Think For Yourself

While I can cue Risa to look at me, I'd much rather just have her offer it on her own. So I heavily reward eye contact; it has become a default behavior for Risa.

I know I’ve mentioned this in a previous blog entry, but there are several behaviors I train without verbal cues. The main reason I do this is because I like Risa to be able to think on her own without input from me. Sometimes, I am not around and I want the behavior to still be there. One of these behaviors is waiting at doors. I don’t cue a wait before opening a door. The door opening is the cue for her to wait until she is released to leave. When training the puppy, Callie, I want her to sit near the door before it’s opened and wait until I release her to leave. I don’t cue her to sit. I just wait for her to do so. Once she does, I open the door and give her her release cue. Because both of them have had to figure out what they need to do to get what they want (going outside), the behavior is stronger. It also exists independent of myself. My parents can open the doors and Risa will not exit without permission. I have even been downstairs at my parents’ house and come upstairs to find the front door propped open while my dad was working on it. Where is Risa? Inside and not even considering dashing out the front door.

Another behavior I like to teach without a cue is ‘leave it.’ That’s not to say I don’t find value in having the verbal cue as well. It is also a good idea to have a verbal cue. But I like to begin without a cue. I just like to have food on the ground and reward the dog for ignoring the food. Once the behavior is really strong, I would start adding in a verbal ‘leave it.’ Initially, however, I like to have the dog figure out that pulling and lunging towards the food on the ground will never get them the food they so desperately want. I want them to learn that the best way to get food is to ignore that food. By teaching them to think for themselves, it’s likely that they may choose to ignore food they find while on a walk without me needing to be constantly on alert and ready to cue them to ‘leave it’ should they find something enticing.

With eye contact as a default behavior, I can feel more confident with Risa around other dogs.

I find Risa’s ability to make the right decisions on her own the most helpful when it comes to her dog reactivity. It is exhausting being proactive. Scouting out an area in advance. Designing escape plans. Looking out for other dogs. Watching the other dog and their handler to determine whether they’re likely to try and invade Risa’s space or not. Watching Risa’s body language to determine whether or not I need to move her further away before we get too close to the dog. I would like to be a little more lazy and not have to be so on top of her every single time we’re out together. So I spend a lot of time rewarding her for making good choices. Looking away, sniffing, increasing distance on her own, giving me eye contact, or showing curious behaviors are all things I like seeing her do. All of these things are excellent alternatives to barking, snarling, lunging, or spinning in circles like a fool. Because she has been rewarded a lot for these behaviors, she offers them often. So, if I manage to be caught off guard by another dog, it’s more likely Risa is going to offer one of these acceptable options rather than melt down into a full blown reaction.

I’ll also admit that I enjoy having a free-thinking dog. While it certainly can create some less than ideal moments (like when she tried to do serpentines in rally when they were actually spirals), I wouldn’t trade it. I really value having a dog who can make the right decisions on her own.

About Jamie

I'm just a traditionally-trained artist with interests in dog training. I currently teach classes at the local obedience training club (tricks, freestyle, and Rally-FrEe) and I also teach classes professionally for an organization who helps veterans train their own service dogs.
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