I love the problem solving aspects of dog training especially with positive-based training. It’s kind of neat to wrack your brain trying to figure out how you can get your dog to do what you want without being able to communicate with them verbally. I mean, it’s easy to tell another human being (assuming they speak your language) to stand square in front of you and make eye contact with you when you say “front.” Making this clear to a dog is pretty complicated especially since it’s not a natural behavior.
Risa’s understanding of the various positions used in competition (left side, right side, front, and rear) are pretty bad. She’s got a decent understanding of left-side heel and she can muddle through on the right side. We’ve somehow managed to earn titles despite her having a very vague concept of front. To cement her understanding of positions, I’ve started doing platform work with her. I must say, it is the best thing I’ve ever used for teaching positions. It makes it clearer for the dog and easier for the trainer to mark the proper behavior.
I’d gotten to the point in Risa’s platform training where I felt like she understood that seeing the platform meant “I stand on this square with Mom and look at her.” Now, I needed to add in the cue word so she’d understand that what she was doing was what I wanted her to do when I said “front.” I knew I would have to be quick; that I needed to say the word and click her almost instantly so I could mark her for doing the behavior I wanted. Unfortunately, she is faster than my click. As soon as I started to say the word, she would start to do something else. A sit or a spin or even just moving her feet around. I knew I wasn’t marking the right behavior but I didn’t know how else to associate my cue with the behavior I wanted.
Then it came to me. I was already tossing treats for her as a reward and to give her a need to find the platform (and her position) again. I started adding the cue “front” as soon as she finished eating the treat I had tossed. She raced over to the platform and earned her click/treat for getting back on it. SUCCESS! I figured out how to add in the verbal cue without undoing what getting on the platform means.
Sometimes the problem that needs to be solved is a lot harder to get a handle on. My new foster puppy, Sawyer, was not going potty when I took him outside to go. Thankfully, he was not going in the house instead! He simply did not go unless he URGENTLY needed to. This was great when I had to leave him while I was at work but not so good when I wanted to sleep. Two nights in a row he woke me up around 3 am because he was about to explode. He hadn’t peed before bedtime and needed to go out NOW! I’m not exactly the happiest person when I’m woken up early and we’ve been having single-digit temperatures all week. I needed to figure out how to get him to go every time he went out so he wouldn’t have to hold it so long.
You can’t force a dog to potty, though. You can’t even really communicate to them that that is what you want them to do! And it was way too cold for either of us to stand out there very long. The second night he woke me for a late night pee, I lay in bed afterward thinking “How can I make him potty outside every time I take him out?” I couldn’t believe my late night brilliance. I decided to give him a treat after he pottied outside. I know this is generally done to encourage a dog to go outside rather than indoors, a problem we were not having, but I thought it might work here too. It would certainly give him a reason to want to go out and pee!
It didn’t take long at all for him to figure it out. After only a couple trips of pottying and getting a treat for doing so, he was going almost immediately. I think I got a bit overexcited last night when he went pee before bedtime. I whooped “GOOD BOY!” and gave him his treat. I knew I would be sleeping through the whole night again at last!