Basic Emergency Training Part 2
You decide that having commands that convey a sense of urgency to your dog, above and beyond the normal ďcome, sit, down, heel,Ē that trigger a response thatís so ingrained itís as automatic as anything involving a living, thinking creature can ever get, is imperative, so now, how do you instill that response?
You donít, obviously, do it with fear or aversion. Aside from being beneath you and the bond you have with your dog, itís not going to accomplish what you want, and may well, when itís critical that your dog obey, have the opposite effect.
Teaching and proofing each behavior is going to have some differences in technique -- thatís a given -- but there are a few things they all have in common:
- A distinct command word. It needs to be different from the more casual, everyday command, a word or phrase thatís easy to get out quickly, that is uncommon enough that Steve (yes, I do know a Border Collie named ďSteveĒ) isnít going to be hearing it when heís at the dog park or walking through the pet supply store. Youíre looking for special code words and phrases, things youíll both remember easily and are readily understood, even at a distance, that will break through distractions.
- For instance, in place of ďsitĒ mine know that if I say ďMANNERSĒ itís time for those furry butts to hit the ground. Pronto. Do it now, ask questions later. Even the Fila. A wonderful trainer I know uses ďDUCK DUCK GOOSEĒ as her emergency recall. Pick something that resonates with you and your dog, that neither of you will forget.
- Special training times. Donít tag this special, no room for error training onto regular training sessions. Make these stand alone sessions; impress it on your dog -- and yourself and anyone else who might need to use these commands -- that this is DIFFERENT.
- One on one. This isnít the time for group lessons. One you. One dog. Itís okay if the other dogs watch from the sidelines, but donít make it a group training session.
- Extra special, ZOMG, best thing I ever nommed treats. This is the good stuff, the stuff you never break out for anything else. Ever. Never. And whatever you do, donít substitute another treat for it when youíre working on emergency command training. Give it to him in small pieces while heís getting his positive reinforcement. Let him savor it, get the full flavor and all the smells. Make it a love fest.
- Extra positive reinforcement. Every time your dog responds correctly make sure he gets a minimum of thirty seconds of lavish, enthusiastic affection and praise while heís eating his ZOMG treat. Make this worth his while. Make it unforgettable. No skimping or cutting it short. Pay up in full.
- No interruptions. This isnít casual training. This is the special ops of your training program. When you start, finish. Donít break off when youíre almost through to go fix dinner, grab a drink, answer the phone. Stay focused; it will translate to your dog focusing on it. Our dogs pick up many of their cues from us; if itís important to you, it will help fix its importance in his brain -- and that pays off when you really, really need it.
- Proof. Proof. Proof. Or practice, practice, practice. Start out with three times a day if at all possible. Not less than two, morning and evening. If you can get another session in before bed, great. Dedicate two weeks to it, without fail. By the end of two weeks the two of you should have it one hundred percent. That doesnít mean you stop, or back it up once in awhile though.
- Space out the proofing to once a day, every day, for another two weeks. If thereís been no slacking off in response after that two weeks you can move it to every other day, then a couple of times a week, gradually tapering it down, once a week, three times a month, random checks. But always, always, proof at least once a month, and never fail to reward with the full pay -- the ZOMG treats and the entire thirty seconds of over-the-top, youíre the best dog in the known universe praise and affection.
Now you have homework.
Think about the commands you want to use and make your final choices, paying attention to avoid anything that sounds too much like something you already use or that is too commonly heard. Thatís something you can do on your own, although if there are other family members it might be a good idea to get their input, to make sure they can remember it too.
For your other homework, youíll need to work as a team. Figure out what the ZOMG treat is going to be. Consider something you can make yourself so youíll know you never have to run out of it or find out that the manufacturer quit making it, or that itís been recalled because it was full of nasties. Something that can be frozen and thawed out in small batches since this isnít, after the first few weeks, going to be an everyday treat is a thought, too and if you have more than one dog, you might need more than one variety of treat.
Go, do your homework, and then weíll work on this a little more in Part Three. I might even give you some recipes to try later.