WE PLANT THE "SEEDS OF IDEAS" IN DOG OWNERS MINDS - THESE IDEAS EVENTUALLY BLOSSOM INTO A BETTER UNDERSTANDING OF DOG BEHAVIOUR - Sally Hopkins
WE PLANT THE "SEEDS OF IDEAS" IN DOG OWNERS MINDS - THESE IDEAS EVENTUALLY BLOSSOM INTO A BETTER UNDERSTANDING OF DOG BEHAVIOUR - Sally Hopkins

WHERE & WHEN TO TRAIN DOG GAMES

This page will lists our experences in setting up this training

a) Our Experience

b) The Venue

c) Freedom or Line?

d) Alone and Without Distractions

e) When to start training

f) Managing the training sessions

Queueing

Parking at a distance

Start/finish areas

Passing each other

Pushing the dog too hard

Good or bad impressions for the dog?

OUR EXPERIENCE

Our training times were -

During the summer months, the training on Tuesday evenings was from about 6:00 until it got dark or the last dog had been trained.

During the winter months, the training on Saturday mornings was from 10.00 until the last customer had turned up.

 

Before each session, i usually arrived 30-45 minutes before the start time. The trailer was driven to the training ground and the equipment removed and set out in Lane B (middle Lane) or along the outside of the training Lanes (A and C). At the end of every training session, I returned all the training equipment to the trailer rather than leave it outdoors.

Sometimes I would get a phone call to say that a particular customer was going to be late, would we still be there to train them? As they were comng from some distance, we usually waited.

Because of working outside, it was important to check ground conditions so that it was safe for the dogs.

 

Most of the time, 2 Trainers could work these training sessions, one managing the "admin" and the customers and the other training a dog in one of the lanes. With more Trainers, you can train more dogs.

 

One of the most important (yet most often overlooked) aspects of dog training is the choice and management of the training area - not only for the dogs but for the humans as well.

 

venuE

The choice of venue is very difficult to change - after all there are very few places that allow dog training and we must be grateful for any venues that do allow us to train. The lack of choice means that we have to compromise and manage the training sessions so that we can utilize the full potential of the venue and minimise its shortcomings. Looking at each criteria, we can see how to do this -

  • SPACE. Whether inside or out, space is by far the most important asset of a training venue. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, dogs need to have sufficient "personal space" around them while they are waiting for their turn to work so that they can relax and have the opportunity to latently learn what they are being taught in the training session. Secondly, when a dog is working it needs sufficient space so that it can do the exercise without encroaching on another dog's personal space - if the training area is cramped the dog will not do the exercise at full speed or with true enthusiasm. For instance, a dog will not willingly walk or run in a direct line towards another dog (see calming signals) - even worse is doing it in a direct line towards a queue of dogs!
     
