New to Working Trials 3
During the last month you have taught your dog to eat from your hand in different environments. You will have progressively fed more by hand and less at home in the bowl. You have started to ask him for simple exercises that he already knows like; ’watch me’, ‘come’, ‘sit’ and ‘down’, when out and about and rewarded his efforts with a small piece of food. Remember these food rewards are not additional food – trials dogs should not be overfed as they need to be fit in order to track and jump with enthusiasm. Measure your dog’s ration daily as usual and use this for your training rewards. If there is any left at the end of the day then feed this at home as usual. You might of course save his preferred foods, or some very special treats for times when you want his best performance.
In the past, people have thought that using food to train dogs was often not very successful. However, during the past two decades scientists have for the first time become interested in companion animals and learning theory and we now know more about how learning occurs and how to get the best results when training animals.
We all know that food can be used as a reward, but there are so many more uses for food when training your dog for trials. Food can be used as a lure, to guide the dog to do as you require; it can be used for conditioning, to form a good association with a behaviour, or a place or sound, or pretty much anything you want your dog to have a good association with.
When using food as a lure, it is necessary for the dog to understand that if he follows the lure he can obtain the food (at which point it becomes a reward). When I was a small child I had a game called ‘Magnetic Fishing.’ It was designed to develop co-ordination and comprised a number of plastic fishes with metal noses, a cardboard ‘tank’ and little fishing rods with a magnet on the end of the line. The game required the young players to ‘catch’ their fishy by dangling the magnet on the fish’s nose before carefully pulling it out of the ‘tank.’ When luring a dog it is necessary to first ‘catch’ your fish (dog) by placing the magnet (food) right on the dog’s nose to gain his attention. Then, just as in the game you very carefully use the lure to place your catch where you want it without fast or jerky movements which could result in the ‘fish’ falling off the line. If he does fall off you will need to go back to catch your fishy before starting again! Luring with dog differs from the magnetic game in so much that you have to keep rewarding the dog with the lure to keep your ‘magnet’ strong. As with all things dog training, you should ask very little to start and gradually ask for more when the dog gets the idea. So with luring, catch your fishy (oops dog) move the magnet (food) forward so the dog has to take a step or two and then reward him with the magnet (food). Now you will need a new ‘magnet’ to repeat the whole process. It will not take many repetitions before your dog gets the idea and will confidently follow the lure further and further before gaining his reward. When teaching a dog to follow a lure it is easy to unwittingly teach him to snatch. If not careful the dog learns he has to grab the food before it disappears! If your dog learns to snatch food from your fingers, you will very quickly stop lure training because it hurts! Teach your dog not to snatch by holding the titbit securely covered by your fingers, never allow part of it to protrude or the dog will learn to snatch as he gets bits off the end. Once they start that they snatch more and more and end up nibbling at fingers. To prevent this happening, when you reward him with the titbit ‘post’ it through his incisors (the tiny teeth at the front of his mouth) never feed him into the side of his mouth because the power there could cause considerable damage to your finger. If you post the food in you will find your dog quickly tries to reject your fingers and will soon learn to take food gently, not to snatch and grab. This will make luring and hand feeding rewards so much more enjoyable for both of you for the rest of his life.
Having successfully taught your dog to follow a lure, you can now start to lure him wherever you want him. Lure him as mentioned before, into the heelwork position and reward him there. If you raise your food lure just above and behind his nose, you can lure him into a sit; reward him for sitting. Sit on the floor with your knees raised and lure him under your knees, repeat this to build his confidence and progress to using this game to teach him to lie down. Use the lure to teach him to sit in front of the jumps; reward him for sitting there. When you dog will keenly follow a lure you will find it easy to turn him to face the way you want him without any yelling, or shoving and pushing. This will make training so much more fun for both of you. Whilst you are having fun the dog is also being ‘conditioned’ to enjoy his training. You will find he enjoys training more and more as he gets plenty of food and praise from you, and you are rewarded by having a very attentive dog.