned, he didn't really need it as Jojo behaved indoors. It was when he's out that he's out of control. His house helper does take Jojo on walks, but it's still the same. Jojo rushes out when he's not leashed, and as much as possible, his owner didn't want him leashed inside the house. I cleaned the receiver with soap and water, and since Jojo has short fur, I'll be using the short prongs.
I started Jojo's training. I had the house-sitter help me place the collar on him, but I won't be using it just yet, since I don't want Jojo to associate the behavior with the collar. I asked the house-sitter to keep the collar on Jojo for about 6 hours. I'll message them through SMS to make sure the collar doesn't stay on for more than 8 hours.
The first part of the training is simply paying attention and making eye contact when his name is called. I asked the owner how he calls him by name. I copied it, and the training session began. This is where I felt the effects of age on this adult dog. He was slower, less snappy, and wasn't paying too much attention. Jojo is seven years old, half of a dog's expected lifespan, compared to Maui who was just around 2 years old.
I called his name and whenever he looked, I would click the clicker and give him a piece of liver. It still amazes me how much these dogs love liver. He was a little bit livelier and the third time I clicked, I saw his pupils widen when I clicked, and he started doing some pitter-patters with his front paws.
The saying "You can't teach old dogs new tricks" does not apply yet. After all, he quickly understood the training process because as soon as I call his name, his head snaps towards me regardless of direction. We kept on doing this, and soon, I could tell that Jojo was less snappy. To end the training on a positive note, I gave Jojo lots of praise and left.
It was easy right now, but when it comes to teaching the two basic obedience commands, I bet I'll have a lot of trouble. I hope I have better luck training next time.
Before I left, I had a few curiosities about Jojo, so I asked some questions. According to his owner, Jojo never had puppy training, formal training, or any kind of training experience, apart perhaps from getting scolded due to bad behavior. Jojo is fed dry food during meal times and his favorite treats are the beef jerky his owner sometimes brings, so that explains why the dog was so happy when he tasted dried cooked liver, as it was his first time.
That night, I made sure to inform the housekeeper to remove the shock collar. I also asked her if she could place the collar on Jojo an hour before the scheduled training. Not tightly, but loosely and I'll tighten it when I arrive.
The next training session was the test on how well I could teach Jojo a recall command. We settled for "here!" as the recall cue. The goal for today is to teach Jojo to approach when told the cue. There are many ways to go about this, such as using a long leash and pulling them toward me while saying the cue or luring them to me using a treat and marking the behavior. I could simply call him, but he may get confused. I'm already training him to make eye contact when his name is called, so I don't want to confuse him.
I settled with teaching him via leash pulling. This is because during reinforcement, I will be using the same method, and I don't want Jojo to be dependent on treats aside from positive reinforcement. I used my retractable leash, attached it, and distanced myself from him. He's not like Maui who keeps wanting to wander. He's pretty chill. I then called his name, then started pulling. It took some time to move him, but as soon as he reached me, I said "Here!" and then clicked before tossing the reward. Despite his age, he can catch food with his mouth easily.
I did it again, and when I started pulling, he quickly went to me. I said "Here!" as soon as he approached, clicked, and tossed the treat. I did it another time, then after that, instead of pulling, I said "Here!" first. He didn't respond so I pulled a little, and he instantly got the idea. The fifth time we did it, he went to me when I said the "here!" command. I did it one more time to make sure it wasn't a fluke, and when he approached me, I gave him plenty of praise before removing the leash.
Now, without the leash, I called his name, then the "Here!" command. Sure enough, he went to me, albeit slowly. I waited until he was right in front of me, then clicked, and gave him a treat. I'm not sure if older dogs have shorter attention spans or not, but I could tell he was getting more and more distracted. If I'm going to teach a dog as old as him complicated tricks, it will certainly take time.
I took a break, and several hours later, I came back to train him again. We did the same motions, but sometimes, he doesn't respond when I say "here!" but after saying it another time, he lurches on ahead. Supposedly, he makes a mad dash when he's outside, but I'm not feeling that energy here. We did the basic training a few more times, then ended it again with lots of praise.
Before I left, I wanted to test what level I should be using the training collar on, since Jojo was still wearing the collar. I dialed it down to the lowest and pressed the shock button. To my surprise, he did a tiny flinch. I did it again, and he tilted his head a little. He's quite sensitive considering that Maui reacts at a 4 or 5. Maybe that's also due to age. I reminded the housekeeper to remove the collar in a few hours and I finished the training session.
That night, I asked Vangie how Clara was doing, and if her aggressive behavior has somehow reduced. I had to wait a few days before asking because Clara had to get used again to her old environment. To my joy, Vangie said that she was much quieter now, and only really barked when someone is knocking on the gate. While the guests may find her rabid behavior unpleasant, at least she's barking when needed the most. Chalk that up as a success! However, her obedience is a little spotty, but it was better than outright being ignored. At least she sits and stays when she's told, firmly. She thanked me a lot for the training and it felt heartwarming, knowing that through my effort, Clara has a more harmonious relationship with her owner.
In a few days, I will resume Jojo's training exercises. Based on all the information I studied, and advice from an actual K9 trainer, all I need now is practice. I'm a little glad I'm getting some pay off too. Before Jojo's training, I need to revisit Maui's retrieval training, which is proving very difficult. He can play fetch, yes, but getting a specific item still proves to be a challenge. The grind is on.