  • SECURE. The training area needs to be secure enough so that the dog can explore the area (particularly on its very first visit to the venue) before it begins training. Dogs need the opportunity to sniff and explore the environment reading the newspaper so that they can reassure themselves that there are no threats or dangers around. It also gives dogs the opportunity to leave their scent in the environment (this does not necessarily mean relieving themselves - they can also leave scent from their glands on the equipment, door frames, furniture). The scent that they leave behind not only tells the other dogs that they have been there, it also helps them recognise their own scent when they next visit the venue. This recognition helps the dogs to build up strong environmental photos so that they feel relaxed and happy to train there in the future.
  • I have seen many instances where dogs that have been relaxed and calm have left their scent behind in a training area and this scent has relaxed and calmed other dogs that entered the area afterwards. On the other hand, scent left from dogs suffering from high levels of stress have had instant reactions from calm dogs who train in the area afterwards, making them nervous and unable to concentrate as they usually do. In other words, both stress- and calm-induced scents have a contagious effect on other animals that work in the same area. Hence the need for more than one training Lane.
  • Of course it is not practical to allow a dog to just wander off and explore the training area without being sure that the area is secure and safe. At indoor venues, external doors must be kept shut so that the dog cannot escape into the parking area or the roads - two doors at a venue are ideal as one door can be the entrance and the other the exit for the dogs and Owners. Security is even more important outside when dogs have the opportunity to run so far away that they cannot be caught, or can be tempted to find more interesting things to do (eg. chase other dogs, wildlife, cars, people).
  • I strongly recommend that training compounds be made so that the Owner (and therefore the dog) feel relaxed and confident in the area. By far the most suitable type of barrier to use around a training area is plastic barrier fencing - which dogs can see through to check that there are no "dangers" near by, but solid enough to deter them from trying to escape. As with indoor venues, entrance and exit management to the training area will also help to prevent dogs meeting at the beginning or end of a training session.
  • If you are using netting, we strongly recommended that the bottom of it be held down with metal tent pegs so that the dog cannot learn to push it up and wriggle underneath.  Dogs are very clever at testing boundaries, especially if they see something outside that they want to chase.  If they find an escape route they will not forget it (ie. environmental photo) and will try again and again to see if they can repeat the escape.  Another area to make particularly secure is the entrance/exit through the netting as this is where the dog enters and leaves the training area, it will remember this "weakness" in the "barrier" and is likely to run to it if it wants freedom.  I recommend the use of plastic plant ties to hold the netting secure to the posts or gates used. They are quick to fasten and undo yet dogs are unable to prise them apart. Cable ties are more permanent.
  • All these precautions may make the training area sound like a prison camp!  However, it must be pointed out that the area itself (approximately 80ft x 15ft or 25m x 4.5m) is bigger than a dog's usual comfort distance from its Owner, and there is a much higher concentration of dog smells in this area than it usually finds.  Its inquisitiveness and desire to explore all these scents is usually so strong that the dog is quite happy to be given boundaries in which to concentrate its search.  Certain dogs find great comfort in having the netting around them as they do not have to make decisions on whether to stray too far from their Owner or not, while others feel secure from the distractions of the outside world and are able to relax, knowing that no other dog will invade their space.

 

FREEDOM OR ON A LINE

It is quite acceptable for a dog to have a long line attached to its harness if it has a history of "always being kept on a lead". However, experience has taught us that dogs become very frustrated and claustrophobic with both the line and the netting and so the line should not be used for more than one or two sessions, without very good reason.

 

A Trainer should always ask whether any new dog is used to being off the lead.  Some Owners are embarrassed to admit that their dog has never been allowed off lead, allowing the Trainer to release the dog only to watch the dog leap over the fencing and run for the sheer pleasure of being free at last - the dog needs to be given its freedom in stages.  This is done by attaching a 50ft (15m) cotton washing-line to the dog's harness (plastic lines burn the hand and are too slippery to grab hold of).

 

It is very important that the dog is not attached to the line by its collar, as the sudden jerk of coming to the end of the line will cause severe damage to its neck (soft tissue), as well as causing a great deal of pain. A well-fitting harness overcomes this problem as it disperses the sudden impact over a wider area of the dog's body,usually the skeleton. An ill-fitting harness, when jerked, can cause pain and possible damage to the dog.

 

A clip from an old lead (clips can be purchased from our webshop) can be knotted securely to one end of the line so that it can be quickly put on or taken off the harness, while the other end can be tied in a loop to make a handle for either the Trainer or the Owner to hold.  They can then keep this loop in their hand and put part of the line under their foot to stop being pulled over in an emergency if the dog makes a sudden dash to escape the netting.   

 

Allow the line to trail along behind the dog as it wanders round the training area. It should never be allowed to go taut as it is long enough to drag along the ground and for the person holding it to quietly and unobtrusively follow to make sure there is plenty of slack on the line.  The dog should feel as though it is walking around freely, yet the humans know that they have a way of preventing the dog from being totally out of control.

 

ALONE AND WITHOUT DISTRACTIONS

There should be no distractions while the dog is in the training area, ie. NO dogs nearby, NO spectators moving or looking directly at the dog as both can break a dog's concentration and cause apprehension as well.  Containers of food should be tightly shut so as not to distract the dog with their tempting scents - you will be amazed at how sensitive a dog's nose is, especially where food is involved!

 

CRUCIAL - Time for the dog to explore and humans to watch

   

While the dog is exploring the training area, the Trainer and Owner should stand still and calmly talk to one another, pretending to ignore the dog, but keeping a discreet eye on the dog and its behaviour.  Although this "waiting time" seems time wasting to the humans, it is in fact one of the most crucial parts of the dog's training.  It gives both the Trainer and the Owner the opportunity to watch the dog's body language (see Calming Signals as described in Turid Rugaas's book "On Talking Terms With Dogs: Calming Signals")  and movements as it begins to relax and explore.  By doing this they will be able to start to build up a character sketch of the dog's personality and temperament.  For instance: -

  • Does it keep close to the Owner and seem nervous of straying too far away? 
  • Does it run around excitedly, perhaps barking uncontrollably, and seem unable to concentrate on any particular scent or object, even after ten minutes or so have passed?  

