Dog Trainer

Discussion in 'The Labrador Site' started by LesC, Apr 17, 2019.

  1. LesC

    LesC Registered Users

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    Hi, I live in outer East London and use the local Epping Forest to walk my 14 month old Golden Retriever. There were a few incidents involving Holly chasing small wildlife (birds, squirrels, etc) and ignoring recall.
    For the past 3+ months I’ve worked with Holly using Pippa Mattison’s Total Recall + training line + warm chicken but when she picks up a scent or a duck flies overhead she enters a parallel universe. Indeed on two occasions she was nearby but her lead trailing she took off.

    I’ve tried to read around the subject and I am currently working on her retrieving. I’m unsure what else I should do, whether my proofing practices are correct, whether I need help from a trainer or whether I simply need to persevere. However, I am concerned that the older Holly gets the more difficult will be the problem.
     
  2. Michael A Brooks

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    Hi @LesC

    welcome to the site

    Your dog is still very young. Recall when faced with distractions is a very hard exercise for the dog. You are competing against the dog's prey drive. So I'd definitely persevere with proofing the recall.

    Can you let us know how you have been attempting to proof your dog against distractions such as wildlife?
     
  3. LesC

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    Hi
    Since January I have been taking our pet dog out on a training line using tasty treats for 60-90 minutes and about 45-60 minutes daily.

    In the first 6 or so weeks I mainly visited Wanstead Flats with it’s open space football pitches and limited wild life but some wooded areas. I simply practised stop, sit, stay and recall gradually moving closer to the flocks of birds. Her recall became noticeably better and I felt confident enough to let the line trail behind. However, whilst she may ignore the seagulls resting nearby a few ducks flying overhead would send her into a frenzy.

    In general I have been grown in confidence and six weeks ago I’ve been using different parts of Epping Forest with open space/forest land where there are fewer dogs, but it’s more wooded. I’ve been following the same routines of working slowly towards a distraction (eg a lake) trying to maintain her attention by giving simple instructions and rewarding heavily with chicken or cheese. Sometimes she seems fine and other times she gets agitated. I try to calm her, before moving her away, by rewarding her for looking at me and then standing 2m in front, calling and rewarding as we edge away from the distraction. However, at the weekend she caught me off-guard, pulled the line from my hand and chased ducks flying overhead for about 300m

    I am somewhat concerned that the training line leaves her with unrelieved pent-up energy and life is a bit boring. I am now re-doubling my efforts to engage her with retrieving activities.
     
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  4. Michael A Brooks

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    Hi @LesC

    I think what you've been doing is excellent.

    I think the issue is to think of more and more distractions where you can control the level of distraction, so that you can reinforce and generalise the recall. With the birds you cannot, of course, control them.

    You might consider training with a ball. Throw the ball away from the dog towards an assistant. Recall her when the ball has elicited her prey drive. If she fails to follow the cue the friend picks up the ball. Reward if she calls off the chase and comes back. Sometimes let her get the ball. The idea for this exercise I read in Elsa Blomster and Lena Gunnarrson's Retrieving for All Occasions.

    From that exercise maybe graduate to a kid on say a skateboard. Control the distance of the skateboard and it's speed.

    The exercises are only suggestions. You know your dog better than I do. Think about what she finds distracting and then create mock trials in which you can direct and control the distraction.
     
  5. LesC

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    Thanks. That’s reassuring. Yes I find it difficult to assess and control how distracting an environment will be when she reacts to movement and scent.
    She’s great most of the time but when she sees/smells something she becomes fixated/agitated/excited, will give me very limited attention and will want to go off.
    Is this lack of focus on me an underlying issue that I need to somehow address?
    Would Pippa Mattison’s Gundog Guides be useful (all stages) I my situation when I simply want good recall?
    Should I seek help from a professional trainer whilst she is still quite young?
     
  6. Michael A Brooks

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    I find that Recall is something that one needs to keep working at. I wouldn't expect a perfect recall until your dog is closer to two or above. There is a good deal of proofing to be done.

    The only thing that sets off an alarm, without the benefit of actually observing you and your dog, is that each time she fails to come she is getting reinforced by the environment and thereby undoing your cue. That is the aspect of your training you need to avoid. Pippa's book is excellent. There are 3 to 4 pages directly on how to transition from long line to no lead. The Gundog Guides are not focused on recall as such.

    Read Pippa's book. It is thorough, well written, and as I said, it does cover the very issue you are dealing with. Look at Blomster and Gunnarrson''s chapter on recall--some of the exercises are novel, at least to me, and are designed to deal with a dog in drive. If you still feel you need personal assistance, @Jo Laurens has an on-line course on recall https://dogworks.org.uk/training/reliable-recall/. She is an excellent trainer, who has a keen eye for observing her students who film their progress and submit their work to her for individual comments.
     
  7. Michael A Brooks

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    Hi @LesC

    I would also try a potentially higher value treat than chicken--something to out compete those pesky ducks. Fish such as mackerel and low fat cheese mixed together with a small amount of water. Store in container and squeeze into your dog's mouth when she follows your cue.Hat tip to Jo for the idea.
     
