I’ve had a great response to the initial information for Ranch Dog Manners. This is going to be a 4 week class over 5 weeks for herding and non-herding dogs to work on basic obedience around livestock and farm obstacles. Cost will be $120 per dog and classes will start on Tuesday, November 15th at 4:00 and 5:15. Class is just one hour, but I guarantee that your dog will leave tired as my classes of this type are taught in stations.
Since walking on a loose leash behind the handler is very important around livestock and other farm animals that is going to be a major emphasis of this class. For those of us with herding dogs that temptation is to herd-herd-herd but through teaching group classes in herding for the last 5 years I have learned that the little things like going politely through a gate are also important and can make a strong first impression. For now and until class starts here are some simple homework assignments that you can work on at home.
Goals for Week One
Teach “clucking” as a marker. Alternatively “yes” or “click”.
Each student should learn the importance of not staring at food, stock or toys. The video below is of my Pyr Shep, Saales, who was not taught this as a young dog.
Each dog should be assessed for the best method for them to learn to walk nicely on a leash in a respectful non-pulling position. Introduce the concept of the 300 peck heeling method here.
Ten comes a day for something will be introduced in class to help with recalls off stock, and safety on the farm.
Where are your feet? Introduce 4 feet standing in a box and front two feet on a plate for body awareness.Find out each student’s preferred marker. (yes, good, cluck, click) Below is a 3 minute video of Rey showing how to get creative with these two behaviors.
Students start to learn how to assess when their dog’s arrousal due to distractions like stock, or other dogs is too high and they need to step back to manage the situation. The video below is of Nero as a young dog in Great Falls. The baby gosling had become separated from it’s mother and I sent Nero on an outrun to put it back. Since Nero was so calm I knew that the baby would be safe and the job would be accomplished. If he had been tugging on his leash, barking or showing other signs of arrousal this would have been a stupid thing to do.
Students should understand why games like 4 feet in a box and two feet on a plate are important to help teach dogs body awareness and to begin to reward for accurate body placement.
More details on the Concepts for Week One
1. Mark > Reward I’m not too fussy about which marker you use to for your dog. My current favorite is clucking (your tongue against the roof of your mouth). A club member sent me an article from 1882 and a hunter addressed clucking and rewarding with dried meat from his pocket when his hunting dogs checked in. Early clicker training? Maybe….. Using a clicker or saying “yes” are all the same, but you must be precise and quick. The most common mistake I see with beginner and advanced handlers is not rewarding enough. Bring your dog super hungry to class and all will go well. Just remember that every time you mark a behavior you must reward it. That is the power of positive training! With our herding dogs in this class that have done any herding think about how badly the dog wants their stock. They are getting a reward everytime they move the stock without being stopped or blocked. The reward rate in herding when things are going well is very very high!
2. Where are my 4 feet? Find a box that is at least as long as your dog’s back. Through positive reinforcement with food or toys ask your dog to stand in the box. It is important at this stage to reward the smallest thing. So once your dog offers to do anything with the box ( head over, one foot, two feet, etc) cluck and reward, use your dogs next meal and make yourself give as many treats one at a time as you can for as many behaviors as you can. This makes you not too stingy and your dog gets lots of reinforcement. Here’s where this class is different that a lot of classes that I teach. When you reward do it so that your dog is standing in the box in “heel” position. We want to make this position the best thing in the world. Play games like pivoting around the box yourself so that your dog has to spin in the box to keep up with you. Be sure to go both directions.
3. 10 comes a day for something. What are your dog’s favorite things? They will likely vary from day to day, but find a way to reward your dog with something special at least 10 times a day. It might be a ball, a stick, or a special treat. You need to get creative and make coming to you super special. For this class bring the dog to heel position for the reward.
4. Where are my front two feet? Find a smaller box, or phone book and teach your dog to put their front two feet on it. Again always reward in heel position and again play games pivoting around and rewarding. Combine this game with your 4 feet in a box game to create a heeling pattern.
5. Don’t stare at the reward! Dogs that work for food or toys can get quite obsessed. I currently have 10 dogs in an advanced agility class and at least half have been rewarded throughout their lives for staring at the reward. This makes a dog much slower to train than a dog that can break off their reward to go to work. If at anytime in your training you find your dog staring obsessively at the food/toy, then stop and wait for your dog to look somewhere else. Cluck and reward. This is part of the first homework for all my classes, but we go back to it for the rest of the dog’s life. With our herding breeds breaking their eye can be very important when we need to call them off stock.
We’ll be building very rapidly on these lessons and sometimes around livestock we have “corrections” rather than rewards. Keeping your relationship strong through positive training and play let’s your dog know that you have their back even when things aren’t going their way.