It is quite normal for a dog to be stimulated by the new surroundings when it first arrives, while others have learnt to be anxious of new situations and need more time to relax followed by calm and confident handling. However, a dog with long-term stress levels is unable to settle down and explore properly

 

Its hyperactivity is caused by high levels of adrenalin that make it almost impossible not only to concentrate on what it and its Owner are doing, it will also be unable to retain the memory of the training session.  It would be far kinder to the dog to take it away from the training area and concentrate on having a Personal Life-Style Management Programme developed for it, to help it reduce its long term stress levels (see Sheila Harper Canine Education for more advice on stress related issues).

 

WHEN TO START TRAINING

Many dogs have working lines in their blood and have a strong desire to start "work" as soon as possible.  These dogs can often be seen pestering their Owners, or barking at them, in an effort to begin the game on their terms.  In this situation it is important not to reward the dog's behaviour by giving it attention and starting the training.  Once the dog has realised that there is no reward for showing this behaviour, he will give up and begin to explore the environment.  As soon as the dog has relaxed, the training can begin as the dog is now being rewarded for being calm and quiet.  It will quickly learn, over subsequent lessons, that in order to earn the reward of beginning training it must learn to control itself and remain calm and focused.

 

Another benefit of allowing the dog to explore its environment before starting the session is that the dog will not be tempted to run off and explore an interesting smell while doing the Game.  Also the dog will have become bored of investigating its surroundings and will be keen to start training once the Owner has given the "start to work" cue (see Dog's dictionary).

 

This is only a small sample of the different behaviours that dogs show in the first lesson.  It would be impossible to describe the many variations that there are - each dog is unique because of its breeding, how it has been brought up, and the experiences that it has had.  However, every time you observe your dog, and others, you learn more about dogs and can start to trust your instincts in what you and the dog should do.  That is why dog training is so interesting and varied and really should be a one-to-one experience.

 

By the second and subsequent lessons you will find the dog relaxes far more quickly in the training area and will soon be ready to start the session.  It has built up strong positive associations with the environment and is keen to continue the game that it learnt in the previous session.

 

If you wish to train with other people who do Dog-Games, look at We Do Dog Games for more details of dogs that do the Games in your area.

 

Remember, Dog Games have been specifically designed so that they can be taught and practiced at home with the help of friends and family acting as helpers, as well as being done in groups or club situations.

 

MANAGING THE TRAINING SESSIONS

QUEUING or waiting to train, is a particularly stressful time for dogs and can be overcome with a bit of forward planning by the Trainers and Owners. Unfortunately, a great deal of dog training is done with Owners and dogs standing (or sitting/chatting) too close to one another near the training area. In these situations the dogs are distracted throughout the training session by

  • trying to get enough personal space around them so that they can relax, without feeling threatened or vulnerable
  • the body language of the dogs that they can see, hear and scent around them - eg. calming signals or symptoms of stress
  • attempting to escape the situation (eg. pulling on their lead towards the door or hiding under or behind the handler)
  • acting aggressively by pulling towards the other dogs in the hope of driving them further away.

These dogs will not enjoy the lessons and will remember very little about what they have been taught.

 

With Dog Games, the dogs are kept in their car (relaxed) until they are required for training; and once they have finished training, they are returned to their car (latent learning) with water and weather conditions taken into account.

 

SEATING. Humans are a lazy lot - if there are chairs around they will use them! Therefore, if the Owners are sitting with their dogs, arrange the chairs around the venue so that they are as far apart from each other as possible. This gives each dog its own personal space so that it can relax. If the humans want to chat while sitting, ask them to leave their dogs in their cars and then they can sit as close to one another as they like but NOT TOO CLOSE to the training area to distract the dogs in training.
  • Trainers like the other Owners to watch the dog in training instead of chatting, so that they are also learning. Dog-Games found it useful to have a couple of Trainers watching what was happening in the Lanes to provide a dfferent perspective and angle on behaviours. We were able to observe a number of interesting behaviours.  