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  8. LesC

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    Thanks for this. I greatly appreciate your advice. So, a way forward is:
    1. Re-read Pippa Mattinson’s Total Recall.
    2. Be patient and persevere with the sorts of things I’ve been going.
    3. Keep a tighter grip on the training line and do not risk the recall when Holly is running away.
    4. Look at different distraction proofing exercises eg using a ball.
    5. Try mackerel and cheese as an alternative treat to chicken.

    I’ll give these a try.
    Thanks.
     
  9. Michael A Brooks

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    Hi @LesC

    1 and 3. Yes the section on transitioning from long line to no lead in the face of distractions. I have a Swiss Shepherd Dog in my advanced obedience class that has decided recently to go walkabout in recall. I have bought the lightest rope I could find, and lightest clip and made for the owner a super light long line. The handler is working on the same issue you are confronting. In her case the other dogs in the class are a distraction, as well as the swallows that dart about the field. I have instructed the handler to give the dog a change of position cue if her dog goes walkabout while one of us puts our foot on the line. As Pippa points out in her book, we don't want the dog to understand we are constraining her, but still have the ability to prevent her, if need be, from charging at a black Lab,

    Please let us know how you get on.
     
  10. Jo Laurens

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    Try some paté as well... That's a top popular treat for us.

    I would recommend that you actively target the locations and things you know she struggles around, armed with the most amazing treats and a long-line on which you are holding the end of, securely.

    If you know she struggles around game scent or birds, then go and find some of that and have a session of practising recalls, in that location. Return repeatedly until you are getting 100% success. Release after each recall with 'Go Play' or 'Go Sniff'....

    Too often, people AVOID the things their dog can't recall from. Which doesn't enable any training to occur. And then of course the distraction happens unexpectedly some time - and the dog hasn't been trained to manage it.... Don't avoid distractions, actively seek them out when you reach the right stage of training - but anticipate what is likely to happen and be ready with amazing treats and a securely held long-line...
     
  11. LesC

    LesC Registered Users

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    Thanks for that.
    There's not much chance that I could avoid wildlife distractions in the open spaces where I live.
    I return to 'previous hotspots' - but I'm trying to maintain a distance where I can retain control using simple commands, occasional restraints on the long-line and 'Look at Me' and 'Look at That'. Is that correct and sufficient?

    You mention 'Release' to 'Go Play'. Are you saying that I remove or let go the long-line?

    I'm sure Holly would love the Duck Paté on the menu.
     
  12. Michael A Brooks

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  13. LesC

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    Thanks Michael. It giving me some ‘food for thought’. I’ll listen again this evening.
    She’s enjoying the mackerel and the duck pate.
     
  14. Michael A Brooks

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    Yes, @LesC i thought of you when they mentioned an assistant feeding the ducks far away from their dogs.

    With the high value treats are you seeing any improvement?
     
  15. LesC

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    Holly’s enjoying both treats and giving me additional resources - but I am embarrassed to say find it very difficult to notice progress over short periods. I was a SEN teacher attuned to very gradual, but steady pupil progress. With dogs and ducks it’s completely different :). Progress is far from steady and sometimes travels in the opposite direction. Holly sometimes convinces me that she has finally understood what I wanted, but the next day she shows that I was mistaken.
     
  16. Michael A Brooks

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    What you describe is typical of dog training. One is attempting to change one thing at a time, but it's not possible to do that because environmental factors are changing too. And the dog is trying to figure out what it is that wins reinforcers from you. Consistency matters, and trying to structure the training so that the dog can succeed. Filming your training can be very educational for the teacher.
     
  17. Jo Laurens

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    Thanks for the shout-out about my podcast, @Michael A Brooks

    So you have the right idea by going to hotspots and finding a distance where you are able to get responses, but if your problem is the recall cue, then that's what you need to work on - not so much Look at Me and Look at That. Recall her, give her a tasty treat and release her again (with 'Go Play').

    By 'release to Go Play', I don't mean removing or necessarily letting go entirely of the long-line - you are just releasing her to go and sniff, run off (within length of the long-line) or otherwise engage in the environment.

    You need to be in control of 1) the dog coming when called and giving you attention when required in that way and 2) when the dog disengages from you again after this - not just allowing the dog to snatch the treat and run off again - try to put it on cue, before the dog disengages by herself.
     
  18. BacktoBlack

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    @Jo Laurens
    Are you saying when the pup comes when called and you treat them have them sit and wait to be released? Sorry for hijack @LesC
     
  19. LesC

    LesC Registered Users

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    Thanks. That’s helpful clarification and advice.
    Holly is less responsive to ‘stop’ and ‘come’ cues the closer we get to distractions.
    Yes, I require a ‘sit’ to a recall whistle or verbal ‘Come’ but can be sloppy about the release cue when she’s most agitated and grudgingly giving me attention and returning after being recalled away from, say, the river bank distractions.
    I feel I have greatest control and get her greatest attention when slowly working along the river bank calling her to me ‘from’ and ‘to’ a ‘sit’ position. I don’t release Holly until the end of the sessions of around 15 mins.
     

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