A Proper Dog
The Golden Wonder will be two years old this month. I usually think that by the time the dog reaches its second birthday you will have a dog – a proper dog. What I mean by that is a dog that knows your lifestyle and is easy to live with, having come through all that difficult puppy stuff. Whilst puppies are lovely, I am sure that you will agree they are hard work. You have to get up early to housetrain them, have to feed them frequently therefore cannot go out for long, or really do anything without planning. You cannot walk them with the big dogs and they just take up so much time – even when they do not need the time one just has to watch them because they are so lovely to watch. However the time has flown past and he is very nearly two years old. He is much easier to live with albeit probably the naughtiest dog I have ever owned. He loves digging and swimming and barking! Well I suppose one of those traits is useful for trials.
The Golden Wonder was born knowing how to get attention by making a noise (well not literally – but it pretty much seemed that way). I did everything in my power to discourage noise as I do not like living with noisy dogs. In the past I have done this with my young dogs and then found it very difficult to teach them to ‘speak’ on command, they learn I do not generally approve of barking and therefore seem to find it very difficult to understand that barking is not only allowed but required when I say "speak!"
Having set myself up for this problem in the past I decided to ensure it did not happen with this dog. When the Golden Wonder was about four months of age (big enough to be tied to a fence without strangling himself) I started his speak training. I took my puppy and my older dog into a field and tied the puppy to the fence using a wide soft collar and rope lead (this has more ‘give’ in it), to protect his neck as he lunged. Then I started to play with the older dog keeping a reward ready in my other hand to give to the puppy as soon as he made a noise. Being the Golden Wonder, I knew that although he would not want to play, he would not be happy being ignored while I turned my back on him to play with the other dog. I had a large piece of food ready to reward him. As I suspected it only took a few seconds before he screamed and I turned towards him instantly and rewarded him with the food. It was really funny to see the startled look on his face. Even at that age you could see he was rather expecting to be told off not rewarded for making a noise. We repeated this several times with the Golden Wonder gradually realising that, in this situation noise was allowed. Of course I did not use any command to speak – there would be no point as he did not know what the word meant and I did not want to teach him to ignore the word in the first place. I work on the basis that I only use the command when I know I can get the behaviour. You know the saying, ‘it’s no good shouting at a Frenchman – he still cannot understand you no matter how loud you shout.’ Plus with the puppy he learns the word means nothing except that before long you might start shouting and maybe getting frustrated with him. So I like to be able to get the behaviour before I introduce the word or command so the first time he hears the word it is followed by the correct behaviour and a reward.
Continuing with the Golden Wonder’s speak training every time I turned away from him to play with the other dog he would make a noise and I would instantly turn towards him and reward. As he became confident that the noise he was making brought him my attention and the reward, I waited for more noise before turning to reward him. In the first five minute session we progressed from a yippy little scream and got to the stage that he was barking in quite a demanding way before I turned and rewarded him. Did I mention he was naturally a noisy dog! He could not believe his luck. This was definitely his kind of exercise. Barking his head off and getting his breakfast in the process.
We repeated the procedure the following morning and he quickly caught on to the idea again. Then I put the older dog away, tied GW to the same place and turned away as if to play with the other dog and sure enough GW barked. I clicked (I would wouldn’t I?) and turned and fed him as before when the older dog was present. I did not click when the older dog was playing as it could cause confusion as to which dog I was clicking (don’t go there - that is another whole debate!) anyway if the dog were not clicker trained I could have simply continued to reward him for barking without marking the behaviour with the clicker. So now we were back on the routine I would turn my back – he would bark, I would then click and treat. After several successful repeats I was fairly sure I could get the behaviour. At this stage I introduced the ‘command’ then turned my back and clicked him for ‘obeying.’ This illustrates why clicker trainers often use the word ‘cue’ rather than ‘command’ and why clicker training is really good for speak training as it is a behaviour that is difficult to enforce. For example if I were traditionally training the sit I could give the command ‘sit’ and enforce the behaviour in the traditional ‘up with the lead in the right hand and press the puppy’s bottom down with the left hand’ -a saying I remember fondly from my early dog training classes as a child at Bristol Dog Training Society, along with - ‘Never give a command unless you are in a position to enforce it.’ It would be difficult to enforce a speak! Enough semantics, I had now got to the stage that I could use my word, ‘speak’ then turn my back and GW barked. Before long he began to anticipate what I was going to do after I said the word speak and he started barking before I turned away. Hurray – a speak on command (all this in one place with the dog tied to the fence). After several sessions in this location I tied him elsewhere and repeated the process. Yes he recognised the game as soon as I tied him up to a fence took a few steps away said ‘speak’ and turned my back to him he barked. I clicked and rewarded, delighted the behaviour was now being offered in a second place. We added a few more places until I could pretty much guarantee he would bark as soon as I tied him to a fence and said my word. Now back to the original place, accidently on purpose forget to tie him and just say speak. Hey presto! A speak on command! What a clever dog and he is sooo pretty.