 

PARKING WELL AWAY FROM THE TRAINING AREA. Unfortunately, particularly at indoor venues, there is not always sufficient space at a training venue for dogs to wait for their turn to be trained and in these circumstances it is better for the dogs to wait outside the training area (see Dogs & Cars which gives plenty of stress-reducing ideas not only for keeping dogs in vehicles but also alternatives to using a car).

 

START/FINISH AREA. It is important to keep dogs away from the start and finish areas of a training exercise, as the dog exiting will have increased levels of adrenaline and excitement. Dogs need to be able to work without the extra worry of encroaching into other dogs' personal space.

 

PASSING IN DOORWAYS/CORRIDORS. Try to ensure that dogs do not meet each other in doorways or confined spaces when they enter or leave the training area. The departing dog will remember more about the lesson if its memories of it are not disturbed, while the next dog needs to be calm so that it can concentrate on the lesson. For instance, as one dog leaves, the next can be waiting around the corner and enter after the first dog has gone by.

 

PUSHING THE DOG TOO HARD??

While these exercise seem simple to us humans, it is astonishing how mentally drained some dogs can become with these simple exercises. Having had a successful training session, the dog is returned to the car for him to relax, have a drink, relax and probably sleep (Latent Learning). We suggest that the dog must not attempt another training session for at least an hour. It is preferable that the next training session should be on a different day so that the Trainer and Owner  can check whether the dog has really learnt and understood the Game.

 

It is tempting to rush dogs through their basic training in our eagerness to show how clever our dogs can be. However, in the early stages of training an exercise many dogs are accidentally doing it correctly. This may be due to coincidence because

  • it is watching the handler's unconscious body movements (ie not necessarily those chosen by the handler to be the visual commands for the exercise) or
  • it has associated the environment with the exercise rather than the handler's visual and spoken commands, so that the dog cannot understand what is required from it when asked to do the exercise in a new direction or location.

 

The Bronze stage of each game helps to overcome these difficulties so this stage is NOT to be rushed.

 

GOOD OR BAD IMPRESSIONS FOR THE DOG? What many humans fail to realise is that dogs do not have memories like us - they have "environmental photos " which enable them to store rewarding and threatening situations in their brains so that they can recognise the situation should they come across it again. Therefore, if a dog has a bad impression or association with the training environment it will repeat its behaviour and anxiety until the behaviour is so deeply imprinted it cannot act in any other way. For instance -

  • A dog is brought into a hall to train for the first time. It is overwhelmed by the sights, smells and sounds of all the humans and dogs in such a small area and desperately wants to leave. However, the Owner is anxious to make a "good impression" to the Trainer and pressurises the dog to follow across the hall and be on its best behaviour. The dog feels even more vulnerable, trapped and overwhelmed by the whole training session, becoming increasingly unhappy and either begins to show default stress symptoms such as barking, lunging at nearby dogs, or withdrawing into itself, in order to cope with the whole situation
  • Meanwhile, the Owner is expecting the dog not only to "behave" but to learn new exercises and experiences in this stressful situation. As the weeks pass the dog feels more and more helpless and increases its responses to the situation, frustrating not only the Owner but also upsetting the other dogs in the training area. Eventually the whole experience is too much for the Owner, and they do not return. The dog has not only learnt that being too close to other dogs is unpleasant and claustrophobic, but that the default stress symptoms worked because the dog was always taken out of the situation at the end of the class.
  • What we need to do is make the dog's first experience at a training location pleasant and rewarding so that the dog has happy and positive long-term memories and gets into the routine of relaxing so that it enjoys being with their Owner, not only at this location but at other times and places - ie. generalising its behaviour, trusting its Owner and becoming consistent and focused rather than "doing its own thing" and acting as a lodger.
  • Dog Games training does this by providing a calm and quiet environment that has no distractions for the first session for the dog (ie. no other dogs, visual or noisy distractions are nearby). We gradually add other stimuli to the training situation which the dog feels relaxed enough to cope with.  This helps to minimise the dog's stress levels, giving it the best opportunity to learn and retain this information in its long-term memory by latent learning.

 

This web site has been written by Sally Hopkins (unless the author of the web page is stated otherwise).

 

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