Sendaway Part 2
Now I have a way of rewarding my dog when he is away from me I am ready to begin teaching him to run away from me to a predetermined point. The next thing I do is to carefully select the point to which I intend training my dog to go to. I will choose a place which is easily accessible to me so that I can train there regularly. I also want to be able to recognise the exact spot when I come back to train here on another day.
I look around the field(s) I have at my disposal and select a spot on the far side of the field to start training him to ‘go to’. Bearing in mind my own idleness; when the dog knows the exercise, I will want to stand near the gate side of the field so I do not have to walk right across the field before I start working the dog. I want to be able to enter the field and send my dog across to the far side - on his own! So whilst it might seem easier to train to the home side of a large field, it might prove more costly in boot leather in the long run.
Now we have everything in place we can begin the fun part; actually getting the dog to run in a straight line. I begin by fixing the reward to the pole and taking my loaded pole and my dog to the selected spot (I always start with a white pole that will be easy to see from a distance). I hold on to my dog’s collar and stick the pole in the ground, I pull by dog two or three paces away and on the command ‘Get-it’ I release him and allow him to run and claim his reward. (I find that dragging him away from the loaded pole for the first few sessions promotes enthusiasm to get to it more than if I were to use verbal control. If I were to start by loading the pole and yelling, "No, no leave" I could cause some apprehension.) I reload my pole and drag the dog a little further the next time.
Some dogs can take offence at being dragged by the collar! This is usually overcome by laughing and teasing the dog, maybe giving him a treat as you go, until he becomes accustomed to it. Do not continue training your sendaway until your dog is relaxed about the whole thing. It is far better to hold him than to nag at him.
I continue in this way increasing the distance I drag my dog before releasing him – hence increasing the distance he runs away from me. I am not using any control at this stage; I am simply loading the pole, pulling him away from it and allowing him to run back to it.
If you are using food as the reward it is easy because the food is eaten by the dog and is gone. There is nothing for you to do except to reload the pole and start again. However, if you are using a toy your dog will now have possession of the toy and will either be running back to you with it, running off with it, or settling down to chew it. If it is the former, great! Have a game with him and as you are doing so walk back to the pole and continue playing at the pole for a few minutes, before re-hanging the toy and starting again. If your dog has chosen one of the other options, ignore him and walk back to the pole. From the pole, call him to you to start the game. You might find that a second similar toy from your pocket will help. If he does not come happily to you for the game, either discontinue sendaway training and teach him a play retrieve (see WTM May - June 2012) or swap to using food for your reward until you have taught it. Go and buy a ladle! (see WTM July2013)
If you plan to teach your dog any exercise and it goes wrong, don’t get hung up on it as you will probably do more harm than good. Walk away! Go and do something else, something your dog can do well that will make you feel better and you can end your session on a good note with no harm done. Later I would sit down with a cup of coffee and think about what went wrong and why. Then I would be in a better position to plan my new strategy. There is no shame in saying ‘well that did not work’ and going away to rethink. At the very least you have done no harm and in all probability you will have learnt something about your dog that will help you to plan his future training.
Because I do not attempt to put any control at either end of the sendaway at this time this is such an easy fun game for the dog. Many fit young dogs will be happily running some 25 – 30 paces within a few minutes, in their first session. If your dog is not a working breed, not so fit, or not confident, remember it is not a race. The important thing is to keep it fun so your dog wants to get to the pole: stop training before he tires. So often we try ‘just one more’ and live to regret it!
Before leaving the field at the end of my first training session, I make sure I can find the exact same spot next time by checking where we are. If there is no obvious permanent marker, such as a tree or strainer post on the fence, I will tie a piece of garden string to the fence so I can be sure to replace the ‘send to’ pole in the same spot next time. The reason for this is that dogs have an astounding ability to recognise a place and if in your next session you set up your pole ten foot further along the fence, you may well find your dog goes to the spot you used previously and then works his way along the hedge to find the pole in the new location. This is not what you want.
A note of safety
– when training sendaways always check the destination to ensure there are no hazards the dog might encounter. I can remember one close call, and a couple of incidents; one when I sent my ‘trained’ dog across a park that was unknown to me. It was a city park and we entered via a large gate – I assumed the whole park was fenced. A great opportunity, I thought, to train in a novel environment. I sent him right across the middle of the park to the far boundary where there was a bush; fortunately for me my dog was very good at that time and stopped immediately on command. I walked up to praise him and was shocked to find that side of the park was unfenced and my dog was standing a few metres from a busy road! On another occasion, I returned to fields that I had often used in the past- but not for a long time. I sent my dog to a destination that was well known to him but was disappointed to see him veering off to one side: annoyed at my dog for developing a new problem, I begrudgingly traipsed across the field to remind the dog what a straight line should look like, only to find a lake had appeared in his path! No wonder the poor dog went round – I had not taught a swimming sendaway!
The moral of the story; – always check the boundary fence and never assume anything!